December 27, 2012

Elf Party

I've had this idea in the back of my mind since last June - I wanted to use the mountains of fabric scraps to make Christmas toys for poor kids in Quito.

bags full of scraps
Last December, I volunteered an afternoon with an organization called UBECI that works with kids who's parents work on the street (e.g. ice cream sellers, fruit vendors, garbage collectors). The kids were amazing - so cute and ready to play. They don't get much of a chance to be a kid because after a certain age, they're expected to work with the family to earn a living.

If the parents could, they would put their kids in school, but they simply can't. They scrap by earning $1-2 a day so that they can afford the spot where they sleep in an apartment filled with other people.

So anyway, the custom here is to give bags of candy to the kids for Christmas and we helped with that last year. But I felt like we could do something more long-lasting, to give these kids something that will let them just be kids. I got a few friends together and we made stuffed animals and creatures out of my fabric scraps.

The girls hard at work cutting out the patterns

The turners and stuffers (and me with my back turned)
In the end, we made 39 toys, no small feat considering most of my friends didn't know how to thread a needle. I still have quite a bit of scraps left so I'm thinking about making some more toys to distribute later.

A cute little elephant
Our fleet of turtles... 
and their painted bellies
A few owls
Greg and I made this frog and cat afterwards
I gave the toys to the organization this last week and they were so happy to get them. The director told me they have 500 kids who come to their programs so they can't give every kid a toy, but they will hand them out to one of the smaller groups right after Christmas.

I hope I can do something similar every year. I feel like there's so much poverty here (and so many good organizations trying to fit it) so the best thing I could do was to get some people together for an afternoon of crafting for a good cause.

The final pile of toys

December 20, 2012

Handmade in Ecuador

In the US, having something handmade is a treat and usually comes at the higher price range. Here in Ecuador it's not quite the same. There are still the higher-end handmade things made with nicer materials. But you can also find handmade items that aren't unique - they're just handmade because it's hard to find them commercially otherwise or they're much more expensive commercially.

For example, a friend of ours went to a carpenter's workshop with a picture of a table and bench-style seating she wanted in her new home. She may have been able to find something in a store that would have been similar for a much higher price. Instead she chose to go with a local carpenter and have a table custom-made. When we visited with her, she thought the table might be too high and was going to call the same carpenter to come in and saw down the legs for her. And that's normal here.

Labor is cheap here. The minimum wage is $360 a month for people who are employees, not working on their own. That's $1.50 an hour. I'm not sure what the standard hourly wage is for most self-employed people, but have heard that people survive on as low as $1-$2 a day (although they barely do so). But there are a lot of self-employed people here. Movers, painters, house cleaners, delivery services, dog walkers, etc. are all low-paying jobs.

It's a different topic to get into the fact that these workers should be paid a decent living wage so I'm not going to get into it here. But what I've learned from being here is that I can make a small change, but the Ecuadorian society and economy as a whole will have to improve to make long-lasting changes.

My way of dealing with the low prices is not bargaining if I think that the price reflects that marketplace. If I think a price is truly unfair or someone is trying to take advantage of me being a gringa, I simply won't buy the item. That's one nice thing about being a semi-local: you know what the prices of different items should be and when someone is just ripping you off (especially helpful with taxis around here) since not much is labeled with a price in the markets.

December 16, 2012

Holidays in Ecuador

The holidays don't feel as weird this year as they did last year. After all, last year was the first year we weren't in a cold climate for the holidays. We've always grown up with the holidays being chillier and snowier than other times of year. Quito doesn't have any of that - it's nicer in December (sunnier, less rainy) than in October or November so we get awesome weather for the holidays. For example, we helped a friend decorate a paper tree yesterday and after that, we went into the backyard and played lawn games in t-shirts and shorts/skirts. It was sunny and just warm enough, but not too warm.

Getting ready for the holidays is tough when there's no weather clues. People have an easier time here decorating palm trees than pine trees because the pines here get really dried out, as we learned from friends. Because we don't celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah is our big holiday during December normally. This year we lit the menorah that my grandma gave us almost every night - we always seem to forget one or two nights if we're out too late. We made latkes and sufganiot, both fried foods, to celebrate. Greg found a new sufganiot recipe (not Martha Stewart's) that we will be using every year from now on. It was amazing! We shared it with our friends and they were a big hit.

Soon we'll be in Cuenca for the week - we've exchanged our house with our cat sitters' house and are excited to be in a new city that we've heard so much above. Stay tuned for more!

December 6, 2012

Head in the Clouds

Clouds make the mountains almost disappear
At 9,500 feet/2895 meters, we literally have our heads in the cloud. And we're able to get some really awesome photos because the clouds are so vibrant. Some days we can see the fog rolling in from an opening in the hills to the south of us. It slowly covers the whole city, even us.

A sunset
One of few rainbows we have seen
Cold front (Greg's title)
And speaking of clouds, this is one of Greg's favorite videos about how much a hurricane weighs (by Robert Krulwich).