Saturday, April 27, 2013

On Crime, Poverty, and Wanderlust

I knew, when I moved here five, almost six months ago, that Quito was no Boise, Idaho. And by that I mean that it´s a huge city in Latin America. Crime is something that comes with the territory in any large city--just like pollution, bad traffic, and really long lines at the supermarket. And, in a country with such noticeable poverty, there is obviously going to be a high crime rate. 
But my god, sometimes I just feel so on edge here. Last week I got my phone stolen on the bus, which is only the second pick-pocketing incident I've had so far, but still. The apartment next door to the hostel was broken into last week and my friends' electronics were stolen. A woman I work with was tied up and held at gunpoint while burglars took everything in her house. My friend Amy's bag was cut open and her smartphone stolen on the bus. The cops raided the fruit and veggie venders that live right next to us, apparently because they also sell drugs (but who knows? The policia are pretty corrupt). 
I had one taxi driver who started to take me in the wrong direction then began telling me to pay him. I told him I would pay him when he took me to my house, but he kept saying "pay me, pay me." Then he pulled over about 8 blocks from where I live and said. "We're here. Pay me." I got mad and told him the address again and he said "You said Centro Historico (my neighborhood). We're there." I tried to get out of the cab and he locked the doors and grabbed my backpack. I paid him the money and he let me go, but it was a little scary, especially since I don't feel confident enough in my Spanish to really reason with someone like that. (Although I supposed he couldn't be reasoned with). 
So, I guess there's a reason that every building here has broken glass and barbed wire surrounding it. But lately if someone is friendly to me, I immediately suspect that they are going to try to rob me; if someone looks at me the wrong way on the bus, I grab my bag and glare at them. Ecuadorians only increase my paranoia--always afraid to take a taxi at night, lest they get taken out of the city and robbed, but more afraid to walk somewhere, lest they get mugged. At first I scoffed, but I get it now. Still, I try not to let the crime rate prevent me from doing things I'd like to do. Any big city can be dangerous. 
The most frustrating thing to me though is that the typical Ecuadorian response to robbery or theft seems to be victim-blaming. If someone gets robbed, it was their fault for not paying attention, their fault for having valuable things with them or for walking home after dark, being in the wrong neighborhood, etc. Which, sure, you should be careful, but come on. Sometimes I have to have money with me to pay for something; sometimes I can't find a cab to take so I walk home. I am not stupid, I just can't lock myself in my house and do nothing. 
The first time I was pick-pocketed on the bus, a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to move and as I was turning around, a man knocked my wallet to the floor and took the money in it before I could blink. I don't usually carry my wallet anywhere, but I'd had to take some ID to work that day. Anyway, the bus was full--I'm sure people saw what happened, but nobody did anything. I was incredibly disappointed in humanity, especially since at that point I had just started working and had very little money to my name. When I told my ex-boss what happened, he told me that he never gets robbed because he glares at people and keeps all of his things hidden. He didn't say "Oh, that's too bad." Or anything like that. 
Anyway, I've been struggling with all of this lately because I feel like I'm getting so jaded. I know crime is directly related to poverty, and poverty is bad here. But that doesn't make it easier to live with or give me any ideas of how to respond to it. I see about ten homeless people everyday, passed out right outside the hostel. I also see our local crackheads in the corners with their pipes, right next to the police security checkpoint. 
About once a week, a child gets on the bus and sings a song and begs for money. Or, they beg for you to let them shine your shoes, or they are just standing outside in the cold, crying or sniffing glue. And every time, I don't know what to do. I gave in and let a little boy shine my shoes once, only to have my friend tell me that his parents were probably getting his money and drinking it away. And so I do nothing. It's gotten to the point where, when I see a poor, dirty, sniffling child, I clutch my bookbag closer to me, convinced he will probably somehow take my cellphone. 
Obviously I don't like to admit this, but there you have it. I trust no one and am even hesitant to help poor children. Which brings me to the last topic of this rambling post: wanderlust. It's back. I need to leave Quito and find some fresh air and regain my faith in humanity. Unfortunately it looks like it's gonna be a few months before that happens. 
In closing, I'd like to add that I've not written about crime at all on here before because I don't like the idea of needlessly worrying my family. So please remember: it's probably more dangerous for me to drive a car (something I never do here!) than to live where I'm living now. And I promise I'm careful. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

University Students in Ecuador

I'm settled into my job now and enjoying my classes for the most part. I definitely have favorite classes and favorite--or not so favorite--students, but they are all pretty good kids. It´s crazy how different they are from university students in the States though--and how similar at the same time.
Kids here usually live with their parents throughout university and often well into their full-time adult jobs. I'd like to think of it as practical and everything, but I also think it makes them less mature. Most of them are given some sort of allowance and none have jobs outside of school that I know of. Of course, UDLA is one of the most expensive universities here in Quito, so most of the students come from very wealthy families. But still, it's crazy to me because it seems much more like high school still than university. All of my students whine constantly about homework or in class work or tests. Doesn´t matter if they are 18 or 23--they all whine constantly. However, this is mostly cultural. People whine here in order to get what they want. Some of my friends and I call it the Ecua-whine and it goes like this: you want something, such as a cheaper price in a cab, a better place in line, a visa, etc, so you turn on your sing-song little whiney voice and say things like "But pulllease. Help me with this pleeease. Don't be a bad personnn." But in Spanish of course, so more like "Ayudame por fAaavor. No seas malito!"
Yup. That´s how things get done, which is probably why I can't get things done here. Momma always taught me that whining was for babies and I just can't get used to doing it or listening to it. 
I mean, freshmen in the US are oftentimes not the most mature people either, but I feel like they have mostly accepted the fact that they have to come to class and do the homework in order to pass. I´m not so sure with these kids sometimes. It seems like they think that these things are sort of negotiable with a good whine. Of course, I suppose we do plenty of complaining in the US about homework and whatnot, but I never would have tried to talk my professor out of something. Also, students frequently just get up in leave class in the US if they have to for some reason. Here, the students constantly ask me, "Teacher can I go to the bathroom? Please Teacher?" As if I care. I just want to be like, "Listen, we are all adults here. Let's act like it."
A few weeks ago I got so annoyed with the chorus of "TEACHER PLEASE!! Can we go?" that arose with nearly 20 minutes left of class that I gave them a nice little lecture about whining. This was my level 1 class, mind you, so my lecture was mostly "No. Absolutely not. I will NEVER let you go early when you ask me like that. (Insert my own mockery of their whine here). No." They at first laughed uncomfortably and then stopped abruptly when they realized I was serious. It was kind of hilarious.

I later told my more advanced class about my hatred of the Ecua whine because they were asking me about cultural differences. They thought it was hilarious and have since started using the whine just to get me worked up once in awhile. It IS pretty funny though and it gives me some hope that they see the humor in it and realize why I hate it. 
Anyway, they really aren´t bad kids--well, some of them are, but most are pretty cool and I enjoy getting to know them a little as I teach them the finer points of English grammar. Sometimes though, I just want to ask, "HOW old are you?"

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Profesora Stuvland

I've been a profesora for a few weeks now and it's starting to get a bit less weird, but I still routinely ask myself, "Who let me be a professor? How did this happen?" Especially when I realize I have the power to cancel classes with just one email or when I get lost trying to understand our ridiculous grading system. But, I am. I'm a "profe" as most people say here. I think I need to either grow a beard or switch my backpack for a briefcase though, because I really look like a student and everyone wants to know how old I am...
Anyway, I'm teaching three classes: a 1st level, 2nd level, and a special, "fast track" course that is levels 4 and 5. I started a week into the semester and am still playing catch-up, especially since the bookstore ran out of books and people keep adding and dropping the courses. Also all of the homework is online and students have a hard time with that--er, so do I. It's all a little stressful and confusing still--even after 3 weeks I have to send different people emails daily asking them how to do things since I wasn't in training. But, overall, I'm enjoying it (so much more than WSI). I teach 15 hours per week and it takes me about 5 hours of lesson-planning and maybe another few hours of grading, but I have time! And I have weekends off. I've already gotten to see more of Ecuador than I did in the past 2 months or so in these few weeks. And, I am taking a Spanish class--although because of surprise meetings and make up classes, I haven't been able to make more than two lessons so far. But still, it's something. 
I'm still living at the hostel also, but I've been working all night shifts and getting most of my weekends off, which is awesome. I want to avoid rent for as long as possible, even though it would be nice to have my own bathroom and get a break from people. But then again, I know I'd miss it if I left. Last night was the one year anniversary of the hostel's opening and it made me realize how much this place has become a sort of home for me. Even with the constant flow of new people, it attracts a certain type--a type I like being around. And I've learned a lot about traveling in South American from our guests (and a lot about Ecuador to tell our guests). 
I don't know what I'll do when this semester is over. I got an email from my mom and dad today that just made me want to go home and garden with them sooo bad. As hard as I try to be independent and all of that, I'm an Idaho girl at heart and it's rough to be away for so long. I'm pretty sure I'll try to teach at least one more semester and then travel for a few months around here, but who knows? The thing is, living and working here is so much different than traveling through--which is obvious of course, but still hard to deal with. Right now I'm thinking I'll probably go home for about a month in between semesters and then travel after another semester or so here. I miss school and am realizing more and more that without literature and writing, teaching English is not so fulfilling for me. I enjoy it alright and I definitely like my job a lot better now, but what has always driven me is art, not grammar or even the ability to communicate. So, grad school is probably in order in a year or so...but, I'll cross that bridge later. 
In the mean time, I guess I'll continue to be a confused English professor and travel when I can. Also, here are some pictures of Mindo and Banos, two beautiful little towns close to Quito that I've been to recently with friends. 
Waterfall outside of Banos.
Above Banos.

Same waterfall.
These are out of order, but this is a waterfall near Mindo.
This would never fly at the USFS.
Mindo hike. 
Banos waterfall again.
The town of Banos. 

Over looking Banos.