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.

 

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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!

 

260º West | Teaching English & Getting Educated in Ecuador

A love letter to Guayaquil, Ecuador

I’m counting September 9th as my one-year Guayaquil anniversary, even though I’ve only actually spent six of the last twelve months here. Thing is, I’m already head-over-heels for this city, despite the fact that it has a face only a mother someone clinically insane could love.

But first, a little background.

The school I currently work for has recently undergone a big rebranding and has joined what is probably the most recognisable private ELT chain in the world. Because of this, they’re hiring new teachers like there’s no tomorrow; I’m just one of a whole pack of newbies being brought in to meet the presumably massive increase in demand.

One of those fellow newbie teachers, who I met at 6.30am on Tuesday morning, had unceremoniously informed me by 6.45am that same morning that he wasn’t planning to stick around. He wasn’t just going to leave the school, he was going to leave Guayaquil. And he wasn’t just going to leave Guayaquil, he was going to leave teaching.

This guy had committed years to working in similar environments in other countries, but Guayaquil was the place that ended it for him. It was the straw that finally broke that highly experienced camel’s back; the drop that spilled a cup already overflowing with culture shock; the long, rusty, crooked nail in the coffin of ELT.

You’ll forgive me if I find this absolutely hilarious. The whole thing. I really, truly do. And the reason it’s so funny isn’t that I think he’s crazy for not liking Guayaquil after his first week here; actually, I kind of see where he’s coming from.

You see, after just six months of living here, I’ve heard the complete list of one million and one reasons to hate this town. I’ve listened to people complain about everything from the noise and the traffic and the pollution to the unequal provision of public services to the corruption that may or may not be seeping through all levels of government to the oddly designed state education system.

If I thought about it for long enough, I’d probably agree with at least some of these opinions – but you see, love is blind, and Guayaquil and I are still in the honeymoon phase. And so even the things that I don’t like about this city, I love.

Take yesterday, for example: a frankly exhausting day spent teaching, volunteering, and running all over the city on public buses that – let’s be honest – operate so dangerously they’d be wildly illegal anywhere in the global north. As a treat, I bought myself $3 of roast chicken just before I got on the #114 bus back home.

There was no glass in the windows of the bus, the chicken juice had begun to seep out of the bag I was carrying it in, and the man next to me was balancing a live tortoise in the crook of his arm. Still, none of this mattered because I managed to get a seat during rush hour – and so at least the chicken juice was dripping gently down my thigh instead of swinging against my side and staining my Starfish Foundation t-shirt.

And as the bus driver raced down the motorway with absolutely no regard for the lives of anyone either on or around the vehicle, I thought to myself what a lovely thing it was to be on the road with the wind in your hair and your face and your heart while the sun is setting smoky violet over another beautifully imperfect day in Guayaquil.

(By the way, the chicken was delicious.)