My New Normal

I’ve written about the canopy tour through the cloud forest of Mindo, the afternoon spent in hot springs at 4,000 m, the frog-eating spiders, the car that was stolen at gunpoint outside my apartment, and my trip to the emergency room, but perhaps the most interesting thing of all is my new “normal.” Finding normalcy in Quito is the real adventure.

Finally, I will try and give a snapshot of what a normal day is like for me. Not because I want to bore you to tears, but because I want you – for one blog entry – to be here with me.

I wake up. (I guess it’s always gotta start there, huh?) My mattress is supported by creaky wood, which squeaks every time I turn and twist under the purple striped alpaca blanket I bought at an artisan market my first week here. I get up, make myself some horribly disappointing coffee (don’t get me started on the irony of how bad coffee is down here… It’s the single biggest tragedy of living in Ecuador. Yes, you are correct: Ecuador is capable of producing excellent coffee… but they export all the good stuff! BAH!). I did, however, purchase a French Press over the weekend, so hopefully the days of sad, flat, coffee that only takes you about 35% of the way towards where you want to go (a real coffee buzz) are behind me… Doubtful, but a girl can hope.

Woman cleaning and mountains. View from my apartment in Quito.

I usually turn on my laptop, put on some music, and attempt to use the internet, which comes and goes like the rainclouds here. My disappointing coffee always cools too quickly.

As you can see, mornings are slightly imperfect, but I’m starting to get used to it. After being here more than two months, I’m at the point where my intense longing for certain things (coffee, Chinese food, bike rides up and down the Hudson, rows on the Harlem, salad, consistently good food, farmer’s markets… ok I have to stop!) is being countered by a slow acceptance of the fact that I’m in this for the long haul, and I won’t get to enjoy those things for some time. Man, do I love America right now! But I’m slowly learning to love Ecuador too.

After my shower, and all the blah blah blah of getting ready for my day, I grab my keys, which are on the same gold carabiner that I used for every one of my NYC apartments since graduating, and I get ready to blend into Quito. But first, I double and triple check that I have all five keys (I’m paranoid of getting locked out). I unlock the two doors to EXIT my apartment, and head down the terra-cotta colored tile staircase. Each time I exit my building, I have a moment of happiness when the sun hits my face and I notice the trees are continuously in bloom.

About 50 feet down the street, I see the sweet security guard who says good morning to be every day (he must be 5’2′”, has a pointy mustache, and always wears a large scarf wrapped around his neck and a wool sweater). I walk a little further, past the dog I have never seen who barks each time it hears footsteps, past the bus station where I’ve never seen the same person twice , then by the Honey & Honey bakery, with the Pichincha volcano constantly to my right. About ten more minutes in, there is a big black dog that sits outside an Italian restaurant, savoring the sun. I always want to pet it, but never do. I struggle with that decision every day. One day, I’ll pet him and we will become friends.

As I get farther down the hill, I hear the usual “Mandarinas, mandarinas, mandarinas!” from the indigenous Ecuadorians (did you know that 25% of Ecuadorians are indigenous?) with their fedora-looking hats, dark skirts, white tops, gold necklaces, tie up shoes, and long black braids.

It’s about a 25-minute walk to work, and during that walk I don’t see a single other “gringa.” The V!VA office is on a small street in between two larger avenues, with three little grocery stores around the corner. I’m now familiar with all the store owners, who always wave and say hi when I walk by, especially Carlos, who has the middle shop and is the V!VA office’s store of choice (he puts large beers in the freezer every Friday so that they are cold and ready for us when 5pm Beer Friday comes around). He also gives me free stuff (apparently, I am one of the chosen ones…) and sometimes whistles as me. Things were a little tense during the World Cup because boy does he hate Maradona! Most Ecuadorians (like many Central Americans) think Argentines are cocky, overly proud assholes, so I have that going for me! Most Americans seem to love NYC, but think the same about Manhattanites. Awesome. I’m apparently doomed to have no friends.

Then there is the other store, run by a few very sweet women, who the V!VA staff refers to as “The Crazy Bitches.” Hehe. I’m still not sure why, but every afternoon, when it is time for a snack run, you’ll often hear someone in the office say, “Hey guys, I’m going to run down to The Crazy Bitches. Anyone want anything from them or Carlos?” And we will get our money ready, not thinking twice about calling them The Crazy Bitches, and head down the stairs for some fresh air and cookies.

Fresh blackberry juice (jugo de mora) in the Plaza San Francisco. Old Town, Quito.

I buzz in, and walk up the stairs to my desk, which used to belong to my coworker Mark from Canada, who left just before the World Cup finals. He was sure to set the background as Paul the Octopus hugging the German flag, and he changed the name of all my Desktop icons to reflect his distaste for the Argentine soccer team, for example: My Computer = Paul’s Computer, Norton Anti-Virus = Anti-Argentina Protection, Google Earth = Google Earth, the Argentina-Free Edition, Adobe Acrobat =  Y Llora, y Llora, y Llora Maradona, Skype = Heartbroken Argentina Fan’s Hotline, and so on. Hehe. Well-played Mark. WELL-PLAYED. I have yet to change any of this.

One of these days I’ll get a few photos from the office, but it is not wise to carry anything valuable around, so I can’t just bring a camera to work whenever I want. Usually, if we have more than $40 on us, it ends up in a shoe, a bra, a secret pocket, or randomly dispersed throughout all of the above. I literally carry $5 – $20 in one pocket specifically in case I get robbed: I can either hand them all the money in my bag, and that way I still have cab money to get home if it’s late, or I can give them a $20 and they should be happy with that. Hopefully they won’t spray shit in my face like what happened to a friend of a friend. I don’t even want to tell you that story — my blog is too clean for something that awful, and I want to keep it that way.

For lunch, we have a few options. Usually we go to an almuerzo place. Almeuerzos, or lunches, are set menus that usually come with a soup (which tends to be choclo/corn-based, with potatoes and vegetables, and the occasional chicken foot or hunk of fatty mystery meat floating in it), a fresh juice (papaya, blackberry, or naranjilla, for example), one of two main course options (generally chicken, pork, or red meat in some form, with a large portion of white rice and either beans or some sort of small vegetable portion), and sometimes a slice of fruit (watermelon) or a cookie for dessert. It costs a whopping $1.75 – $2.50. During the World Cup (sorry I keep mentioning it, but you have to understand that the World Cup was a large part of my normal life here!), we would eat our almuerzos at a sports bar/almuerzo place surrounded by Ecuadorians while watching the 1pm game.

We work hard all day. I’m extremely busy, actually. But, we also take time out to joke about completely inappropriate things, and make fun of some of the writing that appears in our own books (we have one shared document called “Best Sentences” that is a hilarious list of poorly written or ironic sentences we encounter while editing). He he he. On Fridays, we sometimes play Hot or Not, and literally stop working at 5pm, bring up Hot or Not on one of the computers, and rate people on a scale of 1 to 10 while we drink our beers and make fun of each other. It’s a very healthy work environment. At least we aren’t like the last group of V!VA writers, who put their OWN photos on Hotornot.com and had a competition going for who was the hottest! Ha!

There is plenty more to say about my work environment, but maybe I should leave that for private conversations. Ha. (That’s always promising, huh?)

After work, twice a week, I have Spanish class. We all do. Not because we need it, necessarily, but because our company pays for it, so it’s free. My Spanish class consists of a man named Luis who meets me in a conference room downstairs, and it is literally 1.5 hrs of Spanish conversation. I dread it every time, but realize I want to be speaking Spanish as much as possible, so I suck it up and go. It’s good for me. We speak a lot of English in the office, although I do speak some Spanish when I’m working with the Ecuadorians in my office, also known as the Techies (which is often). The office is actually half-Ecuadorian, and the other half is currently: American, British, Irish, French, and Canadian (well, he just left). The age range is about 22 to 35 or so. It’s a great group, and we get along really well. There is a lot of laughing, and a lot of poking fun at each other. Basically, we’re becoming our own little V!VA family, and I’m sure it’s only going to get more wonderfully dysfunctional as the year goes on.

Afternoon sunlight on a street in Old Town, Quito.

If I’m not at Spanish class, I’m either going to the gym after work (where I always see someone I know pedaling to the blasting beats of salsa or reggaeton), going to dinner at one of the cheap restaurants in the Mariscal with my coworkers, or hanging out with friends before Salsa Night at one of the clubs here (every Wednesday is salsa night at El Aguijon, which literally means the stinger, as in that of a sting ray). The truth is, I NEVER get home before 730pm… and rarely do I get home before 8pm. Salsa night is basically one big salsa-fest, filled with tourists and their salsa teachers, Ecuadorians and their gringo boyfriends, or some hot mess of it all. Ecuadorians will take your hand and ask you to dance, and then you spend the next several songs whipping through the crowd, spinning, stepping on people, and occasionally getting cigarette burns from random German girls (grrrr!). It’s a lot of fun, but usually leaves you a bit chuchaqui (the Quechua word for hungover — probably my favorite word in Ecuador so far) on Thursday morning.

The weekends are different. We usually squeeze in a hike or a hot spring soak, but we have a lot of places left to visit. I’m trying to spread them out, for now, and I want to enjoy some weekends in Quito. I have finally found a favorite breakfast/brunch spot, called Colibri (hummingbird). I meet my coworkers there for Saturday brunch. We sit under these swooping trees speckled with spiky red flowers from which humming birds of all varieties feed throughout the meal. The breakfast comes with fresh squeezed juice (I usually get papaya, or maracuya as they call it here), a cappuccino, scrambled eggs with sausage, and a large fruit salad with yogurt and granola, but my friends usually get the chocolate crepes with their eggs. It also comes with the best fresh bread I’ve had in Ecuador, to date, and a different jam every time — sometimes it’s guava, sometimes blackberry, sometimes strawberry… We sit in the shade, humming birds everywhere, and enjoy the rare moment of tranquility in an otherwise loud and busy city — during an otherwise loud and busy life.

Ahh, there is so much more to say about my new “normal” in Quito, but for now, enjoy that one slice of it all.

Now it’s time for me to go get another “normal” day started… Ack! Late for work!

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1 Comment

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One response to “My New Normal

  1. Susana

    Funny that you were talking about the muggings. It is obviously something that everybody must consider before going out… It must be hard to expect something like that as a normal occurrence….

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