260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in Ecuador

Aftershocks: Beto Arias

On Saturday 16th April, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake ripped through Ecuador causing incalculable devastation. Over the next few days, I will be publishing personal accounts of the event contributed by friends in the Guayaquil community. You can help to alleviate the suffering of the Ecuadorian people by sharing their stories and donating to the rescue efforts.

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Beto Arias, aged 27
(La Alborada, Guayaquil)

On Saturday night, I was at my grandparents’ house. Normally, whenever there are earthquakes, I’m the one who keeps calm and reassures my family; this time, I had to experience it all alone, far away from them.

I was close to the street and was able to make it outside while everything was still shaking. I don’t generally get scared; instead I got angry and started shouting at the sky, saying that what was happening had to stop.

As soon as things calmed down, the only thing on my mind was my family, my loved ones – not because I knew about the scale of the devastation, but because I knew how shaken my mother would be.

And that’s how it was: 40 minutes without electricity and then, thanks to social media, we were able to understand what had happened.

In my 27 years, I’ve never found it so difficult to accept that my country is experiencing such devastation. I once cried when I found out that 18 people had died in some accident, because it meant that 18 families were mourning a loved one. Now I can’t begin to process how many of my brothers have fallen. Nobody lives risk-free; tragedy lies even in safe places, the places that feel like home.

Today, I’m prouder than ever to be Ecuadorian, I’m so proud to have been born in this nation that so many people in other countries would love to call their homeland. God bless, always.

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Beto’s words above were translated from the original Spanish:

El sábado en la noche estaba en la casa de mis abuelitos. Normalmente siempre que hay temblores, en mi hogar soy el que mantiene la calma y abraza a mi familia; esta vez lo vivi sólo y lejos de ellas.

Estaba cerca de la calle y pude salir, mientras aun seguia temblando. No suelo asustarme, no suelo tener miedo … mas enojo y como reclamando al cielo que lo que sucede debe detenerse.

Apenas se calmo, no cruzaba por mi cabeza nada mas que mi familia, mis seres queridos – no por que sabia de la desgracia, sabia que mi madre estaba alterada.

Y asi era … 40 minutos sin energia eléctrica y gracias a las redes sociales estabamos enterados de lo sucedido.

En mis 27 años de vida, es dificil aceptar que mi pais viva una desgracia. Llore cuando hubo 18 muertos por un accidente, decia son las 18 familias de luto, hoy en dia no me cabe en la cabeza tanto hermano caido.

De esta tragedia, se puede aprender que nadie tiene la vida asegurada; la desgracia esta incluso en tu lugar seguro, esta en tu refugio.

Hoy mas que nunca me siento orgulloso de ser ecuatoriano, que siento orgulloso de haber nacido en esta tierra que muchas personas de otros paises quisieran como su suelo patrio. Dios los bendiga siempre.

260º West | Teaching English & Getting Educated in Ecuador

Aftershocks: the 2016 Ecuador earthquake

On Saturday morning, I boarded a plane from Madrid, Spain back to Guayaquil, Ecuador. On Saturday night, after 14 hours in the air, a flight attendant informed us that the plane was being redirected to Colombia due to all Ecuadorian airports closing after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in the province of Manabí. I turned to the woman in the seat next to me, and asked if I’d heard the number correctly. “Seven point oh on the Richter scale? That can’t be right, can it?”

It wasn’t right. It wasn’t 7.0 on the Richter scale – it was actually 7.8.

Seven point eight, and enough to decimate thousands of towns and villages and cause lasting structural damage from the coastline all the way to our city, Guayaquil, over 300km to the south. Official reports confirm 480 deaths nationwide and 4,027 injured to date.

There are many accurate news sources where you can read the facts about what actually happened; all I want to do today is write a quick post to let the overseas community know more about the situation here in Ecuador.

Ecuador is not a rich country. Ecuador does not have huge standing on the international political stage. Ecuador does not have endless natural resources that it can trade in order to prop up its economy. What Ecuador does have, however, is fierce national pride and a compassionate, selfless people.

Since the earthquake, supermarket shelves have literally been cleared, companies have provided their services free of charge, and people from all walks of life have donated time, money and in-kind donations … all in response to the need for food, water, clothes, medicine, and a million and one other supplies to help those most affected.

While the city of Guayaquil has suffered some (not insignificant) damage, the worst hit areas have sadly been rural villages, invariably low-down on the economic scale; that is to say, the people least able to help themselves out of a terrible situation that arrived without warning and was not their fault.

I literally find myself without words to sufficiently express the level of generosity in the hearts of the Ecuadorian population, a truly altruistic generosity that has been fully exposed by this terrible tragedy.

Skype Ecuador is connecting all calls to the region for free; Claro Ecuador, the biggest phone provider in the country, has provided 1000 free messages to every user in the affected area; the country’s three biggest internet providers have grouped together to set up emergency spots where locals can charge their phones and make use of free wifi. Barcelona SC, the country’s biggest football club, has turned their members’ area into a donation centre. Taxinet is taking all passengers to donation centres free of charge in Guayaquil. Big businesses all around the country are providing whatever services they possibly can to help their affected countrymen.

But most moving of all is the response I’ve seen from the poorest communities in this city. The invasion community of Flor de Bastión – the same people who live in cane houses without plumbing and at times don’t have enough to put their kids through school and don’t know what pizza tastes like because they literally can’t afford it – are busy organising donations of water, clothes, pasta, rice; these things that they have, the little bit that they can do to help those even less fortunate than themselves.

Nobody deserves to suffer like this, and all charitable causes are worthy, but I’m compelled to advocate for the Ecuadorian people as this story slowly but surely loses traction in the international mainstream press.

Please, help them.

Every day families are being pulled from the rubble by local and international volunteers, children are being offered food, water and clothes thanks to donations both from Ecuador and abroad, and those severely injured are receiving life-saving medical treatment from organisations like the Ecuadorian Red Cross. This country is doing everything it can to help itself, but it just isn’t enough to deal with the vast and merciless damage inflicted by the earthquake.

If you’re outside Ecuador, you can give to Oxfam; those inside Ecuador can give to the Red Cross. There are countless other organisations that will also help you help those most in need.

Please, help them.

No donation is too small. In the next few days, I’ll be posting Ecuadorian reactions to the tragedy, with a view to offering a better insight into how the terrible events of the weekend have affected this beautiful country. In the meantime, I urge you to keep Ecuador in your hearts and minds, and to spread the word wherever you can.

 

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in Ecuador

10 things I miss about England

Before you read this post, why not read 7 things I love about Guayaquil or my love letter to Guayaquil, Ecuador?

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Of course I knew I would miss certain things about the UK when I left. I was totally mentally prepared for eight long months sin steaming cups of Twinings Lady Grey, really good medium-rare melt-in-the-mouth fillet steak, and oversize jars of Skippy’s extra crunchy peanut butter.

But there were so many things I didn’t even realise I was missing until I flew back for a quick visit last week – things that you force yourself to adapt to, without even thinking about it.

So here, in no particular order, are the things that I really, really miss about England’s green and pleasant lands:

10. Real news

… And by this I mean actual factual current events, reported in a way that is calm, unbiased and allows the viewer to make their own judgements. Having grown up in England, this was something I always took totally for granted, and it drives me crazy to have to get my daily news from male presenters screaming hysterically at the television and only reporting half the facts, interspersed with the female presenters dancing salsa in high heels and bodycon dresses. There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s not the 7am news cycle. However, I can’t say Ecuador is the only country guilty of favouring sensationalised stories over the type of reporting we’re used to in the UK – thank goodness for the BBC World service!

9. Personal safety

It has been such a huge relief to be able to use my iPhone here in the UK – whether that’s out in public, at night or in the city centre – without the constant worry of getting mugged. Although it may sound like I’m being overly cautious, I’m still not quite over the memory of a knife against my stomach while being robbed two months ago, and my flatmate has had two high-end phones stolen in Guayaquil in the space of just a few months. Lock your doors and windows, kids!

8. Public transport

I know it’s nothing compared to Switzerland and Japan, but I’d forgotten how reliable, safe and comfortable the London Underground and National Rail trains are here. Let alone that fact that we actually have trains. There’s a schedule, there’s a set route network, and there’s even an app to plan your journey! What more could you ask for? (Well, there is one thing: slightly cheaper fares? But that’s a post for another time.)

7. Shopping

Hole in your sock? You can solve that with £1 and 5 minutes in Primark. Need an external hard drive to back up your laptop? One click on Amazon, delivered to your door tomorrow. Not to mention how good England is at high street clothes! MY BANK ACCOUNT IS SO HEALTHY WITHOUT YOU BUT I LOVE YOU LONGTIME ENGLISH SHOPPING

6. To cook or not to cook

As much as I adore cooking, sometimes there just isn’t time in the day, and I find myself opening the freezer longing for a ready meal, or a jar of curry paste, or a tin of coconut milk and some fresh spices, or even just a bottle of name-brand Malibu to wash the cravings away. I know it’s a lazy habit, but a lifetime of conditioning has made me this way. And to all those single women who cook fresh every day and still find time to work, go out and maintain some semblance of being a fully functioning adult, I salute you! Teach me your ways!

5. Life in plastic

Using contactless cards to pay for things is the future; RIP cash-based societies – but I can put up with this for the time being since I know how differently things work in third-world economies. On a related note, I also really like being able to hand over a twenty-pound note to pay for something and not getting laughed out of the shop. Compare this with the eternal struggle of trying to find change in Ecuador, and the glare you get from the taxi driver when the fare is $2 and you hand over a fiver – now, that’s just crossing a line, clearly!

4. A woman’s worth

In the UK, women are not expected to wear skintight clothing all the literal time, and that is the best. thing. ever. I am sick and tired of people telling me my clothes don’t fit because they include a little breathing room. I’m sorrynotsorry that I don’t live in spray-on shorts and skintight strap tops, but that’s just not my style. Some of my skirts are flared, not pencil-cut. Some of my dresses are like a big tablecloth with a hole cut in for your head to poke through. No, you can’t see the shape of my body, and that doesn’t make me any less of a woman. Okay? Okay.

3. International travel

I know how ironic this is seeing as I’m living abroad, but I really miss travel! Or to put it differently, how easy and cheap it is to go abroad when you live in England. Thanks to Ryanair, £50 and a couple of days off work will get you a balmy weekend in Spain or a sightseeing city break in Italy. You wanna know how much it costs to fly from Guayaquil to Lima, the closest foreign capital? Four hundred dollars (£250). No joke. And that’s not even counting expenses while you’re actually there!

2. Healthcare

The NHS is the pinnacle of British civilisation. I’m serious. We have an incredible healthcare service and I never fully appreciated it until I had to undergo private healthcare in Ecuador. Not only did the doctor ask me all sorts of uncomfortable personal questions and try to sell me a spare room in her house during the appointment, she also recommended that I do a very expensive series of scans which the NHS later advised me were totally irrelevant to my situation. Profits and healthcare shouldn’t mix!

1. Friends and family

Being with people who really knew you when you were younger is such a privilege. Flying back home for a friend’s wedding meant I had a golden opportunity to catch up with all the people that mean the most to me here. It’s been fantastic to see everyone and the goodbyes have been somewhat emotional (there’s never enough time!) but I know we’ll make it through – we always do.

 

So, what do you miss when you go away from home? Do you agree with my list, or have I missed out something vital? Let me know in the comments below!

And in the interests of fair and balanced reporting (see point #1), next week I’ll be publishing a list of all the things I don’t miss about England – stay tuned!

 

In The Kitchen: Colada Morada

You’ve probably heard of Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, a national holiday celebrating departed friends and family – but did you know that it’s also celebrated all over Latin America?

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in Ecuador

Here in Ecuador, families celebrate Día de los Difuntos every year on the 2nd of November by visiting the graves of their loved ones. They also make a traditional drink called colada morada which is usually served with gua-guas (from the Kichwa word for ‘child’) – a light, puffy bread in the form of a baby.

The term colada refers to any drink made by steeping, boiling and blending the main ingredients. The most common variety uses oats; in fact, it’s such a popular drink that it’s colloquially known as just ‘Quaker‘.

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in EcuadorHowever, this particular variety takes several hours and a huge amount of cutting, boiling and blending to prepare properly, and is only ever served around Día de los Difuntos. I prefer it piping hot, but some people like it tepid or even ice cold.

The base flavours come from a mix of cloves, sweet peppercorns, mortiño (the blueberry’s South American cousin), cinnamon, pineapple (flesh, core and even the skin), and monte – a collection of aromatic leaves and branches that you can see in the picture above.

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in EcuadorThese ingredients are boiled for a couple of hours in a huge saucepan full of water, until the water starts to take on the colour of the herbs and spices. At this point, it smells a lot like mulled wine, and your whole family will start coming into the kitchen, asking what you’re cooking and how much longer until it’s ready!

The top notes of the flavour come from juiced blackberry and naranjilla – the fruit of the deadly nightshade plant, with orange skin and a green, fleshy inside, only found in Ecuador and Colombia.

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in EcuadorIn a separate saucepan, harina morada (purple flour made from fermented corn) is mixed with water and heated gently until the mixture is warm and smooth. Then the branches, leaves and whole spices are strained out of the big saucepan, and the purple flour mixture is stirred in.

It takes another couple hours of boiling and a healthy dose of panela (sugar cane) before the drink is at its warm, spicy, aromatic best and finally ready to consume. Enjoy!

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This recipe was kindly passed on to me by my lovely friend Christian of Mapasingue, Guayaquil.

260º West | Teaching, travelling and volunteering in Ecuador

Teaching English: Ecuador vs. the UK

After two months of non-stop manual labour under the relentless Ecuadorian sun teaching English as a foreign language in sterilised, air-conditioned classrooms, here are some insights into the effect that moving halfway across the world can have your working conditions as an EFL teacher:

#1. Time is relative

Holy smokes, guys. In London I was in the staffroom by 7.30am, printing and copying done by 8am, classroom perfectly set up by 8.30am, the very last student floating in at 8.55am. My students knew that when the door closed at 9am, they were either in or out. Beware all latecomers who pass here!

In Guayaquil, we wait for the school to be unlocked five minutes before our classes are supposed to start. By the time we’ve made it inside, got our textbooks out of our lockers and prepped the classroom we’re already running ten minutes late. But you see, it doesn’t matter because the students won’t turn up for another ten minutes. And then they’ll breeze in, no apologies, because they’re Ecuador-on-time.

You can imagine what that does to a borderline-obsessive, ridiculously punctual, over-organised perfectionist like me … but that’s just how things are here. My blood pressure is going through the roof, but it’s actually teaching me some valuable lessons. For one thing, it’s forcing me to relax rather than worrying myself to death over things out of my control. It’s also giving me a much better work-life balance!

#2. You can’t sit with us

The one thing I really, truly disliked about working in London was the cliquey-ness amongst the teachers. Obviously when you have that many staff working for one organisation, you’re not going to get to know everyone, but there was some deep-rooted high-school-esque segregation at work in that staffroom. Not so in Guayaquil, where everyone genuinely seems to talk to everyone, and the staff go on big group nights out and weekends away together. So refreshing!

#3. Spanglish

Teaching in London was like taking a round-the-world trip without having to leave the comfort of your hometown. My students came from all four corners of the globe and had the most interesting stories – everything from a Turkish student’s summary of the state of gender equality in Istanbul to one Eritrean boy’s account of his harrowing escape from the unstable political situation in his home country. The fact that every student had a different culture and language to share meant that discussion tasks were effortlessly rich and students never resorted to L1 to communicate.

The thing about teaching in Guayaquil is that classes here are monolingual, and the minor but persistent presence of Spanish in the classroom is a constant reminder that I need to adapt my teaching methods to account for it. Rewards, forfeits, gentle reminders, activities specifically designed with L1 involvement in mind – the textbooks are full of methods for dealing with this stuff. I just need more experience in learning how to work with it, rather than letting it work against me.

#4. Size matters

The school I worked at in London was the monstrous hub of a huge international chain of language schools. The school I currently work at in Guayaquil is a small satellite in that very same chain, but is about a quarter of the size of the London school. A smaller school means the facilities aren’t quite as nice, the resources aren’t quite as new, and admin tasks don’t get done quite as efficiently. However, it also means I actually feel comfortable speaking to the Director of Studies (DoS) when I have a problem, that I know where everything is and how to use it all, and that all the staff are pretty chummy with one another (admin staff included).

If I had to choose, I’d take Guayaquil over London any day in that respect.

#5. It’s all about the money

I know this stuff isn’t supposed to matter, but a girl’s gotta eat, and let me tell you that this girl’s eating a hell of a lot better here in Guayaquil than she ever did back in London. My old £17 per hour wage just about paid the rent on a skanky central London shoebox while leaving me enough money to buy groceries, eat out a couple times a month and maybe go to a couple of restaurants every once in a while. In Guayaquil, $11 an hour buys me a big double room in a lovely furnished flat and enough spare cash to buy perfectly ripe tropical fruit, freshly cooked soups and delicious main meals every single day, as well as going out for drinks once a week and travelling all over the country on long weekends.

As my American colleagues would say, you do the “math”.