I cannot believe the time I have left in Ecuador can only be counted on one hand. This weekend, my supervisor invited me and other interns/volunteers over to her house to make a wonderful, goodbye ceviche lunch together. I have been so fortunate to work with so many great people, especially my supervisor. After going on house visits, we often sit down and talk over what happened, why a family’s situation looks like it does at this point and time, the cultural influences, and then how Tres Manuelas can help the family. She became the facilitator of Circulo Infantil at about the same time as I came to Tres Manuelas. Circulo Infantil has been transformed from a place for kids to do homework, into a purposeful, child-centered support program. Every week, new elements have been added into the curriculum to benefit the children educationally and emotionally. It has been encouraging to hear the ideas she would like to implement, and then see them put into action. It has been personally rewarding for me to have the opportunity to be a part of those changes, and give my input, knowing the dynamics and personalities of the kids. Tres Manuelas has a wonderful work atmosphere, despite the fact the staff are working with many, heavy case loads. They are positive, genuine social workers, psychologists, interns, lawyers, and doctors committed to helping their community, and I have learned a lot from them.
Ecuador is truly a beautiful country. I have said it before, but I love the diversity of places to visit. Last weekend I was at the beach, today I was in snow. Three other friends and I visited the volcano Cotopaxi. Our guide led our hike through a windy path, to an altitude of over 16,000 feet. Our guide does the hike four to five times a week, and left us in the dust as we struggled to breathe as we continued to scale up the volcano. There is a refuge where we sat and rested for a bit, and then we continued up to a glacier. My host mom told me about Cotopaxi before going, and described the national park as something you stand, looking out in awe of the unique beauty you see, and she was absolutely correct. We were in the clouds for part of the time, with incredible views. There is the snow covered peak, and it is possible to visit with a few days and some beforehand training. It was clear on our ascent, and as we went down it began hailing turn to snowing. My time in Ecuador is quickly disappearing. Although I am wiped from the hike, it was cold, and I got a little dirty, it was completely worth spending my energy and Sunday for sights that left me in complete wonder.
“Keep the earth below my feet, from all my sweat, my blood runs weak. Let me learn from where I have been; keep my eyes to serve my hands to learn.”
-Mumford and Sons
The city of Quito hides its poor quite well, while there are outside, smaller communities of Ecuador that are visibly in need. Inside of Quito, the ones in need are kept out of sight. After having a week of house visits, I now know what is inside the colonial style walls I pass on the street everyday. What I had thought were just single apartments or businesses, are actually the entrances to concrete walls of dimly lit rooms that surround an open terrace, a shared faucet of running water, and shared bathrooms. I imagine it must be very difficult to sleep with so many families living in close quarters, walls that do not continue to the ceiling, and having to open a loud, heavy gate to get to enter or leave the apartment. Quito is the second biggest city in Ecuador, containing the both the extremely poor and the extravagantly wealthy. The northern part of Quito is where the wealthy families live. In the northern sector, there are three different, multi-level, solely designer malls within a mile of each other, where the only thing I would be able to buy would be ice cream from the food court. Within a forty minute bus ride, it goes from people who can afford to buy a one hundred dollar shirt, to a family with an income of one hundred dollars a month. The sudden and extreme contrast of living conditions I know can be found all over the world. What first comes to mind is Skid Row in Los Angeles, where the homeless live crowded on the street, yet five minutes away are luxury apartments, shops, and businesses. Or if I dare to take a little more ownership and go closer to home, I can think of how close those who rely on food stamps and do not have medical care are a fifteen minute drive at most, away from my home. As a future social worker professional, I know I must take responsibility in learning about the resources available to my clients because I am committed to believing in the dignity and worth of people, and to promote their well-being. Not just as a social worker, but as a person, I am feeling that the idea of entitlement should not come from the happenings of being born into a certain class or within a border. It’s such a gray, and uncomfortable line of deciding where our rights to worry about ourselves, versus the obligation to care about the health and interest of others is, but maybe the line is a little closer to sacrifice than we would like to think.
Ecuador has some special and delicious food, and I am sure that many countries in South America have similar dishes, but even from Quito to the Coast of Ecuador, the plates has different variations. Here are my extensive descriptions of all the wonderful food I have the option to consume on a regular basis.
- Local Ecuadorian restaurants typically have an “almuerzo” or “merrienda” (literally translated lunch or dinner) that will cost no more than two dollars beginning with soup and juice, and then a plate of rice with a piece of chicken, fish, or egg, and some combination of lentils, salad, or French fries. I have been very fortunate to not have any sickness from food, and when I have travelled on the weekends, I usually have the almuerzo or merrienda because it is filling, delicious, and two or less dollars, -can’t really argue with that.
- Rice in general is considered a staple to most meals, and potatoes and fresh vegetables and avocadoes often show up as well. Cilantro would be the favorite herb to flavor foods with, especially in soups.
- Ceviche in Ecuador is also really good if you like sea food and cilantro. If you have not had it or heard of it, ceviche is a cold soup with almost the consistency of a pico de gallo salsa consistency with lemon, and your choice of fish or shrimp. It is also often topped with tostadas -a toasted kernel of corn, banana chips, or popcorn. Now that I am describing it, it probably does not sound that appealing, but it really is, and it is especially delicious on the coast with fresh fish.
- There are also many indigenous foods in Ecuador, and the yuca plant which is similar to a potato would be one of the more popular foods. It is very common to have pan de yucca, bread consisting of cheese and yuca, or tortilla de yuca which could be compared to a hash brown of yuca and cheese.
- Empanadas unique to Ecuador are the empanadas del viento, an empanada with cheese in the middle and topped with sugar. The empanada del viento is often ate with morocho, the Ecuadorian “arroz con leche,” a warm mixture of corn kernels, milk, and cinnamon. Again, it maybe does not sound very appetizing, but trust me, it is. My host mom showed me how to make both the empanadas del viento and morocho, and I plan to continue to make both when I return home.
- Batidos, made in homes and sold on the street are the Jamba Juices of Ecuador. Batidos are fresh fruit smoothies or juice made from the fruit you choose and cost usually around one dollar without any questionable additives.
- Ecuador is an exporter of coffee, but sadly, instant coffee rules most households. Probably because it is not as expensive, and Ecuadorians take a daily snack break at some point in the day to have instant coffee or tea, and a piece of bread from the bakery.
- Canelazo, is a traditional drink for Ecuador, and (I think) Colombia. It is warm and tastes somewhat like an orange, cinnamon tea, but with alcohol added.
- Cuy, this is only food that I have actually not had. Cuy is guinea pig, and it cooked on an open grill, the entire animal, and it is on a stick. Cuy is considered a special treat, and apparently has a good taste. As much as I would like to be adventurous and say I will try it, I am not yet convinced, seeing as I have a hard time eating chicken when it is on the bone.
I am fairly certain I have just successfully written my longest post, and of course it is about food…but hopefully it can give you a little bit more of a taste of everyday Ecuadorian culture.