Monday, December 17, 2012

Aimless Reading: The W's, Part 27 (Edwin Williamson)

The Penguin History of Latin America
Williamson, Edwin
The Penguin History of Latin America


I probably bought this at St. Mark's Books.

Before I left for a volunteer year in Ecuador in the summer of 1994, I realized that I knew next to nothing about the country to which I was about to move. I searched all over for a history of Ecuador, but found nothing. Instead I bought this brief history of the entire region. I read part of it on the flight down, which takes about twelve hours from New York. I read the rest while I was living alone in the volunteer quarters.

I arrived a month earlier than the other volunteers, as I wanted to have some time to practice speaking Spanish before I had to enter a classroom where I would be teaching native speakers how to read and write their own language (I discovered, once the others had arrived, that my Spanish was actually pretty decent compared to most of them. But I was happy to have the time to explore and read and write on my own.)

A woman named Norma cleaned the volunteer quarters and cooked dinner in the evenings for twenty or so people. She was working when I arrived, even though no one else was there. She'd drop by every evening to cook dinner for me. We lived in an apartment in the northern part of Quito called Cotocollao. After dinner, I'd help her do the dishes and we'd share a cup of Nescafe (with boxed milk and tons of sugar) and a few cigarettes. She would tell me about her family and I would tell her about mine. That was where I first learned to have conversations in Spanish.

There was a small library of VHS cassettes and books left behind by previous volunteers. After Norma departed for the evening, I would usually watch a video. There was no rhyme or reason to the collection. There were teen movies from the eighties but also sixties-era socially-minded films like Patch of Blue, starring Sidney Poitier. I think I watched all of them before the other volunteers arrived. Once they did, we mostly watch television shows on tape. One volunteer's mother taped every episode of Seinfeld for a couple of years and sent them all. We must have watched each episode five times before the year was up.

Lots of memories of Ecuador suddenly bubbling up...I'll continue this tomorrow.

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