Category: Ecuador

Working, Waiting, Wondering

Working, Waiting, Wondering

Working

As much as it is, it has not been all fun and games down here in Ecuador. For the whole of December I was studying for the GRE while working on grad school and fellowship applications. The plan is to obtain an advanced degree in International Affairs, hopefully through the support of a fellowship with the State Department or USAID. The programs are expensive and the fellowships extremely competitive, but as of last week, the test was done and all applications were submitted – nothing else to do but wait and pray. As an aside, the GRE is an awful test. I am not sure how knowing obscure vocabulary words like pusillanimous, alacrity or cacophony make you an especially qualified candidate for graduate school, but apparently it does. Luckily, I did not give into my pusillanimous feelings and approached the studying with alacrity, deciphering the cacophony of information I had to absorb before the test! 😉

Aside from the studying in December, I soon found that my mom had work plans for me too. Since living in Ecuador, she has wanted to figure out a way to give back to the community they live in. She found a fun way to do this through a “Rick-Rock-Roe” game. For the last several months she (with some help) has been collecting rocks from the local beaches and hand painting different themes on them to make tic-tack-toe games. To introduce these to the community, she decided to make 100 game sets as gifts for the local kids. This equated to over 1000 rocks that needed to be hand-painted! Our house soon turned into, what felt like at times, a rock-painting sweat shop. With the help of my brother and our friend Michelle, we were able to meet the 100 game goal and hand out some pretty special gifts to these kids for Christmas – it was work well worth it! The best part is what my Mom hopes to do next. Her idea is to get the community involved in the full production of these games, which they could then sell and use to generate additional income for themselves. An awesome idea that would provide basic business and entrepreneurial skills to the community, as well as some pretty cool local hand-made gifts for people to buy. Rock-on Madre!

One of the Rick-Rock-Roe sets I painted
Over 100 hand painted rock games ready to be handed out for Christmas
The sweat-shop captain hard at work
Rick-Rock-Roe rocks
Michelle teaching kids how to play
They’re quick learners! Neighborhood kids playing Rick-Rock-Roe

Waiting

Although December seemed busy with studying and painting, there has definitely been some free time to wait around and relax as well. Christmas day was a hot sunny beautiful day here, and marked the beginning of some more recreational time. Upon completing my test and applications, my brother and I took a trip to Baños with our friend Michelle. She had never been and we wanted her to check out this cool outdoor-enthusiast town. After some fun-filled days of biking, hiking, swinging, and rafting we were all sufficiently spent. I think Michelle’s favorite part may have been the suspension bridge. A long, simple cable bridge over a vast valley with all sorts of obstacles to get across along the way. I have never seen anyone’s face stuck in sheer terror for longer!

Biking through the falls in Banos
Beautiful rainbow on the way back from biking
The Devil’s Cauldron waterfall – intense!
She keeps us young!
One of the MANY falls to see in Banos
The BRIDGE we will cross
Making our way across…
Hanging off the side of the bridge – wonder what Michelle is thinking?
Modeling the rafting gear, sexy eh? 😉
I did not realize how much WORK rafting is…our faces don’t lie!

Getting ready to JUMP!
My “flight” over Banos

Speaking of suspension…well, more suspense, I continue to wait for some sort of signal giving me direction on what I should do next. Last year provided me with awesome new life experiences in Ecuador and Korea, but it also seemed like I spent a good part of 2017 waiting on opportunities that were never fulfilled. And while I continue to wait on some of these same opportunities – government jobs, grad programs, fellowships, etc. – the reality is I can’t keep waiting and need to start doing.

This is what Christmas Day in Ecuador looked like

Wondering

I am leaving Ecuador at the end of January and will be traveling through Columbia during February. This will be the end of my time in South America, for now. The plan is to come back to the United States, and as odd it may seem to my friends and family still there, this does not feel like an easy move “home” to me. It has been a long time since I’ve lived in the US, and I am wondering what I will do when I get there. I wonder where I’ll live. I wonder where I’ll work. I wonder if it will seem totally different, or practically the same. I’ve come to love the warmth and simplicity of life in South America, and I wonder how quickly I can adjust back to American life. I wonder if I’ll even want to. I wonder how much I’ve changed, and if that change has just been subject to where I’m living.

It seems I have fewer answers than questions right now. For me 2018 is starting out filled with wonder. What I do know is change excites me, and at this point, returning to America feels as exciting as my first move to South America four years ago. I look forward to enjoying the things that make America a great place to live, and I can’t wait to see and catch up with everyone I’ve missed. I am returning to a familiar environment, yet uncertain in many ways. Uncertain steps towards a certain goal. Wondering.

I’d say we look pretty normal for a cRaZy family!
Sunsets in Ecuador

Sunsets in Ecuador

When change is coming, I have a habit of visualizing how life will be different in two weeks from now, one month from now, etc. Of course, change often comes unannounced, but in the cases where you can see it coming, this is what I find myself doing. I am not sure it is the best habit, but I think it brings a sense of appreciation to what I am experiencing in the present moment; prompting recognition that whether the current experience is good or bad – it is unique, temporary, and should be experienced fully.

Change has been a theme since my last update, and will continue to be the theme for the upcoming future. At the beginning of March my family moved from the cool, green, tree-lined river banks of Cuenca, in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador, to the warm, blue skied, sand kissed beaches of San Jose on Ecuador’s coast. Overnight my experience of Ecuador changed, and while I enjoyed many things about living in Cuenca, I was looking forward to the new experience on the coast.

I’ve spent the last few weeks waking up to the sound of waves, taking long walks along the beach, and enjoying an epicurean freedom of choice: whether or not I put on a shirt throughout the entire day. It’s been an inimitable blessing to have this time, where I’ve been free to explore the things that make me tick and gain a better understanding of myself. Writing this chapter, a chapter that has also included a deepening of relationships with my family, learning a 2nd language, and making new friendships, will no doubt add value to the remaining story of my life. But like any good book, one chapter must lead to the next, and this chapter is coming to a close.

Two weeks from now I will be back in the United States.

The sunsets over the Pacific Ocean replaced with sunrises over the Atlantic.

The sound of the waves in the morning replaced with traffic and morning news.

The daily time spent together with family replaced with text message updates.

The freedom to choose what I want to do each day replaced with the necessity to decide.

One month from today I will be…

This is the one that is keeping me up at night. Visualizing my situation one month from today involves some dramatically different options. I can’t say for certain yet where I’ll be a month from today, but what is certain is that difficult decisions need to be weighed. A choice must be made. Decisions that will determine where my next chapter begins. But that’s an update for another day.

For today, I am going to continue writing the chapter I am currently in, enjoying these moments and making them count, as the sun sets on my time in Ecuador.

April 22, 2017, Sunset – San Jose, Ecuador

 

Time Flies

Time Flies

“El tiempo vuela cuando te estás divirtiendo”

Hola amigos y familia!  I can’t believe it has almost been four months since I last updated this blog, and over six months since I finished Peace Corps and left Guyana.  As I reflect on everything since then, I am surprised at how much has happened, because really some days it just feels like nothing new is happening at all.  Time is tricky that way.  Let’s start from where we left off…

October

If we are friends on Facebook, you may have noticed that one of my best friends, Christian, came for visit to Ecuador. I guess he had this trip planned for a while, and wanted it to be a surprise to me, but as time got closer for his visit there were too many variables of the trip to keep me out of the loop.  Regardless, it still was a great surprise!  I had not seen him in almost a year, and from biking down volcanos in Quito to relaxing at mud spas in Cuenca, his Ecuador visit was a lot of fun.

Biking down Cotopaxi volcano
Biking down Cotopaxi volcano
Steam box after mudpools in Cuenca
Steam box after mud pools in Cuenca
Top of Cotopaxi Volcano
Top of Cotopaxi Volcano

November

This was a very exciting month for another one of my best friends.  Heather was a constant in my life when I lived in Salt Lake, and for a minute I thought she and I may end up together in old age – single, with a few cats, and a cozy place in Palm Beach.  Luckily for her, she managed to escape that dreadful fantasy by finding the perfect guy, who seems made just for her.  I was lucky enough, thanks to very generous friends, to make it back to Utah for her wedding.  I am so happy I did.  Not only was the wedding beautiful, but it gave me an opportunity to catch up with Utah family and friends.  From a food filled Friendsgiving, to helping with Christmas decorations, to Costco (several times), to (slightly awkward post-election) breakfast dates with family – I was reminded no matter how far, or how long we are apart, I will always have a connection to Utah and the people there.

As with most good things, however, the visit came to an end and I was back to Ecuador in a flash. Luckily, I had something to look forward to there as well.  One of my most favorite people I met through Peace Corps was coming to Ecuador, and would be living here for a few months, which meant I was going to get to spend some fun-filled time with her.  You never really know what you’re going to get with Michelle, but I knew one thing – It wouldn’t be a bad time.  Sure enough, the next thing I knew we were each getting our first tattoos!

And of course, in November, there was also the election…

Heather and Brian - Beautiful wedding, perfect couple!
Heather and Brian – Beautiful wedding, perfect couple!
She escaped our cat future! :P
She escaped our cat future! 😛
Welcome to Ecuador Michelle! Let the good times roll
Welcome to Ecuador Michelle! Let the good times roll
First Tattoo! Much meaning from Guyana and my Peace Groups in it
First Tattoo! Much meaning from Guyana and my Peace Groups in it

December

Christmas time in Ecuador is pretty cool.  No shortage of decorations, lights, or parades.  Guyana also knew how to do Christmas, with special traditions of pepper pot and black cake.  I have really enjoyed experiencing Christmas in other cultures and the unique aspects they bring to the holiday.  As an early present for me, another friend from Peace Corps came to Ecuador for a visit in December!  This was perfect, as it meant Kelly, Michelle and I would get to spend the holidays together.

But not just us!  We headed to the Ecuador coast with my family, near where my parents and brother were living before the earthquake hit last April.  Spending Christmas and New Years by the beach was awesome.  Waking up to the sound of the waves and morning walks along the sand and surf was the best setting to end 2016.  Another great part of spending the Holidays on the coast was finally getting to meet the friends my family have been telling me so much about.  Needless to say, they have great taste in friends! It was a lot of fun getting to know the people who welcomed my family to Ecuador when they first arrived, and being able to include them in my Ecuador experience.

Cuenca Lit Up for the holidays
Cuenca Lit Up for the holidays

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Kelly has landed in Cuenca!
Kelly has landed in Cuenca!

 

January

Following a perfect Holiday on the beach with family, the kids (Me, my bro, Kelly, and yes, Michelle) took off on an adventure of our own.  We had heard about a great beach town up north named Mompiche and thought we should check it out.  So here’s the deal – come to Ecuador, and go to Mompiche.  It is a truly hidden gem that is off the beaten path just enough to keep it special, and enough back packers and surfers coming through to warrant a few good restaurants and hostels.  The town has a pleasant mixed vibe of hippies and surfers, and we found the locals and other tourists to be equally friendly. I imagine unhappiness would be hard to maintain surrounded by the beauty Mompiche offers.  As a side note, you won’t find an ATM there, and the closest bank is nearly two hours away, but lodging and food are very reasonably priced.  So bring a little cash, and experience one of the best places Ecuador has to offer.

Something I will never forget from Mompiche is swimming in the perfectly warm ocean, surrounded by bioluminescence, in the middle of the night.  I had heard about bioluminescence, but until this point thought it was over exaggerated or even unreal.  Google it and you will see what I mean. Let me assure you, it is a once in a lifetime experience and something you have to see to believe.  Swimming in the crystal clear water at night, with bright lights flashing and following my every move, felt like I was swimming in a galaxy filled with stars.  Such magic in nature takes your breath away.

The magic of the universe really is all around us.  I was blessed to spend the end of 2016 surrounded by people I love, and to start off 2017 in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Mompiche - Hidden Beach
Mompiche – Hidden Beach
Mompiche - "Down town"
Mompiche – “Down town”
The Kids
The Kids
Some Chileans led a fire side jam session
Some Chileans led a fire side jam session
Mompiche - Me and the Broski at Black Sand beach
Mompiche – Me and the Broski at Black Sand beach

Then, just when you think you’ve figured out the balance of life, there’s a Presidential inauguration.

Shortly after this, during the last week of January, I was informed by USAID that the new President’s executive order on Federal employees has impacted my position – the training class I was to be in is now on hold, for a minimum of 90 days, but with no certainty it will proceed after that time either.

February

So here we are, caught up to the now.  In the 2nd month of 2017, and I think it’s safe to say the world is changing, perhaps faster than it was 6 months before.  I do not believe that change in itself is bad. It’s natural.  Part of the universe.  And often a catalyst to something better. Can you think of one living thing that doesn’t change?  I believe we are in a collective time of change, and our responsibility to one another in how we respond to it is important now more than ever.

Admittedly, the election and subsequent potential change in my employment and future shook me.  It has been all too easy to be pissed off, angry, confused and afraid of what the future will bring. It was easy to lose my balance, to get lost in my head, to chase negative thoughts, blame, and fear in a loop that gets me nowhere.  There are a lot of things going on that I can’t control, but what I can control is how I respond to them.  Do I choose to be a victim of the world I see? Or do I choose to see opportunity behind the events, outcomes, or people who seem to obstruct?  The world I will see and experience is a reflection of that choice I make.

And that’s where I am at.  Constantly, daily, hourly reminding myself to choose again.  This life will be over in a flash, and in that sense, there’s really no reason in taking negative thoughts too seriously.  Will anything I’m concerned about now matter to me in 100 years? Obviously not.  And even so, what is 100 years in the whole scheme of time and eternity?  A drop in an endless ocean.  My fears and judgements about any situation or person alive now mean nothing in this context – why hold on to them?  So I’m working to let them go.

Instead of holding onto anger relating to current situations or events, I will look for occasions to be the change I hope the future holds.  Action – not anger.

Instead of holding onto fear about a job or the future, I will remain open to the path I am directed towards. Faith – not fear.

It’s easier said than done, and old habits die-hard, but I am trying. And this is where my innate responsibility to you comes in.  A responsibility to live by example, without being a victim of the world, and to empower a genuine peace in others.

So I am going into 2017 with optimism that things will continue to work out, and have a renewed commitment to do my part in creating a kinder, more understanding, and conscious world for all.

I will update again with future plans as they materialize, hopefully sooner than 4 months, unless of course I am having too much fun. 🙂 Until then…

Amor, Paz y Felicidad para Todos!

Llama butt...because some days are just like that...
Llama butt…because some days are just like that…
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…but remember, better days are ahead 🙂
Power & Truth

Power & Truth

“Power tempts even the best of men to take liberties with the truth”

– Joseph Sobran

Living in Ecuador has been a great experience thus far.  I have daily opportunities to work on learning Spanish, exercise, explore, eat new foods, read, and spend time with my family.  This is a unique time in my life, and I am trying to appreciate the opportunity I have over any stress that comes with being unemployed.  Being optimistically unemployed also allows for idle time, of course, and Netflix.

If you ever want to question everything, give yourself an opportunity to watch a few Netflix documentaries consecutively that will rattle your vision of justice.  Over the last few weeks, these shows provided me with an education perhaps I wish I could unlearn – although in this case, I don’t believe our ignorance has served any of us well.  After watching “Making a Murderer,” “13th” and “Amanda Knox” I was left questioning the power of truth, or perhaps more so, the truth about power.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NueLjUNB-GM&feature=youtu.be Screengrab of Amanda Knox's documentary "Believe Her" on Netflix 9/8/16 Netflix

The documentaries are extremely well made, and provided me with insight into a wanton system of criminal justice.  The takeaway for me is that truth is often secondary to power, and in fact, people with power are led to define the “truth” to fit a narrative they desire.  Often, truth is lost to power. I will not go into more details on the specifics of these shows, and I hope you will make an effort to see them for yourselves, as this ambiguity between power and truth is taking a center stage in the world today. I think it is important that we are conscious enough to look at the “truths” we are being fed, and consider that they are no more than narratives being expressed to us by those in power. 

“Stronger Together” and “Make America Great Again” – both sound encouraging enough, but what else is being said? Are these pitch phrases cloaking narratives and subtext that each side wants to become our truths?  If you are not choosing “Stronger Together,” then are you divisive and making us weak?  If America is no longer great, and you are complacent in that, are you not “Making America Great Again?” We’ve been divided by the agendas of the politicians, media, and elite interests. Fear mongering at its finest. These agenda’s aren’t serving the greater majority of us. They aren’t serving us in politics, they aren’t serving us in justice, and they aren’t the truth.

stonger-together make-america-great-again

We have a responsibility to EACH OTHER, not to a political party or candidate. It’s too often that people in power exploit our differences rather than celebrate them. Regardless of who wins this election we need to recognize our common Truth, being scrupulous of the narratives being fed and cautious of the agendas behind the messages. I don’t trust the current way our power systems work. Power is not balanced, and this is at the expense of the American people. This power protects the interests of a small minority, veiled in political and social ideologies to create fear. Truth is lost. Recognize that everything we believe, everything we hold dear, and everything we are sure of in relation to our affiliations, race, religions, orientations, or class – all of this has been taught to us in one way or another. I believe, stripped of our learned fears, we would all want the best for our fellow-men and women. We would want each other to be treated fairly. We would want equitable opportunities and outcomes for each other. History has shown us a politician or political party isn’t going to bring this reality, in fact much is done to ensure the opposite.  This fearless and bold way of relating to each other starts with every one of us, regardless of our varied affiliations, race, religions, orientations, or class. Our common Truth is above all of it – and that common Truth is OUR Power.

Check out the documentaries.  Look at the current political rhetoric from an elevated state.  Be a more compassionate human.  I honestly can’t wait until this election cycle is over, and I hope we can let our humanity win, regardless of any political “winner.”

In more optimistic government related news, I hope to not be unemployed for too much longer!  Since May, I have been pursuing a job with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a Foreign Service Officer.  In June I was flown to Washington DC for an interview, and as of last week I was told the interview was successful.  Pending successful reference, medical and background checks, I will eventually have the opportunity to assist in America’s international development and aid efforts! I believe USAID is fantastic representation of the good that American “power” can do, and I am anxious to help show our international community that America is not as crazy as the 2016 election cycle has made us out to be! 🙂

usaid

I will keep the blog updated with the job progress, and anything else that may come up.  Until next time – peace, love and happiness!