Somos Cuy

So the title of this post might need some explaining and context, even for Spanish speakers, since it isn't actually an expression in that language I don't think. Somehow, though, it pretty perfectly encapsulates my week.

First of all, it is in quotes because it was said by Sarah. Which leads me to something I probably should have done a lot earlier—introductions: Rodolfo is the Earlham Spanish teacher who is here with us in Quito, and who is coordinating activities, and will be teaching us an "Andean Travel Narrative" class starting this next week. The "us" of which I speak (and have often been speaking) are six Earlham students: Michelle, Senior, James (introduced here as "Hai-mee" as it would be pronounced in Spanish) Junior, Minori, Junior, Tyler, Sophomore, Sarah, Sophomore, and of course me (also a Sophomore). We are the first group of students to ever participate in the Earlham College Ecuador Program. They officially call us the "pilot group" which all sounds pretty exciting, but at times, we feel more like…cuy.

"Somos Cuy" means literally: "we are guinea pigs" but I am pretty sure that the expression "to be a guinea pig" isn't quite translatable into Spanish like that, especially because, in Ecuador at least, guinea pigs are not the adorable little pets we know in the States, but rather a delicacy consumed on special occasions…

Monday was a mostly lovely day—I got to that 7 am class, and even found the right room, and walked into it at 6:59 to a class that had already started-there was absolutely no introduction, discussion of expectations, assignments or syllabus, nope, just straight from attendance into art history (in a not entirely intelligible or linear fashion, from my perspective…in Spanish at 7…AM…) Also, not to mention the fact that he then proceeded to turn all the lights off and continue to lecture about the projected image of art. I felt bad, because I am genuinely interested in the subject, but unfortunately, in those conditions, at that time of day, my body thinks it is time to sleep. I didn't actually fall asleep, but boy it was close…I would go to class on Wednesday I decided, and if it was the same I would really have to change it because there was no way I would be able to survive that twice a week for a semester…

After class however, Tyler, Sarah and I explored some malls and parks around town (also had my first bus ride, mildly exciting and pretty crowded, but nowhere near as full as I have seen them) Sarah's high school friend lives a few hours away so he came to visit and so we rambled around for a few afternoon hours. When I got back home, I pretty much left immediately to go with Dana, Alisa and Ximena to the North (of Quito) to visit some family friends before Dana left the next day. They were very friendly people, and we ate some pizza with them, they also were kind enough to peel and present me with a "tomate de arbol" ("tomato of the tree") a fruit that looks like a cross between a pear (shape) and a tomato (texture) and a pepper (the stem part) if you can imagine that at all… but it tasted pretty sour with the texture of a peach or papaya, except with small seeds…Yah, maybe I should just try and find a picture…I'll work on that…

Anyway, Alisa, Ximena and Gustavo set off at midnight that Monday night for Guyaquil (about 8 hours away) to drop Dana off at the airport the next morning. Just to review, Alisa is the German volunteer who just finished high school and is training to become a teacher/activities coordinator for three weeks in Quito before she goes off to a smaller village for the rest of the year. Dana is Ximena and Gustavo's oldest daughter who was visiting from Long Island where she now lives. I wish I could have gone to Guayaquil with them, but it would have meant missing at least 2 days of classes, so Rodolfo said I had better not.

Tuesday was the really frustrating day though. This is when the Cuy remark was so aptly made by Sarah. After classes, The Earlham crew met up with Rodolfo to try and figure out how we were going to get to the ministry of the interior to register our visas, and we agreed that the entire point of immigration was to make our lives harder. We then got to complaining about the "still figuring it all process" and we realized that it was the last day that we could add or drop classes without a fee. So much for my plan to give that early morning art class another chance…So to Daysi's office we went (She is the coordinator of international students at PUCE, aka my Ecuadorian school) When we arrive she informs me that the "Masculinities, Gender and Power" class I have been taking for a week is in fact full, and I am not allowed to take it after all. Ooookaaaayyyy…I ask if I can go to it that day and check with the teacher. Yes, I can.

So I go home and have some lunch with Abuela Guadalupe, Gustavo's mom who lives next door and is cooking for me while the rest of the family is gone. We have a lovely talk about living life to the fullest and the benefits of traveling as much as possible. At 3:30 I leave to go to the Gender class at 4, to check with the teacher …at 4:30 I am still sitting in a classroom with no professor. Back to Daysi's office I go. With no choice but to change my entire schedule pretty much, I decide to drop the 7AM art class just to be safe, and pick up another, called "Intro to the language and history of art" which is from 6-8 at night. And another sociology class, to replace the one about gender: "Sociology of the urban and rural" also from 6-8. Alright, so I walk home, feeling pretty upset by the instability (notice how the last entry was called "settling in"? Well that's because I thought I was until all THIS happened) I get home to this:

My chewed up flip-flop
My flip flop, the strap utterly chewed off by my favorite dog Titi who I forgot to put away in the kitchen before I left.

Well that was the straw that broke the camel's back. I just started crying. I couldn't have told you any one reason, and none that were really valid on their own, it was just one of those days… that started out fine, but ended up one thing at a time being all just too much to handle. I did some writing, and felt better before long, and the good news is that after one of those days, your week can only get better!

This is what we did in class on Wednesday:

Goofy Spanish class assignment
Practicing our commands in Spanish class—we had to make an advertisement, so Sarah and I decided to sell "Worm cream-for your face!"

Then Thursday after dinner, once the rest of the family had had a day back at home, Gustavo asked if I had ever salsa danced besides the class I took during orientation. A little, I told him. He pushed the coffee table aside, and thus it began, a little Spotify salsa music and we were off. He taught me all kinds of twirls and different steps and of course the fine art of exactly how to move my hips "You just have to feel the music-your not a robot!" then when he got tired, Borris, the college student who is a distant relative of Ximena's somehow, and who is staying with us for a while while he figures out his housing, was commanded to dance with me while Gustavo rested, then they switched out again…two hours later, after having strayed into meringue for the last half, I fell into bed exhausted but very happy to have had such a spontaneous living room dance lesson.

Friday was likewise lovely-Daysi informed me that I could in fact be in the Gender class AFTER ALL! Third times the charm, right? Oh boy-I am very happy, I was genuinely excited to take that class, and was bummed when I couldn't…it is just that I am beginning to get whiplash from all those schedule changes, here's hoping that things are steady from here on out…I also had a lengthy wait in the government office while we registered our visas in the afternoon. The good news is that I am not going to get deported for not having the piece of paper that was supposed to come with my visa that says I have a visa (gotta love that redundancy…) but that I never got, so I will just have to wait a bit longer to get my passport back. When I finally emerged from that ordeal, I got home, dropped my stuff, put a scarf on, and Alisa, Ximena Gustavo and I left for a restaurant as Alisa's send-off, since she had to leave the next morning. The view from the restaurant balcony was simply beautiful, the whole city slayed out before us as dusk fell, and the lights flickered on…

The view from the balcony restaurant
The view to the north of our beautiful balcony restaurant
Another view from the restaurant but now at night
A similar view about an hour later
Another view of Quito at night
You can see all the cupolas of the churches lit up across Quito, and there is the huge statue of the Virgin vaguely visible on the left hill.

I had one of the hugest Greek salads of my life, with no lettuce, just a mountain of tomatoes cucumbers, olives and onions. But the really interesting thing was the hot chocolate…with cheese. Before you frown and wrinkle your nose, just remember that two of the best things in the world could hardly fail to taste good together, plus, if sea salt caramel is good, why not cheese in your hot chocolate? I am going to bring this one back to the States-it was very yummy, chunks of queso fresco, that didn't melt really, just got soft and squeaky (think cheese curds) filling half the full mug of milky sweet (but not too sweet) hot cocoa. Yup.

Saturday morning, we said our farewells to Alisa then dropped her off with her fellow volunteers to be loaded into a pickup and driven off to her village where she will teach. We then took a long walk in the park with the dogs. Upon arriving home again, I left to meet up with Sarah and Tyler to walk to another park where there was a music festival. While waiting to meet up with them at the "redondel" (park/roundabout between Tyler and my houses) I got to watch a puppet show and hangout with these stilters-apparently there was a city-wide culture festival, each neighborhood doing its own thing.

Stilt walkers
Some stilt walkers in my neighborhood at the little cultural festival

Many many blocks away and steps up the mountain, the 3 of us finally arrived at the festival and immediately bought some ice cream. (but also found this on the way there)

Nearby climbing wall
The climbing wall that I discovered a few blocks from my house—so excited to check that out!

We then sat bewildered in the grass taking in the rather odd scene: lots of people (almost all dressed in all black) scattered around the grass in the sunny afternoon, children running through the crowd playing, while a punk-rock band screamed and thrashed on stage, and a "mosh-pit" type situation was projected onto the large screens from the front…Ok, sure, why not? So we stayed a while before parting ways and heading home. I watched some Hollywood movies with Spanish subtitles with Gustavo and Ximena (they definitely know more about the US movie scene than I do…which perhaps isn't saying allll that much…) before going to bed.

Sunday was a: PJs, soup & popcorn, cards with Abuela and the parents, talk to some people back home and do my homework day.

Whew! Ok, I really need to try and keep these shorter, I realize…hopefully I will have fewer "somos cuy" moments moving forward, so there will be less to rant about…