Hey everyone. Sorry it´s been so long but the last part of training has been crazy and well...I could go on with excuses of why I haven´t written but that´s just a waste. I´m still alive and well and I´m now officially sworn in as a volunteer of Peace Corps in my site. So I think it only makes sense to start with the fun and what some of you may consider downright cruel and gross stuff. Killing, cleaning, and of course eating cuys! Who remembers what a cuy is? If you said guinea pig, give yourself a nice pat of the back. After pestering my host mom in Olmedo for weeks about when we get to kill a cuy finally one Sunday (mind you cuy is a food only for special occasions) she said we could do it. I had just gotten back to the house from a hike and I saw a potato sack lying in the middle of the kitchen floor and when i went to move it, it moved itself. So step by step here´s how it goes.
Step 1. Boil a huge pot of water and sprinkle some wood ash in it.
Step 2. Pull cuy out of bag and hold by the neck tightly so that it won´t turn it´s head and bite you.
Step 3. Lay cuy down on it´s stomach on any hard surface (the dinner table that you eat on is just fine).
Step 4. This part is tricky and note for the faint of heart. While holding on to the neck, lift the head of the cuy and place the nose directly against the table. (Stop reading if you´re feeling sick.) With all your might, press down on the back of the cuy´s head so as to break the nose into it´s brain. When you hear a pop, that´s all she wrote. Sorry guys...
Step 5. Take a large bowl and hold cuy over it and pull out the eyeballs. Hold him/her upside down and let excess blood drain. This keeps the meat from being too dark and irony.
Step 6. Dip cuy head first in boiling water for about 5 seconds and remove. Quickly pull all hair out and place in the bowl. Once you are done, soap up the cuy and shave it with a knife.
Step 7. Make a small incision in the belly of the cuy and gently tear it open carefully removing the internal organs. Remember to take caution when removing the gaulbladder because popping it inside the animal can be disatrous (it makes the meat unbearably bitter). Do leave the kidney´s inside the cuy as they are delicious when roasted. Save the liver and heart to make a nice stew also and the instestines if you feel so inclined.
Step8. Roast in the oven or over hot coals until done and enjoy my friend.
Now people don´t judge me. It tastes great and if you´re going to eat meat, why not experience the full process that it takes for you to eat it. Anyway if you think thats bad, you should see them slaughter a sheep or pig. So whenever you get bored and or hungry, go to you neighborhood pet store and buy a guinea pig and see what fancy recipes you can come up with.
So now on to the Easter celebrations here. As is the case with all Hispanic countries, the entire week leading up to Easter is called Semana Santa (Holy Week). There is mass every day and on Good Friday there is a procession through the streets of La Passión. Jesus carrying a cross, people walking with him, Roman guards...a reenactment of the whole thing. There is no work for this week and it´s a week for everyone to spend with family, friends, eating, drinking, and enjoying life within the bounds of the Catholic faith. By the way there is no Easter Bunny here...I tried to explain it to my host family and other Ecuadorians and they either laughed their asses off or thought it was the stupidest thing ever. We´ll talk about the Easter Bunny irony in a minute. The one single thing that brings all Ecuadorian Catholics together besides Semana Santa itself during this time is the famous and delicious soup they call ¨fanesca.¨ It´s basically a creamy potato soup with salted fish and 12 ¨granos¨including corn, beans, and others. The 12 granos represent the 12 disciples. They serve you a huge bowl of it with a sliced hard boiled egg, big pieces of queso fresco (ecuadorian cheese), and tiny fried balls of dough. Delicious...so good that I had a second bowl but I didn´t know that there was a second course consiting of a huge lettuce leaf filled with mashed potatoes and more queso fresco and hard boiled eggs. So i toughed it out and made it though the plate only to pass out for a long time afterward. Fanesca grows inside the stomach after you eat it. So this was on Saturday before Easter (the fanesca and mashed potato meal happens on Saturday as well as Sunday).
So later on Saturday we killed a few more cuys for Sunday and then for the biggest irony of all...yes eating rabbit on Easter! My friend Jacob and I, being volunteers and all, jumped at the gun at the chance to do this rabbit business. I won´t go into detail because I might seriously disturb you all but the process is the same as the cuy except for the way you kill it. I´ll just say it involves a metal pipe and quick blows to the head. It´s actually the most humane way you can do it. And as for rabbit meat...Rico!
Later that evening, I cooked spaguetti again for Doña Edita and Elizabeth by request. This was my last night in Olmedo. We had all been dreading this for the whole week. After dinner, Edita came into the dining room holding a huge cake for me. ¨Muchas Felicitaciones¨it read. I wanted to cry right there but I didn´t. So there we sat talking and laughing eating cake and drinking tea and Doña Edita came in from the next room with a small gift for me...a few simple storage pots for food and such. But the real gifts were her hugs and words. She hugged me and congratulated me, said she couldn´t believe it was already time for me to go and then starting crying. I couldn´t hold it back any longer and I cried with her. It´s amazing how in such a short time you can make such a connection with someone, especially when communication is seriously limited. I said I would call and visit...which I have and I will. I was honestly lucky and blessed with the host family I lived with for training. All the jokes, laughter, her doing my laundry behind my back when I told her not to, me cooking my ¨strange but delicious gringo food¨for them, her laughing at my friends and I for drinking cold beer as opposed to room temperature, helping her plant seeds and feed her animals on the farm, walking down the block to get milk with her, playing guitar with abuelo, watching the news every night with them, them laughing at me for always having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, helping Edita and her mother shell beans in the kitchen, learning how to kill and clean a cuy, all of the family constantly correcting my Spanish with a smile, and their kindness and patience all around will be missed. I have never had an experience quite like living with Doña Edita and her daughter and I will never forget it. They are missed but they have already made my experience in Ecuador more than meaningful.
After leaving Olmedo, we all split up and went on our respective tech trips. This is when we go to the regions where our sites are (coast, mountains, or jungle) for 2 weeks and learn about agricultural techniques that are specific to that area. Since my site is in Esmeraldas and right on the coast, I was on the coastal trip. We visited organic farms and learned all about Cacao (which is what I´m primarily going to be working with), some coffee, platanos, and general stuff like composting and wormbeds. Worm beds I found especially cool. You basically build a bed like contraption with walls and a floor and fill it with a bit of dirt, a lot of manure, water, and lots of random organic materials such as grass, rice shells, fruit peels, chopped up banana trees, ash, and whatever else you can find. Throw in a bunch of worms, cover the bed so birds can´t get in and let them go to work. After a few short weeks you will have super fertile soil aka worm crap. As one of my compañeros so eloquently put it (pardon my french) ¨Worm shit is the shit.¨ Ain´t that the truth. Overall the tech trip was great. I know the basics of organic agriculture and how to teach it to kids at least for now. There is still much to learn. Oh and by the way...Cacao is awesome! Yes that´s what they make chocolate from.
After the 2 week long tech adventure, we all returned to Quito for 6 days until swearing in. Boy was this a fun week. No longer were we locked in our hostels and forbidden to go out and enjoy the city. Let´s just say we had fun being all together for the last time in a while. An the moustaches...haha ohhhhhhh the moustaches. The majority of the men in our group shaved moustaches for the week and for swearing in and we had fun with that. We even got our Country Director (our boss) to shave one with us. Talk about solidarity. The dumbest things are usually the most fun. We had a nice ceremony at the Ambassador´s residence (moustaches included) and then a BBQ at PC headquarters that afternoon. Later on we watched Dolph Lundgren´s ¨Showdown in Little Tokyo,¨ took naps and then had a night on the town...the last one all together for at least 4 months. I´ve made some great friends here and it´s hard to leave people that you´ve gotten close with (friends and host families). But a great adventure is on the horizon for all of us I hope. We have so much to look forward to. Leaving Quito and saying goodbye to everyone was strange. Rarely in our lives do we have one day of ecstacy followed by a somber and what may seem lonely day but is really just the beginning of an awesome new chapter. It´s only been 2 1/2 months but I feel like I´ve known a lot of these compañeros for years. Now is only the beginning.
So here I sit in Esmeraldas, where I´ll be for 2 years. I live in a small town called Pedro Carbo right on the coast in the southernmost part of the province. You won´t find it in any guide book or on google. My counterpart agency is APROCAM which is an organic Cacao farmers organization. I´m here to help them increase production and commercialize their product. There is also a fishermans organization, a women´s group, a school, and many other possibilities or me to work with. Let´s see the facts...it´s hot here really hot, it´s humid, it´s green in almost every direction, my town is poor. There is no market, there is no high school. The majority of the people are educated only through 7th grade. Few houses have running water (mine doesn´t). I get to bathe in the river which actually feels pretty good. I eat seafood everyday and my host mom here is an amazing cook. To be quite honest I feel a bit lost. If I´m going to help these farmers do anything, I have to learn a whole hell of a lot from them first. Expectations are high of me and I want to deliver but in time. Now I just want to make friends and get to know everyone. This is a slow process. Oh and I´m only 20 min away from one of the most tranquil and best surfing beaches in Ecuador. Come visit. Well that´s all for now. I will be back soon with more details from my site. Thanks for reading. I miss you all. Ciao.