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Hola from El Matal, Ecuador

The update below was drafted during the last week of July, 2009 and sent as an email in October, 2009

Hola from El Matal, Ecuador (near Punta Blanca, Ecuador, where I did a one month long volunteer placement with Fundacion Arena)

Hola de todos! (Hello everybody!

It was a gorgeous day last Saturday, the day of the Wahoo festival, in El Matal, Ecuador. I went with the rest of the volunteers helping with Fundacion Arena. The sea was an incredible colour of blue that day. I’ll never forget it.

Wahoo is a kind of fish, not just an expression, by the way. The Wahoo Festival is a sports fishing festival; people register in a  fishing competition to capture the biggest Wahoo fish for a big cash prize. The rules stipulated that fishermen had to release the rest of the things they caught (unlike usual where they keep and kill everything that gets into a boat). This is more conservation than this area usually sees, so that is how come it counts in Fundacion Arena’s books as a conservation and educational event, as well as part of a campaign designed to bring sustainable tourism to the area.

El Matal is one of 8 village communities that Fundacion Arena works with. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Punta Blanca, where I’m staying right now. I was invited to the festival because Fundacion Arena had teamed up with the two Peace Corps guys posted in the area (who were working on conservation projects) and another foundation called the Lalo Loor Dry Forest Reserve to put on an educational kiosk at the festival. Our tarp tent featured art activities and a theatre show for the kids about the local flora and fauna to underscore the importance of conservation. The festival – and the kiosk- were a big hit. Plus, the day was perfect for a festival, almost too hot, but with the beach and ocean right there, it was easy to cool off every hour or so.

I can’t believe I’ve been here on the coast of Ecuador for a whole month already.

The first two weeks went slowly and the last two have quizzed past. I have mixed feelings about my volunteer placement, and about Ecuador in general. I met some interesting people from around the world, and that, combined with being able to spend so much time on wide open, sandy beaches and in a warm blue sea made my time here really memorable.

The volunteer life has a rhythm of its own, more satisfying than being simply a tourist. I liked being able to settle in somewhere for a longer period of time, meeting locals and using my brain instead of just soaking up the sights and moving on quickly. But I don’t think the volunteer work had much of an impact, really. The conservation work the volunteers do here is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed on a national and global scale.

Some of the volunteers that started with me are moving on now that their month is up, and that’s making me a bit sad. Others have arrived, brimming with energy and enthusiasm, instantly filling a void they didn’t even know had been created when the others left.

It’s a full house of young men right now. But it seems like the more people there are, the harder it is to get anything done. Meals and cleanup take that much longer, and then there is all the waiting around while people get ready to go out together or meet about something or another and all the time it takes to explain the way things operate around the volunteer house and on the coast in general.Then there is waiting for the bus, which doesn’t follow any strict schedule, really. It comes once an hour, but when in the hour is anyone’s guess.

I have decided to extend my stay here for a couple of weeks so I can complete more of the website project I undertook  for Fundacion Arena. Things here move on Ecuadorian time, and the internet is unbearably slow some days. Added to this is the fact that there is no such thing as punctual meetings or definite timelines and the fact that I am still waiting for all of the content from the Director. I am beginning to suspect this website won’t be ready for the launch date we planned and in fact may never get finished. Not that it really matters since I don’t think anyone but me is paying attention to this fact.

I don’t know if it is fair to say things operate in ‘Ecuadorian’ time specifically. It could be that this is how things go in tropical climates. Working here can be incredibly frustrating if you let it get to you. Planned events and meetings just don’t seem to materialize or take way longer than anticipated. I have stopped wearing a watch so it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I’m volunteering after all, not punching a time clock.

Worrying is frowned upon here. Showing you are impatient or mad is a big social taboo. Things rarely go according to plan and you just have to learn to deal with it.

The ‘film night’ few nights before the Wahoo Festival is a great example of this. The Director of Fundacion Arena had planned a film presentation by a leading biologist from Guayaquil to be held in a nearby village, called Don Juan. I was told they wouldn’t need my computer because the presenter was bringing his own. This was good since I doubted they would have the right cables to connect my Macbook to the projector anyway.

We were really slow setting off because we spent hours waiting for people to return to the volunteer house after working on whatever project they were working on (painting murals on school walls, helping with a local census). Then the electricity went out, and stayed out for hours. Not unusual for these parts, but it added to the delay nonetheless.

Then the guy with the truck and equipment didn’t show up.The time came and went for us to head off. No one seemed concerned

Don Juan is 3 km away along the beach, and 10 km by road, so  after awhile we started walking along the beach. It was a beautiful afternoon and  I remember loving how nice it was that all I had to do to get ready for our big outing was pull on my new flip flops, a clean T shirt and wrap a tie dyed scarf skirt over my bikini.

When we got to the place where we were having dinner, no one asked why we were late. We had walked to the house where the Director’s girlfriend lives, a shack on stilts on the beach with no running water.

We all started drinking beer- cold, honey colored Pilsener- straight out of big bottles, each more than twice the size of regular beer bottles back home (think Maudite bottles). Each bottle sold for $1.00 each at the local store. A crate of beer costs $12.00 on the promise you bring the bottles back the next day. I usually detest beer, but here it is the perfect thing to drink on the beach.

Just as the sun set,sizzling hot deep fried breaded fish and calamari appeared on the table, served with a big scoop of white rice, a ladel of brown lentils, and a few patacones (fried circles of plantain bananas, sqashed flat). A watery, tomatoey salsa coleslaw, chock full of raw shredded cabbage, carrot and hot peppers was served on the side. It was delicious.

Soon, the sun set and dropped into the ocean. It happens so fast you almost expect to hear a splash. At around 6 p.m., it was completely dark. But it never gets as dark as it does in Canada at night, mostly because there are oodles of stars in the sky in the southern hemisphere – way more than in northern skies- lighting the night sky up like a Lite- Brite board.  And five big bright light spots tossed and bobbed on the ocean a few km off shore, as the big boats started fishing. They lure the fish with incredibly bright lamps mounted on their masts, scooping everything drawn to the surface into enormous gilnets.

Finally there was talk of getting to the plaza in town for the movie presentation.  A couple of pickup trucks were driven onto the beach and we all piled in. Turns out it wasn’t a movie we were watching but a person presenting a talk on whales.

No one really seemed to know what was going to happen or what to do once we arrived in the downtown plaza. Ok it was actually the football soccer field that doubles as a plaza. There was a lot of milling around and talking and some people passed a bottle filled with moonshine around.

Eventually it became apparent to me that this was going to be an outdoor event. People started moving towards the small church and pulling out plastic chairs and some of the pews from inside into the vague outline of a semi circle.

Kids ran around. People occasionally yelled after and chased the kids. Clusters of women formed on one side. Groups of men openly eyeing the women formed on another side. They don’t mix much here, not in public, except when dancing. After another hour, things looked ready to start.

Then the presenter pulled out his computer, and it didn’t work.They asked to try my computer and as I suspected, no one had the right cables for the projector. Then they scrounged up another computer but it didn’t have the right program (Microsoft works, not PowerPoint ) and they didn’t have a long enough cord to plug in. By this time I was feeling really stressed for the presenter and the Director of Fundacion Arena who organized this event, but they seemed surprisingly unruffled and calm. Looked at me quizzically, almost baffled that I was concerned.

They scrounged around and found another laptop and someone pulled a longer cord from inside the church. The Director asked me to take pictures, but had neglected to ask me to bring my camera. I thought he had brought his, but he hadn’t.

There was no screen.  Not even a sheet thrown up as a backdrop. But no one seemed perturbed by the fact that the middle of every slide was not visible because it fell over the hole between the doors and the wall (a door similar to a saloon door) and the words ‘San Juan Iglesia’ showed through every image projected.

The presenter had a monotone voice and the presentation turned out to be a scientific talk that instantly bored the kids and most of the adults. Within a few minutes, half the audience had wandered off. A few people who hope to be tourist guides stuck around and appreciated the print copy of the book given out at the end.

After the show was over, the single men made a bee line for the women. There was a fire on the beach planned and they wanted dates for the walk to the shore. There was much speculation as people paired off for the walk. There is nothing subtle about courtship here.

To my growing mortification I realized I was included in the speculation because I had been singled out by a man half my age who spoke no English who wanted to walk with me and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I got roped into going along with it all since my friend Fanny was angling for an excuse to walk with his brother.

The night was just right for a big fire on the beach. Balmy sea breezes, sky sprinkled with stars, a bright and almost full moon, outgoing tide leaving plenty of room on the beach and the kind of hard sand that’s perfect for walking on, not too soft and squishy or burning hot from the day.

The setting was romantically perfect, but the conversation with my unexpected date painfully dull and basic. Sometimes it is a relief not to speak the same language, with a strategic ‘no entiendo’ stopping unwanted attention, and other times it creates unbelievably awkward situations.

After a few hours, I found an opportunity to escape, piling into a pickup truck with a bunch of other volunteers from Fundaction Arena. The rest of them, all men, were complaining about the lousy odds (there were 3 men for every eligible woman that night, and apparently I didn’t count as eligible since I was 10 years older than they were). Things went much better for Fanny; last I heard she was talking about getting engaged to the man she started dating that night.

In my opinion the whole night had been one disaster after another, but no one else seemed to think much of it. And I have to admit that in the end, as we were barreling along a winding road in the back of a truck on a moonlit night, singing our heads off and clapping along, I realized I was actually having fun.

One of the hardest things I experienced as a volunteer in Ecuador was how to walk that fine line between cultural values, continually questioning if I was being too uptight, or if the people in this developing country could really use some more westernized ways and professionalism, and what degree of each is a healthy balance.

By far the most obvious benefit of our volunteer work was the tickle down impact of our presence on the local economy… the bus, internet cabinas, and local stores selling beer and candy did a healthy business by the Fundacion Arena volunteers.

Bye for now,

Marianne

Hi everyone,

As promised, here is one of the updates I drafted a few months ago.

The update below was drafted during the last week of July, 2009.

Hola from El Matal, Ecuador

Hola de todos! (Hello everybody)

I posted more pics from a festival held  in a small fishing village called El Matal, a few kilometers away rom Punta Blanca, where I did my volunteer placement for an organization called Fundacion Arena.

www.mariannable.smugmug.com.

It was a gorgeous day last Saturday, the day of the Wahoo festival, and the sea was an incredible colour of blue.

Wahoo is a kind of fish, not just an expression, by the way. The Wahoo Festival is a sports fishing festival; people register in a  fishing competition to capture the biggest Wahoo fish for a big cash prize. The rules stipulated that fishermen had to release the rest of the things they caught (unlike usual where they keep and kill everything that gets into a boat). This is more conservation than this area usually sees, so that is how come it counts in Fundacion Arena’s books as a conservation and educational event, as well as part of a campaign designed to bring sustainable tourism to the area.

El Matal is one of 8 village communities that Fundacion Arena works with. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Punta Blanca, where I’m staying right now. I was invited to the festival because Fundacion Arena had teamed up with the two Peace Corps guys posted in the area (who were working on conservation projects) and another foundation called the Lalo Loor Dry Forest Reserve to put on an educational kiosk at the festival. Our tarp tent featured art activities and a theatre show for the kids about the local flora and fauna to underscore the importance of conservation. The festival – and the kiosk- were a big hit. Plus, the day was perfect for a festival, almost too hot, but with the beach and ocean right there, it was easy to cool off every hour or so.

I can’t believe I’ve been here on the coast of Ecuador for a whole month already.

The first two weeks went slowly and the last two have quizzed past. I have mixed feelings about my volunteer placement, and about Ecuador in general. I met some interesting people from around the world, and that, combined with being able to spend so much time on wide open, sandy beaches and in a warm blue sea made my time here really memorable.

The volunteer life has a rythm of its own, more satisfying than being simply a tourist. I liked being able to settle in somewhere for a longer period of time, meeting locals and using my brain instead of just soaking up the sights and moving on quickly. But I don’t think the volunteer work had much of an impact, really. The conservation work the volunteers do here is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed on a national and global scale.

Some of the volunteers that started with me are moving on now that their month is up, and that’s making me a bit sad. Others have arrived, brimming with energy and enthusiasm, instantly filling a void they didn’t even know had been created when the others left.

It’s a full house of young men right now. But it seems like the more people there are, the harder it is to get anything done. Meals and cleanup take that much longer, and then there is all the waiting around while people get ready to go out together or meet about something or another and all the time it takes to explain the way things operate around the volunteer house and on the coast in general.Then there is waiting for the bus, which doesn’t follow any strict schedule, really. It comes once an hour, but when in the hour is anyone’s guess.

I have decided to extend my stay here for a couple of weeks so I can complete more of the website project I undertook  for Fundacion Arena. Things here move on Ecuadorian time, and the internet is unbearably slow some days. Added to this is the fact that there is no such thing as punctual meetings or definite timelines and the fact that I am still waiting for all of the content from the Director. I am beginning to suspect this website won’t be ready for the launch date we planned and in fact may never get finished. Not that it really matters since I don’t think anyone but me is paying attention to this fact.

I don’t know if it is fair to say things operate in ‘Ecuadorian’ time specifically. It could be that this is how things go in tropical climates. Working here can be incredibly frustrating if you let it get to you. Planned events and meetings just don’t seem to materialize or take way longer than anticipated. I have stopped wearing a watch so it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I’m volunteering after all, not punching a time clock.

Worrying is frowned upon here. Showing you are impatient or mad is a big social taboo. Things rarely go according to plan and you just have to learn to deal with it.

The ‘film night’ few nights before the Wahoo Festival is a great example of this. The Director of Fundacion Arena had planned a film presentation by a leading biologist from Guayaquil to be held in a nearby village, called Don Juan. I was told they wouldn’t need my computer because the presenter was bringing his own. This was good since I doubted they would have the right cables to connect my Macbook to the projector anyway.

We were really slow setting off because we spent hours waiting for people to return to the volunteer house after working on whatever project they were working on (painting murals on school walls, helping with a local census). Then the electricity went out, and stayed out for hours. Not unusual for these parts, but it added to the delay nonetheless.

Then the guy with the truck and equipment didn’t show up.The time came and went for us to head off. No one seemed concerned

Don Juan is 3 km away along the beach, and 10 km by road, so  after awhile we started walking along the beach. It was a beautiful afternoon and  I remember loving how nice it was that all I had to do to get ready for our big outing was pull on my new flip flops, a clean T shirt and wrap a tie dyed scarf skirt over my bikini.

When we got to the place where we were having dinner, no one asked why we were late. We had walked to the house where the Director’s girlfriend lives, a shack on stilts on the beach with no running water.

We all started drinking beer- cold, honey colored Pilsener- straight out of big bottles, each more than twice the size of regular beer bottles back home (think Maudite bottles). Each bottle sold for $1.00 each at the local store. A crate of beer costs $12.00 on the promise you bring the bottles back the next day. I usually detest beer, but here it is the perfect thing to drink on the beach.

Just as the sun set,sizzling hot deep fried breaded fish and calamari appeared on the table, served with a big scoop of white rice, a ladel of brown lentils, and a few patacones (fried circles of plantain bananas, sqashed flat). A watery, tomatoey salsa coleslaw, chock full of raw shredded cabbage, carrot and hot peppers was served on the side. It was delicious.

Soon, the sun set and dropped into the ocean. It happens so fast you almost expect to hear a splash. At around 6 p.m., it was completely dark. But it never gets as dark as it does in Canada at night, mostly because there are oodles of stars in the sky in the southern hemisphere – way more than in northern skies- lighting the night sky up like a Lite- Brite board.  And five big bright light spots tossed and bobbed on the ocean a few km off shore, as the big boats started fishing. They lure the fish with incredibly bright lamps mounted on their masts, scooping everything drawn to the surface into enormous gilnets.

Finally there was talk of getting to the plaza in town for the movie presentation.  A couple of pickup trucks were driven onto the beach and we all piled in. Turns out it wasn’t a movie we were watching but a person presenting a talk on whales.

No one really seemed to know what was going to happen or what to do once we arrived in the downtown plaza. Ok it was actually the football soccer field that doubles as a plaza. There was a lot of milling around and talking and some people passed a bottle filled with moonshine around.

Eventually it became apparent to me that this was going to be an outdoor event. People started moving towards the small church and pulling out plastic chairs and some of the pews from inside into the vague outline of a semi circle.

Kids ran around. People occasionally yelled after and chased the kids. Clusters of women formed on one side. Groups of men openly eyeing the women formed on another side. They don’t mix much here, not in public, except when dancing. After another hour, things looked ready to start.

Then the presenter pulled out his computer, and it didn’t work.They asked to try my computer and as I suspected, no one had the right cables for the projector. Then they scrounged up another computer but it didn’t have the right program (Microsoft works, not PowerPoint ) and they didn’t have a long enough cord to plug in. By this time I was feeling really stressed for the presenter and the Director of Fundacion Arena who organized this event, but they seemed surprisingly unruffled and calm. Looked at me quizzically, almost baffled that I was concerned.

They scrounged around and found another laptop and someone pulled a longer cord from inside the church. The Director asked me to take pictures, but had neglected to ask me to bring my camera. I thought he had brought his, but he hadn’t.

There was no screen.  Not even a sheet thrown up as a backdrop. But no one seemed perturbed by the fact that the middle of every slide was not visible because it fell over the hole between the doors and the wall (a door similar to a saloon door) and the words ‘San Juan Iglesia’ showed through every image projected.

The presenter had a monotone voice and the presentation turned out to be a scientific talk that instantly bored the kids and most of the adults. Within a few minutes, half the audience had wandered off. A few people who hope to be tourist guides stuck around and appreciated the print copy of the book given out at the end.

After the show was over, the single men made a bee line for the women. There was a fire on the beach planned and they wanted dates for the walk to the shore. There was much speculation as people paired off for the walk. There is nothing subtle about courtship here.

To my growing mortification I realized I was included in the speculation because I had been singled out by a man half my age who spoke no English who wanted to walk with me and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I got roped into going along with it all since my friend Fanny was angling for an excuse to walk with his brother.

The night was just right for a big fire on the beach. Balmy sea breezes, sky sprinkled with stars, a bright and almost full moon, outgoing tide leaving plenty of room on the beach and the kind of hard sand that’s perfect for walking on, not too soft and squishy or burning hot from the day.

The setting was romantically perfect, but the conversation with my unexpected date painfully dull and basic. Sometimes it is a relief not to speak the same language, with a strategic ‘no entiendo’ stopping unwanted attention, and other times it creates unbelievably awkward situations.

After a few hours, I found an opportunity to escape, piling into a pickup truck with a bunch of other volunteers from Fundaction Arena. The rest of them, all men, were complaining about the lousy odds (there were 3 men for every eligible woman that night, and apparently I didn’t count as eligible since I was 10 years older than they were). Things went much better for Fanny; last I heard she was talking about getting engaged to the man she started dating that night.

In my opinion the whole night had been one disaster after another, but no one else seemed to think much of it. And I have to admit that in the end, as we were barreling along a winding road in the back of a truck on a moonlit night, singing our heads off and clapping along, I realized I was actually having fun.

One of the hardest things I experienced as a volunteer in Ecuador was how to walk that fine line between cultural values, continually questioning if I was being too uptight, or if the people in this developing country could really use some more westernized ways and professionalism, and what degree of each is a healthy balance.

By far the most obvious benefit of our volunteer work was the tickle down impact of our presence on the local economy… the bus, internet cabinas, and local stores selling beer and candy did a healthy business by the Fundacion Arena volunteers.

Bye for now,

Marianne

Hi everyone,

As promised, here is one of the updates I drafted a few months ago.

The update below was drafted during the last week of July, 2009.

Hola from El Matal, Ecuador

Hola de todos! (Hello everybody)

I posted more pics from a festival held  in a small fishing village called El Matal, a few kilometers away rom Punta Blanca, where I did my volunteer placement for an organization called Fundacion Arena.

www.mariannable.smugmug.com.

It was a gorgeous day last Saturday, the day of the Wahoo festival, and the sea was an incredible colour of blue.

Wahoo is a kind of fish, not just an expression, by the way. The Wahoo Festival is a sports fishing festival; people register in a  fishing competition to capture the biggest Wahoo fish for a big cash prize. The rules stipulated that fishermen had to release the rest of the things they caught (unlike usual where they keep and kill everything that gets into a boat). This is more conservation than this area usually sees, so that is how come it counts in Fundacion Arena’s books as a conservation and educational event, as well as part of a campaign designed to bring sustainable tourism to the area.

El Matal is one of 8 village communities that Fundacion Arena works with. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Punta Blanca, where I’m staying right now. I was invited to the festival because Fundacion Arena had teamed up with the two Peace Corps guys posted in the area (who were working on conservation projects) and another foundation called the Lalo Loor Dry Forest Reserve to put on an educational kiosk at the festival. Our tarp tent featured art activities and a theatre show for the kids about the local flora and fauna to underscore the importance of conservation. The festival – and the kiosk- were a big hit. Plus, the day was perfect for a festival, almost too hot, but with the beach and ocean right there, it was easy to cool off every hour or so.

I can’t believe I’ve been here on the coast of Ecuador for a whole month already.

The first two weeks went slowly and the last two have quizzed past. I have mixed feelings about my volunteer placement, and about Ecuador in general. I met some interesting people from around the world, and that, combined with being able to spend so much time on wide open, sandy beaches and in a warm blue sea made my time here really memorable.

The volunteer life has a rythm of its own, more satisfying than being simply a tourist. I liked being able to settle in somewhere for a longer period of time, meeting locals and using my brain instead of just soaking up the sights and moving on quickly. But I don’t think the volunteer work had much of an impact, really. The conservation work the volunteers do here is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed on a national and global scale.

Some of the volunteers that started with me are moving on now that their month is up, and that’s making me a bit sad. Others have arrived, brimming with energy and enthusiasm, instantly filling a void they didn’t even know had been created when the others left.

It’s a full house of young men right now. But it seems like the more people there are, the harder it is to get anything done. Meals and cleanup take that much longer, and then there is all the waiting around while people get ready to go out together or meet about something or another and all the time it takes to explain the way things operate around the volunteer house and on the coast in general.Then there is waiting for the bus, which doesn’t follow any strict schedule, really. It comes once an hour, but when in the hour is anyone’s guess.

I have decided to extend my stay here for a couple of weeks so I can complete more of the website project I undertook  for Fundacion Arena. Things here move on Ecuadorian time, and the internet is unbearably slow some days. Added to this is the fact that there is no such thing as punctual meetings or definite timelines and the fact that I am still waiting for all of the content from the Director. I am beginning to suspect this website won’t be ready for the launch date we planned and in fact may never get finished. Not that it really matters since I don’t think anyone but me is paying attention to this fact.

I don’t know if it is fair to say things operate in ‘Ecuadorian’ time specifically. It could be that this is how things go in tropical climates. Working here can be incredibly frustrating if you let it get to you. Planned events and meetings just don’t seem to materialize or take way longer than anticipated. I have stopped wearing a watch so it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I’m volunteering after all, not punching a time clock.

Worrying is frowned upon here. Showing you are impatient or mad is a big social taboo. Things rarely go according to plan and you just have to learn to deal with it.

The ‘film night’ few nights before the Wahoo Festival is a great example of this. The Director of Fundacion Arena had planned a film presentation by a leading biologist from Guayaquil to be held in a nearby village, called Don Juan. I was told they wouldn’t need my computer because the presenter was bringing his own. This was good since I doubted they would have the right cables to connect my Macbook to the projector anyway.

We were really slow setting off because we spent hours waiting for people to return to the volunteer house after working on whatever project they were working on (painting murals on school walls, helping with a local census). Then the electricity went out, and stayed out for hours. Not unusual for these parts, but it added to the delay nonetheless.

Then the guy with the truck and equipment didn’t show up.The time came and went for us to head off. No one seemed concerned

Don Juan is 3 km away along the beach, and 10 km by road, so  after awhile we started walking along the beach. It was a beautiful afternoon and  I remember loving how nice it was that all I had to do to get ready for our big outing was pull on my new flip flops, a clean T shirt and wrap a tie dyed scarf skirt over my bikini.

When we got to the place where we were having dinner, no one asked why we were late. We had walked to the house where the Director’s girlfriend lives, a shack on stilts on the beach with no running water.

We all started drinking beer- cold, honey colored Pilsener- straight out of big bottles, each more than twice the size of regular beer bottles back home (think Maudite bottles). Each bottle sold for $1.00 each at the local store. A crate of beer costs $12.00 on the promise you bring the bottles back the next day. I usually detest beer, but here it is the perfect thing to drink on the beach.

Just as the sun set,sizzling hot deep fried breaded fish and calamari appeared on the table, served with a big scoop of white rice, a ladel of brown lentils, and a few patacones (fried circles of plantain bananas, sqashed flat). A watery, tomatoey salsa coleslaw, chock full of raw shredded cabbage, carrot and hot peppers was served on the side. It was delicious.

Soon, the sun set and dropped into the ocean. It happens so fast you almost expect to hear a splash. At around 6 p.m., it was completely dark. But it never gets as dark as it does in Canada at night, mostly because there are oodles of stars in the sky in the southern hemisphere – way more than in northern skies- lighting the night sky up like a Lite- Brite board.  And five big bright light spots tossed and bobbed on the ocean a few km off shore, as the big boats started fishing. They lure the fish with incredibly bright lamps mounted on their masts, scooping everything drawn to the surface into enormous gilnets.

Finally there was talk of getting to the plaza in town for the movie presentation.  A couple of pickup trucks were driven onto the beach and we all piled in. Turns out it wasn’t a movie we were watching but a person presenting a talk on whales.

No one really seemed to know what was going to happen or what to do once we arrived in the downtown plaza. Ok it was actually the football soccer field that doubles as a plaza. There was a lot of milling around and talking and some people passed a bottle filled with moonshine around.

Eventually it became apparent to me that this was going to be an outdoor event. People started moving towards the small church and pulling out plastic chairs and some of the pews from inside into the vague outline of a semi circle.

Kids ran around. People occasionally yelled after and chased the kids. Clusters of women formed on one side. Groups of men openly eyeing the women formed on another side. They don’t mix much here, not in public, except when dancing. After another hour, things looked ready to start.

Then the presenter pulled out his computer, and it didn’t work.They asked to try my computer and as I suspected, no one had the right cables for the projector. Then they scrounged up another computer but it didn’t have the right program (Microsoft works, not PowerPoint ) and they didn’t have a long enough cord to plug in. By this time I was feeling really stressed for the presenter and the Director of Fundacion Arena who organized this event, but they seemed surprisingly unruffled and calm. Looked at me quizzically, almost baffled that I was concerned.

They scrounged around and found another laptop and someone pulled a longer cord from inside the church. The Director asked me to take pictures, but had neglected to ask me to bring my camera. I thought he had brought his, but he hadn’t.

There was no screen.  Not even a sheet thrown up as a backdrop. But no one seemed perturbed by the fact that the middle of every slide was not visible because it fell over the hole between the doors and the wall (a door similar to a saloon door) and the words ‘San Juan Iglesia’ showed through every image projected.

The presenter had a monotone voice and the presentation turned out to be a scientific talk that instantly bored the kids and most of the adults. Within a few minutes, half the audience had wandered off. A few people who hope to be tourist guides stuck around and appreciated the print copy of the book given out at the end.

After the show was over, the single men made a bee line for the women. There was a fire on the beach planned and they wanted dates for the walk to the shore. There was much speculation as people paired off for the walk. There is nothing subtle about courtship here.

To my growing mortification I realized I was included in the speculation because I had been singled out by a man half my age who spoke no English who wanted to walk with me and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I got roped into going along with it all since my friend Fanny was angling for an excuse to walk with his brother.

The night was just right for a big fire on the beach. Balmy sea breezes, sky sprinkled with stars, a bright and almost full moon, outgoing tide leaving plenty of room on the beach and the kind of hard sand that’s perfect for walking on, not too soft and squishy or burning hot from the day.

The setting was romantically perfect, but the conversation with my unexpected date painfully dull and basic. Sometimes it is a relief not to speak the same language, with a strategic ‘no entiendo’ stopping unwanted attention, and other times it creates unbelievably awkward situations.

After a few hours, I found an opportunity to escape, piling into a pickup truck with a bunch of other volunteers from Fundaction Arena. The rest of them, all men, were complaining about the lousy odds (there were 3 men for every eligible woman that night, and apparently I didn’t count as eligible since I was 10 years older than they were). Things went much better for Fanny; last I heard she was talking about getting engaged to the man she started dating that night.

In my opinion the whole night had been one disaster after another, but no one else seemed to think much of it. And I have to admit that in the end, as we were barreling along a winding road in the back of a truck on a moonlit night, singing our heads off and clapping along, I realized I was actually having fun.

One of the hardest things I experienced as a volunteer in Ecuador was how to walk that fine line between cultural values, continually questioning if I was being too uptight, or if the people in this developing country could really use some more westernized ways and professionalism, and what degree of each is a healthy balance.

By far the most obvious benefit of our volunteer work was the tickle down impact of our presence on the local economy… the bus, internet cabinas, and local stores selling beer and candy did a healthy business by the Fundacion Arena volunteers.

Bye for now,

Marianne

Hi everyone,

As promised, here is one of the updates I drafted a few months ago.

The update below was drafted during the last week of July, 2009.

Hola from El Matal, Ecuador

Hola de todos! (Hello everybody)

I posted more pics from a festival held  in a small fishing village called El Matal, a few kilometers away rom Punta Blanca, where I did my volunteer placement for an organization called Fundacion Arena.

www.mariannable.smugmug.com.

It was a gorgeous day last Saturday, the day of the Wahoo festival, and the sea was an incredible colour of blue.

Wahoo is a kind of fish, not just an expression, by the way. The Wahoo Festival is a sports fishing festival; people register in a  fishing competition to capture the biggest Wahoo fish for a big cash prize. The rules stipulated that fishermen had to release the rest of the things they caught (unlike usual where they keep and kill everything that gets into a boat). This is more conservation than this area usually sees, so that is how come it counts in Fundacion Arena’s books as a conservation and educational event, as well as part of a campaign designed to bring sustainable tourism to the area.

El Matal is one of 8 village communities that Fundacion Arena works with. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Punta Blanca, where I’m staying right now. I was invited to the festival because Fundacion Arena had teamed up with the two Peace Corps guys posted in the area (who were working on conservation projects) and another foundation called the Lalo Loor Dry Forest Reserve to put on an educational kiosk at the festival. Our tarp tent featured art activities and a theatre show for the kids about the local flora and fauna to underscore the importance of conservation. The festival – and the kiosk- were a big hit. Plus, the day was perfect for a festival, almost too hot, but with the beach and ocean right there, it was easy to cool off every hour or so.

I can’t believe I’ve been here on the coast of Ecuador for a whole month already.

The first two weeks went slowly and the last two have quizzed past. I have mixed feelings about my volunteer placement, and about Ecuador in general. I met some interesting people from around the world, and that, combined with being able to spend so much time on wide open, sandy beaches and in a warm blue sea made my time here really memorable.

The volunteer life has a rythm of its own, more satisfying than being simply a tourist. I liked being able to settle in somewhere for a longer period of time, meeting locals and using my brain instead of just soaking up the sights and moving on quickly. But I don’t think the volunteer work had much of an impact, really. The conservation work the volunteers do here is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed on a national and global scale.

Some of the volunteers that started with me are moving on now that their month is up, and that’s making me a bit sad. Others have arrived, brimming with energy and enthusiasm, instantly filling a void they didn’t even know had been created when the others left.

It’s a full house of young men right now. But it seems like the more people there are, the harder it is to get anything done. Meals and cleanup take that much longer, and then there is all the waiting around while people get ready to go out together or meet about something or another and all the time it takes to explain the way things operate around the volunteer house and on the coast in general.Then there is waiting for the bus, which doesn’t follow any strict schedule, really. It comes once an hour, but when in the hour is anyone’s guess.

I have decided to extend my stay here for a couple of weeks so I can complete more of the website project I undertook  for Fundacion Arena. Things here move on Ecuadorian time, and the internet is unbearably slow some days. Added to this is the fact that there is no such thing as punctual meetings or definite timelines and the fact that I am still waiting for all of the content from the Director. I am beginning to suspect this website won’t be ready for the launch date we planned and in fact may never get finished. Not that it really matters since I don’t think anyone but me is paying attention to this fact.

I don’t know if it is fair to say things operate in ‘Ecuadorian’ time specifically. It could be that this is how things go in tropical climates. Working here can be incredibly frustrating if you let it get to you. Planned events and meetings just don’t seem to materialize or take way longer than anticipated. I have stopped wearing a watch so it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I’m volunteering after all, not punching a time clock.

Worrying is frowned upon here. Showing you are impatient or mad is a big social taboo. Things rarely go according to plan and you just have to learn to deal with it.

The ‘film night’ few nights before the Wahoo Festival is a great example of this. The Director of Fundacion Arena had planned a film presentation by a leading biologist from Guayaquil to be held in a nearby village, called Don Juan. I was told they wouldn’t need my computer because the presenter was bringing his own. This was good since I doubted they would have the right cables to connect my Macbook to the projector anyway.

We were really slow setting off because we spent hours waiting for people to return to the volunteer house after working on whatever project they were working on (painting murals on school walls, helping with a local census). Then the electricity went out, and stayed out for hours. Not unusual for these parts, but it added to the delay nonetheless.

Then the guy with the truck and equipment didn’t show up.The time came and went for us to head off. No one seemed concerned

Don Juan is 3 km away along the beach, and 10 km by road, so  after awhile we started walking along the beach. It was a beautiful afternoon and  I remember loving how nice it was that all I had to do to get ready for our big outing was pull on my new flip flops, a clean T shirt and wrap a tie dyed scarf skirt over my bikini.

When we got to the place where we were having dinner, no one asked why we were late. We had walked to the house where the Director’s girlfriend lives, a shack on stilts on the beach with no running water.

We all started drinking beer- cold, honey colored Pilsener- straight out of big bottles, each more than twice the size of regular beer bottles back home (think Maudite bottles). Each bottle sold for $1.00 each at the local store. A crate of beer costs $12.00 on the promise you bring the bottles back the next day. I usually detest beer, but here it is the perfect thing to drink on the beach.

Just as the sun set,sizzling hot deep fried breaded fish and calamari appeared on the table, served with a big scoop of white rice, a ladel of brown lentils, and a few patacones (fried circles of plantain bananas, sqashed flat). A watery, tomatoey salsa coleslaw, chock full of raw shredded cabbage, carrot and hot peppers was served on the side. It was delicious.

Soon, the sun set and dropped into the ocean. It happens so fast you almost expect to hear a splash. At around 6 p.m., it was completely dark. But it never gets as dark as it does in Canada at night, mostly because there are oodles of stars in the sky in the southern hemisphere – way more than in northern skies- lighting the night sky up like a Lite- Brite board.  And five big bright light spots tossed and bobbed on the ocean a few km off shore, as the big boats started fishing. They lure the fish with incredibly bright lamps mounted on their masts, scooping everything drawn to the surface into enormous gilnets.

Finally there was talk of getting to the plaza in town for the movie presentation.  A couple of pickup trucks were driven onto the beach and we all piled in. Turns out it wasn’t a movie we were watching but a person presenting a talk on whales.

No one really seemed to know what was going to happen or what to do once we arrived in the downtown plaza. Ok it was actually the football soccer field that doubles as a plaza. There was a lot of milling around and talking and some people passed a bottle filled with moonshine around.

Eventually it became apparent to me that this was going to be an outdoor event. People started moving towards the small church and pulling out plastic chairs and some of the pews from inside into the vague outline of a semi circle.

Kids ran around. People occasionally yelled after and chased the kids. Clusters of women formed on one side. Groups of men openly eyeing the women formed on another side. They don’t mix much here, not in public, except when dancing. After another hour, things looked ready to start.

Then the presenter pulled out his computer, and it didn’t work.They asked to try my computer and as I suspected, no one had the right cables for the projector. Then they scrounged up another computer but it didn’t have the right program (Microsoft works, not PowerPoint ) and they didn’t have a long enough cord to plug in. By this time I was feeling really stressed for the presenter and the Director of Fundacion Arena who organized this event, but they seemed surprisingly unruffled and calm. Looked at me quizzically, almost baffled that I was concerned.

They scrounged around and found another laptop and someone pulled a longer cord from inside the church. The Director asked me to take pictures, but had neglected to ask me to bring my camera. I thought he had brought his, but he hadn’t.

There was no screen.  Not even a sheet thrown up as a backdrop. But no one seemed perturbed by the fact that the middle of every slide was not visible because it fell over the hole between the doors and the wall (a door similar to a saloon door) and the words ‘San Juan Iglesia’ showed through every image projected.

The presenter had a monotone voice and the presentation turned out to be a scientific talk that instantly bored the kids and most of the adults. Within a few minutes, half the audience had wandered off. A few people who hope to be tourist guides stuck around and appreciated the print copy of the book given out at the end.

After the show was over, the single men made a bee line for the women. There was a fire on the beach planned and they wanted dates for the walk to the shore. There was much speculation as people paired off for the walk. There is nothing subtle about courtship here.

To my growing mortification I realized I was included in the speculation because I had been singled out by a man half my age who spoke no English who wanted to walk with me and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I got roped into going along with it all since my friend Fanny was angling for an excuse to walk with his brother.

The night was just right for a big fire on the beach. Balmy sea breezes, sky sprinkled with stars, a bright and almost full moon, outgoing tide leaving plenty of room on the beach and the kind of hard sand that’s perfect for walking on, not too soft and squishy or burning hot from the day.

The setting was romantically perfect, but the conversation with my unexpected date painfully dull and basic. Sometimes it is a relief not to speak the same language, with a strategic ‘no entiendo’ stopping unwanted attention, and other times it creates unbelievably awkward situations.

After a few hours, I found an opportunity to escape, piling into a pickup truck with a bunch of other volunteers from Fundaction Arena. The rest of them, all men, were complaining about the lousy odds (there were 3 men for every eligible woman that night, and apparently I didn’t count as eligible since I was 10 years older than they were). Things went much better for Fanny; last I heard she was talking about getting engaged to the man she started dating that night.

In my opinion the whole night had been one disaster after another, but no one else seemed to think much of it. And I have to admit that in the end, as we were barreling along a winding road in the back of a truck on a moonlit night, singing our heads off and clapping along, I realized I was actually having fun.

One of the hardest things I experienced as a volunteer in Ecuador was how to walk that fine line between cultural values, continually questioning if I was being too uptight, or if the people in this developing country could really use some more westernized ways and professionalism, and what degree of each is a healthy balance.

By far the most obvious benefit of our volunteer work was the tickle down impact of our presence on the local economy… the bus, internet cabinas, and local stores selling beer and candy did a healthy business by the Fundacion Arena volunteers.

Bye for now,

Marianne

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