Monday, January 12, 2009

Knowing Quito

I have been driving around Quito for five days. I bought a map and have started to pencil in the places I have been in an effort to familiarize myself with the city. The city is very long and narrow, sandwiched in a valley with huge mountains enveloping it. The peaks are shrouded in clouds. There are days when the sky is clear and the tops of the mountains are visible. That has not happened this trip. Many of these mountains are active volcanoes and have rumbled over the years. Guayasamin painted some views of Quito. The most remarkable picture reveals a sleepy sprawling town oppressed by mountains and menaced by red flames, red sky, red clouds. Beautiful and unsettling. I worry about earthquakes and volcanoes spewing and being unable to flee. I imagine Pompeii and Vesuvius and being covered in ash. The apartments I was looking at were all in tall buildings. I asked about fire alarms and there were none. I asked about earthquake safe technology and all I got was blank looks. I asked about sprinkler systems in case of fire and I was told that because of the altitudes there was a very low incidence of fires in Quito and in La Paz, Bolivia. Very reassuring.

My anxieties revealed themselves in my dreams. I dreamed that I was compelled to participate in a terrorist organization, that I disappeared from the life I knew and could not contact my family, that I tried to be found but could not, that finally I contacted a family  member and went to the police to tell them what I knew and saw a familiar bomb in a briefcase ticking at the police station. I got everyone out of the office, but the bomb followed us and then the terrorist group arrived and then I woke up and could not fall back asleep. I realized that I have many fears about this adventure far away from all that is familiar.

We woke up early to return to one of the earlier schools we visited. Maya was to have testing to determine her level and which class she would be most appropriate for. I was surprised that she spent two and a half hours doing extensive psychological testing and only an hour of academic testing. She seemed quite comfortable with the ordeal. I had hoped to have wireless internet, but I read my book "Culture Shock Ecuador", which was an unfortunate choice. Page after page details the dangers of living here. One can expect to be robbed, mugged, carjacked, taken advantage of, forced to pay off police, involved in corruption, the list goes on. One must be ready to move from yellow to orange to red alert! When I ran this by my Ecuadorian hosts, they disagreed vehemently, and made efforts to reassure me. I am not sure who to believe, but Isabel's perspective suits me: expect others to behave badly and that is what you experience. Expect the best from others and your experience will most likely meet your expectations. She said it much better than that and in Spanish and she had the last word. 

More schools for the afternoon. Terranova was an impressive new and growing school, but entirely taught in English, so not exactly what I want. SEK was a larger and well known international school with a big swimming pool which was a hit with Maya. More ballet and music academies (Maya wants to continue her eight hours of ballet a week and is an amazing violinist, so I want her to maintain her skills while here) and more driving and more traffic. So many cars, so much congestion. I find the traffic exhausting. I look forward to not driving while living here, but that may not be realistic. 

The group came back from Galapagos with wonderful stories. Everyone was tanned (or burned) and full of enthusiasm. They saw huge turtles and dolphins and penguins and sea lions and albatrosses and hawks and boobies and more. I look forward to my next visit to the Galapagos. My husband has been there ten times and is less than thrilled about going, having seen everything there is to see there. He is much more excited about the jungle and will be spending another week after the group leaves at Sacha and at Yasuni doing his research on electric fish. I think he is very lucky to have a job which enables him to pursue such adventures. 

Our lecture tonight was about the 'Sixth Extinction'. there have been five grand extinctions since life began on earth and the last hundred years or so have been characterized by another one. Species are disappearing at alarming rates and the end of life as we know it is not impossible. Of course, humans are the cause of this amazing rate of extinction, and more than likely, at this rate, humans will be extinct in 3000 years and this may give the rest of the species on earth a chance to survive and perhaps another intelligent species will rise and take better care of the earth than we have. I was horrified and am now horribly depressed. 

Off to the jungle tomorrow. 

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