I´m sorry it has taken me about a month to fill you all in on my most recent adventures. This month has flown by, and I have so much to tell you!
So first off, I took a 10 hour bus ride from Quito to the coastal city of Manta with my friend Gracie, which ended up being incredibly comfortable, entirely safe, and we even stopped for luncha bathroom break. Yay Ecuadorian bus system! ( I assure you that many people have very different experiences, so we certainly lucked out). From there Gracie kept going south to her town of Olon, but I stayed, since Manta was my final destination!
Manta is a pretty small city, but still very enjoyable. It has the second biggest port in Ecuador and is the Tuna capital. It has one main beach where the tourists go, but multiple others that are a little less crowded. Some of the beaches are fabulous for surfing, so there are a few gringos floating around who come to stay simply for the fabulous waves. I´m living with a woman and her 28year old son in a lovely apartment about 2 minutes from the beach. My room has its own bathroom and there is a balcony, so I have been enjoying it thoroughly. The mom of the house, Azucena is very odd and it took me a while to get used to her, but she´s very nice when you can figure her out. And her son Mirko is great, but he does speak english so he always wants to practice with me. But since he´s the only person in the whole city I speak English with, I figure it´s ok.
So I came to Manta for the final month of my program, called the Independent Study Project where each student chose an organization, project, center, etc. to spend 3 weeks working for, and then to write a 30 page paper about the experience. In Manta I have been working at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center called Girasol. I chose this center because I was told it was a coed teen rehabilitation center, and I was all excited to do women´s identityempowerment workshops with the girls. As it turns out, the center is only for men, and they range in age from 15-75 years old. I must admit that at first I was a little thrown off, but it turned out to be a really great experience.
The center focuses heavily on combining the rehabilitation process of the patient with the rehabilitation process of his family. I have learned a great deal about the 12 steps for Narcotics Anonymous (although in Spanish, of course). It was a struggle at the beginning to get used to the center, because it is very disciplined and I was initially startled by the lack of fluffyness, or even alone time that the patients have. I spent the first week just listening to the therapy, although I must admit that I understood very little. Coastal Spanish is quite different from the Spanish I was used to in the Sierra. They speak very fast, drop many important syllables, and the combination of trying to figure out a whole different dialect and the first week of really doing everything in Spanish, all day long, led me to my worse Spanish block since my first weekend at my first homestay. However, that has improved a lot and now I am communicating very well with the people in the center, my host mom, and anybody else I encounter along the way. My second week at the center I interviewed the patients. Since the final result of this project will be the 30 page paper (in SPanish) that I have just begun to write, quotes are the most important thing that I could gather. It also gave me the opportunity to really get to know each guy, and to share a little bit about myself with them as well.
For the most part they were very willing to share, and all of them have a very beautiful outlook on life, and I gathered a great deal of useful information. This past week I continued my interviews, but also had the opportunity to put on 3 alternative therapy programs. The center does not have the resources or the inspiration to change up the daily schedule very often, so the first day I brought in an Argentinian documentary called Mundo Alas, which I highly recommend to all of you. It´s a beautiful and very inspirational film about an artist who gathers a group of musicians, dancers, and artists with disabilities, both physical and mental, and takes them on tour around Argentina. After we watched the movie we had a group discussion about it, and they all really enjoyed it, and had wonderful commentary to share. The next day, instead of their regular daily exercise which consists of running 70 small laps around the tiny patio, we did a little big of yoga and meditation. If you want to have a funny image, imagine me, the very underqualified but over enthusiastic 20 year old girl teaching a group of 15 Ecuadorian men to do Sun Salutations. Some of them were really good at it, others could barely lift themselves. We also did a half hour of meditation as my alternate take to their daily spirituality. And finally, yesterday, we did a drawingexpression workshop. Each of them had a sheet of paper where they depicted their own feelings or thoughts about their past, their present, and their future. Then, as a group, we created a sort of inspirtational mural on a large sheet of paper that they are going to hang on the wall.
So this last week will consist of a whole lot of writing, but also some more free time to enjoy the beach (which I have been doing at least once a day), check out the fish market, explore the archaeological museum, and enjoy my last week of being on my own before I head back to Quito on Saturday the 1st. I must admit I am very excited to get back together with the rest of my group. They have all become very close friends of mine and I cant wait to share all of our stories, of which there are certianly going to be many. And Mom, Dad, and Becca show up in a little over a week, which is so hard to believe. I´m trying to really enjoy this last month in Ecuador as much as possible. It has been an incredible experience that I want to keep up until the very end (being May 23rd when I fly back to New York).
I´ll be sure to send another update in the near future, maybe after this wild week of writing to let you know how my paper turns out, etc. Much love to all of you, and I hope to find you safe, happy, and healthy.