Thursday, September 30, 2010

Police Strike In Ecuador Leads To Quiet Night

It's mid-evening in Cuenca, and it seems like it is going to be a quiet night. The news media may prove me wrong in the morning, but this photo I just took of Cuenca's streets on the first night of the police strike pretty much sums up the state of affairs around here:


I'm off until tomorrow unless something major happens. Given the crowds on the street, I think I will be sleeping peacefully tonight.

Ecuador Coup Seems Less Serious In Cuenca

Tonight in Cuenca, extremists thought that rioters would be taking to the streets in response to the so-called Ecuador coup. However, walking into Parque Calderon, we surprised the crew setting up the food tent.

Food tents, people. Food tents in the middle of a mass political demonstration? What is this?

This is actually not being very serious. There were about 200 people gathered by the government buildings in Parque Calderon by 7 pm, listening to speeches in support of Correa's actions. A live band started to play when the speeches finished, and children danced in the green spaces of the park.

Shops and restaurants that were closed earlier in the day are already reopening. The bars and restaurants of Cuenca were doing a booming business as we walked to and from the park. People seem to be in a cheerful mood, even the breakfast tent crew.

What will happen next? Some of it depends on what happens tonight in other parts of the country. The Ecuadorian government has declared a state of emergency and the borders are presently closed, but if all stays quiet this police strike may be a flash-in-the-pan news event. Fingers crossed!

Cuenca Mayor Assure Us All Is Well

Cuenca seems to be taking a pass on the national unrest in Ecuador. The mayor of Cuenca was just up on the news, pointing out that the local police do not intend to go on strike and insisting that all was going to be calm here.

We'll see. There are soldiers on patrol on the streets of Cuenca, though they are being quiet about it. Most shops are closed up, and the local bars are shutting down for the day to avoid the possibility of being looted. Still, the weather this afternoon is gorgeous, and it seems like most people are more interested in having a relaxing day off now that the national agencies and schools are closed than getting themselves into any kind of revolutionary fervor.

Even just a few hours into knowing about it, my impression is that locally we all have gone on high alert JUST IN CASE but probably not much is going to happen, at least until it gets dark and the beer supplies run down. Even then . . . I can smell roasting meat from the neighbors. BBQ night, perhaps? I mean, I don't want to make light of their civil unrest here, but I've seen worse in China when they rioted in Shanghai. Going to do some other things for a bit until I have more news!

Photos From The Police Strike In Ecuador

Here's something you don't see everyday. The police threw tear gas - at the President of Ecuador. He was trying to give a speech, and now he's hanging out in the hospital, protected by guards.

Good quality Ecuador police strike photos here:

Note that Correa - the president - has a cane because he recently had knee surgery. Also, he doesn't hide behind his FBI-type people - instead, he told the police "You want to kill me? I'm here!" Don't exactly get that in the US!

Police Strike In Ecuador; Cuenca Sitting Tight

The national government of Ecuador is under fire after putting an end to some of the benefits previously received by the police. The police have gone on strike, and things are getting a bit out of hand.

At the end of the day, its about money and power. In the middle of the day, it's about figuring out what's going on.

In Cuenca, things are quiet. The President of Ecuador has been hit with tear gas, and they are burning things in the streets of Guayaquil. Airline service in and out of the country has been suspended, though some flights en route are being accepted.

The Internet from Etapa, the state agency, has been in and out all morning. This afternoon we got world that the schools are closed, as well as the Supermaxi (Cuenca's biggest supermarket) and the Feria Libre (Cuenca's biggest indigenous market). People are going to ground among the gringo population, stocking their fridges and staying tuned to the television.

I'm okay. I have a full fridge, a hovering, macho boyfriend who can't quite hide his excitement about the ongoing "revolution" and I live behind three locked doors and an electric fence. I'll be on Twitter as I get updates, and I'll be in and out of the Internet as we have coverage. The Embassy is officially telling everyone to stay calm and stay home, which seems like a decent plan to me!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Taste Of India In Cuenca

Once upon a time, there was a furniture store on the corner of Benigno Malo and Calle Larga. Then there was no furniture shop and just a small paper sign announcing that it had moved. And then there was a makeover.

Painters descended like a rabid pack of rainbow-makers. Buzz saws whirred. Purple took over the ceiling. The back wall went bright orange. An electric green surrounded the windows that were already struggling to adapt to their new onion dome frames.

Under the purple ceiling, a tented canopy of beaded and sparkling fabrics pitched itself. Semi-sheer sari scarves ran away from their owners to hang on the walls. A plasma screen TV came to life on the back wall, pumping out the best of Bollywood circa 1982. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Taj Mahal!

I'll confess that my first meal here was an accident. They'd left a door ajar during the last week of construction and like any good neighborhood snoop I poked my nose in to ask when they were going to be open. A nice man came and escorted my friend and I to a booth, insisting, "We are open now! Sit, sit, eat!"

Um, okay. That is a table saw being operated next to the chef, right? Clearly not important.

They bring us menus, but this is apparently just practice for the real opening night, since all they have are shawarma's (the Indian version of a gyro) and Coca-Cola. It's surprisingly delicious, considering the circumstances. The real opening day is going to be Thursday and they promise a full menu.

We make plans to test that promise, because to be perfectly honest, the "ethnic" food in Cuenca kind of stinks. There's no Thai takeout, Italian food means pasta + pizza, and spicy dishes exist only in an alternative universe I've not yet discovered. Thus, we are full prepared to be utterly disappointed by our Thursday night India feast.

Fast-forward to Saturday. I'm scratching out the notes that will become this blog post while waiting for $20 worth of $1.50 & $3.00 Indian snacks and entrees to be prepared. (I think someone is walking to India and back to get the spices. This is the only reasonable explanation for the length of the wait. Well, that and the number of items I've just ordered.) I've been sent by the gods of hungry people to "Get more samosa," "Make sure you pick up some of that bread," and "See if the other Aloo dishes are as good as the first one." The taste report:
  • Veggie samosas were voted to be slightly better than the chicken samosas. Get one of each anyway.
  • The Aloo Palak is richly spiced and delicious, but the Aloo Mutter is better.
  • Chicken Biryani beats Chicken Korma.
  • Real chai tea!!!! (after gallons of te nacional - aka the local swill - my mouth is euphoric)
  • Naan Saada is where it's at for the bread.
When you walk in, be prepared to roll out! The portion sizes were generous, and even the takeout was more than plenty. Frankly, as far as the taste buds are concerned, this is the best transformation that has ever happened to a furniture store!

Monday, September 20, 2010

From High School to College In Just 6 Days

Last week, I found myself waking up at 6 am for the first time in years. I wasn't on my way to catch a flight, either, which is generally the only acceptable reason for my lazy writer's butt to be up that early.

I was going to school.

By 7:30 I was dressed, armed with a backpack full of study supplies, and waiting for the bus. My fellow sufferer, SF, met up with me to ensure our 25 cents was duly plunked down into the slot for Bus #4. We managed to find a seat and bumped our way over the sleepy cobblestone streets until we reached our destination at the end of the line - Colegio Santa Ana.

It's worth noting here that a Colegio is not a college. It's a high school. Colleges are Universidades, and Colegios are high schools. I've studied Spanish for years and still think this is weird.

Anyway, Colegio Santa Ana perches on the side of a large hill overlooking the main city of Cuenca. Real estate developers in the States would kill for the vista off the playground alone.

Me? I would kill for some breakfast. It's a thought that occurs to me more than once as the morning drags on. The regular teachers are all in attendance for the final days of intensive curriculum planning before school starts. I'm attending as an observer, preparing to serve as a substitute for SF's first week of classes while he attends a wedding in the States.

I'm just there to see the place and find my classroom, right? Except instead I am getting a bird's eye view of the inner working of the curriculum administration system at a Cuenca Colegio. It's interesting, as they are re-doing the guides for each grade level, but there is a lot of discussion in circles and I'm praying that this all gets sorted by the time I start subbing on Monday.

Flash forward. Friday night I get a note from SF, who's now in the States, that his school is trying to get a hold of me, that they've got some kind of emergency. By Sunday morning, it's sorted out - the emergency situation was that I've been canned in favor of someone who was able to attend all of the curriculum planning sessions.

Sadness, right? Well, not really. I'm actually relieved to not have to make the long bus ride on Monday morning, especially since I would have just lusted after the panoramic view anyway.

48 hours later, I'm sitting in a windowless room taking notes. Welcome back to University, kiddo!

As I was celebrating my new-found freedom from subbing on Sunday, I got a note about a Profesora looking for someone to cover her maternity leave. The position starts in October, but the catch is being at the first day of class to figure out what's going on and if this is going to work. So I end up perched in the back row, utterly alone as not one of the other students in the class will sit with me. I later find out this isn't social shunning of the gringa - their previous professor penalized them for not sitting up front!

Anyway, the course is called International Relations. Asking if I'm interested in the subject is like checking to see if bears really sleep in the woods.

There's more to the story, naturally, because this is Ecuador and things are never perfectly simple. The way things happen here are twisty and turny and full of the unexpected. One minute you're a sacked sub, and the next minute you're on the road to being a college professor. Asi es Ecuador!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Think South America Keeps Me From Football? Think Again!

College football season is upon us, my friends, and I couldn't be happier about the return of my favorite time of the year.

Game time, naturally.

Yes, I spent the day throwing up. I do not know why, though suspect #1 is Inca's $5 sashimi for dinner and suspect #2 is 1/3 of a bottle of Pilsner. Beer + Jen = Sick. I've know this since I was about 5 years old and drinking out of cans at backyard BBQ's thinking they were soda. I'm 30 now, and despite my GPA's over the years, I'm a slow learner.

It took one thing to make me feel better:

Yes, the original strains of the Husker Tunnel Walk song, Sirius. Streaming through my computer connection, the Husker Radio network let me listen to a wonderful opening game that I am sad not to have been able to attend. Then again, my lunch yesterday was $1, with tax. Choices, you know?

Ah, Nebraska football. Music to my ears to hear Taylor Martinez run the football in for the first touchdown as well. Screw passing. I like a good running game - I really, really do. Can you throw the ball? Meh? How about run it 50 yards for a touchdown? Yes? Well, then, welcome aboard, kid.

Hopefully later in the season when more games are televised, I will be able to watch them courtesy of my friend Ben's Slingbox, which is pretty much the greatest invention ever to a fan outside the US cable markets. Until then, the radio will do me.

I mean, I have a Nebraska t-shirt, Nebraska sweatshirt, and rub-on game day Nebraska football tattoos. You think I'm missing these games for any reason?

Think again. Go Huskers!

Husker Helmet