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PaulMar Prensa Last Issue

It’s hard to believe we’ll be back in the US in a little over a week. Here’s the last issue of the PaulMar Prensa about our last few months in Ecuador as Peace Corps Volunteers. Click on the image to see the full newsletter as a PDF.

Enjoy, Mari & Paul

PaulMar Prensa

The Home Stretch

It’s hard to believe but we’re in the home stretch of our time here in Ecuador. This past week has been jam-packed with milestones and despedidos (farewells). In addition to visiting various doctors we’ve given away most of our stuff and are in the process of closing all of our Ecuadorian accounts.

The fun part was seeing **Clare** for a day on a lucky layover and hosting 3 of the members of Mujeres: Cambia. Three of the women and one of their daughters took a 10-hour bus journey each way just to say good-bye to me. I haven’t been able to visit the coast like Paul has so they saved up money and we spent a lovely day together, including a visit to the Botanic Garden.

Finally, I had my last day of work at The Nature Conservancy, which coincided luckily with the holiday party including a BBQ and gift exchange. I handed in my last work product, a PowerPoint presentation that can be used for all different audiences (see the cover slide below).

I feel so lucky to have so many incredible people to despedir. It’s always hard to say good-bye but I know we’ll be back someday. Enjoy some images from our crazy week!

Mari

The Little One Looks Like Me

Munchkin

Mujeres: Cambia Members Visit

Botanic Garden Entrance

Enjoying the Botanic Garden

In the Greenhouse

The Nature Conservancy Presentation

TNC Title Slide

What I’ll Miss About Ecuador

Recuerdos

Living on the beach – I never thought I would end up taking the beach for granted but when you live right there, it’s easy to forget how special it really is. Now that we’re living in a city, I miss the beach more than ever. I miss watching the incredible sunsets, hearing the waves, and commuting to work walking along the water. Max also really misses the beach – he used to run around chasing birds and sniffing the piles of trash.

The fruit – Although our local open air market in Palmar wasn’t the best place to buy it, good and inexpensive fruit isn’t too hard to find. This time of year on the coast you can find dozens of stalls selling watermelon by the side of the road in addition to the ubiquitous coconut stalls. Here in Quito, there are any number of (usually) indigenous women selling mandarines and other fruits on the street. It’s amazing to think of how expensive fruits like pineapples are in NYC – here they cost pocket change. Ecuador is known for bananas and before I came here I had no idea how many different kinds there really are. One way to say banana, like the one you eat with your cereal, is guineo. One day Paul went to a local store to get some bananas but he asked for gusanos instead. A gusano is a worm!

The clouds – The clouds in the Sierra are incredible. I’ve enjoyed photographing clouds in Quito and Cuenca especially. I don’t know what it is about the Ecuatorial light but there is something magical about the way it plays off of the many different kinds of clouds here. We recently went to the Teleférico – a cable car that travels up a mountain so you can see all of Quito spreading out below you. When we went up the cable car it was hard to see much since the fog was rolling in. By the time we had walked around a bit on the hiking trails up top the clouds had cleared and you could see the city below just in time for the ride back down. As they say in Quito, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes.”

How time passes – I used to be so good at the rat race in NYC – rushing around, catching trains, walking long blocks in a single bound. Now, I’m happy to live a life more tranquila – never setting an alarm (these days I just wake up early without prodding), not worrying about being late (the Hora Ecuatoriana means I’m usually the first to arrive anyway), and taking things as they come. I think this has also resulted in a higher tolerance for waiting. I’m definitely more patient than I was before – if I wasn’t I think I’d go a little loca.

Being part of a community – One of the nicest things about living on the coast was being in a small community. I’ve never really lived in a place where I knew so many people and they knew me and said hello to me on the street. It’s a bit like summer camp in that way – you have your place in the culture and it’s comforting to learn the rhythms and the gossip of small town life. Although on the flip side, it means that lots of people you barely know hear about your business but mostly it’s just benign.

30 More Days…

Recuerdos

How do you say good-bye to an experience as transformational as the Peace Corps? How do you prepare for living in a new culture, a new city, and a new context that used to be called, “home?” Those are the questions I keep asking myself as we enter our last month as Peace Corps Volunteers.

I remember when I was on the other end – a month away from the start of our Peace Corps adventure. I was stressing out about what clothes and things to pack and how it was all going to fit into two bags. One of our last weeks in Virginia before Staging we were interviewed by a local TV station (see the video here). The interviewer asked us what we think we would miss the most when we were abroad. I said, “loved ones, hot showers, and food variety.” While all answers turned out to be true, I could not even fathom on that morning sitting in my in-laws’ house the more abstract things I would miss so much more about the States.

Things I have missed about living in the States:

Blending in – either I am treated differently because I am a woman or I am treated differently because I am a foreigner. Sometimes that means I am conferred preferential status but other times that means that strangers feel entitled to ask me personal questions, whistle at me, or stare. Blatantly. One day while waiting for a bus a man from my town that I didn’t recognize came up to me as if he knew me and kissed me. Not on the cheek like we were saying hello or being introduced to one another – on the mouth! The worst part was the truckload of men stopped at the corner whistling and egging him on.

My personal space and the luxury of zoning out – whether it is maintaining a distance from my fellow passengers on a bus, listening to music while I walked down the street or closing my eyes on the subway even if I was traveling alone. One of the first things they teach you in the Safety & Security sessions during training is to be vigilant. Awareness is one of the best ways to prevent incidents and thankfully, we have never had any security concerns our whole time in this country.

Being a customer that is always right – here, there are no consumer protections and forget about making returns (even if the item was sold to you broken) or trying to exchange something without it becomming a very awkward or frustrating ordeal. Lack of customer service is a given, unfortunately. Paul recently took his HP mini to be fixed so that one of the members of Mujeres: Cambia could buy it for her family. He left the laptop there three months ago and was assured that it would be ready in two days. After countless phone calls and visits to the store where he was alternately told that his laptop was ready and that it was misplaced, he finally got the machine back untouched. Just a few days ago…in the US there would be some kind of recourse or at the very least an apology from the business but not so here.

Efficiency – while some errands we run go smoothly, there are other times when a big dose of patience is necessary to get things done. Paul applied for the bicycle program here in Quito that would allow him to sign out commuter bikes around the city. He applied two months ago and has never heard back. He had even agreed to pay for the year-long membership that he would only be using for four or five months.

Being sure of my words – as anyone who has ever had to learn a new language and live in that language knows, communication can be exhausting. Sometimes, it feels like a game of charades or guess what word I’m thinking when I don’t have the vocabulary. Other times when I am in front of a crowd or teaching, I expend more mental energy planning my words and saying them in my head first or looking up the correct grammar ahead of time.

Plentiful trash cans and less littering – friends on their first trip to NYC were always surprised at the lack of trash on the streets. While this varied by neighborhood and by context (for instance this isn’t true after street fairs, concerts, and parades) it’s hard to believe but I noticed less trash in NYC on an average day than living in Ecuador. We also lived on a beach but seeing how much plastic washed up on the shore and where those disposable diapers actually ended up has convinced me not to use disposables with our baby.

A Few Faves from Jason’s Visit!

Jason in Palmar

Jason in Palmar

Our friend from NYC, Jason, came to visit us in Ecuador! He and Paul first went to the coast before returning to Quito. A PCV in the Philippines several years ago, Jason took the opportunity to teach the Brigadistas in Palmar about his experience including some Tagalog vocabulary.

Holiday Crafts

Making the Xmas Tree

I enlisted the help of Paul and Jason to help finish the handmade holiday tree (made form cardboard) I made while they were on the coast. Stay tuned for more photos of the finished tree and a link to the tutorial from Instructables.

Thanksgiving

Jason at Thanksgiving

We were so lucky that Jason could share Thanksgiving with us and 8 other Ecuadorian friends. We had a blast and the hats that we also made last year for the youth foundation (see here for last year’s Thanksgiving pics) were a big hit. We had turkey with all the trimmings including Mari’s first attempt at pumpkin pie with homemade crust!

The Teleférico

Jason on the Teleférico

Quito is a sprawling city of 1.6 million people that seems small when you’re walking around but you can see just how big it is when you take the cable car Teleférico up one of the bordering mountains. You can get out once the cable car reaches the top to hike and enjoy the scenery.

Alpaca

In addition to some beautiful horses, we also met some alpaca on our walk around the grounds that are a designated national park area.

Jason in Hut
While we were there we saw a school group walking around. Jason is exploring one of the thatched roof huts that are probably used for school groups.

Shopping in Otavalo

Jason in Otavalo

We found amazing gifts in Otavalo – it was our own “Black Friday” shopping trip. The largest market in Latin America, Otavalo is located a couple of hour’s drive outside of Quito and boasts everything from textiles, Panama hats, and artwork to cows, goats, and pigs.

Jason, Paul & Pig

We had a great time sharing our Ecuadorian experience with Jason. We hope he had fun, too!

The Index

# of days we have left in Ecuador

45

# of weeks pregnant Mari is

20

# of trips back to the coast Paul has made

3

# of additional trips to the coast he will make

1

# of trips back to the coast Mari has made

0

# of trips we have taken to Cuenca

3

# of Omnibus 107 volunteers who have left

8

# of months early we are Closing Service

3

# of total months we will be in Ecuador

24

# of hours of travel to return to Virginia

10

# of dogs we are currently taking care of

2

# of dogs who will travel to the US with us

1

# of guests coming to our Thanksgiving

11

# of haircuts Paul has gotten in Quito

1

# of haircuts Mari has gotten in Quito

0

# of haircuts Paul has given Mari

1

Cost of Mari’s commute to work in a taxi

$3.00

Cost of the same commute by bus

25¢

Length in minutes of Mari’s commute by taxi

20

Length in minutes of the same commute by bus

60

Length in minutes spent walking to/from that bus

30

Cost of a lunch special at a local restaurant

$2.50

Cost of a single movie ticket to a 2D movie

$5.25

Date the Close of Service Conference starts

1/6/14

Date we fly out of Ecuador

1/7/14

Slideshow: Cuenca

Cuenca Highlights

Tents on the River

Paul and I recently traveled to Cuenca, a charming city in the sierra for the Festival de Artesanía de América run by CIDAP, the government ministry that supports artisans and the “popular arts.” The tents were all lined up on the river and we were lucky to have gorgeous weather throughout the whole event. Our booth was in the middle section of the above image.

Host Family Love

Some of our best friends from Peace Corps live in Cuenca and it is also where I lived when I was a 16 year-old volunteer and where my host family (see above) from that summer still lives. So, besides presenting an incredible opportunity for Mujeres: Cambia, it was the perfect place to visit with friends both old and new and to celebrate my birthday! Here are a few highlights from the trip.

The Fair

Made from Recycled Paper

I can’t tell you the number of people who stopped and asked, “papel?” or “paper?” Yes, Mujeres: Cambia jewelry is made from paper! We were fortunate not only to find many new supporters but also those who acted as ambassadors and sent their friends to visit us throughout the festival. We loved seeing the happy customers walking around the fair and several came back by our booth to model their new pieces.

Leticia Giving a Demonstration

Leticia and Betsy were chosen as two of the featured artisans to give public demonstrations of their process. Above, Leticia explains the process of rolling paper beads to an enthusiastic crowd.

Leticia Mari Betsy Manning the Booth

Betsy, Leticia, Paul, and I spent many long hours manning the booth together. It was nice to have time to catch up during our 11 hour days. In the end, all of the hard work paid off as the women earned over $2,500 in sales!

Celebrating

Baby Shower Cupcakes

My amazing friends threw us a surprise baby shower complete with games (guess the number of candies in the baby bottle, among others), music, and Ecuadorian food. I was shocked but so happy to share this experience with the women from Mujeres: Cambia and with **Natalia**, my Cuencana host mom.

Mari, Jess and Khayla Jump!

Besides our great friends **Clare**, **Nikki**, and **Steph** who live in Cuenca, **Jess** and **Khayla** also came into town for the festivities. On my birthday, we walked around town wearing tinsel antennae and taking silly photos.

Paul Kisses Mari

I felt very special on my birthday as we celebrated a home-cooked lunch with our host family (the only candle we could find was the number 2!).

Tiestos Turpels

Every time we visit Cuenca we make an attempt to eat at Tiestos, a well-known hot spot. Finally, we were able to make it a reality with a birthday dinner there. Our favorite part of the meal (besides the delicious cake they gifted me) was the variety of delicious sauces that came with the bread and variety of salads that came with the main dishes. We can’t wait to eat there again!

Flowers

All in all, we had a wonderful time on our trip and even managed to visit two museums, take a double-decker bus tour, and see two movies (one in 3D with Leticia and Betsy, their first ever!). We miss you already, Cuenca!

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