A series of birthdays

January has been a month of birthdays in the family. Anthony (the 11-year-old)’s was on 10 January, Kevin (the 3-year-old)’s was on 16 January, and then mine a couple of days later.

For Anthony’s birthday we had sopa de gallina (chicken soup) with freshly caught chicken, as usual.

De-feathering and prepping the chicken is time-consuming, smelly and messy. They eat practically every edible part of the chicken, down to the innards, neck and feet. Very little wastage! This is one job I’m content to just watch without attempting to help.

This particular chicken was notable because it had 4 or 5 eggs inside it – which also can be cooked and eaten. They look like small eggs without the shells, just a membrane. I tried one and it was basically egg yolk.

Rosa and I also made a birthday cake for Anthony – two, actually. The first one was a failure because we mistook salt for sugar! The second one was fine, albeit very sweet. It was Rosa’s usual torta (cake) plus some of the leftover ingredients from my brownies: chocolate drops, desiccated coconut, cocoa powder, and maple syrup. She also added a strawberry-flavoured soft drink (Fiora) in lieu of milk, which made it even sweeter.

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Then she made icing using egg whites (beating it by hand) and boiled sugar water, with coloring from an instant fruit juice powder. Baking here is very much an exercise in creativity!

I was tasked with piping “Feliz Cumpleaños Anthony” on the cake but it turned out hideous because I didn’t have a lot of control over the piping bag (just a regular plastic bag with a hole cut in the bottom). Really need to work on my piping skills!

The birthday celebration itself was very simple. We sang the birthday song before eating dinner and then had the cake as dessert with a glass of Coke. I’m not sure why cakes here are eaten with soft drinks.

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In contrast, I didn’t help to make Kevin’s birthday cake. Rosa made it all by herself (a wise choice – it turned out delicious) while I chopped garlic, peppers, spring onions etc. for the soup.

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My Ecuadorian family

Waterfall chasing in San Antonio

Ned and Patricia invited another volunteer, Ellie (who’s from Australia) and me over for the weekend to visit some waterfalls on their property. It was really nice to hang out with another volunteer for so long!

It was also great to see how much Ned and Patricia’s baby has grown in just 2 months!

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The trek to the waterfalls took over 3 hours in total. It wasn’t a very difficult trek – just a lot of mud, because it’s been raining a lot lately and quite slippery. Rubber boots are a definite must-have here. Even in the dry season, because we had to cross a few rivers!

I fell a few times, especially towards the end when I got tired and wasn’t concentrating as hard. There are quite a few “false floors” too, where there’s either a hole or a surprisingly big drop covered up by leaves.

The waterfalls were beautiful, though! It was a series of 3 waterfalls actually.

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I don’t have too many pictures because we had to do a bit of climbing and my hands were too dirty to take many pictures!

After lunch, Ellie and I had a nice chat and helped to make quimbolitos (Patricia made the batter and we just put them in the leaves).

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As usual, they were delicious and I ate way too many. This is one of the many things that I don’t think I can replicate at home because it’s impossible to get hold of the achira leaves. Patricia says that banana leaves work as well, though.

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Reality check

I’ve probably been painting a very rosy picture of life here in the Ecuadorean countryside, but I recently realized that life is hard here, especially if you’re a woman.

The talk of the town recently has been a young woman (just 24 or 25 years old) who left her husband and 3 kids for another man. In rural communities like this, word gets around pretty fast and people are more than happy to gossip. Apparently he was pretty abusive and she tried to commit suicide a few years ago, so he may have got what was coming to him. Plus she’s so young – she had her first kid at 15 years old! What do you know at that age?

So I was talking about it with Rosa and said that I wouldn’t stand for this kind of treatment – if my husband ever hit me, I’d leave him right away. Then the full weight of my privilege came crashing down when she said, “But you’re educated, you have a university degree and your own career. If one isn’t educated, she has no choice but to put up with it even if her husband beats her. Where else can she go? She can’t make a living for herself out here in the countryside without a man.”

And I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it from that angle before, but it just brought home to me in a very real way how important education is for women’s rights. I’ve always seen education as beneficial in itself, but it is so important from a pragmatic perspective as well. Educated women have the ability to be independent, and while I’ve always valued independence in itself, it’s that much more important when it means the difference between staying with an abusive spouse or leaving him.

This has also made my work here at the school that much more meaningful. When I first came, it seemed to me that learning English was one of those “good to know” but not essential things in the lives of these kids. Realistically speaking, if they’re going to be farmers just like their parents, they will never need to speak a word of English in their daily lives. Many of these kids don’t even complete high school, and it doesn’t affect their ability to make a living as farmers.

But now I see how important education (and English) is, even for them – especially the girls. Even if they grow up to be farmers’ wives, life will be so much better if they have the options that education gives them. And if my time here helps – in however small a way – to make the life of just one girl better, it will have been worth it.

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5 Comments on "Birthdays, waterfall chasing and a reality check"

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Tania @ Larger Family Life
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The story about the young woman was eye opening and through provoking indeed as to how we take the privileges we have for granted. The quimbolitos are interesting though. I’ve never heard of them. What are they?

Michelle | michwanderlust
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Quimbolitos are an Ecuadorean cake-like delicacy – they’re made by steaming the batter in achira leaves. They’re absolutely delicious and you should totally try it if you get the chance! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Tania!

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[…] and Patricia’s property has 9(!) waterfalls, and I’d already seen the 3 most easily accessible ones, but for Ian’s benefit we did the hike […]

Kat
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Hi Mich, your post made me ponder about conversations I had with women in Malaysia who are home-makers and not very educated – some of them are in abused relationships but they do not have the guts to leave the relationships because they were dependent on the husbands for income. And the same can be found in other societies too around the world. At the end of the day, education is so important for girls – never mind, if they remain in the village but with a bit of education, they can financially support themselves, thus making them relatively less… Read more »
Michelle | michwanderlust
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So true! I guess it really is a worldwide issue, and just underlines the importance of education for girls. Thanks for your insightful comment, Kat!

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