May I just start by saying that grammar was never my strong suit in English…and yet here I am… now expected to figure out what a “reflexive verb” or better yet a ” Verbo reflexivo” or “Pasada verbos”… are…it has been rather humorous…my teacher, Maria, had her work cut out for her from day one. On my first day, she hands me a test to see my Spanish language level…As she watched me struggle for about 5 minutes, a smile appeared on her face and she says in Spanish, “No Problemo….” and takes the test away from me …which meant, I knew so little Spanish that it wasn’t even worth testing me!!! From that point on my head has just continued to spin…everything..and I mean everything is taught in Spanish…Mas grammar…Regular Verbs, Irregular Verbs, Adjectives etc..So since I was not the best English grammar student all those many years ago, it is quite the adventure to attempt to not only learn a new language IN the new language BUT learn to speak it and write it grammatically correct! My facial expressions, alone, must have been telling because every once in awhile Maria would give me an English translation..BUT only very infrequently…although soon, I got a handle on asking ” Como se Dice?”, which means “how do you say that?” Maria and I soon began to have long gringro-esque conversations about the world, politics, her family, my job etc…at this point my Spanish is still muy Spanglish but at least now I can be understood and comprehend a lot more. ..and I must say Maria has had the patience of a saint because my butchering of the pronunciation of Espanol probably will become legendary at the school…and yet she just continued on as if I spoke beautifully. Last Wednesday after class, we took a field trip to the local Chocolate factory with some other students. The next day, each student was expected to give an oral report on a part of the chocolate process during our daily tea break. I can promise that some of you would have loved being a fly on the wall with a tape recorder during that time… you could have made a fortune blackmailing me later! (:
After studying with Maria alone for 5 hours every day, my “Mama de la Casa”, Juana would pick me up for our daily adventures…Juana, Cesar and Paola(their 30 year old daughter) Vitari are the family with whom I am living. They do understand poco english but don’t speak any. The only reason I know that they do understand some is that they are constantly correcting me and if I am struggling for a word, I’ll say it in English and they will translate it for me. Juana has taken me to the market to teach me how to haggle for the freshest produce, taught me the bus, trolley and metro systems, taken me shopping for “Casa Zapatos” and taken me to the “middle of the World”(the Equator)…Yesterday, we had a very adventurous ride by bus out to “Mitad Del Mundo” which is the Equator…so, of course, Juana and I had our pictures taken straddling the Northern and Southern hemispheres of the World!!! Juana is constantly talking to me and asking me questions in Spanish and telling me stories( this process MAY make even ME less of a talker!…it’s like getting someone to stop smoking…stick them in a room and make them smoke constantly…well for us talkers…force us to constantly talk in a foreign language..and before you know it we will become completely silent!)…At the beginning, when they picked me up from my Pension last Sunday, all I could say was “Por favor, hablome muy despacio. Yo hablo espanol muy poco”…and they all complied…but it didn’t seem stop them from conversing with me…instead they talked more and more to me…all day and most of the night…the first day, there was a knock on my door at 6:30a(school is a 8:30 and I leave by a little before 8)for breakfast and a barrage of questions, with a complete expectation of an answer(at first I gave a smile and constantly said “Si”)….and at night we would sit around the table and talk for at least 2 hours and then I would have to do homework…Adios Mio!….But,in all honesty, it is a great way to learn a new language because you have no choice and it doesn’t matter how you sound as long as you can get your message across…especially if you are not shy about using your hands and even arms for description..last night Cesar asked me how to say ” I am going to sleep” in English…I told him and I was happy to find his pronunciation of English was as interesting as my pronunciation of Spanish!…The whole family loves to say “Hasta la Vista, Baby!” to me when they say good night…it is quite funny. The family is fabulous and I really think this is a great way to really enjoy and learn about a culture. It’s a great way to understand how other people live and what they really think of us(that is another email altogether). We have had amazing conversations and what’s more amazing is that I am able to actually understand them and be understood! Before I left, Juana and Paola and I sat around the kitchen table and we traded Insect, Snake and Rat stories! ( a fun conversation to have in a foreign language especially when using hand signals too) I must say I have a new found trepidation about traveling to the coast since Juana told me about the time she was on the coast and looked up to see a very large Black Spider carrying the top of her makeup jar under it’s belly, up the wall…she screamed for Cesar to kill it and reclaim her makeup top, which Cesar promptly complied with…ONLY to discover the spider was a mother of over 25+ scary baby spiders who were all under the top! Ahhh!… I can see it now…me and the spiders….all my thoughts of a relaxing beach experience have been shattered…the Amazon story is too scary a story to retell…it will have to wait until I’ve returned…safely from the Amazon!..that is, of course, if I do ! (:
Juana also is an amazing cook…oh my gosh…she cooks everything from scratch…and I mean scratch…all fresh…no cans…she picks fresh fruits and veggies and what she does with corn should be considered an Art…her soups are to die for …the fruits taste amazing…fruits like Pineapple and Orange and nectarines have such succulent and sweet tastes here…they taste different from the fruits we have…and let me just tell you, after drinking homemade juices that are freshly blended by a manual machine and strained patiently by hand, I don’t think I will be drinking juice in a can for awhile…At the house, on the patio, Juana has 2 large Tomato Trees! I had never seen trees(over 8) with tomatoes…these are actually fruits that are incredibly sweet, you peel the skin as you eat the fruit inside…muy bueno!….Potato is surprisingly from South America…Ecuadorians have a variety of different potatoes or rice with everything…as with Thailand, the whole idea of too many carbs doesn’t apply because all the food is fresh and has no preservatives……there is no obesity here but the Ecuadorians love their food and enjoy each savory meal . The food is not at all spicy(all the spices are dips served on the side) …all the food I have eaten has been so delicious and none of the food I’ve had at home has been fried…and I am happy to report that so far I have not been served “Cuy”…which is Guinea Pig(the National food of the Sierra Provinces)…I was delighted to learn the Viteri family thinks of Guinea pigs more as pets than as “Comida” (food). Actually, Juana has suggested I become a Vegetarian while I am in the Amazon because of the Amazonias love of mas varieties of meats!..I will most likely take her advice!..one last comment about the food…the tea Juana served me at each meal is almost clear but it’s taste is so distinct and fabulous…it is of a fresh herb called Cedron. She grows it on her balcony and she has been kind enough to give me a bag to take back(now no jokes about bringing herbs back from S. America!!!)..let’s hope customs let’s me bring it in.
On each little adventure we go on, Juana would hold my hand as we crossed the street as if I were a very small child…I guess this is a good thing since in Quito, they mark the street with very large Blue Hearts to mark where a pedestrian has been killed by a car or bus…and let me just say there are murals of these large hearts in the streets of Quito.. It has become a running joke with us as we crossed to say “no Corazon Azul por mi, Hoy!”…”No blue hearts for me today.
Juanna seemed to enjoy this quite alot…
The Weather here is quite unpredictable, so in the AM, I would leave the house wrapped in my jacket because it is muy frio…by the school break at mid morning, we would see the clouds rolling in…rain…and then it would be sunny and warm in the PM…but not always in that order…the nights are very cold and I wore long johns and my PJ’s and one night I even had to use one of my hand warmers, that I used on my Trek in Nepal….The first morning, I couldn’t get the warm water to work so I ended up taking the coldest shower of my life…that was after waiting for quite awhile for the water pressure to actually spew forth some water…and if that shower experience didn’t stop my heart, then I am confident that I have got some years ahead of me… Because of the vast urban growth here in Quito, they have serious water and water pressure problems. If someone else on the block is using water, the water in the shower just stops!…After my first shower attempt, I decided to ask Juana how to get the hot water to work…she laughed at my complete misunderstanding of the local water system and promptly took me by the hand and gave me a complete lesson on taking a shower in Ecuador!! The next day, my shower was…..well, I’ll just say it was warmer than the day before!…I’m learning…maybe by the time I leave I will have mastered taking a warm shower even if I haven’t mastered the language! Seriously, though, Quito has a serious water shortage because of all the development here and not enough rain…so it is important to understand how not to waste such a valuable resource…but most important thing to remember about the local water is not to drink it or put it in your mouth…Juana says even the locals drink bottled water! I am trying not to think about what that actually means….
As you can tell by my babbling on and on, I have enjoyed my first week of language immersion in Quito. Friday, I got my certificate of completion from the Academy de Espanol-Quito…now onto the Simon Bolivar Academy! This morning I got up early and rushed out to the market to buy some fresh flowers for my family as a goodbye present. I bought 4 dozen roses and a beautiful vase…it cost 5.00…it is amazingly inexpensive here…but not for the Ecuadorians…The average salary here is around 2500.00(that is if you are lucky enough to have a professional job and not be a laborer) a year and the economic structure is very tenuous at best.
Last night we experienced 5, count them 5, small earthquakes!!!! The first was while I was in my room packing and it just started to shake(like a big truck driving by)..I didn’t think much of it until Juana came running in and pulled me under the door frame!…The next time was a small one at dinner(Cesar just smiled at Juana to calm her) … just a little more shaking and then later(around 8pm) while Juana and I were having our nightly tet e tet(languagefest), the whole house started to shake and things fell and the floor shook and the next thing I know Juana is grabbing me and pushing me out the door to run to the street!…I slept through the last 2 and I’m glad…But at least now I can say that I have experienced an earthquake…May I say, one less thing on my life’s list of experiences I don’t need to repeat…
I moved out of my families home today and it was actually quite sad…Juana cried but I promised a return visit to continue my Spanish studies solely here( a side Galapagos trip of course) in Quito for another month sometime in the near future…. Today I will spend 1 night in the Casa Sol Pension (I really enjoyed it before)….Tonight I am having dinner with Harry( my elderly gentleman friend I met last week). I am hoping to practice my new Spanglish with him.
Hasta la Proxima!