Coffee, Culture, and Bananagrams
“Voy caminando por la vida, sin pausa pero sin prisa…”
(Translation: I go walking through life, without pausing but without rushing…) –Melendi
This evening, as I rest my head on the soft, beach-themed pillow in my bedroom, I am amazed at how quickly one becomes accustomed to the culture and lifestyle of another country. Many aspects of Ecuadorian life seem especially designed for me—the tendency towards tardiness, the abundance of cafes, and the friendliness of the people; other characteristics are more challenging to accommodate—the altitude, the chilly nights, and the dangerously bad drivers. However, despite these challenges, I find myself swiftly acclimating to life here in Quito.
Every day there are new words to learn, new fruits to try, and new people to meet. And, though each day is full of surprises, I have begun to enter into a routine. Each morning begins I with a generous bowl of apples, bananas, and papaya mixed with yogurt and granola. After finishing a strong jarro (mug) of coffee, I amble towards Vida Verde, the Spanish language school, with my housemate Megan. Two minutes later we arrive and I make my way up the stairs to begin class with Gustavo, my teacher, and Anne, one of my housemates. Each day we begin with stories from the previous afternoon and then commence with grammar exercises or story reading. I rather enjoy the readings, though I worry that my feminist within has reared its ugly head too many times when talking about Ecuadorian machismo.
Sometimes we take class onto the streets to gain real-life experience with the language. Tuesday, for example, Gustavo took Anne, Megan, and I to the Mercado Santa Clara, a marketplace teeming with fresh fruits and vegetables of shapes and colors that I had never before seen or tasted. The upper level of the marketplace was the meat arena and let it suffice to say that, after viewing the freshly cut tongue, liver, stomach, and leg of each animal, I am considering the path of a vegetarian.
Our afternoons are free so we use the extra time to explore the city. It is my personal mission to try all the café (coffee) within a six-mile radius—I may be here for years. The afternoons are also a good time to exercise, though I’m trying to begin the habit of a morning run with Heather, my future housemate who lives a few blocks from an expansive park. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, I awoke, dressed, and jogged the mile and a half to el Parque Carolina. I hadn’t noticed the effect of the altitude in Quito until the moment I arrived at the park, panting and clutching my chest as I gasped for air; consequently, the morning run became more of a jog-walk-breathe but my expectation for future running remains high.
Most evenings in Quito are spent at home, typing on my computer or playing “Bananagrams” with my host mother and Megan. For the unfortunate few who have not yet played this game, it is a speedier and more enjoyable form of Scrabble in which each person picks up tiles to create his or her own crossword. Once no pieces remain in the middle, whoever is first to complete the Scrabble-like puzzle wins. Of course, in Ecuador the game “Bananagrams” poses an additional challenge because we play in Spanish. Thank goodness for the abundance of verb tenses (for example, in the past tense alone, the verb leer, to read, has six conjugates: le, lei, leiste, leyo, leimos, leyeron)!
On Wednesday evening, however, we had our first night out on the town. Our group of Americans, Germans, and Swiss met for una hora feliz (happy hour) at a local bar called Azucar. After spilling my first mojito down the middle of my pants due to my great reliance on wild hand gestures, I wasn’t eager to leave so we stayed for a few drinks to converse and give my jeans time to dry. Next, we strolled across the street to a German bar to sample salchichas (sausages) and drink mugs full of frothy beer. There, we met up with some Ecuadorian friends of our Swiss companion and proceeded to learn all of the local words and phrases we should avoid, that is, all of the linguistic gems we don’t learn in school. The night continued at a discoteca (bar with dancing) where we were able to loosen our tired muscles to the beat of American tunes. At midnight, I begrudgingly accepted the end of our evening, and went promptly to bed. The next morning I learned a new word: chuchaqui (hangover).
On Thursday evening, Megan, Johnnie, and I attended an event at La Casa de Cultura Ecuadoriana (the Ecuadorian Culture House). Due to the upcoming Ecuadorian Independence Day on August 10th, the cultural center had organized an exposition of traditional song and dance from many of the surrounding provinces. The highlights included an adorable two-year old girl shaking a maraca (and consequently shaking off her diaper), a moving Spanish rendition of “Unbreak my Heart,” and a traditional dance using brightly colored cloth that brought back memories of Ribbon Dancers. And, unlike the toilet paper in Ecuadorian public restrooms, the event was completely free!
Today we leave at 6pm for the coast. Our bus departs from Quito at 8pm and, ten hours later, we’ll hop on another bus for two more hours until we reach our destination, Porto Lopez. But, like they often say in Ecuador, vale la pena (it is worth it) because, once we arrive, we are going whale watching on a nearby island and, hopefully, will be able to take in some sun. I’m sure I’ll have much to write after this weekend but until then, hasta luego!