Friday, May 2, 2014

One and One

Eric and I just celebrated one year in site in April, meaning we have one year left in Ecuador!

Time seems to fly by and stand still all at the same time. It's crazy to think that we now have less than a year left, but when we are in site it seems like time stands still. I think this is partly due to the weather being the same all the time. It is always spring time here! Sorry to brag, I know my family and friends in Michigan are probably jealous after the winter they had (is it over yet?). Sometimes I have thoughts like, "oh yeah, it's insert season here (spring,summer, fall, or winter) at home." Very strange.

Anyway, here is an update on things in Ecuador...

In March we visited some friends who were COS'ing (Close Of Service) in Loja. We discovered an organization called Cielo Animal that rescues animals. I learned that many of the dogs that are rescued are females because the culture of spay and neutering is much different here almost non existent. Cielo Animal rescues animals from the streets and finds foster homes around the city to house the animals until they can be adopted. Much different than in the States where there is fostering AND a building for the organization. We ended up adopting a puppy named Eva. She is the sweetest puppy and we are very happy to have her.
A picture at home of Eva

Machu Picchu
A couple of weeks ago Eric and I met some friends in Machu Picchu. We had an amazing time there! It was nice to see some familiar faces and catch up a little, while also marveling the Inca ruins. The ruins are truly amazing but I was surprised how "touristy" the surrounding cities are. Cuzco economically depends on tourism, but it seems to take the personality out of a city that caters so much to foreigners. Despite this, we had a great time! Some of the highlights were: sunrise at Machu Picchu, dance shows, hidden cafes with great food, and of course spending time with our friends!
Bright and early at the entrance to Machu Pichu to catch the sun peak over the mountains. 
Something else that I didn't think about until we got there was how much walking it would be! I'm not exactly sure how the Incans built and lived so high up in the mountains so many years ago and not to mention how Hiram Bingham made the trek with the natives when he first discovered Machu Picchu. I definitely felt the altitude when hiking and had to take it slowly. It was more difficult than I thought considering you have to hike a good bit upward to visit any of the ruins. Even though it was challenging, the views were worth it.
The sun rising above the ruins. 

The whole group hiking Machu Pichu Mountain. You can see the ruins above my head on the left. 
To celebrate finishing one year of service and to talk and plan for the second year, Peace Corps has a mid-service conference. It was nice to spend time with the other volunteers from our omnibus and talk about our challenges and successes in the last year. I am still in disbelief that one year has passed. We have been making plans for everything we want to do in the next year and it hardly seems like enough time.

Emily with other volunteers outside at the Training Center in Tumbaco at the Mid-Service conference.
On May 5th we start another school year in the high schools. One last school year before we COS and go home in March. Woah...

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
-C.S. Lewis

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Alternative Service Experience

When Em and I found out we would be going to Ecuador for Peace Corps service, we thought a great way to way to stay connected and give back to our Alma Mater would be to have an Alternative Spring Break. For me this seemed to be a long shot since we did not know what community, city, or even the type of project we would be working on when we got to Ecuador. However, as Em reminded me it was not so much of a long shot that it would not work. 
Long Shot Project

As many of you know I worked with APPS, a student ran programming board, while I was at Appalachian State University. APPS is housed under the same department that runs community service, Service-learning, and Alternative Spring Breaks (now called Alternative Service Experience). I made a lot of good connections and some very good friends in that department. Anyway long story short, in May of 2013 we got a call from our good friend Selena who worked as the Assistant Director for Community Service. She put us in contact with two very special student leaders, Jake and Annie. Jake and Annie had signed on to be the leaders of a Peru trip that did not work out. They were, however, extremely upbeat and contagiously hopeful about the new possibilities of an Ecuador Trip. Needless to say they made Em and I more excited and gave us the kick we needed to get the ball rolling here in Ecuador. 

Jake and Annie presenting books for the English Library
Having worked along side ASE Grad students and Em and I both being Student Affairs Professionals we understood the importance of letting this be a student led trip. We hoped to achieve this goal by giving students the option to choose everything along the way. A fellow volunteer, Kat, came to help us with the camp as well. However, we were merely facilitators of the trip and happy to take a backseat to see what kind of success the students could have. We continued to work with Jake and Annie along with Heather Jo (Selena replacement) and Terence (the faculty liaison) to come up with the project ideas.
Em & Me
Emily and Kat 

After all the options were laid out Jake and Annie thought it best to do a three day camp with either elementary or high school students. We combined this with the our goal of teaching English and what we came up with was an English Camp with a morning session for 6-11 year olds and an afternoon session for 12-18 year olds. We had over 300 students and over 200 students complete the three day course. All the classes we planned and taught by the App Students. Each night, we held a meeting to talk about classroom concerns, planning, and teaching tips. Em, Kat and I gave feedback on the classes and tried to give suggestions that would improve classroom success. We were really surprised at how receptive the App students were to our suggestions and how they applied them in the class the next day. These App students worked in a classroom with students of multiple levels of English for 8 hours a day and had a great time doing it. It is tough to stay energetic the whole day but they seemed to have no problem! We could not be more proud of the success they accomplished.

"Oh My God!!! I can't believe you missed that question!!!"
Lining Students up for groups

I informed App students that one of the main goals of the camp should be to increase the confidence of the Pinas students. After the photo shoot and autograph session on the last day, Em and I received many phone calls and personal thank yous from students, parents and even teachers. All explained how much the students loved the camp and wished that it wouldn't end. A few students that we had never heard talk in class expressed their joy and said they could not wait to learn more English. The App Students ended their service part of the trip with a school wide clean up at the local Elementary for special need kids in collaboration with the Pinas Cuerpo de Bomberos. This would normally be done by busy parents of students, but even they would not have been able to accomplish all that was done the App students.
All the Elementary Students (120!)

Chris and Annie working a reading assignment

It was not all work however. The next day we spent a relaxing day at Jambeli, an island beach off the shore of Machala. After a long day of swimming, seafood, and a city tour, it was time for the App students to pack up and head back to Guayaquil where they caught a 6:30 am flight to North Carolina. What a wonderful, fast-paced experience it was for both the App students and the Pinas students. For Em, Kat, and I it was a highlight of our service. Below you can meet the App Students and see some photos from the service week.

APP State IASE 2014

Sarah and Lucas leading a question game
Chris and Annie teaching students about animals
Dillon and Lauren

Jack and Jake or is it Jake and I'm sure it's the first one

Sara and Rachel playing charades 

Maria and Kelsey teaching some game where you have touch people in weird position!?

Lunch at our Five Star Restaurant... only $3.00

Many students held Q&As to allow students to use their English and exchange cultural information

The last day felt like the red carpet for the App Students with photos and autographs 

This little girl said she was getting everyone's name for Face (aka Facebook)
Patrick and Megan taken a selfie with their Class

Getting ready for ice cream at THE SODA BAR
Oh the selfies...over 100 selfies taken with and without kids

Soda Bar

The App Students did a book drive to help increase the collection of English books at the High Schools

Cleaning the school for special needs students

Getting the special needs school organized

waiting for that morning coffee in our kitchen
Thanks for everything, all love from Pinas 

“You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.” 
― C.G. Jung

“I'm inspired by the people I meet in my travels--hearing their stories, seeing the hardships they overcome, their fundamental optimism and decency. I'm inspired by the love people have for their children. And I'm inspired by my own children, how full they make my heart. They make me want to work to make the world a little bit better. And they make me want to be a better man.” 
― Barack Obama

Eric Ez Aiken

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Poem of Sorts

Em and I just returned from, dare I say the most wonderful place in Ecuador, The Galapagos Islands. I can't experience what a wonderful, eventful, and jaw-dropping trip this was. It wonderful because we had a very knowledgeable guide, service oriented crew, and a respectful and fun group of fellow travelers. There are so many things that you cannot plan and a travel agency will try to promise you but it is truly out of their control. We tried to go to the Galapagos two others times in the past and both times the trip failed. With this trip we felt truly blessed. It was eventful because we snorkeled everyday and most days twice. We swam with thousands of tropical reef fish, sea turtles, sea lions, sharks, and even penguins. We walked the beaches, in-lands, and ports of seven of the most famous islands. It was jaw-dropping to me for three reasons the rare endemic species, the distance at which you were allowed to interact with the animals, and the sheer number of animals that we were able to see. For example, before going my only hope was to see AT LEAST one sea turtle... at a distant... with my glasses on. By the fourth day in the islands not only had I seen sea turtle nest, 10-12 sea turtles swimming under and around our panga, but I also swam with approximately 6-8 of them.

Emily and I took videos and she made the short video. It doesn't nearly capture the magnitude of what we saw but once you see it i do believe you will understand more of why this was such a magical trip. Further down you will find a poem of sorts that I wrote summing up our trip. It's not the best poem but covers the trip in its fullness.

For whatever reason the quality is so-so. Enjoy anyway until we can fix it!

Galapagos Existence

We went by bus and by taxi.
We arrived by plane and stayed in a boat.
We snorkeled and hiked in the day
But at night we traveled.
Sunrise brought us new islands, new things to explore
Sunset brought us stars, stories, and if luck some sleep

We tried to be rocked by the waves but
Sometimes the waves rocked us out of sleep.
We were 12 and became 15
Without the crew but you have to have crew so
We were 22.

We did not touch, we did not disrupt, but we did take
Pictures and videos
We have the memories to keep
We did not litter, we did not pollute, but we did leave
Better people
We conserved ourselves

The animals wild and unafraid
Showed no malice, kept no distant, and wanted for nothing
They posed for photos like a model poses
Not with a smile but rather with an air of self awareness and attitude
They knew we were watching and so they flaunted their beauty.

The plants seeming unaware were indeed hyper-aware and 
Did not flaunt
They do not need to
They showed themselves as the most important life form.
They, being the original endemic species and the givers of life.

Born of Fire, Air, and Water
Adapted over time
Conserved for the blink of human

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Between the Boredom

It’s funny if you were to ask me in person, “So what have you and Emily been doing?” My reflex response would be “Nothing in the house, bored.” However, as I try to write this blog I realize that a lot has happened. Don’t get me wrong we have spent many days being bored but this blog post is meant to capture what has happened between the bored and when it was compiled it really surprised me how much we have been living.

We have not written a blog since November and I have not actively contributed since July to our devoted 13 followers (we are sorry for that). This is because of many reasons/excuses which I won’t waste time list (as I had planned to). Ok so let’s move right into it. The important thing is that I am back and ready to update, celebrate, rant and highlight our experience thus far.


For those of you following my personal goal challenges, I am only one goal behind and I have had to modify others. I am currently trying to read more over the next three months and thanks to friends and family I am loaded with good things to read. After losing 30 something pounds in 3 months, the medical office here asked me to cut back working out to 2-3 times a week instead of everyday. I have cut it back a lot, but I hope to be on track to start P90X in July. As of January 3rd I finished my first mural and am looking for other projects. The only personal goal that I started and not completed is writing a novel in 3 months. I started with a too big of a goal and too many ideas, so I am reassessing how to go about it.

For those interested in our Peace Corps projects. We have had a lot of success with one or two individuals but over struggle to see the progress we have made. We are currently reassessing what we need to do to make our last year the most fruitful. We are still learning the education system here and constantly searching for a way to put into practice our methodology while keeping it in line with the culture that exists.

For those interested in our travel, we have done a lot of short weekend trips. We have made the most of the southern highlights including but not limited to Loja, Cuenca, Vilcabamba, and Podacarpus National Park. We are always traveling by bus so that usually takes two days of our trip. That being said I love the constancy and multitude of the public transportation in this country. We can get anywhere by bus with a little planning and patience. We have had many failed attempts to go to the Galapagos but we currently have a more secure plan for February and we are making plans to see Machu Picchu in April.

If you would like to know more about of house see our video Posted in November. We celebrated our one year in country last week with a small group of volunteers. Everyone had a great time. We also had our first Ecuadorian visitor two weeks ago which made us feel more integrated.

 Click here to read Celebration and Rants


  Ø  Em’s Birthday- We had dinner with our Ecuadorian friends the Morales’
  Ø  2nd Anniversary
  Ø  Worked hard to find our space in the schools, community, and host family
  Ø  and I found this video...
  Ø  Spanish started to feel good
  Ø  Tried to find a balance between work and personal time
  Ø  Had a reconnect conference with the people in our group and the counterparts we work with
  Ø  Had Cuy for the first time (Pssst cuy is guinea pig)
  Ø  1st failed attempt to go to the Galapagos. Spent the a long weekend in Cuenca with great friends
  Ø  More Training in Tumbaco
  Ø  We completed a successful weekly training on the TOEFL Test, but...
  Ø  Balance was thrown off, other side projects start failing because of inconsistent meeting times or lack or interest
  Ø  Moved into a new apartment
  Ø  Felt the kindness of the people of Pinas: everyone was willing to help us move in and get things we needed
  Ø  Lots of eating out because we had no fridge or stove
  Ø  The start of two weeks of festivals in our town including the 50th anniversary of my school
  Ø  2nd failed attempt at the Galapagos
  Ø  We got internet in our apartment
  Ø  Em’s Sister and brother-in-law came to visit for two weeks. It was a good time.
  Ø  Had Thanksgiving with other Volunteers
  Ø  Went to rested in Loja, swam in a Podacarpus National Park, and Hiked in Vilcabamba
  Ø  Good month for catching up with friends and family
  Ø  Christmas with Morales Family
  Ø  Spent New Year’s in Vilcabamba with volunteer friends

             Eric Aiken

     "Blogs are whatever we make them. Defining ‘Blog’ is a fool’s errand.”
        -Michael Conniff
     “Don’t focus on having a great blog. Focus on producing a blog that’s great for your readers.”
        -Brian Clark

 Christmas fireworks

 Christmas fireworks
 Christmas fireworks in the park
 Pretty sunset in Vilcabamba
 Vilcabamba for New Year's
   Ecuadorian dolls to be burned in the New Year. It symbolizes letting go of all the bad things that happened in the last year.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Home is where ever I'm with you

New Home

About a month ago Eric and I moved out of our host family’s house and into an apartment. We were sad to leave our host family’s home, but it is nice to have our own place! Since we moved into our new place, we haven’t had internet for a while, but last week we finally got set up! It was hard because we use the internet to look up stuff for work, answer emails, and to keep in touch with family and friends. Not having it has been a challenge. I know there are many volunteers around the world who don’t have the benefit of having internet, so we know we are really lucky. As some volunteers say, "Posh Corps problems..."

Our apartment is adorable. When you first walk in, you enter the living room area. Once you take the stairs up there are two bedrooms on either side of the kitchen and a bathroom. We have a patio area that I’m looking forward to setting up our hammocks and relaxing outside. This will be nice because since we got here I have been wanting to sit outside, but there just wasn’t a good place with shade. Now we have it in our home!

We were originally a little apprehensive to move on our own because it didn’t make much sense to spend lots of money on things we would use for a year and a half. I mean who buys an entire house of furniture for less than two years? I’m sure it happens, but it didn’t make much sense to me. But once we found a place and started telling people our situation, I was really impressed with how giving the community was. After we moved our Ministry Coordinator saw us and said, “I heard you moved [it’s a small town]. You are supposed to tell me these things so I can help you!” I was touched that he wanted to help. Most of the stuff we have was given to us to use while we are here. From Eric’s teachers we got dishes, silverware, glasses, bed frame, and a night stand. Our landlady gave us a dresser, closet, table, curtains, and a heating unit to cook with.  Then my guitar teacher gave us a mattress and his brother gave us a small fridge. We also got a small desk from a friend down the street. I am just taken aback by how willing to help everyone has been. The people here have gone out of their way to make sure we have what we need. It really has made us feel welcome. 

Here is a video so you can see for yourself! 

“I hear there are people who actually enjoy moving. Sounds like a disease to me - they must be unstable. Though it does have it’s poetry, I’ll allow that. When an old dwelling starts looking desolate, a mixture of regret and anxiety comes over us and we feel like we are leaving a safe harbor for the rolling sea. As for the new place, it looks on us with alien eyes, it has nothing to say to us, it is cold.” 
― Jan NerudaPrague Tales

Much love,

Thursday, September 26, 2013

English Advantage

Teaching English has caused me to evaluate a language I have taken for granted my entire life. It is fascinating to me. Below are some of my recent reflections on English and the world. Enjoy!

Part of our work as volunteers requires us to complete a small assessment in our community. We surveyed community members, teachers, and students. We asked students questions like, what is your favorite class and why? Since we work with the English teachers, we asked questions related to the English classes like, Do you like English? or Do you think English is important? Something about the results shocked me. Most of the students enjoyed English class, but I don't think there was one student who said English is not important.

Of course maybe the results are a little skewed since I administered the survey. Perhaps they were afraid to offend me. However, we asked the students to explain their response; why or why not. The answers we got were that you need to know English if you want to travel the world or to be someone in life. I had assumed that maybe they were thinking of traveling to the US, Canada, or the UK and that is why we received the answers we did. I thought that maybe it was something their parents and teachers told them and they were regurgitating for the survey. I guess my point is, until this point I didn't realize what a privilege it is to know English.

The other weekend we went to visit some friends in a nearby city. They know English very well. We all spoke in Spanish though, so Eric and I could practice. At one point our friend was telling me how that when he was an exchange student in Germany he got so mad because his host family would only talk to him in German. If he asked a question in English they would respond in German. He realizes now, that is how he had to learn German though it was difficult and uncomfortable at times. This struck me as interesting. I asked him if "everyone" knew English. He said, yes. He went on to tell me a story about him going to France where he asked someone for help and in English he said, "Excuse me can you show me where this is [as he pointed on a map]." He said the person acted like they didn't understand him, but he knew they did.

Later on that weekend we were going to play Taboo with some friends of our friends. I started to sweat a little. I didn't think I was advanced enough to play in Spanish. A family member of our friends had taken the game in English and written the translation of the word underneath all of them. I mentioned not being able to play and our friends said in Spanish, "Everyone understands English. You can just say the words in English and we can guess."

Sometimes Eric and I will be somewhere (mostly in bigger cities) and someone will say, "Hey man are you from the US?" Or we will order from a restaurant in Spanish and the person will start talking to us in English. It is hard to explain the feeling that comes from this. It's like, here we are, living in a foreign country, trying to learn Spanish and it's as though we don't need it or as if what we know isn't good enough. It was frustrating at first, but now I realize that there probably isn't much opportunity for people to practice their English so they are itching to speak it when they have the opportunity.

Through all of these experiences I have realized that English is a tremendous privilege. It really is the key to traveling the world. If you know English you can go almost anywhere and there will be someone who knows English. This by no means reduces the importance of learning another language in the US. I think there is something you get from learning another language that is really important. Because even if someone knows English, if they are not native there will be many things that just don't translate. Sometimes I feel like it takes at least 2 languages to get across what I want to say.  

With all of that said, I still feel like slowly Eric and I are learning Spanish. Some days are better than others, but we are definitely understanding more and more. It's a constant challenge, but I feel there will be one day that we will be confident in our speaking abilities. At least I hope so ;)

much love,


"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."Nelson Mandela 

My host sister's quinceañera

My host mom and host sister getting ready for the quinceañera

 Here are Eric and I with our counterparts from our high schools. That is our volunteer group's mural behind us. 

Monday, August 26, 2013


            I remember when I was a kid I was really particular about my socks. I mean really particular. I remember telling my mom that I could only wear the “thin kind”. If I wore other kinds of socks it would feel like my feet were wrapped up and trapped. It made me anxious. Then one day, I think I was in high school, I realized that I was no longer picky about my socks. I hadn’t been picky about my socks for some time. I tried to remember the day that I said, “It doesn’t bother me anymore” but I couldn’t. I tried to remember the day that my mom forgot about the type of socks I needed to wear and said, “Emily, just wear them anyway!” but I couldn’t. Perhaps one of those days happened and perhaps not. Isn’t funny how you one day realize how dramatically you have changed?

            This realization came to me one day on the way to the bathroom in Ecuador. The toilet seat was up. All of the sudden it had occurred to me that once upon a time that used to really irritate me. I realized that now it doesn’t really bother me so much. Quite possibly because I strongly prefer putting to toilet seat down to wiping pee off the seat, or worse, sitting in pee.

It’s amazing how much Eric and I have changed since being in Ecuador and thankfully mostly for the better! Those of you who know Eric might not be able to believe that he eats EVERYTHING here. It’s amazing. For dinner tonight we ate meat and potatoes, which is a dinner we would have eaten in the States because Eric never ate vegetables. I take that back. He had one vegetable of every color that he would eat, so if it wasn’t green beans, carrots, corn, sweet potatoes, or ketchup he wasn’t eating it. This has completely changed. One night we were eating homemade vegetable pizza and Eric turns to me and says, “What happened to me?”  The truth was I didn’t know.

I have started to enjoy my time alone. I used to hate being alone. I would get so bored. But now I kind of like it. When Eric was working in the morning and I was working in the afternoon, I had my little routine. My host dad was also working so I had the house to myself. I would clean, listen to music and get ready for the day. It was nice. I find it interesting that this appreciation for being alone comes at this time in my life, because after Peace Corps when we start a family I am assuming that time will be limited. Right parents?

In the Peace Corps I think you have to learn to enjoy the quiet times, otherwise you will go crazy. This is why also I think I have started reading more. I’ve tried to start reading consistently for years now. I have always had difficulty. I think in Ecuador I can really learn to love it. The great thing about reading is you can take a book with you wherever you go and while you wait (because more than likely you will have to wait) you can fill the time with reading. 

Thus far the changes have been great. I'm looking forward to seeing how we change in the upcoming year and a half! Until next time...

Much love,

"It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."
C. S. Lewis 


Fiestas in Latacunga. I'm not exactly sure what this was for, but I was told the town shares in eating it after the fiesta.
We finally ate cuy (guinea pig). RIP Katie, Sunshine, Kelly!! It is a food that is usually saved for special occasions as it is expensive ($10/guinea pig). 

A couple birthday pictures from my birthday in July. Pepe is our host dad (red shirt). The others are friends from the area.