Who would have thought Christmas has already been and gone! The following day after the big yearly event that brings families together over a big roasted, stuffed turkey I found myself back at work, back in the same routine I have found myself in for the past five months.
As to be expected, Christmas this year was a frantic, but thoroughly enjoyable affair. I was expecting an Ecuadorian Christmas to highlight differences in culture, but things were strangely familiar to that what I have been use to. As per usual in the build up to 'Navidad' I left all my shopping until the last minute, fighting against the crowds in the Ecuadorian Sierra town of Latacunga to find a few last minute bargains for my beautiful girlfriend. I have to say I was remarkably surprised at the quality and value of gifts on offer as I strolled down the streets of Quito and Sanchez de Orellana towards Parque Vicente Leon, where virtually anything you could possibly want to buy, from huge fluffy cats to quality leather handbags could be found. I of course chose the walk to Parque Vicente Leon only for my own personal selfish reasons as this is also the area of Latacunga where the best ice cream outlets can be found. After a hard morning of shopping I couldn't help but treat myself to one in an ice cream store located next to Central Hotel, on the corner of Calle Sanchez de Orellana and Calle Padre Salcedo, overlooking Parque Vicente Leon, which friends in Latacunga believe to be the best in the whole town.
It seems every Christmas I come down with one illness or another and this year was no different developing a sinus infection on Christmas Eve, which lasted for the whole of the next week. It would have been nice to actually smell or taste any of the food I digested over the festive season, but alas, it wasn't to be. Instead I had to put up being unable to breathe and having a splitting constant headache for five days, which I believe led to the few bouts of homesickness I suffered. I suppose at this time of year, being so far away from loved ones and family, homesickness was to be expected.
Christmas Eve had to be the busiest day I have witnessed in Latacunga with virtually every shop along the main streets employing scantily clad beauties in the hope they could lure unsuspecting members of the public into their shops in the hope they would then spend their hard earned pay. Amongst the elegant ladies, passed-out drunk, face down asleep in the road, in a puddle of their own slobber were a large percentage of Latacunga's homeless population. I hadn't seen such a concentrated homeless population since regularly frequenting the bars of Covent Gardens in London during. I think they must have got their festive dates mixed up as they could be found in the same position down virtually every street.
There were more unpleasant sights to be seen than the unconscious homeless though during the week. On the short 20km journey to Latacunga along the Panamericana, the road which runs the length of South and Central America there were no less than six dead dogs and four traffic accidents. From the blood trails still evident, I presume some families will be having a distraught and lonely Christmas. It was also a little distressing to see the amount of dirty, cold and poor street children that had invaded Latacunga's streets, especially around the main square of Parque Vicente Leon, and even the Panamericana begging for a little Christmas charity. It's amazing how many speeding buses children will run in front of in the hope of slowing them down enough for a few cents to be thrown from an open window. Sadly it seemed no one was interested in helping the poor. If I had decided to give to one child, like a flock of pigeons with bread, before you know it you would be surrounded from all sides with no way of escape. Even at midnight on Christmas Eve, you could still find them roaming the streets like packs of wolves hoping for free handouts. The parents seem to encourage this as well.
After expecting a lonely Christmas, my girlfriend and I had the pleasure of spending Christmas Eve and Day around the house of an Ecuadorian army sergeant's house, whom I work with, along with his family, experiencing a true Latin American Christmas. For this family it seems a typical Christmas Eve is spent at the local police station, not because someone had been a naughty little boy, but this is where the traditional nativity play and prayer of 'Novena' was held. This was followed by a bout of dancing. Of course being the only Gringo's in the building many a policeman and visiting families took time out from their own passionate dance routine to laugh uncontrollably at my girlfriend and I attempting salsa. There was even more laughter aimed in my direction when conversation turned to the colour of my eyebrows and a number of authority figures even had the cheek to ask if I dyed them!
Once my embarrassment had finished we returned to the sergeants' house. At this point it was getting late into the Christmas Eve evening. I was expecting an early night to give Santa time to drop his load, but as I was about to find out, Christmas in Ecuador is slightly different to Christmas's I have enjoyed back home in England. Christmas dinner isn't actually eaten at lunchtime on Christmas Day, which is the tradition I am use to. Instead it is started at midnight Christmas Eve, and includes a huge roasted turkey and all of the trimmings, something that has been copied in recent years from nearby America. Eating all of this, plus drinking three bottles of wine between us all, and even managing two rounds of desserts at such a late hour in the day wasn't an easy task, but I'm happy to say that I accomplished it eventually, finally finishing 2am Christmas Day morning. After only five hours sleep I awoke the following morning at 7am to the smells of reheated Christmas leftovers and the joy of eating a huge Christmas dinner again for breakfast.
The rest of Christmas Day was just like any other day, with people going about their usual business, working and bringing in an income for their families. I suppose in an area as poor as this, you can't miss even a single days earnings, even for Santa, Rudolph and Baby Jesus. I'm sure even Joseph would have been working if it wasn't for his pregnant wife.
Apart from the excellent Christmas received here, the highlight of recent days had to be the end of year Christmas presentation put on by the children of the school I teach at, for their parents and other guests. The show didn't get off to the best of starts as during the first performance one girl decided to have an epileptic fit. In the true sense of the saying 'the show must go on' the girl was carried of stage, and the show did indeed carry on as though nothing had happened. Luckily (or unluckily) the poor girl has two or three of these a day, so it wasn't the emergency it could have been.
My two performances, of the classical Christmas song 'Jingle Bells' and the not so classical 'Five Little Monkeys' were performed immaculately. I should hope so to, seeing that I have had to practice these songs every single day for the past 2 months. It's going to be a long time until I can listen to these songs again! Afterwards we had the pleasure of a visit from Santa, which sent the children (and some of the parents!) into giggling fits of ecstasy. It really did surprise me the age of which some people still believe in old St. Nick. I suppose considering the amount of people that also believe in leprechauns here, I should've known. For me the best part of Santa's visit was how remarkably well behaved the children were during the week. This might of had something to do with me telling them that Santa wouldn't be visiting after they stepped out of line during class, making a couple of students cry in the process. Apart from learning that I have developed the stereotypical teacher habit of spitting over everyone when I talk, teaching at the university was also an easy affair, and like in Poland, I have again managed to spread the well known English phrases 'You're having a giraffe', and 'I'm not feeling the George' in to my lesson schedules.
I hope the new year is enjoyed by all.
(Photos to follow shortly)