Wednesday, June 26, 2013

First Two Weeks in Quito

For my very first weekend in Quito, I managed to fill it with a lot of interesting, random things.  On Thursday night (June 13), I went with some students from my undergraduate university to Calle de la Ronda for a chill time.  We tried a famous Ecuadorian drink called canelazo, which is a hot alcoholic drink made with wine, cinnamon, and fruit.  We tried the mora kind (raspberry).  It wasn't bad, but was pretty thick and a bit syrupy (pretty sweet too) so we had to get some empanadas to go with it.  We wandered to another restaurant down the street and tried some chocolate de Ambato (Ambato is a city in Ecuador) and the hot chocolate was really good.  

However, even though La Ronda was bustling with people when we arrived, by the time we left at midnight, the entire street had been abandoned.  We were pretty surprised because usually it isn't like that, but unfortunately, we discovered this as soon as we had left the restaurant with the hot chocolate, closing the door behind us (bad move - next time, we will stay inside until the cab arrived).  There were two security guards, but one went to deal with a crackhead under a bridge further down the way, and the other was paid by the only other group in the street to escort them back to their way (meaning that both guards had left their posts totally abandoned - not cool bro).  We walked up the street, staying alert, and found more cops at the corner where upon our cab driver came flying through, up the street, past a police barrier to pick us up.  Muchas gracias, taxista!  The street is really pretty at night,so it is too bad that you can't really just walk along the streets in the historic district (or anywhere really at night).  I ended up going back to La Ronda during the day later on in the weekend and was able to get a couple nice photos.

On Friday morning (June 14), I went to the QuiCentro Mall to meet up with more people and walk around a bit.  As we were in the mall, we saw two American basketball players in warmup uniforms.  I went  up to them to ask them if they were Americans and what they were doing in Ecuador, and found out that they were playing for a professional Ecuadorian club basketball team called Mavort.  They ended up giving me all the tickets that they had in their pockets for their game on Saturday.  So that was awesome.  Later that night, the same friends and I ended up going to a nightclub in Quito called Times.  It was pretty fun with great music, but it can be hella expensive so watch out.
Saturday night (June 15), I went to the Mavort v. CKT basketball game with a friend from work.  It was quite the experience.  We were two of four total extranjeros there and the court was about the size of a high school court.  The CKT (away) team must have brought a bus full of people with them because their fan sector came prepared.  They all had matching blue hoodies with vuvuzelas, fired off two glitter guns during the game, and had a bass drum from a marching band that someone kept banging the entire game.  Our team lost that game, but it was quite the experience.
On Sunday (June 16), I went to the Dia de Refugiado Mundial festival in Plaza de San Francisco.  It was my first trip to the historical center and a very beautiful place.  The fair was very interesting too - lots of organizations there as well as refugees selling craft items and delicious food and performing spoken or musical pieces in the plaza.  Some volunteers from an organization were even roped into participating in a princess fashion show with some little girls too.  Only in Ecuador, jajaja.  
It was also Father's Day in Ecuador, and so of course I skyped with the padre.  Managed to find two videos from the events in the plaza too (not of the princess show though):

Drummers in Plaza de San Francisco for the Dia de Refugiado Mundial Festival

An NGO participating in the Dia de Refugiado Mundial fair:

Last week was my first week of work at the organization.  It was mostly spent getting familiar with the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process here in Ecuador and learning Ecuadorian constitutional and administrative law.  In 2008, Ecuador wrote its 19th constitution, so we're using that and an administrative law called ELJAFE.  Everything is all in Spanish again so there will definitely be a learning curve, but I am positive that by the end of the summer, my Spanish language abilities will greatly improve.  I also really like the other volunteers and employees that are here at the center - mostly from Canada and the U.S., but some from Ecuador, Colombia, and Spain.

This past weekend, I met up with two friends from work to go to see El Panecillo in the Historical Center.  Two of us ended up being late because on the way to meet up with the third person, I saw a tiny Persian corner store in Quito called Shirin, so of course I had to stop and see what it was all about.  It is a really cool place, and I will definitely have to go back.  The owner is a man named Ali who has been living in Ecuador for quite some time.  I was amazed that it actually wasn't too difficult to switch into Farsi (and only a random few Spanish words crept in when I forgot the Farsi counterparts).
El Panecillo was pretty cool.  It's dangerous to walk up the stairs to the statue on top of the hill (thieves and muggers are waiting for dumb tourists), so we were able to take a taxi to the top.  It was interesting to see the contrast between the old and the new parts of Quito as well as to be able to view the mountains and whole city below.  The statue itself is of Virgin Mary who is said to protect the city.  The name "Panecillo" itself comes from the shape of the hill the statue sits on.  When viewing the hill from afar, it looks like a little bun of bread, hence the name "panecillo."  On the way back down, we had the taxista drop us off at the Basilica de Voto Nacional.  It is a beautiful church, but unfortunately we arrived 15 minutes past the last entry up the spires, so we'll have to go back for another view.

On Saturday, June 22nd, my friend from work and I were sent to Santo Domingo to assist with a workshop ("taller") about refugee rights and other types of visas for the Colombian refugee population living there.  The ride to Santo Domingo from Quito can take anywhere from 2.5 hours to 4 hours, depending on how fast your driver decides to take the curvy highway up or down the mountain.  Our drivers made it in 2.5 hours (possibly less).  Which meant my head was spinning for some time afterward.  The highway however is absolutely beautiful, passing through lush, green mountains and farmland in the hills.  Even sticking my camera out the window, I was able to get some great pictures.
The city of Santo Domingo itself is another story.  After telling four different Ecuadorian friends that I was going there for work and was looking for something to see, they each said almost verbatim that the less time one spends there the better because it's a dirty, disorganized city.  This made me feel really sorry for pobre Santo Domingo because even the guidebook said that the only reason to go to Santo Domingo is to take a bus somewhere else.  Pobrecita ciudad!  When we arrived to the city, however, the image didn't entirely change.  The climate there is muggy because it is lower in elevation and closer to the coast.  We didn't see much of the city, but of what we did see, the nicest and newest building was a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Getting sick for two days after off of the chicken I ate in Santo Domingo (not at the KFC) there hasn't really changed the image unfortunately. Apparently, there are festivals there.  Maybe next time.
Monday, June 24th, was my first day of client interviews.  They went well for the most part, especially given that it was my first time doing them and everything, with the exception of one interview, was conducted in Spanish.  It is really interesting to learn about all the different types of legal issues associated with immigration of all kinds to different countries.  While not all of those I spoke with were refugees, it was a really interesting experience.  It is difficult sometimes for me to understand certain Latin American accents, but I think this will become easier over time and important to be able to do.

On another note about the work in general, working on these types of issues really puts your life into perspective.  Just looking at the dates of some of the things I have seen over the years, it is crazy to think about what was happening for that person and what was happening for me at the same time.  While someone might have been fleeing for their lives, I was enjoying an undergrad study abroad in Spain or griping about law school classes and exams being difficult.  A month after my last birthday, I was still able to hang out with my friends, come and go as I please from my university, home, or wherever, and my biggest concern was probably finding a summer job and managing student loans (these are still valid concerns).  But no one was coming to my family's home, threatening them or me with death or forced recruitment, and I wasn't leaving everything behind to flee and arrive in a brand new country penniless.  One of my friends was working at UNHCR a while ago and found a sign in a hallway in her office building that said, "A Refugee Would Like to Have Your Problems."  So true and so humbling.


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