first week and saraguro

It’s been more a little more than two weeks since I first came to Ecuador.  Part of me wonders how time has gone by so fast, but the other (more rational) part has an answer: lesson planning.

I climbed the equivalent of three flights of stairs to get this picture-- that's just a part of living in such a mountainous area.

I climbed the equivalent of three flights of stairs to get this picture– that’s just a part of living in such a mountainous area.

Last week was when I met my students for the first time, but I wasn’t teaching classes.  My mentor teacher, who has been working at Penn State for quite a few years, took the lead; meanwhile, my co-teacher and I helped out.  This week, though, we’re on our own.  We’re being observed on some days, but it’s up to us to plan and perform.

The hardest part about planning is that we’re essentially making the content of the class as we go.  For example, a math teacher is given a guide of what she has to teach and when she has to teach it.  One of her main goals might be to work on how to teach, right?  But my co-teacher and I have to do the what, the when, and the how on our own.

We do have a general guideline– by the end of July, our students will have created a sort of memoir, whether in a written or video form.  There’s just this huge gap between point A and B that we need to do a lot of work on (with help, of course).

That’s just one thing that has been keeping me busy.  Even though making lesson plans is a lot of work, my group still finds a lot of time to have fun.  Plus, we still have weekend excursions that take us to incredible parts of this beautiful country.

A shrine I found in one of the markets.

A shrine I found in one of the markets.

In our downtime, we can walk around the historic part of Cuenca.  It’s not too far from the university– just cross the river, climb up a few (hundred) steps, and you’re there.  There’s a panadería on almost every corner, so you can almost always smell freshly baked bread, and there are tons of shops.

Close to the university is also a large market that sells all types of vegetables and fruits you can think of.  They offer traditional cleansing ritaul here: for three dollars, an old, wise woman will hit you with a bundle of herbs in order to find and dispel any bad energy from your body.  (I’m not sure if a description would do this justice.  It’s something you have to see. )

And did you know that one of Ecuador’s main sources of income is flowers?  There’s a beautiful flower market in the middle of the city, where you can buy a bouquet for only five dollars.  Very close to that is a cathedral- they’re everywhere, actually- where you can buy honey, jam, or drinks made by nuns.   All in all, it’s interesting to explore.

There are rows and rows of stands like this is the market.

There are rows and rows of stands like this is the market.

The city also has a lot of fun and free activities.  A few nights ago, nine of us teachers-in-training went to a free dance class.  I can now confidently say that I salsa better than you.  Maybe.  There are also free zumba classes in the morning, but they unfortunately conflict with my Spanish lessons.

And speaking of Spanish, I’m progressing more than I thought I would.  With a bit of pantomiming and some help from a dictionary app on my iPod, I can now talk to shop vendors, taxi drivers, and my host family.  It’s often frustrating– I can’t tell you how many miscommunications have happened.  And here’s some free advice to you: if you’re using a language in a foreign country, don’t just nod and say “yes.”  If you don’t understand something, speak up.  If not, you might be agreeing to go on a night-time car ride five miles outside of the city.  You might have just consented to buy a portion of cuy, or guinea pig.  You also might be telling your housekeeper that you like getting drunk.  Learn from me, okay?  They’re avoidable mistakes.

Not that it’s all frustrating.  After every conversation, however filled with mishaps it was, I’m always proud of the progress I’ve made.


Only positive vibes in Saraguro! We participated in a ceremony, led by two elders, to cleanse ourselves of negative energy so we could share our positive feelings with each other.

One of the places I got to practice my Spanish was in Saraguro.  A long time ago, in the United States, tribes of indigenous people roamed around.  They had their cultures and languages that were very different from the Europeans, right?  The same thing happened in Ecuador.  There were a lot of indigenous tribes in Ecuador, before they were conquered by the Incas, and later by the Spanish.  And in way that there are still Native American people and sanctuaries in the US, there are still indigenous people and sanctuaries in Ecuador.

Saraguro is a canton (or a sub-division) of Ecuador.  It’s located high in the mountains and is a two or three hour drive from Cuenca.  While we were there, we did a ton of things.  We saw the process of making wool textiles: how the wool comes from the sheep, how the wool is turned into thread and dyed, and how it’s woven on a loom.


We also got a tour of the type of house used by the Saraguro, all the while getting insight into their culture and thinking from a member of the Saraguro people.

One of the most interesting things about Saraguro is how it’s embracing, and even depending, on outsiders.  Even though it’s an indigenous community, they want to share their culture with the modern world.  Because of this, the group has started something they call “Community Tourism.”  Basically, they invite outsiders to come into their village, their homes and their lives.  The Saraguro get to share the things that make them unique and tourists are able to experience indigenous life in deeply personal way.  In addition, the Saraguro have a plan for sharing any money they make from this project, meaning that the entire town is getting some form of monetary support.


Our lovely guide.

Tomorrow, I teach my last lesson of the week.  I have class on Friday, but around two in the afternoon, I’m off again to another part of Ecuador!  We’re visiting a “cloud forest,” where we’ll hike and learn a bit about sustainability and biodiversity in Latin America.  I’m sure I’ll have some fantastic pictures coming up soon.

To my friends and family– I miss you all.  I’m thinking of you lots and hope you’ve doing well.  I’ll post again soon.