Friday, April 24, 2009

Meditation On Adventure

Two days ago, I walked into the kitchen at the hostel, expecting to see nobody save possibly Lucia, the young lady who works here at La Perla Cuencana. What I found was quite a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. It was my friend Dario, a Spanish chap that I met in Quito and found in Baños, along with his girlfriend Ji from Korea. They are really interesting people, and easy to get along with and travel alongside.

As we told of the month in between our last meeting, we discussed the various places we’d visited, and some quick ideas about what the immediate future might hold for each of us here in Ecuador and beyond. Of course, my month had been spent partially in Salinas, Alausí, Patate, and Guaranda, though the majority was spent here in Cuenca.

Now, during our time in Quito, these two joked a bit with me about having moved into the Hostal Residencial Sucre permanently. You may remember I had some problems with my visa and ended up in the national capital for nearly two weeks. The manner in which they poked fun was overwhelmingly friendly, and I never took offense to it, rather chose to get involved and play along. We joked that, ten years from now, they will return to Sucre to find me living upstairs with my wife, my children running wild and playing with their Ecuadorian great uncles, Don Jose Miguel Abad Carrión and Sargento Rodrigo Lanas. I hope they’re not offering the children liquor as frequently as they did me.

Of course, when Dario discovers that I, again, have been in a single place for nearly a month, he jokes about my tendency to linger. I laugh, and again am not offended in the least.

As I walked around the city today, in what has been perhaps the most beautiful day here so far, I began to ponder what it is about my personality, my strengths, my challenges, my curiosity, my fears, my identity, whatever, which makes me enjoy the idea of staying in a place for a number of days. This led me to wonder if I’m totally devoid of a sense of ‘adventure.’ Having met a slew of people who have ‘done’ South America in a matter of a few months, I’ve often thought about this idea of ‘adventure’ and ‘being adventurous.’

My initial thought was that there was some part of me that feared the unknown, the adventure, the spontaneous. Such fear would likely have its roots in real difficulties that come with arriving in a new, unknown place, with little more than a guidebook of suggestions. I know these difficulties well, despite only having been in half a dozen towns here in Ecuador. They are real, palpable difficulties that represent for some, adventure, for others, sheer terror. I somewhat enjoy the act of searching out a place to stay, a nearby spot to eat, the town’s point of interest, and so on. I also have somewhat of a healthy (in my opinion) fear or desire to avoid such challenges, which is to say a comfort in having knowledge of my place.

Thinking beyond this, I began to ponder what it is about staying put for a while satisfies me so. I think I may have come up with the solution.

I believe that, for me, the adventure, or perhaps the challenge, is not simply delving into the unknown, simply aiming to survive another day, ready for the next destination. The challenge for me is striving to be oneself, searching out those things that interest one, maintaining principles, viewpoints, and ideals. By staying in one place, one is forced to evaluate one’s daily actions and activities outside of judging whether or not they perpetuate survival. That is to say that I think that the adventure comes in staying in a single place, discovering what it has to offer a person, offerings that allow the person not only to survive, but rather to flourish, in a natural, empowering, and progressive manner.

In other words, I now think it more simple to bounce from place to place, eating crappy foods because you just have to eat, never making lasting relationships (with the local community, the climate, the land, the food, the culture) because it’s on to the next stop, never taking time to advance oneself in terms of ideology, beliefs, identity, because one’s mind is clogged with bus fares, city maps, hostel recommendations, arranged tours, and backpack maintenance.

I’ll give an example. I spent one night in Guaranda, on the way from Riobamba to Salinas. In that evening, I ate too much shitty Chinese food (MSG monster), drank 6 beers, and watched Dr. No on television in my hostel. Now, I have had my fair share of crappy food, beer, and movie nights, I’ll tell you. And for one night, the damage is minimal and evanescent. It’s not profoundly harmful here and there. However, consider the impetus for having such a night. Purely and simply, I just needed to survive so that the next day, I could move on to the next stop.

If this point of view, nay, this driving force dominates one’s brain, consider how difficult it is to slow down and challenge oneself in regards to personal development. Nearly impossible, at least for this guy.

Living day to day is wonderful, however leaving behind one’s interests, curiosities, beliefs, passions, and desires simply to guarantee making it to the next day, the next stop, or the next country is not acceptable for me. I need to know that wherever I am, I am making a conscious effort to use the things (people, land, music, buildings, newspapers, soccer games) around me as catalysts for my growth, and at the same time, sharing the person that I am with that world by truly living my identity, in a clear, open, honest, and proud way. That’s the challenge. That’s the adventure.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Quito Word Smash

These words will forever remind me of Quito, but they probably don´t mean a thing to anyone else:

Mí pan
Ministerio de Gobierno
Brphphrp Brphphrp Brphphrp
gente baja
chuta que...
gripe de quito (french accent)
palacio presidencial
todo bien
Torres, Sanchez, Cueva, Carrión
que linda, que bella

Indian Food Challenge

So, the other day, I went with some kids to an Indian restaurant. I had already eaten, but rather enjoyed the combo they offered (3 large beers for 3 dollars). Done.

The kiddos with whom I sat gave mixed reviews of the stuff, but it looked interesting nonetheless, and it was nice to have some veggie options. I decided to check it out yesterday, after having a wonderful, but generally meal-less day in a small Panama Hat producing village called Sigsig. It was a lovely day, and a comfortable dinner with some beers seemed the thing to complete the cycle.

I sat drinking my beers, eating a samosa, which was quite nice, and debating what to order. I decided to ask for the hottest thing they had, becuase I figured it would give me the added desire to drink the three huge beers. Sometimes, I just don´t want to finish an ice cold Pilsener. As rare as this occasion is, I figured I´d be safe and go for the spicy stuff.

I think the fellers in the kitchen decided to test my gangster, as the saying goes. The plate they brought out was comprised of about three green beans, some chickpeas, jalapeño slices (the first I´ve eaten in Ecuador, assuming they were jalapeños), ajì, which are the local favorite chile, about as hot as a serrano, and some flaming hot orange stuff smothering the whole package. I don´t know how much it was Indian food, now that I think about it.

I noticed, as I ate and sweated, the waiters, the owner, and some kitchen staff coming out and looking, grins on their faces. I figured out the game and decided to play along. I ate all the chutney, and another spicy sauce they had provided. This after about 1/8th of the meal. I proceeded to ask for another of each of the two. Astounded, the waiter acquiesced. I ate those two. Crying, snotting, sweating, I ate those two. I asked for another batch. Crying, snotting, sweating, I ate those two, leaving myself a quarter piece of naan and half a beer to finish the job.

Long story short, I did my stomach wrong, and thank the heavens that it didn´t take its anger out on me this morning. But it was fun to play along, and the food wasn´t half bad, for pepper noodles and satan sauce.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dream Part II, The Less Direct Metaphorical

After having the first part of the dream (see previous post), I think I was ready to relax and have some fun. This one will likely be short and sweet.

I’m in a large grocery store. I have an understanding that it’s HEB, which is a store we have in Texas and a few in Northern Mexico. ¡Viva Mexico! (Subjunctive).

I notice, as I’m standing in line to check out, that self-powered scooters are rentable here in the store. I don’t know how much they cost, though my understanding is that they charge by the hour. I decide it’s a good idea to rent one, and do.

I’m not alone in doing so, no. I’m with a friend, who remained, for the duration of the dream, nameless and faceless. The important part is that I knew this person was a friend. It could have been any one of you out there, in fact. Thank you for your friendship.

I’m zooming around the store, barely missing people with my front tire. The scooter, incidentally, was of the three-wheeled variety, and felt quite rickety as I made turns in and out of isles of comestibles. At certain points, I am no longer in the HEB, at least it looks that way. Instead, I am in patches of grass, crossing small wooden bridges, themselves quite rickety.

All the while, however, I get the feeling that there is a single person who, more so than any of the others in the store, wants to kill me. Literally, I have the sensation that if she got ahold of me, she would commit homicide. She never gets to me before I wake up.

The scooter itself is quite interesting. As aforementioned, it has three wheels, one in the front and two in the back. The seat is from an elementary school classroom or library. Someone must have removed the plastic portion of the seat and bolted it down to the scooter. As for the self-propeller system, it’s quite simple. There is a PVC pipe, about one inch thick, which rises from the bottom of the scooter to about two feet above my head. It comes out from the back of the scooter, and runs along the vertical midpoint line of the plastic seat. I reach with my right hand above my head and grab the handle that’s on the end of the pipe. The handle is made using a 90-degree elbow, also made of PVC.

As I’m zooming, controlling my speed with the handle, an older gentleman with a mustache and glasses tells me that I’m doing it wrong (see Nelson from the Simpsons, petting Santa’s Little Helper, “You’re doin’ it wrong, you gotta pet him hard so he can feel it”). He instructs me to move the handle to the front of the scooter, and it’ll be much easier to get power. I do, and it is. Good Samaritans.

That’s all.

Important Dream from 18/4/2009 (First dream entirely in Spanish)

This is very likely the first dream that I’ve read much into, not about the reasons certain things were happening as related to the past, but in such a way that relates to a larger thing in my life, bringing together past, present, and future. Maybe that’s a mistake. Maybe now if I’m taking this dream seriously, I should do the same for all of them. Frankly, that would probably drive me insane.

The dream was a very interesting one, for a few reasons. As I mentioned in the title, it was the first dream that was conducted entirely in Spanish. Of course, there are, in the dream world, certain unspeakables; messages whose point gets across without the need for language as we know it. These ‘unspeakables,’ while not communicated with conventional language, had a very poetic manner to them. They seemed to flow in and out of the events of the dream seamlessly, though their effect was that of a threaded needle, keeping the entire thing together. It was really quite unbelievable. Furthermore, the dream occurred between the time I first awoke, and awoke for the final time. Thusly, the events therein were very vivid, very palpable.

Our artfully poetic narrator opened the dream with a really intriguing idea. The idea was that, like the clouds atop the TeleferiQo ride, all things metaphysical would blow away hastily, and we’ll be focusing on the tangibles for the time we spend together.

I’m on a raft made of logs, floating down a river. I have a pretty strong feeling that the river that we’re on is the Amazon River, though this is never spoken, in any one of the ways aforementioned. The water is green, as is the surrounding flora. With me on the barge is an unrecognizable man, an older man, with grey hair and a dark cloak-like robe on. He is standing, pushing us along with a long pole of wood.

Atop the raft is a large, metal pot. It seems quite clean and modern. I would say it holds about 20 gallons of whatever one desired. Inside the pot is a hot batch of what looks like fanesca. Fanesca is a very traditional soup made in many parts of Ecuador during Semana Santa, which leads up to Easter Sunday. Of course, there are different traditions here than in the States, as is natural, but the dates are the same.

As we move slowly down the river, which is moving at a tranquil pace, the old man and I are discussing the value of various objects. He seems to know quite a bit about the idea of quality (see Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). He shares his opinions in Spanish and we come to a conclusion. The value we observe determines whether or not each object will be put into our cauldron of fanesca. There develops a pattern that is quite simple. It is explained below.

There are two different types of objects. First, there are objects that ooze a sense of ‘tradition.’ They are the ‘traditional’ objects. ‘Traditional’ objects are dominated by two physical characteristics: they are either made of wood or knitted yarn of some kind. The second group of objects is those characterized as ‘modern.’ The ‘modern’ objects are similarly dominated by two physical compositions, either made of metal or glass.

The pattern is as follows. First, we grab an object, from where I don’t know. On the first turn, we appreciate the ‘traditional’ objects. If the object we have chosen is a ‘traditional’ object, we put it into the pot, stirring all the while. If, on the first turn wherein we’re appreciating the ‘traditional,’ and we happen to select a ‘modern’ object, it is thrown into the river. Somehow, and not by colliding with the surface of the water, the object we toss aside shatters into any number of pieces.

After the first turn, the ‘traditional’ turn, we have a ‘modern’ turn, so to speak. In this turn, if a ‘traditional’ object is selected, it is subsequently, and with a level of disgust, thrown into the river, shattering at some point between leaving our hand and breaking the plane of water. Of course, as follows, if during a ‘modern’ turn, we select a ‘modern’ object, the object is ogled as if it’s value is beyond belief.

This is the end of the first part of the dream, the part that I’ve thought quite a bit about today. Here are some thoughts.

I feel like, as I’m here in Ecuador, I’m constantly developing an understanding for the customs, traditions, foods, languages, land, people, attitudes, points of view, challenges, skills, problems, unknowns, etc…of the people with whom I spend time. This sounds very obvious, but sometimes I think it’s important to realize that progress is being made.

The combination of all of these tidbits of information comprise my holistic attitude towards the place I’m in. Inevitably, this attitude will be that which I project on the entire country that is Ecuador, whether that’s fair or not. I can’t help it. I don’t think you could either.

I see the pot as a representation of my brain and heart, and inside of it are the aforementioned pieces of learned information and visceral feelings. Together, they make up the fanesca that tastes like Ecuador to me. A little about fanesca, because I think it adds to this idea in a very nice way.

As I said, fanesca is a traditional soup made only once a year here in Ecuador. For that reason, Ecuadorians generally eat the stuff in three bowl portions for the entire day, which is Friday, the Friday Jesus died (I think). Outside of the Friday of Semana Santa, fanesca will not be found. I will, however, bring my recipe back and make the toot out of it for friends and family…it’s really good, hearty stuff.

Fanesca is not only traditional, but also representative of the day on which it is eaten. The soup itself has twelve different grains and vegetables, including peanuts, rice, zucchini, zapallo (winter squash), peas, green beans, and others. These twelve ingredients represent the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Additionally, fanesca is generally served topped with boiled eggs, Spanish cheese, Parmesan cheese, and dried bacalao (codfish), likely a representative of Jesus. The base of the soup is traditionally milk and cream.

I made fanesca on the Friday of Semana Santa, however with a few variations. As a vegetarian, the bacalao is out straightaway. As one who appreciates the effects of a vegan diet, the eggs and the cheeses are out. As far as the base for the soup, I used soymilk, both in liquid and powdered form. Thus, my fanesca was somewhat traditional, and yet totally vegan. In this way, I feel as if the whole idea of the dream is perfectly manifested in the fanesca that I made, which in all likelihood, is the very fanesca present in the cauldron on the raft in the dream. Tradition is being honored, although, according to principles and present realities, it has been altered so as to be modern as well.

Beyond this, I thought a lot about the idea of the boat, and it’s slow progress. I have yet to be near large bodies of water here that weren’t either cascading down the side of a mountain or raining down from storm clouds, and although I have skeletal plans to visit the coast, I haven’t pondered much the Amazon, or any river, for that matter. Where might this have come from?

At the risk of sounding like a goofball, I think the boat represents that, no matter how slow and calm the trip, we’re all moving forwards towards something. I don’t quite know if that is some sort of enlightenment in the future, just a general growth in knowledge, a comfort in oneself, death. Or it could be much more hopeless. It could be that we’re constantly on the move, slowly, yet never having a defined destination, perpetually drifting, not taking time to stop and appreciate it (see Ferris Beuler).

As an optimist, and one who would rather dwell in romanticism and positivity, I prefer to think that the movement of the boat represents that regardless of whether we’re getting somewhere, we’re moving. I just like the idea of progress and forward movement (see my rant with Praveen, Adarsh, and other friends about the importance of Process over Product….see also Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn, a book that discusses the damage waged on children who are constantly taught to strive for rewards that come with completion of a product, who thereafter generally lose the ability to appreciate the path it took to get them there).

On the journey, there’ll be things that don’t matter a damn or that deserve to be shattered, and those things one leave along the path. In Ecuador, those things for me have been the chauvinism that dominates the male attitude here, the political, economic, and social power of the Catholic church, the tough guy attitude of youngsters here, Daddy Yankee, pollution, Quito.

The things that are beautiful, important, challenging, intriguing – those things go into the fanesca that is one’s holistic view of a situation, an event, a country, or oneself. In Ecuador, those things are a connection with indigenous blood, the idea of conservation of such a beautiful land, healthy nationalism, involvement in politics, fruits and veggies, fútbol, vegan fanesca, chochos.

Is one’s fanesca ever complete? Probably not, but it gets more tasty with every well-thought out and complimentary ingredient (see Mexican mole). The key is to have a strong sense of personal taste, which is to say personal identity, strengths, challenges, interests, principles, etc... With a good understanding of oneself, the ingredients in the fanesca will inevitably complement each other, and will leave not a single idea unanalyzed.

The moral of the story is to taste your fanesca. Think about things that sour the entire batch. Keep in mind that when you encounter that ingredient on your journey, you have the power to remove it from your ideological stew. Exercise that power, and be accountable to yourself first and foremost.

Ecuadorian TV Moments Part II

Short and sweet is this one.

I´m in my room doing homework for class. On the television is a game show that is much like Family Feud (see also "The Feud," a drinking game popular in the hearts of two people more than any others, those being Bobby Perez and Andy Lofton). Incidentally, I´m not drinking, but am taking a slight interest in the answers given to certain questions. It helps my vocabulary.

Anyway, I´ve always been interested in the backbone of the game. Essentially, for those that never partied in the afternoons (which is to say mornings) at Crossing Place, the game is based in trivia questions. There is a point system that ranks answers, generally from about 3 to 6 answers. However, the ranking, and hence the point system is not based on correct answers, but rather the most popular answer among a group of 100 random people. Therefore, one could totally nail each and every question, but unless the group of 100 agrees, you could end up without a single point.

This brings me to the Ecuadorian example. The question is, "What kinds of fruits do you eat without removing the skin, shell, etc...? The following examples were included on the board: grapes, apples, peaches. The following were not accepted: kiwi, pear, strawberry. The number one answer, which was the most popular answer to the question above was, Mango. Mango. Next time you buy a mango at the store, stop outside the store and eat the damn thing. Trust me, mango skin sucks.

The funny part was the reaction of all those involved in the show. The families are dismayed and angry. The audience offers boos. The host apologizes, basically calling the tested group a bunch of morons, and reminds us that the rules of the game have nothing to do with reality...only the reality that exists inside the heads of 100 randoms. Whoa.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Some things I´ve discussed with my teacher

-the origin of the term Chicano
-Latin American chauvanism
-Rafael Correa and his relation to other world leaders (both contemporary and historically) My teacher actually compared him to Pinochet and Hitler, amongst others. She later said that she´s somewhat conservative.
-Catholocism and it´s hold on Latin America, both spiritually, politically, and socially. We discussed the sexism that exists in the doctrine of the church, and how that sexism many times manifests itself in machismo, chauvanism, and even domestic violence. She also told me the story of a priest in Ecuador who, after years as a priest, was running for a government post. He had been accused of having affairs outside of his priestly promises, and indeed had borne a child with a mistress. Evidently, during the campaign, the secret came out, and the priest admitted his indisgression. However, he was running on a largely moral platform that found its roots in Catholic thought. A young man, during a public debate or meeting, raised his hand and asked the priest how in the world he expected the public to vote with their morals for a person who had violated, in such a grave way, the morals to which he had devoted his life and his very soul. The priest commented that the child he had borne was the biggest mistake of his life, and indeed a manifestation of the devil´s power of influence. The young man, seemingly a stranger, replied with the following question: "Would you have preferred that my mother aborted me?" Incidentally, the priest was forgiven by enough voters to win a seat in the Assembly.
-We talked about the public education system in the states. I tried to explain my view of the hidden curriculum of schooling, commenting that traditional schooling breeds competition, a departure from critical thinking, preparation for the workforce, and others. My teacher Isabel strongly disagreed, commenting that the public school system (of the United States, where she had previously lived during her college years) was less of a factor than the parents in the development of ideals in children. We had to agree to disagree.
-She also was of the opinion that African Americans were the most racist citizens of the United States, going back to here experience as a Latina in California.
-We discussed OJ Simpson, and what might have occurred had he been convicted criminally in the murder trial of the bizarro century. Her feeling was that OJ had been acquitted largely because the jury felt sorry for the poor black man, and that the US Justice System has some sort of a pity for black people. I couldn´t have disagreed more, I said. I said I thought (based on conversations I´ve had with all different types of people) that moreso than OJ Simpson´s actual guilt or innocence was the idea that black people, if they were famous, beloved, rich, etc...could have the same rights as famous, beloved, rich white folks. The right to get off regardless of the facts. The right to use affluence to melt tip the scales of justice, just as has been the norm for whites for centuries.
-veganism, and Ecuador´s obsession with rice and meat
-the lack of tortillas (flour and corn) in Ecuador and the food you get when you order a tortilla, which is a sucky, eggy, omelety thing
-the structure of the traditional Cuencan household, including space for horsies, guest area, two patios, a small garden, space for house workers (maids, cooks, etc...)

Monday, April 13, 2009

One of those nights, worthy of telling

In the middle of the day, I'm cooking something amazing.  I can't help it, it's just something I do.  Anyway, as it cooks, I notice that the terraza at the Hostel La Perla Cuencana has been taken over by a group of dancers.  The group is made up of three gentleman, on of whom works in the Hostel.  His name is Christian.  He has always been very amiable.  

I look on, along with a friend from Portland, as the three fellers totally rip the space apart.  They're quite sassy, and it's clear by the music they've chosen that this is no accident.  I'm surprised at the control they have over the direction their hips move in relation to the rest of their body.  It's not something I've ever been able to do, nor would I really feel the need to if indeed was able.  Their facial expressions are provocative.  They've decided to use water bottles as stand-ins for microphones.  

We, I along with my friend from Portland, ask the fellers if they plan on performing their baile in public at some point.  The expected answer is that which they offer, which is that they will indeed be performing, and that very night as was our luck.  They're to begin promptly (which means little in Ecuador) at one in the morning, at a discoteca called Manú.  We'll be there, we say.

Hours later, as we sit drinking a bottle of aguardiente, another fella who's family was in town for the weekend from Guayaquil decides he'd like to accompany the two of us.  His name is Antonio.  The dueña of the Hostel has told Portland where the discoteca is.  It's across the Rio Tomebamba (a place whose mention almost caused my teacher to gasp as I told her this very story.  Evidently, it's robberville, and she said she wouldn't even go that way after dark.  Whoops.)

We walk from about midnight til 1 in the morning, getting directions from security guards, bartenders, passersby.  It's clear that nobody knows where the bar is.  I know this not because anyone has said, "I don't know," but rather because they have all given different directions.  I think it's the national game - one person tries to catch another person admitting that they don't know a place, and the other does their damnedest to be definitive about the information they offer.  It's one of those games wherein everyone loses.

By now, Portland and I have given up on the chance that we'll see Christian and his homies perform.  We're now more interested in finding a place on our side of the river to have a beer and a seat.  Antonio, however, is intent on finding this bar.  I decide to shut myself up with a small bottle of rum.  That'll keep me from whining.  As we're walking in the bar zone, I notice that no one is actually in the bar.  Rather, the streets are filled with little pockets of 6-8 people, all of whom are drinking aguardiente out of little plastic cups.  Incidentally, there weren't cups for everyone.  Instead, the little cup would be passed amongst the drinkers, one at a time.  Good stuff.  

As we walked through the throngs of aguardientistas - most of whom make screw faces at gringos - our friend Antonio saw a buddy of his.  In the buddy's group were a few kids from the school that I'm attending, and we thenceforth were one group, united.  Having missed out on the initial reason for going out, we were faced with a two options.  One, we could make the short walk back to the hostel and get out before things got drastic.  Two, we could join our new friends in whatever hairbrained schemes they had planned for the evening.

We chose to take part.  We piled into the vehicle of one of the gentlemen.  Of course, as we were doing so, we noticed a guy break a bottle and try to stab another guy with it.  In the car, we get word of a serenade that will occur shortly at the home of a girlfriend of one of our new comrades.  As we drive (across the river, where my teacher said never to go), a feller in the front seat practices his guitar and sings.  Before we know it, we (a caravan of 3 cars totaling about 18 people) have arrived at said house.

Standing outside, my small bottle of liquor in my hand, I notice that some fellers are writing "Te Amo" in the street with what appears to be sawdust.  Another feller follows this by carefully dousing the sawdust with a clear liquid, which I assume to be gasoline or something flammable.  The dudes approach the door, ring the bell, light the words, and sing about three songs for the young dame who, naturally, is dressed in her jammies.  From what I could tell, she seemed quite surprised, which is not to say that she was particularly thrilled with the flaming street which her balcony overlooked.  All in all, I'd say it was successful.

Capitalizing on the relative success (at least she was home) of the first session, we decide fairly undemocratically, actually, to go to the house of another girlfriend whose man was one of the fellers with our group.  This one didn't turn out too well.  Nothing happened.  No windows.  No door.  No lights.  Nothing.  

This seemed to tell the fellers in charge that the night's possibilities were waning, and that bed might be the best place for each of us to be at the moment.  It wasn't until this point that I decided to ask what time it was.  Five minus a quarter, or 445.  

Yeah, bed time, indeed.  A good night, an interesting night, and the kind of night I hope I never am too cool to stumble vez en cuando.

Culture Mashup

So, I found this moment to be an interesting one full of cultural surprises.  Kinda like peeling the layers off of an onion that's full of confetti, champagne, and song.

I'm in Cuenca, Ecuador.  
I'm sitting on the terraza of my hostel, Hostel Perla Cuencana. 
I'm drinking a Pilsener, which is the de facto national beer of Ecuador. 
I'm overlooking the city skyline, which contains a number of catedrals and terra cotta roofs.
In my ears is playing Three Six Mafia's "Late Night Tip."
I've donned my Ecuadorian national fútbol team jersey.  
It's Semana Santa, or Holy Week, in Cuenca and most of Ecuador.  
In the kitchen of the hostel simmers a soup that I've prepared.
I've decided to cook a soup called fanesca, which is only eaten on the Friday of Semana Santa.
I've altered the soup so that it's vegan.
Below me marches a procession carrying, amongst other things, dried bacalao (codfish) which will top bowls of fanesca city-wide.  

Anyway, thought this all somehow went together really well.  By the way, I will violate tradition and cook vegan fanesca for anyone who is hungry.  It's incredible.  Look it up, if you don't believe me.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

You have your whole life ahead of you.

I'm thinking about this quote and in the manner in which it is generally offered as advice.  

Generally, a person is at a crossroads.  Generally, there is one option that represents an opportunity which provides some level of security, such as a steady job.  Accordingly, there is a second (or third, fourth, etc...) option which represents some level of risk or unsteadiness, such as traveling or pursuing an art of some kind without realistic expectations of lengthy sustainability.  

At what age, or at what percent of one's life, is one's whole life no longer ahead of one?  

Indeed, what would a life look like if one were to operate with this concept in mind at all times?  What would a life look like if one acted as if one's entire life was perpetually ahead of them?  Would they always choose with their heart, ignoring external influences and pressures?  Eventually, would the initial secure option (which was, at the time, ignored) arise as one that now speaks to the heart as the better option?

I really don't know.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Response to Letter to Dean of UT College of Ed.

The following is the response I received from the college of education at UT.  Prepare yourself for substantive words.

"Dear Mr. Allen,

Dean Justiz has asked me to respond to your letter on his behalf.  We appreciate the time and thought that you gave to outlining your feedback and suggestions about the teacher preparation program in the College of Education at UT Austin.  I have forwarded your letter to Associate Dean Sherry Field and she in turn has provided a copy for Dr. Hoffman, who was your cohort coordinator.  I am confident the faculty will discuss your recommendations.  

We wish you the best in your position in Ecuador.


Marilyn Kameen
Senior Associate Dean
M. K. Hage Centennial Professor in Education
University of Texas at Austin
College of Education"

Friday, April 3, 2009

Letter to School in Salinas (Spanish)

26 marzo 2009

Sr. Chávez, Maestras, Maestros, Niñas, Niñas, y Padres de la Hermosa Escuela Quitillano Sánchez,

Quería dar mí gracias a todos Ustedes por invitarme con brazos abiertos a su escuela ayer. Fue realmente un día interesante, informativo, y muy chévere. La realidad es que ya no estoy cómodo en mi nivel de Español, especialmente acerca de la pedagogía.

Por eso, he decidido irme a Cuenca para tomar unas clases de Español, y posiblemente clases acerca de la cultura y historia Ecuatoriana. Ojala que a través de los meses siguientes, hablemos mucho acerca de nuestras ideologías de la educación de niñas y niñas. Es muy importante por mí tener las palabras para que pueda hablar sobre mis ideas y mis opiniones. Después de un ratito, espero que pueda volver y estar activo con su escuela en cada manera necesaria.

Eso dicho, no puedo pensar de ninguna razón de que no debo visitarles y seguir conocerles. Espero que sientan similarmente.

Otra vez gracias y nos vemos,

Cameron Allen
(maestro de los EEUU)

Letter to Dean of College of Education at UT

April 2, 2009

Dear Dean Justiz,

Maybe it’s a cop-out. Perhaps I’m a coward. In all likelihood, I’m just a romantic idealist. Or maybe I’m onto something. Either way, I’m not in the classroom.

Having graduated about eighteen months ago EC-4 certified, the expectation, both internally, as well as of family, friends, and instructors is that I would be teaching. However, as I neared the end of my Professional Development Sequence, I began to supplement my student teaching with readings dealing with various elements of pedagogy. My interest was cultivated after being asked by my program coordinators some questions dealing with the macrocosmic issues of education, such as the purpose of education and the various approaches to curriculum development. Meanwhile, the inquiries of many of my classmates dealt with specific issues in teaching which they were having to address in their specific field experiences, and most of them tended to become frustrated when ‘inundated with theory.’

Upon graduation, I realized that there was a host of questions whose corresponding answers were necessary facets in developing and internalizing an ideological framework that I had yet to answer, at least inasmuch as an answer can be formulated thereto. In place of these ‘bigger questions,’ I had been led to answer for myself many of the smaller, situational questions that exist. I see this exploration as helpful and as the job of the Professional Development Sequence, as is presupposed in its name.

The aforementioned task of the PDS was completed as interestingly, efficiently, beautifully, and connectedly as possible by the facilitators of my program, due mainly to the nonstop efforts of the amazing Jim Hoffman. The group also includes, but is not limited to, DeeDee Davenport, Sherry Field, Nathalie Hunt, and Ann Quarles, as well as my Cooperating Teacher, Crystal Marchand, most recently at Allan Elementary and currently working on a charter for Austin Community School.

In having been introduced to various questions regarding the theoretical aspect of education, I went on a personal and continuing quest during the last eighteen months or so, to add some substance to the base I had developed in class. What I discovered was quite alarming. I realized that in having earned a degree in Early Childhood Education, I had never been asked to explore the history of education, the various movements advocating alternatives such as holistic education, democratic education, or specific alternative approaches such as Waldorf, Sudbury, or Montessori education, all of which represent viable and caring options. Indeed, the ideals of such theorists as John Dewey, John Holt, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Sylvia Ashton Warner, John Taylor Gatto, bell hooks, Jonathan Kozol, Herbert Kohl, and countless others were not a part of my base pedagogical knowledge. In having been introduced to Paulo Freire, Alfie Kohn, William Ayers, Deborah Meier, Nel Noddings, and Maxine Greene, amongst others, I am forever grateful to my professors in the PDS and Ms. Marchand.

I write this as one of the lucky ones. Lucky in that the effect of compulsory schooling that generally breeds competition, and canonizes the product whilst ignoring the process that creates it, did not completely debilitate my natural sense of inquiry, nor did it train me to see that the power of knowledge is beyond my reach; that it is contained wholly in those greater than me.

Upon my graduation, I had become dangerously close to actually believing that I was ready for the classroom. Indeed, I still feel as though I could have done a fair job given my experiences over the course of the PDS. However, I likely would have become yet another teacher who has an inchoate theoretical sense of the social and political reasons for and inherent responsibilities of education, the true role of the teacher, and the need to remain constantly critical of a system that is largely damaging to the nature of children, especially to those living in poverty, who I see as the necessary targets of my future work. Without a strong sense of such an identity, I am acutely aware of the propensity for teachers to revert back to teaching the way they were taught, which, for the majority of us, is a dangerous prospect.

Learning about the history of education and the availability of options that have been conceived as well as the historical environment that cultivated them invites a young teacher to explore their personal view of the child, the teacher, the school, and education as a whole. By not offering, much less enforcing, undergraduate courses which require each student to invest in the development of their own personal and theoretically based ideologies of pedagogy, we are only serving to perpetuate the problems that exist now in terms of unmotivated or overwhelmed teachers, overtly damaging schools, and generally apathetic citizens.

Thus, I propose the addition of prerequisites to the PDS that force each and every student to develop and internalize a belief system for themselves, rather than asking questions that are embedded in a public school setting. In doing so, we are implying that there are no other schools of thought, much less tangible movements that embody alternative pedagogies. This seems to be elevating public schools as the sole viable choice, and that our only real option is creative maladjustment within the public school system, which I have learned is not at all the case. As a university with such high regard for its liberal and progressive identity, I feel as though you would be remiss in denying future students courses that introduce educational alternatives, theoretical aspects including critical and holistic approaches, and a historical overview of education in our country and globally.

Sadly, as I have experienced firsthand, the current system has been generally successful in its tendency to debilitate creativity and personally inspired inquiry development, beginning in the earliest grades. There are those of us who have simply chosen the job of a teacher, while others have dedicated their lives to the betterment of society, and feel we can be of most influence involved in educational situations.

As for myself, I am in the process of unlearning much of what I learned in pre-PDS classes in an attempt to develop and internalize my belief system, including a critical aspect in that development. Being that I realized my underdevelopment late in my schooling, I am currently avoiding the classroom with the expectation that my teaching could have a negative effect on students. To use a metaphor, I have a beautifully decorated attic in a house whose foundation was missing, and I don’t even know if I’m on the right block, because I was never introduced to the options in the neighborhood. I can only hope that the apathy that was so rampant outside of classes will not plague my fellow graduates, although I have seen evidence to the contrary. Many of them will feel the element of being theoretically unprepared and insufficiently convicted in their ideology, and hopefully they will respond by going back to the basics, so to speak, and asking the questions they were never forced to at the onset of their schooling.

We must be sure that higher education serves more than an internship, and that we allow and even foster a sense of responsibility to continue being a lifelong learner, especially in the College of Education, where we are turning out those who will immediately and drastically change the face of our society. In limiting this desire to be the driving force behind one’s learning, we are merely reciprocating the job currently done by many of our public schools.

It has now been over eighteen months since my graduation, and though I haven’t yet taught in a conventional sense, I have developed as a teacher in ways that I never thought possible. I have been lucky enough to attend a few conferences, be involved in movements to save Austin schools, read dozens of books about pedagogy, and be part of countless discourses, with groups as well as internally. I wouldn’t trade the learning and experience that I’ve gained over the last eighteen months for a year of frustrated, overwhelming, and disheartening teaching.

The comfort that I feel with my personal pedagogy is something I never anticipated. There are gaps, of course, in my understanding. However, rather than ignore them, I have come to appreciate that which I do not, or cannot, know, such as a true understanding of the philosophical concept of ‘knowing.’

I am currently in Ecuador, working with a school in a small town called Salinas de Guaranda. I have found that having worked through many of the assumptions I had internalized about schooling would have been challenged by the methodology of said school. Had I not already been on a critical journey that aimed to dissect those assumptions, I would be overwhelmed, frustrated, and disillusioned by my experiences in Salinas. As it turns out, I can appreciate the differences and similarities with this school and with what I believe. Furthermore, I have developed the language with which I can support my beliefs in dialogue with colleagues, something that has proven to be terribly helpful for all involved.

I truly hope there can be drastic changes in the way the College of Education approaches preparing its students. In my opinion, the College of Education should represent one of, if not the, most difficult Colleges, not only regarding admittance, but also in content. Sadly, as you probably know, this is not the case. Nationwide, colleges of education are maligned as being in the easiest tier of programs university-wide. This is a disgrace. The intricacies, decisions, nuance, and theory that come part in parcel with a true education in pedagogy are quite possibly the most difficult challenges as with any program in the entire university.

This is something we should pride ourselves in at the University of Texas. I see no reason why, with the right leadership, and with the application of the theory that we discuss in classrooms to our own institution of schooling, we can’t be at the forefront of progressive colleges of education. All we would be doing, truly, is applying our standards to ourselves.

Naturally, this will cause a stir. Classes will no longer be havens for athletes, and high marks might not be so easy to come by. Indeed, there will likely be a drop in enrollment as we change the reputation of the College. However, consider the alternative, the current situation. We have students graduating, armed with little philosophical understanding of their art, equipped only with the confidence of having earned good grades, along with a few months of advised experience as a student teacher which provided them with a few dozen grade and school specific lesson plans.

Of all these, the most damaging is the confidence we have on graduation day. I feel that there is a direct, positive correlation between level of confidence upon entry into the classroom and depth of disappointment upon realizing that there are situations outside of those dealt with in student teaching that teachers will inevitably face. Indeed, thousands of them.

The school reform movement has attacked the system from all angles, equipped with all types of panaceas. Indeed, no level of education has been untouched, no professional unquestioned, no institution without its attackers. However, I have faith that, until we equip teachers with deep, personal, theoretical understandings of the craft of teaching, we are doomed to repeat the present. Inasmuch as I anticipate and fear this, I implore you to take a stance of critical analysis of what we are and aren’t discussing at the College of Education at UT Austin.

I am terribly proud of my education. This statement is twofold. On one hand, I am proud of the accomplishments I made at the College of Education, along with classmates, colleagues, teachers, administrators, and most importantly, students. On the other hand, I am extremely proud of the journey of personal inquiry that has caused me to think critically on my years at the university, as well as assumptions solidified in public schooling. While much of this journey has been alone, due to the relative disinterest of my fellow graduates, there have been those along the way who have facilitated and challenged my development as a reflective teacher. In having met and spoken with a large number of people, I realize that I’m not alone in my hope that colleges of education can alter their approach. I think there is a more honest, hopeful and least hypocritical means in offering a program in Early Childhood through Grade 4 Education.


Cameron Allen

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Titles

Just so that I don´t forget them. By the way, the book I´ll write about the ideology of cooperativism and it´s relation to the approach to schooling in Salinas doesn´t have a title yet, but maybe The Ideology of Cooperativism and Its Relation to Primary Schooling in Salinas de Guaranda, Ecuador.

Closing the Circle: Uniting Freire’s Critical Pedagogy with Ideologies of Various Educational Alternatives

Dusty Postcards: Rememberances of a First Year Teacher Not Spent in the Classroom

I guess we´ll find out.

I am thinking a lot about thinking right now.

I have realized the value of six things.

First, I’m realizing how amazing the job that I had in Austin was, for a couple of reasons. I was able to work with friends, specifically Kathryn, Praveen and Josh. Additionally, I was afforded a good hour and a half to think, as I commuted to and from Dripping Springs daily. Of course, internet at a cool nine hours daily wasn’t bad for exploring inquiries of varying importance.

Secondly, I’m realizing the value of relationships, specifically in developing ideas and thinking. As I organized my computer files, I came across pages and pages of notes made over the last few years, the majority of which came out of drinking sessions between Praveen and I. I have realized how well we knew each other, and how wonderfully our thinking can work together. He is my best friend, and I hope that we’ll be able to get back to a point at which we can think symbiotically, without any higher purpose. He and all the other smart kids I hang with.

Third, I’m realizing the beauty of thinking for thinking’s sake. Having been in Ecuador for a little over a month, I’ve been largely in survival mode. This is partly because my Spanish doesn’t allow me to discuss, with others, things complex or abstract. At the end of such a conversation in Spanish, I feel as if I’ve run a hurdles course in sand with rollerskates on. We’ve made the finish, yet we’re bruised and bloody. Was it worth it? Absolutely, we’re getting better.

Fourth, I’m realizing the importance of silly and useless thoughts, thoughts whose existence might not necessarily change the course of the world. In survival mode, there is scant time for such ponderances, as bus times and hostel rates take over the mentality of the traveler. Once the survival things are done, there is generally a lack of energy or desire to have a real thoughtful night. There’s always tomorrow to think about, isn’t there? For this reason, I am very anxious to get settled somewhere, so that I can be weird again.

Fifth, I’m realizing how much I relied on the internet to act as catalysts for my musings. How helpful was it to have, literally, the world at my fingertips. Read or listen about racism, sports, books, news, diseases, whatever. My word, I miss the internet.

Sixth, I’ve realized one of the biggest things that’s missing from my life – guided study. In Ecuador, there hasn’t been much unguided study, actually. This is mostly from my small library, though I honestly haven’t done enough to read what I do have. Maybe bringing my two most read books, Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Breakfast of Champions, was a bad idea. Guided study is something that I’ll have, somewhat, when I begin classes here in Spanish. I aim to transcend functional Spanish and begin to find a voice. The classes are one-to-one, which doesn’t provide the camaraderie that a college program might, but it’ll be a start. Maybe I’ll apply for Cuenca’s University here.

Things I’ve Seen From the Bus Part 1

On the way from Salinas to Cuenca, which was actually one truck, one cab, and four buses, over two days.

Donkeys kissing
Cows fighting
Dogs dead and rotting
Snow. Rain. Fog.
Candidate named, “Shitay.” He’ll not be getting my vote.
Two girls making Cat’s Cradles
Farms (this is a joke, because almost all of Ecuador is a farm)
Old school plowing
Rocks with algae grown in the shape of candidate’s names (again, joke…spraypaint)
Schwarma spot
Mudslide aftermath
A treehouse
Mom spinning son in Superman costume in a park
Whole pig cooking on a barrel with a traditional Ecuadorian hat on it

Realization Station Cuenca

I walked over today to the Universidad de Cuenca, about a mile from La Perla Cuencana, across the river. I talked to the Admissions Office about foreigners attending.

Being on campus, I realized what I’m missing so bad – school. Sure, a lady friend would be nice from time to time. But it’s the camaraderie that comes with mutual study and mutual interest for which I pine.

I’d love to find a school to work in, sure; especially one who operates in an ideologically acceptable manner. But it’s academia and the feeling of self-driven improvement that I want so bad. I want to be challenged to learn something that´s really difficult for me to wrap my head around.

The journey, successes and failures alike, along with a group that experiences the same – that’s it. That’s it.

Dream 2/4/2009

I’ve been snowboarding for a long time. My hips hurt and so does my caboose, or rump. I know a trick that has to do with using my feet to spin. This is something most other people I’m with can’t do. It makes me proud to know I can perform something unique.

I’m now in a large library. I thought it was a bookstore. In Spanish, bookstore is librería. Perhaps that is how I was confused. The large library is full of reference books, many of which can’t be checked out by patrons. I decide to find the Education or Pedagogy section. This generally happens in real life, too. It’s not just a dream decision.

I find the section. I’m upset that the books are on the bottom two shelves. It would assuredly be more comfortable to stand whilst perusing. The books are terrible. They’re all really big and heavy. I realize that their heaviness doesn’t mean they carry any weight.

I’ve become familiar with a Burger King commercial during the dream. The content is as follows: there is a geriatric woman facing the viewer. To her right, the viewers’ left is a meat grinder. It is spitting out a tube of raw red (color, not necessarily cow) meat. The geriatric takes the tube of meat and scores it continuously with her teeth. When the meat comes out to the geriatric’s left, viewers’ right, it is brown, as if her scoring was in some way cooking the meat. The meat seems to defy gravity between the grinder, the geriatric, and the infinity that exists to the geriatric’s left.

I’m then, in the library, audience to a demonstration about making some sort of stuffed meat thing. Evidently, the cute host tells me, the meat must be scored, cut, and stuffed. She shows me how to do this. I’m to score the meat, the job of the geriatric in the Burger King commercial. I don’t seem to have a problem doing this. I don’t remember tasting anything.

The cute host is describing the meat. She’s telling me everything it has in it. In the meat are grains, like quinoa, and others. Quinoa is the only one I remember. As she tells me this, she makes the little meat pie patty things. They’re stuffed with some kind of cheese bullshit.

We get to the last patty. It comes out in a skin like a sausage. However, it is made entirely of grains, mostly quinoa. She is telling me how to hold it so that it will not fall apart. As she does, a man joins our group. He has dark blue Dickies and a shirt with a crying clown on it. He has some sort of mustache whether he likes it or not. His hair is faded. The last piece of patty will be for him.

I’m holding the ultimate patty for the cholo as the cutie pie describes the process to him. I seem to be losing control of the patty. The more she yams on about the process, the worse off his patty seems to be. Initially, only a few grains of quinoa are falling. I decide to place a small, brown trashcan under the patty to catch that which escapes. Before long, we’re losing lots of stuff. Amongst other things which escape are quinoa, M&Ms, little tomatoes, chochos, and other grains. They’ve almost filled up the little, brown trashcan.

The cute lady is talking about Dolly Parton. She says that her mom ‘wouldn’t teach [her] the oatmeal trick because Coat of Many Colors is her most famous song.’

Evidently, the cutie pie’s mom wanted her to learn some sort of sewing, rather than the oatmeal trick. I’m assuming the oatmeal trick had something to do with the patties we’ve been working with. At this point, the patty has become a handful of the aforementioned ingredients, wrapped burrito-style in a piece of brown butcher paper. The butcher paper looks as if it has encased something greasy because it’s really dark in color.

Ecuadorian TV Moments Part I

I’m sitting in a Chifa, which is a Chinese restaurant, in Guaranda before heading to Riobamba en route to Cuenca. I am moving and would like to make the 4-bus trip today so that I can have all day tomorrow in Cuenca. Chifas, while unhealthy, saturated with MSG and cornstarch, are an easy vegetarian option. I stopped at a Mediterranean restaurant that didn’t have anything, anything, vegetarian. I asked about hummus and was greeted with a blank face.

On the tele is an American Idoleque show. The first young lady performs in a manner that seems to fit what I know about South American and Mexican television. Really sexy, or cute, depending on her age. Really cheesy, with costumes and loads of makeup. Her song is pretty poppy, and the performance garners her three 10s, which I assume is a perfect score.

The next performer is Patito, who is another young lady. However, Patito has been made up like a nerd, complete with thick glasses, fake freckles, and pigtails. Incidentally, she is likely a very pretty young lady as well. During Patito’s performance, the camera continues to show a tall, handsome man in the audience. He is enjoying Patito’s performance quite a bit, as is most of the audience. I’m wondering if he is married to Patito, or maybe her father, brother, manager…something, assuredly.

Patito’s performance is fairly typical, following the dweeb theme quite closely. From what I can gather, the song is an innocent one about a crush or something. It fits.

The first two judges agree that Patito’s performance was apt, rewarding her with 10s. The third judge, presumably the Simon of the bunch, is a bit more tough on Patito. He begins talking about her image, and how important image is in the business. The tall, handsome man seems upset at this, and is still somehow earning camera time. The curmudgeonly crab of a judge continues to rant about Patito and how she must change her image to fit with showbusiness.

His rant presents two viable possibilities. One, he’s not at all impressed with the purposeful nerd thing, and maybe thinks it’s been played out in Latin America. I certainly wouldn’t argue with that. Two, he doesn’t realize that Patito is clearly playing a part for the performance, and if necessary, could probably be as hot and sexy as the first girl. This possibility is almost beyond belief, given how obvious it is that she’s putting on.

Still, we’re getting a healthy eyeful of Tall Dark Handsome, hereafter TDH.

Patito is clearly upset, and I’m clearly confused. TDH is as upset as Patito, though where her emotion manifests itself as shame and embarrassment, TDH is getting pissed. TDH takes the stage and reaches for a microphone. I’m still confused. TDH is trading insults with Curmudgeonly Crab (hereafter CC) about this and that. Eventually, CC asks, naturally, who the hell TDH is anyway.

“Soy el padre de Patito,” TDH replies passionately.

The crowd, in unison, is absolutely stunned. Patito is stunned. Judges, stunned. Even TDH, the voice behind the surprise, seems stunned now that it’s become audible.

Here’s where it gets weird. Keep in mind, we’ve been watching American Idol here for about 25 minutes, had two complete performances with two complete judgements and a couple of rants to boot.

All of a sudden, we zoom out of the program, and we’re suddenly in a room of stunned preteens. The preteens, all wearing the same denim getup, are watching the American Idol program from their couch at home. We’re not watching American Idol, though we thought we were. The entire American Idol thing, all 25 minutes, was just a mere set piece inside of a bigger story, wherein Patito is a major character. Evidently, the three preteens are Patito’s friends and are floored by the secret about her TDH father.

I’m stunned, and feel I’ve been had, but for a totally different reason. Lucky I didn’t have a cell phone, or I might have voted for the first, sexy girl. Unbelievable.

Best Vegan Meal in Ecuador so Far

Best Vegan Meal in Ecuador so Far

This was a meal that I ate with my friend Skye, who I met in Baños. Like me, she had been vegan for a time before arriving here, though she had about a year under her belt. We were both inspired by this meal.

Nothing cooked, all crudo (raw). Except for the bread, of course.

A couple of rolls from the local Panaderia de la Casa.

Two raw beets
Two avacadoes
Two tomatoes
Three small carrots
One small papaya, for dessert
Half cucumber
Some sunflower seeds and pistachios
Lots and lots of lime juice.

This was such a wonderful meal. The raw beets were unbelievably good. Here’s the rub. A warning: the rest of this post isn´t really cute stuff. It´s sort of gross. I warn you, though I know that means you´re just gonna want to read it more than ever. Sorry. I tried.

As I’m sleeping later that night, I wake and realize I need to use the restroom. I go without much effort and without many solids, so to speak. No biggie, I’m somewhat used to getting that every week or so here in Ecuador. Traveling makes for a ragingly varied diet.

As I am cleaning, I’m realizing that there is some red on the hygienic paper. This is new. I don’t think I like this very much. Actually, I’m really not happy about this. I finish the deed, and glance to see the content in the bowl. Of course, in Ecuador, there shall be no hygienic paper in the bowl, and thus the visual information present isn´t at all compromised by it. I’m blown away by the amount of reddish liquid in the bowl. I’ve never seen this, and I’m immediately really concerned about it. ‘What the fuck’ would probably be aptly placed here.

I rush back to my room, thinking I’ve just shit a pint of blood, and the possible solutions bounce around in my head, not a-one seemingly up to addressing such an extreme problem. ‘What the fuck now’ comes now.

I decide to take the pearls that Dad gave me for stomach problems. I took a couple of weeks of these, and now take them sparingly. I pop two of these, and look for what else might be in my medical bag. There are now two different pills, one in a little baggie and the other still in its foil wrapping. I decide to pop a couple of the bagged ones, hoping they ameliorate bloody shits. ‘Oh, man, what the fuck does that mean.’ Now, I’m being reflective and trying to reverse engineer the problem.

As I lay in bed, I recount the activities of the day, which, in Salinas, is a pretty simple process. Walked here. Check. Climbed that. Check. Photographed those. Check. Said that to her. Check. Ate that…wait a minute, ate that. Ate the fucking beets. I ate beets! Beets! Red beets!

As it turns out, the greatest vegan meal I’ve had in Ecuador had me pondering my own death in the least honorable way.

I waited to write this, for fear that my Sherlockian problem-solving was a little too simple. For an update, there have been no problems akin to those mentioned above. Well, except for the other times I’ve eaten beets. Can´t stop, won´t stop, eating beets. Gotta love those raw beets.

Paternalism and Arkansas State University

I’m in a small town called Salinas de Guaranda, a town known for it’s cooperative run industries. Amongst others, their soccer ball, soy, textile, cheese, and chocolate industries are all run on a cooperative paradigm. There was a religious man of some sort that introduced the idea in the mid 20th century, and since then, the town has been a beacon of good business practice. Amongst other things, they set aside part of the monies gained to send citizens to universities in Ecuador and beyond.

The town is very proud of the rapid pace at which it has become successful. That said, it is also equally proud of having done the work on its own. The religious feller is now long gone, and they’ve taken his suggestions and run with them, making Salinas a truly unique town with a truly unique, and successful, approach.

I arrive in Salinas on the heels of some friends that I met in Baños. I find my friends at one of the two hostels in town, El Refugio. They advise me, in the extra day they’ve had, that Salinas is a lovely place with warm and welcoming people. However, they also relay to me the information that it has been invaded by about 20 fraternity and sorority kids from Arkansas State University. I decide to see for myself, assuming that if there is any truth to their claim, then it won’t be hard to verify in a town of a couple thousand.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, as I make the two-minute walk into town, I cross paths with a few fellows who look like they just might not be Salineros. “Hey, buddy,” they say with a smile. “How’s it going, fellas,” I reply in English, following their lead. “That’s good to hear, man,” the second fella says, presumably referring to my English fluency. So, it’s true.

Over the next few days, I get to meet and talk with most of the 18 or 20 international business students about their mission here in Salinas. Evidently, they’ve come to volunteer in the various coops around town. They’ll be audience to various presentations which aim to describe the history, development, and organization of aforementioned coops. At the end of their six short days here, they’ll give a list of suggestions and insights about how to improve business in Salinas.

Across these few days, I’m host to conversations and situations that, to me, were saturated in a paternalistic attitude that made me want to puke. Keep in mind, I’m reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed pretty much nonstop. Thusly, paternalism is something I’ve got a heightened disdain for. Aside from the paternalism were some Americanisms that just killed me as well. Here’s a list of a few quotes and doings that caused the hair to stand up on the back of my neck.

“We’re just here to do everything we can to help.”

“We’re gonna give a family a donkey. It’s only like 80 bucks, which ain’t much. But to them, that’s a lot.”

“Before we take off, we’ve all got business cards, in English and Spanish, and we’ll hook you up.”

“I just don’t think, even in a niche market, we’d be able to sell these patterns.” This was from the final suggestion session, which I sat in on. The group plans on opening a store in Arkansas to import Salinas’ chocolate, cheese, soccer balls, and textiles. The quote came from a girl who had volunteered in the textile shop, and was obviously turned off by the colors and patterns chosen by the members of the coop. She thought they were a little ugly and extreme. Of course, it’s not like the people of Ecuador haven’t been using said patterns and colors for hundreds or years.

I walk into the pizzeria, which is the only restaurant in Salinas with regular hours (it’s open from 9 at night until midnight, and doubles a bar thereafter). Immediately, I hear the sounds of The Band’s smash hit Up on Cripple Creek in the background. It doesn’t take long to notice the five tables that have been put together to accommodate the Staters. They’ve about 25 beer bottles, 3 bottles of rum, and maybe 5 super meaty pizzas adorning the table. They know the words to the song. They’re proving it by singing, loudly. Turns out, they know the words to many other songs. They prove this by singing. Turns out, they brought their iPod into the pizzeria and decided to have a karaoke night.

“Brad’s gonna ship him his Spanish book.” Evidently, one of the most pitiful Salineros, Jiovani, was trying to learn English. Poor guy doesn’t have a bilingual dictionary, so Brad’s gonna ship him his Spanish book. That’s right, a book made for English speakers to learn Spanish.

In a day at the elementary school, I noticed some good stuff. First, the Staters were unabashedly taking photo after photo of the children. Cell phones, iTouch, digital camera, disposable, whatever. Just capture this moment. What a beautiful moment. Remember when we bought chips and those little kids were so hungry. That’s so sad. Hopefully we made their day better.

"They´ve got a washer and a drier. Blew me away."

“The kids are really smart. It´s not the kids. Smarter than the adults.”

“Juanita doesn’t know English at all. She definitely needs help.”

“Man, he must not have eaten all day. He ate so fast!” Jiovanni made a head wrap for one of the dudes with a weed leaf on it. In exchange, they bought him a pizza. Jiovanni told me the night before that eating fast is a type of statement against aristocracy. He said that people that eat with forks and knives, really slowly and with blatant politeness, are looked at with disdain by much of the youth in Ecuador. His friend was describing how he eats with his hands only, even rice, beans, chicken, whatever, to make a similar statement.

All this ranting aside, the folks that I met from Arkansas were all really nice to me, as well as to the Salineros. It seemed that they were happy with what they learned from the Salineros. They seemed to appreciate the hard work and the organization with which the Salineros ran their cooperatives. Their intentions seemed geniune, as did each and every person with whom I spoke.

I think I just have a little bit different outlook on helping people that involves the people sharing their knowledge with me. I don´t feel as if the people in Salinas need me, but it would be nice if we could share some experiences.

Spanish Textbook Moment in 3-D-Capítulo 2

Cultural Note

In Ecuador, as in many South American countries, there are a few different ways to ride buses. First, you can meet the bus before departure at the terminal terrestre, or bus station. Keep in mind, not all towns have a designated bus station. For smaller towns, you can catch the bus along the route between two bigger towns. Passengers board the bus, have a seat, and a few minutes later someone will come by to collect fare. Of course, the fares are different depending on the specific route you’re taking. Many people aren’t headed to the terminal terrestre in the final destination, but rather have a place to go that is one the way.


Humberto jumped on a bus between Ambato and Baños. The ride from Ambato to Baños is about two and a half hours long and costs 85 cents. Humberto rode the bus from Pelileo to Baños, a ride which lasted about an hour. Upon arrival in Baños, the bus assistant, Jiovani, asks Humberto for 75 cents for the ride from Pelileo. Humberto is furious. He thinks he should only pay 40 cents, but Jiovani is unwavering.

Your assignment

Break off into groups of two. One person act as Humberto. Explain why you should only have to pay 40 cents for the ride from Pelileo to Baños. The other person should act as Jiovani. Explain that, because the bus has arrived in Baños, Humberto has to pay whatever you say. Each person should use the informal, singular, command form from earlier in the chapter. Present your dialogue to the class.

Narrations of thoughts from Ecuadorians.

From time to time, I cross paths with Ecuadorians who notice me. I´d say 100%. Sometimes, they look angry, confused, interested, humbled (joke). Sometimes, it´s only clear that they feel something. Instead of trying to be a personal advocate, and wish everyone would look at me like the complete person I think I am, I´ve decided over the month I´ve been here to narrate the words of some of the folks with whom I encounter. The following is a sample thereof. See if you can guess which one was my favorite.

“Whoa, what the fuck is that?”

“Get outta my country, Nazi.”

“Whaa, it’s a white guy. Seriously, he’s right there. Walking like the rest of us, with a bag of vegetables. But, he´s a white guy doing all those things we do!”

“He probably voted for Bush. Whatever that means.”

“That’s so totally weird!” “What, the beard?” “No, not really.” “The hair?” “No, that’s not it.” “Maybe the white skin?” “No, I’ve seen plenty of that.” “Glasses?” “No, I wear similar specs.” “Ah, it’s the clothes, isn’t it?” “No, he dresses like my dad, actually.” “I got it, the sandals…they’re really…white. Is that it?” “Well, no. I guess not. It’s just fucking weird, okay! Let’s stare the shit out of him.” “Yeah, why not?”

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha…I love it. An Ecuador jersey, on a white guy, on game day. And just when you think you´ve seen absolutely everything.”

“There’s a person. He smiled and said, ‘Buenas tardes.’ That was nice of him. I’ll smile back and say, ‘¿Cómo estás?’ It felt nice to be polite, even to someone who is really different than me.”

“Man, I’d like to kick that guy’s ass, but he’s way larger than me, so I’ll just glare.”

“Mommy, will I ever have a big red beard like that guy, cause I don´t wanna?”

“Whooooooooa! Strange!"

"There´ looks you..."

Thank you, thank you.