I`ve started making a lot of my own food because I like to cook and it`s usually a lot cheaper than eating out. So far my staples are eggs, tomato, garlic, bread, and cheese. By cheese, I mean an intensely salty, sponge-like, tangy white block that I buy in little plastic bags from the nearest tienda. Most non-Ecuadorians I´ve met scoff at the stuff, but for reasons I can`t pin down-- as with instant coffee and super-processed sugar cookies-- I love it. I also love camarones al ajillo, a dish that`s common even in the hills but that shines on the coast. It´s a pile of rice, a little ensalada of tomatoes and onions or lettuce, and a steamy helping of baby shrimp swimming in garlic sauce. Preferably and usually, as with most dishes on the coast, it`s served with several patacones: green plantains fried, smashed into distinct little patties, and fried again. Con sal, limòn, y un gote de ajì... (Very unfortunately, this computer isn`t letting me upload a photo of said dish. Màs tarde.)
While I was living at the farm, I had the good fortune to eat dinner with two different Ecuadorian families. First, our co-worker and manager of the tree nursery, Esteban, invited all twelve volunteers to his home one Thursday evening. While we toured his parent`s gardens (they make their living from selling whatever produce they don`t use at home-- they also cultivate outdoor flowers to sell, rather than the green-housed and chemical-laden roses that the region supplies to the world market), his mother and adorable grandmother prepared a feast of mote (looks like hominy), rice, papas from the garden, and home-raised roasted chicken topped with fresh ajì and tomato salad. I was worried when Esteban didn`t come to sit with us, instead eating in the doorway, but later found that it`s costumary for the hosts to eat last and constantly attend to guests rather than sitting with them.
Just a couple days later, Edwin, who has been involved with the Fundación for years and continues to help by giving lessons to the volunteers and driving us around to sell produce in the towns nearby, invited us to his daughter Micaela´s nineth birthday party. Only four of us made it, but it ended up being one of the most fun afternoons I`ve had here. We sat and chatted with juice for the first hour or so, and then moved into the garage to all sit around a bigger table. There was Edwin and his wife Maggie, their two young daughters, me and three other volunteers, the volunteer coordinator and his lady friend, three neighbor kids, and Edwin`s sister and her 19-year-old daughter, also Micaela. After singing Happy Birthday in a few languages and munching down dense slices of banana cake, we went outside to play. Cat and mouse, musical chairs, a couple of team competitions, egg tossing, and lots of cracking up brought us to dinner time: roasted rabbit from Edwin`s farm with papas. I hadn`t expected to stay the whole evening, but after dinner we continued to play and hang out, and once night fell we came inside to learn some salsa dancing. I was exhausted by the time Edwin drove us all back to the farm at 10 pm, full and impressed by such unabashed hospitality.