Monday, November 21, 2005

Starting Spanish lessons, and so much more!

Started Spanish lessons this week, and "Buena Suerta" (AKA lucky me!) i got the best teacher in the school - Marta, who is fantastic!! Routine is quite busy now with classes from 8:30-12:30, time for lunch with new found friends from the school -Joe from London, Amber from Chicago, Patricia from Switzerland, Mark from Erskine (a St Mirren fan!), Christoph and Florian from Germany. Korin from Norway and many others...

As part of our Spanish classes with the Simon Bolivar school, we get all these great after school excursions, e.g. a tour of the city (with who else but Marta of course!) which included visiting the Panama Hat museum and store (very tempted to get one for myself!). What do you think of the giant one outside the building - teehee). The owner, Isabella, took us around the museum and we had a lovely celebratory drink (again with the vile cane-syrup stuff that burns your mouth off!) for Dominique`s birthday (AND Dom kissed this lucky piece of wood, which if legend holds out, means she will be married within the year.. 364 days and counting.. but hey no pressure).

We also tasted the famous "Agua de Pitas". This water is specially fermented by the nuns in the adjoining convent, who are completely cloistered and speak and see no-one. They make this "tonic" water from many medicinal plants and flowers and there are two kinds you can have - white for those with more nervous or emotional afflictions, and red for those with problems of "la corazon" (the heart"!). We had a "mixto" combination of both, and you basically chug it in one (Marta loves it and people have a glass every day to keep them "happy", but we thought it was like drinking 3 day old flower water... which it kind of was.. but oh so restorative!!).

Tues and Wed we have salsa lessons with Fransisco, an artist who has an evening gig teaching gringos with absolutely no rhythm, the basics of salsa. A tad frustrating for him shall we say..esp. as he is a really good dancer, he must get fed up saying (izquierda, derecha, uno, dos, tres) AKA left,right, one, two, three - and we would still go the wrong way! Thursday we visited a fabulous pottery business where the family are now 3rd generation potters...Mark (my new found Scottie friend!) and I took a shot at the ole` "potting" -hmmn didnt do so well - those potters know how to make it look way easier than it is....!!!

Funny thing - Ecuador is well known for its coffee, in fact its top 5 exports (in no specific order, are petroleum, coffee, people (emigrating to work in other countries esp. US, Canada and Spain), flowers and bananas... Well, every day Dominique hoped with bated breath, that she would get a good cup of coffee " cafe con leche por favor, con poco leche, y con leche separado por favor". Not much to ask, coffee with milk, just a little milk, on the side please.. but ahhh for some reason, the majority of coffee you get here is from a Nescafe tin and is made in Columbia, and the milk, well, it usually has blobby bits of overheated milk floating in it, so poor Dom and her cafe cravings are always a little shell shocked as she goes to class. There´s a lot to be said for ¨te negro, solo, gracias¨ tea with nothing in it thanks.. you cant go wrong with that!!!

So back to Marta, she is quite something. As well as teaching me Spanish, she fills me in on many cultural things about Cuenca and Ecuador in general. We have passionate conversations about the current government and the corruption problems, the fact most people in South America dont like George Bush, although they do still see America as a place to become succesful, and they are also very comfortable with American tourists, its just George that no-one is very fond of. She is quite the revolutionary (and apparantly thinks i am too in my way of thinking - how cool is that!), she explains how Cuencaños are so passionate about their city, how the people from the countryside, the camposinos, still live the way they have for many years, and still have between 12-14 children even today, and oh yes, of course how people here although they are very very Catholic, still strongly believe in the spiritual traditions of the Quechua people..

For example, you can still find "curanderos or chamenes" (shamen doctors) today, who can get rid of any negative energy in your body. Typically, children are brought to the chamenes, for minor ailments but adults also go sometimes for bad backs or headaches. So on Friday, after a few hours of grammer,(we have to do some work!), we headed off into the Parque Calderon, first to see a HUGE demonstration against violence towards women, both in the home and at work!. You wouldnt believe how big it was! The demonstrators were school children in marching bands,college kids, people from the country, street vendors, bank tellers, you name it - and tons of men too! Hmmnn a tad ironic as domestic violence is a big problem and does kind of involve them, but good to see them embracing change, I suppose!

Then it was off for my own private city tour- down to see La Iglesia de San Blas, (a big fave for young people getting married), then on to the outdoor Mercado for my "cleansing"! Yes, its true.. not that i had any real negative energy according to Marta.. but definitely an experience i was intrigued by, and decided "hey, why not try it!". There is a whole section in the market, set aside specifically for the chamenes (a less kind description is witch doctor, which isnt correct, but gives you the idea..). Typically those being "cleansed" are children, who are brought by their parents to get rid of colds, lazy eyes or a number of other ailments.. they also go to the doctor of course, but the chamenes are usually the first stop! The children sit in these wizened old ladies laps, and are swished with bunches of invigorating flowers and greenery, then the tradition is that once you are swished (alot more energetically for adults let me tell you!), the chamen lifts your shirt and spits (yes spits!) holy water (made from medicinal plants and water) on your tummy and your back, and of course your face!. Then she rubs a fresh egg all over you (not broken tho´ thank goodness) Lastly, she makes the sign of the cross in oil on your forehead and hey presto, you are cleansed! Amazing, excilerating.. and cleansing of course! Loved it! Then it was a fab trip around the rest of the market with Marta - who knew pretty much everyone there...then off for coffee and chocolate croissants and a brilliant chat.. what a fab day!

And it wasn´t over. Did I say Marta was the best? She also does most of the evening events - and this night was no different.... she took a bunch of us for drinks to Figaro, (not the best mojitos but the company was great!) with the one rule that we all only speak Spanish to each other in a social situation! So I of course was very quiet (for a change!)but it was a great night. We then went onto another great bar called Traffic and danced the night away with some "hombres" who became not only our "amigos" but also 4 very helpful salsa teachers...again with the Cuencaños loving their city- when they ask what you think and do you like Cuenca "te gusta Cuenca?" and of course you reply "si, Cuenca es muy bonito, muy lindo" they love to say "chevere" which means, "great, they are happy, so happy that you like their city!!!" So a great end to a great day and a great week!!!


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