February is already a short month, but this year, it felt even shorter! I began the month entertaining and traveling with a nearby volunteer and his father. We went to Cumbatza, a Shuar village, where we hiked through the jungle, played in a few waterfalls, and ate Ayampaco with the local townsmen. Then I headed off to Riobamba (also called “frio-bamba” because it’s FREEZING up there in the mountains). I traveled with a local farmer to attend a Beekeeping conference. They didn’t have enough space for me, so I linked up with a friend and visited a different sierra town each day. After the conference, I met up with more friends and celebrated Carnaval in Guaranda (known to host Ecuador’s best Carnaval celebration). In the States, we don’t celebrate Carnaval but just imagine the craziest, messiest, drunkest week long festival, similar to our Mardi Gras…. But with clothes, thankfully! It begins with kids chucking water balloons in the street, followed by a little flour, then maybe a few eggs, and by the time the week long celebration is coming to an end, you can expect to get doused with papaya, pig’s blood, lard, milk, or practically anything lying around. So who wants to visit me during Carnaval 2011?! I only have so much space, and the waiting list is long… Haha. Finally, to end the busy month of February, I finished an art exchange project between my students from the Amazon and students in the United States. It was super neat to receive paintings of norms and traditions in the States and exchange them with paintings my students completed of the jungle culture!
All work and no play makes Nicolette a dull girl. I didn’t do much in March other than work. My main job is at a school for children with disabilities in Macas, but in March I started working one day a week at another special needs school about 30 minutes outside of Macas. They seem to be motivated and organized so it’s a treat to start my week working in Sucua. Mid March I got out of the jungle for the weekend to attend a BBQ for the new trainees in Quito. After nine months of being a “newbie” it was wonderful to get rid of that title and chat with some of the new “newbies”. Other random things I did in March included harvesting cacao (the fruit that chocolate comes from), teaching my Ecuadorian family how to make quesadillas and hamburgers, and starting a composting bin! I get to throw most of my organic waste (i.e. kitchen scraps and leftovers) into a mesh container and then spread it on my roof-top garden in a few months? Why didn’t I think of this sooner?! SUPER COOL. (Read “Let It Rot” and you too will get excited about composting!)
April was by far the craziest month I’ve had in Peace Corps. It started with me finding and moving into the PERFECT roof-top apartment in the center of town. I’ll endure cockroaches and rats for the amazing view I have from my bedroom and kitchen! Oh well, I figure I’m in the Peace Corps and putting up with a few pests is a luxury compared to other volunteers’ experiences. (Although, ask me again in a few months and I’m sure I’ll have changed my mind.) Then... Surprise! I went to visit family and a few friends in Arkansas. It was a last minute decision but I just needed to spend a few days in the comfort and support of my family. So, I flew into Little Rock and visited with my wonderful college friends. Then, Liz planned a birthday BBQ in my honor and I showed up to surprise my mom. It was one of those moments where time stops and your brain works a million miles a minute processing everything. After the initial shock wore off, she immediately set the family up with a shot of tequila and a beer and we had a terrific BBQ. The next day I surprised my dad when I showed up in place of Liz’s husband for the Red Sox-Royals game! Talk about a welcome home weekend… family barbeque AND a Red Sox game?! Does it get any better? The entire week was amazing and refreshing and exactly what I needed. I came back to my very own apartment, beautiful weather, and a new and improved attitude on work. I jumped right in and taught an entire week of sex education to two classes of 6th and 7th graders! WOW. Remind me to not try that again, especially in a foreign language.
May was a roller coaster of a month! The transition to living alone coupled with the strangeness of having just visited my old life had taken its toll. It’s hard to put into words, but basically I had this wonderful idea of what Ecuador, Macas, and the Peace Corps were to me and to those around me. Then I visited the world I used to live and thrive in and realized it hadn’t changed much, just as Macas hadn’t changed when I returned. Lots of questions were/are running through my mind about the meaning of life, my purpose in it, and if I’m on the right path. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life here, there is no comparison, but it’s hard to avoid the “What Ifs” sometimes. I’m working on living in the now and finding joy in everything I do rather than getting caught up and bogged down with the past and future. I’m an incredibly happy and optimistic person and I’m doing everything I want to accomplish, it just feels almost selfish to be in this position. But any of you Ayn Rand fans (author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) will know that selfishness is a good thing! Haha. Other than deep introspection, I had a Cinco de Mayo/housewarming taco party, got a fridge (Thanks Gma!), and had my first fellow volunteer visitor for the Festivles of Macas!
I have spent the good part of June learning how to be content in doing absolutely nothing. School is wrapping up for summer vacation and a lot of my projects are either at a standstill or coming to an end. This has led to a great appreciation for ESPN International, when the only thing on my agenda is `Game 5´ and it´s an excuse to leave the house and hang out with friends...Go Celtics! Also, what better time to check off some books I´ve been meaning to read for the last 10 years: Ayn Rand, War and Peace, books on Autism, The Bible, etc. (check, half way through, check, and never gonna get through the Old Testiment!) In the middle of all this down time, I took a trip to Quito to hang out with one of my friends, Kara, before she returned to the States. Although it was sad that she was leaving, it was an exciting break and a fantastic time to let loose with ¨the girls¨.
I think about you guys all the time (you who read this occasional blog and keep up with me outside of it) and thank you for your love and support. Sometimes I feel like a whole new person but really I’m just the plain old Nicolette, or Nicole, or Nikki that you’ve always known me as.
PS- It’s crazy time consuming and expensive ($1/hour for internet adds up) to upload pictures onto my blog so check out the link to my facebook album to see more! (That means you grayma… even if you don’t have an account, you can still view them right now.)