I have officially stepped foot in South America! I arrived at 11:30 pm on Saturday, Jan. 7, but my partner organization had the volunteer pick-up scheduled for 5 pm the following day. Naturally, I wanted to use every minute to get to know my new home! I spent Sunday morning and afternoon with my pen pal, Sebastián, and his family. They graciously invited me to their home and cooked me a traditional Ecuadorian breakfast of tigrillo, which is a mix of eggs, cheese, green plantains, salt, pepper, ahí, and onion. After breakfast, Sebastián gave me a tour of Quito!
First, we walked from my friend’s house to the city center after I emphatically shook my head saying no to taking a taxi. We went up El Panecillo, which is a famous statue of the Virgin Mary sitting on a hill above Quito. I was stunned seeing the panorama of Quito from above. The colored houses stack on top of each other high up in the mountains and the silhouettes of Quito’s historic district dot the valley below. Next, my friend showed me the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, a gorgeous church in the city center with painted blue patterned ceilings. Later, we bought street food for $1.50 in Parque el Ejido, an urban park in Quito. One of my favorite foods here is choclo, which is jumbo corn. In the park, we also rented a bike to see the city from a new perspective. A lot of quiteño children laughed at our horrible bike-steering good-naturedly, and I loved how the whole city seemed to be out and about outside smiling, playing lawn games, basking in the sun, and exercising.
It is customary to give gifts in Ecuador, so I brought my friend a baseball bat, glove, ball, and hat since he is fascinated by American baseball. I taught him how to play in another park called Parque Itchimbía, which has arguably the best views in the city. The park was definitely a locals’ hangout, and I had fun passing soccer balls back to quiteños!
After an eight-hour day of eating street food, biking, playing baseball, and walking miles around Quito (9,300 ft.), I felt very accomplished! Although I need to rest soon to continue acclimatizing, it was more important to me to dive into the Ecuadorian culture from day one! Entering my volunteer service, I now feel that I have a better understanding of the day in the life of Ecuadorians, including their food, culture, dialect of Spanish, and surroundings.
Sunday night, I moved in to the Manna Project house where I will be living for the next seven months. The house is located in Conocoto, a rural suburb about 40 minutes from Quito. I met the other Program Directors I will be living with, who are very internationally-minded people like me! The next morning, the Country Director and Senior Program Director led orientation meetings regarding risk management, Program Director roles, and the culture of Ecuador. Next, the Senior Program Director, Hunter, took me to learn the bus routes and find my way to Spanish school, where I will attend classes during the mornings for one week and the next three consecutive Mondays. Hunter also provided a short tour around Quito to several artisanal markets and the Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús church, which is almost entirely covered in gold. We ate lunch at Cafélibro, a well-known café famous for offering dance classes, book clubs, and concerts.
This week, my orientation will include shadowing the Manna Project’s programs, additional welcome activities, and an introduction to the community center where I will serve. On Friday, I will move into a host family house for a 1-week homestay that prepares Program Directors with intensive Spanish immersion.
I’m exhausted, but very pleased with the partner organization I chose, the Manna Project. Manna’s Ecuador Country Director Carolyn emphasized the 50/50 mission of Manna facing both Program Director volunteers and community members. The Manna Project will help me grow because it intends to develop social change agents who can thrive working in international settings and continue to do similar work in the future. Simultaneously, the Manna Project aims to support the community with knowledge and better resources through its primary focus: community development using educational programming. I am anxious and excited to meet community members as I shadow programs this week, and can’t wait to begin teaching classes the following week. This Saturday is a big day: inscriptions day. Inscriptions day is when community members sign up for the community center’s English classes and other programs and take placement tests. The community center’s programs are so popular that a line apparently forms out the door starting at 5 a.m. for class inscription at 9 a.m.
All in all, it’s been a fantastic, exhausting, overwhelming, and productive first couple days in Ecuador. I’m confident that I couldn’t personally have chosen a better country for my Lumos service; I’m invigorated and ready to put my Spanish skills to work in a community that is very deserving of help! This is only the beginning of a long relationship with Ecuador and its people, and I look forward to every minute of my experience!