• Ann Shoen


Greetings Seedlings,

My blog has fallen silent since November. This may be partly because December was without a doubt the busiest month here at the CMT. With celebrating the CMT’s 54th birthday, Fiestas de Quito, co-directing a children's choir, and finishing off the month with a visit home for my sisters wedding and the holidays, it was full.

Fiestas de Quito is an annual festival here in Quito that consists of a week long city wide celebration the first week of December. While I didn’t attend all of the events that the festival had to offer, I did make it to a free concert hosted in the largest park in Quito, Parque Carolina. This year, the main act was Bacilos. The band is most famous for their song Caraluna (which is about as well known and beloved as the national anthem around here). I had been introduced to the band not long after moving here, and found myself singing along to many of their popular songs.

The Center's birthday is December 5th but this year we held the birthday celebration on December 6th. The Center’s birthday is notorious for being one of the most fun days of the year for the students, family, staff, and volunteers here at the CMT. The day gets started bright and early with breakfast being served for all the families and guests around 7AM. The volunteers took charge of the french toast station this year, where most of us nearly had our eyebrows burnt off by the flames of hell that came from the stove we were using. Regardless, the breakfast went well and all were fed and ready for a day full of festivities. The morning was filled with carnival style game booths where prizes such as dolls, cars, and SQUISHY UNICORNS were handed out. Unfortunately, most of the dear squishy unicorns were destroyed before noon by students who may not have realized that the squishy toys couldn’t sustain being thrown like baseballs. We even had a magician come and do a show for our students! One of the most popular stations throughout the morning was the Dunk Tank. I should clarify that, by "dunk tank", I mean one of the YLV’s sitting in a chair under the kitchen window next to a pyramid of cups on a table beside them. While someone waits with a bucket of freezing water at the window above the volunteer, a line of students await anxiously with a bucket of balls. Every volunteer including myself proceeded to get completed soaked by their respective students. The day proceeded with a mass, followed by lunch. The afternoon was filled with dancing, and bingo. I spent the majority of the time dancing with my students, and even partnered up with one of them to compete in a dance off. The day finished with everyone getting a piece of the (many) birthday cakes and leaving with arms full of goodies.

Co-directing the children’s choir was simultaneously one of the greatest joys/trials during this time of the year. Starting in early November, I began leading the choir. We formed a group of about 12 students from various grades to begin preparing for the Christmas Mass that would be happening in late December. I knew nothing about the history of the choir here at the CMT, nor the traditional Christmas songs sung here, so for the first couple of weeks the choir was essentially the participants trying to teach me the Villancicos (Christmas songs) and me then trying to direct them in how to improve their singing and performance. Most of the things I have found myself leading here have started out as a process of learning by doing. It has become a sort of mantra for how to work in this environment. We began to get the swing of the Villancicos, and my fellow volunteer Cloe joined in to assist with directing. We ended up with a fairly solid group of choir members; roughly 25 students. The highlight of this experience was accompanying the students on different presentations around Quito where they provided music during the daily novena at various businesses and commercial centers the week before Christmas. Being a part of this choir was particularly rewarding because it gave me the opportunity to spend time and grow in community with my students outside of the classroom and let them shine in a way that was free of any of their day-to-day stressors. When all was said and done, being able to see my students beaming with pride from all of the hard work they had put in to prepare for their performances was a very special gift and something that I have since then held close to my heart. Even now moving further away from the Christmas season I feel a strong connection with my students who participated in the choir, that has given us a foundation for stronger healthier relationships in the classroom on a daily basis.

The end of December consisted of making a trip back to the US for my sisters wedding. I had planned on staying in Ecuador throughout the entirety of my year of service without visiting the US, until the news of my sisters engagement broke right before my departure for Quito. I flew back the day before Christmas Eve and was beyond thrilled to be greeted by all 6 of my siblings by surprise in the airport. I had never been greeted by all 6 of them at the same time like that, and it felt like an early Christmas gift. Returning to the US for a short time was a confusing experience. The second I walked off the plane I wasn’t sure if I had just woken up from a dream or if I was in one at that very moment. Did I ever even go to Ecuador? How is it possible that I am back in Reno? I was flooded with a wave of craving for the familiarity that was suddenly at my fingertips. I found myself stuttering on how to explain “how Ecuador is” to my siblings. I hadn't the slightest idea how to explain the last 6 months as we lugged my bags to the car and the whole experience felt comical at first. Stepping out of the airport, I was shocked by the crisp cool air that fills Northern Nevada in the winter, having forgotten the stark contrast it makes to Quito's "eternal spring" climate. Taking in part of all of the pre-wedding festivities was so fun. Additionally, it was great to see many family members who I hadn’t visited with in a very long time. The wedding brought with it plenty of love, tears, dancing, and celebrating. I think it felt like a fairytale for everyone. It felt that a significant milestone in my growing up with my siblings specifically. As I looked around the ballroom at my family–old and newly added, my siblings–all of us grown and no longer children, I felt a true sense of gratitude for those I get to call family. Of course, visiting Reno always consists of more than just celebrations and family time. There will always be parts of my hometown that I miss dearly, and parts that illicit deeply felt emotions in me every time I come back to visit. Regardless, the time spent was refreshing and left me feeling ready to continue on with the second part of my journey here in Quito.

As for 2019, it has thus far been a challenge. The combination of a "holiday hangover" and the realization that many changes are soon to come, I have found myself on an emotional rollercoaster. As for my resolution this year, my main objective has been to prioritize myself more. In small ways, I have started making active steps to make myself and my goals a priority while honoring my desire to serve during my time here. I started off the year with finally finishing a book I had half-heartedly begun last summer. Educated by Tara Westover is a HUGE book rec if you’re asking me. Next on my list is Becoming by Michelle Obama. This week I decided to re-enroll myself into Spanish classes, so that I might continue my language learning. I start Monday and am looking forward to continuing my education through that. Lastly, I’ve started taking the time I need to exercise, rest, and spend intentional time with the ones I love here in Quito. I didn't make it to the gym once in December, but thanks to the encouragement of some of my fellow housemates, I am getting back into a rhythm of exercising regularly which has significantly boosted my mental state.

In these first couple of weeks of January we have had a handful of visiting University groups on short term trips with the CMT and a VERY full house. Dinners went from 6 to 60 people in a heartbeat. Being able to speak about my experience here thus far with students who are considering a similar path left me feeling grateful for many reasons. Although I will likely not be here come this time next year, there are many other people eager to take up the work that is so greatly needed. Today is our first day back with the house to ourselves and the return to quietness is comforting following the busy start to the year. We have a significant break before our next wave of visiting groups, but until then it's back to the day to day life of teaching and being taught.

Stay tuned🌱

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