Christmas this year will be an interesting affair. Living in isolation on a rose plantation in the Ecuadorian Sierra not far from the town of Latacunga with just myself and my girlfriend will certainly be different from past Christmas's shared with family and friends sitting around a luminous Christmas tree and enough turkey to feed a small country. In retrospect, maybe this year will allow the more important values of Christmas to be better understood and appreciated. This will also be my first taste of Christmas through the eyes of a vegetarian, which for most Ecuadorians here is something that only the ludicrously poor have to suffer or those that are looked upon with some sort of learning difficulties.
Due to the abuse that many children suffer here, our school has decided to only close on Christmas Day and New Years Day to help cut down the chances of extra abuse over the festive season. Although I admire such a decision in the name of a child’s health and enjoyment of life, if I have to be selfish, it means that it will be just as hectic and non-stop as any other teaching week. If only I could be given a little bit of Christmas music, just anything, The Pogues, Band Aid or even George Michael it would definitely make this season of loving and giving feel more like Christmas. With radio music, you would be hard pushed to even realise it was Christmas in Ecuador.
On the bright side, it will certainly be cheaper than previous Christmas's. When asking my university students how much they would be spending on their loved ones, the majority replied with a very firm 'just a dollar'. Obviously parents, girlfriends, and the like are spoilt rotten in Ecuador, or just easily pleased! I must have confused the students though when asking what they will buy with their $1 spending money. I decided to give some options like 'chocolate' and 'socks', throwing in some more choices like 'sheep' and 'a new life in Europe' in the hope of amusing my students. It's amazing how many chose the latter options, obviously not understanding my humour or intended joke. Maybe life in Ecuador is really that cheap for native residents?
Christmas so far has intrigued me here in the Sierra region. It's celebrated on a much bigger scale that I ever imagined it would be, with all your festive decorations and other novelties being sold absolutely everywhere and at ridiculously cheap prices, especially around the main market square of Plaza el Salto, where the smell of the different types of fern used in traditional nativity scenes lingers in the air. Strangely, Christmas trees on the other hand, fake and real, don't follow the same trend, averaging a cost similar to that of a person's weekly salary. I'm not sure how many families can afford such a luxury. Surely Christmas is not really Christmas without a tree, well it wouldn't be in most Western countries?
This week also saw the official opening of the new elementary school where I am currently teaching. This should have been finished a good four months ago, but similar to more or less everything in relation to time in Ecuador, it was well behind schedule. This could have something to do with the laid back atmosphere of many of the Ecuadorian population, which I have to say I prefer to the 'time is money' attitudes of people I am use to in my home culture of England. Most classes were cancelled for two weeks beforehand in order to make sure the grand opening went perfectly and to appease the visiting donors. I'm not really sure if this is the right ethic to follow, sacrificing 2 weeks of a child's education but when the school relies solely on donations and charity to survive then I suppose in this instance education is not as necessary as money.
During the grand opening some of the school children were asked to put on a number pf performances and sang a few songs, to the delight of the watching guests. Everything was going to plan until the youngest performer, a boy at the tender age of three stood before the audience, about to sing a solo version of the famous Christmas song 'Deck the Halls'. Unfortunately the occasion was too much for the unlucky young lad and stage fright overcame him at the worst possible moment. As the room stood in silence waiting for the first word to fall from his lips, it was something else that fell from him, something of enormous proportions.
I have never known anyone to urinate for so long in all my life. After a heavy nights drinking during my University days some of my old University housemates could release their golden liquid for half the morning, but this was nothing compared to a mere three year old boys efforts. He must have been relieving himself for a good four minutes. By the time he had finished his whole trousers, socks and shoes were saturated and he was standing in a puddle of urine that almost covered the entire stage. If this wasn't bad enough his bowels also relaxed themselves, spraying his trousers, socks and shoes once again, only this time in a brown putrid substance that I wish never to see again in all my life. I am sure the sporadic bouts of laughter that emerged from the crowd will haunt him well into adulthood.
This week also saw my Ecuadorian National Primetime (if you can call 9.55am primetime!) TV debut as a documentary of my school was aired on a morning chat show. As to be expected, my radio good looks didn't impress the Tom Jones wannabee presenter who decided to use only female teachers, especially those that were flashing more than an ample amount of cleavage. Maybe if I had undone just two more buttons on my shirt then my beautiful bussoms would have been enough to earn me my fifteen minutes of fame. All I was left with was a two second cameo role featuring my back, and only my back, while I was teaching a class. A couple of magazines also came to run a story of the school and seeing that many photos were taken of me attempting to teach then maybe, just maybe, I might be in with a shout of Ecuadorian fame!
I always thought that racism in England gave the country a bad impression worldwide, but after having a class discussion on racism while teaching at University, I have learnt that the problem in Ecuador seems to be much worse than I had initially thought. I started off by asking what people's impressions of racism were. The first girl I asked without shirking or stuttering said ' I am a racist' she followed this by going in to depth of her hate for the indigenous population of Ecuador and how dirty and smelly they are. Seeing that around a third of my class is indigenous, as can be expected her words didn't go down too well at all and the rest of the lesson was filled with an air of tension and a touch of awkwardness.
Luckily things got a little easier towards the end of the lesson when one student enquired about racism and English hooligans. Of course I tried to explain that not all hooligans are racist and their trouble with other countries is normally based solely on football rivalries. It's just that England has many enemies when it comes to football. It seems it is not only England who has rivalries over such meaningless statistics as football. Earlier in the class we had been talking about Argentineans and students had told me that people from Argentina think they are much better than the rest of the South America population due to their Italian ancestry, unlike most other Latin American countries, which were conquered by the Spanish and Portuguese. I often wonder why people can let such silly little things like football, and something that happened centuries ago play a huge part in the way they think and live their lives.
On this note I will end. I hope everyone has an enjoyable festive season.
(Photos to follow shortly)