January 2006

Buster died yesterday. He was only 10. He had two slipped discs, one in his back and one in his neck, and could no longer walk. It was a sad day for all who knew him and loved him. After I heard the news, I shared stories about Buster with Meghan. I remembered the time I looked out the lounge window and saw him being chased around the garden by a bumblebee, knocking over the garden table and chairs trying to escape. And the time we came home to find Buster had gone through the dustbin, and had created a huge amount of mess while eating everything he could, including a baby’s used nappy. And the time my mum came home to find Buster had spent the entire day sleeping on her brand new bed, and was so excited to be on it, that he pissed all over the sheets.

Good times.

I arrived in Quito a few days ago. I’m living with a family (well, a 65 year old woman, her 35 year old son, and her very happy dog, who sleeps in the same bed as her!), and I’m taking Spanish lessons everyday for 3 weeks. It costs $9/day to stay with the family, including food and a laundry service, and $6/hour for one-on-one tuition for Spanish lessons. I can’t imagine how expensive this would be in England. The Spanish lessons are definitely needed, as no one speaks English here, I can’t understand Spanish, and all I can do is say, “¡lo siento, soy inglés!”

Quito street vendorsI love noticing the differences here compared to home or the US. Not the little changes I have to make myself, like using bottled water to brush my teeth and putting toilet paper in a bin, but the differences in the streets. The people enthusiastically selling everything from fruit to CD-writing pens on the buses and streets, shouting endlessly in rapid Spanish; the bus drivers’ friends who literally hang off the buses as they’re speeding down the streets, trying to get more people onboard; the kids performing circus acts at red lights trying to make a few cents; the live music in bars, in the streets, and sometimes on the buses; the taxi drivers who stop for no one, even on zebra crossings; the view of mountains from anywhere in Quito; the security guards who protect every shop and building, all equipped with guns and bullets on their belts; and the near-weekly protests in the streets against increasing bus prices, student fees and the ‘free trade agreement’ with the US, which are always broken up with tear gas released by the police.

Yesterday, Meghan’s host family took us to their fungus farm in the countryside. We helped pick and package mushrooms ready to take them to the supermarket. Now I know why you must always wash fruit & vegetables before eating them! There was a little girl on the farm, teaching us how to say the different animals surrounding us on the farm. There were pigs, chickens, dogs, hens, and most farmyard animals. The girl thought it was so funny that her Spanish was better than ours. I just found it funny watching dogs understand Spanish.

After starting out the month by spending a week sharing a room with roaches and mosquitoes, I was glad to arrive in Minnesota and be welcomed into a warm, cosy house. Meghan’s family made me feel like one of the family when I stayed with them for two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s. It was my first Christmas away from home. After 22 years around the same fireplace, I knew it was going to be different this year. It was my first white Christmas.

WalterOn Christmas day Meghan and I built a snowman called Walter. With his open arms, charcoal eyes and Mexican hat, Walter stood proudly in the garden, facing us through the kitchen window, happily embracing the cold. Walter made my Christmas.

My mum had sent me a package for Christmas that had my stocking in it, so it still felt a little like the Christmas I’m used to. Although we didn’t open our presents until 10pm, but that was unusual for everyone. Meghan’s grandmother said, “I’m 82 years old and this is the latest I’ve ever opened my Christmas presents!”

I went skiing for the first time in Minnesota, and loved it. I was jealous of all the little kids who were fortunate enough to have snow every year, and were doing tricks and jumps off snowboard ramps, while Meghan was trying to show me how to put one leg in front of the other and walk.