Opening My (Ecua)door

There are certain moments and experiences in life that can really bring a person to life. That make a person feel truly raw and human in a most precious way. Some days here I feel re-born in a way. I feel vulnerable and curious in the world around me and each day brings a new excitement. Ecuador has been incredibly “life-giving” where I have discovered new meanings to life and have been given a new lens to see it all and understand it, even live it.

This world has so much to give. And I’ve found a wonderful piece of it right here in Monte Sinai that is beautifully different from where I’ve been before. Most of those pieces are simple moments. Usually shared with my family here, my neighbors as well as the women and children at work.

I’d like to share a night I really enjoyed that is a great example of what I’m talking about:

Last week was the birthday of Omar, who is both a wonderful neighbor and our guard. His wife Eli had us come to the house early before Omar’s shift ended to surprise him. She plans a little surprise for him every year with the volunteers. Their daughter, Amy, was very excited to have balloons all around and couldn’t wait for Omar to come home. She’s a daddy’s girl, I have no doubt about it. Eli was preparing dinner as we all waited, crouched down on the floor trying not to make too much noise. We’re not very good at that. There was a lot of held in laughter. You can’t not laugh when Amy is around!

When Omar finally came home, Amy ran outside despite our efforts to stop her and greeted her father. I couldn’t hear what she said but I don’t think she spoiled the surprise, though I’m sure he already knew about it since this happens each year. Anyway, he walked through the door and we all through balloons and yelled sorpresa! I accidentally through my balloon at Jesús, who is not a fan of balloons because he doesn’t like the pop noise when it goes and is always afraid they will pop. He forgave me and we laughed about my horrible aim. We helped set up the table for the meal and shared the same impatient excitement as we waited for Eli to serve the food. I didn’t know what we would be eating, but I didn’t have to. Eli is a really great cook and never disappoints. Some of the former volunteers called to wish Omar a happy birthday. After we all received our dish, Omar and Eli nominated Liz to say the prayer, who gave us a look as if to say, why me! But she did wonderfully…at least from the way it sounded to me, I really don’t actually know what she said since it was in Spanish and I probably wasn’t trying hard enough to understand as I should have (oops…sometimes I catch myself in those moments. I promise I don’t let it happen that often!) The first bites were followed by plenty of mmmss and yummss. Actually we made those sounds the whole time I’m pretty sure. We like to sound how we feel when we eat. We must all be pretty great cooks too because we do it a lot during our family dinners too! Eli made arroz con pollo with a salad on the side. Arroz con pollo is this really great rice dish with of course, chicken, but it’s made with soy sauce and a pepper, tomato, onion mixture, and includes peas and carrots. The sauces give the rice and chicken great flavors and has pretty much a 100% chance of being wonderfully delicious. I have this theory that the perfect dish would be seco de pollo de arroz con pollo. Seco de pollo is chicken prepared a certain way that I really love and is served with plain rice, which soaks up the juice of the chicken. The plain rice is great beside the seco de pollo, but imagine the seco de pollo next to arroz con pollo. Now that’s a great dish! Just my theory; some day I’ll make it!

Despite being super full from our first plates, Eli put the pot on the table with the leftover arroz con pollo which we all dug into in one way or another. You can’t help yourself with Eli’s arroz con pollo. Many of us wound up just having second helpings. I picked at it here and there and found some cocolone to munch on. If I haven’t talked about cocolone yet in my other blogs, I’ll explain now. Cocolone is the rice at the bottom of the pot that gets a little extra love with the heat and becomes crispy, and when made right, golden. The golden cocolone is, in my opinion, the best kind of cocolone. If the rice is left on for too long, it turns a dark golden and begins to brown a little. Left for too long and it will just burn and turn black. But the golden cocolone, it’s like treasure. My mom always tried not to burn the pilaf at the bottom of the pot but when it did get stuck to the bottom, she would say it’s no good and take it to the side. She’d say she shouldn’t eat it, but enjoys it sometimes, so she’d scrape a bit and munch on it. She made it seem like it wasn’t a good thing so I never bothered to try it. Now I know why. She was keeping it to herself! I’m kidding, knowing my mom, she really didn’t like to have rice stuck to the bottom of the pan and always tried not to let that happen. But now that I know the rice stuck to the bottom is cocolone, the next time I won’t let her have the pot all to herself. Pilaf made into cocolone I imagine being 10x better than regular cocolone. Pilaf is like the queen of rice in my opinion. You can’t go wrong with pilaf!

Anyway, after dinner was when the party started! Eli played music and we all left the table to dance! Eli is quite the dancer and showed off some great moves which took us all by surprise! I know she has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and Eli never ceases to amaze me by everything she does so I always look forward to when I’ll discover what she’ll reveal next.

I really admire her and can’t wait to know more Spanish so I can get to know her better. She’s a very strong willed woman, intelligent and genuine. She’ll tell you like it is. And when she feeds you, she feeds you very very well. She reminds me a lot of my own family in that way. Food is an important part of the way we take care of one another and I see that in her whenever she feeds us.

I’m not exactly sure how this happened, but somehow a game of musical chairs began. So far, I haven’t lost a game and was determined to keep my streak. Finally it was just Eli and I going for the final chair. When the music stopped, I went for the chair, but stupidly assumed it would be there. I should have known Eli would pull a stunt. She pulled the chair out, but thoughtfully caught me as I fell. She didn’t sit down though, so I recovered quickly and planted myself on the chair. We all laughed for a while and I was glad I still got the chair 😉 I’m pretty sure she let me have it, but it still counts since she cheated! But that’s how the game goes in Ecuador! Especially in Eli’s house. She makes all the rules!

We played another game and I wound up losing early on but didn’t feel bad about it since I kind of won against Eli. There was plenty of laughter and pictures being taken trying to capture the funny moments. Most were of Amy and Eli. After the games, we went back to dancing and Elias, Eli and Omar’s son, began showing off his moves! We all danced together and were being silly. When Eli was really moving her hips, the family told her I could do it too, so I put on some Armenian hits and we shook our hips! I played a Turkish song by Tarkan, Kiss Kiss, just for fun too, and I’m pretty sure she knew that one! She was singing along to it and soon we were all blowing kisses at each other each time it played in the song. After the dancing, it was time for dessert! Liz and Rachi made a chocolate cake topped with powdered sugar. Eli made queso de leche, kind of like a flan, which was deliciiouuss. Amy started getting cranky and it was definitely past her bed time. We chatted a little more and eventually said our goodbyes, wished Omar a happy birthday once again and went home.

It was a really great night full of laughter and stories (Eli is quite the story teller!) and pictures taken (Amy took over 50 photos I hear) and dancing and eating and full bellies and most of all love. A lot of love was shared that night. The kind of love that brings you to life.

We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary really, but we were together. We opened up our many doors and left them open, sharing whatever slipped out with all who were around. We were ourselves.

I often remind myself to leave my doors open. Some days it’s easier than others. The times I do, I’m always so glad I did, because when they are open for all that I am to come out, they are also open to receive all the things trying to come in.

That’s the part where I come to life.

It’s not particularly special for Ecuador though, I must say. I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep open my doors all my life. To be all I am and want to be without any fear or holding back. To have the courage to be vulnerable. What I’m saying is I’ve learned more about how I can do that since being here.  But this is great news for you! How can you work towards leaving your doors open in your day to day life? When do you feel yourself closing them? What can you do for yourself that will help you keep them open? I pray you will have the courage to open them and re open them when necessary, despite any mountain you may be climbing.

You are not alone. I may be far away from you wherever you are, or I may be close by! Regardless, I too am learning how to keep open the many doors of my heart.

( I am borrowing the “(Ecua)door” term from a former volunteer, Brian Bayer-thanks!)

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PUPPIES!

This blog is loonngg overdue! WE HAVE PUPPIES!

Sochi gave birth to 3 absolutely beautiful puppies on September 26th! One girl with a spot on her back and two boys, one with black on his ears and the other has wavy hair while the others have straight. They are so precious it’s unbelievable. Watching their birth and experiencing them grow each day brings me so much joy. They are perfect in every way. And watching Sochi learn how to be a new mommy is also amazing, she’s succhhh a good mommy! The first night I stayed up with her to make sure the puppies wouldn’t be cold or get tangled in the bedding and Sochi was up with them all night letting them feed and cleaning them. They are now 14 days old and have all opened their eyes since about 3 days ago! The boy with black on his ears was the first to open his one eye, eventually the other followed and next thing I knew the other two had their eyes open as well. Soon they will be walking and shortly after running and playing! They  have gotten so big already after just 14 days, I can’t imagine how big they will be at a month! Wow! If I could watch them all day, I absolutely would.

Of course there is something really special about puppies, but it’s indescribable how amazing it is watching puppies grow and seeing a mother in action. I loved Sochi the moment I met her but watching her grow into a wonderful mother and seeing her take care of her puppies made me fall in love all over again.

I don’t really know what else to say but to talk about how wonderful they are which I already did, so instead I’ll share some pictures with you! Enjoy 🙂

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One on Ones!

The former volunteers shared an idea they committed to throughout their year to help them become closer with one another and be more intentional about spending time with each other. Their idea was one-on-ones! My family decided together that we all loved it and would try it out to see if it was something we would like to also do with our family. I call it my date for the week!

The one-on-ones for me are a great way to spend time with each member of my family intentionally and lovingly, which sometimes can be hard to do since there are 8 of us altogether and some of us work with one another and have different schedules so it can be difficult to spend time with everyone throughout the week separately. Spending time with the family altogether is also something I really appreciate but that one-on-one time would probably get lost in the mix if we didn’t implement this idea. Making the time each week for one person in my family and making sure we have that time is something I’ve grown to really look forward to. Our family fits together like a puzzle piece, Eli suggested during reflection the other day, and I definitely agree! What I love the most is how we fit together differently. I enjoy experiencing how we all compliment one another’s personalities differently. How I fit with one person can change with one or two more people join and especially when the whole family is together. We relate to one another differently and the relationship changes from person to person. It’s really a beautiful experience! I think we all balance each other out really well and in the end when the family all comes together, our puzzle is complete, only I think the picture changes each time somehow. My life with them here never ceases to be an adventure. Sharing laughs, tears, embraces, lightness, darkness, all of it, has been nothing short of beautiful.

My first date was Scott! We decided one day after work to check out the market nearby and spend time there together. Since it’s close to the women’s shelter it was easy to make the pit stop on our way back home. On our way there, Scott noticed someone selling chifles and got us each a bag. Chifles are such a great snack. Better than potato chips in my opinion. Nothing beats a good thin, crispy plaintain chip! We walked around and browsed a bit. He found soil that he got really excited about because he enjoys gardening. I was happy he found it because he had been talking about finding soil for a little while so that was exciting! When we walked over to the woman who was selling it she, of course, noticed our gringo-ness and called us millionaires or something along those lines. (I didn’t know this until we walked away and Scott explained of course…this was in the first few weeks when I really knew next to no Spanish) Scott explained we are volunteers with an organization and are not in fact millionaires. We felt kind of bad about how this thought was probably one that didn’t only belong to her. I suddenly felt everyone was judging me, assuming I had a ton of money on me and have come to buy anything and everything I want. In reality, I probably had about $3 on me that day. The two of us walked around to see what was being sold there, particularly paying attention to what was there that couldn’t be found in our neighborhood tiendas. We chatted about gardening and Scott shared some stories about how he became interested in it and told me about the garden he has at home. It sounds lovely and really made me wish I had a garden at home too. It reminded me of my cousin’s house who have a little garden. I remember my cousin picking apples from his tree and explaining to me that I should take a warning bite first to make sure there were no worms. He took a bite and said see, here’s a worm! Surprisingly I wasn’t all that grossed out. Anyway, I was on the lookout for red lentils as we continued walking around because they have brown lentils here and figured they have to have red ones somewhere. I have yet to find red lentils. I would be really nice to make red lentils since I use them a lot at home. When we were finished we went back to the woman with the soil to grab a bag and then set off for home.

Liz and I decided to just have our date at home where we relaxed. We chatted for a while and did face masks. We talked a lot about our experiences abroad. Liz spent a semester in Quito, Ecuador which is about 8 hours from here. She talked about her experiences there as well as her other experiences on service immersion trips and I shared mine. We talked about our journeys to San Lucas Toliman because we both spent time there through the Friends of San Lucas Mission. It was really special to listen to all of her stories and see where her passions for social justice took flight and what she’s learned from them. It never gets old hearing what made a person who they are and what brought them here with me in Ecuador. We have all had similar experiences I would say with immersion trips and experiencing social justice so we can relate to one another. We talked for a while and eventually took off the masks when they made our faces hard to move. We laughed about the way it felt and scrubbed them off. When we were talking in Liz’s room, I began asking about the pictures on her wall so she explained some of them and shared some fun memories with me and showed me pictures of her family and friends. I love hearing stories behind pictures. It always brings them to life in a special way.

Rachi and I decided to go to the 50 cent store on the corner right near our house and see what it was all about. I hadn’t been in there yet and just thought it would be fun to check it out, maybe grab some new nailpolish and do our nails later. Well, we found obnoxious fake nails! Needless to say we got really excited and went through each stack of the nails to find the ones we liked best. After we found a pair we liked, we walked out and Rachi asked if I wanted to get bread from the bakery just down the street. Now we weren’t out to get just any bread, though even any bread would be amazing since the rolls here  are always fresh and wonderful and make you feel all warm inside…good bread does that to me a lot in general I think…what we both knew we would get the second we decided to go to the bakery was their caramel stuffed bread. It’s this wonderful roll of bread with sugar on top and a sweet caramel syrup kind of thing on the inside. If I could eat one everyday without feeling guilty about my health and being intentional about spending money I would…probably twice a day. They’re always the perfect treat after a long day. So we came back to the house with fake nails and sweet caramel bread and had at it. The bread was amazing AND we had milk in the fridge so it really was a perfect snack. We laughed as we put on our fake nails, getting glitter everywhere and feeling weird about how long the nails were. They were sharp too! I don’t know how anyone would wear them for real because they would not only get caught on everything but you really would get frustrated at trying to do just about anything with your hands. Anyway, Eli joined in the fun and we put one of the extra nails on her big toes which was hysterical. We took pictures and laughed all night about them until it was time to take them off. We also had fun with the face masks and Rosa found us as we were putting it on so she joined us too. We talked in the bathroom for a while until the masks made our faces dry and stiff and it was time to scrub them off. It was a great night of unexpected adventures and a lot of laughs. I felt like I was back in 6th grade having a silly sleepover where we just did whatever we felt like and no matter what we did everything was funny and a great time. We giggled the whole way through it and it was perfect. Rachi has this way of making me feel free and childlike and I really love that about her presence.

Rosa and I had our one-on-one date without realizing we were having it. One of the women at work gave me a pedicure earlier that day and made a ladybug design on my big toe. I loved it so much I mimicked the design on my hands after getting home and later told Rosa I could give her a manicure with the ladybug too! So I gave her a manicure and we stayed up and talked for a really long time. We had been writing a lot of letters earlier that night as part of community night since one of the former volunteers had come back from traveling and was heading back home so we could send letters with her. Rosa and I continued some letters as we chatted and talked about some of the family and friends we were writing letters to. Whenever we stay up late and chat we always have really long conversations that I don’t think I will ever tire of. Sometimes she apologizes and says she’s sorry for talking so much but I tell her not to be sorry because I love listening and love to hear her tell her many stories. I can always count on Rosa for a late night chat and maybe to watch a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother before bed. Eventually I’ll look over and see Rosa sleeping and that’s when I know it’s time for bed. Or when the dvd player starts skipping, whichever comes first.

It just so happens there was some kind of fair the weekend Eli and I decided to have our date. A few of us went on Saturday to check it out but went too early and it was still being set up so no one was really there and it didn’t feel like a fair. Some went back later but I didn’t get the chance to. On Sunday the fair was still going on so Eli and I walked over. We had a nice chat on the way there about our experiences at work and some of it was about feeling limited and wanted to do certain things and feeling like we couldn’t. We have a lot of those kinds of conversations in the family. Coming to terms with our limitations is never easy. When we got to the fair we saw some of the people we knew selling their crafts and I bought a pink cross over bag with wolves on them. It came to no surprise I bought something with a dog on it and also was very pink. Eli spotted candy apples and her eyes went wide. The next thing I knew she had one in her hands. I saw meat on a stick which reminded me of dad’s shish-kebabs. The next thing I knew I had of of those meat skewers in my hands. It was really delicious, especially with the greenish mayonaisse sauce on top. I know street food can be dangerous but let’s be honest, there was no way I could avoid it. Street food is just too good! Sure I can get a parasite but I can also get one from brushing my teeth with the water from the sink which I started doing the third day or so after I spotted Eli had stopped using her canteen water for it. We’re alike in those ways of not being super concerned about germs or getting parasites or worrying about the little things we can’t always control. We know we’re all going to get sick at some point and I rather welcome it with open arms and enjoy the street food than being bitter after getting it anyway even after being careful. We were enjoying our treats outside the actual fair since a lot of people were selling things before you even entered and walked up the street to see what else was going on. A man selling coconuts out of a truck passed by a few times and finally I asked if she wanted coconut juice. Coconut juice straight out of a coconut always seems like a good idea. We caught up to the truck and got our coconut. We were planning to each get one but the guy must not have heard us when we said we wanted to. He cut one open and the man driving started to drive away after we paid for the one. We laughed and agreed to share. After we were done exploring the street we decided to try to get into the fair. Earlier it didn’t cost us anything when we went but now we saw what looked like a bouncer at the gate and someone possibly taking money but we weren’t sure about either. I said we should just try to walk in and see what happens, then we’d know for sure. Sure enough, I tried to walk in and the man at the gate began speaking to me. I didn’t understand so I turned to Eli behind me and asked her to repeat what he said. It cost $5 to get in. We weren’t sure if that meant each but didn’t bother to ask because $5 to roam around seemed too expensive. We stood by the side still eating our treats when Eli said hey, maybe if we stand here long enough they’ll just let us in! In the exciting, funny, hopeful and convincing way she usually does. It didn’t matter because either way we were having a blast but not a minute after she said the words, the man came back over and started saying something again. It was too loud and we couldn’t hear him…well, I wouldn’t have understood anyway, Eli couldn’t hear him, but she just asked, “for free?!” and he responded yes and let us in! We walked in and suddenly everything became really really funny. We laughed so hard right after walking in we just stopped by the entrance to share how funny that moment was and how we couldn’t believe that actually worked! We spent the rest of our time there walking around and listening to the band play, watching them dance and imagining what would happen if we jumped in the middle of all the dancing. We got a cup of fresh cold mandarin juice which really hit the spot and continued to walk around and take it all in. On our way back we decided to take a tricimoto or what would be considered a kind of taxi I guess, which is always fun but scary at the same time. Always an adventure and definitely more convenient than walking. When I’m with Eli I feel super fun and carefree. I love spending time with her because she’s soooo funny in a very natural way and anything we do together is light and good for the soul.

Jesus is also a lover of food like me in the way that he’ll probably try almost anything. Needless to say, we like to try street food together so for our date we decided to go out and get what’s called bolone. It’s fried plantains sculpted in a large ball with either queso fresco (the miracle cheese that refuses to melt) or fried pork rinds in the middle. It’s huge and is sooo filling on it’s own. But it comes with a side which depends on the day. The first time Jesus and I had it was when we went with one of the former volunteers Zach and that time we got an intestine stew on the side. Keep in mind, this is all around 7 to 8 in the morning because after that they start to run out of the good stuff like the pork rinds in the bolone. I’m a morning person so I don’t mind getting up early. Actually I actually love getting up early, particularly for an adventure so I’m really glad Jesus didn’t mind waking up super early with me. Not only is he like me in the way that he loves food but also in the way that he will go out of his way to enjoy food. If we had to go at 3 in the morning I’m sure I could count on Jesus to be my companion in that trip still. I could see Eli tagging along as well! When it was just Jesus and I, they had seco de pollo on the side which is always a great dish. Seco de pollo hear is chicken prepared a certain way that is always delicious and you really just can’t ever go wrong with ordering seco de pollo. We went early, around 7:15 and enjoyed a great breakfast. On our way home we decided to go to Sarita’s little shake place where she makes fruit smoothies and other things. That day was definitely a self care and splurge a little kind of day. The bolone and chicken was so filling I don’t even know how I still had room for a smoothie but I saved half of it and since I wasn’t hungry still when lunch time came around I finished the rest of the smoothie then.

Katy loves to bake so we decided to make cookies! We went out to get the ingredients and found chocolate bars with peanuts in them…needless to say, we used them as chocolate/peanut chips in the cookies since we don’t have access to chocolate chips. I used this peanut paste one night for dinner and had turned it into a creamy peanut butter kind of thing so we used whatever was left over of that in the cookies as well to give it more of a peanut flavor. We listened to music and chatted as we were making the cookies. We talked about how much we love and miss cookies. I miss crunchy chocolate chip cookies and really wish I could figure out how to make cookies crispy. Maybe I’ll look up a recipe and see if I can do it one day. I told Katy we should bake more often because we agreed it’s such a nice way to relax as well as use up all the bananas that are going bad. As we were waiting for the cookies to bake, we chatted with Welly, one of our guards, for a while and ate the batter from the mixing bowl. I offered some to Welly, not knowing he has a peanut allergy. He asked me what was in it and after I told him the ingredients he said he was allergic. Oops. I felt so bad! Katy and I were worried because his lips started to swell and he didn’t talk for a while but I guess he knew it wasn’t too bad because he didn’t really freak out. He was fine and eventually was able to talk again. When the cookies came out, we all enjoyed the first warm bites of the batch…including Welly. Mmm, cookies straight out of the oven. I was reminded of my brother Jack because anytime we ate cookies we gobbled them up the second they came out of the oven. We did that with most other things too like the Easter bread. Jack is usually my cookie buddy. I think I miss cookies as much as I do because before bed sometimes we would have chocolate chips ahoy cookies and a tall glass of milk before bed. World’s best before bed snack, at least with Jack they were. I enjoyed remembering my cookie eating days with Jack and was happy to have Katy’s company while we made our own version of a delicious chocolate chip and peanuty cookie.

There you have it! My first one-on-one with each family member. I’ll be sure to share as many future adventures with you as I can! I know there will be many many more to come 😀