Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Post-Ecuador, a De-Briefing

I've been back in Virginia now for three weeks or so; I'm finally enough removed from my experience that those reflections  Orwell spoke of in his book (that I read earlier in the trip) may be upon me. Through many conversations since I've returned, a few things continually pop up when people question me about my experience.
Our two options to get back to the hotel from the center of town: above, the giant hill, below, the enormous flight of steps. 

First, it was a lesson in group dynamics. A friend used this analogy, and I think it explains it well: it's rather like gaining six more siblings that you weren't sure you wanted. We lived together, ate together, worked together. We learned each other's strengths, became annoyed with each other's weaknesses. I learned that I need space in order to be happy the rest of the time, and that's ok.  Another piece of wisdom that I had become aware of before and was reinforced during the trip: not everyone is cut out to travel abroad, and an even smaller proportion has the right personality to work in a developing country. Patience is everything when attempting to make real progress in a place where efficiency ranks far down the list of defining characteristics. One has to be determined and persistant, but also willing to sit back and let things go when necessary.
Above: middle-upper class dwelling in Guaranda; below, a typical street view 

Lesson number two: I am happier at sea-level, and where it's warm. It was like hitting a wall of heat and humidity walking out of the Miami airport that night, and it's been pretty hot since I've been home. I'm loving it!
Above: collision of modernity and traditional ways of life; middle: usual way of selling the local liquor; bottom: scary trash cans all over Ecuador, I'm surprised not every man, woman, and child has a phobia of clowns.


Thirdly, language is more than just words. Language is something that has run as an underlying current through my high school and college experiences for the last several years; I think I am only beginning to realize its importance. We were learning Spanish in order to be able to question the farmers to gain the information we wanted, but in interviewing (and I discovered this when I was the guinea pig and did the first survey), language counted for a lot. The words we used in phrasing many questions just didn't communicate to them what we wanted; it required a lot of explaining sometimes to get across what we wanted to express. Language is important; there are lots of fine lines between meanings and contexts, and having been out in the field experiencing this, it makes me pay much more attention while reading studies that have been done in countries where the researchers are of a different origin. Yes, the information we collected will be (hopefully) valuable to future research, but that information wasn't possible without us learning to manipulate the language; often things were translated from Quechua to Spanish and Spanish to English. There's a lot of room for error there.

Views inside our favorite café, Siete Santos

The novelty of things like turning on the tap to drink water, having a continually hot shower, and not having to haul water up a mile long hill to drink have mostly worn off now, but the lingering shadow of gratefulness is still with me. While I-81 is a mess, it's still better than most roads in Ecuador, though I'd probably prefer the gas prices there than here. My eyes have been opened a little wider from this experience, and my hope is that they will stay that way, that my understanding of my daily life and the life of those thousands of miles away is a little deeper, and that there will be opportunities in the future to apply this knowledge for the betterment of someone else. Perhaps I'll blog again in the future should I encounter that opportunity, but for now it's back to reading about nonpoint source nutrient credit trading programs in the Chesapeake Bay (say that 5 times fast).

Hasta luego Guaranda, and adios Quito! 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

En Casa

I realized that maybe I was leaving things hanging with the last post, so for those who are curious, I made it home  the evening of July 3rd, with a sinus infection and a  (probably, haven't fully determined yet...) dead computer. But I'm home!
I have many more pictures to post, and I'll get those up as soon as I get my computer situation sorted out. For now, the sweet corn tastes as good as I expected, I'm soaking up the sun like it's going out of fashion, and avoiding my GRE study book like it's the plague.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Homeward bound...but not quite there yet

Departure from Quito was a bit hectic yesterday morning. As a group of six (Albert is staying to travel in Peru), we arrived at the airport by 7:30 and checked in. Mishap #1: I managed to put a half-open waterbottle in my backpack; upon arrival at the airport I realized my computer was soaking wet. Lovely, but nothing I could do about it.

We made it to our gate without problems, though slightly annoyed that we weren't allowed to bring water into the waiting area. We had about a 2 hour wait, during which we were offered a $500 voucher to remain in Quito one night, as they had overbooked the flight. Lauren and I thought about it (had it been a cash voucher, it would have doubled my net-worth), but decided that after being away for 6 weeks, we should head home, so on board we went.

We arrived at Miami by 15:30, and made it through the circus that was customs by about 17:00. Robert had to dash to his flight and get them to open the door to the plane to let him on, but he made it nonetheless. Lauren also had a quick interchange, but as far as I know, she's back in DC. Jessica had delays in Charlotte, but made it home last night.

That left Trevor, Katie, and myself, sitting at the gate for our flight to Richmond. It was supposed to leave at 20:55; somewhere around 19:00 the delays began. Apparently the plane was coming from Nashville, and for whatever reason didn't arrive until 23:00. Then the pilot was pulled off the flight, with none to replace him. After waiting an hour for operations to attempt to find a new pilot, the flight was finally canceled. Thus began the rush to the front of the line for re-booking and meal vouchers. I managed to get a seat on a 18:05 pm flight to Reagan today, Trevor a flight to Richmond via Cleveland (which turned out to be delayed today...) and Katie a flight to Norfolk. After waiting an hour to get these bookings (and lamenting the fact that we should have taken the $500 voucher in Quito), we headed to find our luggage (at the other end of the airport, with the train closed of course) and then out to find the hotel shuttle. In the course of events, Katie and Trevor decided to stay the night at the airport, as their flights left this morning, leaving me heading to the hotel. 2:45 am finally found me in bed after an hour wait for the shuttle and rumors flying that there weren't enough rooms at the hotel for all those American Airlines had booked.

Lessons of traveling: patience patience patience. Fortunately the hotel here in Miami has a very nice pool, a soft bed, and bacon for breakfast. I only hope that my travel home this afternoon goes off without a hitch...wish me luck!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

El Fin

We've made it (almost)! We've been in Ecuador since May 22nd, with only one robbing incident and one seriously ill from food. I'd say that's pretty successful. Things I'm ready to go home to: Virginia summer, sweet corn, not eating in a restaurant, berries, my own bed....nonetheless I am a bit sad to have to say goodbye to my temporary home here. 

He's gotten so big!
This morning Jessica, Trevor, Robert, and I headed to the Alumbre watershed to present a little bit of our results and attempt to educate some about conservation practices. While we don't have many conclusive results yet (Albert, Katie, and Lauren are still finishing up the report), one thing was clear from the beginning: most farmers don't know what conservation practices are, and if they are actually using any of the practices, they don't know the name for them.

For those interested, we talked about strip cropping, deviation ditches, minimum tillage, live barriers, rotations, and planting on the contour. The attendance was good, somewhere around 20 adults + children, gathered in the local schoolhouse. Just before the presentation began, the electricity cut off. The solution: send someone out to jiggle the wire; it worked, but I wasn't convinced that our information was worth risking someone's life over...
The presentation lasted about 20 minutes; the most controversial part was a table we displayed with some pricing data from last year. Unfortunately this year prices are quite low; Moazir mentioned that this is partly due to a large surplus on the market after high prices last year. It is evident that there are concerned farmers in the community, but they are plagued with a lack of access to information, as INIAP functions as the only sort of extension service, and they are primarily focused on research, not extension activities. Pesticide use was also a hot topic, with lots of questions about the possibility of a class to teach proper application techniques and which products are useful for which diseases.  A common complaint beyond technicalities was the general loss of workers to the cities; as in the US, the youth have lost interest in agriculture and are fleeing to the cities to work in construction.
The kids are always a big fan of our cameras- I got swamped every time I pulled it out

I felt a bit nostalgic on the way back to Guaranda, ensuring that I took pictures of things I hadn't bothered to before. One of these included the dump for the town of Chillanes: essentially the town's dump trucks unload over the side of the mountain, and the trash is later burned. Of course all the run-off reaches the river below. An unfortunate part of the developing world: lack of environmental laws. Moazir and I also talked this morning about the large amount of deforestation taking place. Within his lifetime (35 years or so), mountainsides have gone from being covered in forest to stripped bare for cultivation. The Agricultural Ministry supposedly has a project for re-forestation, but mainly consists of giving seeds to communities with no technical advice about proper planting.

On a brighter side, here's one of women of San Pablo who make delicious tortillas out of corn and wheat. We had to stop for one last taste.

Tomorrow morning we leave for Quito to buy some last minute gifts (and in my case demolish some more mango and coconut ice cream), and we'll be flying home on Friday. While I may write another entry or two here, I want to express a thank you again to those who have been reading. I've had readers from every continent (minus Antarctica), including most of Western Europe, the majority of South America, and an oddball from Kuwait. This blog, in its short lifetime, has reached nearly 1000 pageviews (though admittedly most are probably from my parents!) I've been encouraged to write as often as I can, and in doing so I feel I've better processed the daily happenings of this journey and my general understanding of this country. I thank you all for that. More pictures from our travels will be added to my flickr account in the coming days and weeks upon my return to Blacksburg and high speed internet. Until the next, muchas gracias.