A Quick Hello

The last few weeks, I have been completely and utterly trapped in a world of resumes, cover letters, and excel spreadsheets.

Why?  Well, in less than three weeks, I will return to the US to attend the University of Northern Iowa International Teaching Fair.  There, as I mentioned several posts back, I hope to obtain a teaching contract that will allow me to, once again, live abroad.  I began registering for the fair in October, became fully registered with all my letters of recommendation on file and portfolio completed in December, and began researching the schools with openings this month.  I’m now in the process of emailing cover letters and resumes to schools I would like to work for.  It’s both tremendously exciting and nerve-wracking.  And, above all, time-consuming.  Right now, schools I’m interested in range from Bolivia and Brazil to China and Serbia.  They are all over the map.  Although I would like to stay in South America, so that I could keep practicing my Spanish, I have read time and time again that teachers attending these highly competitive and fast-paced job fairs have to remain geographically flexible.  I would name a couple of regions that I am avoiding, but I’m afraid that if I did, I would end up landing a job there- life is just funny like that sometimes.

So, the posts will be sparse until I am through with the fair.  Expect a post around February 10th, declaring where I will end up next year.

Also, I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO excited to come home!  Unfortunately, I’ll only be in the US for one week (I wanted to come for two, but the varying prices of plane tickets from day to day forced me to limit my visit to a week), and will be in Iowa for 3 of those days, really only leaving me an afternoon and two full days at home.  I’m used to anticipating vacations, not homecomings, but I have been fantasizing about things I’m going to do for weeks, and as January 31st draws closer and closer, the daydreams are only getting becoming more frequent.  Things I am excited about: running my dog Tabooli, eating good Thai food in Tuptim Thai, seeing a handful of friends, hugging Elena’s pregnant belly, sleeping in my bed, taking a HOT shower (and shaving my legs!), throwing toilet paper into the toilet (I’m sure I’ll accidentally put it in the trash a few times), eating a humongous salad, catching up with my family, and- more than anything else- seeing Jeremiah.

This visit is conjuring up a weird mix of dread and excitement for me- as my departure date approaches, I have so much to do in regard to this teaching fair, and there are times that I wish I had more time to get it all done.  Yet, I’m keeping a countdown.  That’s how ready I am to be home for a short while.  Even if I end up leaving the fair empty-handed, I will be glad that I was able to spend a few days in my homeland.  But… I hope to have two reasons to be glad.


Año Nuevo!

So, I know that Christmas made it into two posts, but I’m going to be honest.  For me, the season of comfort and joy was more like the season of nostalgia.  There were, without a doubt, many wonderful things about being here for the holiday, but Christmas is a holiday that holds so many memories, traditions, and- although I’m 25 years old now, I’m going to admit that I still think this way- magic.  It makes sense that, as great as Christmas is for me in the US (with my family and friends), it would be hard to beat in another country with an entirely new family and circle of friends.

Thank goodness that New Year was different!  I remember Reyna telling me one day that she preferred New Year to Christmas and that here in Ecuador, it’s an equally important, perhaps even more celebrated, holiday.  One of my friends was thinking about going to the Coastal region for New Year, and Reyna thought that was a terrible idea.  “No, she can’t!  Her family will be so upset.  She really shouldn’t.”  “Why?”  “Because, above all, New Year is about being with your family…  You’re not going to the beach!”

About being with family?  New Year?  I’d definitely never thought of New Year like that, but here, it’s very true.

For the last several New Year’s, I’ve had to work until around 10:30 (waiting on tables of couples enjoying a pre-party meal at Brick Oven), then, tiredly, head to a friend’s party.  I think there may have even been a couple where I just went home, or went to a bar with coworkers.  As midnight approached, we gathered in anticipation, did the countdown, then cheered.  I would leave within twenty minutes of the year turning.  Definitely not a favorite holiday- fun, nonetheless, but nothing terribly special.

Maybe it was the newness of it all, or it could have been the fire, but this was my favorite New Year I have ever experienced!  It more than made up for any melancholy during Christmas.  I’ll break down how we enjoyed the holiday here, so you can see why I fell in love with the Ecuadorian New Year.

Tradition #1: Muñecos de Año Viejo.  Translated “dolls of the old year,” these dummies represent the year that is about to pass.  They are made out of clothes, wood, or metal, then covered with paper mache and painted to resemble people, cartoons, or animals.  I saw, available for purchase, a few smurf muñecos (anyone from Med-o-Lark gets why that needed to be said).  Here in Reyna’s house, her kids set to work creating their own muñecos.

Painting one of the Año Viejos

Once it was dark, our muñecos were put on display outside the house, so that passerby’s could view our creations!

The sign reads El inicio del fin del mundo- The beginning of the end of the world. Dramatic, yes!

At midnight, without a thought of all the time that had been put into making these, Reyna’s sons threw them down into the street (hehe, that makes me think of this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAYL5H46QnQ- “This ain’t my dad, this is a CELL PHONE!”  Anyway…) and lit them on fire.

I don’t think I really need to get into the significance because the names say enough- the “old years” are being burned.  With the coming of a new year, burning these dolls is a tangible reminder of the passing of another season of life with the hope of a new one beginning.  Plus Ecuadorians like fire.

Tradition #2: Kids stop traffic and pander for small change.  I didn’t see this tradition coming, and found it HILARIOUS.  Three of Reyna’s grandkids, around 7 pm, put on masks and grabbed a few shoe-boxes.  Juan Pablo helped by obtaining a large rope, as thick as a garden hose.  Reyna’s house is on a street corner, so Juan Pablo tied one end of the rope to the corner of our driveway and stood on the catty-corner.  Both streets near our house are one-way streets, so whenever a car approached from either of the two directions, Juan Pablo pulled on the rope, tightening it so that the car could not pass.  Then, the kids would run up to the car and hold out their shoeboxes.  The driver would roll down the window and give the kids a few centavos, then Juan Pablo would loosen his grip on the rope so that the car could pass.  In the US, it would totally not be legal!  Here, completely normal.

They did this for, I’m not exaggerating, four hours and made a total sum of about $9.  Weirdest tradition ever, but they loved it!

Tradition #3: New Year Trinkets for everyone.  I helped two of the women in my family assemble little jars for each member of the family who was celebrating with us.  In each jar, we put about 25 cents, some rice and bits of paper (decoration/ filler), and I wrote a one-word fortune to put in each one.  Like happiness, love, friendship, luck, etc (of course, I wrote the words in Spanish, so I checked the spelling with Anita Julia on almost each one before actually writing it!)  Just before midnight, we gathered in Anita Julia’s living room and Carina (Reyna’s daughter in law) handed them out, along with some cherries (I remember Elena mentioning how one of her husband’s Cuban New Year traditions is eating 12 grapes- I think we were supposed to eat grapes too, but Anita Julia bought cherries).  Then, everyone opened their jars and had to share a hope for the new year and read their paper fortune.  My self-made fortune was happiness, or felicidad.

Tradition #4: Reflection.  Around the time that we opened our little Año Nuevo jars, Carina gave everyone three pieces of paper.  On one, we were to write everything we were excited to let go of from 2011, all of the bad things that had happened.  On another, we were to list our favorite things from 2011.  On the third, we had to write wishes for 2012.  It goes without saying, since blogging is mostly synonymous with reflecting, that I enjoy reflecting, so I liked this extension of the usual resolution-setting.  When we were done, we put our papers into a small bag.  No one looked at them- they were for the authors’ eyes only.  At midnight, when our Año Viejos were being burned, Jhon Henry (Reyna’s son) threw in the bag of our written disappointments and dreams signifying that whatever painful things we had endured in the previous year were now through, and the good things and things we wished would come were no longer on pieces of paper but, more importantly, in our minds and maybe in sparks and ashes that would float upward into the stars to a universe or deity that could maybe do something to help us along in the coming year.

Tradition #5:Late-night phone calls to friends and family far away.  While we were gathered in the living room, Reyna made several phone calls to relatives (around 11:50 pm).  They asked if I was going to call my parents and I laughed, because they were most definitely sleeping. Here, everyone was awake, from the babies to the grandparents.

Jorge, on the left, had a few too many cervezas and is conked out, while Reyna is talking to a cousin and Anita Julia is holding the phone. Baby David is being cute, as always.

Tradition #6: Midnight hugs.  After counting down, everyone hugged everyone, the way people are sure to clink glasses with each person at the table when making a toast.  In a country of cheek kiss greetings, I rarely give or receive actual hugs, so this was nice.  When Reyna hugged me, she said, almost tearfully if I’m not mistaken “I’m so happy to have you in my house!”  And I realized how incredibly happy I was to be here too.

Tradition #7: The suitcases.  After everyone had completed the round of hugs, we grabbed a couple of backpacks that had been packed earlier that day and ran out the door.  We then circled the block with our backpacks.  This short trip with baggage during the first few minutes of the new year is taken in hopes that the year will turn out to be one filled with travels.  By taking a couple of minutes to walk around the block at something like 12:05 am, we were doing our part to ensure that 2012 would bring with it plane tickets and opportunities to visit faraway places.  I couldn’t have loved this tradition any more.

While on our mini-trip, I was able to see families all over burning their muñecos and bits of paper. The streets were completely alive with light, smoke, and laughter.

Tradition #7: Fireworks.  From about 11:45 to 12:30, the sky was ablaze with fireworks from every direction.  It was incredible.  We just had sparklers and a few roman candles.  Ecuadorians are such pyros.

One of Reyna's grandsons, Estefano, holding the exploding roman candle.

Tradition #8 (last one!): the next-day/year cena.  Just like Christmas Eve, we didn’t eat dinner until late.  This time, it was planned.  Eating the New Year banquet (much like the Christmas cena with turkey, rice, etc.) is the last thing you do before finally going to bed.  We started eating at around 12:30.  Unlike Christmas Eve, I was full of energy from all of the exciting new traditions, fireworks, and fun, so eating that late didn’t feel very strange.

Following our dinner was the buñelos, as traditional a holiday dessert as pumpkin pie in the US.

I finally went to bed around 2, feeling so content with my 2012 kick-off.  Happy New Year to all of you reading this!  May it be full of all of the good fortunes I wrote in Spanish on those pieces of paper.