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.

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.