August 10 Pre-Departure Journal
Wow, I can’t believe my adventure is almost over … wait, it’s just beginning. It seems like forever ago that I first applied for this exchange, and now look where I am. Just about one year ago, I came home from the last District 6970 Welcome Home Dinner with the thought in my mind, “How in the world am I going to convince my dad to let me do this!?!” Well, I guess you could say I kind of didn’t ask. It was almost a presumption. I asked him about the program and asked if I could go on an exchange, just like my older brother, Chris did. He gave the simple, cliché answer of “Well, I’ll really have to think about it.” So I asked my mom about it. She was all in favor for it and told me how to get my dad to be all gung-ho with the idea. I had to proceed with EVERYTHING by myself. So, I printed out all the forms, got every signature needed, and one night, laid it all out in front of him, and said, “All you need to do is sign in this few places and my application is complete; I already did everything else.” He looked surprised and proud and happily signed.
Then the brutal interviews that everyone was so nervous about and then the acceptance letter, then the destination country call. Jody Davis called my cell phone at about 7:30 p.m. one evening while at Dillard’s looking for Christmas gifts for my mom. He said, “Ecuador!”, and I have to admit, “YAY” was definitely not the first thing that jumped in my mind. It was more like, “HUH!?!” That was completely unexpected!!! I was originally hoping for Italy, already knowing the language, but ECUADOR? That was the last choice on my preferences! Well, I went along with the whole idea. Met my host family, went to the first orientation, and began my research project on Ecuador. I am not quite sure if it was the pictures of my host sisters and their friends, or the thought of eating roasted guinea pig that got me extremely excited for this, but it happened, I couldn’t be anymore pleased with my destination.
Then the real adventure comes: obtaining my visa. I found out, about 2 weeks before the visa forms were due that I had to make a personal visit to the Ecuadorian Consulate General in Miami to be able to obtain my visa. And in this 2 week period, I had to fly up to Massachusetts for a funeral… ugh! I was not a happy camper when I realized how much I had to do!!! I barely even had enough time to go to the bathroom!!! I was very often running around like a chicken with its head cut off!!! But, I got through it. I went to the final Orientation, said goodbye to everyone not in my district, and a month later, went to the Welcome Home Dinner again. In one year, all this happened and so much more will happen in the year to come. I have 10½ days until I leave for the awesome adventure and so much to do. I have to clean my room, pack, hang with friends, get host family gifts, and so much more little things… it almost seems overwhelming, but, again, with a little perseverance I will come through.
Well, time to get back to work! I have a lot to do. Talk to you again once I get to Ecuador!!!!!!
August 27 Journal
Ok, I’m going to start out with this: Working up the courage just to write this journal has been pretty intense. Now, when I say, working up the courage, I mean, everything that made me not want to write it I had to ignore, such as sadness, boredom, etc. The beginning is rather good, however, brace yourself, because I am going to share things that I never would’ve EVER had the guts to publicly share without feeling embarrassed.
I woke up at 6:30 am on August the 21st and from there, my journey began… I ate my last American breakfast (a couple of dollar store waffles loaded up with chocolate chips), took a shower, got changed, put on my Rotary blazer and at 7 o’clock, I was off to the airport.
At the airport, I checked in at about 8, which actually scared me because they couldn’t find my reservation for a couple minutes. When that crisis was over, I went over to the lobby and began playing cards with my family to kill some time. As we were sitting there, Dominic walked in to the area and we greeted him. My mom, God Bless Her, saw this as another opportunity to take more pictures. With mine and Dominic’s arms around each others shoulders, I didn’t think so many people liked this pose. I think there were about 10 to 15 flashes at that one moment. Finally, the mini photo-op was done and Dominic was headed through security to the concourse. I then said my goodbyes to my family. Hugs to everyone: Mom, Chris, Aaron, Conrad, Brittany, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, have I made my point? HAHAHAHA. Well, I went through security and as soon as I was done with security, I knew my family was still there looking for me, so I peeked my head around the corner through the exit and saw them waving. They were waving so hard, I thought their arms were going to fall off!!! I finally caught up with Dominic at the gate and about an hour later, we boarded our plane.
The plane was a bit intimidating. It was really small… REALLY, REALLY small!!! It had some large, rather rickety-looking propellers that moved it. Dominic and I had the pleasure of having the seats at the window, directly adjacent to these propellers. Dominic was rather apprehensive about the propellers. I think he only looked out the window about 3 times… and that was only to take pictures of the Miami Airport as we were making our final descent.
In the Miami Airport, we saw the first other exchange student. We first walked past her, looking for food, and it not being in our head right away that she was an exchange student. But then, through inductive reasoning of her being a teenager, sitting at the gate of the flight to Guayaquil, Ecuador, and putting on a jacket that seemed to be a Rotary exchange jacket, we quickly turned around and gave a big Rotary smile and greeted her. Eventually, after a long time of just walking around, we finally met up with everyone. All 15 of us Ecuador-bounds that Sheila told us would be here that day arrived. We took a couple pictures together and wrote each others' names down on some pieces of paper for Facebook friends, only to soon hear that our flight to Guayaquil was to be delayed by 2 hours! I freaked out. The outbounds to Quito said their goodbyes and good lucks and were off to their gates, leaving us and our problem to ourselves.
Well, luckily, I had a phone card that I could call my mom with and attempt to call my host family with. No luck with the host family. It freaked me out. So, I had the bright idea of calling my mom one more time and ask her to get my brother, Chris, who is nearly fluent in Spanish, to contact my host family and let them know I would be late, and hopefully hurry, because it takes 3 hours for them to get to the airport from their house and it is only a 4 hour flight!!! So I had to leave it there, after 2 hours of attempting to reach my host family, my flight was soon boarding. I thanked my mom and brother one more time and me and my mom could not get enough “I love you’s” out of our systems. I eventually hung up and went back to my gate. We boarded and it was now time for our 4 hour flight. The meal on the flight was better than expected, but it was still pretty uneventful, but that is only because I fell asleep just after eating.
Now comes the harder parts of the journal for me to write:
We landed, everything was fine and dandy. Customs were quick, everything was fine and dandy. I walked out into the lobby with about 200 Ecuadorians standing there, waiting for their friends and family to walk out, only to see my host sister, Andreina, jumping up and down waving at me, everything was fine and dandy. We went to a phone booth to call my mom and let her know that I got there safe and sound… but I couldn't reach her. My phone card wouldn’t work. I didn’t understand it. But my sister was finally able to use her cell phone, somehow and call my family. Now, 3 hour car ride home, all was silent. Well, that I can understand. It was 11:30 at night when we started out for home. We settled in the car, got in a nice comfortable position for sleeping, and we all dozed off for a nice 3 hours. When we got home, my family showed me around the house and showed me to my room and I got changed to my pajamas, flopped on my bed, and just fell asleep.
The morning is when the worst thing happened… I felt like I was going to puke. I felt so sick, it wasn’t even funny. I tried to occupy myself by completely unpacking everything, but that didn’t really help. This is where I started to get really homesick. The nausea certainly didn’t get any better with the awfully strange breakfast we had. I hope that wasn’t their version of cereal: cut up fish and onions in strangely-seasoned water, all cold. I felt even worse there. Well, we eventually headed out to the mall for the weekly grocery shopping. Me and my sister got some ice cream and I think that is when I started to feel a little better. We got home and I had nothing to do. I felt so bad. It is apparently custom to go into your room and close your door, not to come out for anything except for food, or if you are going somewhere. I tried this and I started to cry. I was soooo homesick, and it hadn’t even been 24 hours since I had arrived yet. I eventually had dinner and sat in my parents room and watched Fútbol, or as we Americans call it, Soccer. Once the game was done, I went to bed.
When Mama (that is what I call my host mom) got me up the next morning, we had breakfast in a restaurant which was definitely better than the day before, then we went to the beach. I saw the most amazing sight one could ever see. It was the beach, lined with houses beyond all imagination, and I saw it from up on a cliff. It was so wonderful. We eventually got down, and went sea side and me and my sister went on a large banana-looking raft that was pulled by a motor boat. THAT was fun!!!!! When we got home, I felt so homesick again.
I went into my room again. Came back out for dinner, then went and played some PS2 with brother, Jonathan. We played some Fifa Soccer and he kicked my butt, 3 times! I then went to bed.
The next few days were the worst. I was not in school yet, at least not for another week. My brothers and sister were all at college, and my parents were at work, leaving me home alone with the maid and a TV remote. This is what I have been stuck doing for the past few days, and it has been driving me mad!!!! I felt so sad everyday. And every night, I cuddled up with my prayer bear that one of friends at church gave me and cried myself to sleep, praying that I could either ask my parents if I could come home, or if things would get better. Well, Monday night, I was so tired of it. I sat Mama down and completely broke down in tears. She gave me the phone to call my parents. I called them and read them a little emotion journal that my mom told me to write and give to them when I returned. I did the unthinkable… I asked them if I could come home. My parents, being the wise, experienced, and loving people they are, said no way. They are extremely compassionate to my feelings and understand them 100%; however, I signed up, was accepted, and supported for a 1 year exchange not just because I was another applicant, but because people felt that I could do this. At this point, I didn’t think that I could do this. After a good talk with my parents back home, we set aside a time this week to get on MSN and use the webcam.
That is now what I am looking forward to: A chat on webcam with my entire family back home, including my little 8 pound Chihuahua. That and a package that my mom just recently sent of little things that should cheer me up and that should put a smile on my face. I have 2 more days of pure boredom… me, the maid, and a TV remote. I just hope that I don’t get so sad again as to ask my parents to come home. I may regret it for the rest of my life. Luckily, I have school next week and I am taking some rather easy classes: Math and Chemistry.
Well, okay, easy for me. At least it should be, I did get a 4 on both my AP Statistics and AP Chemistry exams this past year… :D As several other exchange students have said, as well as all of the counselors and program directors of RYE back home have said, DO NOT trust your emotions, at least not for the first few weeks or maybe even couple months. Take me, for example. I trusted them every day and every night and I cried every day and every night. It didn’t do me any good. Everyone has their ups and downs the first week or 2 or 5, but you can ALWAYS come through it… well, that is what everyone else says. I still have yet to figure that one out.
September 14 Journal
Chao!!!! Como estas!!! I am doing much better than the last time I posted. I have definitely seen the light that everyone has their ups and down, but they just need to get over it. I am now over it and doing well. Since the last journal, I have been really busy. I started school, went to Manta, went parasailing, and had my inbound orientation.
School has been magnificent. Everyone there is so friendly. Sometimes, they can even get to be a little too friendly. But, it's nothing I can't handle. I am in a Physics and Mathematics majoring class. The Math is really, really easy and the Physics is easy as well. We also have other classes, like English, literature, Gym, Drawing, Computer Graphics, and Chemistry. I love my chemistry class, because I am the smartest one in there. I know every thing the teacher is saying and more. Sometimes, I think I even know more than him. It was a little awkward for my first day of Gym. I didn't realize that I had gym class that day so I hadn't worn my gym uniform. I couldn't participate, however, the teacher said it wasn't that big of a deal. He said he would let it slide. But I still felt guilty because I was sitting in some cool, relaxing shade while the rest of the class was constantly running their butts off in the blazing sun. I felt really bad that I wasn't working as well. All well, there was nothing I could do about it.
Parasailing is one of the most thrilling things you could ever do in your entire life. I absolutely loved it. I started to get strapped in and once we were ready, another guy had to come and help drag us off the cliff because we had the parachute behind us, weighing us down. We were running on the ground, full speed, but then, all of a sudden, there was just no ground. I was still running same speed and everything, just in the air. It was absolutely magnificent. I was able to see EVERYTHING. Ecuador is so beautiful, but even more gorgeous from the air.
Then there was the Orientation, and oh boy, could I go on about this. First, it was in a small city called Nobol. It is a quaint, peaceful little town. In Nobol, there was a camp, or moreover, a Christian Hotel. This is where we spent the week learning of Ecuadorian culture and the Spanish language. Every morning, at 6:30, I would wake up and go get ready for breakfast at 7. We would eat breakfast then go into these 2 "carriages of death", as I call them. They really were scary, especially if you lied down on top. We would travel about a mile and a half to the other area of the camp and go have our presentation and activity for the day. This lasted about 4 hours, or sometimes, quicker. We would then eat lunch, and go back into the carriages of death, and head back to the main lodging for Spanish class. The Spanish class was really, really, really helpful. I learned a lot and the teacher was really good. From our 4 hour class, we would go to eat dinner and then the rest of the evening was free. We could either go onto the outdoor stage and dance, go swimming, or, if you were so inclined, go to bed.
The last day of camp, we played a cross culture simulation game. I already knew how to play it because I played it at my second outbound orientation in Florida. Because of this, I wasn't allowed to play, however, they were really able to use my help in teaching it. It was a lot easier for me to teach this just because I had the first hand experience with this game. It was just as fun this time as last time. However, this time, we found some huge iron jail walls in the back of the room and we set those up for punishment to the visitors that were bad.
The bus trip back home was very eventful. We got pulled over by the cops 3 times and actually got into a bus crash. Some guy in a van tried changing lanes, but we were where the guy was changing to, so he ran us off the road. It was soooooo scary. Luckily there was a large pile of rocks and debris in front of us that stopped us and a large metal sign to our side that kept us from completely tipping over. We were really lucky. Me and my friends were thinking: "I wonder what would have happened if that sign wasn't there." Well, physically, we would be guaranteed injury. Maybe not serious, but everyone would have injuries. The entire bus would have been tipped over. Luckily, we didn't have injuries and the bus didn't tip over all the way.
I better get going. I have some sleep to catch up on. Hasta Pronto!!!
September 30 Journal
So, another 2 weeks have gone by, but yet again, it only feels like 2 days. Every day, I look at the date on my calendar and nearly have a heart attack. When I first got here, I was so sad. I would nearly have a heart attack because I thought I had the longest time left here; now I am starting to feel that I have little to no time left. I realize it has only been a month and a half, but when I say that I only have 9 months left, I just freaks me out. I keep thinking: I have 3 months left in school, then 4 months of break, then only 2 more months of school!!! HOLY COW!!! It is just ridiculous. I think about how fast the school year back home goes, and how much faster the break goes, then I get scared that this year will go by like a flash of lightning.
Time goes so fast here. Everything goes fast here, I mean, just take a look at that speedometer in the taxi that I was in!!! I feel that my time here is extremely precious. I went out with my friends the other day to a water park and had the time of my life. But then I look at what time I have left here in this paradise and I feel that I probably won't be able to do that too many more times.
I feel that I need to do more in general. I feel that I have a duty to do, I feel that I need to help more, with my Rotary club. I feel that I have to do more of what I just did this weekend. It was a typical Rotary, do-good-er activity: the Rotaract club, interact club, and Rotary club all went out to a local town and helped the sick free of charge, with real medicine and real doctors.
I went out with my friends on Friday evening, not knowing what was being planned for us exchange students for this weekend. However, thankfully, another exchange student knew the basics. She said that we had to meet on Sunday in the morning at our Rotary club meeting place. So, I did. I met up with some local Interact students, Rotaract Members and Rotary Members. All of us students hopped on a bus and we were off to who knows where. We got to our destination: a private school in a nearby town. We walked in and there were probably about 200 sick people all there waiting for us. And that is where the work began. There were doctors, dentists, and pharmacists. We stacked medicine, organized patients, and handed out prizes, and we had a blast doing it. We exchange students were pretty much the stars of this activity. We were looked up to so much, and I'm not just saying that because all Ecuadorians are short, either. The announcer called us up several times, just to be the ones to hand out the giveaway prizes. Everyone loved us. And thanks to our temporary fame, something that the Rotarians back home taught us came back to me. We are there for just this reason: to make a difference. We are now a part of Rotary International: a world-wide community service organization, set out to make the world a better place to live in. We have to honor that and this function that we participated in is a perfect example.
Chao for now!!!
November 12 Journal
It's been a while since I did this. I actually had to come to this website just to read what happened last when I wrote my last journal. I looked at what I last did and thought, "That can't be true. Al must have just forgotten to put up my last journal because I have done sooo much since then. It feels like it all happened just yesterday though." Time has been flowing by so fast. It is kind of frustrating really. We are nearly half way done with the month then it will the month of Christmas or Navidad. Which will mean that I am just about half way done with my exchange. It is really scary. I have a lot to catch you up on and let's see how much I can get out of my head.
My life is amazing. I have an amazing house, amazing family, amazing friends, amazing school, but a TERRIBLE extent of vocabulary left in English. I have nearly forgotten how to speak English. And it definitely hasn't helped my English that I am now trying to learn both French and Spanish at the same time. I hang out with my exchange friends a lot. They have actually inspired me to learn several languages and to want to travel the world. I look at them and they can ALL speak English and at least 2 other languages... well, at least those from countries that aren't the USA. I am actually hanging out with these friends every day. My social life is at an all time high right now. I go out with my friends nearly every night, go out with my parents every weekend, and have several friends at school who are practically in love with me. Every day I go to school I have to give all of my guy friends handshakes and all of my girl friends a kiss on the cheek. I actually have girls at school who tell, "ahora, besame en la boca." And for those of you who don't speak Spanish, that means "Now, kiss me on the mouth." I really can't though because if I do, they will think that I am then their boyfriend, but several girls have asked me for a kiss on the lips. lol.
A few weeks ago, the exchange students of Ecuador had their Paseo Manabí and we took a tour of 3 major cities of the state that I live in: Portoviejo (my city), Manta, and Crucita. I remember getting to the hotel only to see a few friends from Portoviejo waiting there to greet me and a few Rotarians in the building waiting to search my bags as they were doing with all the students. I got past security with no problem, then I got to my room and the activities began. We waited for a while longer to find other students and then, all of a sudden, we saw 2 very large busses pull up and just start unloading about 62 students. I thought to myself... that must be Quito..... DOMINIC!!!!! I grabbed all of the other buddies I knew from our flight into Portoviejo and we greeted our long lost pal, Dominic. Later, I got into my bathing suit and at 8 o'clock at night, about 40 students were all in the pool and we were throwing random people in... taking their phones away from them of course. We climbed a cliff to see an amazing view and had a dance at the end of the Paseo. It was an amazing trip.
I had no school last week because it was the end of the trimester. My sister didn't have classes on Monday and Tuesday, either. My mom and dad took off those 2 days from work as well and we went to 2 different beaches on either day. Monday, we went to a beach called San Lorenzo, about 2 hours south of Portoviejo, where I live. The weather there was very bad for swimming. It looked like it was about to rain, and it was very, very cold. So, instead of swimming, we took a boat ride to this neat little island about a mile off the coast. It was amazing. Then, on Tuesday, we went to a beach called Bahia just 2 hours north of Portoviejo. I knew the exchange student from Germany who lived there and I had his number, so I called him and we got to hang out for a while. It was quite exciting. This beach was absolutely beautiful, especially because it was the afternoon when we saw it, where the sun caught the water just right. After we were done there, we went to a family member's house in Canoa, which was another 30 minutes north. I found out it was my dad's ex-wife and her kids. That was pretty fun. They were sooo nice.
I climbed a mountain last weekend. THAT was cool. Me and 3 other exchangers and one exchanger's family, climbing a mountain that seemed like the Amazon rainforest. This was fun. On parts going up, it felt like we would take 3 steps forward and slide 2 steps back. Then going down the mountain, me and another person got waaay ahead of the group. It felt we were taking 3 steps forward and jumping 8 steps forward. This was the most fun part. It was definitely harder than the way up... and a lot more dangerous. Let's just say that you would not be able to climb up where we went down. There were several cliffs where we just had to jump.
Then, the next day, I went out with a few of my friends to the mall and then afterwards, we went to this little back road to a kiosk to buy some of the most amazing hot dogs in the world!!!! We decided to wait for taxis there because it was quite a distance from the mall to be walking at that time of night. Well, my friends all got their taxis first and I was left alone to get the last taxi. Not even a minute after my last friend had left, a robber came up. It really scared the heck out of me. First he threatened me with gun that he didn't have, then with a knife that he didn't have. Then he just grabbed my watch and broke it off. I pushed him back a little bit and then completely decked him in the face and laid him on his butt. Then I just ran as fast as I could back to the mall. I am quite glad that Chris taught me how to throw a mean right hook, just after he was in this exact situation. I guess that the Redlitz name is just forever cursed in RYE.
Well, I am pretty sure that is the gist of it, or at least what was the most important. Hasta proxima vez!
December 20 Journal
This exchange has brought me together with so many friends, and it’s not even halfway over yet. Not only has it brought me together with new friends, but people who I haven’t talked with in years. I found myself, the other day, on Facebook, looking for a couple friends who I haven’t seen or heard from in over 6 years!!! It is ridiculous.
That’s right, I was looking for my old elementary buddies. That’s not the only strange thing I caught myself doing. I was downloading Christmas music… Barry Manilow, Kenny G, and a bunch of other people I would never EVER listen to on a normal day. It is only because that is the Christmas music that my dad always listened to back home during Christmas time. And now, I am in Ecuador without my family during the most family oriented season of the year.
I remember everything that goes on during holidays in the US that I start to miss… Halloween, there was always a program on TV that hosted a “13 days of Halloween” and it would play Halloween movies for 13 days up to Halloween day. On Thanksgiving, you always have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade along with my mom’s homemade pies and turkey and stuffing. Then the day after Thanksgiving is the beginning of Christmas. Black Friday was what we called it. It was the day that all of the stores’ Christmas specials started. At 4 in the morning, on Black Friday, people would rush into the stores, finding sales that are 50% off, Buy one get 3 Free, and other ridiculous discounts. That was also the day that I would be home still from break and set up everything Christmassy. I put up the Christmas lights on that day. We put up the Christmas tree and decorated it on that day. Put out the stockings for decoration, and started collecting Christmas cards and taping them on the giant glass slider window. Then after school everyday, when my dad got home, he would put a Christmas CD in the boom box and listen to Christmas music constantly. Then, right about where we are now in the season, school would be letting out, we would be taking our exams, and the bottom of the tree would be halfway filled already from presents from relatives. Everyone would be doing their last minute Christmas shopping and then, Christmas eve, we would go to the 8 o’clock Christmas eve service and when we get back, me and my brothers would have some hot chocolate and my parents would lock themselves in their bedroom and just wrap EVERYTHING at once. They always waited until the last minute to wrap anything.
I have been remembering things a lot. I have been extremely nostalgic this past month. Even if I hear a certain song, I start to feel really sad. For example, I was listening to U2 “Where the Streets have no Names” and I remembered the first time I listened to that song. It was sitting in front of the computer, looking at my uncle’s old music collection when I got a call from the hospital saying that I got the job that I had applied for. I then listened to it walking to take my blood tests for the job. If I here Eric Clapton “Layla”, I remember 2 things: first, I remember realizing how amazing that song is while standing under the overhang at school when it was pouring outside, waiting for my mom to come pick me up. Second, I remember working after school every Friday in the kitchen at school to help serve the football players food before their big game. I had it as my ring tone on my phone, and my phone went off and my culinary teacher heard it and her first words were, “IS THAT LAYLA!?!?!?!? THAT IS MY FAVORITE SONG EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!” I was so psyched because that was my favorite song as well.
I guess you can say this journal is a tribute to everything that I have missed the past month or two, or maybe even more. Everything that you had that you had taken advantage of really comes back to you when you are in a foreign country. From every piece of candy collected on Halloween, to every float going by in the Macy’s parade, to every Christmas light being lit, to every Christmas package being wrapped. The little things soon become the big things and the big things become unbearable to think about. You soon have nothing small enough to just brush off and forget. And you better darn well hope you don’t already have anything unbearable, because those will soon become killers.
I cant wait till I get home to have everything back again, but I don’t want to go home right now. I will be leaving so much behind. My family back in Florida, I know that I will see them again, but who says I will be able to see my friends and family here, again?
Every day that passes, I ask myself and other people ask me, what are you going to do with your loved ones here when you leave? Is there anyone you want to take home with you? Or are you going to try to live here? Or what are you going to do? I would really rather not think about that right now. Between that and the memories, I have realized that looking away from what I have right now just hurts.
Just live in the present and embrace it. Try not to look back or be paranoid about the future. I just now leave you with a quote that entails this all… “The past is history, the future is a mystery, today is a gift—that is why it is called the present.”
January 12 Journal
“Information's pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience.” -Clarence Day
Have you ever had that feeling where you experience something and then try and explain it to someone but constantly feel that they will not understand the extent of your emotions? The truth is, they really never will understand. I remember back to when I was writing my Rotary 12-page report on Ecuador and I kept thinking, “GEEZ!!! This is going to be AMAZING!!!!” Now, I am constantly thinking, “Boy, I really did not know what I was in for.” It is true, this country is absolutely AMAZING, but I didn’t understand that then. The report was a good help, a basic set of information so you know what to be prepared for. However, you realize, once you start to experience the country, that it really was just BASIC info.
Christmas – I knew that I was going to miss my family. I knew that I was going to feel strange without my family at my side. I knew that there was going to be a new culture here for this holiday. However, what I did not know what HOW much I was going to miss my family, HOW strange I would feel, and HOW different the culture here was. I had, for about 2 weeks, all of the gifts that I was to distribute to my host family, from me and my family back home that they sent me. I was ready for this. At 9 P.M. on Christmas Eve, my host mom calls me down to come open presents. I was thinking, “Wait, what? You don’t open your gifts on the actual Christmas Day?” So, obediently, I walked downstairs with enough presents in my arms that I couldn’t see where I was going and tripped a few times. I set the gifts down in front of the tree (thankfully the tree is still a tradition here) and my host parents just sat there in awe. I had no clue why, but soon I realized that the only thing besides that were a gift bag and a little hand-made card under the tree. I began to distribute the gifts to the designated receiver and told them to open them up. They opened everything with the most gracious faces I have ever seen. I opened up my gift and card and, strangely, I felt extremely appreciated. In the US, people usually get more than one gift, but in my host family, I got just one, and I couldn’t have been happier at that moment. We went to Church that evening and my brothers, after, went out to a disco and got drunk. That was the culture for Christmas Eve? Then, to top it all off, we went to the beach on Christmas Day. This was the strangest Christmas I have ever experienced, but yet, no one who hasn’t experienced it, won’t understand it, until they do so.
New Years – Let me first say that New Years Eve was the best, most exciting day of my exchange so far. There was not a hint of sorrow in my heart for missing another holiday with my Floridian family. In the morning, my sister and I went out to a local head store (yes, they sell heads… but for mannequins) and after, we took some old jeans, and a long sleeved shirt and about 5 years worth of newspaper and proceeded to stuff the clothes. We carefully placed the freshly purchased head on top, and we had our mannequin, or what they call here, our Año Nuevo. It is called this because it represents all of the bad things that happened in the past year. Then, at midnight exact, we burn it and put all of the bad happenings behind us.
Well, at about 6 PM, my parents took me out just for a drive around the town. My dad put me in the front for some strange, I didn’t understand why for a second there. He grabbed his 5 pound bag of change and we were off. They told me that we were just going to drive around and look at everyone’s mannequins, but they didn’t tell me that it was a tradition here, on New Years Eve, for there to be a transvestite every 50 yards seducing the cars that go by on the front passenger side window asking for about 25 cents and eventually making $50 by the end of the night. I must say, it was quite disturbing. I quickly understood the reason for me sitting in the front seat… my parents wanted me to get the full experience of Ecuador.
When we got home, it was about 11:30 PM, so we began to set up our mannequin in a nonflammable area. My brothers were bored, so they went inside, my sister was scared to light the mannequin, and my parents wanted me, again, to have the full experience. So they handed me a roman candle, matches, and gasoline and said, “Have fun!” I was wondering how I could use all 3 in one swing. You have no idea how big the smile on my face was. I drenched the dummy in gasoline, and began to light the roman candle with the matches, aimed the candle at the standing dummy, and 3… 2… 1… KABOOOOOOOOOOMM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The fireball went hurdling at the mannequin and you could see the head fly off the body like a projectile from a slingshot!!!! It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw!! XD
A Very Rare Occurrence – Now this is something that just touched me to the heart and still has not let go. My Floridian parents told me to pick one of the trips that they would pay for, which I thought was very reasonable, so I quickly picked the Galapagos trip in April and left the February Amazon trip aside. About a week ago, my host mom walked into my room and asked me, “How much does the Amazon trip cost?” I told her the price then explained to her the reason why I wasn’t going to go. She responded, “Well, I was just wondering if you were planning on going or not because if so, we would be more than happy to pay for it.” That hit me soooo hard. I got on webcam with Floridian family faster than you can say……… any word in your vocabulary. I asked them if it was ok, and my mom even noted to me that the entire time I was on webcam, I was smiling. I didn’t realize it, and wasn’t trying to smile, but I just was. All of my exchange friends here are so jealous. I keep thinking I would be too. I felt so loved and appreciated by my family here. It was an incredible feeling to have someone you’ve only known for 5 months to offer up something so ridiculously generous.
Until Next Time!
February 20 Journal
Well, it's been a while since I wrote one of these, and I am kind of mad that I haven't gotten to it. I have so much to talk about. 3 Major things that I must talk about… family change, my Amazon trip, and Carnival.
Well, I changed my family on January 14. My Dad was there to pick me up but my mom was in Panama. I got a really good connection with my Dad from the start. But when my mom came into the picture, things got a little on edge at first. She is just the type of person you need to get used to. She always speaks in a stern voice and her form of joking is telling you that you are in trouble for nothing with a really firm voice and a serious face, making you piss in your pants and then 30 seconds later, laughing. That has taken me some time to get used to, and I am still in the process of completely getting accustomed. The house is gorgeous. I have never seen anything like it. I have to say, right now, I love the change.
The Amazon trip was amazing. I cant even describe it. Even if I tried, you wouldn’t be getting the whole gist of it. It was sooo beautiful. For example, when we were getting back from our nature walk, we went in a giant, double-decker truck thingy and everyone in the group was on top. There was this one area where there was a break in the trees on the side of the road and we stopped and just stared and took pictures. You could see the entire Amazon and it was one the most beautiful things I have ever seen. We went to a shaman and got our spirits cleaned. That was quite an experience. He even let us try to smoke some of his shaman tobacco. That was some really strong stuff. I couldn’t breathe even after one roll. I don’t see how the shaman can do it. He smoked about 8 or 9 of those to cleanse all of us. Was he dizzy? Was he suffocating? Was he going to die of cancer? I have no idea. I just know that he is a beast.
After that, we went to go “hunt for our dinner”. We got to learn how to use a blow gun and a throwing spear. That was really fun. The blow gun was so accurate and strong. The spear was really hard to use. It was so heavy. I also got to have the first hot shower ever for 5 ½ months. It felt soooooooo good. We also went tubing in the river. Although, their version of tubing is drifting down stream, and their version of a tube, is your life vest. Lol. They did, however, have a really cool rope swing in the river. That was really fun. There was a parrot named Yolanda at the camp site. Me and a couple other students taught it to cuss at the other students, then the other students taught it to cuss at us in other languages… it was really funny. That bird caught on quick. We also got to eat grubs. That was quite an experience. They asked for 2 volunteers to try it alive and 2 brave, idiotic souls raised their hands. They told them to crush the head really quick or it will bite your tongue…. Eeewwww. Then we all had to eat them cooked. They were actually really good cooked. They tasted exactly like bacon. ;D jajajajaja
Carnival was amazing… aside from the fact that I got a massive sunburn and that my phone, money, shirt, and shoes were stolen. I was swimming in the water and I had put my stuff inside a bunch of rocks, and when I got back, everything was gone. So I had to walk back home, an hour long walk, in the blazing sun, with no shirt and shoes because I had no phone to call my family and no money to get a taxi. Ugh. Carnival was a blast though. People spraying silly string everywhere, little kids coming up to you and throwing powder charcoal at you... that was a little strange, and dumping water and beer all over you. About 2 times, my parents thought I was drinking because I smelled like beer… but once I took off my pants and let them smell them, they realized it was just some drunk people being jerks.
Well, that is all I got for now. Until next time!
Nos vemos y hablamos!
May 3 Journal
VAYA! Ha pasado mucho tiempo, cierto? Ha pasado casi 3 meses y no he escrito un diario. Entonces, tengo mucho a decir, mucho a contar… del fin de mis vacaciones, de uno de los mejores paseos por siempre: los Galapagos, y regresando a colegio!
WOW! A lot of time has passed, right? Almost 3 months has passed and I haven’t written a journal. So I have a lot to tell, a lot to clue you in on… the end of my vacation, one of the best trips ever: the Galapagos, and getting back into school!
Obviously, my Spanish has greatly improved since these 3 months have passed, and I regret to say that my English has severely diminished. I find myself stumbling for words at times when I am talking with my friends in English so I end up having to say it in Spanish and they understand me. I am glad, however, that I can already read old poetry in Spanish… ya know, the ancient stuff with weird words. I can understand it and am very glad, because I have some good poetry.
That’s beside the point. Well, the end of my summer was great. I had several students from other cities come and visit us students in Portoviejo. I was getting kind of excited for school to get back in session because I was just doing the same thing every day. But, once I got back in school, I was kind of disappointed. I thought that it would be fun like last year, but for the first few days, I learned that I got new teachers that were absolute jerks and weren’t even cool out of school.
About a week after I got into school, I got to skip a few days… :D That was really exciting, mainly because I went to the Galapagos during that time. That was an absolutely, ridiculously, amazingly, insanely fun trip. I got sunburned everyday, sometimes twice a day! I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but hey, I got some amazing color. :D Snorkeling was really beautiful. We went to the bay on one of the islands and we were snorkeling in there… I have never seen so many colorful fish in one place in my entire life! We even got to see some sharks. That was pretty exhilarating. I nearly peed in my pants when I first saw them, but, that was just because it startled me so much. The next day, we went to Tortuga bay.
The walk there was pretty brutal. It was about a 1.5 mile walk there in the blazing sun in one of the places in the world where the sun beats down on you strongest. Honestly, I am not really sure why they call it Tortuga bay, I didn’t even see any turtles there. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the giant turtles the first day there, but I thought I was going to be able to see some sea turtles there. Whatever.
The next day was one of the best. We went to one of the giant lagoons on the island. The salt water from the ocean mixed in with the fresh water from the springs and make the water extremely extremely clear. It was really cold water, but it was refreshing. That place was absolutely gorgeous. We were swimming in a bunch of caves and tunnels which was really fun and we were able to climb the walls of the lagoon up above the water about 20 meters and jump off. What a thrill that was. I didn’t go just because I didn’t feel like breaking my neck, but my friends did and after, I wished that I went. Whatever. That was absolutely beautiful day. I spent so much money on just sun block in the Galapagos. Of course I did buy myself some souvenirs: a wicked sick backpack, a really comfy hammock, and some awesome sleep pants. The Galapagos trip was the first week in April and I still have some amazing color from that trip… almost a month later!
Me and my best friend, Florian from Holland, are going to the gym now. I have lost so much weight here in Ecuador and now I am tired of being the really skinny kid. So I got a membership to a gym nearby for a month and hoped to come home with some muscles… something I can honestly say that I have never had. HEHEHEHE.
Well, that is about it that has happened in these past few months. I can't really think of anymore. I got home June 1 and have just over a month left! I am very excited. I am extremely happy to get home and see my family and friends and home again, but I am very sad to leave here. I am afraid to lose everything that I have gained here. Family, friends, a new home, EVERYTHING. I look out my window everyday and see my home, wake up and say good morning to my mom and dad and brother, and go to school and say hi to my best friend and my teachers. It sounds like my life in the US, like my life at home.
This IS my home. This part for me feels like one of the hardest parts for me in this exchange. I have on my mind that in a month, I will no longer have all of this. I wish I could have the best of both worlds, but it’s just not possible. Maybe in a year or so, I can come back… I hope.
June 18 Journal
Well, I figure I have enough time for one more journal. This will be my final journal for the exchange as my year has just finished and as I start my journey as an RYE rebound.
My last month in Ecuador was extremely sad, but eventful. Since my departure date was set so much earlier than the other students in Ecuador, I was incapable of attending the final trip around the country. The chairman of exchange for my host club caught wind of this and asked me, “Well, at least you went to Quito (the capital), right?” I told her no and she just about flipped out. With just my luck, her husband (the president of my club) and his kids were going up there anyway the next week so she TOLD me that they were taking me… they didn’t even ask me, just told me. Lol. It’s not like I had a problem with it or anything, I just thought it was funny how they were so demanding. Anyway, the following week, me, my club president, 2 of his kids, and his oldest son’s girlfriend who was from Virginia were on our way to Quito for a bumpy 6 hour drive. We arrived in Quito at their apartment at about 10:00 p.m. They showed me to my room and I fell asleep in about 10 minutes! :D
The next morning, I woke up bright and early to accompany my group to their original intentions for going to Quito: the dentist. So apparently the best dentist in Ecuador was in Quito and my president’s oldest son and his girlfriend needed 2 of their wisdom teeth pulled out, so they decided to get it done in Quito. My morning ended out with a bunch of laughs… both of their mouths were swollen and looked like they were sucking on a grapefruit. Their words weren’t slurred, just a bit muffled. Lol. The doctor said they weren’t to go out into the sun too much so they were unable to come with us to the next leg of the trip: the middle of the earth.
That’s right, we went to the Equator. It was so cool. We went straight into photo-op mode and took hundreds of pictures of me in different and interesting poses. I even tried to get photos with the llamas running around. It was kind of hard though because they all seemed naturally scared of me. After the middle of the earth, we went to the nearby volcano town… a town that actually resides in one of the craters of a volcano called Pululahua. It was soooooo cold there, ESPECIALLY for a volcano. The town only had a population of about 150… there was only one school for all of elementary, junior high, and high school and the whole school had about 25 students in it and there was only one teacher. This teacher had to come from Quito every day and go back every day. Sounds easy? Here is the catch, it was actually 1 hour of travel and only 10 minutes of it was in car. You have to drive to the edge of the mountain and then walk down the trail for 45-50 minutes. And it was normally about 50° F. Well, after returning from Pululahua, we went down the mountain and went to eat cute domestic animals called cuy. Well, maybe it is more familiar to you in the form of Guinea Pig. HAHAHAHA. That is right, I ate a cute domestic house rodent, and it was DELICIOUS!! Crisp skin; soft chewy meat; and it tasted just like chicken, just a little sweeter! :D
The next day, it was just me and my president because the dentist victims were still sore and the other was in Japanese classes. My president and I were on our way to the teleferico cable cars to climb up the mountain. What an experience that was! It was sooo beautiful. I could see the 2 volcanoes that were actually in Quito: Pichincha and Wahwah Pichincha; and how majestic those were. I could see ALLL of Quito and I have never seen such a large downtown in my entire life!
Well, after that, I was out of Quito within 2 days. Our Quito trip was over, but the following week, my host family told me that we were going to Riobamba the following day for 3 days and that I had to pack for that. So, yet another fun trip was headed my way. We didn’t really do much on this trip, pretty much just hang around and have fun together in the house. However, we did go out and do one big thing together. We went up to one of the 3 mountains in Ecuador that has snow on it: Mt. Chimborazo. That was really cool, literally!!! Me and one other person ran the entire way up until we got to the cabin for some hot chocolate. We ran up 2000 ft in under 30 minutes! That was really tiring. We each got 2 hot chocolates and then everyone else arrived at the cabin. As soon as they got there, we left again, but this time, to go reach the snow. We went just to touch the snow and play in it for 5 minutes then go back down the mountain. No one else went to the snowy part because everyone else with us were either old people or were puking from the change in elevation. Lol. So I touched snow for the first time in over 2 years!! What a rush that was. The only bad thing from climbing that mountain was it really screwed up my ears. That was a month and a half ago and I still can’t hear right because my brother told me to clog my nose and blow, which I did so. Instead of helping, it actually blew my eardrum which I only discovered a couple days ago.
My last day was an extremely sad day. I had to say goodbye to my 2 best friends: Florian and Monika. Florian is from Holland and Monika from Austria. I never thought I would actually cry from saying goodbye to my friends or even my friends crying, but they both happened. I cried, Florian cried, and Monika cried A LOT!!! Hahahahaha. But it was still something that had to happen. I woke up at 1 in the morning on June 1st to my phone ringing… about 20 different times. They were various friends from Rotary who were all on the final trip that I was unable to go on. I hadn’t realized how much of an impact I made on them or how connected we had become. About 70% of them told me sincerely that the trip just wasn’t the same without me. It would have been about 20 times better if I was there. That hit me so hard and I started to cry again. Then, again, at 4 in the morning, I woke up again to get ready to go to the airport. I got dressed, had some chocolate milk, and went upstairs to go wake up my dad, but EVERYONE was awake all lined up waiting to say goodbye to me. And, yet again, I cried, especially when I said goodbye to my host mom. I loved her so much and miss her so much. My 8 year old brother, Luiggy, was still half asleep when I went upstairs, so he kind of didn’t know what was going on, but then my mom called me on my 3 hour trip to Guayaquil with my dad just to tell me that they love me and Luiggy finally started crying! I was always the one to start playing with him and he will no longer have that playing buddy. After getting my bags checked in, I said my goodbyes to my dad. You can only guess what I did with him… You got it, I cried, AGAIN! But, I had to cry for him. He was the one in my family with whom I connected the most. I said my goodbyes and waved to him crying as I walked through the double doors to go to passport control.
I reached Miami and had a 4 hour layover all by myself. Nothing special there, just had my first taste of good Italian food in over a year!!! However, I did start tripping out as soon as I got off the plane. All I heard was English, English, English, More English, EVEN MORE ENGLISH, and… ENGLISH!!! I was freaking out wondering where all the Spanish went to. I had to literally translate everything that was being said into Spanish in my head and everything I was saying into English from Spanish in my head. It was really weird. About 2 hours into my layover, I went over to a small candy shop and bought some American candies. The lady asked me what the jacket was for, and I, of course, told her that I went to Ecuador for a foreign exchange and all of a sudden, she just started speaking to me in Spanish and I tagged along without even thinking! It was so refreshing. I got on my plane for Jacksonville, played translator for an hour for the Cuban man who was sitting right next to me, and then landed. You know what the first thing that went through my mind when the wheels touched down? ….... BATHROOM!!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! I hadn’t gone since the morning, and I figured that I wouldn’t want to wet myself from the excitement when I see my family waiting outside security. I was finally done with my business, and began to nearly run to the exit doors. I stopped right before the corner for the exit, took and deep breath and proceeded to turn the corner. “THERE HE IS!!!! OMG MY BOY!!!!!! JOSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!” That is all I heard coming out of the terminal. I saw my entire family and a few select friends waiting for me outside the security tape with, of course, my mom front and center. As soon as I crossed the security tape, I dropped my bag and ran to my mom and hugged her as hard as I could and proceeded with my brothers and my dad and then my friends. What an emotional moment that was. Oh man. I will never forget it.
This exchange has been the love of my life so far. I have never felt so blessed to be given such a wonderful opportunity. I have 2 new families who love me dearly and who I love with all my heart and hope to see again. Everyone says, what a shame that you have to repeat your senior year. But, you know what? I don’t think of it like that. I don’t think of it as a year lost, but rather as a year gained. How many people in the world are given an opportunity as wonderful as this? There are 18,628,340 people in Florida, and this year, only about 75 of those were chosen to represent Rotary with this magnificent offer. This truly is a once in a lifetime experience and it is all thanks to Rotary international and RYE. Thanks to Al Kalter, Jody Davis, Daphne Cameron, Bill Learn, and all of the others working behind the scenes in the RYE Florida program. Thank you, as well, to Rafael Ramirez, German Lopez, and all of those behind the scenes in the RYE Ecuador District 4400 Program. I love each and every one of you and cannot express enough gratitude for everything you have done. Thank you.