After a few more days of exploring Quito and wrapping up WorldTeach training, I have officially arrived in my new home for the next month – Riobamba, Ecuador! The drive from Quito to Riobamba was about 3.5 hours of windy roads and gorgeous views. After we got outside the city limits of Quito, we were in pretty rural areas until we actually got into Riobamba. Many of the homes and shops were in poor condition and stood in stark contrast to the surroundings.
Check out this squinty photo of me at a look-out spot that we stopped at! Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day today so the mountain peaks are not visible but the drive was stunning nonetheless.
Like Quito, Riobamba is in the Sierra region and is surrounded by the beautiful Andes mountains. The native language of the Ecuadorian Sierra people is called Quichua. So far, everyone that I have met speaks Spanish but in some of the smaller villages some people still speak Quichua only. Of course, Quichua influences the Spanish of the people here so those who do speak Spanish mix in some Quichua words which are really fun to learn! For example, the word “Guagua” means nino or child.
I haven’t seen much of Riobamba yet but I am excited to explore! Riobamba is in the Chimbarazo province and has about 150,000 people.
The most interesting thing about my placement here is that we live and do our volunteer work on a school’s campus. The school, called UESTAR, is half public and half private. In other words, there is a religious organization which owns the campus but the teachers are hired and paid with government funding.
We arrived just as classes were letting out for the day (this is the last week of school for Ecuadorian students!) and it was great to see the hustle and bustle. In Ecuador, most schools contain grades kinder-12th on one campus and this school is no different. There is an elementary school building with grades kinder-7 and then a high school building with grades 8-12. The building where I am living (pictured below) is right in-between the elementary school and the high school. The campus also includes several snack bars, basketball courts, and “Ecua-volleyball” courts – I hope I’ll get to learn how to play!
Upon arrival, our camp director Maria Jose met us and helped us get settled. She and her assistant both speak fluent English which makes things quite a bit easier! As I mentioned before, this campus is owned by a religious organization, which means that we are living with priests in a dorm-like building. This dorm building is much bigger than I expected. Downstairs, there are several meeting rooms, a small chapel, a kitchen and dining room, and a big open space with a table and huge bird cages! The “open space” is built in the style of a greenhouse and has a huge glass roof overhead, which lets in natural light. The room is filled with plants and greenery. I know that I’ll be spending a lot of time here lesson planning!
Upstairs, there is a small living room and library as well as a washing machine. Clothes are hang dried, of course! The priests all have bedrooms on one side of the upstairs and the 2 other volunteers and I have rooms on the other side.
In addition to the 2 priests, there are 2 cooks who each work for half of the week. We met one of them today who helped show us around and explain how to do laundry and where to find things we may need during our stay.
After lunch, we had the opportunity to interact some with the 3 priests! The oldest priest is a man from Spain who is retired and loves to garden. The greenhouse type area and the backyard is his domain! He grows some vegetables and will apparently invite us to help out in the garden. Nothing is blooming yet but he promises that in a month there will be lots. Next, there is a man in about his 50’s who is the director of the school. Finally, there is a younger priest who is from the “Costa” (coastal) region of Ecuador who is known for being very open-minded. He is the only one who speaks a little bit of English!
We arrived on a special day today; one of the priests is celebrating his 20th year of priesthood. Several community members came over to celebrate and we had delicious carrot cake, cheese, and coffee. It was nice to practice Spanish and get to know everyone. The priests and this particular group of women have been building a chapel in a local juvenile prison. The project was recently completed and we are invited to visit the new chapel and meet some of the young adults living in the facility. I am thrilled to have made some community connections on our first evening and to continue developing those relationships. The priests plan on taking us to the mountain Chimbarazo as well as other fun places in the area. We will also learn how to play an Ecuadorian card came called Cuarenta!
While it was a bit challenging to communicate with the priests, they were very patient with us and slowed down their Spanish to make sure that we understand them. I also joined them for a meditation devotional in the small chapel! We will be eating meals with them every day, so we will have lots of opportunities to practice our Spanish! Breakfast is at 7:30, lunch at 2:00, and dinner at 7:00. Our first dinner tonight went really well. We had shrimp risotto and a little bit of red wine for the special occasion. Generally, the biggest meal here is in the middle of the day, which will take some getting used to!