Tuesday, July 3, 2018

To Mix and Minga, by Brendan P. Smith

Today we went to a Minga. The word Minga comes from the language of Quechua which basically means a work day. Around here, a Minga usually involves many local families coming together to help at a working project at someone’s house. Even though we are not a local family, we helped out Angel’s family today. We helped enlarge the area of Angel’s property so that he would be able to expand his house. Their house was very nice for the area that it was in. We had to do a lot of digging up dirt and moving dirt in order to make space. The work was really hard and strenuous. I never knew how heavy dirt could be.

When we got back to The Working Boys Center after a hard morning of work, we had a lot of time until our next activity. I decided to take some time to write in my journal about the day. When I was summarizing the day in my journal I realized that the house we went to the Minga at used to be just a hill. In order to have the nice house they have today, they had to dig a large hole into the hill while also building an actual house by hand. The work we did today was a very small percentage of what the family has to do to make a house. Today’s Minga made me realize that having a nice house in this area takes a very a large amount of time and work. I realized that I had to do nothing in order to have the nice house I live in today. For this family, they had to spend their valuable time, which they could be using to make money to support themselves, in order to have a house that could support a seven person family. I think taking out the trash is an annoying thing to do at my house but for this family and most of the families in this area, they have to work very hard to build their house by hand. After doing a few hours of what this family does on a daily basis, I became more thankful for my house. I have a very big house where I can just relax all day. For this family, like most of the families in this area, they live in a small house where they have to worry about simple things that I don’t even have to think about. Angel’s family had a leaky roof, which I would never have to worry about. This trip has truly been amazing because every day I become more thankful for the wonderful life I have.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Inti Raymi Festival and Otavalo

Yesterday, all the groups (Xavier from Phoenix, Fordham from the Bronx, St. Peter's Prep from New Jersey and us) went on the CMT bus for a day trip to Otavalo.  On the way, we stopped at a scenic spot for photos. In the distance, we could see the hot houses where the flowers are grown. Ecuador is famous for the roses that they export all over the world. 

On the way, we stopped at a gas station/rest stop for bizcochos y queso, an Ecuadorian snack. Bizcochos are biscuit-like cookies that you eat with cheese that is like fresh string cheese.

Here's the guys making the bizcochos.

Following the rest stop and snack, we headed towards the Laguna de Cuicocha which is past Otavalo and through the town of Cotacachi. Laguna de Cuicocha is a volcanic lake. In year's past, we've gone and taken a boat ride to the center of the lake, where the boat stops and the guide points out the volcanic gases that bubble to the surface. 

As we entered Cotacachi, we happened upon a group of men marching through the streets with distinctive hats, fur chaps, and whips. We tried to by-pass the group, but every street we turned down, there was another group. The streets are narrow and some were blocked off, so transversing this area in the large bus was challenging for Osvaldo. There was a large police presence. They were there to protect the celebrants and divert traffic as needed. We finally decided to skip the Laguna and go on to Otavalo. 

Here is a description of the festival from Wikipedia:

   “An annual fiesta of San Juan, San Pedro, y San Pablo (also known as Inti Raymi, or the "Sun Festival" in Kichwa) in late June is celebrated in the city, with many different ceremonies and the main event, known as "taking of the plaza", during which the groups of dancers from different communities circle the biggest town square, site of the Municipality and the town Cathedral, several times. Children, men and women have different days assigned to perform the dance. Men's day sometimes degenerates into altercations between various indigenous communities in the area, and is often seen as once a year opportunity for "settling scores", while women's occasional fights are playful and not intended to harm. The indigenous communities, mestizo majority population and the group of expats co-exist uneventfully throughout the rest of the year. The ritual is a temporary enactment of social upheaval via the symbolic storming of the city, remembering ancient rivalries - so ancient, that in fact nobody can tell how exactly did they start.

Distinctive black leather hats for the fiesta are worn by some male participants during the ceremonies and the parade. The San Juan hats have greatly exaggerated, stiff and circular flat brims that extend over the shoulders and crowns that are high, square, and pointed, bearing many types of symbols. Perhaps intentionally, the design also serves to protect wearers from the rocks. Sometimes intervention by police is required if the participants become too rowdy. In the last years the safety of the participants and onlookers greatly improved, due to the careful scheduling and monitoring of the arrival of dancers from different communities to town.”

At Otavalo, a lady Marlena who is a friend of the CMT met us at the bus. She and her family sell products at a discount to the groups from the CMT. We followed her to her area and made our purchases. She even offered to take all of our stuff back to the bus for us!

Here is Maria buying Tom's panama hat - a must each year. For reflection, we did "show and tell" where the kids showed us and each other all that they had bought and who they made the purchases for. It was fun!

On the bus during our return trip, Maria (below) and Marta (not pictured) caught a ride with us and did a brief presentation about their culture and dress. They are women from Otavalo and have a distinct style of dress which includes shoes with soles made of agave and tops made of cotton. They wear brown or dark blue shirts, belts and embroidered blouses. They also wear a rectangular piece of fabric over their shoulders (not pictured) - if they wear the fabric over both shoulders it means they are married, over one shoulder they are single. The fabric can also be folded into a hat and worn on top of their heads. Here she is singing in Kichwa

Friday, June 29, 2018

Contributing to the Family Home, by Maria Cornell

The Foundation Padre Damien, known to us as Casa Damien, is a beautiful home for the thirty full time resident inpatients and two hundred out patients who may from time to time have an extended stay.  We spent our first couple of days catching up with old friends and acquainting ourselves with the newer residents.  Any Norte Americano who is a friend of Sr. Annie’s is a friend of the residents – they love us and welcome us as they would welcome family!

The women are very talkative, and willing to share about their lives.  Conversely the men share very little while they play dominoes with unbelievable strategy.  Hansen’s disease, a disfiguring skin disease accompanied by debilitating nerve pain, has separated these individuals from their relatives, they in turn have formed a family at Casa Damien. This family loves one another by listening, supporting, playing, creating, loving, praying, and caring.  There is a sense of hope, peace and joy felt by all upon entering this home.  Sr. Annie is the figurehead and Germania is the administrator of Foundation Padre Damien acting as the matriarchs of the family.  They are helped by Marjorie the accountant, Edgar the facilities manager, Jenny, Lisette and Vicky who prepare three meals a day for the family, Dr. Martinez, nurses, a weekday guard, the male residents who guard in the evenings and on weekends, and Diego the driver who also assists with maintenance.  Our boys cleaned windows, screens, tracks and ceiling fans over three days in the men’s and women’s sections.  The job was thorough and made it possible for the sunshine to enter the rooms. Everyone contributes to keep the family home running smoothly!

Our boys and Sam immediately became part of this family!  Sabrina and I were returning home!  I have felt incredible internal peace and joy since arriving in Ecuador and have really enjoyed living in the moment and getting to know our boys, the residents, staff and volunteers in Guayaquil. 

Reconnecting with the staff at Centro del Muchacho Trabajador has been joyous yet bittersweet as there are many changes currently taking place.
Our boys continue to amaze me with their insights, camaraderie, appreciation, compassion, understanding, and pure joy!

Thank you families for entrusting your young men to our care!
~ Maria

Clausura & Equator, by Chicco Adamo

This morning (yesterday) we were able to sleep in, and in that time we could also start to explore the working boys center. We made our own breakfast and brought our dirty clothes to the laundry so they could be cleaned. Our day truly started when we went to the graduation of the students at the Working Boys Center. Already I could tell that this would be a different experience that at Casa Damian, but I also knew that it would be a good experience nonetheless. The graduation, or clausura, was chaotic and loud, but the point got across. Personally I felt some nostalgia for my own 8th grade graduation. After the graduation we were invited to stay for mass, but this mass was completely different from the one that I was accustomed to back home. It surprised me how distracted most of the students were while the priest was speaking, but when ever a song came on, everyone focused and started singing and dancing.

After mass we ate, picked up our laundry, and set off to do one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. We went to the equator. The bus we took to get there was packed, and I guess that just means that the public transportation is popular in Quito. We went to an open air indigenous museum and got to see houses and other virtues the my bad. It shocked me how incredibly developed the houses were. Our guide explained that they had thermal insulation and were waterproof. I also can’t believe that they eat guinea pigs. I find it disgusting because I once had a guinea pig, but most of the other kids were dying to try it. Finally, we got to see the equator, and got to try a bunch of activities that could only be done there. We tried to walk across the equator in a straight line with our eyes closed, but it was impossible. Overall the equator was really cool and I’m glad I got to see it. Quito and Guayaquil are definitely two complete different places, and not just geographically, but I can’t wait to see what’s in stored here.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Mitad del Mundo

Today, we went to the "clausura," a ceremony to recognize those who were graduating or being promoted to the next grade. Teachers and the year-long volunteers were also honored.

This the soccer field outside of the comeador (the dining room) which is really a multi-purpose room as it houses a kitchen, dining area, ceremonies and Mass. 

Here are some students receiving their diplomas.

And some teachers doing a folk dance.

After the clausura and Mass at 12:00 pm, we ate lunch together, picked up our laundry, then took a city bus to Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world). The city bus normally drops us off right in front of Mitad, but today, it dropped us off in the pueblo of Mitad del Mundo, then the bus guy pointed in the direction of the museum. We started walking - about 1 mile, uphill, with an altitude of 9500 feet. Needless to say, I needed to rest a few times along the way. 

The Mitad del Mundo museum is the touristy one. It was created by Europeans in the 1700's when they thought they found the equator - they didn't. This site is commercial and expensive, and not really on the equator. However, a several years ago, we discovered the Museo de Intiñan which is an indigenous run museum which is much more culturally sensitive. It also is the site of the "true" equator at 0'0'0'.

 Here's the boys at the entrance.

We had an excellent tour guide, named Diego who had a sense of humor and shared the culture with us. 

Sam straddling the northern and southern hemispheres.

Diego explaining about the "penis fish." Ask your boys about this one!

Señor Jose, a weaver who works the souvenir shop.

Travel & Orientations

Wednesday, June 27th we flew to Quito from Guayaquil. Germania, Nathan, Ishmael and Jocelyn came to the airport with us to help us navigate check in and baggage drop. We got to our gate with a few minutes to spare, so the boys bought some food for the flight.

The flight was totally uneventful and we were only in the air for 33 minutes.

Upon our arrival in Quito, the chaperones and some girls from Xavier High School in Phoenix were there to greet us. Osvaldo came to pick us up in the CMT (El Centro del Muchacho Trabajador - in English we call it the "Working Boys Center") bus. Incidentally, the girls from  Xavier are the only girls here! There are two other groups; one from Fordham Prep and another from St. Peter's Prep. Chaperones from those groups are old friends from our previous trips, which is kinda fun.

Caitlin McGuire, the new community outreach/group coordinator was here at the volunteer house to greet us. After we unloaded the bus, we were given the keys to our rooms. Benjamin, Ryan M., Chicco, and Charlie are rooming together again, and Ryan T., and the two Brendan's are rooming together again as well.

We had a brief house orientation, then Caitlin went over our schedule with Sam, Maria and I. Later, we got a kitchen/food prep orientation, then got to make our name tags.  In between, Rodolfo gave us a tour of the CMT school and the talleres (the workshops). In recent years, because of some financial difficulties, the CMT has had to close some of the technical training workshops. There used to be 7, now there are four that remain; beauty shop, sewing, auto mechanics and carpentry. It used to be that they were segregated by sex as well, but now, both boys and girls can choose any of the four programs.

Rodolfo explaining the CMT's 10 values.

The boys making their name tags. Judy started a competition. We'll vote on the best one on July 3rd, then the winner will get a prize.


Tuesday, June 26th we had the despedida, a farewell party at Damien House. A succession of patients presented gifts to us. Gifts of handmade crafts, but most importantly, gifts of their hearts. Words expressed how grateful they were for our visit. I cried the whole time in recognition that I would not be back for two years and that during that time some would return to God and I wouldn’t see them again. All expressed their thanks to God for us, for our safe journey, and hopes that we would return. Many reminded us that the doors of the foundation would always be opened for us and we can come visit anytime. Following the patients presentations, each of our boys expressed their gratitude for our time in Guayaquil at Damien House. 

Immediately following the despedida, Germania asked us to help the ladies get back to their home. I walked Elvia and her mother, Manuelita back. When I returned to the men’s side, Etilo was there talking with Maria and Nathan. Maria had reminded him that we had first met him years ago with his wife. He played and she sang for us. She died about 5 years ago and Sr. Annie asked him to come live at Damien House so that he wouldn't be alone. When I arrived, Etilo literally jumped up in the air. He said that Sr. Annie keeps telling him not to jump because she is worried that he will hurt himself. But he explained that he was so happy to see me. He has the most innocent and beautiful spirit. 

Following the despedida, we enjoyed our last lunch. “Italian food” inspired by Sr. Annie and prepared by the ladies. 

 The statue of Simón Bolivar and Jose San Martín who are credited with victory over the Spanish and gaining independence for the people of South America.

The ferris wheel on the Malecón is modeled after the "London Eye" but is much smaller. It takes 15 minutes to go around. Two years ago when we were here, this was just being built. 

After lunch, we went to the Malecón. The Malecón is a boardwalk that runs along the Guayas River. There are many family activities and the air is much cleaner and cooler near the water. We started at the statue of San Martín and Bolivar and walked to the end. At the end of the Malecón, there is a light house on top of a hill with stairs leading up to it. The boys, Nathan, Jocelyn and Ishmael walked to the top of the stairs. There are 455 stairs that lead to the light house. The view is phenomenal. Maria, Charlie and I sat in a cafe on ten corner which had a beautiful, cool breeze and watched highlights of the Argentina v. Nigeria game. 

The canons at the head of Las Peñas. These protected the city from pirates during colonial times.

A marker for Las Peñas.

The view from the art gallery. Enlarge the photo to see the iguanas.

Once the others returned, we walked through Las Peñas, the remainder of the historic city of Guayaquil - now an artist community. There was a beautiful art gallery with open windows overlooking the river. There were even iguanas in the trees outside! 

After walking through Las Peñas, we came upon an upscale neighborhood with hotels and restaurants called Puerto Santa Ana.

Following our walking tour, we returned to the hostel to shower. At 5:30, Diego, Germania, Nathan, Ishmael, and Jocelyn picked us up for dinner. We went to a restaurant where we enjoyed Ecuadorian food for our last meal in Guayaquil.