Friday, October 31, 2008

Peru, China, Happy Halloween!

It has been ages! This is going to be such a long post. Apologies in advance. It's all interesting though. Of course.
So. Peru.
Cusco is my absolute favorite city ever. It is amazingly beautiful, and so interesting. We got there very early in the morning after a huge layover in Lima so we essentially hadn't slept in two days. They instantly gave us lots of coca tea (which is a bit like a religious experience), and I was good to go all day. It gets rid of your appetite and need to sleep. We had a quick introduction to the Incan trail with our guides, then were set free for the day. Since it was still just about 8:30, we had a lot of time. John, Alexis, Isabel, Katie Robson, and I went and hired horses and a guide to ride around the mountains and visit some of the temples. It was the most incredibly clear day, with the bluest sky. All of our pictures look photoshopped. Strangely enough there are eucalyptus forests on the mountain, so we rode through some of those too. When we got back we did some shopping at the markets, got ice cream, and wandered around. I spent a few hours walking around by myself which was nice, it was pretty much the first time alone I'd had in ages. Oh, also, John got hit by a truck. We were walking along the narrow sidewalk when a man walked straight at us. John stepped off the sidewalk to let him pass, and before he could get back on a truck drove into him. He stumbled foward and I thought he was dead, but he didn't even fall over or get a bruise.
The Inca Trail! It was very long. And very steep. There were a lot of stairs. It was quite hard. It was also incredibly beautiful. Nights were very cold, with more stars than I've ever seen. We'd lie out in our sleeping bags for hours, and see maybe six shooting stars a night. Huge ones, with fiery tails. It was amazing! The second day we hiked Dead Woman's Pass, which is exactly like it sounds. A million steep stairs. Towards the top we got into a cloud, and it was very cold and wet and you couldn't see in front of you at all. Day three we got caught in a hail storm! By the end we were all so tired and sore, but so glad we'd done it. Even when I was struggling up Dead Woman's Pass I was enjoying myself; how many people get to do that? I was hiking the Inca Trail! We saw many Incan ruins along the way, which were wonderful. All of their stones are perfeclty fit together, and they polished them with water and sand! The last day we woke up early and saw the sun rise over the mountains from some Incan ruins, before finishing the hike to Machu Picchu. Finishing the last climb to the Sun Gate and seeing Machu Picchu at last was absurd. We were sweaty and tired and sore, and suddenly it was there. It's as amazing as you would imagine. We spent hours there, walking around and learning about the Inca. They were brilliant astronomers, and all their buildings are built to work with the sun and stars. Their special animals were the condor, puma, and snake. They view the snake as cunning and intelligent just like we do, but their idea of the condor is very different. They think of it as peace, because though it eats meat it never kills. Very different concept of scavengers!
After Machu Picchu we went into the town, Aguas Calientes, and had the largest meal of my life. Noah, Alexis and I went to the hot springs for which the town is named. They are a green-yellow color, and apparently smelled like urine though obviously I couldn't tell, and very hot. I enjoyed myself, but Alexis and Noah were a little grossed out.
Then we flew to China! It took about two days, with five flights. After the first flight Robin's bag got stolen, with two computers and his journal inside. That was a very bag beginning. They could only check our bags through to LA because damn USA wanted to check them even though they weren't staying in the country. We only had an hour layover so we got security to let us off the plane early and escort us to get our bags. Which would have been great, if our bags hadn't been the last ones off the plane. The security guard helping us was insane, more like a tv caricature than a real life guard. He kept announcing anything he could think of, and making jokes about our names and whatnot. Then we had to literally run through the airport, and about five of us got lost and thought we weren't going to make it. But we did. I slept for most of the flight then played chess with John, on our awesome Incans vs. Spanish chess board.
Excellent food. EXCELLENT. You sit at a huge table and about twenty dishes are placed in the middle on a lazy Susan, and you pick what you want with chopsticks and put it in your bowl. They don't drink cold water here, they drink hot, so my mouth is always burned. We spent a few days in Tonghai at a hotel for orientation, visiting schools and temples and having lessons. Then we went to meet our families! Part of the fun is that we hadn't done laundry since Machu Picchu, so we were all wearing the same clothes for about a week. Right before we met our families we gave our laundry to a woman, but we didn't get it back until yesterday so I had to wear the same shirt with my family four days running. Since they speak not a word of English I couldn't explain why, and I'm sure they think I'm a slob. I'm wearing a clean shirt now though, it's amazing!
My family is a mother, father, and possibly son. By which I mean a teenage boy lives with us, but he never looks at me or talks to me and I almost never see him. We've only spoken because I got forced him to shake hands the first day, since then there has been no contact. My host mother is very nice but has a poor opinion of my intelligence since I got lost the first day three minutes from the house. I showed two men the address hoping they'd point me in the right direction, but they instantly called my host mother and told me to stay here, the only English they knew. So she thinks I'm an idiot. My host father is the happiest person. He smiles and giggles and talks to me in Chinese and doesn't care that I don't understand. I really want to squeeze him, he reminds me of a teddy bear. Liz lives very near, and her parents are best friends with mine. We always have dinner together. She has a host cousin who speaks English, and he eats with us too which is very helpful.
Every day we have Chinese lessons at the school which are incredibly hard but so interesting. I have a great teacher, Charles (his English name), who is one of our guides while here. He is a whiz kid computer hacker who skipped high school, and he keeps getting us TV shows for the computers. After lessons we have two hour seminars with the group, then lunch. After that we go to our schools. I'm with five others at the private school. My teaching partner is Dave. Yesterday we gave our first lessons, a day before we were supposed to. Because we didn't think we'd start til Monday we had nothing prepared, so we just talked to them about America and China and tried to have conversations to practice English. They are enthusiastic! We watched their PE class, which was very funny. They run around a basketball court as a group, and look like the wildebeasts from the Lion King more than anything else.
Last night was Halloween (even though for you it is right now), so we had a party. We went back to our room at the university in the evening, and ate lots of candy and watched a Chinese ghost story. It was so funny and strange, but sadly I fell asleep for most of it. No one here knows Halloween, so it was part of our lessons yesterday.
I have a bit more to say but I have to go meet at the university. We are doing Kunming exploration today, where they drop us off solo or in pairs somewhere in the city to find something. Essentially it will be about six hours of being lost, but it should be fun! I'll probably be back tomorrow and say all the other little details.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quito and the Plague

We´re in Quito, leaving today for Peru. We´ve been here for a few days. There´s a lot to write in this one so I may have to come back to it later...
First off, I finally got sick which was unfortunate. The night we left Búa I got sick at our going away party. I had this crazy fever and cold sweats and aches, as well as a bad stomach and head. Sadly it´s still clearing up, but I felt so much better after the first day that I don´t really care though. So many of us have been struck down by the plague- Alexis especially (of course). She seems to have a parasite, so they gave her medicine and she´s healing finally. Most of the sick people have been from Lower Búa Compound, so they´re wondering if it wasn´t something up there making us sick. Yesterday I stayed home with a few other sick people while the rest went on a hike to prepare for Machu Pichu. Alexis and I lay in bed and watched Knocked Up and Lion King 2 and then slept, and it was the most relaxing thing I´ve done since the start of TBB. Last night John and I watched Wall-e, so it was a very relaxing day.
Back to the actual Ecuador stuff:
Guayaquil. Eight of us went on an independent travel there last weekend. We caught the bus after work on Friday, and stayed at the Dreamkapture Hostel. We were a little worried it would turn out to be a brothel, but the name was just a reference to the many dream catchers placed around the rooms, and it was actually very nice. We had a great weekend, but it was hardly relaxing. We didn´t sleep much at all. Saturday we spent literally the entire day walking around. We hit the boardwalk, museum of modern art and anthropology, the forced-quaint old part of town, and a million places in between. The old town had some of the best ice cream I have ever tasted. They give you tiny little scoops, so we all felt ok about buying from every store we passed. After the museum most of the group went to walk more around the city, but Lily and I split off to try to find new cameras. We were theoretically going to catch a bus to a Canon store we´d passed on the way, but we got very distracted walking down the boardwalk and ended up stopping and trying just about every ice cream store we passed (there were a lot). In the end it took hours, and by the time we caught the bus the camera store was long shut.
For dinner most people went back to the boardwalk to hang out and get something cheap, but John, Alexis, and I went to a sushi restaurant we passed during the day. We spent about a million dollars on a four person platter and it was so, so, worth it. Amazing. Everyone made fun of us afterwards for our splurge, but I would do it again in a second. I´m making myself so hungry just writing about it.
Back home we wrapped up the projects as best we could. I went to Freddy´s three times this week to build the single eco-toilet. We spent the whole time slapping cement around the egg shaped toilet; my hands were a mess! They´ve mostly gone back to normal now, but they were completely peeling from all the cement handling. Now they´re just super tough. We didn´t quite finish the toilet by Friday, but we got it to the point where it just needs the pipes set up to work. The physical toilet is all built. Similar story with the school toilets. We had another small project Thursday and Friday: mucking out a fish pond at ShinoPi. When the first team went on Thursday it was basically a small mud pond with a trickle of water running over the top. By the time we finished on Friday it was clearly a fish pond, though a dirty one. Basically you climb into the pond, up to your thighs in mud, and throw shovel fulls of mud onto the banks. It goes fairly quickly but it is incredibly hard!
Zach´s 19 birthday was this week. We had a little party for him in the morning at work with the group, and a huge one at night in Lower Búa Compound! Our families made a special celebration dinner of delicious fish, and we all ate together. Emily, Alexis, and I bought balloons in Guayaquil, and with the help of our host sibblings we blew up about 25. They all ended up on our bed, with Joselito doing his best to pop or steal all of them. We didn´t really know what to do with them so we put them in a blanket and threw them over Zach at the dinner table. The babies loved them! As did Don Herman, oddly enough. There was one point during dinner where we looked over and saw Don Herman pushed back from the table, bounching a balloon on his lap with the most absorbed expression I´ve ever seen. We had a cake after dinner, and a dance party! Sebastian put on his Tsachila music and we TBBers started dancing, and soon everyone was. Sebastian got the truck and parked it right outside the window so he could blast the music. We all ended up dancing with our host sibblings and parents as well as each other, and the party went on for hours. It was incredibly fun.
As I said, they had a goodbye party for us our last night. It was at the school, and had traditional dancing, the same nice fish they gave us at Zach´s birthday, some speeches, and tons of group photos. It was all brilliant until I got sick in the middle of one of the photos and had to run off.
Something I forgot- early in the week two tiny kittens appeared in the room we use at the school. We couldn´t figure out what they were doing there, but it turns out someone at the school brought them as a present for us. They were tiny balls of fluff, and they would run under our chairs during seminars and sit on the shovels and watch us. I was so sad we couldn´t take them with us!
I also can´t remember if I mentioned the Maripositas yet. If not: one of our dogs, Mariposa, had four puppies! They are tiny black nothings at the moment, unable to open their eyes or hear for at least a month. They are so cute though- you pick them up and they start sucking on your finger and cuddling against you.
In terms of baby animal news, John and Lily´s family also has nine baby chicks. They are called unolito, doselito, treselito, cuatrolito, all the way up to number nine who is not loved and is just nueve. No -lito for him.
I got a new camera! It´s the newest version of the point and shoot that I broke. I´m pretty happy about it. I´ve already got some nice pictures.
When we left, all of our mothers cried. To our infinite suprise, so did Don Herman! It was an interesting morning for Alexis and me. We both felt awful but we still had to pack, so we took loads of drugs to get us through it. Marcia sat with us the whole time and talked about the family, Búa, her life, our lives, and much more. I´m really going to miss our family here. They expect us all back for a visit (and maybe marriage) in four years, when we finish college. We´ll see. It would be great, though. I´ll put up a few photos later if I have the chance. Also, go to the TBB website ( in the next few days, as all of our media projects will be up. We´ve been crazy busy working on them for the past few days. My group was writing the article as well as the introduction blurbs for Costa Rica and Ecuador, and I´m quite happy with how they turned out.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Get thee behind me, Satan!

I have been exorcised. I am clean.
I went with Alexis and Emily to the shaman yesterday evening, to have my spirit cleansed. It was a beautiful house, with beautiful land all around it. Our host dad brought a packet of white candles and three eggs with him, which he gave to the shaman. The shaman picked a bundle of herbs then led us into a small hut. Alexis and Emily sat on a bench against the wall, and I sat next to the shaman in front of a table covered in stones, candles, and other magical objects. He lit a small, well burned white candle standing on a rock, and blew at the table for a while. He drank some brown liquid from a water bottle beside him, and spat it all over the table. Then he took a new white candle from the bundle, and started scrubbing me with it. He was whistling the whole time he worked. He thoroughly scrubbed my face, hair, arms, and torso. When he finished he held it against my head and chanted, which he later told us was to call the spirits to work with him. He lit it from the already lit candle, and stuck it on the table. Then he picked up the bundle of herbs, and started brushing me with them. When I say brushing, I really mean beating. He kept smacking me in the face with them! When he finished with the herbs he used an egg; I was sure it was going to break on me with how hard he was pressing, but it didn´t. I could feel the yolk shaking inside as he vibrated his hand back and forth. After the egg he used two rocks. When he finished scrubbing me with them he put one against my forehead, and started hitting it with the other. Hard! It was rather loud. Then he took another drink of the brown liquid, and holding it in his mouth sort of prayed over my head. Then he spat it all over me! He must have extensively practiced spitting to be able to spray so well. I could hear Alexis behind me almost burst into laughter at that part. I was quite suprised. He went to get another bottle, this time orangina, with an orangey liquid in it. The brown stuff was running down my face. Shaman spit. He put the orange one on his hands (it wasn´t actually orangina, so I was happy) and rubbed it all over my face, neck, and arms. Then he did the same with another sort of liquid. After that it was Emily´s turn, then Alexis. He didn´t chant over them, or clack the rocks against their heads. He focused more on my head, Emily´s neck, and Alexis´ eyes which was strange. He also reversed the order of rock and egg for them both. After he finished all three he put a tingly, wonderful smelling liquid on all of our faces and necks. He then brought us each a cup of bitter tea, which he said was medicine for everything. He let us ask questions about the cleansing, so we know now that the candle was to tell what was wrong with us, the herbs to get rid of bad things in our spirits, the egg for illness, and the rocks to generally cleanse (and banging them against my head was to raise my energy). I actually did feel really good afterwards, maybe just because it was all so calming.
Other news for the day: Alexis and I were on our bed when Emily came over to hang out. Joselito was chilling on our floor as he often does, when suddenly Alexis noticed a horrible smell. We thought Jose had farted and we were quite grossed out, until we actually looked at the floor. There was an enormous poop. It had a giant white worm in it. We were wondering if a dog had come in and done it when Jose wandered back in, with a huge poop stain down his pants. We were screaming and laughing, and Lisbeth ran in, didn´t miss a beat, didn´t giggle, just scooped it up in a shirt and ran out. I can´t believe we missed him pooping on our floor! I put my sneaker over the spot so we wouldn´t step on it, but Jose came back in beaming, so proud of himself, and kicked it away. So now we don´t know where it was. We just do a James Bond sneak next to the wall whenever we want to leave the room. I asked Marcia if she knew he had that thing in him; she said he´d been taking medicine for it, and that he had it because he eats sweet things. What?
Monday, Marcia came in and told me Fifi was going to die. She was throwing up and shaking and couldn´t open her eyes or stand up. I was so upset. I sat with her for about 45 minutes in the dirt. They all thought I was crazy, they just don´t get worked up over dogs like that. They were really nice about it though; Kevin, Sean and Emily´s eight year old host brother, came and sat still with me for about ten minutes and was so nice about Fifi even though he doesn´t like dogs and normally can´t sit still at all. They told Joselito that I was sad, so he brought me his bottle and stuffed toys. They said they´ve had a few dogs who died of that illness, and that only rarely do they recover. However, the next morning Fifi was running around, good as new! So that was wonderful.
I also talked a lot to my family here about water- they said that until about 15 years ago they drank from the river, though they always boiled it. Then the well was built. They said that all the pesticides the farmers use have polluted the river, and the big fish they used to eat aren´t there any more. It´s interesting because all the others who live with farming families have been told the river is dirty because of chemical plants upstream, nothing to do with pesticides.
New pictures!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


We´re at the coast right now- if I walk out of the internet cafe and cross the street, I´m literally standing on the beach. It´s so beautiful. I´m staying about 100 feet from where I am right now, and sleeping in an actually comfortable bed! I had my first good nights sleep last night since getting to Ecuador. We´re going back to Bua tomorrow, so we can start work again Monday. We´re really close to finishing the toilets at the school, and we´re building another at the house of a guy named Freddy, which will be used by many families. We´re also building a well at Shinopi, the cultural center for the Tsachila.
Last Sunday we baked our chocolate chip cookies- it was an adventure! We just gave up trying to measure and threw things into the bowl until it tasted right. We made so many cookies! They actually turned out really good- our families loved them. It was so fun, six of the people staying near the school came over to see our compound (they are full of admiration for how far we have to walk each day to get to and from the school. It really is uphill both ways). 14 people was a lot to fit in our kitchen, but it worked.
We worked really hard all week on all the projects- my hands are all blisteres from shoveling and lifting rocks. A bunch more people got the 24 hour stomach bug, although some of them may well have been sick from the slightly off cheese two of the families used.
Thursday the lights were out all day. When it got dark there was nothing to see for miles, except the amazing stars. Sean, Emily, Alexis, Ian and I lay in the yard and watched them for hours. We saw so many shooting stars, some huge! Fifi and Chito (our puppies) slept on my stomach the whole time.
This week was much more relaxed than last week, but so fun. I´m really tired though, all those nights of waking up a million times are catching up. I´m so glad we´re here for the weekend! Maybe I´ll catch up a little.
We all read a bit of either End of Poverty or White Man´s Burden this week, and discussed them during a few seminars. I have to say, I think I agree much more with Easterly than with Sachs. So little of the aid given is actually going to the right places, I don´t see how we can possibly achieve the millenium goals. I think Easterly´s ideas about doing small projects initiated by people within the community who know what is really needed is the way to go. I think Invisible Children is following his method- even though the support is coming from the states, Jolie is directing all the projects and deciding what is needed. IC is addressing specific needs, not trying to change the system from the top down the way the Sachs method often seems to. I think they have sort of different goals too, though; Sachs wants to end extreme poverty, while I think Easterly is talking about general poverty, and just wants to improve quality of life. Also, he says a million times how often the IMF and World Bank are huge factors in countries right before they experience a crisis, and he keeps saying how that they definitely aren´t causing them but won´t give any proof. If we hadn´t read Perkins last week I would accept that, but as it is I think he may be ignoring some important things. We read some other global empire things which support Perkins, so that´s kind of scary.
Oh, and other news; my small camera broke! I don´t know why. It just stopped working. So I really need to get a new one now! I´m having some seriously bad luck wtih cameras.
I´ll have internet again before we leave tomorrow, so you should write to me before then!