Saturday, August 4, 2012

I'm out of my head...

I don't know why I find it so funny that my host family (the gentleman of the house, especially) is so easily perturbed by the presence of their own pets. Perhaps it's the gentle nature of the animals in question that makes it so amusing - a sweet little white and brown dog that resembles a Cocker Spaniel, and a mild mannered cat of the same color. How could somebody be so contemptuous of such innocence? The gentleman, who I will from now on refer to by his nickname (Pocho), is constantly yelling, stomping and chasing the animals around with a broom, demanding that they “SALE!”, or “leave” the premises. Something about these animals, especially the cat, really brings his blood to a boil. He doesn't physically harm the animals, but he does nearly everything in his power to intimidate them.

The animals have come to love me, because instead of cursing them, I give them kindhearted attention - the kind that the average family pet in the United States might expect to get. Naturally, the family finds it strange if not downright appalling. Here in Ecuador, a lot of peoples' relationships with their pets are much more utilitarian than affectionate. The cat's presence is merely tolerated, as it's “duty”, as it were, is to hunt down rats that would otherwise invade the household. The dog, though not exactly a menacing presence, is entrusted with barking at strangers and packs of wild dogs that come too close to the house...though I'm not sure how effective he is at that...he seems more content just sleeping. I don't blame him...why should he go out of his way to protect masters such as his? For all of his barking, he'd probably just end up with a swift broom to the butt...

Anyway. Not ragging on my otherwise amazing host family, just noting the cultural difference.

Reconnect is coming up, which means all of the volunteers from my omnibus will soon be reconvening at the training center in Tumbaco for progress reporting (which will surely involve lots of papelotes and icebreaker games). It will be the first time that many of us have seen or spoken to each other since leaving for our sites. I'm sure everyone's looking forward to it. It should be interesting to note how peoples' attitudes, Spanish levels, and physical appearances have changed. I know mine have. We'll be staying with our original host families as well, which is always enjoyable for me.

I'm looking forward to Reconnect for another reason as well, which is that I'll be able to spend some time with my new girlfriend (yep, you read that right), who is traveling up from Riobamba to meet me there. Being that it's a long distance relationship, any opportunity that we get to spend together is cherished.

I suppose I should tell you all a little about her. She is an Ecuadorian gal by the name of Yesenia who I met in Tena a couple of months back (I believe I mentioned that encounter some posts back...she clearly made an impression on me). I kept in touch with her since then, and was able to finally convince her to visit me here in Muisne, which she did this past weekend. Things went amazingly. She is exactly what I've been hoping to find...beautiful, intelligent, laid back, passionate, kid-free, independent, great sense of humor, patient with me and my terrible Spanish, has goals in life, and goes 50/50 with me on everything. Seriously, I hit the proverbial jackpot with this girl. She's incredible. The only downside is that we live a considerable distance away from one other, as I mentioned, which is an obstacle not easily overcome on a crap Peace Corps budget. Nevertheless, we're determined to make things work.

The job is going about the same as it was. Communication issues still exist with my counterpart at Agua Muisne. I often wonder if there will ever come a day when I can fully understand him and what's going on with the work. Recently I've been tasked with inventorying systems and coming up with project cost estimates for a huge grant that we're trying to obtain. It's fairly difficult, time consuming work, especially considering that I've never done anything like it before. The foundation wants me out traveling and managing my own projects as well, but we still haven't exactly come to terms about compensating me for my travel expenses, so until we get that issue resolved (if we ever do), then I won't be doing much of that. Asking for money, whether it's owed to me or not, is pointless, so I rarely do it. I did recently decide to devote every Monday to traveling, or at least the idea of it, which I hadn't done before, so maybe we can begin to work toward something. It's part of my latest attempt at reaching a compromise of my time and efforts.

Indeed, I have been struggling a lot with the organization of my time as I have continued to branch out into the community. The problem has been that I've been trying to work around everyone else's schedules. That wasn't working out very well (because as it turns out, most people here don't do schedules), so now I'm making everyone work around MY schedule. The way things were going, everyone was getting a little less of me than what they were hoping for or had come to expect, so naturally everyone was feeling frustrated (including me). Now that I have an organized set schedule which devotes a little bit of time to everyone, things should start clicking (I hope), especially with Agua Muisne. I really want things to work out with them...we're just having a difficult time communicating and establishing what my role is and should be as a PC volunteer. It's pretty obvious that I'm not the sort of person that they had in mind when they applied for the help. They were hoping for a “hit the ground running” kind of person that would essentially be doing the job of a full time hired employee. That's not what a PC volunteer is or is expected to be. I try, but inevitably I come up short. They're growing ever impatient with me. Things are moving and I'm still piddling about at the starting line. Like I said, I want things to work out with them...however, I'm not stressing out over it as much as I was. As my PC program manager recently informed me, I'm not “stuck”...if we can't make things work with them, then we'll simply fall back on other opportunities, which thankfully, are numerous.

Besides all of that, I don't know, I guess things are going well in general. I'm clearly having a good time most of the time, so that must mean that I'm doing something right! I miss home at times, but it's less and less now that I'm beginning to achieve a sort of inner balance (and a full schedule). I'm doing a good job as far as my work is concerned (or so my program manager assures me), I feel increasingly integrated in the community with each passing week, I've got an exercise routine that's beginning to pay dividends, I'm reading a lot which is keeping my mind sharp, I have a girlfriend that's completely enamored with me (and I with her), I've got a good and reliable Spanish tutor finally, and I'm about to start attending “bailoterapia” sessions which should help me out on the dance floor. Hey, it's a start ;)

The heat of this stuffy room is beginning to get to me now, so I think I'll end my rant here and go outside for some “fresh” air (it still has the smell of poop but at least it's a breeze). Until next time, devoted readers...

Monday, July 9, 2012

aqui estoy, aqui estoy

Wow. I can't believe it's July already.

It sure doesn't feel like July. When I think of July, I think of hot Texas misery. Here in coastal Ecuador, it feels more like fall. The air is cool, even chilly at times. It rains nearly every day. The sun barely breaks through the clouds. It feels damn good, man. I'll take this over triple digit heat waves any day.

Work is going alright. My counterpart has been focusing on his projects, and I have been focusing on mine, so I hardly ever even see him anymore. After several frustrated attempts at motivating me to get out and start helping him with what he's doing (which is beyond my capacity at this point), he has finally relinquished that I need to better my Spanish, get to know my community better, and form relationships with key players before I can accomplish anything. Thank you. It's about damn time.

It's vital that I do get some help though, and I've realized this from the start. In fact, it's part of Peace Corps' mission strategy. The community's involvement is integral. Besides that, I have absolutely no resources at my disposal, so there is no other way to go about this. My counterpart wants to begin collecting and recycling the scrap plastic that we generate at the facility, and eventually try to make it a neighborhood-wide thing. I'm all for that. I can probably get it going with a little bit of help. He also likes the idea of clearing the debris off the lot, painting, and planting a garden to spruce the place up. Again, can do, with a little help from my friends. I've decided that the best way to make friends and start accomplishing these tasks is to begin visiting the local colegio (high school) a few times a week in hopes of drumming up some interest among the students, and collaborating with the Ministerio del Ambiente (Ministry of the Environment) in hopes of procuring resources. I'm also helping a guy out with his English, in hopes that he and his church group will offer to help me plan out and paint some promotional/educational murals in the community. Indeed, a lot is hanging on “hope” at this point...

Nonetheless, the wheels of progress are moving, ever so slightly, and I'm excited to see it.

Of course, nothing is going on today (I'm writing this on a Sunday)...just chillin in my room, playing guitar, and wasting the day away on the computer. It suits me just fine. Feels like college. I have been reading a lot on days like today, especially guides on self development and social dynamics: “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “Secrets of the Alpha Male”, “Attraction isn't a Choice”, “How to Talk to Anyone”, etc...all great stuff. It should all serve me well, both in Ecuador and beyond. If anybody has any suggestions for further reading in this category, let me know! I have about a thousand ebooks at my disposal, but I'm always open to more.

Besides that, still trying to have fun where I can. I don't really go out to the discotecas in Muisne but maybe once a month. It's a pretty pointless affair. I'm tired of people always trying to bum beer off of me. I'm tired of seeing girls staring at me all night, but not actually dancing WITH me (they're taken). I always end up subjugated to what I like to call the “man pit”...i.e, the place where the countless other frustrated male chumps hang out all night. It's uncomfortable there, because there's this ominous feeling that a lone gringo who's distracting all of the girls and not sharing his beer could get stabbed at any moment. Thankfully there are opportunities to chill with the cluster (the volunteers in my province) every now and then, and I usually take advantage of those. We spent a night partying in the hippie/surfer village of Mompiche just recently. It was a much needed opportunity for them to cut loose, and even though the only gal that paid me any attention all night was a post-op tranny, I had fun too. I swear, it's tough meeting quality chicks out here on the coast! Just once I'd like to meet one that a) is of legal age, b) doesn't have a million kids, c) doesn't speak in pure slang, d) doesn't have a jealous potentially stabby male admirer lurking somewhere in the shadows, and e) isn't a tranny. I know, my standards are just ridiculous. Notice that I didn't even mention pretty or intelligent. Had I specified those qualities, well, haha, you just can't help but laugh...

Whatever though. It's fine. I'll find my mythical siren of the sea one of these days, I just need to be patient. Patience is the name of the game here in Ecuador, concerning just about everything. I can't forget that.

I think it's about time to head to the beach. I bid y'all chao.

P.S. - sorry no pics this time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Beware the water...

I thought time would pass slowly here in site, but to the contrary, it is actually flying by quite rapidly. I've been here in site for about two months now (even though about three weeks of that time was actually spent in Quito for medical reasons), so that means I've only got 22 more months to go. Hah. It's not like I'm counting down the days or anything...every month just feels like a milestone. As far as when I get to move out on my own...four months to go. For this, I am counting down the days. Nothing against my host family...they've actually settled down considerable...I'm just tired of living above a swamp/trash pit. The waste water from all of the surrounding homes empties into it and the odors are repugnant, especially at night. After seeing the apartment that the other volunteer here in site was living in, I would be crazy to stay here for any longer than I have to.



I'm finally beginning to feel better, health wise, and I hope it's for the long term. I was suffering from both amoebas and gastritis simultaneously for about a month, and it was really taking a toll on me mentally and physically. It was probably the worst I've ever felt for such an extended period of time. I wasn't getting anything done at Agua Muisne, which was beginning to frustrate my counterpart, and I was developing a serious phobia of just about anything I was offered to eat or drink. On a positive note though, I am losing tons of weight due to all of this sickness...somewhere between 20-25 pounds in just five months. Not bad.



I am beginning to make a little bit of progress at work though. I've been traveling to several nearby communities with my counterpart, checking up on existing water purification systems and working with people interested in constructing new ones. It has been a great way to get to know the province. I also spent some time helping out with community surveying in the nearby towns of San Jose de Chamanga, Salima, and Bolivar, which proved to be a fun and interesting experience. We were going door to door asking people about their water consumption habits, and whether they have had any illnesses associated with poor water quality. The bloody diarrhea questions were always fun to ask...thankfully those were towards the end. People were very hospitable though for the most part, and I felt great doing it. It proved to be a really great way to get face time within the community, so it probably wouldn't be such a bad idea for me to do a similar type of survey in Muisne. There I still feel like the strange gringo that everyone is afraid to talk to (except drunks and beggars, they LOVE to talk to me), so I could really use that.



I took a little trip out to the city of Tena this past weekend with my counterpart, which marked my first time in the Oriente (the jungle side of Ecuador). The twelve hour bus ride was brutal (the poorly dubbed Stone Cold Steve Austin/Jean Claude Van Dam movie marathon certainly didn't help), but it was worth it once I got there. I got to spend some time with several other volunteers stationed nearby, and eat some top notch food for a change. I saw monkeys (squirrel and capuchin, to be exact), learned a little about indigenous culture, and met an especially nice gal out at one of the discotecas. Story of my life...the good ones are always so far away. I wish I had been able to spend more time out there to make up for the horrible bus ride back (it took much longer than twelve hours, and some guy seated behind me puked his guts out all over the floor, which as it turned out, completely drenched my backpack...FMPCL). Unfortunately, I had to get back to do more community surveying...I felt like I owed it to the foundation for being so worthless over the past month or two.



At the moment, I'm planning a trip up to the Sierra (Quito, Latacunga, Riobamba) for the week of my birthday. Hopefully PC will approve it. I'm trying to include as many fun things (festivals, hikes, indigenous markets, discotecas, etc.) as possible into my plans, but with only a week to work with, it's tough. There's just too much that I want to see and do. One thing appears certain, and that is that I will be spending a lot of time on the bus. With any luck, puke will be kept to a minimum this time...I'll let everyone know how that goes.

Hasta la proxima vez...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

PCV Justin

I'm an official Peace Corps volunteer now. Training is finally over. I'm not going to miss it...I was burnt out on papelotes and sensitivity training about a month in. I will miss Tumbaco though. I'm going to miss my awesome former host family, several of my fellow volunteers, the wonderful staff, and all of the great times we had there.


With that said, I'm excited to begin a new adventure here in Muisne. During my site visit here a few weeks ago, I honestly wasn't feeling it. It's hot, grungy, and from what I've heard, quite dangerous...a far cry from relatively posh Tumbaco. With time, however, I have come to terms with this. This place beats the hell out of a lot of places I could have been sent. The beach alone is enough to supersede any shortcomings this place may have. It's gorgeous. The city really comes alive at night, with people walking the streets, socializing, and zipping around on mototaxis. I'm quickly realizing that people here are actually quite chill for the most part, and that this reputation for being dangerous is a little bit overblown. I'm smart, and I've got good people looking out for me, so I'll be fine.




These good people I'm referring to are my new host family. It's an older couple that I'm living with, in addition to their daughter, her husband, and their little girl, though I do believe they are moving into their own place soon. It's a bit weird though, because I'm still setting my boundaries, and I never know how the family is going to react. I'm walking around on eggshells, trying not to offend, and trying to stay on everybody's good side, which is difficult and never comfortable. I can't come and go as I please without alerting everyone and having to explain myself...I don't have a key to the front door first of all. Not to mention, my room is on the far side of the house, and there is absolutely no way to be quiet when you're having to walk over old wooden planks. I hear them whispering about me at 3-4am if I simply have to get up to go outside and use the bathroom. Like I said, they're good people and I know they're just concerned for me, but I really hope that they begin to chill out soon. Other than that, it's pretty much what I had going in Tumbaco...meals are cooked, clothes are washed, and I basically just provide company and a source of entertainment. I'm cool with that. They're actually very much like my real family, in that they like to give each other shit about everything (in a humorous way), so I haven't had much trouble integrating, even though I only understand about half (if I'm lucky) of what is being said at any given time. Needless to say, there are lots of jokes at my expense. My favorite are the millions about me being Justin Bieber.




I'm still figuring out my role at Agua Muisne, the nonprofit that I'm working for. So far I haven't done much of anything...I've just been showing up and hanging out. I've had the opportunity to meet some people around town, however, that I may be working with in the future, such as the director of environmental affairs here in town. She wants to collaborate on education initiatives, which is great for me, since that's my main focus here. They need a lot of help, especially when it comes to changing peoples' habit of not disposing of their waste properly. As far as Agua Muisne is concerned though, I'm just going to go with the flow. Eventually I'm going to see/realize what it is I need to be doing. Thankfully my counterpart is really chill and understanding of my shortcomings, especially in the language department. His family is great too; I love eating lunch over at their house and watching “Humor Amarillo” (yellow humor), the Spanish dub of the program MXC (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge). The humor is not quite as subtle as in the US version...there are lots of chaulafan jokes, even though chaulafan (fried rice, basically) is a Chinese dish, and the show features Japanese people...ah, but what are details...Asians are Asians. There really is no concept of political correctness here in Ecuador.

Anyway, that's what's going on right now...adjusting. If you would like to send me a care package at any point, being the amazing friends and family that you are, my P.O. Box is as follows:

PCV Justin Mullenix
Correo Central

Just make sure that you declare the value of the contents as $0, otherwise Ecuadorian customs will more than likely rip into it. If you plaster a picture of Jesus or the Virgin Mary on the package that might deter potential thieves as well.

Chao amigos~!

Monday, March 12, 2012


I find myself both loving and being frustrated to death by this country. I suppose that's normal. Thankfully, what I love far outweighs what I don't thus far, so that's a good thing.

Having poor Spanish skills definitely contributes to my feelings of anguish. I know it takes time, but I'm tired of it holding me back. Frustrations have been multiplied since visiting the coast, where the rate of speech is more rapid in general and the clarity of the words are much less so than in the Sierra, where I'm struggling enough as it is. In a year I should be fine, so they say, but I often wonder how the hell I'm going to cope until then. All I know is that smiling and nodding is beginning to lose its effectiveness. And unfortunately, this is not one of those fake it till you make it situations, haha.

There are of course so many more positive aspects, which I try to remain focused on, especially for the sake of this blog. For example, every time I visited the beach in Muisne I couldn't help but think to myself how lucky I am to be here. Putting up with a little hardship is worth it for experiences like these, and I try not to forget that.

So yeah, I just returned from a week long site visit to Muisne. Muisne is a medium-sized coastal community in the province of Esmeraldas. It's located on an island, separated from the mainland by a river. It is lush with mangroves on the river side, with a beautiful expansive beach on the other. It is here in Muisne where I will spend my two years, assisting with the daily operations of a non-profit foundation dedicated to providing affordable, clean water to underprivileged people in the area. I'm not sure what else I'll be doing yet, but you can bet it will revolve around education, since that is my primary Peace Corps assignment.

The host family with whom I will be staying are very nice, hospitable people, much like my host family here in Tumbaco. The amenities aren't quite as nice, but that is the reality of the situation...I'm expected to live like the average member of the community for the purpose of integration. It's not all that bad...I will have to get used to taking bucket baths as opposed to showers, but other than that, it's about the same. The only thing that concerns me is the food/water. I like the food, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't exactly agreeing with my system. I left Muisne feeling pretty horrible in general. What concerns me is a lack of cleanliness in the kitchen. I just hope that my system adjusts quickly, because until I am living on my own and can prepare my own food, that's something that isn't going to change.

Culturally speaking, Muisne is noticeably different than Tumbaco/Quito. Muisne reminds me of living in a bayou setting, with a Wild West disposition. People carry around machetes as both a tool and a deterrent, if that gives you any sense of what I'm talking about. I'm not sure if I'll be visiting the local discoteks with as much frequency as I have been here in Tumbaco, because from what I hear there is an expectation that if you're going to drink, then you're going to drink hard, and you may or may not end up in a fight by the end of the night. Chilling on the beach at night is not advisable either, because apparently that's where the Rastas and the tourists go to do their Rasta/touristy activities. For me, my reputation as an outstanding member of the community is important, so there will have to be very little if any of that going on with me. Also, if you stray too far in either direction, into “no man's land” essentially, then you run the risk of something very bad happening to you.

But for all of the seemingly negative things that I just described, there really is a charming element to the community, and the people seem quite friendly in general. I obviously stand out as a gringo, but nobody really stares or has hassled me thus far. They are used to seeing gringos around, on account of the other volunteers (Germans) and the tourists that come through. It's a good thing.

So yeah, that's what's up these days. Just a few weeks left of training, and then it's on to the big show.

Sorry there aren't any pictures to go along with this entry...I haven't been taking a lot lately.

And I have decided that this blog will NEVER be in Spanish, as I feel that I need this escape into unadulterated English every few weeks. I apologize to those whom I am disappointing...all 1 of you, perhaps. Haha.

Later y'all.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tech Trip Update

I love Ecuador. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the times when I simply cannot believe that I am here, doing all of this.

At this very moment, it's late Saturday morning, and I'm sitting in bed, recollecting all of the great and not so great times that I've had over the past few weeks...meanwhile, there is salsa music in the air, and my host sister's husband is in the yard playing with their son, who sounds quite happy. It's the weekend leading into Carnaval, so everyone's spirits are probably just a little more heightened than usual.



I just returned from my tech trip, which comprised a five-day visit to the coastal province of Esmeraldas. Along the way, we stopped in Yunguilla, a small community/reserve in the mountains dedicated to ecotourism and sustainable business practices. It was inspiring to listen to the story of how the reserve was founded, and how proud the people are of their accomplishments. Indeed, they are doing an amazing job reforesting the area and educating about the importance of conservation. They make fresh cheese and marmalades out of local, organically grown fruit, including some that grow naturally in the area. I wish I could remember the name of the fruit that we tried...perhaps one of the other volunteers that happens to read this can fill me in, haha.



Unfortunately, all was not well for me that day...shortly after arriving, I took a nasty spill on some wet stairs and came down hard on my arm. I'm fortunate that it wasn't worse than it was. Still, it took me out of several of the activities that were planned over the next few days.


I'm developing quite a reputation for being accident-prone and sickly in general, since I've basically been struggling with one thing or another since day one of training...a broken toe, stomach issues, respiratory infections, slips, trips and falls, banging my head on literally's only a matter of time before I step in a spike pit or slice my leg off with a machete. Haha, hopefully I'm just getting all this misfortune out of the way now, so that I don't have to deal with it later...

Anyway...following our charla (lesson) in Yunguilla, we proceeded to our destination for the next four days - a small fishing community called Tonchigue. We got in just in time to grab a quick bite and go to sleep, then it was off to learn about sustainable cacao production. We visited a small facility dedicated to teaching and helping local farmers produce in a more sustainable manner and get higher prices for their cacao. Later, we visited a finca (farm) dedicated to these practices. We were able to taste fresh cacao picked straight from the trees, which was unlike anything we could have imagined. Fresh cacao seeds are surrounded by a sweet/tart exterior, which you can't really eat, but it's great to suck on. This exterior is what ferments and imparts flavor and aroma into the cacao during later stages of preparation. Interesting stuff all around.


Day three was definitely the most challenging of the trip. We visited a site where we learned about watershed management techniques. The humidity and the mosquitos were intense. We spent the morning hacking through dense vegetation and climbing slick, muddy embankments, all the while building dams and terraces to improve the watershed. Of course, my right arm was useless, so I couldn't hardly help or do anything. I was also having stomach issues, so all in all, I felt like a total sack of crap. The others were persevering gallantly in spite of the heat and dehydration we were all experiencing, but yeah, it definitely wasn't much fun. It was highly educational though. Afterward, we walked down to the beach, which was beautiful, and made up for things slightly. We finished the day by collecting a few sacks of trash off the beach and playing in a waterfall.


The next day, we had our much anticipated charla in front of some local youth. My group talked about marine conservation in Ecuador. I talked about mangroves and habitat loss...definitely a little dry and depressing for the kids, but hey, they need to know these things! Afterward, we visited the headquarters of the marine reserve in the area. It is the only other marine reserve in Ecuador besides Galapagos, and apparently, has some of the highest biodiversity in the world. It's only been around for four years, so they're still getting it up off the ground...we were distinguished guests apparently, deserving of an amazing fried fish lunch and generous amounts of Club, the premium beer of Ecuador. Can't complain about that! Apparently one of us will be stationed there to help with operations. Chances are it won't be me, but you never know, I do have somewhat of a marine science background...just not nearly as strong as my competition, unfortunately. Haha, oh well, I'm hopeful I'll still get a coastal site somewhere, and I'll be happy with that. We find out in a week or two where exactly we will be placed, so there's a lot of anxious anticipation.

On Friday, we ended our tech trip with a brief visit to Atacames, which is a larger, more tourist-friendly coastal had wild times written all over it. I'll definitely have to go back at some point, haha. Following a long bus ride back to Quito, and another short one back to Tumbaco, we were finally free to relax and maybe catch up on some sleep.


So that's what I'm currently doing now...relaxing. My belly is full of something tasty that my family made for lunch, which resembled jambalaya, but that they insisted was Chinese food. I'm not sure what's going on this weekend, but since my host brother isn't here, most likely there won't be any visits to the local dance clubs. That's fine with me though, I need a little break. It's tiring having to fend off the swarms of females every time I get my reggaeton dance moves on, and with this injured arm, well...I just don't know what I'd do. Haaa......right. ;p


Oh, and the next update will definitely be in Spanish, I promise.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Well...I made it

Ecuador. Wow. I'm here. It feels so surreal.

It has been about a week since I arrived, and things have been, well, interesting, as you might imagine! The first two nights were spent with my fellow volunteers in the training compound in Tumbaco, a stones throw east of Quito. There are 37 of us total, the majority of which are of the female persuasion. Obviously I can't complain about that. There are a lot of exceptional, driven people here, so the company has been great. Of course, I wouldn't expect anything less in the Peace Corps. :)



I met my first host family on Saturday. I'll be staying with them at their family compound for the next 11 weeks. Within the next few weeks I will find out where I will be stationed for the remainder of my time here. From what I know, the majority of the sites for NRC volunteers are located in the Oriente (the jungle) and the coast. I'm hoping for the coast. I'm currently in the Sierra (the mountains), which I must admit, is quite pleasant in spite of all the rain (the next few months are considered the rainy season). If I had to live here for two years I certainly wouldn't complain.

My host family is amazingly accommodating. They have hosted Peace Corps volunteers before, so they are obviously used to our initial lack of communication skills and gringo eccentricities. Indeed, they have been extremely supportive and understanding thus far. They don't speak any English, so I've been forced to get by on my subpar Spanish...though I must admit, I am doing much better than I thought I would. I don't understand everything, and there is little doubt that they don't understand me entirely either, but we're communicating and getting along well.

As I said, they reside within a compound of sorts, which is gated, and consists of several dwellings inhabited by various members of the extended family. There is another volunteer staying with one of the aunts, which is nice. I won't even try to describe this place...I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. There are fruits and medicinal herbs growing all around...many of which are in the book that I brought along (Herbs of Southern Ecuador) the moment I'm enjoying some kind of tea which my host mother has prepared for me to combat my stomach ailments (yep, it didn't take long for that to happen). These living arrangements have completely exceeded my's awesome. :)

My room.
This dog, affectionately known as Oso (bear), hangs out on the roof all day and barks at everything.




Ailments aside...the food has been AMAZING. The first thing I ate with my host family was cuy (roasted guinea pig) at a local much more “bienvenidos a Ecuador” can you get? It was quite tasty...I'd definitely eat it again. My host mother loves to feed me, and thankfully, she is an awesome cook. Everything is fresh and healthy. I love it.



My host family!

Peace Corps has been bombarding us with information and forms to sign at training thus far...though we've just started into our language and NRC lessons. It definitely feels like I'm back at school.

Oh, and here's an interesting fact...there are stray dogs EVERYWHERE. Barking, lounging, having three-ways...ce la vie I suppose!

Uh, yeah, that's all I've got for now...