When I first came here to the parish of Cuellaje in Intag, Ecuador, I thought I’d miss having internet access – here, I only get internet once a week, on Sundays, when I take the daily bus down from Rosario (the community where I’m staying) to the village of Cuellaje.
Funnily enough, as the days go by I don’t really miss it. Really, the only must-do item on my list when I get online is to check in with my family and friends to let them know that I’m still alive (and well).
It’s now been 4 weeks since I arrived here, and about 3.5 weeks with my host family in Rosario. There are many things I love about this place, but the best thing about it has to be the family.
The mother, Rosa, is only a year older than me, and she has 2 sons aged 11 and 3. Her husband is working as a taxi driver in Otavalo and he’s here 1 or 2 days a week. I go to school with the 11-year-old and sometimes play with the 3-year-old in the afternoons (for a while – it’s tiring!). Prior to coming here, I don’t think I’ve ever carried a toddler before and now I feel like a seasoned pro at it!
That goes for a bunch of other things I’ve been doing here as well. For example, this is the bridge I have to cross every morning to get to school:
It’s basically just two logs strapped together (with a portion in the middle with only one log) and some wires for you to hold on to. They do the job, though – once, I was crossing while it was dark and wet, and my foot slipped, but managed to stay on by hanging onto the wires with a death grip. By last week, I was crossing the bridge with just one hand on the wire and the other holding a bucket with a puppy in it! This puppy is the newest addition to the family and he’s simply adorable.
He likes to eat feathers, for some reason. I just adore him!
Back to the family: Rosa pretty much runs the whole place (they have a farm as well) single-handedly, with the help of a farm hand who also lives here. I couldn’t be more impressed. I like to chat with her while she’s making dinner – it’s always interesting to watch other people cooking! According to her, in Ecuador all the women can cook. At any rate, the women here can’t quite believe that I’ve gone my entire life without having learnt how to cook. I’ve learnt a lot about life here from her – not just food, but also culture and just way of life in general.
Speaking of food, I’m still amazed at how almost everything they cook isn’t bought. If they want to have chicken for dinner, they literally need to catch the chicken first. In Singapore, when restaurants are slow in serving us, we joke that they’re still catching the fish/chicken/cow or whatever it is, but in this case, it’s actually true!
Here in the country, kids have a lot more freedom. They run around vast swathes of farmland unsupervised, and when they fall down (which is rarely – they’re more sure-footed than I am!), they may cry for a bit but then they start running again. Tough kids.
What do I do on a daily basis?
I teach at the local primary school 4 days a week and one day a week, I do some farming (poorly) with Ned and Patricia at her mother’s farm.
Her mother is over 80 years old and lives just about a 20-minute walk away, so I’m more than happy to help out. They’re really generous and always give me something to bring home from whatever we’ve done that day. The generosity of the people here is really humbling.
An average teaching day looks like this:
6am – get up, get dressed etc.
6.30am – eat breakfast (the breakfast here is heavier than I’m used to, but also very much appreciated because I don’t eat lunch until after 2pm!) A typical breakfast is soup (with potatoes, beans and chicken or something similar), bread/empanadas with coffee. They often have juice as well but I’ve told them that just coffee is enough for me.
7.00am – leave for school. It takes about 20 minutes to get there, sometimes less if we catch a ride with the milk truck.
7.40am – classes all the way until 1.30pm, with a 40-minute break halfway through.
1.30pm – go home (this takes much longer than going to school because the kids play along the way)
around 2.30pm – lunch (usually rice, beans and something else – chicken, egg, avocado, tomato, etc.)
After lunch, there are a number of things I can do. I can play with the kids and the puppy, help the 11-year-old with his homework, watch TV with them (i.e. cartoons), or help Rosa with some farming.
For example, this week, I helped to harvest tamarillos (tomates de arbol or tree tomatoes) and kidney beans. We also picked blackberries (moras) and made ice lollies (bolos) from their juice. Blackberries are really expensive back home in Singapore, but here they just grow wild and are really sweet to boot. Picking (and eating) blackberries is definitely one of my favourite activities here!
The plants are very thorny, though. My jacket and pants have paid a high price for all the blackberries I’ve been picking!
In the evening, I like to chat with Rosa while she makes dinner and help a little if possible. We eat dinner at about 7 or 8pm and I try to shower before that because it gets cold at night. Dinner is often soup (with potatoes, beans, chicken etc.) or rice, with coffee and perhaps some empanadas to go with the coffee. I really like the empanadas – so unhealthy but so delicious! I also really like fried plantains, which look like bananas but can’t be eaten raw.
After dinner, I do a bit of lesson planning (not for long) and sleep relatively shortly thereafter.
Everyday I’m amazed at the beauty that surrounds me here. In the afternoons, the clouds get really low and cover the tops of the surrounding mountains. It gives the whole place a mystical feel that I couldn’t quite capture on camera.
More on my teaching, farming and weekend adventures in future posts!