So much has happened in the past few days! After I arrived in Quito on Monday night, a chofer (driver) from the CIMAS program picked me up from the old airport, and I stayed at a hotel called Savoy Inn. Tuesday morning, my host mom, Catalina Asanza, or Caty, came with her older son, Jorge, to bring me to the house briefly before taking me to CIMAS. The house is beautiful, but I was a bit surprised to find out that they had two cars. Also, I was a little confused at first because Caty showed me into her room, because there is another exchange student staying in the room that will be “mine” after she moves out on Friday.
After dropping off the luggage, they drove me to CIMAS. The location feels like a castle, with a view of Quito that defines awesome. Like all the buildings, CIMAS has very tight security, including ~20-foot walls with spikes on top and even a doorman. Everything is very spacious inside the walls, including a field for fútbol (soccer), especially compared to the tiendas (shops) and casas (houses). There is even a computer lab and kitchen that we can use.
Honestly, I don’t remember much about the first day of class. I was pretty preoccupied with all the new sights and experiences. Also, I was surprised to discover that this specific program for Literature, Culture, and Language is entirely students from SU: seven of us. But I do remember that our maestra (teacher) Emilia was very nice. At one point she started talking about the woes of Wal-Mart, and she started talking so quickly and passionately that none of us could understand her!
Throughout the day, we have a half hour break, and a 1.5 hour lunch. I am a huge fan of this schedule. I think that it reflects the cultural de-emphasis of punctuality and timing. So far, we have spent our breaks lounging on the grass and walking down the block to buy bread from the panadería and fruit from the fruitería.
After my first day of classes, I rode the bus home with Caty. That is an experience in and of itself! At home, Caty made dinner while I chatted with her sons, Jorge and Galo, as well as her husband’s brother, whose name I can’t remember. I found out that her husband had died just five months ago! I don’t know what to think, because the family has only spoke of him that one time when I found out that he passed away. I will have to keep my ears open for more on that. At dinner I also met Alejandra, who is the other study abroad student. We had a fish soup that was super-delicious and I even ate two bowls!
After dinner, I went with Caty and Jorge to deliver perfumes that she sells. It was interesting to see new places in Quito, but I was so tired that I fell right asleep when we got home at 9pm. Even after the first night, I was dreaming in Spanish!
On Wednesday, we had a safety presentation by the U.S. Embassy. The presenter was a bit insensitive and too full of himself for my taste, but I suppose it is good to understand the risks. The U.S. state determined risk level here in Ecuador is critical, which is the same as countries such as Iraq and Haiti. He emphasized how important it is for us to stick together, take the certified taxis (orange license plates and a registration number), and if we get robbed, the most important thing is to comply. After that presentation, the director of CIMAS talked to us about the realistic risks. His main point was to not drink in excess, because that is the primary reason that foreigners get into compromised and dangerous situations. All of the information was a bit sobering, but it was pretty much common sense.
After school, the whole group went with my host mom so that we could get phones at the regional center for the provider we chose, which is a block from my house. We decided to all get the same provider, Claró because apparently they have the best coverage throughout the country, whereas the competitor is not so great outside Quito. That entailed A LOT of walking to everyone’s houses to get money, and A LOT of waiting at the center in order to get all the phones. We all decided to forgo the dancing and get some rest after that ordeal.
One experience with my host family that was interesting and a bit uncomfortable was when Caty asked me if I had a mamá. I told her that I had three; my dad’s wife, my mom, and her partner/wife. After a moment of pause, she told me that she understood what I was saying and then changed the subject. The next day, she told Jorge that I had three moms when we were talking about their nanny. Both of them told me that they respected my family and me very whole-heartedly. The thing that stood out most for me in this experience was how atypical it is to discuss sexuality, even in the home. Perhaps I am generalizing when I say that this is a taboo topic throughout Ecuador, but it was definitely uncomfortable to bring up anything related to the LGBTQ community.
Thursday was a very interesting day! Also, it was probably the first day that I started to feel normal again, emotionally and physically. We learned about the provinces of Ecuador in our grammar class (?) and then we went to a local mercado (market) that sells fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and other things. We went in pairs to learn about and buy one new fruit that we had never seen before. It was very similar to the markets I have been to in Mexico, but much smaller. When we got back to CIMAS, we all shared what we had learned about the fruit and then discussed observations we had. It was a very informative discussion about Ecuadorian culture and inequality. I was very surprised to hear that people from the middle and upper classes don’t shop in these awesome mercados because they don’t want to be perceived as poor.
I took the bus home by myself for the first time, and everything was great! Then Caty showed me how to make a typical chicken dish for dinner. After eating, Alejandra got home from her last day at CIMAS, and then we left to go to a local volcán (volcano) called Pulalahua. Although we didn’t stop at the monument at Mitad, this was my first time going south of the linea occidental (equator)! It gets dark very quickly here, so by the time we arrived at the volcán at 6:30pm, it was very foggy and mostly dark.
We came back home pretty quickly since we couldn’t see anything. Upon arriving home, I finally got keys to the house! Then I had to pack up my stuff to move into the new room and small bag for my weekend trip to Mindo. I’m excited to go on my first excursion, and this place looks superb. We are going as a group in a van that CIMAS organized for us that leaves at 8am. I will tell you all about Mindo next post, and hopefully will have lots of pictures!