Tuesday, November 1, 2011

23 Hours



The States better prepare themselves, because we are coming home!

For more than a year now, we have been living abroad and building new lives for ourselves. First in Ecuador where we taught English grammar points like "defining and non-defining clauses" and now in Mexico where we hear the words "Zapatista" and "global pedagogy" thrown around as if it's common vocabulary. Ecuador taught us that we can take huge risks. It taught us that working our asses off doesn't necessarily mean that we'll make enough money to pay our rent. But extra money to buy a block of cheddar cheese at the end of the week or not, we will be happy. We learned more than anything that money and struggles and long-hours don't even begin to diminish our love for each other. We had more fun entertaining each other with Gin Rummy and crossword puzzles than any movie ticket or soccer game ever could have.

Mexico has taught us that hard work can pay off. Our lives are much more where we'd like them to be here in Cuernavaca. We are using the Spanish that we struggled to learn in Cuenca during our "free time." We are working with an incredibly progressive and amazing organization. We get to listen to lectures on indigenous women's rights, Latin American-US relations, and the history of the Mexican-American War (more locally referred to as the US Invasion of 1846). We get free coffee. We eat tamales and quesadillas and chilaquiles pretty much all the time. I mean come on . . . this is like our dream! 
But since it's been over 365 days since we've stepped foot in the land that bleeds red, white and blue, we're pretty thrilled. 

Tomorrow night we will pack up, leave our apartment at 9 pm, take a bus to Mexico City, sit in the airport until 3 am, board our flight at 5 am and be in Tulsa by noon. Then we will get to see some members of the Tulsa-based family, ooh and ahh over the cutest little girl in the world, eat Hideaway pizza with an disgusting amount of ranch dressing and possibly a belated chocolate birthday cake. We're going to stuff ourselves silly.

And then on Saturday I get to stand up with my best friend as she exchanges vows with her soulmate in a picnic-themed, homemade wedding.

The US might not have the best tamales in the world, but it does have the people who are dearest to us. And with the wedding of my bestie since birth and the new arrival of another adorable, long-legged Verduzco child and the meetings and greetings of the Bryant-Gentzler-Verduzco-Jones-Moncrief family, I think we can handle saying hasta luego to tamales for a while.

23 hours to go!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, here they are . . .

We like to think of ourselves as progressive in several senses of the word. Politically, yes. Socially, yes. Personally, it gets a little more complicated - our well-instilled Midwestern mores keep us conservative in many ways. So when it comes to the marriage transition, we have mixed and contradictory feelings. I like my name, but I'm also a bit uncomfortable with the thought of forcibly imposing it on my future wife. At the same time, I want our entire family to be unified under one banner. We have friends whose parents combined their last names upon becoming wife and husband, and we admire the sentiment: two equals becoming one new, great thing. Mostly it happens in the classic first sound of one name replacing the first sound of the other name: Thomas and Benson, for example, becoming Thoson. For us, that would mean something like Gyant or Brentzler, neither of which sound particularly appealing.

And so, as a thought exercise, or as a running joke, we have for the past months considered hundreds of random nouns as potential candidates: Pancake, Coffee, Wineglass, Beerstein (The theme should be predictable to anyone who knows us.) As inherited last names, these are great, but to pick one random object to be our last name for the rest of our lives seems arbitrary and runs a large risk of no longer being cute or funny after a few months. We need something a little more us.

So in went our last names to an online anagram generator, and the first word on the list was, regrettably, REGRETTABLY. The union of the letters of our last names seems to be at first rueful and reluctant. As the list continues, it doesn't get much better. The story that would arise from the longest words on the list would certainly be a tragedy: "The BARRETTE only served to ENTANGLE BRAZENLY the BATTERER and the BETRAYER into an ETERNAL TENANTRY." Alone in its possibility of positive connotation, ETERNAL instead erases the hope for escape from this terrible relationship. Instead of moving ahead, we regress and must RELEARN, things don't improve but irregularly ENLARGE, and the ENABLER perpetuates our bad habits. One ENTREATs such a depressing deluge to mercifully RETREAT.

But slowly and tentatively, the words become GENTLER, they become ELEGANT, though it may all be BLARNEY. Slowly, the GENERAL feeling seems TENABLE; we GREENLY and EAGERLY welcome the REENTRY into our story. There's an occasional BATTLE, we may go on an ERRANT TANGENT, but things are definitely BETTER. Who could resist an EAGLET dressed in ARGYLE? Or a sweet, GENTLE GRANNY?

Then we find it, in the middle of nowhere, the thing we see and instantly melt, whether it's on the street or on a list of anagrams for our last names: BEAGLE.

Who could resist?

. . . THE BEAGLES.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lick Your Chops

Walk out our door. Look across the street. There you will find elote - corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise and cheese and doused with hot chili pepper. The corn will be boiling in a pot on the sidewalk and a woman and her elementary-aged son will serve you this delicacy on a stick.

Make a left and walk two blocks. Cross the street. If it is a Sunday you will find the kindest, sweetest elderly couple from a farming town outside of Cuernavaca serving freshly flattened tortillas on their wood-burning stove in their makeshift, sidewalk eatery. You will find a table with 3 chairs. Sit in one of them and order the gorditas with Oaxacan cheese or the quesadillas with squash. You won't regret it. Beware of manzano peppers. It sounds like apple (manzana) in Spanish, but it is not. If it isn't Sunday, then I'm sorry, you're out of luck.

Continue west until you see a large spit with bright red meat roasting in the open-air window of a taqueria. Say hello (or hola, if you're so inclined) to Lorena, the owner, and then order at least four pastor tacos. They will ask you if you want everything on it. Say yes. Always say yes. Enjoy your tacos with spicy meat, onions, cilantro, limes and pineapple. 

Turn around and walk back toward the house. Pass it, and continue southward until you reach the Grecian looking Catholic Church. You've reach the mecca of taco stands in the neighborhood. Bienvenid@s. From the woman outside of the little grocery store, order a quesadilla with mushrooms. You may fall out of your plastic chair in ecstasy when you taste your first bite. Brace yourself.  Order a returnable glass bottle of Boing! soda. It is an employee-owned company that laughs in the face of Coca-Cola. 

Hobble your way south three more blocks to the surprisingly modern, undeniably delicious, vegetarian-renouncing hamburger stand on the corner. Order anything from the laminated and uncommonly sophisticated menu. Hamburgers with pineapple, hamburgers with cheese and mushroom and fried onions, hamburgers with bacon and avocado, and veggie burgers for those who aren't quite ready to renounce their loyalty. If you're anything like me, when you bite into that juicy goodness, a few swear words will make their way out. Make sure small children aren't around while eating.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Nuestra Familia en Cuenca

I write this in Mexico, but we need first to bring this blog closer to the present. Before we left Ecuador three short weeks ago, we had the pleasure of spending our last week with my brother and sister-in-law. After making idyllic Cuenca our temporary home for several months, we were pleased to be able to share it with someone from our real home, to merge our worlds, however briefly.

The fate of the trip was precarious to begin with; prohibitive airfare costs and our dubious schedule cast considerable doubt on the whole thing. Then, prices dropped precipitously and the trip was booked, though we had several choices to make about where we'd be and how much time we'd be able to spend with our guests. Then, Molly got her job in Mexico, and we were obligated to be moving out of the country in the middle of their stay. Luckily, we found cheaper tickets on Sunday, buying us more time in Ecuador. Needless to say, it was complicated and uncertain up to the last few weeks, and for four people who are definitely the planning type, to varying degrees, that was enough to make us nervous about it.

But it worked out after all, and we spent our last weeks in Ecuador preparing simultaneously for our guests in Cuenca and for our move to Mexico. We cleaned the apartment, as we would for any guest, but then, in a parody of a deep-clean gone too far, we packed up all of our belongings - sweatshirts and souvenirs and stacks of books that we had promised to sell or trade in, to no avail - and took down the scant decorations we had contributed to the blank white walls - anti-bullfighting fliers and pictures of family and Christmas stockings labeled "R" and "M" that had hung since our arrival in January. It was a strange mix of feelings: eagerness to see our family and nervousness about leaving, the inevitable pressure of hosting on top of the anxiety of an international move. Having seen much of Molly's family in Mexico early this year, I missed my side of the family dearly - even more than I realized, as the visit grew nearer. Despite the innate strangeness of the situation, we were looking forward to our last crazy week very much.

And crazy it turned out to be. Kari and Adam arrived to Cuenca about an hour behind schedule, and we nervously watched the passengers deplane, wondering how they would contact us if they had missed their flight. A hundred descended the stairs, it seemed, before the really tall white guy I was looking for finally appeared.

Our itinerary for the week was packed; we wanted to show our guests as much of the country as was possible in five short days. We'd see the ancient Incan ruins at Ingapirca, the stunning moonscape at Cajas National Park, the incomparable view at Turi, the mud baths at Baños de San Vicente, and eat copious amounts of ceviche. Five days didn't seem enough to do justice even to Ecuador's southern highlands, but we were going to do our best.

We spent the first half day on a tour of the beautiful center, had some delicious ceviche, and rested up for a full week. The next morning, it was off to Ingapirca, about two hours away, up even further into the Andes, at about 10,900 feet. Adam wasn't feeling the best, and the frigid temperatures and constant nettlesome drizzle didn't help, and the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador turned out to be about the size of the backyard of my childhood home. But it was on our list of things to do before we left, and it was worth the trip, though a little underwhelming.

International travel, especially to the third world, poses many risks that simply cannot be avoided, not least among them digestive. And so, for the next few days, at least one of us was stricken with some sort of health issue at any given time. We put off Cajas each morning, then decided the best we could do was to see it on the bus ride down to Guayaquil. We willed ourselves up to Turi, then descended quickly. We spent much more time in our apartment than we had planned with migraines or stomach problems. Molly and I fretted that we weren't making enough of our time, but we are well aware that powering through health constraints just isn't worth it for any involved; the person who's sick, no matter how hard they try not to be, will be miserable, and everyone else, no matter how much they wanted to go, will be too concerned to enjoy it. So we simply enjoyed each other's company, sharing stories and playing cards, catching up on the months apart, happily breaking the longest period of time I've ever gone without seeing my big brother. It was wonderful, comforting, just to sit and be, savoring the best, most authentic bit of home while abroad.

The truth is that our lives in Ecuador taught us, perhaps too well, just how content Molly and I can be together, just the two of us, every waking hour. There were (and are) inevitably rough spots, as in any relationship, but a childish giddiness has been the baseline standard for our lives for nearly a year now. Sharing everything, against all odds, has scarcely been an adjustment. Saccharine it may be, but it's the simple truth: we're madly in love. In a way, our daily contentedness has obscured everything outside of our immediate surroundings.

Though we've certainly maintained that contentedness with our situation since moving to Mexico three weeks ago, seeing Adam and Kari broke the spell, in a very welcome way. We may be happy, just the two of us, but we love and need our families immensely. We may be settling in for another year abroad, and proud of our independence, but there's an irreplaceable happiness to be found in our homes, whether we go there or it comes to us, one that can't be reproduced in any meaningful way on our own.

Realizing this, it was deeply and strangely relieving to see Kari and Adam, like they were the cure to an ache I had stopped noticing. Our time together didn't go exactly as planned; it rarely does, in those types of situations. But their presence was simply wonderful, and more than enough to hold us over until November, when we'll get to fully recharge.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hasta luego, Cuenca!


This was written a week before we left Ecuador, sometime around the first week in August. But then things got crazy and we never posted it. The entry is old, but the sentiments are still true. 

We are officially Mexico bound starting in the wee hours of Sunday morning. After 9 months of discovering the secrets of Ecuadorian life, living in the heart of Andes mountains, teaching classes upon classes about phrasal verbs, present perfect and relative clauses, improving our ethpanyol, and always being within a few hours of the ocean or the Amazon, it seems almost unreal to be saying goodbye to the home we have created south of the Equator. 

Although it wasn't always easy - and we never expected it to be - we survived horrendously long hours of work for no more than $4 per hour. And we enjoyed it. Yes, I personally had a few too many break-downs and sob sessions, but after I came back from my temporary insanity, I was still able to appreciate the unique and incredibly hospitable country we were living in. 

When we told people that we were moving to "Ecuador!", we had the typical oohs and aahs from those who imagined it to be exotic and "tribal." In fact, despite our extensive travels to foreign lands, we imagined Ecuador as an untamed, wild place where we'd learn Spanish within minutes, sit on the beach and relax all the time, and maybe teach a little when we got a break from our avocado eating or backpacking around the continent. 

However, it always becomes clear when we land in a new country, that it is simply another place. It's new and exciting, but it is a place.

Instead of dreamland, our routine consisted of waking up at 6 am to catch the #22 or #5 bus to Nuestra Familia, teaching 4 or 5 hours, coming home to prepare, cook and eat an increasingly delicious lunch,  and then almost immediately leaving again to catch the less reliable #6 bus toward Nexus Lenguas y Culturas. When we got home at night, usually around 9, we'd eat a snack, watch some show that we had on the computer and then go to sleep. Life wasn't exotic. 

But Ecuador has been very good to us. We've met, and continue to meet, impossibly kind and generous people. We've made friends, gotten to know neighbors and become a part of a country rich in culture and life. Mexico will still have beaches and avocados, but it's going to be a bittersweet departure next Sunday. Saying "chao!" to Ecuador is tough, but another land and another country beckons us onward.

A few of the things we will miss about Ecuador:
- Being a bus ride away from the beach, the Amazon and living in the mountains
- Big Cola (Coca-Cola's small but sweet competitor. Suck it, Coke!)
- Natural, plain yogurt in a bag
- Puppies and babies everywhere! 
- The landscapes: mountains, rivers, ocean, rainforest, lakes, volcanoes
- $1 smoothies
- Fresh avocados, pineapples, mangoes, strawberries and raspberries by the bushel
- Cheap public transportation, $1/hour to get anywhere in the country
- DVDs for $1.50 which means never having to go to the theatre because the pirated DVD will be in stores the next week
- Chopin, our landlord's homely dog with a Hitler mustache that came about from an unfortunate incident with a chicken leg
- The man who shines shoes on Avenida Benigno Malo
- Deportivo Cuenca

Friday, August 5, 2011

Marrying me will you be?

After two full days of on and off rain, hiking trails that last for 20 minutes but yielded spectacular views, countless bologna sandwiches on sliced bread and too many rounds of Polish Poker, Ryan and I took a quick, seemingly uneventful hike to the river to get some water. Even though I had had my hunches, I had more or less given up on any proposal happening that weekend. We had already gone to some beautiful areas and spent two days and a night in a national park in the Amazonian rainforest. I assumed that if it hadn't happened then, it was going to be a while. Plus, I had been on high alert since we reached the park, watching for any signs of awkwardness or bumps in his jacket pockets the size of a ring. He had so far given me nothing. Not a sign. Not a ring. Not even the slightest clue at all.

That afternoon we were forced by the inclement weather to stay in our tent and play cards. Although this had happened numerous times during the trip, we were still in good spirits.

In addition to the disappointing weather, we had some health issues earlier in the day. I woke up with an awful migraine, so Ryan being the wonderful boyfriend that he was, massaged me all morning. He was also experiencing strange stomach pains, most likely due to our only meal which was the aforementioned bologna sandwiches. All of it was disgusting except for the cheese. Thank god we splurged on the cheese. 

About the time we started feeling better, a rowdy group of teenagers ambushed the campgrounds and started flirting with Ryan. It's the beard. Ladies love beards. Well, apparently so do pre-teens in booty shorts. They worked up the nerve to move from their coy glances to actually batting their eyes to finally approaching him (and me . . . but for some reason they had no interest in me at all). When they begrudgingly went on a nature hike, we readily jumped in our tent to escape for more card games. After a stormy half hour, the teens returned, and we did our best to seem invisible. But then came the "MISTER!" and "'SCUSE ME! MISTER!" at regular high-pitched intervals. What these teens didn't know was that "mister" was about the be off the market completely within the hour.

Once they left and the rain stopped, we went on one last hike into the jungle. When we finished, we grabbed our waterbottles and went to my favorite place in the park to get some water. At this point, I was still clueless and still a tiny, itty-bit hopeful. As we hiked down to the Rio Bombuscaro, I stopped to take pictures of leaf cutter ants - something that had occupied an ungodly amount of time during the past few days. Ryan was cool as a cucumber and never even let on that he had our engagement ring in his right pocket. 

When we made it down to the river, he suggested we find a place to sit. Immediately I knew something was up, because he never makes decisions, especially unsolicited ones. So I nervously followed him over mossy rocks high above the river. We rested on a big rock with our legs dangling over the edge and our pants soaked completely through within seconds. Ryan asked if I was comfortable, and when I said yes he said, "Good, because I have something for you." Then he pulled a bag out of his jacket. How did I not notice that? Where had it been hiding? It was a big bag. I was totally oblivious. 

Inside the bag was the most amazing gift anyone has ever made or given me in my life. It was a book that he had written about us and our relationship. Before I even opened it, I was weeping. I cried throughout the entire 50 pages, constantly mopping my eyes so I could continue. It was incredible, beautifully written (of course, have you seen his writing?), really clever and full of humor, and deeply, deeply personal. On the last page were the words, "Will you marry me?" and when I looked up, he had precariously made his way onto one knee on a wet, mossy rock overlooking the rushing Bombuscaro river and asked me to marry him. I weeped and said "yes!" Then he slipped the little $8 market ring onto my left hand. 

It was hands-down the most perfect way to propose. So perfectly us. Books! And nature! And camping! 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Amazonian Bologna, with Mayonnaise

After working from dusk until the god-forsaken madrugada everyday for $4 an hour these past six months, Ryan and I quit. Enough is enough, and since I had recently suffered several childlike breakdowns that consisted of "No! I can't. I simply can't teach anymore. I have nothing left. I CAN'T!", we knew it was probably time to cut the cord and say goodbye to English teaching for a while. It wouldn't have been inappropriate for me to follow these embarrassing tantrums with a food stomp or a Ghanaian arm flap that I learned from my frequently upset toddlers, and in order to save our relationship and our sanity, we opted to take a much needed vacation. 

We left cold, wintertime Cuenca for a nice, relaxing vacation in Parque Nacional Podocarpus in the South of Ecuador. Camping is one of our favorite past times, and usually we have enough equipment and planning to get us by in the US - even if we do end up hiking through several feet of snow in light zip-off pants and sweaters. Ecuador presented a bit of a predicament in regard to preparation. You see, my generous sister had brought down a duffel bag full of our camping gear when we met in Viva Mexico for Easter break. We ended up with: a tent, my sleeping bag, Ryan's sleeping pad, a stove, a lantern, Ryan's hiking shoes and a pooper scooper kit. What we did not end up with was: Ryan's sleeping bag, my sleeping pad, fuel for the stove, and my hiking shoes. Where those things have escaped to, I do not know, but if they're reading this: Please, come home.

The adventure began before we even left. We had a list of items we needed to find and very little expendable income to buy these special items in a country where almost no one ever camps. Ever. And if they do admit to camping, it doesn't take long to realize they spent the night in a cabin in the woods with several amenities, such as bed frames, mattresses and hinged doors, that we couldn't fit in our backpacks. We did, however, found a light sleeping bag at the local grocery/clothing/music/drugstore/sporting goods/department store for a decent price and even a pad to go along with it! Eventually our frugalness caught up to us though, and we opted to share the one bag and the one pad that we already owned. Fuel was the most essential item, and of course, the most difficult item to find. We went all over town, trying to find it in any store that might carry things even vaguely related to camping. Our search came up dry, so we had to make a new plan. We'd have to carry pre-made food. 

Long story short, we ended up with bologna sandwiches, sliced bread (the first loaf of bread not made by us or a mom-and-pop local bakery since coming to Ecuador), good gouda cheese and a package of mayonnaise. Plus, tons of granola that we made in bulk a few days before. And my idea for bringing a bag full of homemade pancakes ended up with fermented flapjacks. Oops. 

Background: We haven't had meat in forever. Especially lunch meat. Especially meat that isn't really considered meat by most people (B-O-L-O-G-N-A). 

This clustermess of a meal plan ended with full and upset bellies but enough energy to last through the trip. By the way, our bologna had a third name, it's oh-my-god-I'm-sick. 

So we made do with what limited resources we had, and we headed out into the Amazonian rainforest to have a simple, non-eventful vacation. Or so I thought . . . 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

And the answer is . . .

None of the above!

What have we been doing lately? Mostly watching this (and similarly captivating performances), over and over.

video

Other than that, working. Working, working, working, breaking down, fighting through, and working more. And napping. Lots of napping.

Our lives here have been defined by nothing if not constant uncertainty, as our last blog indicated. At any given moment of our vagrant life, we've had exactly zero options or a dozen options, depending on the particular moment, but never one undeniably perfect, this is it!, too-good-to-pass-up, divinely inspired, ohm'gawnoway, skies-parting, revelatory breakthrough. Until now!

In the space of six hurtling days, Molly was notified of, applied for, interviewed for, was offered, and accepted a dream job of sorts for this point in our lives: an internship with her study abroad program in Mexico. The benefits: meaningful work, side trips to rural villages and new countries (Cuba?!), a rent-free apartment for two, free food for one, free or discounted Spanish lessons, a plane ticket there, and, at long last, real stability and certainty for nearly a year. It almost sounds too good to be true to our world-weary ears. No financial pressure as we meander around looking for jobs. We'll get there just in time for English teacher hiring season, right before school starts, so I'll be able to carpet the town with my now-substantive resumé.

Strictly speaking, our vagrant life will be taking a temporary hiatus. As much as we sometimes romanticize the life of a gypsy, it's been difficult to adjust our mindsets fully to the cultural practice of deciding things (especially important things, like jobs and money) a few days or hours before they happen. A period of relative settling down will do us good.

So for the next two months, we'll be (what else?) working. And in the few weeks in between, we'll be checking off some experiences before we say goodbye to a country that's been very good to us. The people, the culture, the scenery, and the climate will be extremely hard to beat; in seven months, despite the uncertainty, this place has become a comfortable second home. It'll be hard to leave, but the landing in Cuernavaca will be a soft one.

Onward!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Woes of Vagrants


We named our blog "Our Vagrant Life" assuming that it would be a cute, Fleet Foxes reference with a little truth to it in regards to our actual lives. Turns out, we sealed our fate when we named that blog. Vagrants we wanted to be, and vagrants we have become. For better or worse, in sickness (such as e-coli, UTIs, stomach viruses and the traditional migraine) and in health, we are humble, simple, flat-broke English teachers attempting to remain abroad for the foreseeable future.

In November, my best friend is getting hitched and a new baby will be entering our family (separate events, similar times). Obviously, we'll be returning to the States, over a year after we left, to partake in these celebrations. Our problem, however, is what will we do in the meantime? We can't sign contracts at new schools, because we'll be leaving mid semester. We can't bring ourselves to go home early and take temp jobs at Sears or any upper class pyramid scheme like we did last Fall. We want to keep improving our Spanish and immersing ourselves in the warm and vibrant cultures of South America. 

However, we'd also like to be able to pay rent and continue making foods with a sprinkle of precious cheese in them. Thus, we have mulled over countless scenarios that could or should or might or probably won't happen in the next 5 months. Each and every scenario that is dreamed up comes with approximately 7 or 8 if's. If we do this, then we'll have to figure out how to do that. And if we do that, we have to make sure that this other thing actually works out because if it doesn't the whole plan fails. You know, that sort of thing. 

Below I have briefly described the three main situations that could arise in addition to their offshoots:

Situation #1: If we get jobs in New York for the summer and the price of tickets isn't too much, then we'll buy one way tickets to New York, live it up in the often-nicknamed but hotly-disputed "Capital of the World," and then go to Guatemala where we can take Spanish lessons from the Spanish-social justice-human rights-Coca Cola hating-coffee obsessed school I went to when I studied abroad. We could take lessons for a month or so, I with my former sassy teacher turned friend, and Ryan with her goofball husband. Then we could work on an organic farm in the countryside or maybe travel through Central America until November. In essence, Situation #1 would be ideal - also, seemingly impossible.
Situation #1a: If we get the jobs in New York for the summer, we could buy round-trip tickets and come back to Ecuador. We could take Spanish lessons somewhere in Cuenca - if we can work something out with our landlords so we can leave all of our things in the apartment for a month and not pay. Then we could volunteer at a couple rural schools in the Sierras of Ecuador. And we could work on an organic farm in the south of Ecuador near the "Valley of the Immortals" where we could search for the fountain of youth  for a while and practice Spanish until November.
Situation #1b: If we get the jobs in New York and yada yada yada, then we could fly back to Ecuador, work in the same schools and do the same thing, but maybe be able to afford an apartment in town with a real roof and perhaps a connection to the world wide web. This isn't the most exciting scenario, but it is the most financially lucrative and probably the most adult choice. 

Situation #2: If we don't get the jobs in New York but we do get new work visas, then we can stay in Ecuador until November and try to start up our very own private tutoring business. We could also work at the same schools and live in the same apartment. Except that we really want to move somewhere else since we don't have internet at all and the apartment floods after a heavy rain.
Situation #2a: So we could stay in Ecuador and work at the same schools and try to find another apartment, but we would want to live in town and they're all gorgeous and colonial and way out of our price range. So this doesn't seem feasible.
Situation #2b: If we don't get the jobs in New York but do get new work visas, we could work on an organic farm for the months of July and August with a sweet family that would teach us Spanish and feed us fresh veggies all the time. That would only work if we can leave all of our lives' belongings in our little apartment and leave it for a couple months without paying for rent. 

Situtation #3: If we don't the jobs in New York AND we don't get extensions on our visas or we can't get new ones, then we'll move. Maybe to Peru where we could for a school 9 hours from any real highway or byway, and we could work way too many hours a week for almost no pay. And apparently the whole town is devoid of kitchens. 
Situation #3a: If we don't get the jobs in New York AND we don't get extensions on our visas or we can't get new ones, then we can stay illegally for a while without too much punishment. But we wouldn't be able to come back to Ecuador for at least 9 months, and we might ruin our chances of ever getting another long-term visa here. But we wouldn't have to sacrifice half our month's salary either . .
Situation #3b: If we don't get the jobs in New York AND we don't get extensions on our visas or we can't get new ones, then we might have to pray for a miracle. Or at least miracle jobs that hire us within days and then fly us down to their school which so happens to provide visas, housing, transportation and the like. 

And that's not even all of them. The nice thing about being a vagrant is anything seems possible for us; unfortunately, it also means that just about anything could happen to us. No, we don't live under a bridge.

But it sure feels like it when it rains.

video

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Gettin' Cuy-zee


To be honest, discovering our hidden culinary capabilities has made us somewhat disillusioned with the local cuisine. The comically cheap, generously portioned, and often tasty almuerzos sold on every corner in town, for all their virtues, can't really match up, for instance, with the delectability and pride afforded by our balsamic vinegar-marinated eggplant-mushroom-onion-mozzarella sandwiches on homemade wheat buns still steaming from the oven and dressed with garlic-basil mayo, served with home-baked potato chips. So instead of spending $1.25 for a filling lunch, we spend less money and more time by making it ourselves.

Every once in a while, however, our adventuresomeness and curiosity in our new surroundings get the best of us. We happen to live in a section of Cuenca renowned for its large number of comedores serving the local delicacy: cuy, the onomatopoetic Spanish word for guinea pig. Every afternoon on the bus coming from work, we pass a dozen roadside storefronts with rows of rodents roasting on spits, next to whole pigs, entire bodies still intact, eerily smiling at us with strips of golden-fried skin shaved off their flanks. We still haven't quite gotten used to the sight. But after having been asked by our students dozens of times whether we'd tried cuy, we decided that since we're here, since it's so strange, and since we probably won't have this opportunity again anytime soon, it would be worth a try. So a couple of weeks ago, we did.

When we pass by the row of restaurants, we often see two dachshunds running around a particular stall, probably scrounging for the scraps of the meals their owners are preparing. Having both had wiener dogs growing up, we took it as a sign that, if we have to choose, it was an easy choice: trust the wiener dogs. So we made our way down the street one Saturday night, nervous but determined to tuck away an iconic Ecuadorian experience. 

We awkwardly approached the restaurateur and asked to try cuy, then were shown into the large and completely empty dining room, where we sat and nervously anticipated our meal. First came the appetizers of puffed corn and potatoes and then, soon after, an entire cuy presented on a plate, hacked to pieces but still easily recognizable as having been the furry little creature found in cages in so many American elementary school classrooms. We couldn't resist going through the unbearably gringo ritual of posing with the poor critter's greasy head.
 


And then we clumsily attempted to separate the edibles from the inedibles, a process that never seemed to quite make sense. Molly got through a few bites of the chicken-like meat before giving up; I kept at it much too long, trying to divide the disgusting bits from the more disgusting bits. Neither of us was hungry at the end of the meal, but it didn't have much to do with the amount we ate. We've yet to cook meat in our Ecuadorian home, so we now eat animals only on our rare ventures to restaurants. Yes, it was incredibly greasy, but it really didn't taste that bad. Our stomachs are conditioned to a near-vegetarian diet, though, and the cuy was stretching their limits.

On the whole, totally worth it. We're not curious anymore, and when our students ask us if we've tried it, we can proudly answer in the affirmative - and politely decline any invitations to try it again. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Help Bring Justice to Guatemalan Syphilis Experiment Victims


As you may already know, we wrote an article for the non-profit website, Change.org. We are petitioning the US government to financially compensate victims of an atrocious medical experiment that took place in Guatemala during the 1940s. With US taxpayer money, the US Public Health Service conducted an experiment, similar to the infamous Tuskeegee study in the 1960s. Believing that Guatemala would be an ideal place to escape scrutiny for such a blatantly unethical medical test, The US Public Health Service purposefully infected male prisoners with syphilis through inhumane and often painful procedures. Additionally, they sent infected prostitutes into the prisons to contaminate the men. All of this was done without the knowledge or consent of the victims. 

Furthermore, orphaned children and mental health patients were subjected to testing which never contributed to finding a vaccine for syphilis.  

We are asking for 200 signatures, and we need your support. All you have to do is follow this link: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-the-us-justice-department-to-compensate-guatemalan-syphilis-experiment-victims?share_id=YkgcfEyKAs&pe=pce

Sign the petition, send the letter to President Obama and if you would like, please tell others about this cause. We cannot and should not stand idly by while our government refuses to rectify such intentional injustice. 

We'd really appreciate your support. 

If you'd like more information about the Guatemalan syphilis experiment, you can read these articles:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cuencano Culinary


We have discovered the art of cooking. We don't know how it happened or why . . . but it did. We are suddenly, to put it lightly, cooking geniuses; and I have to admit that we have done little to nothing wrong in our culinary attempts over the past few weeks. When we first moved to Ecuador, we easily fell into a rut of tomato and onion based everything. We played it safe with fresh tomato sauce and pasta, veggie sandwiches and countless rice and beans varieties. Not now . . . oh not now. It was time to break free of our pico de gallo ingredients, and we broke past those barriers throwing our inhibitions and tomatoes out the window.

Over the past week we have made: banana pudding, apple-cinnamon rolls, the best pizza on the most delectable pizza crust ever, breakfast burritos with fresh guacamole, enchiladas, carrot cake without a recipe and with cream cheese frosting, apple pancakes with cinnamon-apple syrup and yogurt, strawberry pancakes with strawberry-yogurt syrup, broccoli-green bean-mushroom alfredo sauce, citrus tea, Semi-German Chocolate Cake with coconut icing, and All, might I add, from scratch with no packaged anything.

You may look at that and think, "sugar!" You'd be right. We've overloaded ourselves on sugar, but that doesn't mean we won't go home and eat a piece of carrot cake before bed. Because we will. Oh we will.

We are attempting to eat as local as possible, which for us means all of our produce comes from local vendors who have farms in the mountains nearby Cuenca and all of the dry goods come from somewhere in Ecuador. And if you think eating locally is a struggle, take a second look:

Strawberry Pancakes

Ryan's Birthday Spread


How we feel when we taste the juicy fruits of our newfound talents

The perfect pizza crust

Second Christmas!

Carrot Cake Photo Shoot
Semi-German Chocolate Cake

Black Bean Lasagna