This week sees one of the most colourful and energetic country-wide displays of festivities in the Ecuadorian calendar. The week-long series of festivities is very originally known as 'carnaval'. Sadly my knowledge of Ecuadorian culture and history hasn't so far allowed me to understand the full meaning of 'carnaval' but with every major town celebrating in a different way there seems to be much variety involved.
Quite annoyingly though (or maybe I’m a boring bugger!), Latacunga, the area where I have the pleasure of living, has decided to focus its celebration on one of life’s essential resources: water. This means every single child walking the streets is armed with a highly impressive and powerful water gun, capable of shooting down blind homeless men from 100 feet away. I'm not quite sure of the goodwill spirit involved in shooting water and drenching a blind homeless guy’s only clothing, probably giving him pneumonia in the process, but the children seem to get many humorous laughs out of it.
One of the nearest 'carnavals' to me can be found in the town of Guaranda, supposedly the hot spot for the celebration of water. Not really fancying this, I have decided to visit another nearby city called Ambato for its more harmless 'carnaval' of 'fruits and flowers'. Sometimes I do worry about the decisions I make, choosing nicely formed watermelons and oranges over an enormous and potentially fun water fight! Some of the other well known and most famous 'carnavals' can be found in Cuenca ('The Carnival of the Rivers') and Loja, all of which celebrate this festivity in their own special way.
The production of roses on my rose plantation for Valentine's Day has come to an end and it really is ridiculous how many roses will be thrown away. Most of the plants bloomed too late, costing many businesses in the Ecuadorian Sierra many millions of dollars in lost profits. This could be why instead of being able to buy 30 roses for $1, the price had rocketed to $0.25 just for one in the nearby town of Latacunga. Such an expensive Valentine's for me! I'm also surprised at how commercial Valentine's over here seems to be. I thought it was only developed countries that took commercialization for these yearly events to such high levels, but it seems everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.
Valentine's also marked the 2 year anniversary since I first clapped eyes on the girl of my dreams, not just some random girl, but my current girlfriend. This took place at a dingy little club by the name of 'The Metro Club' in London (www.viewlondon.co.uk/info_club_316.html), where I had gone to see a friend’s band, Love Ends Disaster, play their first London gig. I approached her with the classy chat up line 'my mate's in the band', which I followed up by asking if she wanted a drink. It was at this moment I realised my last few pennies had been spent on three bottles of Becks to pluck up the courage to talk to her in the first place. This led to me retracting my offer of a drink, which I don't think left a good impression of me in her mind. Not wanting to walk away a defeated man I decided to ask her to buy me a drink instead. For some strange reason she accepted and stranger still we are still together to this day. Why she decided to go on a second date with me I will never know!
Wanting to experience a little more society and culture and live the life of a true Ecuadorian, I decided to acquire my very own baby chick for the ludicrously cheap price of $0.20 from Latacunga's El Salto market. Many people laughed in my face and warned me about the perils of taking on such a responsibility, but I chuckled in their faces of negativity. The first few days were bliss, probably as good as any human-chick relationship could get. I had never realised in life that giving love could be so rewarding. During my close to 26 years on this planet I have to say running gaily 'The Sound of Music' style, through an Ecuadorian rose plantation brimming with blooming roses of every colour and description with an innocent squawking yellow fluffy chick following my every move is something only dreams are made of.
Sadly due to something I must have done in a previous life, God decided to bring down his powerful finger of punishment on me, and along with those negative words people had previously said, I woke up on the fourth day of our beautiful relationship to find poor Ralph Chicky's (I wasn't the only one who had a say in his name!) lifeless corpse huddled against the extinguished living room fire. I was devastated. My school children were very understanding about my sudden loss and some even offered to replace him with one of their very own newly born hatchlings. I just don't know if I could handle more heartbreak though.
I now have a nice 6 week break from university teaching in Latacunga, but this didn't mean classroom incidences were at a minimum, in fact quite the opposite. I learnt pronunciation problems children face with words such as 'you are welcome' and similarly as in Poland 'the face', which sound more like 'you're a wan*er' and 'the fuc*ers'. I had the joy of seeing a 2-year-old boy fall head first into a fresh puddle of a young girl's steaming urine that she decided to dispose of on the bathroom floor instead of the toilet. I'm sure for him, standing up and feeling this delectable yellow liquid running down his 'fuc*er' was quite a horrifying experience.
New records have been set in the number of children I’ve made cry in the same class, three in total (out of 12!), strangely because I said they could play on the computer if they finished their work. Maybe they know something I don't! An article on my school also appeared in the popular fortnightly Ecuadorian magazine Vistazo. Although again no pictures of my beautiful features were evident for the viewing public to see, I was highly satisfied and proud upon reading that my English classroom is full of 'magic and colour'. I'm not quite sure what and where this magic lurks, but I can only presume it's the same magic that makes my students cry all the time.
Apart from hearing rather scary stories of Gringo muggings in the La Mariscal district of Quito, and murders with broken sticks in Riobamba, I have seemingly also lost my place in the university running team. I would like to think my speed had something to do with it but I have a sneaky suspicion that not being able to help with securing visas for my fellow compatriots to run in the US was the main reason. How rude!
I have learnt a few interesting facts recently. The first important fact learnt is that burning roses creates a smell very likeable to pot, weed, cannabis, or whatever the youth of today call it. Of course I was met with a few disgruntled looks from the family I live with after they returned home to this stale aroma filling the volunteer house. It actually took a full on demonstration before they finally believed that it was roses and not my own secret addiction causing the foul, horrid smell.
Even more interesting, is apparently you can weigh anywhere between 1kg and 5kg less, depending on altitude, when standing on the equator. Seeing that I’m living virtually on the equator and at almost 3,000 metres above sea level, this probably means I haven't lost half the weight I have been bragging about in previous journal entries. Spirits were lifted though upon finding out that at any one time you have between 5 and 7 lbs of 'caca' inside. One big push and I will be back down to that ideal weight of mine!
Photos to follow shortly.