Otavalo Stories and Tips

Week 52 - Bleeding Noses and Broken Shoes (Ecuador)

The last week of life in Ecuador has easily been the most hectic so far during my short stay here. If planning 25 lessons wasn’t hard enough, I also had the pleasure of taking on the role of a fully fledged builder, helping in the construction of the new school. Sadly though, my lack of strength, muscles and anything masculine proved to be a huge stumbling block in my efforts to help, and I think I will have to take part of the responsibility for us starting the new school year without a new school, and only half the classrooms needed to teach the children. On the bright side though, it should make for a fairly interesting first week.

In between taking on the roles of teacher and builder, I was lucky enough to spend another day at the nursery, the scene of some of my most harrowing moments in Ecuador so far. It wasn’t something I was really looking forward to, especially upon walking through the door and being accosted by two young girls who wanted to know if they should call me Aunt or Uncle. Luckily this was as bad as it got, and there were no repeats of incidences of the previous week.

Sadly though there was more evidence of the neglect and abuse that seems to be rife here. One young boy entered with a rather nasty looking bleeding nose. When I asked what happened, he casually said that his mother had punched him; as though it happ ens all the time. Another girl came running up to me, sobbing her heart out and handed me her broken shoe, the zip tore apart from the seams. There was no way that it could be mended and upon telling her this, she started to cry even more and pleaded with me “please mend it, otherwise my mother will beat me”. In such a situation there is not a lot you can do, other than tell the young girl to tell her mother I broke it and to come and beat me. I’m still waiting for this beating, which probably means that the message didn’t have the purpose it was supposed to do.

If these incidences weren’t harsh enough, my girlfriend had a 3 year old girl start to French-Kiss her arm one afternoon. Now I don’t know if I was just a late starter in life, having my first experience with a girl I wish I could forget about (and wish many of my friends would forget about too!) at the ripe old age of 17. As mentioned previously, these are some of the harsh realities that these children seem to have to face every day and sadly there’s not a whole lot you can do about it in this part of the world.

There are many traditions and beliefs in Ecuador, that I would doubt you would find in many Western countries. I already find it hard to believe that leprechauns roam the area at night, but one sick note brought by one of the toddlers from his mother, is right up there with this. After being absent for a couple of days, the sick note from the mother stated that her poor, sick son, had been ill, because someone had given him ‘the evil eye’. Now, I have been given the evil eye on many occasions, sometimes I think for quite harsh reasons, but it certainly didn’t make me violently ill the next day. From what I have been told such an ‘excuse’ is a common occurrence here and a perfectly acceptable reason for missing school. If only such excuses would work for paid jobs back in England, you could have a field day!

As per usual, my poor Spanish and strange English accent has led to more confusion and humorous moments. I learnt this week that people find it extremely difficult to pronounce the word ‘shy’, instead sounding a perfectly pronounced ‘shite’ word in its place. So instead of saying “you are shy?”, instead I am met with the rather offensive phrase of “you are shite!” Maybe my fellow teachers are just being honest with me?

This week also saw my body being taken over by the parasite Giardia, which leaves you with many unpleasant symptoms that are far too horrible to mention here. Luckily all it took was a quick trip to the doctors, and everything seems to be working pretty much correctly again. Upon returning back to school though after my consultation I informed other staff members of my problem, but I unfortunately pronounced Giardia wrong, which sounded like the word for ‘security guard’ in Spanish. Obviously everyone found it amusing when I was trying to say that I had this parasite inside me, not a security guard.

During my short stay in the nursery this week I was given an impromptu salsa lesson by one of the workers. Unfortunately I was absolutely terrible at the ‘it’s all in the hips’ moves I was being shown and was asked how I normally dance. I decided this was the perfect moment to show them my own style of dancing, and before I knew it, the other workers were all copying my actions, saying how unique and good it was. Unique yes, but good is certainly not the word I would call it.

Christmas on the rose plantation I have learnt will be quite an interesting and exciting affair. Apparently Secret Santa is deemed far too lame to be carried out here. Instead they bring a couple of angry bulls in to the plantation and hang presents on their horns, where the workers have the chance to try and snatch the presents without getting gored. Last year two workers went to hospital after allowing the bulls to stick their horns into some pretty painful places. I think this will be one activity I will be watching from afar!

That’s more or less all of interest this week. I tired the local delicacy of cow skin soup, which is something I won’t cry too hard about if I don’t eat again, especially when you’re expected to eat the rather large pieces of skin that still contain all of the hairs. I have also finally started running again, and have a half marathon lined up in Quito at the start of next year. I doubt my time will be anything to write home about, but it’s another medal!

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