Story from a few weekends ago: We (a group of 8 ) were at a club/bar on Saturday night where we were dancing and celebrating the birthdays of Toby and me. We were enjoying ourselves and looking like an obvious group of gringos who can’t latin dance when a male and female stripper appeared on the stage in front of the club. They each twirled around solo for a while and then started pulling people from the audience to, um, entertain. In several minutes, all layers expect the skimpy undies (the woman was wearing several pairs to start…I don’t understand) came off. And THEN, my wonderful friends Geoff and Toby decided to push me all the way up to the stage; Toby promised to go with me as he was dragging me towards the front, but decided to change his mind as soon as I was pulled up on stage. After a minute, the terminator-like man listened to my “No, no quiero estar aquí.” He gave me a hand off the stage, and I went back to my friends and punched Geoff and Toby in the arms. We left soon after.
The past weekend: I went to Otavalo to visit my future internship site at El Centro Médico de Orientación y Planificación Familiar (CEMOPLAF: http://www.cemoplaf.org/qs_desc.htm). I had a fantastic welcome and think I’ll have a great time there. I’ll be working on sexual health and family planning education projects, or, like Regina (the Peace Corps volunteer from Beaver Damn, WI) told me, “Whatever you want to help out with, really.” I’m excited to start my internship and am waiting to hear who my new host family will be. My mom in Quito has been making sad faces about me leaving for a week now- I feel the same, but will be close enough to visit easily. Regina and I had lunch at a family restaurant; I managed to eat a fish served whole without swallowing too many bones. We walked to Regina’s host family’s house and, again, I was graciously accepted. As we snacked on cheese, potatoes, and popcorn, Lesli, the ten-year-old host sister, asked me if I liked cuy (remember, cuy=guinea pig). She explained that she loved cuy- as animals and to eat- and suggested I try it sometime, even though I don’t eat meat. I think she’s probably right…
As I waited for friends to arrive in Otavalo, I hung out at a restaurant overlooking La Plaza de los Ponchos and had a two hour conversation with a thirty-year-old woman from Switzerland. She quit her job to travel, has been exploring South America since October, and just extended her return ticket until this next October. She’s never been to Norway or Sweden.
Raquel, Julio, and I went out Friday night and met up with Julio’s Colombian friend and his two compañeros. We danced most of the night and the Colombians continued the music with their maraca, guitar, and drum as we danced back to the house.
Woke up on Saturday and decided the best way to cure our headaches was to go to a restaurant that overlooked the market square, and have mexican food, coffee, and cerveza. We wandered around the market afterwards and then went back to the house. After my nap, Raquel and I took the bus home to Quito.
It was my host sister’s b-day on Saturday (18- which is the legal age here) and the restuarant was set up as a discoteca. White covers over the chairs set along the walls, balloons, tables of snack food, beautiful chocolate cake, chocolate fountain with fruit, live DJ, funky lights, and confetti… oh, and a bartender. They arrived in a chiva (an open-sided party bus that takes a tour of the city while encouraging dancing, drinking, and cheering). My mom danced up to me, gave me a huge hug, and told me that they played drinking games on the chiva (she had a plastic cup on a cotton string around her neck). There were about forty people in attendance (some arriving, the relatives leaving after a while). One joven made it her objective to teach my friend Becca to dance… it didn’t work all that well. Many couples (sixteen to eighteen-year olds) were dancing quite closely and taking periodic breaks to make out in the small plaza in front of the restaurant; my parents would simply point, smile, and occasionally make a tour of the dance floor to monitor the goings-on. Especially in the context of dancing, signs of affection by body contact are widely accepted in this culture (it still takes me by surprise when I see couples unabashedly making out at bus stops or in the mall).
Updates: A group of people and I are going to the beach town Atacames for Carnival- maybe I’ll finally get some color from this Ecuadorian sun. Also, I’m going to Colombia for spring break- Cartagena first, Medellín second.
I have a list of “topics to reflect on” and hope to elaborate on cultural themes instead of just the details of my travels here in following posts. It’s difficult to keep track of everything when it seems that all I do/see/hear is new.
I had my first case of homesickness today- I thought I was going to be able to avoid it completely. I got most of it out of my system. Thank Pachamama for skype and friends who are always online : ) At the same time that my heart hurts for not having seen my family, friends, and roommates in six weeks, I feel that four months in another culture/place/country is no time at all to understand it. There’s still so many places I want to travel, so many people to meet, so much to discover, and I’ve already been here for a month and a half. The idea, first, of leaving Ecuador, and second, of staying in the states for an entire summer and academic year once I return seems impossible.