Sunday, November 20, 2011

Día Deportivo and Tamales

I'm getting better and better about figuring out how to manage school and family commitments. Yesterday, Saturday, was an example of going between school and family. While that doesn't sound like much of an achievement, I'm quite proud that I now understand what's going on around me. In my first days (or weeks, more like) I just followed my family around, figuring out where we were going through context clues. Now, with some improved Spanish skills and a little bit more experience with this family I feel like I can anticipate our plans a little bit.

Friday night we started the process of making tamales. I wrote about this at the beginning of my trip, but I'll bore you all with the details because I think it's a pretty cool process. On Friday night we ground up 5 lbs. of corn into corn flour, using the same grinder that I took pictures of in September. It's really hard work! Alexis and I took turns grinding, but my arms are still sore.

The next morning I got up early for the Día Deportivo (my school's version of Field Day). Lucky for me, it started at 7:30, meaning I had to leave at the same time as any other school day. Cursing my school, I got up early on a Saturday morning to catch my bus.

Each class at my school designed its own jerseys for the day. The competitions for the day included a 5k run, the beginnings of the inter-school soccer championship, the selection of the class with the best uniforms, a pet competition, a beauty competition, and bailoterapia (dance-therapy). I ran the 5k run, and learned that the distance, though it doesn't sound like much, can be rather hellish. I'm putting my difficulties down to the altitude (I was running at about 2500 meters about sea level) and the early morning. However, my new found love of Ecuadorian animal crackers and complete lack of preparation may have made the running a bit difficult as well.

Each class nominated a boy a girl to represent them and a boy to serve as an escort in the beauty competition. Tom, my friend from Germany, was nominated for his class.

My class, posing together in our super sweet uniforms.

While I was dying (read: running) doing the 5k, the girls were doing bailoterapia. This is basically where a dance instructor equipped with a lot of hip-hop and a microphone shouts out dance moves for them to do. I got back in time to watch the last couple songs. After having participated in the last bailoterapia (my school has a session once a month) I enjoyed watching my classmates without having to participate.

My friend Gustavo and I after finishing the 5k. I wasn't wearing a watch, but the guy working the finish line told us we finished in 5th place with a time of 22 minutes.

My soon-to-be-professional-dancer classmates doing the bailoterapia. Can you see how relaxed they're getting?

There was more to the sports day, but I left early so that I could get home to help out making tamales (and shower). I thought most of the muscle work was done, but I was so wrong. I got home to find Dori enlisting everyone to help her stir the corn flour/egg/water mixture. The mixture was quite thick, so we worked stirring it for about half an hour, working in thirty second shifts. Here's a couple of pictures of us working to stir the batter-mixture.

Once the batter was deemed worthy by Dori we started the process of making the actual tamales. Starting with large leaves which I'd flattened with an ironing pin, we dolloped a couple of spoonfuls of batter into the leaves. Then, we put a little bit of peppers, carrots, chickens, peas, and onions in the tamales. After that we folded the leaves up and put them in big pots, where they were steamed for about an hour. For dinner and breakfast we enjoyed tamales.

The first step: put about two spoonfuls of the corn flour mixture in the leaf.

Dori, ladling in chicken and onions to the tamales.

The tamales, ready to be steamed in the big pots.

Breakfast this morning: tamales, lemon tea, and mangoes (in mango season, which is right now, you can get mangoes for about $.25 each)

I'm pretty jealous of you guys with your Thanksgiving holiday. The kids from my exchange group are getting together on Thanksgiving to celebrate, but it's not the same. Still, I'm planning on making an apple pie variation I found on the internet, so I'll let you know how that goes. If I remember, I may even take some pictures of my attempt at American baking. I hope you're all well. Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ecuadorian holidays

I had most of the last week off from school for a three day national holiday. The first day off (last Wednesday) was Día de los Difuntos, a kind of Ecuadorian version of day of the dead where people visit the graves of their family members. We celebrated by doing a bit of a whirlwind tour of Quito's cemeteries to visit Miguel and Dori's relatives' graves. Each of the graveyards had a bit of a festive atmosphere. A bunch of enterprising shopkeepers had converted their stores completely into flower shops. Many of the cemeteries have a system where the graves are stacked one on top of another in a wall, so some people were walking around with ladders that they were renting to people for $.50. Although it might seem a bit morose to be going around to graveyards, it was an interesting experience.

Another part of Día de los Difuntos is enjoying colada morada and guaguas (pronounced wa-was) de pan. The colada morada is a syrupy like drink made from cooking berries, pineapple, and herbs in huge vats. The guaguas de pan, (guagua is a Kichwa word that means babies), are a special sweet bread filled with jam and topped with a little bit of frosting. I like to dip the bread in the colada morada. It's a combination guaranteed to induce a sugar rush. Last Sunday we made colada morada together at home (see pictures). At school on Tuesday, the last day before the holidays, we also had colada morada.

Thursday was Independencia de Cuenca. Each of Ecuador's major colonial cities (Guayaquil, Quito, and Cuenca) celebrates a different day for independence. We decided to spend the day in Latacunga, the capital of Cotopaxi province to the south of us. I can't claim the drive was very comfortable, for we managed to fit six people into Miguel's 1986 Toyota (we drove with Miguel, Dori, Dori's sister Lloma, Vero, Alex, and me). But if I thought we'd been uncomfortable with six, I was in for a rude awakening when we met up with another sister of Dori's (Jenny) and Jenny's son Andrés. I'm not exactly sure how we did it, but we drove around Latacunga with eight people in the car.

Andrés is my age and he and his mom were in Latacunga to check out a technical university there that he wants to start attending next year to start training to be a mechanic. Latacunga was a nice break from Quito. For one thing, it's much smaller (its population is around 150,000), so we enjoyed being able to move around a bit more freely. Also, the province of Cotopaxi is named after the volcano of Cotopaxi, which dominates the view on the two hour drive to Latacunga. I took some very unsatisfying pictures from the car as we were driving down, but they do capture the coolness of driving past a volcano.

On Sunday the whole family went hiking together on a mountain nearby. The base, where we parked the car, is around 8,000 ft, and we hiked all the way up to 10,000 ft. The top is capped by a heavily graffitied cross that's visible from all over the valley. Likewise, we got panoramic views of Valle de los Chillos (where we live), as well as some partial views of Quito, around half an hour north of us.

After a very active vacation I'm ready to get back to school. I'm looking forward to practicing soccer again and seeing friends. The homework situation continues to be pretty manageable. The only studying I've had to do over the break has been studying the "constitutional" presidents of Ecuador. I have to know the dates of their presidencies and a significant achievement from their administrations. The dates are most difficult for me because Ecuador's constitutional presidents have a history of being replaced by military juntas for periods. As a result, there are a lot of Ecuadorian presidents who only served for a couple of weeks. Sometimes, the same man was elected president several times throughout history, like José Maria Velasco Ibarra, who was president five different times between 1934 and 1970.

I should get going at this point. I've forgotten most of the commitments of José Velasco. I think he must have done something to piss of Ecuador's military, because he seems to have had the honor of being deposed through coup several times.

Dario and Vero cooking up some colada morada.

The master at work. Notice also the huge quantity of colada morada my family made. We had around 15-20 people, but it's still an obscene amount. It sure was good though!

The final presentation. Time until sugar rush: 3 minutes

The view of Cotopaxi Volcano from my house.

Cotopaxi as seen on the drive back from Latacunga.

Group picture in Latacunga: from left to right, back row - Vero, Dori, Alexis, Miguel, Andrés, me; front row - Lloma, Jenny.

Group photo at the top of the mountain. If you look over Vero's left shoulder you can see just a little bit of Quito to the northwest.

Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed the photos.