Sunday, June 21, 2009

No Act of Kindness is ever too small.

A delightful celebration was given for us by the children of #2
Daycare to end our two weeks of service. The children including the babies were dressed in costumes as they danced and sang. The time to leave was sad but they gave us good feelings of being appreciated and needed. Even with the lack of material goods, the children were very loving and especially well behaved. It was an unforgettable experience our time in Ecuador.
Global’s leader, Edith, has a gift of caring and makes service an easy task. Her energy was endless, her time and skills very much needed to keep the program organized and the work enjoyable.
The lodging was quaint and the food was the best we ate in Ecuador!

Written by Laural

Secong week.. here we go!

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing.
Motivation determines what you can do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.”
Week number two for Laural and I started out just as it had last week, with breakfast, reading of the journal and a brief meeting. It was exactly like last week except that we were missing Roberta and Brittany. As we split our services between the two daycares this week, we really missed Roberta, with her excellent motherly skills and Brittany, with her endless energy and enthusiasm for the kids and the work. We dropped Laural off at the daycare number one and Edith and I headed off to our new home for this week, daycare number two. We walked into bright new faces yelling HOLA and immediately we felt at home. Although every tias probably could have used our help, Lilly assigned us to work with Cristina who’s in charge of the under 2 year old group. We were amazed by Cristina’s efficiency in running the daycare number two. She was warm and caring but also firm and commanded the attention of all the kids. She quickly had Edith and I working, getting kids cleaned up and playing. We found daycare number two to be more organized and hygienic, which only made me that much more impatient to have the construction of the second floor completed quickly so that they can accommodate more kids here. After helping with lunch and clean up, Edith and I quickly trekked back to daycare number one to pick up Laural for lunch where we got much wanted update on the kids of daycare number one. It seemed that because of the election yesterday, both daycares had less number of kids than usual. When Laural returned to daycare number one, she found out that one of the babies that were sick earlier in the morning had gone home. The afternoon flew by, with Edith and I cutting out letters for the rincons and other rooms and Laural continuing to care for the babies and washing their bibs. The team returned to the hotel and rested a bit before our cooking demonstration from Lusmila who showed us how to cook the traditional Ecuadorian chicken soup. We will definitely be making a trip to SuperMaxi to pick up some seasonings that we can’t get in the states to make this soup!
Written by Rim

First service day...


“Where you end up isn’t the most important thing. It’s the road you take to get there. The road you take is what you’ll look back on and call your life.”

We began our first service day with breakfast and a brief meeting. I’m proud and surprised to report that we departed on time at precisely 8:00 am. The trip through Quito to Calderon was uneventful except for the fact that our van was the size of a large shoebox. The daycare center is located right off the local market thorough fare. Needless to say, the area is very poor. Our arrival commenced with a briefing from Lilly, the center’s director. We were given a brief tour. Much to our delight, eager and enthusiastic faces greeted us with shouts of HOLA! The team, led by Lilly, took the 10 minute walk to center II. Scott, the rooftop guard dog announced our arrival. Once again, the warm welcome was a complete joy. All the smiling faces and waves and shouts of HOLA make us all that more eager to start working with the children. In fact, some team members, (Brittany) were getting a little impatient to start. After our tours of center II, we headed back to center I. We quickly sorted and catalogued the donated goods, then headed off to our “rincones,” Laural with the babies, Rim in Lecteurs, Brittany in Art and myself in Construction. The children rotate “rincones” in 30 minute intervals so we had the opportunity to work with a wide age group of children. At 12:00, mayhem broke out as it was lunch time for the children. Thank god the children are the most cooperative, helpful, independent little sours. If it weren’t for their easy nature, feeding 40 kids would be a lot more difficult then it was. The children willingly line up, use the bathroom, wash their hands and carry their chairs to their assigned tables. Truth be told, you would never find this degree of cooperation in Daycare centers in the states. I was surprised to see that the “Clean Plate Club” rules here. The children must finish all their food! After lunch, the stuffed and exhausted children nap 6 to a bed. The equally exhausted members of team #132 headed off for lunch. At 2:00, we returned to help clean. Everyone pitches in, floor sweeping, bed making, mopping, dishes, even taking blankets outdoors to wash the old fashioned way. After clean up, the children must be spruced up; hairs combed, hands and faces washed and clothes straightened, all in anticipation of parent arrivals. At this point, Mari was waiting to transport us home. In the sprit of Ecuadorian warmth and generosity, Mari gave Lilly a ride to her destination, only to drop her off and pick up another passenger, only to drop her off and pick up yet another fare – but the most important – her 7 year old son, Ronnie. Upon arrival at our hotel, some of us rested while others ventured out to the mall and SuperMaxi, a very special outing for Rim as living as a single New Yorker, she never actually sees a grocery store.
Dinner was followed by a “38th” birthday celebration for Rim. She wished to celebrate January Birthday in Ecuador but couldn’t. So….better late than never. The evening ended with all going to sleep with the happy faces of the children in our memories. What an extraordinary impression they leave on us.

Written by Roberta

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

We landed in Quito almost a week ago. The arrival was uneventful, if you exclude the chaos at baggage claim, with baggage spread all over the piddly claim area. After 20 minutes, including walking on a (stopped) conveyor belt, I got all the bags and we left. I had not had the thrill of walking on a conveyor belt in a long time!! The view upon stepping outside the airport building was like what one I´d see in India: huge billboards spread out over the entire width of the airport wall, people all over the place. Our van was not more than a 100 ft from the building, but I was panting like a dog in heat by the time I got into the van (rule no. 1: take it easy when you´re not acclimated to the 9300 ft altitude, and let someone else carry more of the baggage).

We are in a tourist-class hotel along with 11 other American volunteers. The volunteer team is a motley crew, from all parts of the USA, and also includes a woman who lives in Kuwait.

The hotel is more like a very big house, with very traditional indigenous decorations and fittings throughout. It also has a piano in the restaurant, so on some days, we get entertained by the guests. The staff is very friendly, and the one I have gotten to know well is a matronly black lady called Cherito. Cherito now lets me use the microwave in the hotel kitchen, to heat up my morning coffee. Unlike Rani (the Tamil lady we had in Madras during last year's trip, whom I could understand), I have no clue what Cherito says to me. I think she still hasn´t figured out that I don´t speak Spanish that well, and don´t understand most of what she´s saying. In addition to the 13 volunteers, there is also a bunch of Mexicans here who work for Toyota. They all speak pretty good English, so needless to say, hanging out in the lobby in the evening is a lot of fun.

Our local host is a really ebullient Peruvian woman, who looks so Indian that I´d have believed her if she told me her name was Vijayalakshmi. As it turns out, her name is Edith (that´s EH-DEETH). Edith is a wonderful person, sensitive to all the people´s needs, and coordinates all aspects of our visit.

On Monday, we all got ready and boarded the bus to Calderon, 15 miles out of Quito. With its sliding, rattling windows, its jerky movements during gear shifts, and its belching diesel fumes, the bus reminded me of being in India. Calderon is a small town, not unlike Shiddlaghatta or any other small town in India. Access to the child care center where we volunteer requires going through a market selling all kinds of vegetables, meats, and some fruits I have never seen before. There are also a lot of stray dogs all over the place, so overall, that market is an odd blend of a market in India and one in Africa (the women carrying babies wrapped in cloth on their backs reminds me of Africa.)

The child-care center has children of all ages, from 6 months to 5 years. The first half of Monday was a bit of a challenge. As you can imagine, for a guy used to speaking Spanish only when ordering cold beer or hot coffee in Mexico, it was hard to tell the kids to sit down, not hit, stand, sit, eat, drink, cross hands, cross legs, etc.) With the help of a dictionary, the nanny in the room (and Sonali who´s thankfully in the same center as I), I have now gotten to the point of being able to speak enough of the language, to get the kids to do what I want. One really cute little girl, Carolina, corrects me when I mis-speak, so that helps as well. She has also started saying "OK", which is really cute. Phew, speaking in Tamil to the kids in Madras last summer was so much easier.

Quito is a compact town, and once we got over the horrible altitude-induced headaches (rule no. 2: think like an elephant, and DRINK LOTS OF WATER from day 0), we got to explore the city in our free time. The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. There are a lot of people here who can pass of as (Asian) Indians, so Sonali and I don´t stand out at all. On the first day we were in the mall, a man behind me overheard me struggling to order something at the cafe. After I´d ordered, he must have figured out I wasn´t fluent in Spanish, and asked me if I was from India. I said I was, whereupon he gave me a big pat on the back, and said that the Ecuadorean people respected Indians (at least that´s what I think he said.) What better welcome to this country!

Because of the altitude, the place is refreshingly free of mosquitoes and other critters, in spite of being very close to the equator. Night times require sweaters, and going to bed requires warm blankets (I think the receptionist at the hotel must have been amused when I landed up at the hotel and asked if the rooms had air conditioning.) The weather really is fickle, and when the guidebooks said that one could see warm, dry, wet and cold in one day, they were not kidding. Edith jokingly said that the Quito weather was like men: unpredictable. I was wondering whether the men had an opposite perspective,-)) Talking of sweaters, I noticed that the locals were pretty well-dressed, and I looked really bad in my sheepskin jacket, so I (finally) bought a sweater that I now wear out.

Some things in the city are ridiculously cheap: a cab ride across town costs $3, a vegetarian dinner at an Indian place for 3 people cost us $8, and petrol is $1.50 a gallon. On the other hand, alcohol is very expensive ($65 for a 750 ml bottle of JW Black Label whisky, $40 for a bottle of tequila that I wouldn´t even bother to look at in California, $25 for a bottle of wine from Chile, that happens to be just down the coast.) Thankfully, in order to avoid the problems due to altitude, I haven´t had a drop of alcohol since I landed here, so no loss on this front. Some of the Americans complained about the traffic, the bumpy roads and the uneven sidewalks. I told them that coming from India, this place looks so tame!!

We have now gotten used to this place and the routine now: daily briefings at breakfast, fresh juice from fruits I have never heard of, the trip in the rattling bus and the loud ¡Hola! from the wonderful children every morning. En-route, I look at the 18000 ft Pichincha volcano, which, relative to Quito´s altitude, looks like a large hill than a really high-up volcano. Since it was only 10 years ago that it erupted and spewed ash over the city, crippling it, I also pray to Pichincha, so he stays dormant, at least while I am still around here ,-)))

I can't believe it has been almost a week since we landed up here. I feel so settled down that it feels like I have lived here for years. Why is it so? Is it the country, the lovely people, or just me? I suspect it´s the first two. But I know that once I land in Palo Alto, it will feel like I never weird.

- as