Thursday, September 28, 2006

Living Situation In Quito

I live a short walk from the Habitat for Humanity Ecuador office, in an area which is considered the more modern part of Quito.

is a very looong city, and I am in the northern region. Quito is in a valley (or actually, many valleys, but one primary one). As Quito grows is expands along the basins of the valleys

I am sharing an apartment with a 33 year old woman, Francisca, who works at one of the “Fybeca” pharmacies in town. She works a lot and is not at the apartment much. Here’s a pic of the apartment building in which we live, and the view of the city from outside our gate:

This is neighborhood about a street away from where I live:

Here is part of the inside of our apartment:

Here is the part of the house that was most confounding to me when I moved in! The shower water is heated at the point of release; there is no hot water tank.

What is the advantage of this system? We don’t ever run out of hot water.

The disadvantage? There is only so much water the shower can heat at any given point, so the water pressure can only be so high if there is to be hot water. Also, this means that the bathroom sink and kitchen also do not have hot water.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More Santo Domingo Photos

Ok so here are some more of my favorite pics from our week of building in Santo Domingo. Below, the sign that hanging on the house I helped to build.

To the right is Diego, the youngest of Reymundo´s kids. I think this was his first experience with an ipod:-)!

On the left is the house that the other half of the group worked on. The primary difference between the houses was that this one has a cement brick ceiling.

This is Hugo (far left), soon to be the new Habitat for Humanity Ecuador Director, with Reymundo, two of his children, and the "Padre", a polish priest from the local church who blessed the house and the family at the house dedication.

This is Andrea and her baby (Reymundo´s grandchild). I took this picture because it was sooooo different to have young children on the worksite for me, but here it was not weird at all! The kids accompany their father where he builds frequently (as do other children with their fathers).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Building Houses in Santo Domingo

My first full week here in Ecuador I was able to join an international ¨Brigade¨of volunteers building houses with Habitat for Humanity Ecuador in a town called ¨Santo Domingo de Los Colorados.¨ The town is named after an indigenous group ¨los Colorados¨who where called such by the Spaniards because they color their hair red using a local fruit´s seeds.

Below is a photo of the brigade, one house on which we worked (and almost completed), and the family that is moving in this week! This picture was taken immediately following the completed house's dedication (see the chairs to the left). I am second to last on the far right bottom.

I have lots of photos, and I am working on linking albums to this blog... this is just the beginning!

Santo Domingo is one of seven affilates in Ecuador, and is one of the three most prolific in terms of the number of houses being built. Also interesting, the city of approximately 200 thousand is the fastest growing in all of South America.

14 volunteers arrived last Saturday as a Brigade, a group of volunteers, through a program called ¨Global Village¨which is the manner in which international teams of 4 or more persons are sent all over the world to build at other Habitat for Humanity affiliates (also see my links on the right for more information). Along with a one to two week building experience, the volunteers make a donation to Habitat for Humanity International and the local affiliate and participate in cultural activities. The volunteers also participate in social activities for the Habitat families (those moving into the houses) and the community.

In addition to the global village group (2 Northern Irelanders, 11 United States residents, and 1 Puerto Rican) we were joined by two travelers (1 British and the other from New Zealand) bringing the volunteer group to a total of 16.

Starting my experience here with a week-long build was a great kick-off! We worked on two houses and finished one of them. The families help with the building throughout the entire process- this was a bit different from the US where the families have specific ¨sweat equity¨hours, but they do not necessarily do all their hours on their own house, or for the amount of time a house needs to be built. (to the right is "Reymundo" the owner of the house on which I worked)

I was thrown immediately into the position of a translator because the Brigade only had one Spanish speaker and they put each of us at one of the sites. Usually a Habitat rep, Valeria, leads the Brigades and she speaks both English and Spanish. However, she was in Argentina for a Habitat training. None of the Habitat officials (local, or the national office representative, Hugo) spoke English. So, I have now been a translator on a construction site, and at the doctor´s office (I got pretty sick one day and the next day a volunteer from the other site had a concussion).

Reymundo house was somewhat of a special case as he is employed by Habitat in Santo Domingo as a ¨maestro¨( teacher) for other Habitat builds. That meant that on this build, instead of having a Habitat teacher and the homeowner on site, he was serving as both. Reymundo had been working on his house the year before, and would have been working on it for many months (year+?) to come, had we not been able to pitch in last week. He and four of his children (ages 16, 12ish, 10ish and 8) and one grandchild (age 4 months) are moving into the house this week! They had been living ín a house with a dirt floor and with poor conditions for the children in Reymundo´s parents-in-law´s house. The 16 year old daughter quit school four years ago in order to be the mother figure for the other kids.

I have participated in many week-long builds in the United States, in particular through the ¨Collegiate Challenge¨Program, so this was somewhat similar to those experiences. However, the houses are quite different in that we learned to make cement by hand, lay a cement floor by hand, lay cement bricks, and spackle a bathroom and kitchen (well, I was actually sick during the brick laying). Not included in a Habitat House here are: paint, glass windows, or appliances. The houses do have running water and some electricity. Other differences are that, usually, in order for Habitat to build here in Ecuador (and other Latin American countries), the family has to already own their land. In the US, usually the land is part of the interest-free loan cost.

Because in Santo Domingo there are A LOT of squaters, approximately 20 thousand (10 percent!, out of 200 thousand total residents), none of these families are eligible at this point for a full Habitat House. HOWEVER, and this was pretty exciting, Habitat has started a micro-loan program so that families can improve their dwellings and begin to build credit so that they will likely have a decent place to live before the 20 years it takes to own your land. Within the first three months of the micro-loan program in Santo Domingo, there are already over 46 participating families. Quito is also starting a micro-loan program.

During the last fiscal year, Habitat Ecuador had 13 international brigades and several domestic brigades (primarily from churches). There is also a large High School volunteer project-- all students must have 120 hours of volunteer service in order to graduate here! (Habitat is only one of MANY organizations with which the high school students work; because they usually are all volunteering during one or two weeks as groups, it is too difficult to have work for all the students at once).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Delayed Departure for Quito

Despite plans to leave the US on the 28th of August, I only arrived in Quito on September 7th! I had numerous problems in my quest to obtain a visa... and then at the final hour, I did not receive my passport back from the Ecuadorian Consulate.

According to all Ecuadorian Consulates in the US, visitors planning to be in the country for longer than 6 months (90 days as a tourist, plus one 90 day extension) must get some sort of non-tourist VISA. I tried to comply with this as my original plan was to be here for 10 months...

The Ecuadorian Consulate which services New Mexico residents is in Houston, Texas. I planned a trip to this consulate for about 2.5 weeks before my trip. (The consulate said I HAD TO appear in person, and that they were open every day, 9am-3pm).

Habitat for Humanity in Ecuador sent me a packet of documents after I requested them and I prepared by obtaining my certificate of health, police record (0), financial docs, etc. When I arrived in Houston, problems arose almost immediately. I called the consulate to see if there was a preferable time between 9 and 3 for me to appear. The office, however, was going to close early in celebration of the national day of independence, the next day. I was the last person permitted to enter the office that day and my buffer day, friday, was worthless due to the national holiday. The consulate reception, up until I left the office, was still not informing people that they would be closed the next day ¨we´re open every day, 9-3¨ they said... oh, you want to come tomorrow? we´re closed tomorrow¨

The second problem (after the holiday confusion) was that being the first volunteer to need a VISA with Habitat for Humanity (HFH) Ecuador, the office had never prepared the paperwork before. Signitures that needed to be originals were not, seals that needed to be present were not, letters which were supposed to be on letterhead were not. The consulate did not issue the VISA.

I tried to contact HFH Ecuador, along with the help of the US international office and the Latin American office, on Monday because I was still in Texas and was considering extending my stay if we could somehow produce the correct documents. The Consulate said if they could recieve word from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Quito that they had recieved the documents from HFH Ecuador, that they would issue the VISA. We couldn´t get back word from Quito, however, that this would be possible during the week and the international office recommended that I return to NM. I also was able to convince the consulate to let me request the VISA via mail, since they had already seen all of my documents and I had arrived in person. The Habitat office in Quito still only had to bring their documents, with original signatures, to the Ministry of Foriegn Affairs in Quito.

I returned home to Santa Fe and sent all the required documents via express mail (overnight and certified), with a return express mail pre-paid envelope. The Habitat office in Quito assured me and the international office that they would take the documents to the Ministry of Foreign affairs and have them contact the Houston Consulate. Apparently the documents were eventually taken to the Ministry... however, the ministry would not accept them and said they would requrie additional documents which the Habitat Ecuador office said they would not be able to prepare until after the 15th of September.

At this point I had requested that the Houston Consulate send my passport back to me! I wanted to at least make my flight and go for 6 months, or figure out a way to stay once I arrived in Quito. The Houston Consulate told me they were sending the passport on the Tuesday before the Monday I was scheduled to leave. They said they would send it that afternoon (in my pre-paid, express mail envelope). On Friday, I had not received the passport and I called to find out what had happened. They still had not sent it.... but said they would ¨ahorita¨, ¨right now.¨ It was before 3pm and express mail is guaranteed to arrive the next day if it is sent by 3pm (even on a Sunday). I thought it would arrive Saturday... until it did not show up as registered online. On Sunday when I had still not recieved the mail, I had to change my flight. I changed it sufficiently so that if the consulate had still not sent it, that I could ask friends or family in the Houston area to pick it up and send it themselves.

The passport finnally arrived on the Tuesday after my originally planned Monday flight. So... now I am here and ready to share my adventures. I may be in Ecuador for less time than originally planned, due to the lack of VISA... however there will still be plenty to convey.

I now find out that one of the reasons the Ecuador office did not seem to concerned about the possibility of not aquiring the VISA is that Valeria, which whom I will be working most closely, has various friends from other South American Countries, in particular Argentina, who leave and come back to Ecuador every 3 months and that they have now problems. I think this is likely a South American-specific phenomenon for three reasons 1. When I arrived in Quito and told the customs agent that I was going to be in the country for 3 months, she looked at me critically and checked each page of my passport and asked if I had ever been in the country before. I haven´t, so I told her no. After checking each page she stamped my passport. 2. When I visited the consulate in Houston there was a family thre getting the same VISAs which I was trying to obtain. This family told me that they would not be able to return to Ecuador for one year if they did not get their VISAs. 3. The only consistant information which I recieved from any of the consulates was that I COULD NOT obtain a visa while in the country (which remains to be seen, I seem to read information to the contrary in online unofficial sites) and that after 6 months it was required to have a VISA in order to not be given a large fine upon leaving the country.

A few other interesting facts about this adventure--- No one in the Houston Consulate spoke English... it was kindof funny, the first guy looked at my police report and said ¨que es esto¨ (what is this?) even though it is a document that they request and must recieve all sorts of versions every day! (maybe). Also, apparently no one in my volunteer program (which, granted is only about 1.5 years old) has actually obtained a VISA in ANY of the countries where it exists... however obtaining one was listed as one of the required expenses to participate. Everyone else has just been leaving and returning to their countries....