Bringing Voting to the 21st Century

When we were visiting the civil registration office in centralQuito, I didn’t understand why it took so long to get Grace’s paperwork.  Later, I discovered that the country was getting their citizens ready for their annual election with the use of new technology.  Just as drivers’ licenses, passports and other identification documents have become digitalized, so have the Ecuadorian registration papers. 

When we were in the office, there were many Ecuadorian citizens there getting their registration cards redone, so that they would contain the digitalized image that could be scanned into a machine.  Although everyone got sick in the process of getting Grace’s papers done, I’m glad that we completed that process in early April.  If not, we would have been stuck in line with all the people trying to get their registration I.D. done before the elections.

Ecuadorians are required to vote or pay a fine.  For a while, it was understood that all Ecuadorian citizens needed the new digital registration card in order to vote this year. However, my nanny told me that she didn’t have time to go get her registration card done and thought she could vote with the old card.  The nurse who was checking on Grace said the same thing.

Fortunately for them, they were able to use their old cards.  On May 14, all citizens of the country got to vote on changes being made inEcuador’s Constitution.  By the end of the election process, the “yes” votes once.

As for me, I won’t worry about the vote outcome.  I’ll just take my two registration cards fromEcuador.  Luke’s card has the old non-digital card and Grace has the new one.  And that’s the way it is going to stay for a while.

Girls Come Early

Everyone knows that there are old wives tales about pregnancy and raising children.  I heard many during my first pregnancy with Jared, and continued to hear them when I was pregnant with Luke and now with little Grace. 

However, there are certain things I have heard only here in Ecuador.  Perhaps they are not exclusive to this country.  I just know I haven’t heard them in the U.S.

So, here is a short list that I will try to add to as I hear more.

1) Girls Come Early

Actually, the first place I heard this was in my pediatrician’s office in Quito, when I took Luke in for his two-year appointment.  It was the secretary who told me this.  I just smiled and nodded at her.  I didn’t want to sit there and give her a list of all the baby girls I know who were born past their due dates.  First example is…me.  My mom told me that I was born over a week late of my due date.

Our nanny told me the same thing the other day…that this baby would be born earlier because she’s a girl.  But then after talking some, she revealed that neither one of her daughters were born early of their due dates.  However, she still believes the saying in Ecuador that girls are born before their due dates and boys are born after their due dates.   Hmmm….

2) Eggs should only be fed to children in the morning

I remember the first nanny we had would not give Jared a snack of scrambled eggs after a certain point in the morning.  She stated that it was bad for one’s health to eat eggs in the afternoon and evening. But then, I guess she’s never been to the countries that serve egg products as part of lunch and dinner meals.

3) The Magical Cure to Any Ailment: Manzanilla Tea

The herb known as “manzanilla” is translated “chamomile” in English.  So, yes…the Ecuadorians drink a lot of chamomile tea.  In the hospitals, they call it “aromatic” and ask if you want pure water or “aromatic” when you ask for something to drink.  They will use this tea for all sorts of reasons.  They say this tea will cure stomach problems, help babies with colic, help decongest someone with a bad sinus or chest cold, aids digestion, helps to make you thinner and many more.

*Note: My pregnant brain can’t remember any more at the moment.  I will add more when I can think of them later

A Census Worth Remembering

Luke is really excited about putting up the tree lights.

Perhaps it was the upcoming Christmas season, but I couldn’t help but think of the national 10 year census in the country of Ecuador in light of another national census taken many, many years ago in the Europe and Asia.

Luke 2:1-5 (NIV)

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.” 

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”

Well, I’m glad that census-taking has become a little more sophisticated in the 21st century, but I still wonder about the decisions made by Ecuador’s political leaders in deciding how to do a national census.  I don’t know if the census was done in the same way ten years ago, but this time around they decided to “volunteer” the middle and high school students from all the Ecuadorian public schools to participate as census takers.  They actually gave the students several days off from classes so that they could be trained properly in the method of gathering census information.

The plan was to send all these students out on one day to gather the census data while everyone else stayed in their homes “waiting to be counted.” Each student would be assigned a specific sector of the city in which they lived and a police officer would accompany them all day as they made their rounds to different homes. 

Perhaps that seems strange to societies in which a dependable, mail-service system is in place.  In the United States, the national census is always conducted through a mailed “form” being sent to select homes.  Some homes get a short form and others get a “long form” in which they seem to be asked all kinds of strange questions about their home and property.  In Ecuador, the post office system is anything but reliable.  Mail is lost on a regular basis.  Any valuables are at risk of being stolen, even by the post office employees themselves.

Regardless of how the census data is collected, there is always a certain amount of controversy about the questions asked and how the collected data will be used.

The day scheduled for the 2010 Ecuadorian national census was the final Sunday of November; which was November 28.  Businesses were required to stay closed that day.  No church could hold a service.  No one was to leave their homes on that day unless they had special permission (a.k.a. if they were a police officer, hospital employee or a guard. Stephen and I received a little paper in our mailbox from a middle school student attending the nearby military academy.  Little Alex said he would be coming by our home on November 28, and he requested that we wait there for him. 

That day was the final day of our Thanksgiving vacation.  Since we had nowhere else to go, we spent the day putting up the Christmas tree and decorating our home for the holidays.  At about 4:30 in the afternoon, we received a call that our little census taker was on school property and that he would visit us after he talked to another couple who lived in the same building. 

An hour later, we received another phone call from the school guard saying that the boy had already left because he ran out of time.  So, we never got counted as part of the census. 

Jared and Luke help put the limbs on our artificial Christmas tree.

A 24 hour Upheaval in Ecuador

Link to a recent CNN article:

On the morning of Thursday, September 30, I woke up a little earlier than normal and was busy trying to plan out the rest of my day, having little clue of how those plans were going to change in the next few hours.

I was trying to prepare myself to teach my third period class an entire hour earlier than normal.  This week was Spiritual Emphasis Week for our secondary students (seventh through twelfth grades) and the morning schedule had been rearranged to allow for a longer chapel session directly before lunch that ran from 11am to 12:10.  My third period class for Thursday and Friday was scheduled for 8:45am, when I ordinarily teach it at 9:40.

I was not looking forward to it.  I had not been getting enough sleep all week.  By the time my class ended at 9:25, I knew that I was going to be sick if I did not lie down and rest for a bit.  I thought about the fact that faculty and staff members were “highly encouraged” to attend the chapel events, but I didn’t think I would make it through my afternoon classes if I didn’t get some rest that morning.  So, I went home and took a little nap, waking up shortly before noon.

I groggily came out of my bedroom to help the nanny get Jared and Luke and little Isabella ready for lunch and their afternoon naps.  I also had a lunch meeting with some students that I needed to prepare for. 

My thoughts were interrupted by a series of 10 bells ringing out from the speakers placed all aroundcampus. Sonia continued with her duties while I listened to the voice of the director of the school announce that he was beginning the emergency evacuation drill and that all students needed to go pick up their things and be ready to leave campus.

My first thought was, “Why are we having a drill right before lunch time?  We didn’t even get an e-mail to prepare us for this.” 

Then I began trying to explain the process of preparing for an evacuation drill to Sonia, because this was her first experience with it.  I told her that this was only a practice drill and that she needed to take the three children to the back corner of the room until we received further notice of where we should go. 

Just as I was  finishing explaining the evacuation procedures, I heard the director announce again that all secondary students whose parents did not work for the U.S. embassy needed to go to their 6th period classes and that their teachers should meet them there. 

I felt confused as my heart pulled me in two different directions.  I didn’t want to leave Sonia and the kids to figure out what to do by themselves, but I did have a group of 10 students who would be waiting for me to show up in the computer lab.  I also felt annoyed by what I still thought was just a procedural practice drill to prepare us for real situations in the future.

I asked Sonia if she had her cell phone with her, and she said that she didn’t bring it to work with her that day because she had lent it to someone.  After a few minutes, I promised Sonia to call her on the house phone and let her know what she should do next.

Then I scurried off to my sixth period class. 

As I walked down the hallway, through the secondary locker area and toward the building where my class was, I saw different scenes that seemed strange and unusual.  Students were gathering items from their lockers as if they were getting ready to leave.  Some students were with their parents.  There was a general sense of confusion in the air. 

I arrived in my classroom to find my students and another teacher who was trying to cover for me until I arrived.  The first thing I heard was her voice as she argued with the students not to listen to rumors but to wait and find out what was really going on.  Some of the students were asking if they were going to die, if there was a bomb in the school, or if some other natural disaster was about to occur. 

I was told by the teacher that I was supposed to stay in the classroom until each of the students were picked up and taken home by their parents.

That was the first moment that I really began to realize that this was not just an ordinary drill.  Something was happening.  The first thing I did was call Sonia and told her to start feeding the kids, because they wouldn’t be going anywhere.  The connection was bad, so I didn’t bother explaining the situation.

I followed this with a call to Stephen to find out what was going on and what I was supposed to be doing with the students in my charge.  He came up and explained that parents were currently being notified and that they were supposed to come and pick up their kids and take them home as soon as possible.

“A student cannot leave unless his name is called over the loud speaker or if a parent arrives with a notice from the office saying that the child is free to go with them,” Stephen told me.  

I looked at my watch.  It was nearly 12:40pm.  I looked at my students.  One student was out sick and one other student has been picked up by his mom.  That left me with nine students to supervise.

My head started to swim as I realized that I was getting hungry and I had no idea how long I would be up here with these students.  Some of them were worried that their parents would not be able to pick them up because they lived outside of the city. 

Then a new thought jolted my brain.

“Is this thing affecting the Alliance Academy only, or all schools in Quito?” I asked Stephen.

After he told me that all schools in the city were being shut down, I suddenly thought of the nanny.  Sonia Yanchapaxi has two teenage daughters attending schools in Quito.  One is an eighth grader and the other is twelfth grade.  She had no idea what was going on, because she didn’t have her cell phone. 

I told Stephen that I had to get home as soon as possible and let her know that she had to take care of her own kids.  After he found someone to take over my class, I rushed home in time to find Sonia calmly trying to put my boys down for their nap, oblivious to the sounds of various students names being blasted over the loud speaker intermittently telling them to go to the office or meet their parents at one of the entrances to the school.

“This was a bad day to forget your cell phone,” I told her. 

Her eyes got big as I explained the evacuation situation happening across the city and that it had to do with some kind of rioting going on in the city. I gave her my cell phone so that she could start calling her family members and took over the job of getting the boys settled down for their nap. 

Meanwhile, Isabella’s mom came to take her home.  By the time the boys were asleep it was 1pm.  Sonia told me that the police force was on strike at that there were bands of thieves taking advantage of the situation to rob banks and other local businesses.  A couple of malls had also been attacked that very morning. 

“My husband closed his shop, because the police aren’t doing anything to stop these thieves,” she told me. 

Businesses all across Quito had already closed at some point that morning and schools were officially told to close at noon by the ministry of Education. 

After I let Sonia leave to meet up with her husband and daughters, I spent the rest of the afternoon looking at the local television news to figure out what was going on.  That was when I realized what had started at approximately 8am that morning.  Watching images of people rioting on the television, made the situation seem as it was thousands of miles away. As I watched, I heard the director make more announcements over the loudspeakers.  By 2:30 all the students had been picked up by their parents.  Then there was an announcement that school would be closed on Friday.  In the end, there was silence across campus.  The only action happening was on the television screen.

In the end, the news could come out that the president had been kidnapped and sequestered in a hospital building for the whole day.  I have actually been in that building in the past, because it is adjacent to the hospital building were Luke was born and I used their civil registration office to get Luke’s paperwork done.

Throughout the day, a group of rioters came out to protest what the police were doing and a group of rioters (who agreed with the police) came out to protest the president’s new law.  Those who were involved in these riots were the ones at risk of injury or death.  For the rest of the population, who went home and stayed out of the way, they stayed safe.  For those who were in the center of Quito, trying to leave the city, they faced a few challenges and obstructions in the way of rioters burning tires. The rescue of the president, late that Thursday evening, signaled the end of the riot at the cost of the lives of two police officers. 

By Friday morning, there was no trace left of the event.  I took a taxi through the center of the city to do my grocery shopping and nothing on the street could give me any indicators of what had happened the day before.  The only big difference was the amount of people shopping with my on a Friday morning.  Typically, it is very quiet at that time.  That day, however, the store was packed to capacity.  The lines behind the check out counters curved around the back of the front isle to accommodate the 6 to 10 different people standing at each counter. I think it took me 45 minutes standing at the front of the store, before I reached the check out counter myself. 

Now, it is the weekend and it looks like the situation that had been created such tension and distress for a few hours, has settled into a dust of recovery.  I am guessing that school will be back in session on Monday, as the police force is doing their best to gain back the  trust of the people and hope that they will not be among the group of officers who are “purged” from their jobs for the actions that took place on the last day of September.

As for me, I am grateful to be living in a place where we remained virtually untouched by the turmoil around us.

Signs I’ve only seen in Ecuador

Although I’m an American citizen by birth and nationality, I have lived most of my live outside of the United States.  Nevertheless, I can safely say that there are certain things that I’ve found astonishing or hilarious while living in Quito, Ecuador.  I never noticed them when I lived here as an adolescent, but I’m definitely noticing them now.  So, let me share with you some signs I’ve only seen in this country.  If you’ve seen something similar in the U.S., please let me know. I would love to hear a comparison.

(Note: I’ve translated these signed into English, but they appeared first in Spanish). 

#1 – Please show your level of education when you use this urinal. 
Comment – Hmmm…it must take a certain level of education to know how to flush a toilet properly or how to dispose of toilet paper.  I wonder what they expect of those who have their master’s degree or Ph.D.? 

#2 – This ice cream treat consists of vanilla flavored vegetable grease and covered with chocolate.
Comment – Yummm…I’m sure this advertisement strategy would not work in the U.S. Or perhaps there is a certain group of people out there just dying for a taste of “vanilla flavored vegetable grease.” 

#3 – Please decide what item you wish to pull out before you open the door.
Comment – This sign was posted on the door of the frozen food section in the grocery store.  I’m guessing they’ve had trouble with people just opening the freezer door and standing there for hours staring at all the rows of frozen vegetables and microwave dinners. 

#4 – When you go shopping, think “Ecuador” first.
Comment – This is actually one of the slogans that belong to a political campaign against imported goods.  The current presidential administration is trying to encourage people to buy goods that are made in Ecuador instead of buying those are that imported by foreign companies.

As I see more interesting signs, I’ll be sure to update this post.

A Taste in Ecuadorian Nationality

A small replica of the Ecuadorian National Flag
A small replica of the Ecuadorian National Flag

     Although the Alliance Academy International (AAI) has always had a certain number of Ecuadorian citizens, it has not been until recently that they have taken on the civic responsibility to honor the national flag in a common scholarly event known as “Jura a La Bandera.” It literally means “The Pledge to the Flag.” 
On Friday, February 20, Stephen had the opportunity to play a small part in this school-wide ceremony.  The top nine students from the sixth grade class and the high school senior class were selected to participate in the ceremony while other students and their parents came to watch. There were other students who participated from ninth through eleventh grade in carrying in the flags from all the countries represented by the student body.

     According to a letter sent out to parents and teachers, “The reason to celebrate this event is to teach our students civic respect that we should have to Ecuador, where we live; because of this, we would like to point out the following:

a. Ecuadorians are obligated to pledge to the flag.

b. For those who have double nationality, it is optional; they can pledge to the flag or show a sign of respect to the flag

c. Foreigners do not have to pledge to the flag, only show respect.”

      During the event, the sixth graders and twelve graders who participated wore black pants or skirts and white shirts and white kid gloves.   The ceremony began at 2:30pm and ended at 3:30.  Cristina was unable to go, because it was in the middle of Jared’ naptime, and she was at home with the boys.

      Stephen participated in the beginning of the ceremony by giving an invocation prayer.  Stephen commented that this was the only part of the ceremony performed in English.  The rest of the ceremony was done in Spanish. 

      After all the flags were brought into the room, there was a collective “promise” given by both the sixth grade class and the senior class to honor and respect their country and the flag of their country.

     Then all the students from elementary school through high school marched up in rows to honor the flag in the way they saw fit.  For Ecuadorian citizens, this meant actually kissing the flag and saluting it while walking by.  For foreign students, there were roses made available for them to take to the flag and leave there. 

      Although Stephen did not understand much of the language being said, he could understand the sentiments given.  For him, it was a good experience in seeing how Ecuadorians place importance on honoring their nation’s flag.