This morning I got up at 5 to drink Guayusa. Even though I can’t understand much Spanish it is really wonderful to experience storytelling around a fire with a delicious gourd of fresh hot tea. It is traditional to also pour some on your hands, and to wash your face with it, and rub it into the skin of your neck and arms. Yesterday a poet, musician, and artist named Carlos came to visit. He told me that he would like to share some of his poems and read some of mine. He is 66 and has been playing with the same band for 50 years. He is also an advocate for tradition and Kichwa culture. It is hard because there is a lot of racism towards this culture, especially from people in the cities. He has endless stories to tell, and I felt a lot better about my language frustrations when he told me that I should not feel bad about not understanding much Spanish, because they have the same difficulty with English, and that at least I am trying to learn. I hope he comes back to visit soon. I am attaching some photos from the past week.
My possessions arrived from a bus a couple of days ago. I have a language overload because not only do people speak Spanish, but they also speak Kichwa. The landscape is amazing, and every morning that I wake up I can’t believe I’m here. The food has also been very good. There’s always a lot of it also, because people here grow and harvest their own crops. They get some food from the city, but most of it comes from their land. They grow yucca, plantains, bananas, and they have chickens. They also grow a type of tree called Guayusa, and they drink the leaves as tea. The tea is supposed to give the body and soul strength. It also has a lot of caffiene, and I like it a lot. It’s not just a tea, though. One of the elders of the community said that it grows from the underworld all the way up to heaven. There are two types of this tea- sweet Guayusa and black Guayusa. The black Guayusa has stronger healing properties and is best when the leaves are dried, while the sweet Guayusa is best when the leaves are freshly picked. I got to hear some local music. I couldn’t understand the Kichwa words, but I’m going to get some of the songs translated into Spanish or English so that I can read the lyrics. I visited the local K-12 school, and I met a couple of people who would like to exchange poetry, and perhaps work together on translating work. I’m frustrated that I can’t speak to people very well, but I’ve been hanging out with the kids a lot and trying to learn key phrases like “Stop fighting, share, that looks dangerous, I have to study, I have to go back to my house, We’ll play later,” etc. They are very very sweet and very smart, but they play outside 24/7 and as much as I like to play with them, I need my own private space! What I really like about these kids is that they know the land very well, and they took me swimming in a place that looked too dangerous, and that I never would have tried on my own, but when I went, I realized that once I’m past the rapids there’s a big beautiful rock to relax on. The kids are also very good at sports, and I’m really NOT good at sports, so I feel a bit awkward playing football (soccer) and basketball with them. I think I might be a bit more athletic when I come back. Yesterday I helped harvest yucca, which was probably my favorite experience so far. We went into the Chakra, which is the forest garden, because they plant their crops between other trees, and used a machete to cut down the stalks. Then we pulled the yucca up from the roots, (they sort of look like potatoes) and cut and peeled them. It was a lot of fun, and satisfying to eat what I harvested. It’s probably even more satisfying to plant and harvest. They make a drink from yucca, which is alcoholic, and which is for the men to drink before they go into the field to work to give them energy. The drink is called chicha. It’s fermenting right now, so it’s not ready yet, but I helped make it, and you have to boil and mash the yucca, then chew and spit out some of it, because your saliva has an enzyme in it that sweetens the drink. To Americans it sounds gross, but there’s actually a scientific reason they do it, beyond just tradition. I’ve been getting up around 6 or 7 every morning. The mornings we get up to drink Guayusa, I am up at 4, but everyone goes to bed by 10 at the lastest. I had a slight stomachache one morning, but overall I feel amazing, and I’m looking forward to the next three months. I will try to figure out how to post pictures soon.
I’m leaving Quito this morning. I can’t afford to stay in a hotel to wait for my luggage any longer, so I’m taking a bus to the country. I’ve got one pair of damp underwear from being washed in the bathtub, a pair of jeans whose legs are wet from a shower leak, a toothbrush that I bought yesterday in Quito, my blogging machine, camera, and of course, my lucky t-shirt.
I’m not really feeling that great this morning. I think it’s either the altitude or not getting much sleep, or the combination of both. My head is throbbing and I’m feeling a bit tired and weak. My spirits are not too low, though, because I’m encouraged by the fact that I’ll be getting out of the city where it will at least be warmer. Blogging will be more sparse for a while, but I may have internet access in the next day or two. Signing off for now.
I made it to Quito. Yesterday was quite an adventure. First, my flight was delayed because of the tropical gunk out in the gulf. Then we had to fly up and around the gunk to get to Miami safely, so the plane was late getting there. The minute I stepped off the plane at 4:03 I started running to catch my 4:05 flight to Quito, but I didn’t make it in time. I watched it pull off without me. Luckily, they had a seat on the 7:55 flight, so I made that one and landed in Quito at 10:55. Unfortunately, my luggage is still in Miami. Let’s hope it gets here today! I’m in the same clothes–a T-shirt (thanks Natasha!) and jeans, and it’s pretty chilly here–around 60-65 degrees. I don’t have a toothbrush, so I’ve been brushing with sticks of sugar-free spearmint gum. Also, in my lost luggage disorientation, I accidentally left my wallet in the cab last night, had a break down in the hotel lobby, and cried in front of the consierge because I couldn’t even pay for my hotel room. Luckily, I came to this hotel to meet Dr. U from Florida State, who is staying in Ecuador this summer, and his brother-in-law. They bailed me out, but the story does have an even happier ending. The taxi driver brought my wallet back! I was so happy to see his face, and I can’t believe he actually drove it all the way back to the hotel for me. And yes, everyone, I’ll be more careful from now on. This incident, and the lady sitting next to me on the plane, make me have a very good impression of the people in Ecuador. When we began our descent to Quito, I noticed how golden the lights were, compared to the white/yellow lights of other cities I have seen from the air at night. I thought they looked like hot embers, and the way they were spread around the base of the mountain, as if lava was pooling there. This morning I found out that the mountain actually IS a volcano. The lights are very beautiful. When we landed, the lady next to me didn’t speak English (and we all know my Spanish is bad) so when she turned to talk to me, her son translated, and she said “Welcome to my country.” I thought that was very sweet and it almost brought tears to my eyes. I’m attaching photos of my day yesterday, and my view from the hotel this morning. Also, the papaya juice was amazing. I’m going shopping today with non-english speakers, so hopefully I’ll learn some Spanish.
I am almost done preparing for my trip (sort of). Only 20 more days! I have my passport, my vaccines (finished the rabies series!) my prescription for malaria pills, and I have sent off the application for my visa. I have made some purchases recently- as you will see in the photograph- hiking boots, organic bug spray and sunscreen, a light rain jacket for wet hot days, and a mosquito net. I tell my friends the mosquito net is more for other unwanted creatures. I picture a tarantula sitting on my head in the morning. I would feel much better if there were a layer between us, even if it is only a very thin gauze-like layer. I have a few more things to purchase- but only small things like socks and Imodium A-D. Fingers crossed, I’ll get a new digital camera for an early birthday present. I’ve hinted. My cat, Mari, is unsure of my new purchases. Thanks to sis and niece for taking care of her while I’m gone!
First, I passed my Spanish exam!! For those of you who talk to me regularly, this is a big deal! For those of you who don’t, this class was a free graduate Spanish course, just so I could get a foreign language requirement for my MFA. I didn’t know one language well enough to take the translation course (French in high school, 1 year of Italian in college, 1 year of Latin) so this was my only other option. It seemed like everyone else in my class had taken Spanish in high school, and I had no idea what was happening for the first half of the semester. At the midterm, which didn’t count for a grade, I failed because I only finished half of the newspaper article we were given to translate. For the final, I was determined to finish the whole thing even if it didn’t make perfect sense. We had one hour to do the first half of the exam- translating a story, and one hour for the second- which was chosen according to our field. I got an article on two Mexican novelists. The story was very long and I rushed through it as fast as I could, so that by 5 minutes from the end of the hour I only had one paragraph left. I assumed everyone else was finished because they are much better at this stuff in class, but for some reason I kept seeing eyes peering over at me from other areas in the room. A woman in my class said, “How much have you guys finished, ’cause I’m still on the first paragraph.” Other voices chimed in, “Yeah, I’m only halfway done”, etc. and the professor decided that we only needed to translate the first half of the story. I was disappointed because they probably paid very close attention and their stories were more cohesive than mine, but I hoped the professor would notice that I nearly finished and got a rough translation of the story, which was that a man is just sitting in his house with a letter which mentions a lover and he gets shot through a door at the end. The second half of the test I did wonderfully- I finished and the sentences were clear, and I hoped that even if the professor thought the first half was horrible that he would pass me because of the second. And when I got the P on my grade report I was very excited, however, I know I need to study speaking Spanish all summer because soon, I’ll be around native speakers and will have no idea how to talk to them. I try to pick out things people say on public transportation, but as I pretend to speak back to them in my head, I can’t come up with anything to say that I know is correct.
Second, I got my first rabies vaccination! I called basically every hospital in Boston, and the cheapest was the “Passport Health” clinic, which I found a little shady just because they don’t have any real doctors on staff. BU did put Passport Health, on their list of places to call about the rabies vaccine, so I finally decided to give it a try. The office is located in Cambridge on the second floor of a photography building, and I had to call the office to tell them I couldn’t find them. (There’s not really a sign anywhere, just an address number.) When I finally found them, I went to the women’s restroom, because shots make me nervous, and the light wasn’t working. The man came out to find me because he knew I was lost, and there was an awkward moment of me standing with my backpack in the bathroom with the door open and the lights off. When I told him about the lights being off, he went right away to tell the landlord, and said that he would be happy to stand outside the men’s restroom to guard it if I wanted to use it, which was nice. He is a white-haired man with a British/English accent, one of those people that you would put your money on to be a kind grandfather. The lady/nurse? that was going to be vaccinating me smiled, and asked if I was Esther. I sort of freaked out at this point because I was already nervous- and I imagined getting shots that someone else needed, so I responded by saying, no, I’m Laura, don’t you have me down for 1:00? Laura? 1:00? and she laughed and said, OH, we have you down as Flora, I like Laura much better. I felt a bit better but was still skeptical until I actually sat down and started talking to her. She was very knowledgeable about what vaccinations I needed, and even about the BU clinic and recommended I go back there for malaria pills. When it came down to the vaccine, she first said she was the best shot-giver in Boston, and I believe her. She also asked if I was a fainter. I said no, but hesitated a bit too long, and she said, “Tell me the truth now, I don’t like surprises” and then I laughed and said that I have never fainted but do feel lightheaded sometimes. She made me put my feet up and kept looking at me like I was going to fall on the floor even after I told her I was fine. And I was fine. And as my friend told me the other day, this isn’t going to be the first or biggest risk I take on my journey this summer.
Feliz Cinco de Mayo! This first blog post may be premature, but I’m very excited about my upcoming trip to Ecuador at the end of June. I’m actually very bad at Spanish, and I’m not even sure if people in Ecuador celebrate Cinco de Mayo…I am going to keep studying Spanish until I leave in June, and I hope to learn a lot within the three months I will be there! I have been preparing for my trip for weeks now. I renewed my passport which expired in June, and I got a few immunizations. I still have to get my rabies vaccinations, because the area outside of Tena that I will hopefully spend a lot of my time, has a lot of bats. If anyone has ever had to get a rabies vaccine, you should know they are VERY expensive. It is a three dose shot, and it’s over 250 for each shot. I think I have called every travel clinic in Boston to try to find the cheapest one. The cheapest seems to be a travel clinic that is not even a real doctor’s office–but I guess you get what you pay for. At Boston Medical they charge $350 per shot, with a $155 dollar consultation fee, and they told me they weren’t the most expensive in town! Wow.
I became interested in Ecuador because I was exploring and writing poems about the affect of America’s oil addiction on children, and I stumbled upon the American documentary “Crude” which reveals the ongoing struggle of people in Ecuador with Chevron. Around the same time I was also becoming interested in ethnographies because I recently read “All Our Kin” by Carol B. Stack, and, looking for ethnographies written in Ecuador, I found a wonderful ethnography by FSU professor Dr. Michael Uzendoski called “The Napo Runa of Amazonian Ecuador.” I became very intrigued by these people because of their close connection with nature, and since I grew up in an in-between state of being close to nature along the bayous in the gulf coast of Florida, and yet also part of this mass consumption of fossil fuels and pollution–I decided what I really needed to do was to spend time in the Amazon in Ecuador, and hopefully learn something about the way these people live.
My journey will begin with taking a class with Dr. Uzendoski in both ethnopoetics and field studies, and I will be reading his new book, “The Ecology of the Spoken Word: Amazonian Storytelling and Shamanism among the Napo Runa.” I think learning about oral literatures will have an affect on me and the way I write and interpret poetry, and I’m excited to explore this side of Ecuador as well. For the two or so months after the class, I will be on my own, and will hopefully grow close to the communities that are physically and spiritually close to the rainforest in which they live.