Sunday, January 29, 2006

Students 1, Government 0. And pictures!

Well, this is getting to be ritual... Sunday afternoons enjoying the sun and wireless internet at the Plaza de Las Americas. Good thing Katie is busy updating us on her transition to Texan in between my posts.

So, it's been quite a week. The student protests continued, and we had the Ecuadorian equivalent of a snow day on Thursday, when the government preemptively closed down all schools in response to the threat of a nationwide student strike. That same day they finished announcing their COMPLETE cave to the students' demands. They had already agreed not to raise bus fares, and now have also finally agreed to issue the long-awaited student ID cards and to enforce the student half rate on buses. I'm not sure if it's a testament to student agency, or just a sign of how weak the Ecuadorian government is, that high school students can take on the national government and military police, and within 10 days come out completely victorious. El Comercio covers the story and also has this great slideshow of photos from the protests. Or here is a short article in English: Ecuador: Peace Back, for a While.

Friday I was delighted to get not only Jenna's package but a letter from Ruth! Best mail day ever!

Saturday I made my Ecuadorian musical debut, singing in a concert at the university. It actually turned out to be part of a Catholic service celebrating St. Thomas Aquinas, which explained why we were singing the christmas reportoire from last semester. Looking forward to June when we will participate in a university choral festival.

And, last but not least, PICTURES!!! From my trip 2 weeks ago to Latacunga. I did a lot of editorializing this time around, so be sure to read the captions for the whole travelogue.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Why Austin and I are going to get along just fine.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

And here we are

After one and a half days of driving in concentric circles Austin viewing apartments and/or scouting "For Rent" signs, R and I have slunk into the public library for respite and internet, in that order. We had one house-viewing date at noon, and another's coming up at 2:00. Anyhow, I figured I'd better sum up the rest of our trip in short order, before I forget everything we did and you all stop caring anyhow. It was lovely to revisit Ruth's little Louisville apartment, this time with the addition of Lauren and lots of great furniture... I took lots of pictures for Rebecca's benefit so we can all reminisce fondly about when we slept on the bare floor of her empty living room in June, and marvel at how far our little Ruth has come. We spent a much-needed extra day in Louisville on Saturday, and the four of us went to the park to play frisbee. [Editor's note: Against all odds, I seem to have made it through 4 years at PVPA and 4 more at Wesleyan without ever playing frisbee. Not even once. All my dirty hippie ancestors would be rolling in their graves, if I had any. Which I'm pretty sure I don't.] I was astonished to discover that frisbee is actually FUN (who knew?!). Then we went back and L&R directed the flawless production of an incredibly delicious Thai meal. We churned out veggie curry, cashew chicken, and cucumber salad in about an hour, gobbled it up with four of Ruth's friends who came over, and then the whole mess of us went contra dancing. [Editor's note: Against all odds, I seem to have made it through 20+ years in the Valley and greater Valley areas without ever contra dancing. Not even once. All my old-New England WASPy ancestors would be rolling in their graves, if I had any. Which I'm pretty sure I don't.]

Oh bah, almost out of time. Eventually I'll catch up to what's actually going on in our newly Texan lives. Just imagine us frantically apartment-hunting in one of America's most liveable cities during the worst housing market they've seen in years, and you'll be all set. In spite of moving stresses and general craziness, I'm a little in love with Austin, and have already forgotten the name of that white stuff that falls from the sky in January on all you Yankee suckers. (Please kindly allow me my gloating while it's still under 100 degrees... come May, I promise I'll never make fun of New England winters again.)

Okay, love to you all, and I'll write more soon...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Let's party like it's 2006...

Wow, that really just doesn't have the same ring. Anyway, I finally got around to posting my new year's pictures before another year is over, so go me.

Um, and apologies to my parents to whom I swore I had posted about Martin Luther King day. Below is the post I had written in advance and intended to post on Tuesday with my pictures, but clearly never got around to it... heh:

Pictures, continued...

And then there was New Years... we weren’t expecting anything much, but it was fabulous! In the US people just get drunk. Here they get drunk and burn stuff. I’ll say one thing for the ecuadorian disregard of safety precautions... fireworks are way more fun this way! Despite the fear for your life... Anyway, you really just have to see for yourself.

Happy MLK day. I noticed it on my calendar last week but didn’t give it another thought until I went to teach my new student at the US Aid office... and saw that the building was dark and locked up. Right... of course they close for US holidays... at least I get paid since he didn’t think to call and cancel. When prompted, my morning class today informed me that Martin Luther King was “a good guy” who “wanted black people equal.” A fair description, and probably about as much as any schoolchild in the US would be able to tell you. I’d like to do some more stuff for African-American History Month, like listen to some songs and read about people besides MLK. And it’s always interesting to compare the history of Afro-Ecuadorians with that of blacks in the US.

Up next: photos from Latacunga. Rachel and I spent the weekend bushopping between incredibly picturesque little Andean towns. Another lovely respite from Quito.

Hey, didn't I just take this trip?

Well, we've been on the road since Wednesday and have so far managed not to get teargassed. Yet. Actually I'd far rather encounter government protests at the risk of injury than pass safely by all the pro-troops bumper stickers we've managed to see thus far... and we're only in Kentucky. Plenty more patriotic excitement left to come, I'm sure, before this trip is over. My new year's resolution is to get involved with at least one anti-Bush organization in Austin when we arrive. So this trip has been very peculiarly deja-vu-ish so far, since all we've done is essentially retrace the path that Rebecca and I took in June. This time, instead of just lunch with my grandparents, we had time to actually stay over with them, which was wonderful... I definitely don't get to see them enough, so it was highly luxurious to get to sit around and be fed and play Rumi-O and drink late-night tea with my grandmother. We got a nice slow start the next day and arrived in Alexandria at 11pm - in spite of New York rush hour traffic, the lack of sweltering hea, coupled with the fact that it was dark so we didn't actually have to look at New Jersey as we drove through it, made the drive much pleasanter than the last time we did it. All we really got to see in Alexandria was Christina's huge posh apartment, but that was good enough for us. It was strange and great to see her outside of Alaska, and we played board games until 3:30 in the morning (she taught us Apples to Apples, which is definitely the best thing we've played since Sacred Harp Guess Who). Okay, I'm sitting at Ruth's and it's 7:54 and we're supposed to get on the road in 6 minutes, which clearly isn't going to happen, but I'd better pretend like it is. Camping in Arkansas tonight, and then Austin on Monday! (Note to self: Call Alexa to find out where she lives so you don't have to sleep on the street in a refrigerator box.) More soon...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

"Are you hungry? Sleepy? Gassy? Is it gas? It's gas, isn't it?"

Mmm... gassy. The air is finally clearing after several days of tear gas floating around the city from its extensive use at the various locations of the protests. You'd be going by on a bus somewhere seemingly normal, and everyone would start coughing uncontrollably. Or once, I was on the trole and they calmly announced "we're entering a gas area, please shut the windows."

There's lots of criticism of the excessive police violence (see above picture) and human rights violations. And of course the protests continue, there is thousands of dollars of damage, especially in the historic center, and lots of tourism money lost. One article reports the police are holding 18 minors until their families pay damages!

And there's finally a real article in a major english language news source.

In non-protest related news, it's BEAUTIFUL out today and I spent the last hour walking around the market at Parque El Ejido. It's mostly just the same artesenía and tourist stuff you see at all the markets, but all around the park artists set up their work. These are no everyday street watercolor artists. Most of the stuff is GORGEOUS, and an interesting mix between traditional and really original. I just couldn't decide on anything, and I know I'm going to end up buying enough to furnish the house I really will have someday when I settle down. At least I'm not buying baby clothes for my hypothetical future child left and right, like Sara!

Last night Allison and Becky and I went to see Allison's Ecuadorian musician friend play in a bar, which was a welcome change from either sitting at home or intense clubbing. It was in this nice bar that's super close to our house... it's a bit expensive and charges a cover but YOU CAN WALK THERE!!! So amazing that there is night life that doesn't involve taking taxis or going to the mariscal. The atmosphere was very chill, just a decent crowd of ecuadorians dancing to the salsa music in between the live music. What a treat to hear live music of the non salsa variety, too. And allison's friend sat with us and chatted while the first guy played... a really nice guy, and a good singer.

Right now I'm headed for a dvd store that sells lots of tv shows, and tonight I think we're going out for curry. Yay weekends!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

More protests and... WHAT'S that you say about my milk??

Demonstrations continuing today. According to this story there were 123 hurt. Though the government has already caved pathetically and said they will definitely not raise fares any time soon. Score one for student agency! Unfortunately a lot of people are saying that the bus companies will go on strike now. THAT would be a mess. Way beyond what happened in NYC. Everything would shut down... only like the top 8% of the population has cars.

There was also this story in El Comercio quoting the minister of government as admitting the police used excessive force against the students. My favorite part is where he says "the role of the police is to PROTECT the protests so they don't become violent." Right. I always try to protect people with tanks and tear gas.

But wait, THIS is really the most disturbing news of the day. Apparently 11 major brands of milk sold in Quito "are not fit for human consumption." Including the brand I drink everyday. Goooood times. Look's like I'm switching to Nestle.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

It's about time...

4 years at Wesleyan and I had to come all the way to Ecuador to get teargassed at a protest! I missed out on the whole coup when they kicked out Lucio in the spring, so it's about time I got in on some action. For those of you are calling me a foolhardy young thrill-seeker, I would like to point out that I was not looking for a spot of police brutality. I was simply trying to go to choir practice. I did realize there was trouble once I tried to take the trole and it was closed after Parque El Ejido, which always means that there are protests further south around the government buildings. Of course in this city if you let a protest stop you you'll never get anywhere. So I, among many others walked down into the area to try and go about our business. Besides, I did want to check it out and I certainly support the cause. Students have been protesting since Thursday when the government announced a possible increase in bus fare from 25 to 35 cents. If this sounds petty, remember that's a LOT of money here, and even students who go to public school usually have to take some form of transportation. And the government is supposedly working on reforms, but instead they're raising prices and negotiating questionable free trade agreements with the US. (I haven't even mentioned the protests against the TLC...)
Here's a link to the latest Quito newspaper coverage (in Spanish):
Or an article in english:

I realized pretty quick that the students had barricaded a big area (probably 10 square blocks or something) and I wasn't going to be able to get around. Plus I could feel the remnants of teargas in the air, and see distant groups of students sporadically running away from places where presumably the police had gotten through. Not to mention that every student in the street was hefting pretty large stones and they all looked like they were itching to throw them. But before I could get out of there, a big tank turned onto the street and all hell pretty much broke loose. Students started throwing their stones at the tank, but since the stones were coming from all directions everyone else was in danger too. And then the teargas came. So with some other students I tried to get into a store but they shut the gates in our faces and we had to run down the street. Before you start freaking out (Mom) it's not like I was in any real danger, but I really could have done without the burning from the tear gas and the threat of stoning. Anyway, here I am, safe and sound in an internet cafe and killing time until my next class.

I'm really impressed by the activism of such young students (it's all high school students, and they have an organization and everything), a little disturbed that building bonfires in the street and throwing stones at tanks is normal here, and more disturbed that the police use such methods against kids here. I think you can see from the above picture that they are all high school kids in their cute little uniforms, wearing backpacks and everything. I know they aren't exactly 5 year olds getting hit with firehoses, and a bus increase isn't as dire as segregation, but with all the talk of MLK and civil rights protests this week, it's a little reminder that all that isn't just history.

So, barring further incidents I ought to be able to return to my regularly scheduled posting of new year's pictures tomorrow.

And hey, I'm sure this is the best time to put in another plug to come visit me in quito...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Between Alaska and Austin: A Behemoth Retrospective

Well, after coming up with that pretentious title, I must admit that the forthcoming "behemoth" update will probably be shorter than most of Rebecca's "regular" posts. (In college, guess whose papers were always too short and whose were always too long? Just to give you a sense of what we're working with here, it's taken me 15 minutes to write this far. I'm in for a long night...)

So I spent thirteen unfortunate and vaguely airsick hours in transit between the 49th state and the 6th state. I had to pay $50.00 (also known as HALF MY WEEKLY STIPEND... someone should invent Intern Airlines, where in lieu of payment they make you do data entry and bring the pilot his coffee) in weight fees for my horrifically heavy, way-the-hell-over-50-pounds-each luggage. I blame it on Richard, who assured me that if I looked pathetic and endearing enough, they wouldn't charge me. Clearly my endearing leaves much to be desired. At least the 60-pound suitcase made the 52-pound one look great by comparison, so I only had to pay for that one. Unlike my last cross-country airplane trip, wherein I decided for no particular reason that Denver was NOT an hour ahead of Seattle, this one involved no missed connections (self-inflicted or otherwise...), and only a couple of minor delays. And crossing four time zones definitely took the edge out of going to bed at 3:30 in the morning.

I spent lovely quiet holidays at home, with a brief foray to New York at the end of December; Jenna and I made a whirlwind tour of Manhattan (train from Fairfield, bagels and cream cheese, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, sushi with Bradford, Amy from Ono's welcome-back-to-the-U.S. party, "A Christmas Carol" complete with boy vomiting in the row behind us, Penn Station, done and done) and then I joined my mom and bro at my grandparents' for another lovely couple of days. (Click here before February 5th to grow instantly jealous of the fabulous Red Grooms exhibit we got to see.) At the end of December I had lunch with R. from high school who's now the receptionist for Sierra Club on Capitol Hill (oooooh). I rang in 2006 at the short house in Greenfield with much gorging and game-playing, and then for the second year in a row I did a special January 1st yoga class (108 Sun Salutations for an auspicious new year, not to mention the much-anticipated guarantee of agonizingly sore hamstrings for at least a week afterwards... how could I resist?). And then it was the last night of Chanukah, 2006 had begun, and visiting season - in which our heroine attempts to see everyone she wants to see in a span of under three weeks - was underway.

Visiting Season In Brief: I kicked off visiting season that Monday by taking the bus out to Boston to visit B&A&A in their giantest apartment ever. As befits a visit with one's oldest friends, we scraped together a dinner, caught up on thirteen months of gossip, perused old yearbooks, and lolled around in the living room for hours and hours and hours. An altogether satisfactory venture. Wednesday I visited Signature Sounds, lunched with Kate P., and met Richard at the airport when he flew in from Seattle. Thursday Lauren arrived, and Friday involved a much-needed visit to the eye doctor (my first since 10th grade! who knew new glasses could actually help me see properly?!) and an equally essential visit to Turn It Up to get in our used-music fix. Saturday we went sledding and saw "Brokeback Mountain" and on Sunday Lauren left and I dropped off Richard at his brother and sister-in-law's in Providence after dining with them. (Why you should have a brother and sister-in-law who are both doctors, or at least befriend someone who has a brother and sister-in-law who are both doctors: Because they buy you seafood dinners and give you their car with only 73,000 miles on it when they buy a new Mercedes.) The following Wednesday, after Richard got back from Providence, we did a day trip down to Connecticut to visit all our adopted moms at the CRC; the next day I visited Alexandra and Carl and my three favorite half-French half-pints. Friday the 13th we held a faux birthday celebration for my mother, since we're leaving before her actual birthday, which brings me to dinner and games night at Matt & Rosie's after the Brattleboro sing yesterday. We played Richard's brilliant board game, Sing Off! (a shapenote-themed version of this game, which you may recall from such stories as how I became obsessed with it at Sandy's parents' house in June) and ate Indian food and laughed until we hurt. Then Richard and I drove J&L back to their house and we polished off the night with a few rounds of Sacred Harp Guess Who. Today was tea with Chelsea, which was fabulous, and then more tea at Molly & David's. You may think that, since we are after all leaving on Wednesday and I still have yet to pack, visiting season is over - but nay! Tomorrow is breakfast with Suuuuuuuuue. Plus one last stop at Andrea's, if we can coordinate it, to hear how Vegas was. And then, by god, I will pack if it kills me, and on Wednesday we are OUTTA here. Yikes.

So I think I've name-checked most everyone I've had a wonderful time with since I've been back. Just imagine all my spare time filled with working for Peri, going to the Tuesday night sings, and seeing "King Kong," and you'll have a disturbingly accurate picture of how I spent every conceivable minute during my month back east. After reading the above four paragraphs, you'll also have a disturbingly accurate picture of how I spent the past two hours. Is it normal to generate sentences at a rate of one every five minutes? Somehow I doubt it.

I promise I'll start posting more regularly once Richard and I get on the road. Probably. And hey, I think this may have ended up being a Rebecca-length post!



Thursday, January 12, 2006

You can't hang a man for killing a woman who's trying to steal your horse...

More words of wisdom from Willie Nelson which have been running through my head lately... (dan, you can switch to that as your new theme song... )
Sorry it’s been longer than promised, but I’ve finally made the trip back to the wireless paradise to post pictures. Check out the beauty of Mindo. Jennie, Matt, and I spent a day there in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I think you can see how different it is from Quito... just 2 hours away but it’s this lovely small town that happens to be a major international destination for birdwatching and other outdoor/natural activities... just a touch of humidity and plenty of tropical beauty. Pretty much exactly what you expect from Ecuador, in wonderful contrast to Quito. Becky and her parents, who happened to visit the same day, did the 5 am birdwatching walk and all the intense hiking in the forest reserves. We came for the express purpose of relaxation and happily as little as possible... hung out Becky’s hostel to play pool, ate some good food, breathed clean air, saw happy children playing (not begging or stealing!! it was so disconcerting.) and took the 800 meter walk up the hill to the butterfly garden. It was GREAT. I’m hoping to get out of Quito again this weekend and do some similar relaxation/fresh-air-breathing... maybe in Latacunga. Of all people, Rachel Lindsay is in town and got in touch, so I think we’ll be traveling together! Go wes.

I wanted to post new years pictures too, but the connection was too slow today. Next time.

OK, enough about me. Bon voyage and best wishes and all that to Lauren, Richard, and Katie, all of whom are picking up stake this week and moving south! (Which reminds me, I better update our blog description...)

Speaking of which, thanks for the best call from the 3 of those fools! International calls should always involve speaker phones on cell phones in cars while driving to the airport and getting crossed wires with yelling Ecuadorian men. My jealousy at all my favorite people together was nicely assuaged by their arguments over who misses me more, who sent me the best package, and who is going to come visit me first. Still can’t wait until I come back in March and get to see them as well as, hopefully, most of the rest of ye faithful readers. (Ok, now that it’s less than 2 months maybe I will literally start to count the days. Let’s see... 48!!)

Monday, January 09, 2006

I can't wait to be on the road again

(EDITOR'S NOTE: You would be eagerly anticipating getting on the road again, too, if your brother had been singing the aforementioned song six times a day every day for the past two weeks. I mean, come on now, we all love Willie and his excellent braids, but IT'S TIME TO FIND A NEW DEFAULT SONG. Thank you.)

Just a quick teaser to inform our loyal readers that I'm still here, although I've been too busy thus far running around and seeing people and doing things and pretending I don't have to start packing yet to write a proper entry. But I'll do a little Month In Massachusetts sum-up in the next week or so, and then R. and I are hitting the dusty road once more as we move out west to start our new life as gay cowboys on Brokeback Mountain. Or something like that.

Hope you've all had a wonderful week of 2006! More soon.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

¡Feliz año!

I hope everyone is enjoying 2006 so far! As for me, my lack of posting recently is because for once in my life the new year is actually starting off with a bang and lots of changes. Usually my life is ruled by the school year, and january 1st means not a whole lot. But after a slow months and a week off from work filled with movies, food, hanging out, and traveling a bit, I'm suddenly finding every minute of the day filled. I worked a shockingly pathetic 26 hours in all of last month, and I'm already going to work that many or more this WEEK. Monday and Tuesday I subbed at Jezreel International Christian Academy, the crazy religious elementary school where my roommate sara and cayanne are subcontracted through the experiment. After hearing all the horror stories from them I was curious to get in on the experience. (And excited to get the 6 hours a day!) Oddly enough, that was my first time really doing classroom teaching in a school! It went well... the kids are super cute and way better behaved than their american counterparts. I got called "miss rebecca" by 2 7th grade classes, to which I taught grammar and played some games, and 1 8th grade class, during which I really felt like a sub because they were reading a story and doing exercises, and I basically sat around pretending to be helpful. The real highlight was the morning prayer service... the teachers are required to be there at 7:20 for their own personal service, even though kids don't come until 8 and most classes don't start until 8:30 or 9. The director of the school, who is this pompous lawyer who knows nothing about education and just wants to make a buck / show off his faith, leads the prayer. I'm actually at a point in my life where I'm not automatically wary of religion and religious people, and even enjoy certain aspects. But Dr. so and so really pushes the envelope. It's not praying, it's being prayed AT. He just gets up to the pulpit and rambles on about how god should bless everyone there and help us change our lives and help kids, blah blah, and literally every other sentence is "EN EL NOMBRE DE JESUS!!" And some of the teachers really get into this exhibitionist prayer thing and start waving their hands around and praying out loud, in an embarrassingly blatant attempt to impress others with their faith. And then there's the guy with the guitar who leads the hymns. I was looking forward to that at least. But it was even worse... during one of the songs he played he asked us to look at a friend and sing to them... ok... not so bad... sara was there so she sang to me and i stood awkwardly, not knowing the song. But that wasn't enough for him... he stopped the song and literally made everyone turn and face their "friend", hold their hands and sing meaningfully to them. God. Everything in that school is like that... The director treats the staff like they're about 5, and just gets off on ordering them around. So once the service is over, the director goes back up to the pulpit and lectures the staff about various things like attendance, all the while fingering the bible with authority, and eventually gets into this 20plus min discussion of the dress code (they have a variety of uniforms to wear on different days, and i guess no one was), during which the teachers start arguing with him because the rules are dumb and the clothes are crappy and such. It was sort of funny once, but I couldn't believe sara and cayanne have to waste their time with this every day.

After Jezreel I subbed for ANOTHER class in the afternoons, plus I have all my regular classes this week. My paycheck will thank me. Other changes... Jennie, my wonderful british roommate left yesterday to travel for a few months, so I'm adjusting to sharing with only sara who 's just back from spending the holidays in st. louis. And then a new roommate is moving in today or tomorrow. I'm trying to be not bitter that she's not jennie. I've got to run to the first choir rehearsal of the year, but when I get a chance later this week I will put up the photos of my trip to mindo and new years... both great times. Definitely worth coming to quito just for last week. Can't wait to do a lot more traveling in Ecuador this spring and summer. Then the plan is to travel in S.Am. for a few months and be back in the us by thanksgiving and out to CA by this time next year! Stay tuned to see what really happens...