Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Guayasamín Museum

We told the kids 2:00 pm sharp. If they were late, we’d have to leave without them- that the Guayasamín Museum in Quito was far away, and in order take buses both there and back we’d have to leave right on time.

Sure enough, on that Friday at 2:00 pm sharp, 10 wide-eyed youngsters dressed in their finest waited eagerly to visit the Guayasamín Museum in Quito. The trip to the museum, a collection of works from one of the most famous Ecuadorian painters, would be the first time some of the children had ever left their small rural town of San Francisco. The group of children had earned the trip- they all had almost perfect attendance at our programs during the month of January- and were jumping up and down with excitement as we prepared to leave.

The youngest to go into Quito that day was Marjorie, our sweet, little 6-year-old who can always be seen in her bright red rain boots that reach up to her knees. She comes every day to our programs, but had never before left the Valley where she lives. When her mom dropped her off at the school-house that day, Marjorie, a little nervous but more excited about her dog-shaped purse in which her mom and stored her bus fare, immediately walked toward me and said, “Profe Abbie, can I sit next to you on the bus?” I told her yes, and smiled as she tried to fix the way-too-big-for-such-a-little-girl scarf her mom had draped around her neck, fumbling with a knot at the top. Her hair was freshly pulled back into a high ponytail, smelling like flower-scented styling gel. Once Marjorie finished adjusting her scarf, she looked up at me with her toothy grin (she lost a tooth a few weeks ago) and said, “Ready, Profe!”

Cows chewed grass on the open fields beside us, stray dogs barked, and chickens scattered as our group of 12 (ten kids plus Craig and I) headed down the dirt streets of San Francisco to catch a public bus to Quito.

I sat in the front of the bus with Marjorie, 6-and-a-half-year-old Gregory on my lap. For the next hour, Gregory- who happens to have a slight speech impediment that makes everything he says just that much cuter- told me stories of his past trips to Quito with his brother. About every 2 minutes, Marjorie (whose gaze never left the window) would tap on my arm and say, “Profe Abbie, what is that?” or “Look, Profe Abbie, a big building!”

An hour-and-a-half and three buses after we left San Francisco, we finally reached the Guayasamín museum, the “Capilla del Hombre,” which literally means “Church of the Man.” It is called this because Guayasamín’s art powerfully, sometimes hauntingly, depicts the struggles and beauty of the Latin American people. Rather than worshiping a God, this “church” is dedicated to Man.

Entering the museum, one is immediately taken-aback by the vast, colorful murals on the gaping white walls. The museum is quiet, commanding a hushed deference. The breathtaking depictions of human suffering and life instantly capture the attention of the children. Our goofy, crazy, funny kids have suddenly silenced themselves, and walk slowly and respectfully into the museum toward the murals. It’s as if they know these paintings are important even before they see them. The kids seem to get it, right away. The poverty, the abuse, the laughter and life amongst it all- they get it.

One particularly moving painting, rich with deep blues and yellows, called “Ternura” or “Tenderness,” depicts a mother hugging her child. When our guide, a pretty, college-aged curator, explained this painting to the children (the significance of its warm colors, etc.), she said “Almost everybody can relate to the love and warmth of hugging his/her mother.” Many of the kids nodded in agreement. I looked at Marjorie to see what she thought. She said without hesitation, “Mi mama huele cómo el jabón Dove,” which means “My mom smells like Dove (pronounced “duh-VAY” in Spanish) soap.” Then shot me another toothy grin.

After we left the museum for another hour-and-a-half of the bumpy, crowded, public Ecuadorian transportation system, the kids were back to their silly selves, laughing and talking all the way home. We arrived back to San Francisco after the sun went down. The cows were no longer grazing in the fields. The chickens must have all gone to sleep (where do chickens sleep?) because they weren’t out either. The stray dogs were out (stray dogs are always out), but I'm pretty sure they looked more sleepy than usual. We walked the kids down the dirt roads, back to their homes where they hugged their parents hello and us goodbye. Tired but happy, Craig and I headed home after another exhausting and wholly fulfilling day.

Friday, November 23, 2007



He’s your typical, 5-year-old, energetic, border-line-problem-child, crazy, silly, adorable little boy. Emilio is the kid who, after about 3 minutes of trying to focus on a project, loses attention and starts to either (1) fall repeatedly out of his chair- on purpose, (2) sing loudly enough to himself that the entire classroom can hear him, or (3) stand up and start running in small circles until he’s so dizzy that he falls over. I try not to laugh because it only encourages the behavior- but he’s so hilarious that it’s hard not to. Hyperactive? Yes. But he’s so freakin cute.

The first time I met Emilio he didn’t know how to use scissors, couldn’t write a single letter of the alphabet, couldn’t recognize his name and definitely couldn’t color inside the lines. But now, after a little over a month of class, he’s improved so much that he can definitely use scissors, can write and recognize the letters E, C, O and J, he can easily recognize his name, is starting to color inside the lines, and knows his colors in English just about as well as I do. His favorite activity is called “Los Pescaditos,” which involves a combination of coloring fish, cutting them out and gluing them into a paper fishbowl. He loves it. Emilio’s made about 7 complete fishbowls and each time, he’s managed to sit down and focus through the entire process until it’s finished. It’s incredible.

He’s still the same little joker and there are still times when he’s so wound up that it’s like he chugged 4 cups of coffee before class… but it's so worth it because each day he progresses more and more.

Monday, October 15, 2007


I just got back from la inaguración (opening party) for our classes in San Francisco and even though we’re all completely exhausted (I’m currently writing this in bed), the party went so well and we couldn’t be more excited about starting our programs.

This morning we woke up at 7:30 am, made some breakfast (strawberries, bananas, yogurt, coffee and toast, to be exact) and headed off to catch a bus into San Francisco, carrying with us about 15 plastic chairs, 8 plastic tables, a trash can, broom, dustpan and speakers for la música. The bus driver made us pay double because we took up the entire back of the bus- we had so much stuff with us!

Once in San Francisco, we carried everything into our new little schoolhouse (which happens to be an old bar called “Burger San Pancho,” complete with beer advertisements on the wall that we promptly covered up). A quick note on San Francisco: it’s a quiet, rural, peaceful little town surrounded by mountains. About two blocks of shops constitute “downtown,” not including a nice soccer field and great ice-cream shop that we frequently hit. The bar-converted-school is actually quite nice. It has a great yard in the back and plenty of space for teaching, and even though there is a giant, wooden bar in the front, once we set up everything (white board, balloons, brightly colored chairs and tables) the old bar was hardly recognizable. We turned on some music (reggaeton and salsa) and before too long, the kids started to trickle in.

The party lasted two hours, 25 kids and 9 parents showed up. We played “Piedras, Papél, Tijeras” (rock, paper, scissors), “Simón Dice” (Simon says), “Luz Rojo, Luz Verde” (red light, green light) and ¨Juego de Sillas¨(musical chairs). The kids made name-tags, we introduced ourselves, we explained the programs and ate a snack of bananas and lemonade.

So it’s official! Manna Ecuador programs have started- we go back tomorrow at 2:00 for clase numero uno, and couldn’t be happier about it.

Welcome kids and parents!

So this is the bar... where we now teach class.

Making nametags

Proud of her nametag

¨Juego de sillas¨

Mark and his new friend

Little ones

John and some of the kids

Inaguraciòn in action

Seth, Craig, Mark, Zak and kids

More nametag decorating

Sunday, October 14, 2007


If you´d like to see pictures of our first month, go to:

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Los Mercados

There are open-air markets all over Quito, where fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, flowers, grains, baskets, artisan goods, furniture, clothes, coffee, plants, etc. are all sold. Picture this: acres and acres of small “puestos” or stands covered in produce of all colors of the rainbow, bright sun, bustling streets, women selling goods in their indigenous attire, smells of roasting platanos and fresh pineapple filling the air, and vendors yelling things like “¡Manzanas! ¡Cincuenta centavos!”

Upon closer look, there are tons of kids in the markets as well, sitting patiently with their parents who are selling produce. Many times I’ve seen a little baby sleeping under a table of fruit while their mother works, or little girls bagging dozens of eggs for customers. The kids are usually very dirty- a result of working in the markets with their parents day after day. Rosy, bright cheeks, tan, olive-colored, weathered skin, big brown eyes, wearing colorful hand-made hats and sweaters made of wool- these kids are absolutely beautiful… and heart-breakingly accustomed to working eight hour days with their parents without the chance to play, often missing school.

UBECI, our partner organization, runs a program in the markets several times a week. I’ve had the chance to go twice so far. At 8:30 in the morning, we meet at the UBECI office in South Quito, collect supplies (which includes a temporary tent that we set up in the markets, cardboard for the kids to sit on, soap and water for the kids to wash their hands and face with, and lots of colored pencils and paper). From there, we take a bus to whatever market we’re working in that morning, usually a 30-45 minute journey. As soon as we enter the markets, the kids (who now recognize the UBECI workers and volunteers) come running toward us from their parents’ stands yelling “¡Aqui! ¡Vengo!” (I’m here! I’m coming!).

We set up the temporary tent and then go collect the rest of the children for their hour-and-a-half of singing, painting, playing games and just being kids. It’s the sweetest thing to walk up to a fruit stand, see a little 4-year-old girl next to her mother washing grapes, say something like, “Good morning Jaqueline! Do you want to come play today?” see her face just light up, take her tiny hand and walk to the tent where the other kids are already playing and singing. It’s a lot of fun, and the kids absolutely love it. I can’t wait to go again.

drawing pictures of family

mother with her baby at the markets

Seth and kids at the market

Zak and kids at the market

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our country get-away

Life in Quito, a huge city, is what you would expect it to be: busy! Buses, taxis, pedestrians and vendors crowd the streets. When walking through the city, I feel kind of like I’m in a video game: dodge this little old man, don’t hit this tree, avoid the speeding taxis when crossing the street, gain 50 points for swerving through a group of school children walking hand-in-hand on the sidewalk. There’s pollution and honking cars and people everywhere- it’s so alive, but so exhausting!

So you can imagine my relief on Sunday afternoon when we took a bus into the countryside, about 20 minutes outside the city to the quiet, peaceful towns of Santa Isabel and San Francisco (where we will be living and working in a month). When I got off the bus in San Francisco, my entire body just relaxed. Seriously, I had this crazy physiological response to the new scenery; cows, chickens, clean mountain air and a still silence were a welcome change from the bustling city life of Quito.

Santa Isabel and San Francisco are as calm and serene as one could imagine. Small tiendas line the roads, and tiny, old, men and women sit outside shops in felt hats and sweaters watching people pass by. The Andes Mountains line the background, the air smells of burning wood, the people are direct descendants of the Incas, and everything seems to move a little slower.

For now, I’m happy to live in the middle of the city with all its great restaurants, bars, libraries, churches, bakeries and coffee shops galore… but I think I might have left my heart in the quiet, little towns of Santa Isabel and San Francisco.

¡estoy en Quito!

I’m in Ecuador! At this point, I love almost everything about Quito.

I love the cool mountain air, the hot sun during the day and the fact that I can look up while walking to school to see the Andes mountains standing proud and tall in front of me. The weather is, well, perfect- always a beautiful 70 degrees during the day with a fresh mountain breeze and it cools off just enough at night so I can snuggle under the gorgeous, hand-made wool blankets that cover my bed.

I love my Ecuadorian family (who I’ll live with for the next month). Mi mama Ecuatoriana is named Laura, and I live with her, her dog, Luna, and her esposo in their beautiful home. The house, four stories high, has wood floors and winding staircases, bright South American paintings on the walls and chandeliers. My room is on the fourth level and my bathroom has a marble sink and large, tiled shower. Outside, there is a courtyard with a fountain and two lines where I hang my laundry to dry in the hot, Ecuadorian sun.

I love the food: choclo (corn), humitas (little corn bread tamales), jugo fresco (fresh fruit juice), sopas (soup), salsa de ahî (a spicy salsa) and empanadas (fried bread with cheese in the middle). We eat all our meals together as a family: breakfast is at 8 am, lunch is at 1 (the largest meal of the day) and we have a small dinner (more like a snack) around 8. We always take a siesta after lunch, which I love. It reminds me of Spain.

I take Spanish classes every day from 8:30-12:30, and a few times a week we have a salsa dancing class or Ecuadorian cooking class after that. The night life is incredible- lots of salsa dancing and lots of Cuba Libres.

We’ve already been to an Ecuador fútbol game against El Salvador (we won 5-1), Mitad del Mundo (the equator… where you can stand in both the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time), and we’ve gone to a flamenco dancing performance where the band played Spanish guitar and los bombos (drums).

Anyway, it’s great here and I couldn’t be happier.

Chao for now, ¡y muchos besos!