Friday, November 30, 2012

Theme Songs

These are my go-to anthems. Some of them have been for quite awhile and some of them are more recent habits. I'm sharing them because I think they are pertinent to this blog somehow--um, especially "Kids on the Run"--and because I like to know what my friends are listening to at different times and what sticks with them. Feel free to send me some sort of playlist should you like to share what you've been stuck on with me. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

La Gringa's Navigational Struggles

It’s taken a while to sink in, but I’m more and more aware of my status as La Gringa every day in Quito. I love being completely new in a place in retrospect, because it makes for awkward situations and hilarious stories, but I’d forgotten how stressful it is to be thrown into a foreign (big, busy, and rather dangerous) city with a different language and culture. It’s exciting, but it’s also bewildering and nerve-wracking. Maybe someday I’ll learn a language before I try to live in a country that speaks it…but, probably not, because that’s apparently not how I do things. It requires too much planning and not enough procrastinating.
Anyway, it’s hitting me just how challenging learning this language and city is going to be. My Spanish class is obviously helping, as is the simple passing of time, but I had to remind myself the other day to just relax and realize that I have a lot to learn here and that it’s going to take a long time, which is okay.
I had a meeting with a guy at this English school that has no address listed online. I had called and spoken with him about getting a job and he gave me the approximate location and the names of a few streets. I was running a little late because of eating lunch with friends after my Spanish class, so I decided to take a taxi instead of the trolley. I told my taxi driver the neighborhood and asked him if he knew the school. He said no, along with a lot of other things I didn’t understand. But I told him street names and he looked on his map and got me close to where I was supposed to be…kind of.
When I got there, there was no school in a four-block radius from where I had thought it would be. I walked all around and asked people I found on the street if they knew of the school or where it was. Some of them talked to me for a long time about lord knows what—even though I told them I couldn’t understand them and stood there shaking my head, bewildered—but none of them knew of the school.
Finally, when I thought I was probably twenty minutes late (but I don’t know, because I broke my watch and I don't have a cellphone) I decided I would just wander down this one street because it looked like there was a nicer neighborhood at the end of it. When I got to this street, I saw an English school by some other name and decided I would pay them a visit and see if they’d heard of the school I was looking for (and if not, if they were hiring).
Thankfully, they did know where it was, and they walked me all of two more blocks to get there. 
I must have misunderstood the street names, like, a lot. Which isn’t that hard, I might add, because most of the street names here are either people’s names or important dates. I suppose it’s a good way to learn key historical names and dates in Ecuador, but it’s also pretty confusing. There were three streets with the first name Francisco near this school and I misunderstood which one the school was on.
But, I made it to the school, finally, and said maybe ten words (yes, I'm from the US, I’m a native speaker) to the director before I was hired as some sort of part time, under the table, oral-exam-giver. (I’ll write more on this school later.)
Anyway, now I can at least navigate, for the most part, about four or five neighborhoods that are close to mine, and I can take the trolley and the taxi without too much of a problem (as long as I know the address). Buses are harder though, because I can never figure out where they’re going. They’re jam-packed with people and great spots to get robbed—and so is the trolley, but at least it can’t decide to take a different route, so I can tell where I’m going. The buses usually have the names of streets they traverse written on the front of them, but sometimes it changes and the man or woman who collects money hangs out the door to scream the new route at you. At least I think that’s what’s going on. It’s all terribly confusing for me, so I try to stick to walking if I’m close.
Still, I’m slowly getting used to the public transportation system and just being a foreigner again in general. I will say that it’s definitely much easer here than where I lived in Russia, because there are actually a ton of foreigners here compared to there. I don’t get stared at as much, I just get charged more for things. 
I’m re-learning how to be comfortable with my lack of navigational and communication skills and my status as complete outsider. Wish me luck.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Quito, Week Uno

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I'm thankful for my new home and the family here who have given me a warm welcome. 
This is the anniversary of my first week in Quito! I just got home from a very international Thanksgiving dinner at a hostel in downtown Quito, which, turns out, is run by a kid from Boise (and his friends). There were a handful of Ecuadorians, a Dutch couple, a Canadian, a few Swedes, a handful of Americans, and some I'm not sure about. We had awesome food and some very interesting conversations. I bonded with a girl from Ecuador who for some reason studied abroad in Wisconsin. I can tell we are going to be friends. And I hope she's okay with me trying out some awful Spanish on her...
Anyway, my first week has seemed like a month, but not in a bad way. I've met a few ex-pats and a few internationals through couchsurfing and I've managed to explore some of the city by myself and some with others. I started a Spanish class, which I desperately need, and I have a meeting tomorrow about a very part-time English teaching job. I'm also doing some writing and editing for my uncle. 
Turns out I live next door to the only independent theater in Quito, and they happen to be putting on a film festival this week. I've only been to one film, but still, I'm glad it exists and is right here. Score. 
Also, my casita is the nicest place I've stayed for a long time. I have a place to put my clothes, my own bathroom, and a kitchenette type of thing in here. The best part is that it's practically all windows and the light wakes me up each morning around 6:00am. Plus, I can look outside and see mountains. I love it! 
I did already get my first sunburn though, which is not as exciting. Also I haven't even tried jogging yet since it takes me forever to catch my breath when walking (9,000 ft.). This too shall pass. (Although not the sunburns, probably...I've been wearing 50 spf.)
Anyway, a blog update was maybe past due, so I thought I'd just write a quick one. I'll probably try to write more in-depth on little things in the future, rather than general news, but this'll do until I get my barrings down here.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Leaving the East

I’m beginning this entry on a flight from New York to Miami—on a flight and airline I was not originally going to be on. After a delay at Dulles I missed my connecting flight and barely made this one. My luggage is probably still in New York, but it was either sort it out or actually make this flight. But whatever, I can handle a few days or weeks in the same clothes.  
I had such a good stay in my little storage closet that I was kind of sad packing everything up. I haven’t been able to spend this much time with my brother and sister and my sister’s family for years. My nephews and I got to know each other a lot better and I got to see what life on the hill is like for a busy PhD student (Aaron). I made some new friends, survived my first hurricane, and read books at a rate I haven’t been able to do since enrolling in college.
I haven’t written anything here for a while because I have been having all sorts of mixed feelings about what I’m doing. I am definitely a list-maker and a planner—a student who despite losing her wallet, cell phone, and keys at least bi-monthly will always turn in her assignments on time, even if it means a last minute four-pager hammered out in 45 minutes. So this whole showing up in another country with no grasp of the language, no return ticket, and no job has been making me nervous. I like to have a rough idea of where I’ll be in six months or a year; I like to have some sort of Plan B. But everything seems scarily permanent—my cellphone and car are no more; I have bikes and boxes in three different states, people I love in five or six, and no idea when I’ll see them again.
What really makes me nervous though is that I will somehow waste my time. That I’ll not get a job and I’ll have to come back to the States without much in the way of experience or growth to show for it. That I’ll have to work some crappy job and wait a year before I can get into grad school.  
But I realize that even if a teaching job and everything falls through completely, I’ll be spending three months in a beautiful country with relatives I love and am not often able to spend time with. At the very least I should be able to work on some Spanish, help my uncle with some writing and editing for his company, and hang out in Ecuador’s bustling capitol city.
So now I'm mostly excited for what lies ahead...and I'm ready to be done with airports for awhile.
Here are some pictures from the last couple months.  

The siblings (minus one) trying to do a serious Civil War style photo (in honor of Aaron's high school obsession with the Civil War and subsequent trip to EVERY battlefield EVER with his younger sister). 
Reading Where the Wild Things Are to Calvin and Clark.

Painting at the Playseum in DC.

Making a homemade kite. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post Election Rant

Election season in our nation's glorious capitol has been a whole new experience for me. I'm mostly glad of two things: that the election is over and that I cannot see what anyone posts on Facebook anymore because my fanpage doesn't allow for it (seriously one of my best moves ever, by the way). 
If you are interested in politics and like to have debates with people about issues you care about, that's fine. Maybe you should move here because let me tell you, everyone on the Hill knows their stuff. And by stuff I mean names and facts and key issues in battleground states. Everyone goes out to watch the debates--something I tried to do once but couldn't because the crowd was so huge that there was no room--and everyone gives a shit. 
Initially, this is kind of cool. Being from good ole Potlatch, Idaho, I have not always been surrounded by people who know so much about what is happening in this country. So, I suppose in a way it's been good for me to be here; it's important to know what's going on in other states to a certain extent, as well as in the nation and around the world. However, I would rather be in the woods or the mountains or anywhere where there are not politically charged crowds. 
Let's face it--election season brings out the worst in everyone. And for what? I realize, of course, that people are obviously effected by decisions our government makes regarding war and healthcare, taxes and education, social justice, etc, etc. And that I probably just sound like an apathetic, embittered college grad who is fleeing the country regardless of leadership choices, but still. 
You know what matters more than who is president? Everything. Getting along with your loved ones, your family and friends who believe differently than you. Actually doing something tangible that will make a difference for the people and issues that you care about instead of posting pithy sayings on Facebook. 
You know what makes more of a difference for the 99 percent than protesting or "raising awareness?" Volunteering at a homeless shelter, helping a community garden that donates food to those in need, things that actually help other people. Are you against abortion? Maybe you should help at a crisis pregnancy center instead of protesting or bombing abortion clinics, because that doesn't help anyone. Are you concerned with global warming, with what is happening to our planet? Ride a freaking bike and be a wise consumer. Change your own lifestyle instead of protesting against your neighbors'. 
Sorry to those of you who actually do these things, this message is not for you. And sorry to those of you who are much more upset or concerned about local elections, because those do make more of a difference in my opinion. I'm not addressing you so much as people who get so focused on one person winning or losing that they lose sight of everything else. Are you really going to move to Canada if your candidate loses? Come on. It's one person, who has a lot of other people to answer to. Stop being so dramatic. Sure, if you're on one end of the political spectrum and he or she is on the other, it's gonna be tough for you to deal with that for awhile. But remember we all have to be able to work alongside people who don't agree with us because that's part of being a functioning member of society. 
Now then, let's talk about things like art, literature, music, and the human condition. Let's go outside and frolic and enjoy what we have. Let's just be people together. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Through the Wire: Reflections on my Broken Jaw

My last post got me thinking about how much more important food has become to me since breaking my jaw, so I decided to do a little reflecting on that here. I realize it doesn't have anything to do with traveling, but it is something I want to share. So, here are some thoughts on privilege, suffering, and eating. 
Until a few months ago, I had never broken a bone in my body. Neither had I ever been on a diet or lacked sufficient funds to eat—even though one semester I had to sell plasma for grocery money, which resulted in a diet of mostly pancakes from a Bisquick mix my mother had gotten me at Costco, which eventually resulted in an inability to eat or smell or even think about pancakes without my stomach turning. But I digress. 
The point I am making here is that I am a spoiled white girl from the northwest who has hardly endured any physical suffering. I’ve never been in a car wreck or had a cast; never even had a cavity.
So, last May, when I got in a head-on with another cyclist and ended up with my jaw broken in two places, I was mostly unprepared for the month(s) ahead. Still, I was lucky I didn’t break my head open or just die right there, which helped me maintain a positive attitude about the whole thing.
Also, and this is probably sort of sick, but I am one of those people who actually kind of enjoys suffering. Growing up, I was taught that suffering and denial make people strong—which is something I still believe, despite myself. I don’t mean that I grew up practicing flogging or other forms of inflicting physical pain, but I grew up believing that if something was hard in my life, enduring it would make me a better person. Denying myself has always given me a weird sense of accomplishment. I used to fast with my mom regularly and occasionally gave my meager babysitting money away in the offering plate.
While I no longer believe in giving money away or starving myself, I really do think that these things made me better somehow. People these days—especially us Americans—avoid suffering at all costs, thinking we can pay or work our way to a comfortable existence that we deserve. We are entitled, we think, to be happy and successful. But where is the challenge? Where is the satisfaction of knowing who you are and how you behave in different situations?
It was this type of thinking that kept my spirits up as I went to the hospital to get my jaw wired shut the day after the accident. I didn’t tell anyone, but I was strangely relieved about the whole thing. Everything had been going just a bit too well. How was I supposed to have any deep revelations as to the human condition while perfectly healthy and happy and about to graduate college? Exactly. Now I could do something great. I could turn my suffering into some exalted art form, I told myself, like the Great Russian poets and writers. Because obviously the physical suffering of a broken jaw in the 21st century is comparable to suffering in czarist Russia…oh wait.
Anyway, I came home from the hospital with two surgical steel arch bars wired through my gums and around my teeth in 19 places and wired tightly to each other. My mouth and jaw were swollen and numb and for a few days I slept and drank only clear liquids (mostly liquid hydrocodone) through a large syringe that had part of a catheter tube attached to it. I had to poke the little tube around to the back part of my mouth and shoot liquid down into my throat. It was a hilariously pathetic affair.
After awhile I was able to drink through a straw—but it took about a week before something as thick as a melted smoothie would fit through the wires and teeth and into my mouth. And everything was too cold or too hot, since it had to go directly through my clenched (and sensitive) teeth. Eating became more of a chore than anything else. I had to drink something four or five times a day and was still hungry most of the time.
Friends came to see me or take care of me and I’d write notes to them in a notebook because it was still too hard to talk. They would be all sweet and sympathetic, but then they would come in for a hug and somehow my head would get bumped or jostled, making my jaw ache worse or causing the wires to cut my cheeks or poke through my gums.
I got used to a routine of Ensure for breakfast, liquefied soup for lunch, and a smoothie or more soup for dinner. I tried to avoid going places where people would be eating, but that is impossible. So I tried my best not to scream or cry when I watched my friends taking big bites and slurps. Even the most disgusting food started smelling good. I wanted to eat at McDonalds for the first time since I was a preteen.
Once, I had a very detailed dream about trying to eat Nutella and then realizing I was actually a horse with a bit in its mouth. A lot of nights I woke up from dreams about food or dreams that I was suffocating. Or worse, that the wires had popped off and my mouth just kept opening and opening until my whole head was a giant open mouth.
Professors were understanding and sympathetic and I somehow finished up my classes and managed to graduate, all wiry smiles and lisped thank yous. My parents came and we went to the park and drank smoothies instead of going out to eat somewhere where I’d have to watch them healthily masticating.
Anyway, I survived. I celebrated each small step: my first smoothie, my first soup, my first beer, etc. And I gradually learned a lot of things about myself.
I learned that I talk too much—that there are a lot of things not worth saying. I learned to laugh at myself. I mean, it’s hard not to laugh when you listen to yourself try to talk with your mouth wired shut. And once you start laughing, you realize you sound like a nerdy, congested, 10-year-old boy at science camp, and it’s hard to stop.
I learned to bring a straw everywhere I went. I learned to be patient with myself when I got tired so easily, and I learned to forgive the people who forgot and ate loudly around me or complained about not having anything to eat. I learned how ridiculous it is to get annoyed and call people douchebags when you can’t open your mouth—it sounds like “juicebag.”
By the time I moved back in with my parents, I could mumble my order at a coffee shop without having to repeat it multiple times and explain to them “I’m sorry, but my jaw is wired shut and I physically cannot enunciate any more clearly.” I had also sang karaoke (Kanye), started riding my bike places again, gone backpacking, and in general, tried not to let my wires get in the way of much besides eating. 
For the last week or so I had so much food stuck in my wires that my mouth just stank, no matter what. I brushed and brushed, but there was no way to get that stuff out. It was rank. And then, to top it all off, when I finally got my wires out—which was a bit like having someone floss my teeth with wire, except that it was through my gums—my teeth were stained dark brown because of the mouthwash my doctor had made me use.
This is what nearly broke me. I had been fine with suffering as long as I knew that there would be an end, that I would gradually and eventually recover the use of my jaw and mouth. But when I got my wires off—which I had obviously been looking forward to more than anything—and my teeth were brown and chunky and looked like I’d been chewing tobacco for twenty years, I broke. I guess I had not been so ready to suffer after all. I was not just upset that my teeth were nasty and would probably remain so, I was also upset at myself for letting my stained teeth get to me when I should have been so happy just to be able to open my mouth again. I realized that I am not as strong of a person as I thought I was and that I don’t know what I would do in the face of real, long-term suffering.
Despite the fact that my doctor said I probably wouldn’t be able to get the stains off until I could get my teeth professionally cleaned, I got most of them off after about two weeks of brushing with baking soda and peroxide. I still had my arch bars on for another month and had to eat only soft foods, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t chew at first, but I slowly worked my way from mushed up avocado to cottage cheese, to well-cooked vegetables, etc. I could yawn and talk normally and breathe out of my mouth without feeling like I’d suffocate—which meant I could hike and run much better than I’d been able to.
Now when I’m eating something chewy or crunchy or especially delicious, I sometimes find myself close to tears because I love being able to eat again. I may not be as strong of a person as I thought I was, but now I know that I can go five weeks without solid food and not kill anyone, which is something. And I now have a whole new appreciation for food—and am in the process of cooking and eating everything I can just in case I break my jaw again. 
This was pretty much my food for a few days.
Camping/backpacking food. 
Beginning stages of wiring. 
After about a week of brushing with peroxide and baking soda.