Well we’re alive, we’re safe and we’re not in an Ecuadorean jail. We began our quest to Quito, Ecuador by spending several hours in various airports as two of our three flights were delayed. Our plane in Omaha hit a bird before they got to the airport and had some mechanical issues. We made it to Chicago and basically ran to meet our connection to Miami. Upon arrival in Miami, we were delayed by thunderstorms, jetway failures and a failure to locate our flight crew. We left Miami at the stroke of 10 pm (on a flight that was scheduled to leave at 6:50 pm).
We arrived in Quito at 2 am Nebraska time and proceeded to customs. Customs was a breeze but we were a bit nervous about collecting our extra 30 bags of supplies from the luggage carousel. I was told strictly to keep an eye on our bags at the risk of them being confiscated. A lot of the supplies and gifts we were bringing are illegal to bring into the country for resale. We weren’t going to resell any of the items of course but we didn’t want to run any risks.
We managed to pass through the rest of security without incident and was met by Paul, our group leader who lives here in Ecuador. He is with Extreme Response, the group we were to be working with on this trip.
After a brief and speedy bus trip through downtown Quito we arrived at our aaccomodations which was the Extreme Response offices. After a busy day, we went right to sleep.
This morning was the official beginning of our Quito adventures. It began with breakfast, debriefing, and a lunch packing. We piled into a van and headed to our worksite to meet our beneficiaries.
The daylight tour of Quito was much more interesting. Much better when you’re not looking through the haze of dry contacts and lack of sleep. Quito, geographically is beautiful. Our window from our dorm faces east. There are three (currently) dormant volcanoes including Cotopaxi which is extremely large and still snow-capped.
Over 60% of Ecuador’s populations is below the poverty line and it is terribly evident as you drive through Quito. Trash everywhere and ramshackle buildings and houses. Evidently today, Ecuador passed a new Constitution. It is supposed to make the country more democratic but Paul says it seems very Communist with the Ecuadorean President having most of the power. The people seem to support him.
Quito is extraordinarily hilly and covered in Eucalyptus trees and housing. Where there is any sort of space on the hillsides, a highrise living apartment is built. Driving in the city reminds me of Europe as everyone seems to drive as if in a frantic hurry and there is no fear of the horn.
We twisted and turned eventually ended up at our worksite. The family we were building for was there to greet us and they incredibly sweet people. Very excited we were there. We had introductions with the family who thanked us profusely and we set to work.
I’m not much of a construction buff but I will say, I can mortar one heck of a brick wall. For my first construction experience, I hauled concrete blocks, shoveled and mixed cement and mortared bricks. I enjoy manual labor from time to time and this was probably the most difficult I’ve done.
I got to hang out with the little girls in the family and experimented with what little spanish I knew. The girls are adorable. They range in ages from 3 to 15 and they have boundless energy. Although they are considered extremely poor, even in Ecuadorean society, they are happy people. They have their health, an income and they have each other. As we were laying bricks and mixing concrete, the mother of the family, Gloria was in the thick of things. Physically she was doing things some of the men couldn’t do and she worked extremely hard the entire time we were there. I admire her strength and am astonished at her physicaly capabilities being 36 years old and a tiny woman at about 5’3. I am honored to work with her.
After our work day we visited the daycare we were also providing assistance too. What a wonderful experience! The children were so excited to see us. We gave them little gifts that included tiny stuffed animals and a tennis ball which evidently is a commodity here. I also got to give them some of the youth baseball gloves which the kids seemed to enjoy and pick up the basic idea of catch fairly quickly. Although they thought you had to throw the ball with the gloved hand as well! None of the kids wanted us to leave.
We also took a tour of the city dump where Gloria is employed. What a sight. Adults and teenagers alive sifting through a massive dump site looking for recyclables. The dump work is considered extremely lowly and workers make about 45 dollars a week for 10 hour days. It was humbling.
For dinner, we had reservations for a restaurant aptly named, Cafeteria. I didn’t know what to expect but the food was wonderful. We started with pure passion fruit juice, potato soup with avocado and a main course of chicken with a mushroom creme sauce, steamed vegetables, white rice and a potato with cheese. Evidently, Ecuadoreans love their cheese. You can order hot chocoloate with mozarella cheese. Our fruit cobbler dessert had chunks of cheese in it. Interesting!
Things are quiet now this evening as everyone is wrapping up for the day, journaling, reading and snacking on some of the wonderful “Waferitas” they have here at the dorm. Tomorrow is another full day of construction and we are all exhausted. I feel like I’ve already been here several days but having a great time so far.