Although our host in Guayaquil had accepted us for five nights, he had family come to stay, and was unable to accommodate us for the first two nights. With the help of an intermediary, he put us in touch with a wonderful girl named Juanita, and her family. She was the only one who spoke English, and their small house was already full of extended family, but they made room for us, and made us feel welcome right away.
Juanita lives in a suburb of Guayaquil called Duran where she teaches English at a semi-private school. On our first full day, she took us to school with her, and we had great fun as she introduced us, like a Show & Tell item, to class after class of kids in grades K-5. The kids were inquisitive, and seemed to enjoy meeting these visitors who spoke virtually no Spanish whatsoever. They asked us where we are from, what our names are, how long we are staying and what we think of Ecuador. Strangely enough several of them wanted to know if we were brother and sister. I guess in this family oriented culture, it is unusual for a husband and wife to travel together rather than stay home and raise a family. I had Stephanie teach me the phrase, “Ella es mi esposa,” so I could set the kids right.
Embarrassingly, almost every class we visited wanted us to sing for them as well. Suddenly, I felt like *I* was a student again being asked to get up and sing in front of the class. Naturally, my mind drew a blank, and the only songs I could come up with were by Black Sabbath. We ended up doing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” with the littlest kids, and they were happy to try it with us. We also sang happy birthday to one girl, Jingle Bells (which they all knew) and “Do-Re-Mi,” from the Sound of Music which actually went over very well. It was so gratifying that many of the kids wanted hugs as we were leaving. For the boys who were too cool, there was many a high-five.
The staff, too, made us feel very welcome. They were all very excited to meet us and ask us questions using the little English they knew. They let us use a computer with an Internet connection while Juanita was teaching. At the end of the day they invited us to come back the next day for a special program in honor of the Battle of Pichincha, a national holiday commemorating a major battle during the Spanish American Wars of Independence.
Last but never least in my book was the awesome “cafeteria food.” (A paradox, I know.) Juanita ordered us a delicious breakfast of tostadas – grilled sandwiches with cheese and a bologna-like meat. While we were in the computer room, the cook gave us two bottle of fresh juice via Juanita. Then for lunch, we had a delicious potato soup along with a plate of kielbasa, rice and plantains – and it only cost $5.60 for the three of us!! Where in the US can you get good food in a school cafeteria for a small price?
Juanita only teaches in the morning, so that afternoon, she took us to see a public school. The kids were a bit older, and as such, a bit rowdier. One boy who was clearly the class cut-up proclaimed in English that he loved us, much to the amusement of the other students (and us). Being older, the kids did have many more questions, and we really enjoyed meeting them.
We went back to Juanita’s school the next day for their presentation. It was, of course, entirely in Spanish, but it appeared to be honoring one of the students as well as the country. There was a flag parade where students carried flags of all the provinces of Ecuador. And then an ornate national flag was ritualistically passed from one student to another amid several speeches. We later found out that the recipient of the flag was the school’s equivalent of a valedictorian. We met the school’s director who is from our next destination, and was thrilled that we are so interested in her country. She gave us all kinds of useful information and got us very excited.
It was sad saying goodbye to Juanita, and her school. Everyone there was thrilled at the idea that we might move to Ecuador, and wanted to know where and when we might move if we decide to do so. We promised no matter what, to come back and visit again. And we’re hoping we can give them something back for all they gave to us in those few days.