We arrived to Cuenca last night and today we had our first set of classes. I am sitting at CEDEI (where we have classes) on a lovely patio with beautiful flowers. Two little girls are watching me write this from the window, and every time I look at them they giggle. So far, Ecuador has been incredibly interesting and all of our days have been packed with long bus rides and intriguing activities. We have visited churches, had many city tours, went shopping at a very large market (which I got lost in many times due to the blanketed roofing that connected all of the stands), and visited a couple of indigenous communities.
Along the way, I had some unique experiences with food. Before we arrived at Cuenca, the majority of our meals consisted of restaurants which we, the naive tourists, would seek out. Considering less than half of us speak Spanish and we don’t know our way around any of the cities yet, it was quite the adventure. The first time that I went to have lunch, Rachel and I decided on a place that looked authentic and entirely lovely. I ordered some chicken and Rachel ordered an empanada, which is basically a pocket of bread with vegetables, fruit, or meat inside. We were both starving and ready to eat when the waiter came out with the tiniest empanada I have ever seen. Mind you, this is all Rachel had ordered. And it was the size of a credit card. She managed to savor the empanadita into four small bites by the time my meal had arrived. I, thankfully, had a regular sized meal. I requested some BBQ and the waiter returned promptly with BBQ and a small bowl with an orange liquid in it with green speckles and a small spoon, appearing to be soup. I immediately told Rachel that the “sopa” was all hers, and she quickly took a large spoonful. It was cold, but had a bit of a kick. Very confused by this strange new lunch item, Rachel continued to eat about 4 more hefty spoonfuls before we realized that it was the dressing for my untouched salad. I laughed uncontrollably and Rachel was inconsolable, however, she did get revenge on me the next day when my “quesadilla” ended up resembling something that could only be described as cream of beef or beef chowder, both of which I had never intended to sample (assuming they really exist).
Despite our misfortunes with the food, it has improved greatly since moving into our host family’s house, which is just darling. So far, the most interesting place we have visited, according to me of course, were the indigenous communities. We got to see a man make a native pan flute, many musical groups and dances, and how thread is made and dyed using wool. The entire families are involved in the crafts because they are what stabilize the family and the economy. Young girls of age 5 learn how to spin wool into thread and boys begin learning how to make full tapestries that will be sold by age 10. This was astounding to see because when I was five, I simply watched Sesame Street and Wheel of Fortune (because I love to clap) without a care in the world. Here, children learn to contribute to their families before I even realized that the USA wasn’t the only place in the world. They all dress in different types of hats, ponchos, and traditional jewelry that symbolize where they are from, what their status in the community is, if they are single or married, and various other signifying factors. For fun, they learn how to play various instruments that do not even exist in the states and do different traditional dances.
So Mom, when I come home, I expect a vast array of American food items. For the rest of you, get ready to learn new tribal dances!