This just in…

I PASSED ANDINISMO, my mountaineering class that I stopped going to, did not meet the requirement for three weekend trips, and then embarrassed myself on the knot-tying/pulley-system exam.

Maybe they mistaked me for someone else. Regardless, WAHOO!

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The Final Week

“This is my last Sunday in Ecuador.”

Our host family took Ayla and I out for an almuerzo de despedido, or a goodbye lunch, followed by ice cream :)
We went to a Mexican restaurant (Noam thought this was a funny choice) called La Casa de Eduardo, where I ordered a burrito and got this gigantic thing:

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Ate about half of that and wrapped the rest up to go, and like I somehow always manage to do, forgot it at the restaurant. Then we drove to an ice cream place together. It was such a nice family outing and made me wish that we had had the chance to go out with the entire family more often. Also, as we were driving past a park, there were TONS of people out on that beautiful sunny Sunday, and I said “Woah, so many people. Is that because of Fiestas de Quito?” and Maribel answered, “no, it’s like that every Sunday” which unexpectedly made me very sad that I did not know about this for four months of living in Quito because I wish I would’ve taken advantage of it! But no need to dwell. It was a really great day with the fam, and I suddenly felt sad that I was leaving! I’m definitely going to miss this family— I told Maribel to send Jose Ignacio to the States so we can go to Legoland together (his dream!). I really do hope I’ll see them again.

Mami!

Mami! We took a picture that didn’t turn out well, so we took another one, and in between Maribel was fixing her hair, as were Ayla and I, and she said “mas fashion!” (more fashion). Cracked us up.

Con la familia :)

Con la familia :)

“This is my last Monday in Ecuador.”

Took my Cinema exam. Hand hurt from writing. Rocked it. Thank goodness for study guides.

“This is my last Tuesday in Ecuador.”

Last Day of Classes! I tried to find the equivalent for “LDOC” in Spanish but it just doesn’t flow so well… EUDDC. I went to my Cuento Hispanoamericano class and was really surprised when three Ecuadorian classmates Ecua-cheek-kissed me goodbye and wished me a good trip—- made me wish I had gotten to know them better! Then took the exam early in the Liberal Arts Office where the secretary gave me cookies. Was supposed to go to Ceramics class but skipped and went home.

That night, Ayla and I returned the favor and took Maribel out to dinner for girls’ night :) We went to a restaurant called Focaccia, constantly assuring her that the focaccia she makes at home is better.

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After dinner, as we were walking to a bar to meet friends who were playing trivia, we ran into our Midwest friends! We said our goodbyes (really hope that one of them comes to visit, or who knows, maybe Ayla and I will make a trip to the Twin Cities one day) and met up with Taylor, Riley, Alisha, and a few other Americans at an Irish pub. We made it in time for the last two categories of trivia (Outer Space and Music, both impossible), and somehow our team won and everyone got free drinks…and a coupon to a bookstore in Quito.

Saying goodbye to our lovely Midwest friends. Me, Richa, Ani, Riley, Kathryn, Eleanor, Ayla, Anschel

Saying goodbye to our lovely Midwest friends. Me, Richa, Ani, Riley, Kathryn, Eleanor, Ayla, Anschel

Trivia with Taylor, Ayla, & Alisha

Trivia with Taylor, Ayla, & Alisha

Then we went dancinnnnn. It was great. At a club that Taylor said reminded him of Pulse (not so great). But THEN they started playing all these songs that Ayla and I had just written on a list of Spanish songs to download when we get back, and it was great again. :)

Wednesday

A day full of things we like. Maribel, as a going away present, sent us to the spa by our house where we both got manicures and pedicures (except mine was a fake pedicure on account of the fact that if someone touches my feet my immediate reaction is to kick their face). Now Ayla doesn’t look like she has the feet of a street child, which is what our family thinks. Lol.

Got my nailssss did.

Got my nailssss did.

We then went to campus and had lunch at this new non-profit vegetarian place they opened by school. Deeeelish.

Then we went to Ceramics and I painted my last pieces so that they can be ready to take home! In a bag packed with scarves and soft things, always in my lap in hopes that they all make the journey back in one piece (each).

Ferni asked me to teach him how to make schwarma (since that is our specialty dish, Chefs Aviv & Ayla, thanks to my mom sending me a package of schwarma spices) so we cooked dinner together! Then ate way too much food like a jolly ol’ family.

Fernandito chopping chicken for schwarma night!

Fernandito chopping chicken for schwarma night!

Took a quick trip to Ayla’s ex-host-house to return her cell phone, I sat in the back with Jose Ignacio and his ninja lego (I am seriously going to miss this kid), and came back to the house, when a little while later Juan Diego and Andres came by to say goodbye!

See? A day full of things I like.

Thursday

I went to campus with Andres and sat in the library for two and a half hours working on my paper while he took his exam. Next to me was a small child playing computer games where he had to get little dots through a maze to a castle. Made it hard to concentrate about gender and sexuality in terms of cinematographic form of the film XXY. Alas, I wrote my paper, and thus finished all my exams and in turn, my semester abroad! This semester has been the first time in years that I know what it feels like to finish assignments more than one night before they are due. And it is wonderful. I would say I’ll continue the trend next semester, but I say that every year, and I would rather not make any false promises.

Then I picked up my final ceramics pieces, said goodbye to the guy who’s in the charge of making clay, Luchito, who I secretly want to be best friends with (he told me: “vuelve!” –return), and headed to Andres’ car in the rain, silently freaking out about the possibility of breaking any pieces.

That night, Santi, Pupi, Taylor, Riley, and I met Andy and Rebeckah (the group that went to Canoa) at a schfancy restaurant called Vista Hermosa in the Historical Center of Quito, which is really pretty at night. We actually first went to the wrong Vista Hermosa, where we sat on the rooftop of a building with an incredible view of the lit up churches, until we realized we were at the wrong place and relocated. ‘Twas the best dinner I’ve had in Quito yet. A really lovely way to bring this trip to a close.

A not-so-great photo of the pretty nighttime view of the Historic Center

A not-so-great photo of the pretty nighttime view of the Historic Center

Live band at dinner playing instrumental versions of Michael Jackson. Santa dances along.

Live band at dinner playing instrumental versions of Michael Jackson. Santa dances along.

Santi, Nathaly, Rebecka, Andy, Pupi, Riley, me, and Taylor at our despedida dinner

Santi, Nathaly, Rebecka, Andy, Pupi, Riley, me, and Taylor at our despedida dinner

I notice that the closer I get to the end of the trip, the more I think about what I wish I would’ve done/ done differently. Should’ve gone out to the Historical Center more, should’ve spent more time with this group of people—we speak Spanish together as opposed to the rest of my Ecua amigos–, should’ve this, should’ve that. Also as I get to closer to leaving, the sweeter the whole trip seems… it’s like looking at it with retrospective rose-colored glasses. I know there were times I was unhappy here, but that’s not really what I think about…and that makes me understand better why people talk about study abroad as if it has no faults once they’re back. I wondered so much, when I was struggling to get accustomed to living in Quito, why the people I talked to that studied here in the past didn’t tell me all these things about Quito I don’t like, but now I better understand. Now it’s nostalgia.

Friday

That’s today! And I am going to PACK, because tomorrow I’m going home!

¡Que viva Quito!

Today marks “Fiestas de Quito,” an Ecuadorian holiday celebrating the founding of Quito. That means 1) we don’t have class, 2) my host parents don’t have work, 3) parties!

Last night we all went to a chiva party, you may remember this from the chiva we went on for my friend Jean-Michele’s birthday a while ago. In case not, a chiva is an open-air party bus with loud music, whistles, plastic cups on necklaces, dancing, and canelazo, a drink that tastes like hot apple cider :)

A few friends organized a chiva party to celebrate Fiestas de Quito, which means someone would yell in the microphone and the rest of the bus would respond:

“¡Que viva Quito!”

“¡Que viva!”

“¡Que chupe Quito!”

“¡Que chupe!”

“¿Hasta donde?”

“¡Hasta las huevas carajo!”

I think the last part is a little vulgar, but it translates to: “Long live Quito! Long live! Long drink Quito! Long drink! Until where?” And the last response I have yet to understand perfectly, I think it literally means “until the goddamn balls” but figuratively, “until you’re very drunk.” Haha. Most of the gringos just yelled back to the first two answers because we had no idea what everyone else was saying for the last one.

We all met up at a friend’s apartment’s rooftop terrace (schfancyyy) and from there fit about 45-50 people on a pretty small chiva. It was PACKED, and even when the bus wasn’t moving it felt like it was because everyone was swaying and dancing. And falling every once in a while, too. About halfway through we parked at a park and everyone got out and danced on solid ground. There was a dancing contest to determine the King and Queen of Quito, and Riley and Franceline won! Then they played a song I didn’t recognize to which everyone did the cotton-eyed-Joe-link-arms-and-skip-in-a-circle dance. I had a ton of fun, and after the chiva we all went to a salsa club and danced. A really great night, and even I was feeling some Quito love when yelling “¡QUE VIVA QUITO!”

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Riley, Andy, & me

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Riley, Ayla, Andy, Taylor

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The 3 candidates dance battling for King of Quito with the already-chosen Queen, Franceline

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Riley, King of Quito!

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Santi, Daniela, & Taylor dancing—possibly to Gangam Style?

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Taylor is chiva-happy

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Ayla found a toilet at the salsa club…

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Story: Franceline took a bite of Riley’s pizza, unbeknownst to her was the amount of hot sauce he put on it. This reaction continued for almost 10 minutes. Ha.

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Bigote

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Before we left, I gave Ayla my tights to wear because hers had two holes in it. She said, “I hate borrowing tights because there’s always risk of ripping them.” Here is the aftermath. Hahaha.

 

Relay for Life 2013

Hola amigos!

This following post may be one of the most important ones I’ve posted, and that’s because it’s about an event that is incredibly important to me called Relay for Life.

I’ll be participating in Relay for Life at UNC this spring on April 5. This will be my sixth year participating in Relay, a 24-hour fundraising event which gives us a chance to celebrate the lives of people who have battled cancer, remember those whom we have lost, and fight back against the disease that has caused too much pain for far too long.

I am posting this to ask for your support in my fundraising efforts; my goal this year is to raise $200. 

[Update:  Thank you all so much for your generous donations! I am so grateful and SO excited to have already reached so close to my goal. So I have decided to raise it and aim even higher this year—$350! Dream big, right? :) Thank you thank you thank you!]

One of the questions the ACS asks participants is “Why do you relay?” I relay because I know three people who have been affected by cancer, and it feels like I know three too many. I relay in memory of my friend Philip from high school— I remember standing outside of Green Hope High School with his family and friends to plant a tree in his memory. I relay in honor of my grandmother who has battled breast cancer for the past few years. I relay in honor of one of my best friend’s moms, who has had to fight this terrible disease twice. Raising money for cancer research is the best way I know to contribute my efforts in the hope that one day we won’t have to.

Relay for Life at UNC is hosted around the track. The idea is that there is someone walking around the track every minute during the entirety of the 24-hour event. The event is kicked off by a lap walked by cancer survivors, followed by survivors and their care-takers, followed by everyone. Every team also sells an item or a service during that evening as hundreds of us walk around the track buying ice cream, getting our faces painted, and participating in kissing booths with the men’s soccer team (shout out to my brave friend Erin!). My favorite was my first year, when we put up an impromptu “Massage for a Cause” booth, where our team charged money per minute for back rubs. We had to add a warning on our sign that said “sorry, no feet” when one student who had been running the track asked us if we would massage his (Ew!). After the events of the evening, including performances like music and comedy shows, everyone spends the night at indoor campsites inside the field house, and in the morning, after the final fundraising amount is revealed, we walk a final lap. If you have any ideas for our team’s fundraising booth this year, feel free to share them with me!

Our team's "Massage for a Cause" fundraising booth!

Our team’s “Massage for a Cause” fundraising booth in 2010!

Erin helping the cause :)

Erin helping the cause :)

Walking the track with my friends looking like a little sunglasses gang.

Walking the track with my friends looking like a little sunglasses gang.

Relay for Life--- notice the white bags around the track, those are the donated luminaries dedicated to loved ones who have been affected by cancer.

Relay for Life— notice the white bags around the track and on the bleachers, those are the donated luminaries dedicated to loved ones who have been affected by cancer.

Performance stage at Relay for Life. That's my friend Gabe playing the keyboard!

Performance stage at Relay for Life. That’s my friend Gabe playing the keyboard!

I would so so so much appreciate if you could donate to help me reach my fundraising goal. There are a couple ways to help:

Go to my page— http://main.acsevents.org/goto/Aviv and do one of the following:
1) Make a donation
       {Click “Donate on my Behalf” on my page}
2) Make a donation by purchasing a luminary in honor or memory of someone you know who has been affected by cancer. The luminaries are lit up all at once at a beautiful and touching ceremony, my favorite part of Relay.
      {Click “Honor a Loved One with a Luminary” on my page} 
 
Every donation really does make a difference in advancing the American Cancer Society’s lifesaving work. Any amount would be greatly appreciated!
Copy and past this link to visit my page:

http://main.acsevents.org/goto/Aviv

Thank you all so much for your support! It really means a ton to me. Love and miss you!
Hula hooping at our indoor campsite at Relay for Life 2011

Hula hooping at our indoor campsite at Relay for Life 2011

The final fundraising amount at last year's Relay with all the committee members who made the event possible. Steph and Monika are on the bottom right!

The final fundraising amount at last year’s Relay with all the committee members who made the event possible. Steph and Monika are on the bottom right!

Walking the Final Lap to Queen's "We are the Champions" with Steph and Erin at Relay for Life 2012.

Walking the Final Lap to Queen’s “We are the Champions” with Steph and Erin at Relay for Life 2012.

17 Days

Hola! Update: I have 17 days left until I come home! It’s crazy how fast the time has gone by, yet how it seems like I have been here for so long. In these 17 days, only 5 of them will have classes: tomorrow, 2 days next week (then it’s vacation days for Fiestas de Quito), and 2 days the week after. In those days I have 3 exams and 2 papers. I’m actually just about to cut up hundreds of pieces of paper to make flashcards for my Spanish exam. Though I’m not at all excited about these upcoming exams/papers, I definitely appreciate the atmosphere of exam time here in comparison to at UNC. That is to say, I will not be staying up all night in sweatpants in the UL with Alpine coffee crying about the fact that I cannot foresee sleep in the near future, only to be consoled by the library security guard who tells me “good morning” as I leave the library when I blink my eyes and realize what it is to see the sun again.

It’s cool, I’ll get to do it next semester.

So, catching up on what’s been happening here in Ecua-land. Ayla’s computer charger broke so we have been trying to share a computer, realizing how little we have to keep ourselves occupied without internet. Last night she went to bed at 10 PM after studying (read: real studying, no Facebook distractions) for hours. However, Juan Diego saved the day today and is letting her borrow his charger until school ends!

Last week, I had my final exam for Andinismo. Remember that 7 AM mountaineering class? Yeah, I stopped going to that early in October. It was 7 AM, uninteresting, and I made sure that failing a gym class would do no harm to my transcript. So last Thursday was our final exam, which we found out about because a girl that actually goes to class told Ayla about taking it early. She told us it was easy… we would had to show him how to tie these three knots we had learned and do a self-rescue using rope. So, cool, we sat in my bed with the laptop in front of us watching YouTube videos on how to tie a fisherman’s knot while simultaneously practicing with the rope we bought. At 7 AM the next day, Ayla and I were the only two in class. Teacher shows up, says something about how it’s been a while since he’s seen us, and starts naming knots for us to tie. The three I practiced I knew. But there were three more of which I didn’t even recognize the name. Struggled through those, embarrassingly asked for some clues. Sometime in the middle of this another girl shows up. THEN, he does not have us do a self-rescue as expected. He throws onto the ground 3 huge ropes, a bunch of carabiners, and two harnesses and says, “do a pulley system.”

A what?

Oh, my dear friends, how humiliating this was. The three of us lost gringas are looking around for any sort of inspiration wondering what it is we are to do with this equipment and where to start. The teacher and another Ecuadorian student who came are just watching us as I pick up a rope and say “should we tie this to the pole?” Someone else puts on a harness and we continue to la-la-la around so that it is not as silent in the gym as it is in our memories of pulley systems. Eventually, HALLELUJAH, the teacher has some mercy on us and tells the Ecuadorian guy to help us out. (We should not have, by the way, tied the rope to the pole as I asked). This guy saved us. Saved the little shred of dignity that may have still existed. He walked us through every step and pretty much did the system for us as much as he could without physically tying every knot necessary.

‘Twas humiliating. I think we passed, I’m not sure why. Ayla and I walked out of that gym stunned. And then we just burst into laughter. No idea what just happened, and thank goodness we never have to see that teacher again.

Moving on…

Two weekends ago, Andres and Mono had a joint birthday party at JD’s and Andres’ house. We went to the house-party part of the shindig, where Juan Diego pulled out a Hello Kitty piñata out of nowhere and Andres stumbled around eyes-clothes with a stick unknowingly threatening to bust open some heads that did not belong to piñatas. Entertaining, to say the least.

Andres going for the birthday piñata

Birthday boys Mono and Andres with Juan Diego

Ayla piñata

The UNC crew: Ayla, Whitney, me, Taylor, Angel, Riley

My girl A

The day after (two Saturdays ago) Ayla and I woke up early to head to Otavalo, the indigenous artisan market! Otavalo round 2. We had already been before in September but this time we went with the purpose of buying gifts. Had so much fun, spent too much money, met a beautiful Colombian who offered to take us to the waterfalls, found the most beautiful boots in the world and opted to borrow money and buy them instead of having enough money for lunch. We also ran into a few of our Midwest friends who were in Otavalo with their program! We left in the afternoon and were met at the bus station with a  line of, no joke, hundreds of people waiting to get on the bus to Quito. Waiting and pushing and yelling at other people to respect the line and arguing about where it ended. We eventually got pushed onto a bus, I was the last one on, and there weren’t even seats left. I sat on a plastic stool in the front of the bus. It’s a good thing we left early, though, because we later found out that there was some sort of religious pilgrimage on foot and the highway into Quito was closed for hours. A few people we know from school who left Otavalo just an hour or so later than us got kicked off their bus and WALKED four and a half hours to Quito. I do not kid.

Bueno, the week passed on as usual. Exams, presentations, etc. Spent (and have been spending) a lot of time in the Ceramics room, to the point where my days at school feel like one big ceramics workshop with breaks in-between for classes. I love it, though. It’s my favorite place to be here, where I can sit in peace and play and paint and create.

Last Thursday was Thanksgiving. I Skyped with the fam who showed me the beautiful turkey and the even more beautiful gathering of lovely people around the table. Our Midwest friend Eleanor organized a Thanksgiving potluck at her host family’s house with their program, which consists of 15 people, and invited us. Actually, it was called Thanks-o-ween, so some people came in costume. These girls are actually the sweetest people ever. Everyone went around at some point and said what they were thankful for, and Kathryn said she was thankful for meeting Ayla and me. Wish we had met them sooner! We made pumpkin pie which was a delicious success and brought Snickers, which you really can’t go wrong with. Also, that wonderful package my mom sent me for fall had a “Fall Activity Pack,” aka stickers and foamy shapes. I brought this with me, sort of as a joke, sort of because I can’t see Ayla and I crafting fall stickers in the house by ourselves, but by the end of the night everyone had leaf stickers on their faces. Go, Mom!

Rawr.

Bird head?

Ani, Richa, Ayla, & me

Fall project pack!

The Thanks-o-ween group

Post-Thanksgiving day, Taylor, Riley, Ayla and I decided to go to Baeza. Taylor kayaks and planned on going anyway to get his fix since there are some good rivers in the area, so we decided to go with him. Baeza is about 2-3 hours east of Quito by bus. It’s a really tiny town, one street, no stoplights, and one of the prettiest places to drive to. Taylor met up with an American traveling with his Costa Rican girlfriend, Kelyn, so we hung out with her while they kayaked. Friday we walked around town (read: street) then hung out in a playground for hours. A hoard of children showed up and started pushing us on swings and asking us questions. We all got dinner at a a fancy pizza place with Rodrigo, the hostel owner, and talked about Ecuadorian slang and our Spanish-speaking abilities.

The next day Rodrigo drove us an hour out of town to a huge waterfall called San Rafael. He dropped us off and waited as we walked 25 minutes to a really magnificent fall with SO MUCH WATER. It was really impressive.

Pictures just don’t do it justice. The awesomeness that is San Rafael waterfall.

Riley, Kelyn, and me

Ayla’s awkward leg picture.

I thought this was really funny at the time. “Make the waterfall look like it’s falling on my head, Ayla!”

On the way to pick up Taylor from the river we stopped at another less-known waterfall called Rio Malo or Bad River. It had been raining that day and the path alongside the river to get to the waterfall was so flooded that it was just like walking through a small river. I started off with shoes on hopping along rocks and eventually just took them off and walked on through. This waterfall, not very visible from where we stopped by the car, was also huge but the great thing about it was how accessible it was. Where we stopped was in the mist of the waterfall. It felt like walking in the rain and we were soaked on the car ride back. I risked my camera for a few pictures. Right before we turned around, Riley and Ayla decided to see how far into the waterfall they could walk— we almost couldn’t see them in the mist but this last picture has a really faint Riley-and-Ayla-shadow if you look closely. It was a really happy day :)

Rio Malo waterfall from far away

Walking to the fall through mini lagoons

In the mist of Rio Malo waterfall

Look closely. In the center of the photo, a little to the left, is the outline of Riley and Ayla. Champs.

The waterfalls were definitely the coolest part of the trip, and I really enjoyed hanging out in a laid-back place with a few friends. We stayed in a room with 4 beds and laid around listening to music and telling stories; it felt like camp. Or what camp would feel like if my parents had sent me to camp. Ha.

The next day was Lee’s birthday… 25!!! And Friday is Noam’s birthday! Sheetrits getting old.

This weekend we’re planning on going to Quilotoa, a crater lake, with our Midwest friends, so hopefully that works out. Now to get through the last couple days of school. On Tuesday, I was in my literature class and felt a strange sense of belonging— for the first time, someone else asked me if they could join my group (it’s usually the opposite), then a classmate urged me to present our answers “you go up there, Aviv, you can do it” (I didn’t). It was a great, unexpected sentiment, though funny that it happened with only 5 days left of class. Better late than never, right?

Chao for now, amigos!

A Confession

Okay, it is time to make a confession. Maybe you already know by reading in between the lines, maybe you don’t. If you want, to give this post some added drama, you can put on “Confession’s, Part II” by Usher while reading. Though this isn’t nearly as intense as my chick on the side keeping her unborn baby.

Here it is: I don’t like Quito.

I don’t like the city where I’m studying abroad, and I hate that. I hate that every other friend I’ve had that has studied abroad has fallen in love with the city they lived in to the point where they want to go back someday. Rewind: I don’t hate that they loved it, I’m just jealous that I don’t. I don’t want to not like it… I feel like I’m doing study abroad wrong… How can I be the only one of my friends that didn’t live in a city that stole her heart? But that’s the truth.

Let me explain why. Quito is huge. Should I have known? Yes, it is the capital city of Ecuador. I’ve never lived in a capital city before; I had no idea I would dislike city life. It’s big, it’s crowded, it’s polluted, it’s noisy, people stare. It’s dangerous. It makes me not want to go out. I thought, maybe, it was the speech by the US Department of State Official at orientation. The one with the goal of making Quito seem like a crime-ridden hole (Don’t remember? See here: https://avivalavida.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/roller-coaster/ ). But that’s not it, because it would be one thing if only Americans told me it was unsafe in Quito; it’s that Ecuadorians say it all the time, too. Maribel reaches over me and locks my car door, taxi drivers point out streets to tell me not to walk on, Ecuadorian friends casually talk about that time they got robbed in the street.

I don’t like the public transportation. It’s some Americans’ favorite part— that you can pay a few dollars to get anywhere in the country by bus. That it costs 25 cents to get to school everyday. They’re right: it’s a great and effective system, but I never thought I’d miss my car so much. Taxis don’t come to our part of the neighborhood (calling taxi company after taxi company giving details and waiting on elevator music only to be told “nope, sorry” has taught me that) so if I want to go somewhere at night it’s get a ride or walk out of the neighborhood and down the hill to hail a taxi in the street (and I’m still paranoid about making sure to get the one with the registration sticker and the orange license plate). I know it seems trivial, I’m sure so many of my complaints are (boo-hoo you have to walk down the street to go out in a city where you get to study abroad and be immersed in a new culture for a semester—-first world problems), but I just want to get into my own car, pick up my friends, and drive to where I want to go, not having to rely on anyone else. My friends here always nag me about not wanting to go out; honestly, getting there is the part I hate most.

Quito, by what it lacks, has taught me what it is I need in a place I live. I need to be able to go outside, take a walk, and get lost. I need fresh air. I need to smile at strangers and know that it will only be taken in a friendly way. I need to feel safe at night. I need charm. When I went to Cuenca over break, it was like a huge sigh of relief. It was a city full of beautiful, colonial buildings, clean air, and grass people sat in. Proof that a big city can be charming. My friend Ani wrote an analogy I love:

“Quito has its own charms and I do appreciate it, but Cuenca is the white wine (classy, delicious, a life-long drink) to Quito’s flaming shot (dangerous, fun and something to do once in your 20s).”

It’s not that I don’t like Ecuador, that’s not it at all— a look at my travel posts will show you all the beautiful places I’ve been. I’ve visited cities that have made me extremely happy (the above-the-cloud view on the chiva ride in Baños, the small town charm of Puerto Lopez, the breathtaking cliffs of Isla de la Plata), it’s just that knowing that all these other great places exist in this country just makes me dread the end of the weekend when I have to go back to Quito. There’s a selfish comfort in knowing that a lot of other students feel the same. It’s a whole new type of bond when you accidentally get into a conversation about the things you don’t like about Quito and the person talking to you agrees with all of the above.

It’s not even that daily life in Quito sucks. I get to school and back just fine, and my evenings are spent laughing with Ayla, doing homework, talking to my family, and being on Pinterest way too often. Study abroad is not an extended vacation that is filled with exciting adventures 24/7; I live here, too. That means I’m going to have boring and stressful and sad days just like I would at home, and I have no problem with that. The problem is that the options I lack because I don’t feel safe or happy doing them here that makes me yearn for more, for different.

When my friends who were abroad said things like “I wish I was in Chapel Hill with you guys!” I was always responding, “Whatever! you’re in {Spain, Argentina, England, insert other cool foreign country here}! That’s so much better than here!” but now I understand. It’s the lack of familiarity and belonging, it’s that my classmates must think I’m so stupid with the way I respond to class questions in Spanish, it’s that I can never really fit in here, it’s that I know that somewhere else exists a place and a group of people that loves and misses and really accepts me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely grateful for getting the chance to go abroad. I know there are people that really want to be where I am, and I have been so lucky to visit some of the places I’ve visited and meet some of the people I’ve met. Would I choose differently if I got a re-do? Maybe. Do I regret that this is what I chose? I don’t think so. Maybe it wasn’t the intention, but this experience has taught me things about me that I needed to know… like what it is I want and don’t want in a place I live. It’s given me a new-found appreciation for home and for Chapel Hill. When I left for Ecuador, I was pretty fed up with the stress of school, with the pace of life, with the color Carolina blue; I couldn’t wait to be away from UNC for a semester. And now I can’t wait to be back. So in a sense, maybe this is just what I needed.

In Juno, Juno goes to visit the future adoptive parents of her baby and a stressful situation goes down (I won’t ruin it for those absurd handful of you who haven’t seen it). When she comes home she stops in her front yard, picks up a flower she passes every day, smells it, and narrates: “I never realize how much I like being home unless I’ve been somewhere really different for a while.”

Juno gets me.

I talked to Julia a while ago, and without any related prompt, she told me not to take my time here for granted, that she remembers wishing time away because she missed home. That is what I’m doing, though. I know it’s terrible, I know that I’ll regret the way I spent my last few weeks here, I know that I shouldn’t complain to Ayla because it just makes it worse, but it’s so hard not to count down when I am so close to coming back to what I know and miss so much. Sure, it’s that there are nostalgic fun memories I want to re-create with my friends, but more than that it’s that when I’m here in my room bored, I miss being in Cary in my room bored. The latter is more comforting. It’s hard to focus on being here when my heart is already on its way back to North Carolina.

Words and Things

A collection of Ecua-observations noted while here… vocabulary, atittudes, etc:

  • “Qué bestía!” Used in all situations. I can’t tell you exactly what it means because I still can’t figure it out, though “bestia” is beast literally. Someone said something funny? Qué bestía! Lots of traffic on the road today? Qué bestía! This ceviche is delicious? Qué bestía! I like throwing it into every conversation.
  • Full (pronounce it like a Spanish speaker) is a synonym for mucho. Funny to hear English words in a rapid-fire Spanish sentence, and very commonly used in sentences such as “había full gente” (there were a lot of people) or “full chevere” (really cool/awesome).
  • Uh-huh. This was the funniest one for me to hear at first, though I’m getting used to it. Say uh-huh. Now change the huh to saying it with a phlegm sound at the beginning, like that sound you always hear in German and Hebrew. Uh-chah. People say it all the time.
  • Chao. I have never heard anyone say adiós. Spanish classes are lying to us. Goodbye is always chao! Also, no one says goodnight, they say chao. This is kind of funny to me because it would be weird to tell someone goodbye in English when they’re going to sleep. They’re not going anywhere…
  • The kiss on the cheek. This is how you greet (hello and chao) everyone. When we were at Ruthie’s house for Rosh Hashanah, for example, her six-year-old niece kissed me on the cheek. I think it’s just considered the polite way. I didn’t realize how prevalent it was until I was at the grocery store with Fernando once and he ran into a couple he knew and they both came over and kissed me on the cheek. They didn’t know who I was, didn’t ask my name, didn’t say anything else to me, but a hello and a goodbye kiss were necessary. I really like this, by the way. It’s such a more personal and sweet way to greet people. You can always tell who the gringos are on campus because they wave goodbye to each other. And now the wave looks so lame to me.
  • The majority of students on campus don’t walk, they stroll. Strolling around the lagoon, taking their sweet time, not important that we both have class in 2 minutes. More important to stop and kiss every single person they know on the way there. On the days I’m feeling impatient, this is a major pet peeve.
  • Mija means “my daughter” (mi + hija) but I noticed it’s used as a pet name, like “sweetie,” often. Maribel, my host mom, doesn’t refer to my host dad as Fernando, she calls him papi, and he calls her mija. 
  • Mi reina is also a pet name. It literally means “my queen,” but Maribel is always saying to me, “chao, mi reina” when she goes to bed.
  • Fernando’s cheesy jokes remind me of my dad’s, in the most loving way. “Yesterday” by the Beatles came on the radio while in the car once, and when I told Fernando it was one of my parents’ favorite songs, he replied “I like ‘Tomorrow’ better.”
  • Nose jobs. At the beginning of the year, there were a ton of students walking around with bandages on their noses. I have no idea why this is so common, but people just get nose jobs over the summer like it’s getting a piercing or something.
  • Construction. Let me borrow UNC’s nickname for a second and tell you that USFQ is actually the one Under Never-ending Construction. The roundabout and road at the bus stop by campus is always changing and we used to have to walk an unnecessary loop to cross the road to get to school from the stop. On campus they’re either digging up tunnels by the lagoon or building entire new rooms in the middle of building. This means noise in every single class I have. My literature class is the worst, constant banging and hammering and dragging metal. Clearly makes for great Spanish comprehension on my part. Ha.
  • Buena gente. Gente means “people,” and before coming here I had always only heard it used in the plural sense. There are a lot of people here. The majority of people in South America are Catholic. Here, though, you can say someone is buena gente. She is good people. Just means she’s a good person, but I enjoy translating it that way in my head when I hear it :)
  • USFQ has a bit of a high-school feel to it. I’ve mentioned that before, I think. I am astounded by the fact that there are always a group of students talking during class while the professor is talking. Even weirder: profs don’t do anything about it. There are 3 kids in my Literature class that actually chat the entire time in the back of the room. To the point where I want to tell them to hush. Also, always texting during class. Maybe I’m analyzing a little too harshly just because I don’t have my iPhone in class, but this is non-stop. There’s one girl my professor tells every day to put her phone away. Just take it from her already.
  • Presentations. So far when students in my class have made presentations, they’ve taken up their phone or their iPad and presented from there.
  • The letter Y. As I learned in Spanish classes, it is pronounced yigriega. Not here. You just say “yeh.” I think it was Ferni that sort of scrunched his eyebrows at me when I pronounced it the way I was taught. He told me that’s too long, so they just shorten it to “yeh.”
  • Printer paper. You know how printer paper is 8.5 x 11 inches? Here it’s like 8.5 x 12. I’m not sure why this is so funny to me. But all my school papers are torn at the top edge because they don’t fit in normal-sized folders.
  • The letters B and V sound the same, they sound like a mixture: bve. In order to distinguish between the two you can either say bve grande (big B) or bve pequeña (little V) OR you can say bve de burro (b as in donkey- B) or bve de vaca (b as in cow- V).
  • PDA. That means Public Displays of Affection, Mom :). From what I’ve heard this is a Latin American thing, not specifically Ecuadorian. No big deal to kiss and touch and sit on laps in public here. In restaurants, on the bus… Especially at school. Couples lay down by the lagoon and spoon and cuddle in the grass. Not a joke. This kind of thing at UNC would end up in the kvetching board for sure. However, students here live with their parents until they get married, sometimes even later, so I can see where this comes from.
  • Textbooks. There’s no copyright laws, so textbooks are just copies of other books spiraled together. Some of them, like my literature book, is a collection of short stories from different places, but others, like my cinema book is literally a photocopy of another textbook. Makes them inexpensive, so that’s pretty sweet, but sucks for the authors losing money somewhere else.
  • Graph paper. I do not understand this. Students write on graph paper instead of notebook paper. I haven’t even seen graph paper since high school math. The notebooks have graph paper, too; you have to specifically ask for lined paper if you want to buy it.
  • The students, mostly girls I’ve noticed, always have two colors of pens with them and write with both. In my literature class, they write the number of the question in blue and the answer in black. Or the title in black and the body of the essay in blue. One time we were passing around the paper during a group discussion, taking turns writing, and the girl next to me handed me both pens so I could differentiate the question from the answer. Unnecessary. I just used the black. (Related: white out. No one crosses things out, they white-out it. Again, on my impatient days, I’m just like GET ON WITH IT. CROSS IT OUT AND CONTINUE).
  • Students also wr-

ite like thi-

s.

On their graph paper.

  • Pico y placa. In an attempt to reduce traffic, every car owner has a few hours per week in which s/he is prohibited from driving. It depends on the last number in your license plate (placa), so for example, if it ends in 5 you may not be allowed to drive on Fridays from 9am-1pm. Nice idea, but it apparently doesn’t do much. Families buy extra cars to avoid the hours they’re not allowed to drive.
  • Loco, which means “crazy,” also means “man” or “dude.” So everyone is always calling each other loco. Oye, loco!
  • Ecuador uses the U.S. dollar. That’s been extremely convenient since it means no having to figure out price differences nor exchange currency. My friend Julie had a Facebook status up one day that said: “Ever wonder why in the U.S. we have hardly any dollar coins? I know why…they are all in Ecuador.” Truth. All the Sacagaweas are here with us. Some of the coins are still Ecuador’s old centavo coins, but the bills are all U.S. dollars.
  • Change. No one has it. If you pay with a $20 they will first ask you if you have anything smaller, second look at it in the light to check if it’s a fraud, and third go ask someone they know to borrow change to give back to you.
  • There is often a naked lady laying on a wooden block during ceramics class. She poses for the sculpture class that goes on at the same time, and I always forget about her until I go to the sink and then oh. yep. there she is.
  • Buen provecho is the equivalent of bon apetit. Interesting that we don’t have a phrase in English. Enjoy your meal, I guess? Anyway, this is said all the time and by everyone. A random stranger leaving a restaurant once passed by our table and wished us buen provecho. So nice!
  • We call professors by their first names. No “Dr.”, “professor,” “señor/a,” etc. Also, they dress like students. Jeans and t-shirts. And Converses. Those USFQ students love their Converses.
  • Baking soda is illegal. You can’t buy it at grocery stores. So when we bake, we just use A LOT of baking powder to compensate.
  • Library etiquette does not exist at our university. Oh, you wanna sit with your friends at a table and talk about your plans for the weekend? Your mom is calling you and you want to have a 20-minute conversation with her at full volume? Go for it. There are signs in the library that say “it is your right to ask for silence in the library.” Yet none that say please don’t talk on the phone or listen to music without headphones because there are people next to you who may actually be using the library for its designated purpose. USFQ students wouldn’t last one minute in Davis Library.
  • There are 10 computers in the library that I use. The other 50 spread around campus have a parental lock on them and will only allow you to access the university web page. Nothing else. Not even the university’s e-mail login.
  • Tocando el arpa. This means “playing the harp,” equivalent to “third wheel.” It’s my favorite phrase so far, I think I’ll start using it in English. “No thanks, you two go on and enjoy dinner, I don’t feel like playing the harp tonight.”
  • It seems as if Ecuadorians are much more aware of saving electricity than Americans. Claudia, my conversation teacher, told us this is accidentally environmentally-friendly since the reason is, in reality, purely financial. The result, however, is that my house here is always super dark because all the lights are off. Except my little room of light at the end of the tunnel.
  • We have a security guard at the library on campus that checks your backpack every time you leave. There are detectors at the door, so I’m not sure why this is necessary, but it’s always this cute old man that mumbles “perdon,” checks for stolen books, zips up your backpack, mumbles “gracias” and lets you on your way.
  • The Xerox Center. I realize half of this list seems like complaints about campus differences, and in that case, this one tops the list. We can’t print from the computers we use in the library or in computer labs. Don’t even think about printing from your own laptop. There is one room on campus called the Xerox Center where you must go, stand in line, plug in your USB (remember those?) into one of the three computers, and send to a printer. Through the midst of chaos of students waiting in line, taking numbers to get copies made, employees calling out numbers, someone from behind the desk will pick up your document, yell out the first word they see on it, or if it’s pictures, whatever they interpret that to be, and you find your way through the crowd to say “that’s me!” and pay to get it. I don’t know how to complain without sounding conceited, but come on, USFQ, you are clearly a wealthy school with the resources to figure out a better system. Makes me miss UNC’s CCI system very much. One day I printed out a page of photos for ceramics. I went to pick it up and he gives me my page and a blank page. I say, this second page isn’t mine. He replies, yes, but it printed with your document. I say, I don’t need it. He says, you have to pay for it. I paid for a blank page. Would have not made a difference for him to stick it back into the printer and make someone else pay for it when they actually printed on it. I’m going to stop now. I could talk about the Xerox Center all day.
  • Spicy food. …Is not Ecuadorian. Who knew? Whenever I say, “I was surprised that there’s no spicy food here,” the response is usually, “this isn’t Mexico.” Por favor, gimme some pepper.