March 3, 2012

Days of Craziness: Site Placement

Speed recap of my week in no particular order: hiked Ilalo with friends (mountain behind my house in Tumbaco), learned about intercultural health and participated in a Shamanic Kichwa cleansing ceremony, planted a medicinal herb garden, had my second language interview, met the stand-in U.S. ambassador (there isn't an ambassador right now...), had a bonfire with the other trainees, got showered in rose petals, danced around the training center with the language facilitators, harvested beans and corn, made humitas (see one of my first blog posts--essentially sweet cornbread cooked like a tamale), and, most importantly, I learned where I will be living for the next 2 YEARS. It's been quite the week. Below are some pictures from the aforementioned events, but all I can really think about right now is my site placement, so that's what this blog post is really about!
Ilalo hiking crew. (Photo by Marisa C.)
View from the top(ish) of Ilalo.
Limpia (cleansing) ceremony with shamans from Cuenca (Photo by Mathilde)

Language facilitators enacting a dance from the Amazon.

Humitas: pick choclo (type of corn here), save husks, remove kernals, grind choclo, mix with eggs and sugar, wrap in corn husks, steam, fry, eat. About 8 hours of work for these little treats.
Besides the craziness of the week in general, the main feeling of the week was definitely that of nail-biting anticipation. The Peace Corps staff has kept us trainees in the dark about our site placements, mainly because sites can often change at the last minute. Site reveal was on Thursday afternoon, meaning the days went by extraordinarily slowly this week. I won't keep you waiting though--I'll fast forward to Thursday!

Thursday at lunch we were all kicked out of the Training Center, and weren't allowed to return until 1:30. When were finally allowed back through the gate, we found a map of Ecuador made out of rose petals on the soccer field with a sign for each province. They called us out one-by-one with the name of our province and site name for the next two years. In reality, some of us were slightly confused as to where our sites were, but a staff member ran with us to our spot on the map. I was one of the last people called, which was slightly nerve-wracking. While I did not really hear my site name, I definitely understood when our training manager called out my province--NAPO! I'm going to the AMAZON for the next two years!
Map of Ecuador made of rose petals. Staff getting ready to call out our sites!
Jungle girls! Four of us are in the Napo province.
Lots of excitement and happiness about site placements.
My provincial flag. 
Emily and I with our language facilitator.

After finding out our sites and getting copious amounts of rose petals dumped on us, we headed back into the training center to learn more about our assignments. I received a packet about my community and the projects I'll be working on. My friend Emily has been placed in a similar community to mine; after receiving our packets, we both had minor panic attacks, but now I'm really excited and/or nervous. I'll be living in an indigenous Kichwa community near a national park. There are a lot of people in major cities, and my site is definitely one of the more remote sites out of my training group.

A couple of fantastic facts...

  • Population: 700 in the community, but 1,100 in the general area
  • Location: in the buffer zone of the Sumaco-Napo-Galeras National Park
  • Languages: Kichwa and Spanish
  • Closest city: Tena (2.5 hours away by car...)
  • House material: Wood
  • Electricity: Yes
  • Internet: No
  • Cell phone service: If you stand in some spots in the village (?)
  • Shower: Erm, no (they are supposed to build me a shower "cabin" to take bucket baths in)
  • Refrigerator: No
  • Rent: $25/month

Also, I've gotten a lot of questions about what I'll be doing for the two years. I'm the first volunteer at this site, so I really will be working on building relationships and creating a sense of trust more than anything else. But, this is a list of the primary activities that the community has identified that it needs assistance with:
  • Foster organizational development & leadership
  • Promote natural resources conservation and environmental education
  • Support organic "naranjilla" production
  • Help organize a women's group
  • Help start micro enterprises with youth (cheese-making?)
  • Environmental education at school and creating a school garden

I'm going to visit my site next week from this coming Tuesday to the following Monday, so I'll know a lot more about my community soon. My mosquito net and I will be taking the 6-hour bus ride with my counterpart (who also happens to be my new host mother...) down the mountain to the jungle. For most people in my community, Spanish is their second language and Kichwa is their first, so I may be communicating with hand signals and eyebrow-raising for the next 8 days. I won't be posting next weekend, as I'll be in my internet-less community, but I'll post that week sometime! This adventure is about to get a lot more interesting...
Napo--my province!