October – Coming Up For Air

Date: October 25, 2009
Location: Quito, Ecuador

It was nearly three months ago that I (Cristina) began planning for our next batch of posts to add to this blog.  I was excited about some of the topics I wanted to share with all our friends and family.  I planned on writing these little articles at the end of August and taped a little sticky note up above my computer for my “End of August Blog.”

Suddenly, the end of August was upon us like a rushing torrent of activities that would carry us into the new school year.  The only recourse was to dive in and get started. There was new teacher orientation, followed by returning teacher orientation and several days of “in-service” sessions that focused on faith integration into the classroom.

The torrent only sped up as classes began on September 7.  The weeks rushed by as we juggled our school responsibilities with our home responsibilities and other projects we had on our plates.  Before we knew it, we had finished five weeks of school and were handing out progress reports.

We continue to speed our way along to the end of the first quarter; which is less than four weeks away. However, I am finally coming up for air in mid-October and I’m excited to get back in touch with all of you.

Please browse through our categories to find the answer to the following questions:

Under TCK Views
*Why is loose change so important to carry around the streets of Quito?
*What has Stephen been learning about the culture and language in the past few months?

Under Ministry
*What is the Alliance Academy International doing to celebrate their 80th anniversary coming up in November?

Under Family News
*Did Cristina pass the two sections of her Ph.D. exams that she had to repeat this fall?
*As a full-fledged 2 year old, what new things has Jared learned to say?
*At nine and a half months, has Luke become mobile?

We look forward to the e-mails we receive from all of you.  Know that if you send us a personal e-mail, we will take the time to write you back personally.  We appreciate your prayers, encouragement and support of our ministry.

The MK Meier Clan (Cristina, Stephen, Jared & Luke)
e-mail: crcmeier@yahoo.com

Two year old, Jared, and 9-month-old, Luke enjoy a "ride" in the basket mobile.

Two year old, Jared, and 9-month-old, Luke enjoy a “ride” in the basket mobile.


The “Loose Change” Issue

One of the convenient things about being a U.S. citizen living in Ecuador is that there is not foreign money exchange.  The same dollar bills used in the U.S. are also used in Ecuador.  According to Business Insider, there are over twenty countries that use the U.S. Dollar as national currency in some form. Some countries adopted this change of currency after their own money lost its value.

For the small country of Ecuador, this happened in January of 1999.  The president announced on January 7, 1999, that they would discontinue using the “sucre” and adopt the U.S. dollar for all monetary transactions.

The first minting of the Sacagewa dollar coin also happened the same year, although it was first dated as 2000.  Perhaps it was the familiar face of a woman carrying her small child on her back that made this coin so popular among Ecuadorians.  This coin was part of an effort to memorialize the contributions of individual tribes and peoples in  native American history in the U.S. However, the people in Ecuador just see a lady who looks like their next door neighbor as she tries to make a living cooking local food or selling items she has made in a local marketplace.    I personally never saw this coin in the U.S., but saw it used everywhere I went shopping in Quito and other cities in Ecuador.

sacagewa coin 2000

The Sacagewa dollar coin used by Ecuadorians as spare change were first minted in 2000 but rarely circulated within the U.S. (Image from – treehugger.com)

Although the transition from the sucre to the dollar was painful, especially those in poor communities, the country was able to stabilize its economic situation within a few years. Perhaps this transition was also a reason that so many were able to accept the coin with the Sacagawea image as their own currency.   It is, by far, the most popular coin used in daily transactions.

It makes sense that these coins are especially used by those in the lower economic strata.  For these citizens and entrepreneurial business people with small businesses, cash is king.  Having a bank account is a mark of luxury.  Very few have credit cards or handle checks of any kind.

One prime example is the lady who cares for our sons while I’m teaching.  Her name is Marina Hernandez. She’s in her late 50’s and she’s never had a bank account in her life.

“I need $100 to start a bank account,” she told me once. “I just don’t have that kind of money.”

Therefore, I must pay her in cash.  Her payday is on Friday.  Without disclosing the exact amount that I pay her on a weekly basis, I will tell you that the final two digits end with 10. One particular Friday, I found that I did not have change for that final $10 bill that I needed to give her.  I had a $20, but I needed to break it down to give Marina half of it.  So, I put Jared and Luke in a stroller and took off down the street near our home.

I stopped at a pharmacy to buy something.  They didn’t have change, so I used the last few coins in my wallet  to purchase something I needed and continued on to another store.  I stopped at a corner bakery and tried to buy a few bread rolls that were less than $2 total.  When I presented my $20, the lady shook her head.  She had no change.  I was about to leave the store without buying the bread, when she said something that shocked me.

“Oh, that’s O.K.  Just take the bread.  You can pay me back later.”

When I asked her if she was sure about that, she said, “Oh, I know you’ll be coming back.  Just pay me the next time you are here.”

Well, I left the store feeling a little amazed at her trust, but still needing to get some change.  So, I stopped at another street vendor to buy two pints of strawberries that were worth $2.  The lady also gave me the same response.

She said she had no change, but I could pay her back later. Wow, at this rate, I’m going to be owing everyone money all the way down the street!

Finally, I came to a little stationary store and bought a ball for Jared and a few other items.  The purchase was going to be about $5.  I pulled out my $20, and to my dismay, the lady said she had no change.

However, she looked to a customer who was purchasing something behind me and managed to get the change I needed, from him, to give to me.

Finally, I had my change.  I was able to go back and pay everyone else that I owed money to, and get back home to give the $10 to Marina. I had learned two valuable lessons that day.  First, street vendors are very trusting and generous to their regular customers.  Second, never leave the house without some loose change handy (especially those Sacagewa dollars)!


Author Note: This post was initially written in October of 2009.  Besides updating some of the history behind the use of the U.S. dollar in Ecuador, I have not lived there since June of 2011.

Research shows that there is current questioning among governing authorities as to whether or not the dollarization in Ecuador was the right choice.  There is evidence that there could be a possible de-dollarizing of the economy through the use of electronic currency.  Time will tell how or when these changes might come.

Stephen’s Lessons in Ecuadorian Culture and Language

Stephen’s three weeks of intensive language classes gave him more than just a taste of the Spanish language.  He was also able to go on some “field trips” with his teachers and classmates to some of Quito’s cultural attractions.  Stephen has appreciated being able to learn more about the country in which we have our ministry.  It is especially significant, because we didn’t have the time or opportunities to do much sight-seeing during our first year of living in Quito.  These opportunities have helped enrich Stephen’s cultural experience here.

The first place that his class went was to a wax museum in Quito known as the “Museo Albert Nema Caamaño” of Quito.  He took lots of pictures of the wax figures that were made to represent different historical periods of Ecuador and the diverse people groups that are included within the Ecuadorian borders. 

They also visited a small museum dedicated to the works of Osvaldo Guayasamin.  Guayasamin was a contemporary modern artist whose works became most popular throughout Latin America, although he is also known in Europe.  Stephen was able to see many of his works displayed in the Museo Guayasamin.  If you are interested in seeing his work that focused on abstract representations of human bodies and body parts, you can visit his website: http://www.guayasamin.com

The second field trip that his class took was to the Botanical Gardens of Quito.  Here Stephen got to see some of the interesting and exotic plants that grow in the diverse landscapes of Ecuador.  Although I lived in Quito for nine years of my childhood, I had not really stopped to realize how much diversity there is in the landscape of Ecuador. 

Ecuador boasts of tall mountains and deep valleys.  Its mountainous area has its own dry and spring-like climate and temperature.  If you travel down to the coast, you have a completely different climate that is warm and humid all year long.  The humidity level rises if you head down to the jungle area.  The climate there is even warmer and muggier than the coast.  And finally, if you travel away from the mainland, you will find the Galapagos Islands with an island climate different from the rest of the country.

With special care, the Botanical gardens are able to maintain plants from each of these climates. Stephen had fun taking pictures of many flowers and plants that he found to be interesting.

Once Stephen’s three week intensive course was finished, he was left to practice his Spanish on his own, and to do his own sight-seeing.  However, he was also given an opportunity to join a Spanish class field trip to some other museums in the city.

They visited the same wax museum that Stephen had been to before.  From there, they traveled toward Quito’s “Old Town” area to visit some of the old Catholic churches that had been build there in the 16th century. Located in the main plaza, each church boasts of fine silver and gold inlaid into its architecture.

The largest church is called the San Francisco church. According to GoogleEarthHacks.com, the church was built in the 16th century and was known as the “richest” church in South America for many years.  The gold is specifically found in its altar room where the walls are coated in Inka-Gold from floor to ceiling.  However, they were not able to visit that church because of renovations taking place to restore and maintain the ancient structure.

They were able to visit the church known as La Compañia.  It is known as “The Gold Church” because it has one ton of gold layered within the walls from the main entrance to the altar area. 

The sad thing is that some of the poorest in Ecuadorian society sit in front of these churches to beg.  All it would take is a little chip off the walls inside the building to completely change the economic situation for these people.

One Step Closer: A Ph.D. update

As the month of September came to an end, so did Cristina’s preparation time for the written exams on her Ph.D. in Communications. 

The written exams were scheduled for Friday, October 3 from 10am to 12pm and from 1pm to 3pm.  When I took my comprehensive in January and February of last year, I had to study for seven different sections within my program.  I passed five and failed two.  Therefore, I was only studying for the two sections I failed. 

A tired Cristina Meier prepares to take her written exams with coffee in hand to stay awake.

A tired Cristina Meier prepares to take her written exams with coffee in hand to stay awake.

I talked to my professors on Tuesday, September 29 (which also happened to be my birthday) and they gave me a proverbial kick in the pants to get me motivated in the right direction during my final days of study.

Somehow, I managed to get everything that I had crammed into my head, during my study hours, down on paper.  Two weeks after my written exams, I had an oral examination scheduled.  I was to get a conference call on Friday, October 16 at 2:30pm.

I was so nervous that day. I had already begun to start planning for my options if I did fail this exam.  When my professor called 15 minutes late, I had already told my proctor that he should go do something else and I would call him when the examination began.  So, I asked my professor to wait a second for me to get my proctor.

“Oh, you don’t need your proctor,” my professor told me. 

“What?  Why don’t I need my proctor.”

“Because you passed.”

I almost passed OUT right then and there.

“Really?  Are you just teasing me or are you being real?”

He was serious.  He told me that my written exams were so much better than last semester that he really didn’t need to ask me anything else.

However, my other two teachers wanted to ask me some questions, so they tortured me for the next 20 minutes before they agreed that I had passed my qualifying exams and I could now officially begin writing my dissertation.

This has been a huge milestone for me.  I know I still have a lot of work ahead of me (especially if I want to graduate in May of 2010), but I’m so glad that I overcame this hurdle.  I am looking forward to working with my advisor on my dissertation topic of studying the ‘third-culture’ kid of the 21st century.

An 80th Anniversary Event

If I could find a time machine, I might be tempted to travel back to November 3, 1929, when the doors opened for the first day of school at the fledgling missionary school that would come to be known all over South America as “La Academia Alianza.” 

The Alliance Academy International (http://www.alliance.k12.ec) has seen many changes take place its eighty years of existence.  We are excited to be a part of this ministry during this time in which we have the opportunity to commemorate the past 80 years of academic school years that have taken place within the school. 

The school began as many missionary schools do.  A group of missionaries with the mission known as “Christian and Missionary Alliance” (CMA) were concerned about the quality of education that their children were receiving and wanted to start a school where their children could get the education they needed to attend a college of their choice.  The couples organized a classroom atmosphere in one of the rooms of the Alliance Mission House on Cuenca street in downtown Quito, and that is how eight students became the first alumni of the Alliance Academy.

One of the interesting ways in which history comes full circle is that I (Cristina Meier) am currently teaching the great-grandson of the one of those first students.  I taught him last year as an eighth grader in Computer 8 and now he is also in my High School keyboarding class as a freshman.

The school was known simply as the Alliance Academy back then.  They occupied the Mission House classroom for 10 years until they were able to afford property across the street from another strong mission in Quito known as HCJB radio.  For the next 60 years, they have been building, expanding and finding new ways to use the property. 

One of the biggest changes the school faced was in the past 10 years.  CMA decided to pull its foreign missionaries out of Quito and leave their projects primarily to their national staff.  What this meant for the school was a huge turn over in faculty and staff.  Those CMA missionaries who wished to stay on were required to find a new mission to support them.  Some of those missionaries did that, while others decided to go home or another country to continue their ministry elsewhere.

The school itself was turned over to the Ecuadorian ministry of Education.  This meant that the school was no longer exempt from Ecuadorian national laws and had to comply to their standards of education.  The school also began to see a change in its student body. It is slowly becoming less of a missionary school and more of an international school with a strong Christian influence within its curriculum.  More Ecuadorian students are now attending the school than ever before.  More than 50% of the student body in the secondary school is from some Latin American origin. 

The school also modified its name to be called “Alliance Academy International,” in order to move away from the mission name of Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Although many big changes have taken place, this is still the school that I remember attending from eight grade to my senior year.  Some of the same lockers, furniture and equipment is still being used.  Last year, I taught Journalism using the same textbooks I had used as a student.  I was shocked to find the book with my own name still in it! 

I was excited when we were finally able to purchase new Journalism text books this year that better reflect Journalism of the 21st century.

As the month of October draws to an end, I am looking forward to the special days of celebration to take place in mid-November.  There will be a special chapel for all the secondary students on Friday, November 13.  One of the former principals of the high school, Dan Egler, will be the guest speaker.  He has a special place in my heart, because he was my principal during the years that I was a high school student at AAI.  This will be followed by a weekend of alumni events.  We are all hoping that many alumni will come back and reconnect with the school of their past. 

And we are looking forward to many more years of academic success at the Alliance Academy International.

Becoming Bilingual at Two

One of the amazing things about two-year-olds is the speed in which they learn new things.  Jared continues to astound me with his level of comprehension of the world around him and his ever increasing vocabulary.

Jared pushes Luke in his stroller

Jared pushes Luke in his stroller

Jared is now two years and three months old.  He has definitely reached the full flower of toddlerhood and all of its glory.  He is the typical two-year-old who wants to be held and cuddled one moment, and then wants to do everything “by Jared self” the other.  And he’s a very possessive brother in his relationship to Luke.

The moment I put Luke in the stroller, Jared wants to push the stroller alone…even though the stroller handles still reach over his little head.  If I try to help him push, he’ll push my hands away and tell me, “No! No, Mamma help….Jared help.”

Of course, Jared’s language tends to get a little mixed up between what he is hearing in English and Spanish.  He usually speaks to Stephen and I in English and speaks a mixture of the two with Marina, the lady who cares for our children while I’m teaching classes. 

He’ll form sentences like “Esto is my auto.” (Which is a combination of the languages to say, “This is my car.”

When he plays with his playdough or rice, he calls them “masa” and “arroz.” That is probably because I usually don’t pull out those toys unless he’s going to be spending some time with Marina.  He also has a little sandbox full of “arena” (the Spanish word for “sand.”

One day I heard him telling her that the cat says “meow, meow” in Spanish.  He’s not quite figured out that there is a difference between the two languages.  Sometimes he’ll stubbornly refuse to call an object by both its Spanish and English name and will want to use just one or  the other.

Jared likes to see his cars roll down the front walk way to our home.

Jared likes to see his cars roll down the front walk way to our home.

He still can’t pronounce the hard “C” or “K” sound.  That creates a whole list of cute phrases that bring smiles to our faces.  His brother Luke is now called “Baby Oot.”  When he wants cookies, he’ll say, “Jared want tooties, please.” One of his babysitters is “Kristina” and he’ll call her “Thirstina.”

He’s a talkative boy with a strong desire to repeat everything he hears.  Stephen was flipping through channels one day and stopped on a channel where a lady was randomly screaming, “Stop it! Stop it!”  Jared went running around the house repeating that phrase for the next several minutes.  Ever since then, he’s known to tell his Mamma to “stop it” if she is tickling him too much. 

Although we don’t know when he’ll learn how to pronounce everything correctly, we do know one thing.  Jared is not going to be a shy boy as he grows up.

Luke Becomes Mobile

Luke enjoys the sunshine and grass

Luke enjoys the sunshine and grass

In the past two weeks, Luke has gone from being a sitter to being a crawler. I have been forgetting to mention this monumental accomplishment in the midst of trying to pass my Ph.D. exams.

However, it has happened. Luke knows how to crawl now and is using his new found mobility to propel him across the room to destinations that might not always be good for him. The other day, I found him dumping all the trash out of the living room trash can. Another time, I found him chewing on a piece of a poster that he had ripped off a wall.

Even though Jared is only 17 months older than Luke, he has long since past the stage of wanting to stick everything in his mouth or pull things off of shelves. Now it’s time to move things back up to unreachable shelves until Luke is old enough to be leave things along. This past weekend, we finally removed the bassinette from his Graco Pack’n Play, because he was starting to pull himself up into a standing position that was precariously close to causing an accidental spill from the side of the crib. I think he is still adjusting to sleeping in the bottom of the Pack’n Play instead of hovering above it in his little bassinette.

It is hard to believe that this little boy was a new born nine months ago and that he will be 10 months old on the 5th of November. It is neat to watch Jared and Luke play together.

Sometimes, Jared is a little bossy, but he does like to help Mamma keep Luke from getting into things that he shouldn’t. Sometimes I’ll hear Jared saying “Baby, don’t do that!” and then I’ll find Luke chewing on something that he shouldn’t chew on.

I guess that’s what big brothers are for, right?