Food seems to be the recurrent theme in my life these last couple of months. Sharing a meal with others bring gifts of conversation and relationship. Cooking for others is a way to share appreciation as the cook puts in energy, resources, thought, and detail into a special meal. I've spent several hours recently celebrating and eating with others or in the kitchen preparing cake for a birthday, potatoes for Thanksgiving, and cookies for Christmas celebrations.
We had three Christmas celebrations this year. The first was a Christmas party the project hosted for refugee kids with music, games, and food. Just imagine fifty kids hitting fifty balloons in the air, screaming and running around. Chaotic, but great fun. For the church celebration, we prepared a menu of rice, potatoes, vegetable salad, and turkey. For dessert, we made about 400 cookies. The church Christmas service was filled with music and singing Christmas songs, called Villancicos.
I spent Christmas day with my friend, Cris, and her family. Cris is from Quito but we met at Hesston College. I am thankful for her friendship and for her welcoming me during the holidays. We went to her church and celebrated with both her mom and dad's families. Here, we eat dinner at midnight so that you are celebrating with family exactly when Christmas day starts.
For New Years, the other volunteers and I went to Alexandra's house. We learned about two Ecuadorian New Year traditions. One is to burn años viejos at midnight, which signifies letting go of the old year and starting a new year. The años viejos are life-sized dolls usually made of paper that can resemble popular characters. I saw Spiderman, minions, politicians, and Mickey Mouse. Another tradition is the viudas, which means widow. On December 31, men dress up as women and walk around the streets asking for money because they are "newly widowed." It is mostly just a humorous and social event as friend groups walk around with wigs and dresses. On New Year's Eve, we made pizza and played games with Alexandra, her mom, and her niece.
Ecuador has such rich and fresh fruit. There are some fruits that are only found in Ecuador. At the beginning of December, we went to the beach in Atacames where I swam in the ocean for the first time! In the cabana where we stayed, our room was right under a mango tree. Every once in a while, we'd hear a thump, thinking it was a random firework (we hear them frequently for soccer games). We collected the rewards remembering it was the mangoes falling on the roof.
The kids at Vida Juvenil also love the delicious fresh fruit. After the English lesson, Fridays are usually craft days, but we decided to do something different and make a fruit salad. As we prepared the salad, we learned the fruit names in English. Delicia and I had to work hard to keep up with the eighteen hands eager to help peel and cut the fruit.
Bread is a staple in a Quiteña diet. Quinoa, wheat, empanada, chocolate, fruit-filled, sugar-topped — they are all delicious. We often have bread, tea, and coffee in the afternoon as we chat or do a devotional as a work team. Bread can also be a quick breakfast when I don't have time to prepare something else. I've gotten quite used to the short walk to our corner store panadería for my eighteen cent quinoa bread in the mornings.
I'm starting to get know the neighborhood and enjoy all it has to offer. Our tiny corner store seems to have everything you would need in a pinch. It has saved us several times when we are missing just a few eggs or need an ice cream fix. We are friends with the owners because we go so frequently! Just past the corner store is the frutería and across the street is a small pizza shop. Also, close by is a supermarket, similar to a Dillons. We live near a main street in Quito, so we don't have to walk too far for the bus stop. Our location is very convenient. All of these places would be the equivalent distance of walking around EMU's campus.
On Friday, we bought the project's food that we give out each month, and we are excited about some positive changes. This month, we bought our rice, lentils, and oatmeal from a fair trade cooperation. We will also be supplementing the rice with quinoa, exchanging white sugar for panela, and adding carrots to each family's bag. These changes will provide healthier eating options and be more sustainable and conscious as to how people and the environment are affected by our purchases.
Our work team is becoming like a family. We enjoy spending time together outside of work, laughing, exploring, or celebrating. The team is helpful about showing us volunteers new and different places in Quito. Recently, we all went downtown to eat and explore the historic center and last week we had a picnic in the park. Perhaps the difficult emotional work that comes with working with refugees warrants more of these fun and relaxing outings. Parque Metropolitano is practically a forest in the middle of this bustling and beautiful city. We ate potluck-style: chicken, habas (fava bean), and potatoes. For dessert, Karina made scones and I made an apple pie.
This month, I'm looking forward to our team retreat at the end of January when we go to the city of Otavalo. The other Journey International participants in Peru will come, as well as other Mennonite Mission Network people from the US. I'm excited for our time together and to hear more about the other team's experience.
Read more from Quinn on her blog at Quinn in Quito.