Inti Raymi Festival and Other Stories

So today I realized the short amount of time that we have left here...I cant believe that in only a few short days we will reenter the United States. I have mixed emotions about this event...of course I want to see my family and friends but my work here has only just begun. I feel like this is home, I love the people...I love being involved in the lives of these families. I am not ready to reenter the world of materialism and fast-pace life.

I was told the other day by an Ecuadorian that...Americans think with their heads and Ecuadorians think with their hearts. How sad of a realization this is for me. Good in some senses but in most senses Id much rather be thinking with my heart!

Last night we went with some friends to the Inti Raymi festival-Inti Raymi is Quichua for ¨festival of the sun¨-it is held in alot of places all over Ecuador but we attended in a town called Otavalo. The event takes place near a waterfall, Peguche, where there are shamans who perform a ritualistic ceremony by bathing in the waterfall. This takes place around midnight, an amazing experience to see so many people in that frigid water in the dark! But it truly was an amazing experience, they prepare all year for this festival. All of the food is a gift to each person who participates in the festival, no you do not have to get wet to ¨participate¨. Lots of dancing in circles and stopping of feet...all night long.

Unfortunately we had to be up and at em at 8am this morning, not pleasant after being up all night dancing! We were asked to become godmothers for a school by the director of one of the community schools. We were not exactly sure what this would entail but kids were involved so we agreed. Apparently in the Catholic religion everyone gets a madrina (godmother) and in this case we became the godmothers of 65 kids in a school in a poor community. It was a beautiful symbolic event and then afterwards we got to play games with the kids and have lunch. Basically we are godmothers for life to the children of this school, so from time to time we will be checking in on them and getting to celebrate all their accomplishments in life! 

Im not sure if i mentioned before but Ramiro, a guy that we work with at the foundation, who also works with Child Fund from the US identified two kids who supposedly have no parents. They live in this community that we visited today and go to the school that we became godmothers for. Once we got up there and started talking to the teachers and people around we found out that they have an older sister who is 21, who also has a 4 year old child and a grandfather that lives in the house with them. We pulled the sister aside to see what the situation is, apparently the parents left her with her siblings 9 years ago, the mom would come back every so often over the years but not recently. The sister leaves every day to look for work and the grandfather works in the fields whenever he can. The sister, Maria, started crying when she was explaining their situation and how hard that it has been for her to provide for them and to be their mother for all of these years. Then the grandfather came over and got teary-eyed while he was explaning how dire their situation is. Let me tell you about these children, the little girl who is 13, her name is Diana, she is the school president, super smart and very motivated. She is constantly smiling and has a very positive outlook on life. On the other hand her brother who is 10 has caused alot of problems, he has been caught stealing stuff from people at school and just being a general pest to the other kids. This has landed him in some trouble but recently he has been doing better. I got to spend most of the day with Diana, either holding her hand or having her sitting next to me, she truly is an amazing little girl with her whole life in front of her. In the end we left some food that we had purchased for them, we will definitely be checking in when we get back and hopefully building a strong relationship with each of them. 

Currently we have two new faces in our apartment! Stef who was one of the students that we worked with in Lima and Gina who is a friend of Paul´s from home. They are both university students looking into all of our projects here. The first thing that we did with Stef was a card project with the elderly. The government supports a ¨kitchen¨ where people over the age of 65 can go and have a good lunch six days out of the week. They can go a few hours early and work on arts and crafts, so we took advantage of this time and had them color/draw for us. The colorings and drawings will be used to make thank you and happy birthday cards to be sold (or given as thank you for donating) to support projects here. The elderly have so many stories to tell and so much knowledge, it is truly amazing to sit and just listen to their life stories.

Last week was spent mostly in Quito working on our visas. Boy was this an experience, I think Liz said that we were lied to 15 times and sent to 32 different offices before we actually got to the right place. After we found the right place and submited all of our paperwork we were told to go back in two days to pick up our passports with our visas. Of course, it wasnt that easy!! When we arrived, with my new passport I might add, (with 52 pages!!!) the guy tells me that we must go to another office that is ´poco lejos´ (not too far) and get my entry stamp placed into my new passport since it was currently in my old one. So, once again we taxi to another unkown office where I take a number...this number taking business is overrated! It tells me on ¨the number¨ that there are two people ahead of me....so I sit down and think that this wont take too long considering. Well, more than an hour later and one simple stamp and signature I leave this office and head back to sit in front of my man Fernando with hopes of walking out of there with my/our visas. After we finish everything, and he changes all of the mistakes that he made the week before, he tells us to come back at 2pm and we can pick up our passports and visas. Hahaha...funny how we thought that this might actually be possible. At 5pm, when everyone else had left and they were ready to close down for the day the security guard asked what we were waiting for...our visas of course. He just laughed and told us to come back tomorrow...we told him that was impossible and he better go figure out where our visas and passports are. He returns and says that they dont know where our passports are and the guy who has them is gone for the day...with our passports?!? Then a lady comes out and tells Liz that her visa will be ready soon and that no one gave her the paperwork so she hadnt been working on them for the past 8 hours that we had been waiting. Ridiculous! only in Ecuador! After telling Liz that hers will be ready she points one finger in my face and tells me that ´mine has a problem´.  What exactly could that mean? After sitting there for another 30 minutes she reemerges and gives me my passport with visa and says that the ´major problem´ is that Mr. Fernando put an ´N´ for my gender...meaning ninguno (nothing)...unstead of ´F´ for feminino! 

Im about to fall over in my chair from exhaustion but one last hilarious Ecuadorian incident...boy will I miss these adventures while in the states! We were on the bus to Ibarra, about an hour ride, there is a ´control stop´where police are supposed to be checking documents. Well, we have passed this place more than a thousand times and never have we had to show any documentation. We do not carry our passports with us every day since Id like to leave the country whenever I would like and not be stuck here if it is lost of stolen. So, she asks for our passports and of course we dont have them...so then she tells us to get off of the bus and that we must remain at this place in the middle of nowhere until our passports arrive. Interesting seeing that we told her that our passports were at our house and that there was no way for us to get them, she quickly told us that she would take us ´somewhere else´ if we didnt get them to her soon. Who do we call, no one else but Paul, he had a few words with her and we were back on the next bus that passed. Almost detained...in Ecuador.

You know you have been in a third-world country for quite some time when you spend an evening drawing a map of the US and naming all of the states and capitals! Yes, it really did happen...and the best part is that we didnt even think that there was anything strange about it until we were telling Paul and his only comment was to Gina...´they have been here longer than you will be, so dont worry!´ Hahah! Mrs. Root (my 4th grade teacher) would be so proud...we got all of them except for two! 

Life here is amazing...I cant wait to get back!