Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Miscellaneous Update From El Centro

It's that time again...hello! 

I'm in Santo Domingo, spending the day trying to upload photos (I'm really trying, I promise, but it may or may not happen...), blog and print some photos for my host family. I'll probably be back tomorrow doing mostly the same things.

So what is Santo Domingo like, you might ask. And where am I exactly? Well, my favorite spot is this internet cafe on the second floor of a building a block and a half away from the one and only shopping center which we TBBers use as our base of operations in the city. There are three clusters of computers, four around a pillar with high stools to sit on while using them. They play some Spanish language music and some English, a lot of Bob Marley. We're 99% sure that the guy who works here, who is very friendly, is a pot dealer by night. The strong smell of incense last time we were here, the guitar hanging from the ceiling with the peace sign painted on it and the spherical light that projects spinning rainbow colors when turned on hanging from the ceiling in one corner all reinforce our hypothesis. But by day it's not sketchy, I swear. Just comfortable and occasionally faster than the speed of a snail. Right now, however, I'm on one of our laptops using wireless which is free, a little faster, and should allow me to upload the pictures I've saved on this computer...or some of them. I've been here for 45 minutes and it's uploaded 10 of 256 MB...

Actual Santo Domingo, however, outside of this internet cafe, is probably one of the ugliest cities I've ever seen. It's basically cropped up entirely in the last 15 years and now has about 600,000 people in the city proper. It's all dreary cement and worn signs except for near the outskirts where bright green weeds crop up between buildings and through cracks. There are, apparently, no traffic laws; lane lines are mere suggestions. They seem to be pretty nice about pedestrians, though. I haven't seen anyone get hit yet, at least. A strange phenomenon I've noticed in Ecuador is the occasional comandeering of an American brand logo for something completely different. There was a car shop with a big sign of the logo from the computer animated movie "Cars" and down the street from me now is a yogurt/ice cream store with the old rainbow Mac symbol on its storefront. Also, a ton of smaller, hole in the wall type restaurants and shops have signs out front with a CocaCola logo on the left or on both ends and then their name in the remaining white space. It's almost as if a CocaCola representative walked around Ecuador offering to make free signs for anyone who wanted one and printed them up in the back of a truck or something. Very odd. 

Eight TBBers took the opportunity to go to Guayaquil this weekend -- our first opportunity for independent student travel. I was going to go, but then I thought better of it. I had really wanted to go to Otavalo, but nixed the idea because it's proably a six hour bus ride. Then I found out the Guayaquil was also a six hour bus ride. They left yesterday for Santo Domingo on the 3:30 bus, probably arrived about 4:15 and then intended to take the next bus out to Guayaquil. They have to be back Sunday, so they'd only really have one day there. It is Guayaquil's Independence Day Weekend (most big cities here have their own independence holiday) so that should be fun. I, however, surrendered to my long to do list and my desire to stave off total exhaustion and decided to chill in Bua. I'm very glad I did. In addition to all the internet stuff and the photos, I desperately need a new journal. I have a grand total of 7 pages left in mine...And I really need to read through the California voter information guide my mom thoughtfully sent my way because guess what? I GOT MY ABSENTEE BALLOT YESTERDAY!!! I GET TO VOTE!!! SWEET!!!

Incidentally, props to Connecticut for being the third state to legalize gay marriage and for actually writing a strong opinion in favor of it. 

So, how go our actual projects in Bua? 

Well, the bathrooms at the school are seeing some true progress. They've finished the lower half, where the tanks will sit about 3 meters down (the drop from the level of the school to the level of the field...we've built the bathrooms into a hillside remember), laid the floor and are now building up the walls. The doors are built, say "No Olvides Lavar Los Manos" on them  and are being painted with preservative and varnish. We also installed a new sink at the school, the water from which will drain to mix with the urine from the bathrooms and go out to water the trees that will be planted along the perimeter of the field. Giovanni, an engineer working with the agriculture sector of Yanapuma, is creating a compost garden. Isabel and I spent about an hour carrying cement blocks up steep dirt stairs with him (one at a time for each of us, two at time for him), then we helped him shovel a ton of gravel and mix a ton of cement. Hard, hard work. The bathrooms won't be finished by the time we leave, because we're leaving on Wednesday, but they'll be nearly done and Andy, one of the founders of Yanapuma, said he'd send along photos of the finished product. 

Project number 2, the single bano at Freddy's (it's y, not ie as I'd thought...sorry Freddy) is coming along. I've worked on it two days this week, mainly mixing cement and then trying to get it to stick to the cylindrical wire frame we've built. It does not want to stick. The second layer, which we've started, needs to be smooth to look nice, but even so is much easier. It's treacherous work though. The wire is sharp and I don't think anyone has avoided stabbing themselves at least once (I had until yesterday, but alas, I jabbed my finger with the bottom of some wire mesh...thank goodness for tetanus shots). Plus, concrete dries out your hands like nothing else. My hands actually hold up alright and I bought some lotion last Wednesday, but some people get cuts from the sand in the cement and others have lost entire layers of skin. Still, it's actually pretty fun work and not too exhausting. AND we might finish it! We're probably going to work extra long Monday and Tuesday, but we really might be able to do it.

Project number 3, the well at Shino Pi, is something I've not yet seen. There was a huge rock in their way that they spent 2 days breaking, but they got through. The TBBers helping have been allowed to go down the 12 meter hole and they've come up absolutely covered in dirt. At one point, ants started attacking Zack and there was nothing anyone could really do since he was at the bottom of a soon to be well. I haven't seen the well because I haven't voluteered to work on it. Plenty of people want to, but being lowered on a rope down into a dark and bug infested hole does not sound fun to me. We won't finish the well by Wednesday, but the Tsachila certainly can. They had started it anyway, I sort of feel like we just helped them along a little and arranged for the well digging tools to get to them. 

By the way, it's now been an hour and a half and only 16 photos uploaded (it stopped about 20 minutes ago...I don't know why) so I went through and just chose some and started again. I'm trying to get you all some pictures, I am! I guess, though, that I won't be using the internet as a backup for them...Good thing I brought that USB drive!

So, exciting news for Isabel and I on the home front. On Thursday night (after that really particularly exhausting day of work and a sleepless night the night before...literally we woke up at 12:45 and just stayed up...our light, coincidentally, was still on -- until it went off at 4am...we wonder who was up then and noticed it was still on...) Anyway, on Thursday night, our family found Tilapia! This may not sound particularly exciting -- I do mean the fish and not a person named Tilapia -- but trust me, it is. They've been telling us about this traditional dish where they wrap the fish in leaves for weeks and apparently the fish must be Tilapia and Tilapia has not been easy to find. But they found it! So, instead of going to watch the Gringos vs. Tsachila soccer game with everyone else (an event I must say I'm sad I missed, but there was nothing we could do about the bad timing), we got to hang out with the whole family and have the grandmother teach us how to wrap whole fish in giant leaves. They also wrapped some of the Tsachila skirt fabric around me and made Isabel use her belt to tie one of Kati's skirts on like an apron...I think mainly because they thought it was hilarious. The grandfather also grilled some grub on a wire skewer, but only for himself. Honestly, I was a little disappointed. I was ready to try grilled grub. About a week ago there was one night when several different families served it to their honorary children and a few people said it was actually pretty good -- tasted like bacon. They served it to Robin and Sandy at Shino Pi that night and Robin didn't eat any. Wimp. Then again, I didn't actually have to eat any either. 

After we set the fish on the grill, it took an hour to cook. We felt a little in the way so we went back to our little casita and hung out until Andy came to get us for an early 6:45 dinner. Normally they put us at a little table facing the wall in the living room and either Germania or Wilson (our mother and father) will eat with use. Recently it's been Wilson all the time. Thursday night, however, they let us into the kitchen to eat with the whole family on the packed dirt floor with no spoon! (A spoon is the utensil of choice in Bua...although we did get a fork yesterday...I didn't know they HAD forks...) We were thrilled! We were like a real part of the family for, oh, 20 minutes. So I have officially picked apart a whole Tilapia with my bare hands and eaten it. I was alright at the whole getting-the-meat-but-not-choking-on-bones thing. Isabel was a mess. Wilson was a pro. He basically left a clean spine, a pile of other bones, the tail, two fins and the head bone. He didn't even leave the eyes! Clearly we have some work to do on our whole-fish-eating skills.

I have a video of some of the fish grilling as well as the grandmother peeling plantains out back with a spoon. She was just ripping through them; it was very, very impressive. I don't know if any of those videos will ever get to any of you though, since the whole photo uploading thing seems to be slow going.

I have, however, uploaded four photos as a separate post below this one for your enjoyment. (Please accept this and don't ask why they aren't part of this one). Hooray! They are, in order: Isabel and I in our Tsachila skirts wrapping fish with our Grandmother, our three host siblings Andy, Magdalena (aka Tatiana aka Lili), and Leo (aka Benicio), the eco toilet we're building at Freddy's circa last Tuesday and a bunch of TBBers sitting on the wall near the beach in Sua...the one standing on the left is not a TBBer but a very awesome Rasta coffeeshop owner -- he makes the only real coffee in Sua and, as far as I can tell, all of Ecuador. Everywhere else it's instant. 

That's all for now...I'll work on the photos for a while and if I get some to an album on Picasa I'll be sure to link to it.

~ Becca

p.s. I saw an ad on the side of the New York Times website while I was reading up on the news for a production of the Seagull with Peter Sarsgaard. Will someone in New York *cough* Annie *cough* please enjoy that for me? Because I would LOVE to see it! I miss theatre! (I actually miss fiction of any kind and am going to make finding an English language bookstore number two on my list of things to do in Quito right after finding a laundromat and putting all my clothes through it twice).

And Here:

The first album is of Bua, Sua and more Bua and the second is of some of our time in Quito before we came out here. (Backwards, sorry). Hooray!!!


Annie McG said...

haha thanks for the shout out! I saw "Boeing Boeing" last week which is across the street from "The Seagull," and I wasn't planning on seeing it, but since tickets to "South Pacific" are literally impossible to come by, I seem to have an opening in my schedule, and I didn't know Peter Sarsgaard was in it, so I'll ch-check it out!

friend Nancy said...

love your description of Santa Domingo.... especially all the coca cola signs..... I am so weary of presidential politics here... enough! it's getting uglier and uglier and every sound byte sounds so staged.... we take off for Brazil Nov 4 - so the election returns will come in while we are in the air... it will be weird to miss the state by state returns -

just had a new kitty "Stanley" adopt us - this is #5 and we are slowly bringing him into our cat family...

miss you..... keep your great commentary coming...