Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The youth of Arbolito go on tour

Last Sunday all the teenagers and young adults from our neighborhood Arbolito went on a day trip to the beach. It was put on by Nuevo Generacion, the band I play with at church. There were about 40 to 50 of us in total all packed into a commuter bus used for the daily short inbetweens of Duran and Guayaquil (public buses - plastic seats, hand rails along the ceiling). There were more people than seats so we borrowed a pew from the church and used it for extra seating in the aisle. We left at three in the morning and I imagined there would be a lot of sleeping going on in the bus, resting up for a long day under the hot equator sun. Nope. Reggaeton the whole way! We rode it 4 hours to Montanita, a beautiful surfer beach due west of Guayaquil. Apparently we were pulled over by police at least five times en route and had to pay some unexpected tolls under-the-table to our friendly men in uniform who keep us safe. I don´t know the laws around here concerning public buses being used for private use but I guess it isn´t something a couple of bills can´t assuage. So that was nice. I did not know any of this was going on until afterward. I was trying to sleep and to not get my face drawn on in lipstick. A hard two-some to do at the same time. Needless to say my attention was preoccupied.

But we reached the beach around eight o´clock. We set up camp at the southern part of the drag away from some of the crowds. Nothing but fun in the sun from there on out! We played a little beach soccer, a few were burried in the sand, actually the wet sand closer to the water was used like snowballs which I had never seen before, we strolled up north to see the surfers and the tide pools among the rocks, and we ate some very delicous food on the cheap.

I think my favorite part of the trip was just seeing all the young people of the town acting like young people. In town we see each other in less relaxed settings. We work with some in running after-school programs, we see others in church, others we see while they are looking after their younger siblings. Just this neighborhood in itself makes everyone more guarded, a little more stone-faced. At the beach with no parents (though two teenagers who came were parents themselves) everyone was able to enjoy themselves without reservations or self-consciousness. I found my self making associations within these moments to sentiments of my own continuing experience of youth. I rarely am able to see comparible aspects between their upbringing and mine, but on Sunday I was emersed in the glorification of the universal right to youth that too often is deprived of so many who grow up in environments such as this.

We left the beach at three or four in the afternoon and got back before dinner. There was less mania on the returning bus ride. I slept a little and no one tried to mess with me. Back to Arbolito, Duran. It was quieter. Everyone had seemed to get it, whatever it was, out of their systems. It was fun while it lasted.

Monday, January 11, 2010

quick review

So, I know I said I was back on the blog-train last month, but I got off I guess. I´m back on though? Time flies by so quickly. It feels like I blinked my eyes and it was a month since I last posted something. Actually it´s been like I blink my eyes and six major events have happened, four retreat groups have been here, and my personal perspective has melted twice and formed new solid states. I´m trying to keep it liquid though or at least flexible. I´m getting there.

December saw Christmas and New Years passing:
Christmas eve we went to our neighbor Pastora´s house for dinner after mass.
Christmas day we went to Damien House asnd visited the patients living with Hansen´s disease.
Afterward we went to the house of the director of Damien House, Sister Annie, for a big
Itanlian dinner.
New Year´s eve we built a 7 foot tall wood and paper michae muñeca and stuffed it with fire
crackers and burned it down (don´t worry its a cultural tradition. We´re not pyros). Then
we went dancing at a neighbors til early into the morning.

George Washington University (our first non-religous retreat) and Boston College have come
through and have been really amazing. It was a pleasure to get to know them.
Iona comes tonight and Manhattan College comes Sunday.

I´ll end it here cause I need to run. I´ll try and give a more analytical or reflective post soon. till then.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pogs Are Sweeping The Nation!! of Ecuador.

Yes, pogs, the craze that swept the pre-teens of the United States off their feet in the early 90´s is back, or at least it is in Duran. I don´t think I really knew how to play the game back then and I dont think the kids here know now either. Just throw one of the little discs toward the ground and alternate. The important thing is just to have a stack of them.

No importa. It´s been awhile since my last blog entry and I appologize for the lack of communication. I ran low on stipend money so I had to focus my funds on more pressing things like frozen yogurt pops. But I´m back and with a little more financial wiggle room! More frozen yogurt pops! Just kidding. but not really. I love Yogoso.

I´ve been keeping busy since I last wrote. No retreat groups in November but currently DePaul University is here in the middle of their stay. They are great! Very friendly, I enjoy talking with them, hanging out. My dad told me to ask them where their basketball team went. I did. They were ashamed. The Big East is a tough conference. Any way, they´re a fun group and I like hearing them talk about Chicago. I told them I know about Gino´s East pizza and Skokie like that would get me an in. They humor me.

But they leave on the 10th, our neighborhood Christmas party is on the 11th (I know it´s too early), and then Cabrini College comes down on the 12th. Cabrini leaves on the 20th, and then we´re in the thick of the holiday season! This month is already starting to fly by.

One thing that we are excited about here is that we know that Christmas means something different for all of us this year. We miss our families very much, especially during this time of year, but we are looking forward to spending this Christmas with our brothers and sisters here in Ecuador. With little to share other than spirit and love we can´t help but think this is how Jesus would want us to celebrate his coming. I think we have plans to visit the patients at the Hansen´s disease clinic, then spend time out in the community, play with the kids, maybe make a banana bread and bring it to some of the neighbors. We have to learn some more spanish Christmas carols besides ¨Feliz Navidad¨. Sister Annie, the director of the clinic, invited us over for Christmas dinner so we´ll head over there to have a nice sit down meal at night. There´s just a lot of love goin around and very little stress. This is probably the least stressed I´ve ever been before a Christmas. Even less then when I was a kid (looking for presents and hoping I got what I wanted was stressfull too!). Anyway I feel like I´m prepared to welcome Jesus into my life this December and it is exciting. It´s nice not waiting till the last minute.

But I´m back on the blog train. More to come soon. I mean it. Until then, I wish everyone an exciting and hopeful Advent season of waiting. Good luck with your preparations and I´ll be keeping you in my heart here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Villanova University left on Saturday morning, the volunteers and I are leaving to go on retreat for the weekend friday, the following weekend I might be doing some traveling during the long weekend for Dia de Los Muertos.

We´ve been focusing on our community for the last week/week and a half, and I have felt consumed with that. As a result I have little meaningful recollection about what I´ve been doing outside of community since this has all began. I have been pulled out of living in the moment consistently for a couple of days now, and I feel that has been out of my control. Perhaps, since this is out of my control, it is really living in the moment since I have no influence over it. That is probably more abstract then it was intended to be but I guess this might give you a glimpse at how confusing emotions can be down here. Maybe I just get too hung up on labels like ¨living in the moment¨...

I did have meaningful time with Villanova when I sat in with them during their nightly reflections. There were uplifting moments of spiritual certitude and moments of deep questioning. Most reflections could only have been described as moments of supreme trust and openess. They´re all my favorites.

I wasn´t at my afterschool program for a while because I was with the retreat group, but I´ve been back for two days now and maybe I´ve just checked out and am just waiting for my retreat this weekend at the beach because the energy isn´t there right now. They deserve more. I´ll snap out of it. There is adult literacy class now three days a week at the same time as the afterschool program. We are having a hard time balancing giving the adults a quite space to learn the basic necessity they´ve gone their whole lives without and giving the kids a safe space to run around and have them feel like kids for two hours a day in their tumultuous lives.

President Correa declared a ¨state of vigilance¨ recently, and I don´t know exactly what that means but there sure are a lot of heavily armed military men and women in downtown Guayquil when I get the mail. Thursday there were so many helicopters flying over head in Arbolito I thought I could hear Colonel Robert Duvall calling out for his surf board. I sometimes get a hand on a newspaper but this spanish language thing is a little trickier than I anticipated.

I´m not complaining. I don´t know what to complain about. Things just are a little crazy over here right now. I feel fine though. A little numb to be honest. Hopefully the Pacific waves will knock me around enough this weekend.

I am also the new drummer for the christian rock group ¨Nuevo Generacion¨. We practice on friday nights and play at mass on Sunday mornings. I am the only gringo in the group of local teenagers and young adults. They speak amongst themselves in spanish and cue me with either ¨fast¨or ¨slow¨ before we start each song. I have no trouble keeping up with them, but most times I don´t know what they are singing about or which song is coming next. Just reacting to them. I can´t think of a more appropriate analogy for my experience here.

Take it easy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

simple mass

Saturday Julia and I rode the buses to the neighborhood 28 de Agosto where our after school program, Manos Abiertas, is held to see some of the kids and go to mass at their church. Their church is a blue shed about the size of my garage back home. The priest drove in on Saturday afternoon in his pick-up truck and was immediately welcomed by all the kids before he could fully open his door. He is from Ireland and is younger than I expected.

Julia and I arrived at 3:30, not knowing the exact time of mass. When we got there we were an hour and a half early, but they were having catechism classes for the children beforehand. We were welcomed by everyone. The adults were so warm and happy to see us. The kids were sitting in separate corners diveded by age groups. Some of the kids were from Manos Abiertas but most were not. The ones that were, called out to us. The others sat and giggled and were shy to introduce themselves. We sat with the youngest group and we suddenly realized we were being asked to start teaching them.

We didn´t know what to do. Julia asked one of the adults if they had a book they taught out of. They said no. We looked at the kids and they were smiling back in anticipation and guidyness. We asked what they were learning. They said that they were learning the ¨Our Father¨. So we practiced that. We corrected a few of them on the order of making the sign of the cross. Then we had nothing... We asked what their favorite church songs were. They liked that so we sang with them. They would sing them all the way through and we chimed in as we picked up on the choruses. It was loud and fun and the kids were so sweet when they were singing. The kids then got a break so we went out to the dusty lot back behind the church and played with them until mass started. Nothing to active that might get their clothes dirty but some of the boys went off a ways on their own and came back covered in dust anyway.

Mass started and Fr. Liam gave us another warm welcome. They had no microphones, nor a need for microphones, and no musical instruments. That meant everyone sang, and sang loudly. Clapping hands for rythm. If a kid wasn´t singing they would quickly be encouraged from a stern look from their mother, or from any of the women for that matter. The homily was my favorite since I arrived, but I think that was because it was the first I could follow beginning to end on account of how slowly Fr. Liam spoke Spanish. He has a thick Irish accent when he speaks in English but sounds like he´s from the beaches of sothern California when he speaks Spanish. He spoke mainly to the children during his homily and it was about where to find love. It was a simple homily, but then again I guess that might be an appropriate reflection of how simple love is.

We had to leave before Communion because it would soon have been getting dark and we had a few bus rides in front of us. Next Saturday´s Mass starts an hour earlier as do catechism classes which we are now signed up to teach. I look forward to being able to stay and speak more with Fr. Liam and the parish community after mass, and of course, seeing the kids again.

I always knew mass never needed to have any extravagence. The parish in 28 de Agosto more than over compensated. To borrow and butcher the old saying about the size of the dog and the fight, it´s perhaps not the size of the church for the people but the size of the church within the people.

God bless.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Story from my time with Santa Clara University

So one of our current volunteers, John, looks exactly like a volunteer from two years ago, Daniel. Exactly. I´ve seen them both, standing next to each other, side by side. They are duplicates. It has a lot to do with the combination of short hair, beard and impressively full mustache. They are also about the same size. But, since some of the neighbors seem to just adore us, and also they have very impressive memories, John gets confused for Daniel a lot down here in the communities. Wherever he goes kids shout out ¨Daniel!¨ as he walks by on the street and adults never stop reminding John how much he looks like the former volunteer.

That being said, when we were at Walter and Jesus´house with Santa Clara University during some neighborhood time we were going around the room doing introductions. The retreatants would say their name, their age, and what they were studying. When it was my turn I reminded them my name and that I was a volunteer living in the other neighborhood. When it was John´s turn he did much of the same until he was interupted with what happens a lot.

¨You look like someone¨ Walter said as he paused to think...

John replied, ¨Yes, I know...¨ turning to the retreatants. ¨I always get confused with a former volunteer that used to live here. Turning back to Walter he said that he looked like Daniel and asked if he was right.

¨No...¨ Walter said as he looked to his brother who was equally trying as hard as he could to figure out the resemblance.

¨JUDAS! That´s it!¨ he shouted and turned to his brother. His brother sighed loudly in agreement.

¨Judas¨ he turned and agreed with Walter.

Giving himself a single clap to applaud his spot-on recognizing abilities, Walter went back to presenting to the retreat group.

So that had me laughing for a long time.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

oh, forgot one - 8/11/09

Impressions on the surface after week 1:

bullet proof vested cops riding double on dirt bikes, immaculate conservative school boy/girl uniforms, stray dogs, stray chickens, dust, ¨sound of silence¨ during Lord´s prayer at mass, american first names like Edison, Jefferson, Wellington, Nixon, shells of houses, welcoming people, confused people, lots of people in general walking in the streets.