08/12/2015: Niños, swimming pools, yoga, and panama hats!!

June 24, 2016

Hi everyone!! Since I last left off, I've been keeping pretty busy. I work in the mornings at the orphanage from around 8:30-12:30, and my commute by bus there and back takes about an hour each way. Once I get home, I have lunch with my host family and afterwards, I head back out into town to explore or do some activities with my school, then come back home for a late dinner. I've been trying to find downtime to get myself organized for school to start too, but I don't like spending a lot of time while I'm here on school stuff when I could be out exploring!

The Monday of this week was a holiday, so I didn't go in to the orphanage (my bus outside of the city didn't run) and my school was closed, so I was left to my own devices! I have been looking up yoga studios in town, trying to find something I could go to without a membership, and it was more difficult than you would imagine because many places like that close in August for summer vacation. I ended up e-mailing the owner of a studio back and forth in Spanish a few times to find out their schedule/address, and decided that a Monday morning class would be my best bet since I had the whole day off! I was so excited to try yoga in Spanish and learn all this new vocabulary and try something pretty new, however, once I got there I realized that it was run by a US ex-pat (retired person who moved here) and the whole class was in English and all of the students basically only spoke English!! It was a little frustrating, but I had an excellent time at the class and had some much needed relaxation.

Tuesday at the orphanage was really exciting because I finally got to take my big suitcase full of the awesome donations from my friends and family to the kids!! My amazing program coordinator, Jessica, drove me that day so I wouldn't have to lug my giant suitcase on two different buses all throughout town :) Once we got there, the nuns were SO HAPPY and almost started crying at having received such beautiful clothes, toys, school supplies, and more. They told me that they needed to go through everything and check it all in for their accounting purposes, then wash everything, assign the clothes to certain kids and write their names in the items, and then take what they couldn't use (if clothes were too big, for example) to the orphanage next door that has older kids. That means I didn't get to see the kids reactions when they got some new clothes and toys, but I know they appreciate it so much! The nuns were beside themselves with the amount of things I was able to bring and kept telling me how they would pray for my family and friends.

Then, to make the day even better, the niños got to go on a field trip to the very prestigious and expensive Golf and Tennis club in Cuenca! It's a members only club, but once a month they shut it down to deep clean the inside so they let the orphanage come by to swim in the kiddie pools! They all had a BLAST and were exhausted by the time we were done from racing each other, splashing me, seeing who could jump in or go down the slide in the coolest way, and so much more. Since we normally have a snack break around 10:30, the club even gave the kids really delicious chocolate cake, ice cream, chips, and drinks. They were hyper to say the least.

After the eventful day at the orphanage, I went home for lunch and then back into town for an excursion with my school. This time, our teacher took us to the biggest "Panama Hat" factory in Ecuador. The intense work that goes into each one of these hats is just remarkable, and we got to see the whole process from start to finished product. These hats are made from a special straw that is only grown in Ecuador called Paja Toquilla (Toquilla Straw). The straw is harvested, split up into various pieces, dried out in the sun, and then sold at indigenous markets. From there, mostly indigenous women take the straw into their home where they weave the hats by hand, starting out with only 16 strands of straw.

Once that is done, the hats are taken to the factory where they are checked for quality and then finished. The hats go through various processes to form different shapes, colors, and decorations, and then they are sold at the factory and throughout Ecuador/the world for around $30-$1000. The price depends on how small the various pieces of straw are that are used in the weaving. There was a hat on display that had straw torn so finely that it took 6 years to reach this point of completion and literally has no price. Once, a tourist attempted to pay $50,000 for it and was told that they would never sell the hat even for that price, because it is so beautiful and unique that they could never part with it.

I have never been a hat person, but the beauty of this was simply too good to pass up. So instead of getting one for myself, I bought this tiny little baby hat for my cat Trip which I know he will hate and attempt to eat, so I'll probably end up putting it on my desk as a souvenir.

Today at the orphanage was a very normal day, aside from the one small fight that broke out between two boys about a toy truck that once again ended in bloody noses. Sometimes, its so clear that the kids act out a little bit to get attention from the volunteers, because they know we will come running with hugs and comforting words. It makes it hard to decide when to intervene in a small crying outburst and when to leave it alone, so the kids learn to deal with their emotions in a healthier way. But at the same time, there are so many kids and sometimes when they don't get the attention they desire, they take it out on the others by hitting or kicking or even just flailing and accidentally hitting someone else, so its important to keep a close eye on everyone to make sure they're safe, first and foremost.

I have to eat dinner soon, so I'm going to wrap it up for today. Tomorrow (Thursday) is my last day at the orphanage and its going to be really sad. I have gotten to know these kids really well and it makes me sad knowing that I have to leave. I know they're in really good hands though with the full time employees, and they have a rotation of awesome new volunteers and new playmates all the time so that makes it easier.

Friday morning, my bus leaves for Quito where I'll spend the night with the same host mom that I stayed with before. Then I'll be picked up at 5:00 AM Saturday morning (my birthday!!) to be dropped off at the airport for my full day of traveling. I hope to blog a few times before I'm home, so stay tuned! Hasta luego <3