October 27, 2009
Weather: Moderately cloudy, cool
Nothing much seems to have happened in the last week. It's all been re-adjusting to city life and school with the other half of the group back with us.
It's wonderful to have mi prima, Antonia, walk with me to school every day. My Aunt Olga lives on Paseo de los Canaris, the next street from me, so it's perfect. Walking takes about 20 minutes. It would take much less but a wicked hill on my street, Cacique Chaparra, knocks the breath out of me. I can feel myself adjusting to the altitude. This week I'm not nearly as out of breath at the top of it. The other challenge is simply crossing roads. I know I've discussed that in the past. I never get sick of walking by the incredible mountains in the historic district.
School is the same, mas o menos. Sometimes, I just want to cry in class—and then I do. I've never broken down quite so much in public as I have in that class. Just the fact that Jess, Kara, and Brittany have all had literally years of Spanish under their belt leaves Shannon, Megan, Angela, and I to stare at each other in white confusion at the jumble of syllables mumbled from the others.
Today, our professor sent us down the street to a building that used to be a convent, which is now a museum (where my cousin Letty works, who is, by the way, the only black I've seen in Cuenca so far) to interview the curator for our Day of the Dead projects. Mine is comparing how other South American countries celebrate compared to Ecuador. In the poorest Spanish she'd probably even heard, I muttered a shockingly simple question, and she answered—after I'd repeated it a few times in different orders.
The few words I did understand helped me piece together what I thought she was talking about, which was later confirmed by Brittany. The curator, a striking woman, was dressed monochromatically in all dark brown and had constrained her black hair into a solitary knot above her pointed brows. Her deep raspy voice explained to us how Ecuadorians use herbs to keep away bad spirits, how they believe the spirits of the dead would watch over them, and how the graves were visited and cleaned every year. I thought she vaguely resembled a bruja.