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Ecuador Day 7: Final Day

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

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First off, let me give you fair warning: this is the last of my Ecuador trip posts, and it’s a bit lengthy and photo heavy.

I started the day loading up the 7, yes 7, bags full of goodies, gifts, and my essentials (sunscreen lotion, swim suit, etc.) and heading down to the lobby for a quick breakfast at the hotel restaurant. You can read more about what I took to my kids here – but let me just say that the duffel bags I made were a huge hit and I’ll be making more of them in the future, also, they can totally be worn like a backpack (see photo below).

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7 bags of gifts – Christmas, Birthday, and Just Because all wrapped up in to one visit!

While all of the sponsors were gathering in a room below the lobby, the kids were arriving and having some fun with the baggage carts! The photo below is one of the jewels I got from Emily’s camera – and a big reason of why I take a digital camera to my kids and give it to them as soon as I see them – they take great photos! This is a tradition I’ll continue with each trip: I buy inexpensive digital cameras at Walmart before I leave home with the intention of giving each of my kids one of them. I also stock up on batteries and SD cards. The plan is to put 1 SD card in each of the cameras at the beginning, let the kids take photos to their hearts content, and then switch out the SD cards with new ones right before I leave. I then take their photos home & print them, and then send the photos back to the kids in the many letters I write them. It works perfectly. I got tons of photos, but never have to be behind the camera – it is so awesome!

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Digital Camera photo from Emily

 

Once we were all reunited, we boarded several busses and headed to the waterpark for our fun day. Emily, Gladys, Josue, and I got to sit in the very back of the bus – and had a blast during the hour or so ride. Ecuador2015Day7_ - 2

Once at the park, we sat down our things and played some games – Josue is extremely sporty (which I am not – by any stretch of the imagination) and I cheered him on for a while before we talked all of the kids into trying out the swimming pool. Gladys had never seen a pool before, but she took to it like a fish. It was task to get her out of the water at the end of the day!Ecuador2015Day7_ - 4
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After swimming, and a quick lunch at the park, we headed back to our bags and began giving gifts. (It also started to rain on us a bit – but a few sprinkles weren’t going to deter our happiness). The kids all loved their gifts – and the quilts were a huge hit.

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Gladys also loved, and I mean LOVED, the doll Mom sent to her. Can’t you just feel the excitement? Gladys is very, very shy. I don’t think she spoke more than a dozen words the entire time – but once we opened gifts she came alive. She was the most expressive of the three, I think. After each and every gift that she opened, she gave me a big hug. I have some of the sweetest photos of her from this time. You could tell by her face that she couldn’t believe this was really happening.Ecuador2015Day7_ - 9
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Also, note the “v” on the above bird – for months we thought Gladys went by her middle name – Valeria. We were wrong – as I found out on this trip. Oops!

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After all the hard goodbyes (always the worst part), our group went out to eat at a traditional restaurant that featured dinner and a show. It was a fantastic way to decompress and process all that we’d been through. The costumes and dancing were amazing, and I’m so glad I thought to take some video of the performances – it really was a great way to end the day.Ecuador2015Day7_ - 19Ecuador2015Day7_ - 20

Finally, we closed the trip with a 2:45 wakeup call in order to make our early morning flight back to Miami and then my connecting flights home. I was exhausted, but the trip was amazing. I cannot wait to go back to Ecuador.Ecuador2015Day7_ - 21

As I mentioned Tuesday, the Compassion Bloggers are blogging their experiences in Ecuador this week, too. To read more from the bloggers, click here. To find your own beautiful child to sponsor, click here.

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Ecuador Day 6: Main Country Office & Meeting the Kids

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

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Day 6 was easily the longest day of the trip – mainly because we were all super anxious to see our kids at dinner, but, before we could do so, we had a couple of other stops planned. We started the day by touring the main country office. Here we got to see the process of sorting and delivering letters, tracking student progress, and curriculum development. I also love going through the various project mailboxes and look for letters waiting to be delivered to my kids.
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After the tour, we stopped for lunch at a local pizza place – which took forever, but had some really great food. I ended up begin the last one to get my food, but it was worth the wait. After eating, we went back to the hotel to rest and prepare for meeting our kids. We gathered in the hotel lobby to drive over to the event space and set up our tables for the dinner with the kids.
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I had my own table for the dinner, since my group was going to be so large – and I decorated it with confetti and streamers. The kids ended up arriving 30 minutes later than expected, and let me tell you, we sponsors felt every second of it. On the plus side, this gave the event space staff time to get their wifi working – which meant that I was able to Skype home and let Mom talk to Gladys, so it was worth it.
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To meet our kids, our group leaders lined all of the sponsors up in order and one at a time, our kids came through the doors and met us. It was a cool way to do the introductions, and allowed for plenty of good photo time. I’m also very grateful for these photos – especially the one below – because I knew as soon as I saw my Emily that I’d be picking her up. My friend Jodi also got a great video of the moment – which is the best!Ecuador2015Day6_ - 5

I love, love, love that Ecuador does this dinner before the fun day. It’s nearly my favorite part. And this year they had a photo booth – which was such a fun idea! I don’t have any of the photo booth photos – I let the kids take them all – but I do have some other photos that capture the night perfectly. In fact, I have so many photos that it would be impossible to share them all without creating a blog post that is insanely long. So instead, I’ll just tell you some of my favorite moments:

  • Josue celebrating his birthday (which was 2 days later) with the ceramic cupcake I brought him
  • Opening the elaborate gifts created by my kids for me – including: a sculpted paper heart from Josue, Guava jam from Emily, and a balloon giraffe from Gladys.
  • Watching Emily and Gladys become fast friends
  • Hugs on top of hugs on top of hugs
  • Watching Gladys skype with Mom and take photos of my computer screen with Mom’s face.
  • Learning that Josue was competing in a reality TV dance show – seriously! This boy is so talented!

Some of my favorite memories are from this night – and I wish I could go back to it every single day. These kids, they are why my heart calls Ecuador home – and they are why I make every effort to visit as often as possible – to write as often as possible – and to send my love across continents. These kids will have a brighter future because of Compassion, and I am honored to witness it.

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As I mentioned Tuesday, the Compassion Bloggers are blogging their experiences in Ecuador this week, too. To read more from the bloggers, click here. To find your own beautiful child to sponsor, click here.

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Ecuador Day 5: College Kids, Otavalo Market, and Crepes

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

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At the start of Day 5, we met as group in the hotel restaurant to enjoy some of the best food of the whole trip and fellowship with students enrolled in Compassion’s college program. It is always amazing to visit with the older Compassion students and hear first hand how the program has helped them. Ecuador2015Day5_ - 7

After breakfast, we headed to the famous Otavalo market – which was amazing and huge! We spent a little over an hour here – and I never feel like that’s enough time. The market was easily the size of an entire city block, with vendors packed in every available space. I knew that in order to see everything and get what I’d planned on purchasing (for myself and gifts) I had to be methodical and fast.

I don’t have many photos of the market, because it’s considered rude to take random photos. Instead, you’re encouraged to ask permission before taking a photo, and take photos of booths where you’d purchased something.Ecuador2015Day5_ - 1

The night before, I sat down and made a list of what items I’d be looking for at the market. I knew I wanted a bag of some sort since my carryon was a duffel bag that I’d made specifically as a gift for my sponsored girl, Emily. I also wanted to get as many alpaca blankets as possible – and ended up getting an amazing deal by buying them in semi-bulk! Finally, I wanted to pick up some small trinket like items for my coworkers, some artwork for myself, and a nativity scene (because I want to buy one every time I travel with Compassion).

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The artwork was so vibrant and truly makes me happy every time I look at it. I bought some beautiful pieces, but I left one behind. I really wanted that painting of the ship in the photo below – near the center of the photo – and I wish I had bought it, but at the time, I felt it was outside my price range. At least I got a photo of it, though.
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After the market, we made one final trip to Puerto Lago to pack our things and board the bus headed back to Quito. The rest of the day was mainly spent between traveling and stopping for food. We had lunch at Cafe Vaca – note the John Deere at the door. Ecuador2015Day5_ - 9Ecuador2015Day5_ - 10

Here, I introduced to the group to the deliciousness that is the mixed guanavanan and blackberry juice drink. I could seriously drink this every day. Ecuador2015Day5_ - 2

When we got back to Quito, we had a few minutes to check into our hotel rooms and rest before we met in the lobby and walked over to “Waffles and Crepes” – which was also so delicious. This was the first time I’d ever tried Crepes and they were worthy of the hype. Finally, we went back to the hotel to rest and prepare for the next day – when we’d get to finally see our sponsored kids!

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As I mentioned yesterday, the Compassion Bloggers are blogging their experiences in Ecuador this week, too. To read more from the bloggers, click here. To find your own beautiful child to sponsor, click here.

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Ecuador Day 4: Birthday Celebrations and Letters Working

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

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[Long post alert – consider yourself warned]

Day 4, and I wake up to the most spectacular hotel ever. Seriously, look at my room in the morning light – don’t you just want to curl up and stay forever? Just to the left of the photo is a wood-burning fireplace, too. This hotel, Puerto Lago, is now a definite weak spot for me. I had a very, very hard time leaving it – to the point of if I didn’t have commitments back home, I would have tried to find a way to stay longer.

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On this trip, unlike my 2013 visit to Ecuador with Compassion, I opted to pay the increased fee and have a single room – and let me say, it was so worth it. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 18

My room here had it’s own balcony, and all be it small, it was beautiful. The view looked over the lake with the volcano in the distance. It was truly breathtaking to see each morning – and absolutely peaceful. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to capture in writing the feeling of calm I got while here, but man it was amazing. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 7Ecuador2015Day4_ - 15Ecuador2015Day4_ - 23
Also, there were alpacas at the hotel. Alpacas. At the hotel. Several – and they were fun to photograph.
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For breakfast each morning in Puerto Lago, we ate at the hotel and had the best fresh fruit – strawberries, pineapple, melon, you name it. Plus, there was the most exquisite hot chocolate – like Swiss Miss to the max. After breakfast, we headed to EC-471 to experience a “Day in the Life of a Compassion Child.” Ecuador2015Day4_ - 12

Before breaking into groups to visit the children’s homes, we toured the main facility. This project had recently made use of Compassion’s Complementary Intervention Funds and upgraded a room for the teens to include a ping-pong table and several computers. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 1

After the tour, we once again loaded into the back of pick-up trucks and made the short but bumpy drive to the local homes. My group visited the house of Wendy and her brother. The house was constructed of concrete blocks and was one indoor room with a small kitchen area behind. You can see the kitchen best below:Ecuador2015Day4_ - 20

Here’s another view of the kitchen – the family cooks over a fire, but does have a small range inside. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 22

Against the other outer wall is a small lean-to bunk. This is where the adults (3) sleep. It’s covered with plastic sheeting to help keep the rain out. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 14Ecuador2015Day4_ - 25

Inside, there’s a bed where all the kids sleep, a bit of storage in the form of a wooden wardrobe, another small Cars themed wardrobe, and some shelving.  In the corner is the weaving machine where Wendy’s Dad spends most of his time creating sweaters to be sold in the local market.Ecuador2015Day4_ - 6
Wendy’s mother also knits (and is so fast it’s crazy). Together, their crafts earn the necessary income to sustain the family. In the little time we were there (less than an hour) Wendy’s dad had created the front panel of a sweater and her mother had banded a hat. It was amazing to watch. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 9
We also had the opportunity to ask Wendy and her brother about their experience in the Compassion Project. Both children are sponsored, and Wendy has received several letters, which she was excited to show us (though her face doesn’t look it, I promise she lit up when we asked about her sponsor). When we asked if there was anything she would tell her sponsor if she could, she replied, “I would let her know that I was waiting for this moment [to be sponsored] my whole life.” So sponsor, where ever you are, your letters are working. Man are they working. So thank you. Thank you for caring for Wendy and her family. Thank you for writing to her and filling her spirit with encouragement. And thank you for allowing us to witness such a small part of you story.

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Really, the entire family was so open, so grateful for their local church and Compassion. It was so inspiring. Also, see those minion and monster hats? Those are what the family makes to sell – and in the bottom right corner, that Canadian cloth? That’s the panel of the sweater they made while we were there. And, to top it all off, the family gave us each a hat before we left – they literally gave us part of their income because they were so happy to receive us in their home. Talk about generous – these who have less give most.

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Outside, the family has a small personal garden and a pen where they raise guinea pigs (below you can see 2 of the girls trying to get in with the guineas).
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Also, let me take this opportunity to reinforce the fact that I adore these Ecuadorian abuelas. I very much want to adopt one of these grandmothers as my own, they make me smile so.

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After our home visit, we gave Wendy and her cousin a ride back to the project – and they had a blast! (Again, one of my favorite photos from this trip!)Ecuador2015Day4_ - 19

Upon our return, it was time to play and, of course, paint nails! I will say, no matter where in the world you find yourself, little girls love nail polish, and the four or five of us sponsors painting nails were swamped the entire time.Ecuador2015Day4_ - 27Ecuador2015Day4_ - 30Ecuador2015Day4_ - 8

I also had several bracelets my friend Yvonne sent to me to give out – and man, these were popular, too! We had a crazy line for them and I enlisted several other sponsors to help me hand them out. Ecuador2015Day4_ - 13

After our play time with the kids, it was time for the projects grand finale – a birthday party for all of the kids celebrating their birthdays in April.
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They had so much cake! And giant sprinkler candles!

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And confetti! Truly it was one of the happiest birthday parties I’ve been to, and one I won’t soon forget!Ecuador2015Day4_ - 24

And after the cake and the party, it was time to say our goodbyes. The project presented each of us with a knitted hat (animals for the women), we took our final photos, and loaded back on the bus to head back to the hotel.Ecuador2015Day4_ - 2
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I keep forgetting how long these days were – it doesn’t seem like we did too much each day, but still got in so many activities. All day with the kids, and then back to the hotel just in time for a sunset over the lake. Just enough each day – just enough to soak it in and still feel like you can go on. Just enough to fully take it all in without feeling too rushed. Just enough.

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I’m planning to share more from this trip each Tuesday until the story is told. So be sure to check back for the next installment! 🙂

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Ecaudor Day 3: Roses and Rose Gardens

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

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[Long post alert – consider yourself warned]

Day 3: Lots and Lots of Roses in Cayambe & Otavalo

Early Monday morning, we began our two-ish hour bus ride to Cayambe and the first Child Development Center of the Trip: EC424. This area of Ecuador relies heavily on roses and rose production for much of the economy – and we saw plenty of evidence of the floral influence. In the photo below, the field of silver that could be a lake if you don’t look closely, is actually a sea of greenhouses all growing different varieties of roses. We could just glance the beautiful colors during our ride to the project.

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But, even more beautiful than the flowers, were the people. They lined the street to welcome us in, giving each of us a small bouquet of the famous roses as a greeting gift.
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Once we entered the church, we were met with an amazing display of photos and resources. This is one of the nicest sanctuaries I’ve been in, and I remember the floors being very slick from the wax finish – with made for an interesting game of musical chairs between us and the moms 😉Ecuador2015Day3_ - 2

While we were here, the workers and staff told us about how they implement the Child Survival Program. We also got to visit with the mothers and babies participating in the program to see first hand the impact Compassion is having on this community. Ecuador2015Day3_ - 5Ecuador2015Day3_ - 4

After touring the facility, we helped serve all of the children lunch, and then ate lunch ourselves. The food was as amazing as I expected. Freshly cooked lima beans, lots of roasted chicken, potatoes, and corn. I’m generally a fast eater, and stepped outside to play with the kids while everyone else finished their food. Unfortunately when I did this I missed an amazing story from one of the project workers – but our tour leader, Bobby, writes it beautifully here. (Seriously step over and read it and then come back – I’m horribly disappointed that I missed it, but can’t help but think that there was a reason that I did. I’m not 100% sure what that reason is, but I have peace in knowing I was where I was supposed to be when I was there.)

Ecuador2015Day3_ - 14Once we’d finished lunch, we loaded up in the back of a pick-up truck and headed to the first home visit of the trip. The home was made of cement block, and we toured 3 rooms: bedroom, kitchen, and storage/bedroom.

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The family that lives here grows onions (that look much like our leeks) to sell for income. 

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After the home visit, we returned to the Compassion Center and helped to hand out monthly groceries to the Mom’s in the Child Survival Program. Let me tell you, that bag is heavier than it looks – and these moms carry it and their babies as they walk home – a walk that could take up to 30 minutes.Ecuador2015Day3_ - 8

And then, before we said our final goodbyes, we had a few more minutes to play with the kids.
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This little girl was great – when I first saw her, she was so upset that a project worker stopped me and asked if I had any bubbles that she could play with, apparently all of the kids around her had gotten some bubbles, and she’d been left out. But, fortunately for both of us, I had a fresh bottle that I was all to happy to give her. And she was all to happy to blow tons of bubbles for me to photograph – seriously, one of my favorite photos from this trip is of this little girl and her bubbles. Ecuador2015Day3_ - 16
And then, it was time for one last group photo before we made our way to Otavalo and the hotel.

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It started to sprinkle a bit on the drive to the hotel, but even so, it was a beautiful drive. I seriously love this country, the view, the people, all of it. Ecuador will forever have a special place in my heart – and I wish I could visit it every year. Ecuador2015Day3_ - 22
On our way to the hotel we made a fantastic side stop at Cayambe to sample a local delicacy, bizcochos. These cracker-cookies were so, so, so good! Made with tons of flour and butter, baked in a brick oven, and served with a caramel dipping sauce – they’re making my mouth water now just thinking of them.

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This particular shop is very famous for its bizcochos and I can totally see why. If you’re ever in the area, these are a must have. 

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And that, friends, sums up the day – we did make it to the hotel (and boy is it beautiful! I’ll post photos later this week – but know that it was here that I seriously debated never coming back) , and we initially only had wifi in the lobby, so there was this fun little convening of all of us as we “gathered ’round the wifi” before supper. We ate at the hotel – delicious empanadas, fresh fruit, and blackberry sorbet made for a great supper and a fantastic way to end the first day in the highlands.

I’m planning to share more from this trip on Wednesday, and then again each Tuesday until the story is told. So be sure to check back for more! 🙂

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Ecuador Days 1 & 2: Elevation Changes, Church Celebrations, & the Equator

Once again I find that I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. I know I left part of my heart in South America, and in all honesty, most days the trips I took there feel more like a weird, wonderful dream than reality. I got to see my sponsored children again. I got to speak with them, hear their own voices, give them hugs, and show them love in person. I held their hands in mine – and once again utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so, just as I did with my last trip, I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day or story-by-story; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

——————————————

[Long post alert – consider yourself warned]

Day 1: Travel from Northeast Arkansas to Central Ecuador, 2630 miles. 

I’ll be honest, Day 1 is a total blur. I went to sleep around 9pm only to wake up at 1am to get ready to make a 1.5hr drive to the airport to catch a 5:44am flight from Memphis, TN, to Miami, FL. I juggled 4 bags that were packed to the absolute limit – in fact, I was mentally preparing to pay the $200 over-weight fee because I had packed them so full.

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I got to the airport at 3ish, it might have been closer to 3:15…I really don’t remember. I do remember that I had to wait in the lobby for a bit because the bag-check didn’t open until 4am – so that was fun. But, once it was open, I was in for my first blessing – underweight bags! Between the two checked bags I had 5 whole pounds to spare. 5 pounds! I’m telling you, that’s a miracle. I had those bags soooo full of gifts for my kids and the kids of other sponsors. But God is good – and he makes room (and weight) where there is none.

Ecuador2015Day1&2_ - 3So, groggily, I boarded that first flight – and got to see the sunrise from above the clouds, which, by the way, is always the best. I’m totally not a morning person – AT ALL, but man, a sunrise above the clouds is just hard to beat – because it means I’m traveling, and traveling is always worth it. If I could only make a living out of visiting my Compassion kids and traveling to new places (without having to give up so much in order to accomplish it) …. but I digress. 

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I remember 2 things main things about Miami: It was hot (especially since I was wearing like 3 layers of clothing – no room in the suitcases, remember) and I was starving. My TSA precheck didn’t show up on my ticket from MIA to Quito, so I ended up having to go through the long security line which took about a half-hour. By the time I made it to my gate it was around 9am. I’d already been awake 8 hours and hadn’t eaten before I left the house because I didn’t want to get sick on the plane – it takes a while for me to really be able to eat breakfast and I always get a bit queasy in the mornings – especially on early flights. So I waited until I got re-checked and found the right gate before I got any food. Fortunately, there were several restaurants around my gate, and I found the most amazing ham and cheese empanadas. Seriously, they were so good! After breakfast I began the long waiting game until my friend Deb (who was also going on this trip) arrived in Miami – around noon.Ecuador2015Day1&2_ - 4

I met up with Deb for lunch, and then we joined the rest of the Compassion group for the 4 hour flight to Quito. All in all, there were 32 of us on this trip. I got an aisle seat on the flight (yay!) and was again pleasantly surprised when the middle seat ended up being vacant, the in-flight movie was “The Theory of Everything,” and the lady in the window seat was the sweetest little abuela who only spoke Spanish. The cool part is, I actually carried on a conversation (all be it limited) with her! She told me that she was headed home from visiting her daughter and grandchildren in St. Louis, that they were sad to see her leave, and that she only gets to see them about once a year. I told her we were lucky to have just the two of us in a row, and that I lived somewhat close to St. Louis. We didn’t talk much, but man – it was really awesome to be able to understand even just a small amount of what she was telling me. I cannot wait until I’m more fluent. Being bilingual is going to be amazing.

Once we landed, went through immigration and then customs, we still had about an hour bus ride to the hotel. One of the other ladies on the tour got herself a luggage cart to navigate customs, and she was super nice and got me one, too – which was amazing because I was starting to feel the altitude lugging the 4 bags around. For just $2 each ($5 in MIA), the carts were a welcomed relief. I was actually a bit worried about the altitude – especially when I started to feel it so bad just by moving my suitcases from baggage claim to the customs line; so the fact that she offered to get me a cart was so incredibly nice of her and a huge help to me. After getting through customs and loading our bags on the bus, we headed to the hotel.

It was around 11pm before we made it to the hotel for the night. Fortunately, the plan was to spend two nights in Quito before leaving for Otavalo, so I didn’t have to re-pack my bags. Also, there was a pretty fantastic bathtub in my room – which I made good use of. I slept so good. So, so, so good. It’s amazing how well you can sleep after being up a solid 24 hours.

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The next morning I woke up to the most amazing view ever – seriously, do you see that mountain? For a girl who comes from flat – F-L-A-T – flat 250ft above sea level Mississippi Delta flat – the mountains of Ecuador amaze me every time. In the daylight, seeing them again made me feel like I was home. Like a part of me that I didn’t know was wandering was finally home. And I thought, Yes. This is right. I am here and I am home. 

We ate breakfast at the hotel and then boarded the bus to go to EC148 for morning worship. Let me just say, if you want to truly feel God in a worship service, it’s hard to beat a worship service in a developing country – in a language not your own – when you feel the praise in your spirit because your soul understands what your ears do not.

We fully participated in the worship service – an entire hour of standing praise and worship (where I both felt God and felt the altitude). This was the worst day for altitude, and I did end up taking an Excedrin migraine in order to prevent the horrible headache I could feel coming my way. All in all though my altitude sickness this time was considerably less than last time – I drank a ton more water – and people take it from me – that helped so much!

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Anyway, back to the worship service – which was fantastic. I actually understood about 40% of the songs, and more than that if they used the projector and I could read what they were singing – and then, then I started to be able to hear it, too. My ears adjusted to the speed and my mind caught up and it was so great. I knew what they were singing – on both an outward and inward level. I knew as a believer and I knew as a student of the Spanish language. Want to talk about powerful – when those worlds collided – I have no words. I was just exactly where I was supposed to be in the exact right moment. I will never forget that feeling.

After worship service, we followed all the children to a local park for children’s church. The church is renovating their property to make more classrooms, but currently uses the park for Sunday morning children’s church. Ecuador2015Day1&2_ - 8

For children’s church, the universal appeal of puppets became apparent very quickly. The lesson, on obedience, was part of a series of lessons the church had been presenting over the past several weeks. The key verse was Ephesians 6:1, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” There was even a fun little song to go with it talking about how we should listen to our parents, teachers, and leaders.
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After the puppet show, we had some unplanned time to play with the kids – which was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Karen, pictured below, sought me out during the lesson and stuck pretty close during the play time. She was the sweetest little girl and let me practice some of my limited Spanish. I cannot stress what a difference it made to be able to somewhat communicate with the locals on this trip – language is such a blessing that we take for granted every single day. In 2013, playing with the kids was fun, but also frustrating because of the language barrier. Being able to break that barrier, even in the tiniest of ways, was so great. Sitting there with Karen, I learned that she did not have a sponsor – and felt the need to ask her project about it. Turns out, Karen isn’t in the program. She’s a local girl that attends the church service, but her family is blessed and her income level is too high to qualify for sponsorship. (Which, as it happens, is just like the last shy, sweet girl in a white dress I met during a church service in Ecuador – there may be a pattern developing here…)
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From the church we headed to the northern part of Quito, to visit the iconic Virgin Angel and have lunch a Pim’s – a fantastic restaurant that overlooks all of Old Town and the north side of the city. The views were amazing, and food delicious. Our drink options were soda or water – and it was fun to see that while they didn’t know what “orange soda” was, they quickly recognized “Fanta” – and by the way, glass-bottled Fanta at 9,350 above sea level is sooooo good. I’m not a huge soda drinker, but man, I could have a bottle of that a day…. so long as it came with the view 😉Ecuador2015Day1&2_ - 11Ecuador2015Day1&2_ - 13Ecuador2015Day1&2_ - 12

After lunch, we drove to the other side of Quito to visit the equator. Unlike my trip in 2013, this time we saw a different equator tourist attraction. This one was smaller, and seemed more like a Route 66 side-of-the road type attraction. It was interesting though – it had more of a local history feel to it. They had built a traditional hut on site, had several artifacts, preserved anacondas and giant spiders, and a mural of how to shrink heads. Did I mention it was an interesting place? The tour guide also demonstrated the Coriolis effect which was awesome – and made for some great videos. Also, I totally got sunburned – leave it to me to forget the sunscreen on the day we actually visit the equator. Ecuador2015Day1&2_ - 14
Finally, we ended the day back at our hotel with a very nice meal in one of the banquet rooms. They served traditional potato soup (which if you like potato soup, was delicious) and very pretty desserts that were chocolate and some sort of fruit – they were yellow, but not lemon. Anyway, after supper, I went back to my hotel room and rearranged my bags – we were leaving for Otavalo the next day and had the option to leave some of our bags in Quito at the hotel. Since most of my bags were actually gifts – and I wouldn’t be needing any of them in Otavalo, I was able to leave everything but a single rolling carryon, and that was so nice. Having to just juggle a single bag made my logistics so much easier – I had seriously dreaded lugging the gifts around all week. Now, not only was my luggage lighter, but so was my spirit. This was such an excellent start to the trip.

After typing all of this, it’s a bit hard to believe we did so much in one day. Also, I’m once again amazed at how much you can forget in just a few short weeks. I had to ask fellow travelers where we ate for supper because I truly could not remember – which is so crazy to me. Anyway, I’m hoping to share a day of the trip each week, so check back next Tuesday for more 🙂

 

Questions for My Sponsored Kids

If all goes to plan, in just a few short hours I’ll be hugging my sponsored kids and dining with them at the hotel. I am beyond giddy! When I traveled with Compassion International to meet my two Ecuadorian sponsored children, Josué & Emily, in 2013, I had no idea what to expect. No idea how I would react or what I would see. And so, when I returned, I ended up having a long list of questions I wished I had asked my kids while I was with them. I first shared this list back in May of 2014, but I thought it would be fitting to re-share and review it, today. This time, I’ll be ready. I’ll be prepared to delve deeper into their everyday – and hopefully, I’ll gain a better understanding of their family and their lives.

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Back in 2013, they, our group leaders, did tell us to be thinking of questions to ask our kids – they warned us that we would get caught up in the moment and forget what we wanted to know if we didn’t write it down. They did tell us, and I did ignore them. I couldn’t think of anything in particular that I wanted to know – I just wanted to know my kids. I just wanted to see them, hug them, and tell them I love them. I didn’t have anything to ask them. I am, by nature, a quiet person, an extremely introverted person. Small talk tires me – it was enough, in those few moments, to simply hold my kids. To just be there with them – to be completely there. To breathe in the air and know that this moment will never happen again.

And so, like they warned me, I forgot anything I wanted to ask. I stumbled over the small talk- amazed at simply being there. I had no idea what to say or what was appropriate to ask. Fortunately, I was blessed with an amazing translator who kept the conversation going as me and my kids are all quiet, reserved souls – and there were so many new people. Only when I had said my “bye-for-nows” did I realize there was so much that I didn’t ask.  So much more that I wanted to know.

Below are the questions I forgot – the ones that I’m now including in my letters, but wished I had included in my face-to-face conversation. Some of them don’t seem like much, but they are gold to me. Let me encourage you, if you are ever taking a trip to meet your sponsored child, take a notebook with you. Write down your questions for them, and their answers to you. Write down all the names of all the people you meet. Write everything down. Memories are frail and fleeting when it comes to small details – notebooks, pen, paper, cameras – invaluable.

Things I wish I had asked both Emily & Josué:

  1. How are your father & siblings?
  2. What did you do when you found out I was coming to visit you?
  3. What kind of “extras” do you like to get with the letters? (do you still like stickers? Do you like the paper planes better? What makes you most excited to open the letters?)
  4. Which letter is your favorite, and why?
  5. What size clothes do you wear?
  6. Exactly how tall are you?
  7. What is your shoe size?
  8. What is your home like?
  9. What does an average day for you look like?
  10. What is the hardest part of your day?
  11. How many kids in your project get regular letters from their sponsors?
  12. Do any of your friends/siblings not get letters?
  13. How old is your Compassion Project?
  14. How long have your tutors been working with Compassion?

Things I wish I had asked for Emily specifically:

  1. What is your favorite part of the Compassion Program?
  2. What kind of lessons does your mother teach for Sunday School? Does she have a favorite lesson?
  3. Has your father found stable work? Did he get his teach accreditation?
  4. Does your mother still work with Compassion at the Project? What does she do there?

Things I wish I had asked for Josué specifically:

  1. How did you get started with your baseball team?
  2. Tell me more about the service projects you and your friends do for your neighborhood.
  3. Who is your best friend, what do you like most about them?
  4. Of all of your baked goods, what have you been most proud to make?

What would you ask your sponsored child, if you could ask them anything?