Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Where I've Been

I found something today that perfectly demonstrates the love/hate relationship that I and many other grad students have with our dissertations:
Particularly because I was so eager to get home, and kind of tired of Ecuador after a year, it's been difficult for me to return mentally to that place to think about the data I collected.

Fortunately I had a great lunch with an old friend last week who has kicked me back into gear, and now I'm actually excited to work on my dissertation! I'm currently working with another colleague to get a session together for the 2011 Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting, which means I need to come up with a paper to present. I've also decided to go ahead and try to beat the Mr. to the finish line of the dissertation writing experience. Maybe we can get there together and put this grad-student life behind us!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Drowning in Documents

In preparation (or is it procrastination?) for getting started on writing the dissertation I've decided that I need to organize my electronic files in some sort of bibliographic software. The goal is to know what I have so that I can figure out what I'm missing and then know what I need. Simple enough, right?

I began the process of converting my physical library into an electronic one before when moved to Wales in 2007, since I knew I'd need to write grant proposals while all my books were packed away into storage. The work that I put in then (hours and hours of scanning) have paid off in two ways: 1) My entire academic library fits onto one Billy bookcase, and 2) I always have my resources just a mouse click away, as the computer is infinitely more portable than a bag full of books. There is a downside to this process, though.

I am drowning in electronic documents. As a conservative estimate I would say that I have 1000 files on my computer that need to be recorded in some type of bibliographic software. Most of the files are centralized (two folders - Ecuador Stuff and Everything Else), but there are others scattered throughout my computer, sitting in the folder of the class when I downloaded it to write a paper, or, even worse, languishing in the catch-all "Prelim" folder that contains everything I used to study for my comprehensive exams prior to fieldwork. Not only do I not know what I have, but I don't even know where it is!

My husband has BiblioScape, so I downloaded their free version, BiblioExpress, to give that a try. The program is quite simple, and reminds me of a more basic version of the EndNote 9 that I had once upon a time. It's limited, but it could record it all, which is the point of this exercise, and best of all, it's free. 

Through our university library we have free access to RefWorks, which is an online based application. I downloaded it a while ago, but I could never get the offline version to work correctly. Even though spotty internet is no longer an issue for us, I still prefer the ability to do the data entry on my computer, and not have to navigate a website. A friend recommended Zotero, which sounds awesome, but it's a plug-in for Firefox, and I'm using Chrome. Also, it's web-based.

My preference, at the moment, is EndNote X4. I downloaded a free 30-day trial from their website, and if I like it I can buy it through our university for a very reasonable sum. One of my favorite features is that I can import the PDFs into the program, which means that even if I move files around during subsequent housecleaning the program will still open them for me, which is a big plus in light of the disorganized state of my files.

So the question remains, how should I organize my electronic files on my computer, and how should I organize the references within EndNote? One giant folder, my current two and a bit, or detailed sub-folders by category? The same for within EndNote: should I keep an Ecuador library and a non-Ecuador library (even though there are some cases of overlap), or put them together and separate them into groups by topic within the program?

Any of you out there with experience in this kind of thing, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Returning to the Sisterhood

Two weeks ago I had the honor of delivering the keynote address to the annual convention of the Wisconsin chapters of the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO). We rented a car and drove up to Stevens Point from Illinois. Steve came with me to the banquet and Baby Girl stayed with her grandparets, so Steve and I got to spend a lovely evening together, without the toddler craziness.

When I spoke with them last year it was just a few days before we left for Ecuador. It was one of their afternoon sessions, and a smaller audience, but the outpouring of love and support was amazing. They keynote session was like that, but on an order of ten.

The ballroom was packed with people, who were chatting and finishing their dinner even as a few other people gave short speeches. My turn came, and Steve said that before I had even finished saying hello the room got silent. I had a little case of nerves at the beginning (it was, after all, the largest audience I had ever spoken to), but quickly warmed up and got into it.
Steve and I with Christine Whitton, chairwoman of the Scholar Award committee for Wisconsin.
It was pretty hard for me to describe my experience, because it was still so new and I hadn’t had much time to process it. Also, as I’m sure you could tell from my blog posts, the last few months were a real count down to us getting out of there. We were just exhausted, and wanted to come home. So I had to focus, and read back through of some of my old blog posts, and find the good things again, and the things that would appeal to people not familiar with archaeology or Ecuador. So I talked about the village and the friends we made, and I spoke about my journey, the 4000 year change in research topics. And I think they enjoyed it.

The response was just as positive as last year, and I had so many women coming up to me to give me hugs and to ask questions. I felt like quite the celebrity. I think they also enjoyed hearing first hand what someone did with the money that they worked so hard to raise. After my speech last year I had a really hard time describing the experience to Steve, because it was so unlike anything that I had experienced before. I think that after being there with me this year he totally understands the difficulty that I had.

So, to all the PEO women out there, thank you for believing in me and making me part of your family. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Overactive Mental Paralysis

So, what happens when your mind is furiously whirling in a dozen directions with a multitude of things that need to be done? Well, if you're me, nothing. I suppose some of it is just exhaustion after the traveling experience, and some of it is confronting all the differences between there and home, but a lot of it is purely the fact that we have a lot to do to get ourselves in a comfortable place after being away for so long.

I did about five loads of laundry yesterday, washing everything that hasn't had a proper washing in months. On tap today is stripping cloth diapers and washing stuffed animals. We've also had a bit of a set back, in that the apartment that we want won't be available until a week after we were originally planning to move. On the one hand it's great, because it gives us more time to do what needs to be done. On the other hand, it opens up the possibilities of what can be done, and expands my to-do list significantly. Like building a bed instead of buying one. Yup, I finally get to work on some of the things I've been drooling over at Knock-Off Wood, and do a few projects of my own.

The to-do list is my friend, getting all my thoughts written down and out of my head. Hopefully I'll be able to move again soon!

Sunday, May 9, 2010


We left Dos Mangas for good on Thursday, and the days leading up to our departures were full of good-byes. On Sunday we had the comuna wide celebration for the whole family. I planned to give a little talk, show off some artifacts, and had arranged to provide cake. I figured the families of the people I dug with and the close friends that we made over the course of the year would show up. It was scheduled to start at 4pm. 5:30 rolled around and the was nobody there. I was starting to feel a bit concerned, but about then the cabildo showed up, got on the megaphone, and started calling people to the party. Not only did way more people that I expected show up, but different people from the community contributed to make it a real party. One guy played some traditional songs on the guitar, the women's association did a traditional costeno dance and made me get up there with them, there were several other speeches by cabildo members, and then they pitched in and added empanadas and soda to the little feast. We barely had enough cake to go around, but we made it, and it was a great night!

Me, mid-talk
Getting covered in frosting as I cut the cakes

 I finished my analyses on Tuesday (WOOHOO) and on Wednesday morning we moved everything over to the casa comunal for storage. It was great to get all of that out of house so that the packing could begin in earnest.

Wednesday afternoon we went to Baby Girl's daycare to have a going away party for her. It was so great to see her running around with all her little friends. Once again, when we thought we were just going to do cake, the day care surprised us by making a whole meal and inviting us to eat with them. I think BG was starting to get what was going on and got kind of upset towards the end. Poor little thing.

Baby Girl dancing the a conga line with her classmates
On Wednesday night a bunch of people came over for final farewells, and then we took a walk on Thursday morning to see the people that we hadn't been able to say goodbye to before then. It really started to hit me, and I'll admit that I shed a few tears, not so much about leaving the place, but definitely about leaving the people. Friends gave us a bunch the local handicrafts as we walked along to say goodbye to take home with us a souvenirs. 

Amazingly for us, with our history of moves, we managed to get everything packed and the house cleaned up without pulling a single all-nighter, and we even managed to get out of the house and catch our bus at the time that we planned. Steve shot some video as we left town, and I get misty thinking about it, because people kept coming out of their houses to say good-bye as we drove away. What a great end to an incredible year.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ground to a halt

So I apparently forgot to knock on wood after that last post. I felt icky on Tuesday, and then had a migraine Wednesday and Thursday, so I've gotten virtually no work done this week. I'm finally feeling better today, but day care is closed so Baby Girl is home today, meaning very little is getting done. Prepare to resume previous levels of nausea-inducing stress...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I might actually pull this off..

I finished three units over the weekend, leaving me with five more (shallow) units to process. At two days per unit that means I should finish everything up next week Friday, leaving me with five days to organize and pack up all the artifacts for storage, get the house in order, and pack our selves up for a short stay in Guayaquil. Holy Toledo, Batman, this might actually happen!

Steve still has swollen tonsils and I haven't been feeling too hot either, but we got our water supply problem resolved, so at least we're clean sick people. I've started discussing with Baby Girl what's going to happen in the next few weeks. I'm not sure that she really gets it, but we are quite fortunate that she is such an easy going kid. She might ask for the "ninos" at daycare, but I think she'll enjoy the adventure, and in the end, just be so happy to spend some time with her Nana that she won't really miss it. There are a few favorites who I'm sure she'll ask for, like Fanny, who is pretty much the only person here that she'd choose to hold her instead of me. We're going to get a cake to have at daycare on her last day, turn it into a little bit of a party and take pictures. I hope she will remember some of her time here, and all the friends she made.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pluses and Minuses

Plus: Last night I finished drawing the rim sherds for the deep pit that we dug. That's 20 levels of ceramics, done. Now I just have to tally the bone, shell, and lithic artifacts, and then I can move on to the trench units.

Minus: My husband is still sick with swollen tonsils (12 days and counting).

Plus: We've scheduled a going-away party for the village. I'll talk about archaeology and then we'll all eat cake (May 2, 4pm).

Minus: Last night the motor on the pump that gives us running water in the house died. That means no running water for dishes, for showers, for flushing the toilet. Someone has been called to try and fix the motor, but how quickly that will happen....no one knows. Apparently we can still get water from somewhere (need to clarify that we're not being told to get water from the river....ewwww), so it looks like we're going to be hauling buckets full of water up to the house. Couldn't this have waited another three weeks?!?!?! Oh, yeah, and wasn't this one of the things that our landlord said he was going to do maintenance on, but hasn't? Such is life here.

So, two to two, but I'm feeling like the scale's a little weighted right now.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Too Busy to Blog?

Well, that's obviously not entirely true, since here I am. But things have been very busy. Nail-bitting, ulcer-inducing, stressed-beyond-belief busy. But you wouldn't know it to look at me. Catch me at any random moment of the day and I'm likely to be sitting still, scribbling on paper. For the last week and a half (or about that) I've been working on drawing literally hundreds of rim profiles. What are those, the laypeople among you might ask? Well, basically I take a piece of pottery that's broken off from the rim of a vessel (a rim sherd) and turn it on its side and draw the contours of that piece. That gives me a pretty good idea of the shape of a vessel as a whole, and if the piece is large enough, the size of it too. So I'm drawing every rim sherd that we found in the deep pit and the trench. Right now I'm on level 14 of 20 for the deep pit. I hope to finish those, and all the other artifacts from the deep pit, by the end of this coming week. That will leave me roughly two weeks to do all the analysis from the trench, which had considerably fewer artifacts, so hopefully it's doable.

What's making this all go at a snail's pace? Well, first my husband had an academic deadline last week, so I was picking up a lot of baby and house slack, which meant that the analysis fell by the wayside. Then, this week, both he and I have been sick - him with strep and me with some type of respiratory infection - both of which seem to be impervious to the strongest antibiotics that we can throw at them. I can only hope that this will all get better soon, otherwise I'll have one of two choices: change our flight and push back our return to the States, or return at some point by myself to finish the analysis so that I can actually get my dissertation done. I'm hoping for neither, but thinking option two might have to happen anyway. Sigh. Such is life.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Baby Girl’s Two Yellow Seats

BG has two yellow seats, and she’s been spending a lot of time on both of them recently. The first is her yellow potty, only of those little plastic container affairs that sits on the floor. She’s gotten quite interested in going on the potty lately, but doesn’t quite gather the timing of the whole thing. A few times she’s sat down with her diaper still on and gone to the bathroom. Other times she’ll take her diaper off just after she’s filled it and then sit down. Or, she’ll sit down, and then wander off and pee somewhere before we can get a new diaper on her. The most important thing, I guess, is that she’s showing interest and trying. We bought some stickers for her last week (she picked them out and then handed over the money) and I told her she gets a sticker each time she goes to the bathroom on her potty. That really seemed to set a fire under her. I suppose I could have used these two weeks with her to get her fully trained, but I don’t think it would happen so quickly, or that her daycare would be able to keep it up when she goes back. I’m definitely going to talk to them when I drop her off tomorrow, but I’m not holding my breath. I figure, I’ll really push it in June, when we’re settled in a place of our own.

Her other yellow chair is a plastic kids chair that she uses at her little craft table, and also sits on, facing the wall, for her time outs. It’s this latter sense that I’m talking about here. BG is rapidly approaching 28 months, and her two-ness is starting to kick in. She gets timeouts for the same two reasons, over and over again – throwing things (toys, food, or dishes, generally) and for hitting (she’s in a slapping stage lately). Even during her most trying behavior, I’m able to stay relatively calm, I think in part because I recognize that this is a developmental stage, so we redirect her, or give her timeout, and then we move on. This last week has been particularly hard because I’ve been dedicating a lot of time to the analysis, and not to her. If I’m in her sight, she wants me to hold her, or she wants to help me, or she just wants me, and unfortunately, ceramic analysis is not very toddler friendly. She’s acting up because she wants attention, and she’ll take it anyway she can get it, even if it’s in the form of mommy frowning at her because she’s just grabbed mommy’s camera off the table and tried to throw it off the deck. Daycare will start tomorrow, and I think a lot of the pressure will be let off. She’ll get to play all day with her friends, which she loves, and I’ll get a good 7 or 8 hours of lab work in. Then, when she comes home I’ll feel more able to devote all my attention to her, and give her all the love she deserves. There’s a lot of guilt bound up in the fact that I need full-day childcare in order to make life work, but I guess you gotta do what you gotta do. And her smiles and laughter as we played peek-a-boo after a particularly hard day tells me it’s all worth it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Village Life Part 5: Details

So, this is the final planned installment of the Village Life series, for which some of you may be grateful. These are the last few things that occupy my mind, and make a huge impact on us living here comfortably.


One of our friends comes to the house once a week, generally on the weekend, and hand washes our clothes at the utility sink outside. When we were living in the old house we took our wash to a lady down the road, but it was a pain having to wait up to a week for it to dry and for us to get it back. One time we tried taking it to the laundry mat in Manglaralto, but it's just not that convenient. Now, with our current set-up, since it hangs in the back yard we can bring it in as it dries, and not wait for the whole batch.

When we first came here BG was wearing cloth diapers. We quickly discovered, however, that it was virtually impossible to get them clean by hand washing. There was always a lingering urine smell, and sometimes I think detergent residue got left behind. She had so many diaper rashes that we ended up switching to disposables. When we get back to the States I’m planning on stripping all the cloth, getting them nice and clean, and starting to use them again. And trying to potty train her so that we don’t have to deal with too many more poopy cloth diapers in the future.


BG attends daycare in the village five days a week from 8am to 2pm. The building is a cinder block box with concrete floors, and is located almost on the other end of the village from our house. There are between 30 and 50 children on any given day, and seven teachers and two cooks. The kids range in age from infants to 5 (until they start school). They feed her breakfast, lunch, and two snacks, and bathe her each day. She absolutely loves going to school and playing with “los niños” and gets really sad on the days when we find out that school is closed only after we’ve gotten there. We bring her home at 2 so that she can get her nap – the echoing noise in the school, all the activity, and the lack of a set nap/quiet time means she doesn’t sleep there at all.
BG's daycare building. There's a cleared front paved area, blocked by the surge of growth in the photo, but the kids don't actually play outside at all, for which I am thankful.

Daycare costs $0.50 a week and is partially subsidized by the government. We had to give them proof of her immunizations, just like in the States. It’s a great deal for us, because we get time to work, and it’s great for her because she gets to socialize and gets a lot of exposure to Spanish.  The only downside is that the teachers have to attend fairly frequent seminars to keep their license, and on those days the daycare is closed. To me this kind of defeats the purpose. Also, they often don’t have advanced warning of these seminars, or at least don’t give the parents any warning. The worst example was just this Monday, when I showed up with BG in tow, only to find the doors locked and no sign or anything. I tracked down one of the teachers, and it turns out they are going to be closed for the next two weeks for “vacation”. Nice of them to let us know so we could make alternative arrangements!


We have two basic options locally for medical care. About 3km from our place, on the road between Dos Mangas and Manglaralto, is a compound of Santa Maria del Fiat, also referred to as the Finca. It is a charity organization, with ties in Europe, and they have undertaken water purification projects locally and have a school and sanctuary in Olon. At the Finca they raise livestock and sell various goods, and also operate a medical clinic during weekdays. You show up around 8 to stand in line and buy your consultation ticket ($2.50). Then you wait in that order to have your vitals taken and then see the doctor. The Finca also has a laboratory and pharmacy on-site, so you can get everything taken care of there. CBC and urinalysis costs around $2, and the prescriptions are at a reduced cost. This is where we go for most of our medical care, and on a typical visit we are there from 8-11 am. I’m not sure why they can’t schedule appointments, but there you go.

Our second option is in the town of Manglaralto itself, and is the local Ministry of Public Health Hospital. This is where we go if we need to be seen on the weekend or if (heaven forbid) we have a more major injury. The hospital has normal doctors that you can see, and that operates pretty much like the Finca, though you have to show up more like 6am for the good spots, and can end up sitting around until 2pm. There is also an emergency room where they take you pretty quickly, with the limitation being that you can’t have had symptoms for more than 48 hours. We’ve gone there when my cousin Taylor woke up with a full-body rash and swelling, when BG stopped eating or drinking, and when she’s had a fever over 39 C (102.2 F) that wouldn’t come down. At the hospital everything is free. All services, medicines, tests, everything. The only time you have to pay is if you need a medicine that they don’t stock, and then you have to run out to one of the private pharmacies. Pretty incredible that Ecuador can manage to provide free basic and urgent care to its citizens, and even to the international tourists who flock to the region. Just sayin'.

Theirs is kind of a third option, and that is to self-diagnose and go to a pharmacy and buy whatever it is that you need. Prescriptions are not regulated like they are in the States. The only exception is that in the last year, because of the Swine Flu, they won’t sell medicines for sinus or flu symptoms without a doctor’s order because they want people to actually see a doctor to contain the disease, rather than just treating the symptoms. But it’s nice for us to be able to shortcut the horrible wait and just get medicine, especially if it’s for something we’ve been through before, like sinus infection or allergies. We will also be stocking up on our daily meds and a few rounds of antibiotics before we come back to get us through the summer when we don’t really have access to medical care, due to the fun university system (for those of you who are concerned, we will all have health insurance, but only BG will have easy access to a doctor).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Village Life Part 4: In and Out

The main reaction we get from people back home, upon learning that we’re living in Ecuador, is wonder at how we manage (and gasps at the fact that we’re doing it all with a toddler). In the next two post I’ll be talking about some of the minutia of our lives here, and the practical things, which we often take for granted back home, but which easily serve to make or break our day (or week).


I love food, but if I could get by without cooking, I would be a happy camper (good thing I have my husband, who is a wonderful cook!). But having food on hand and preparing it is a good deal more involved than at home.

For our first three months here it was somewhat easy. We didn’t have a fridge, so we didn’t cook. Breakfast was jam on bread, or cereal prepared with powdered milk (which, like so many things in this country, had extra sugar added). For lunch and dinners we ate at Olga’s “restaurant”. Lunch is the biggest meal, and consists of a bowl of soup, a plate with meat, rice, and veggies, and a glass of fresh juice or cola. Price: $1.50. Dinner is basically the same as lunch, minus the soup. Price: $1.25. Most of the time we’d eat at Olga’s, but since dinner wasn’t generally ready until 7pm, which is Baby Girl’s bedtime, often one of us would walk down with an empty pot, some bowls, and a pitcher, and get “carry-out”.

Olga's restaurant and store
Olga’s also has a mini tienda attached, where you can buy staples like rice, flour, oil, cans of tuna, butter, laundry detergent, TP, fresh chicken, eggs, some produce, and drinks. Even though Olga doesn’t get to see us as much as she would like since we cook for ourselves these days, we still make extensive use of her store when we run out of staples, and several times a week for fresh chicken.

We eat a lot of chicken. I mean A LOT. Like nearly every day of the week. It’s what’s most easily available. You can buy it by the pound ($1.50) from most of the little tiendas in the village, and even from some people’s houses. There is a butcher in town who slaughters a cow in the wee hours every Sunday, but we’re never up quite early enough to buy from him (a 5am wake-up call for a weird cut of beef, no thank you). There are also people who come through the village selling seafood, but I really don’t want to try de-scaling and gutting fish in our kitchen with a toddler running around. So chicken it is.

The sacrificial cow, awaiting her fate. Should it worry me that on some weeks there is a horse tethered to the second post to the left of the cow?
Most of our produce we buy off the back of pickup trucks that come through the village. The offerings are fairly monotonous, but get us through. We typically buy onions, potatoes, avocados, limes, green peppers, and tomatoes. Sometimes we’ll get lucky and a fruit truck will make it down to our end of the village, and depending on the season we can get mandarins, oranges, mangos, pineapple, or watermelon, all for pretty cheap. We avoid things like lettuce and strawberries, or anything that doesn’t peel and you’d eat raw, which would necessitate being washed in a mild bleach solution before consumption.

The majority of our food we get from Mi Comisariato (kind of an Ecuadorian Walmart) that’s located two hours away, by bus, in Libertad. There we buy boxes of milk (whole and semi-skim, ultra-pasteurized and shelf stable so that they don’t have to be refrigerated until opened) by the dozen, boxes of juice and wine, cereal, cheese, yogurt, non-chicken meat (and some chicken to have on reserve for when the stores around here don’t have any), diapers, and a lot of dry goods. When I’m lucky the bag boys have boxes that they can pack everything in, and we have an insulated backpack (courtesy of my in-laws) that I use to bring back the perishables. Unlucky days I get saddled with dozens and dozens of plastic bags. The bag boys wheel our boxes of groceries out to the taxi stand, we get driven to the bus terminal (really, it’s not as fancy as it sounds), the bus attendants load the boxes under the bus, and then two hours unload them at the crossroads to our village. Our local taxi service guys load up the boxes into their trucks, drive me up to my door, and even help me unload. The local taxi costs $0.35 per person, each trip, the bus costs between $1 and $1.25, and each taxi ride (two each trip) costs $1.

While these trips take a lot of time (minimally five hours), I only have to make the trip once every other week. The grocery store also has pretty much everything that we’re used to preparing at home, plus some goodies like Nutella, Doritos, and brownie mix, so we feel pretty comfortable and as close to being at home as we can. Being able to cook like we normally do has been really important in getting us settled in. But I’m really looking forward to partaking in a huge leafy salad when we get back, and a big bleeding steak.


The village has its own water supply and water tower, so we have access to treated water. It’s considered potable, and people in the village drink it, but it would still do a number on us who are not used to the local flora. Because of the water tower most houses have running water, though we need to help ours a bit by pumping it up into a reservoir on the roof, and from there it drains into the house. Doing dishes and bathing is a snap, but draining the reservoir during a power outage can be a bit problematic. The village charges $2 a month for normal usage.

For drinking water we get those big 25 liter water cooler jugs of purified water. They cost $1.70 a jug, but a friend of ours delivers them to our door for $2 a jug. We go through about two a week. It was a bit difficult at first to adjust to things like not filling your glass from the faucet, and only rinsing your toothbrush with the purified water, but we eventually got the hang of it.


Trucks come through the village twice a week for trash pick-up – on Wednesday and Saturday. This is fairly reliable, though we went for nearly a month without any trash service after Christmas, and that was definitely a problem. Our trash is divided into five categories: general “dry” trash, empty cartons and bottles (which would normally be recycled at home), food scraps, diapers, and bathroom trash. The bathroom trash includes used toilet paper, because the septic systems here aren’t capable of handling flushed paper.

Since we divide this stuff up, it’s interesting to see how little garbage we’re actually producing. At home we won’t be throwing away toilet paper, we’ll be recycling a lot, using cloth diapers, and hopefully starting a composting system. The only trash we’ll still be producing is a small amount of “dry” trash, less than a full trashcan a week, I’d imagine.

This garbage pick-up system is pretty cushy, which is why I just can’t understand why people (our next door neighbors in particular) still insist on burning their trash, especially plastics! We are downwind of their place, so whenever they burn we get absolutely lovely fumes wafting into the house. For some of the more ecologically minded out there, I’m curious: in the absence of a recycling program, which actually has the lower impact on the environment, burying plastic in a landfill or burning it in your back yard?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Been Busy

The six levels that I washed yesterday, completing another unit. Only (minimally) seven more units left to wash!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

When Gorda Is Good

Walking back from taking BG to daycare the other day I ran into one of my excavation assistants who I hadn't seen in a while. Even though the village is small, it's not all that surprising that I hadn't seen him, since I spend pretty much every day holed up in the house doing lab stuff. And therein lies the problem.

He told me that I'm looking "bien gorda", nice and fat, basically. He said that when we were working up at the site that I looked like a line, but that I was looking much better now. I laughingly told him that I want to go back to how I looked then, but it was clear that he couldn't understand why I'd want that. It's nice being some place where the emphasis isn't all on being thin, but unfortunately I'll be returning to one fairly soon. And it's not just about being skinny, but also about the tone that came from an hour of strenuous hiking every day, hauling buckets, and all the other stuff that goes along with fieldwork.

Somehow the digging-before-lab-work schedule has got it backwards. You need to dig at the end of the trip, so that when you return home you can show off your tanned and toned muscles to all of your friends who have had to survive a six-month winter (and yes, maybe rub it in their faces a little). 

I'll admit, I'm having fairly major body issues after pregnancy. Nothing's changed all that much, everything is just looser. And I'm not the kind that easily takes a chunk of time to work out. If I can fit it into my daily routine, like hiking to the site or riding a bike to class, then I exercise. If not, then I basically don't. I also know that I'm snacking a lot more now that I sit around the house all day. I'm hoping now that I've realized it that I can start looking for those little ways to fit in more physical activity, and watch a little more what I eat, but I find it hard to do either when I'm not in the best of spirits. Steve and I definitely use junk food as comfort food here, and we're feeling that we need a lot of comfort.

Since we've been here Steve has lost around 30 pounds, mostly from stomach issues in our first few months here. He's gained about 10 or 15 of that back, but is still looking really good, and is probably in better shape than he has been for a fair amount of our relationship. He jokes that he's reverted back to his 1995 model. I'm not exactly complaining. I haven't really lost anything, maybe 5 pounds, but isn't that always the way? I think that we both need to find ways too keep up our activity levels when we get back, and hopefully start some better food habits. Suggestions, and offers for workout partners, will be appreciated.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Village Life Part 3: A Tale of Two Houses

We’ve lived in two different houses during our stay in the village, and to say that they were the best of times and the worst of times is certainly true, though I’m not sure that one house or another has a monopoly over the good or bad times.

Our first house was arranged before we arrived. I had seen it in 2006 while the owner was putting the finishing touches on it, and it was certainly a step up from my accommodations during that trip (a bed in the story above a shop, with a non-flushing toilet downstairs and outside, and bathing done in a basin). It was a nice open floor plan, with plenty of room for a simple kitchen, a dining area, living room, and study/artifact space. Two bedrooms and an indoor bathroom and with running water (albeit only a cold shower), and to me it was heaven, at least for Ecuador.
Our first place

The house was located on a hill at the back of the village, so fairly private. But literally right off the frame to the left of the picture was another little house, more tradition, where the caretakers of our house, and the owner’s chickens, lived. It was a family of two adults and seven kids, and six dogs. It was never quiet…either the kids were screaming or blaring music during the day (when Baby Girl needed a nap), or the dogs were barking at night (when all of us were trying to sleep). To add to that, one of those seven kids was the one that stole my phone. So yeah, they didn’t really instill any confidence in us as caretakers.
The kitchen and dining area when we first moved in

But the deal breaker, and why we had to find a different house in the end, was the fact that about two days into our stay the refrigerator broke. Two and a half months of asking the owner to get it taken care of (and eating at the restaurant in town because we had no food storage options), with absolutely no attempt to get it fixed, and Baby Girl losing several pounds simply because we couldn’t keep food on hand for her, and we were out of there.

Shortly before we returned to the States for my cousin’s wedding we moved into a new house. This one took a little bit of negotiating, and explaining the realities of being on a grant to people who sometimes just imagine Americans to have endless supplies of money. In some respects it’s smaller than the first house, but it’s oh so much nicer. It’s the vacation home of the brother of the last comuna president, and he lives in the house right next door.
The new place. Love it!

The first floor is split in half, with a living room (our office area), dining room, and kitchen on one side, and the bedroom and bathroom on the other. There’s also a loft which gives us some more storage space and room for people to bunk down for a few days when we have visitors.
View of the kitchen and dining area (with Dennis) from the loft

Arrrrg, walk the plank, matey!

The kitchen is small and kind of basic, and we don’t have our own fridge, but we share one with the former president next door. One of Steve’s favorite things about the house is the catwalk/gangplank that connects the two houses. MY favorite thing about the house, however, is definitely the bathroom. We have a bathtub!!! And hot water from a tank and not one of those wimpy electrical things!!!! It has made bathtime fun for Baby Girl (and us) again, instead of a freakout fest when we have to heat water to the right temp and try to get BG to stay put in a plastic basin while we clean her off.


Both houses had their fare share of pests. At the first place, the owner had a chicken farm on the property (and right next to the house), and Steve suspects that at least some of his incessant illnesses were caused by them. We also had mice in the kitchen, who would try to get into the few dry goods that we kept around. But for me, the worst pest we had were ants. They would appear out of nowhere and swarm all over things. And it didn’t matter if you kept the place spotless because when it rained they would stream down the walls and into the house, thousands of them. And they bite! We used up several cans of our bug spray killing ants while trying not to get bit by them. <> While we were in that house I had recurrent dreams that somehow swarms of ants were spilling out of the bed despite the mosquito netting (it probably didn’t help that one did manage to get in the bed, and bit me several times on the leg, even after I killed it).

The new house came with bats. My clever husband, however, figured out where the holes in the eaves were, blocked them up, and now we are bat free (no longer the bat cave). We also had mice, but Steve waged a pretty effective campaign against them (aided by some poison) and once again we are vermin free. I think the final body count was 15. Our current battle, and we have the rainy season working against us on this one, is with cockroaches. We got lax in doing dishes, and the house has been continuously occupied for more than a few weeks for the first time ever, and so the cockroaches moved in. I’ve gotten pretty good at smacking them with a shoe, but we’ve also turned to poison to get rid of them. They’re just so wriggly and can get into so many places (excuse me while I shriek like a little girl). They seem to be retreating, and I’ll be glad when they’re gone, though I do get a thrill out of saying “Survive THIS” right before I smack them.


We’re pretty much living in the lap of luxury for this area. There are screens in our windows, and even panes of glass. We have interior walls and doors, and even more importantly, an indoor bathroom (with hot water, did I mention we have hot water?). A lot of the houses in the area are basically cinder block squares, with gaps between the outer walls and the roof, and sometimes even missing parts of the walls. People use plastic in gaps and at windows to keep the rain coming in. There is very little privacy, with several beds in a single room, and several people sharing each bed. A lot of kitchens don’t even have plumbing, so doing dishes is a whole other chore.

That said, I can’t wait to get home, where bugs and mice aren’t invading the house, where I have a dishwasher, and an oven, and a microwave. And properly fitted windows that don’t gap. And air conditioning. And a vacuum cleaner. And cable and fast internet. As always, though, I’ll take the memory of this time back with, and be all the more grateful of what I do have for going without.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What to do on a lazy Saturday afternoon..

...but change the entire look and layout of the blog! I've been searching around for a while, looking for something a bit more sleek and streamlined, and I think this will do (at least for the moment). The background photo is stock, but I'll change it just as soon as I figure out where it is in the HTML code. Oh, and notice that the little icon on the tab of your browser is no longer the Blogger "B"? That's a customized icon for this site only, in the shape of a broken trowel (if you remember this post). I may clean it up so more so that it's clearer, but I'm pretty tickled about the whole thing.

UPDATE- the background photo is now my own...a shot of a paja stand up in the montaña.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Village Life Part 2: Animals

People and animals live in pretty close quarters here. I always hesitate on the customs form returning to the States when it asks if I’ve been on a farm. The answer is no, I haven’t, and I have entered any animal enclosures, but you can’t walk down the street without inadvertently stepping in animal feces of one kind of another (which is why we have dedicated indoor shoes).

The most numerous animal in town has got to be cows, which is probably why “moooo” was one of Baby Girl’s first animal noises. Many people have herds that are corralled right in town. There’s one pen just on the other side of our next door neighbors. Most are Brahma-type cows, and they are bred for meat. There are a few male Holsteins in town, but the vegetation in the area is generally not good enough to support milk production. These cows can be kind of aggressive, and it’s always a little daunting when someone’s driving a herd of them down the road at you!

Horses are fewer in number, but still pretty common. There’s something pretty nifty and wild-West about horses galloping through town. On several occasions one of my workers would lend me his horse to get out to the site, but not before I used it to drop Baby Girl off at daycare. Our neighbors have several dozen horses, which they hitch out front of our house, and use for harvesting cane, paja, and wood from the forest.

Pretty much everyone in the village owns chickens. These are not cage-enclosed, grain-fed chicken, these are crillollo chickens. They run around the streets, eat what they find, get served table scraps (including pieces of other chicken – yummy, cannibal chickens!), and are free to reproduce and often have a longer life than caged chickens. Locals claim these birds are more flavorful, and they generally are, but you can also get some really tough suckers that are barely fit for soup!

Cats and dogs are ubiquitous, but are not pets in the traditional sense. Cats are mousers and semi-wild and dogs are used for security and hunting in the montaña. Many families have multiple dogs (like, three to six) and they are largely untrained and unsupervised. Dogs roam the streets (or just sleep in them, making them kind of like the turtle shells in Mario Cart). Some of the dogs are cute and nice and well-behaved, but many of them are mean, flea-bitten, and all but abandoned. It’s really quite sad, seeing very mangy dogs with wounds from fighting with other dogs. The area could really benefit from a neutering program. The animal control plan currently consists of quietly poisoning dogs if they bite children, rather than pet owners taking responsibility for their animals.

So, with all these animals running around, it’s no wonder that BG wants a kitty or a puppy of her very own. I think it will come as a shock to her when we return to the States and there aren’t animals moseying down the road. Steve and I, on the other hand, are kind of looking forward to it (and not having to worry about the quantity of poop on our shoes).

 Next installment: Houses

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Malware Interlude

Ok,  so yesterday I started getting malware warnings when I would try to come to this site, and several of you told me that you were being automatically redirected to other random sites when you would try to come here. Odd, because I haven't added any gadgets to the site recently. The only thing I can think is that updating to Blogger's new publishing settings created a conflict with the countdown timer that I had on the site. So now the countdown timer is gone. The Universe's way of telling me to live in the moment? Perhaps, but that won't stop me from counting down in my head!

Village Life Part 1: Dos Mangas

I’ve had some requests for more information about where we’re living, so I’ll try to paint a picture of life here in the village, with some of the more amusing qualities, as well as the annoying ones. A disclaimer at the beginning: we've been here over 9 months now, and have over two months left, so while the picture I paint may be more vivid than it would have been 6 months ago, it's also more tired. We're looking forward to coming home.

Dos Mangas is located in the Santa Elena Province, on the north side of the Manglaralto River Vallye, a seasonal river. The road coming into the village (from the coast) and out of the village (further into the "mountains") both cross the river. When rains are heavy and the river rises (which hasn't happened yet this year) the village is essentially cut off from the rest of the world. Supplies, and the occasional person, have to be ferried across on rafts.

The village has two principal roads running parallel to the river with several side streets connecting them. The town has a daycare, an elementary school, an internet café, and numerous little shops that people run out of their houses, selling sundry and food items. There’s currently one restaurant, and a woman who sells roast chicken skewers on Saturday nights (these are awesome, both because we don’t have to cook those nights, but also because they kind of taste like bacon).

The population in the village is between 900 and 1000 people, with nearly a third of these under the age of 12. Most children do not continue school past sixth or eighth grade. Some families cite the cost of schooling, but others just need the help in the family business. Fourteen to sixteen seems to be the average age at which people get married and start having children. This is apparently a switch from even a generation ago when people were getting married in their twenties. We recently attended a First Communion where one of the kids participating was only a few months away from getting married and becoming a father. People live with their extended families - grandparents, parents, children, and the children's children often under the same roof, or in houses right next door to each other. Because of this it seems that there's always people around to help, whether preparing meals, caring for children, taking care of livestock, etc. It has also been my observation, though, that it's usually the parents, and not the young, newly parented children (did that make sense) who actually care for youngest members of the family. From the experience I had when my phone was stolen by a married 14 year-old girl, it is clear that the families still consider these individuals children, and not the adults that their responsibilities would demand they be.

Dos Mangas is a comuna, which is a legal entity under Ecuadorian law. Among other things, it means that the comuna as a whole is the actual landowner of most of the land adjacent (and not so adjacent) to the village – it leases out the right for people to work the land, often times in un-ending leases that approach private ownership, but the comuna still retains the right to recall the land. Only about half the population of Dos Mangas are comuna members. That means only half pay dues to the comuna, but the benefits that the comuna gains from the government or NGOs generally is shared by the entire community.

The majority of people in the village practice a mixed economic strategy - they farm various crops (corn, tomatoes, watermelon, etc.), they raise cattle and own horses, they harvest goods from the forest that can be sold (paja, cane, lumber), and some family members have wage jobs in the surrounding region. A decent cash income is around $200 a month, and families with children get a small monthly stipend from the government. 

Some people in the village bring in income as guides. Because the communal lands of Dos Mangas include several beautiful natural features, including a waterfall along one river and river pools along another, Dos Mangas has an organized groups of community guides who take tourists on ecological hikes to these areas. The group plans on adding the archaeological site to the tour. This work is seasonal, occurring primarily between January and April. 

Others make a living producing handicrafts that they sell to said tourists. The primary crafts are paja toqilla (woven palm) items - such as handbags, placemats, and baskets - and tagua nut (vegetable ivory) jewelry, keychains, and pipes (often with marijuana leaves on them - Dos Mangas is just a few miles away from Montanita, a town known for surfing and for drugs). Well organized cooperatives exist in the village to gather, prepare, and create these goods. There is a rough gender division, with women weaving the paja toquilla items and men carving the tagua.

One of the women drying paja.

In the forest!

One of the roles that the community has embraced is as protector of the forests. There are limits placed on the number of trees that can be cut down, and the community has teamed up with environmental groups like Fundacion Natura and other comunas in the area to help protect the Colonche Hills. They certainly are beautiful, draped in clouds and filled with animals, including howler monkeys, jaguars, boa constrictors, wild boar and deer (which are both hunted and yummy), and many others. The community seems to take this role very seriously, however they currently have an agreement with the government to mine the river bed adjacent to the village for stones and sand to temper the concrete that they're laying down to re-do the coastal highway. To me, this suggests a certain disconnect between conservation efforts, and perhaps what they are conserving for tourists, versus what they are conserving for themselves.

Next installment: Animals!

Thursday, February 25, 2010


And just because it's funny as heck...

We've been having thunderstorms the last few days, and after several consecutive peals Baby Girl spontaneously sang out,

"Thun-der" (*bang, bang*), la la la la la la la la" (can you find the tune with those la las?).

We've been listening to songs from Supernatural episodes, and I guess BG took a shine to ACDC. Makes a mother proud...

Carnival of Tedium

Last week was Carnival, which in our village meant that anytime you left the house you risked being pelted with water balloons, sprayed with foam, or covered in colored ashes (I fortunately managed to avoid the egg fights that I had been warned about). Daycare was also closed, so BG was with us the whole week, which was both wonderful and not, as I've expressed before.

While the world outside was celebrating, here, inside my lab, was a carnival of tedium (and by lab, i mean our dining room table, and occasionally part of the kitchen counter). The last few weeks I've been offering up the top layers of my epidermis as sacrifice to the archaeology gods, spending several hours on most days washing bags (and bags...) of artifacts.

As I spent longer excavating that I originally planned, it means that I'm not going to be able to fully analyze everything I dug up (I know, bad archaeologist, bad, bad). So, I'm triaging, washing and analyzing first those areas of the site which (I think) will be critical to the themes in my dissertation. I've also got one of my friends/workers helping me out, so she'll keep washing while I start analyzing. My goal is to get everything washed and nicely organized, including picking out possible museum pieces, before I leave. That way at least everything will be in good condition for when I come back, whenever that might be. Fortunately, a lot of the Manteno stuff got washed while Taylor was still here, so it might actually be possible to get everything washed. The biggest limiting factor right now is lack of drying space, which I might be able to remedy if I work up the courage to organize our loft a bit, which I've currently given over to the spiders (and who knows what else).

We've almost finished washing all the levels from our deep pit through the midden. Once that's all washed I'll sit down to draw, measure, record, and photograph everything. While the tedium of this might not be any better than the washing, it will mean that you, my loyal followers, will soon be able to see some of the 3000 to 5000 year-old artifacts that are currently sitting in boxes around the house!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Incredible Jumping Bean

Yesterday, Baby Girl jumped properly for the first time ever. Both feet, off the floor, at the same time!!!! She’s still a bit unsteady on the landing, but it’s so cool to see. After she did it the first time, and realized what she had done (and we clapped and cheered like fools), she’s been doing it constantly. So neat seeing these little accomplishments!

And Thoughts Turn to Home...

So I know this is still three months off (OMG, only three months left, excuse me while I have a panic attack) and I still have TONS of stuff to get done here, including essentially all the artifact analysis, but with the New Year, and my parent’s visit I’ve been thinking more and more about when we get home – where we’re going to live, what we’re going to need to get life up and running, the horrible crushing experience of moving all of our stuff from storage into an apartment yet again. It also hasn’t helped that life here has been somewhat complicated – we had nearly a month with no garbage pick-up, it’s gotten quite hot and sunny so we’re worried about frying every time we leave the house, daycare was shut down for a month so getting work done was impossible, and our roof is leaking horribly every time it rains. I know that this too shall pass, but any “stay focused and finish your work” vibes that you guys can send my way would be much appreciated!

Family Travails...uh, Travels :)

My parents arrived in Ecuador on January 20 for their long-awaited visit. They missed my birthday by a day, but hey, better than by a month! We spent the night after their flight in Guayaquil, and then jumped on a bus to Riobamba the next morning.

We had hoped to ride the train down the Nariz del Diablo on Friday, but found out before we left that they were all sold out for the month. No matter, we headed to Riobamba anyway where I got to enjoy pizza and beer for my birthday (a nice change from the chicken/tuna and rice diet we have at home), and then got to visit with another woman from our department who is doing her research down here too.

The hotel we stayed at had colonial charm and probably colonial comfort as well. The pillows were lumpy and the beds were small, but otherwise things were basically clean. The elevation in Riobamba hit me hard (I guess after Cuenca I’m more susceptible, and my cold was hanging on in my lungs), I was dehydrated after the journey, and I think I was having an allergic reaction to the ash that Tungurahua was spewing. I woke up in the morning with a migraine, and spent the whole time sniffling and with watering eyes. I don’t think Riobamba made my return-to list, but maybe I should, just to see if all of that was a fluke.

Tungurahua spewing

We left Riobamba the next day and took a bus to Guaranda. Though BG and I were passed out for most of the ride I did get to see some views of Chimborazo, though the summit was covered in clouds.

Guaranda was small and charming, and I was feeling enough better that we I enjoyed the little walk around the town. Near our hotel were the Parque Bolivar and the cathedral, as well as some nicely refurbished colonial buildings. Our main reason for going to Guaranda was as a jumping-off point for a visit to Salinas de Guaranda – home to cheese, chocolate, and salami. Salinas was very charming, and we got to try all kinds of goodies (including some fabulous soy-flour cookies), and buy some for our continued travels. We also gave in and bought some fabulous sheep and alpalca wool sweaters (which we promptly sent home with my parents, and look forward to wearing in about 8 months time).

From Salinas we headed back to Guaranda and caught a bus going to Ambato, transfer point for our final destination of Baños. The road to Ambato goes over 12,000 feet in some points, and you could feel how thin the oxygen was. Since I have a tendency to fall asleep in any moving vehicle, I can’t say for sure, but I think I passed out from oxygen deprivation.

We switched buses in Ambato and made it to Baños around 7pm. The hotel we stayed in, La Casa Verde, was fantastic! It’s outside of downtown Baños (which was perfect for us-less noise), but still just a short taxi ride away from everything. It’s right along the river too, so there are stunning views. It’s run by an Aussie/NZ couple with a little boy just a month older than BG. They’ve set it up to be eco-friendly, and actually do more than lip service to the concept. The rooms are big, bright, and airy, and the water pressure in the showers is amazing. The breakfasts that they provide are huge, with fresh fruit, homemade yogurt, and fresh baked bread (made by the owners), among other things. I haven’t plugged a business like this on here before, but seriously, if you go to Baños, stay with these guy!

We spent a good portion of our time in Baños just chilling out in the hotel. After all our bus travels I think we needed it. We finally got geared up to go into the town around lunchtime on our first day. We ate at an amazing restaurant, the Swiss Bistro, where I had steak tenderloin in a mustard sauce. Sooooo yummy! We wandered around the town and did the tourist thing, bought some stuff, and then picked up a few pizzas to take back to the hotel for dinner. The Italian restaurant where we got them was run by a Guayaquileño, Fernando, who ended up in Baños via Miami. He was able to talk to my family in English, and he and I chatted in Spanish. He paid me one of the biggest compliments when he told me my Spanish was so good he thought I was a Latina, and said that my coastal accent felt like home to him. We commiserated over the odd, mushy Spanish that many people in the area spoke (incomprehensible to me at times). He and his wife fussed over BG and loved her hair. Fernando just about melted when BG gave him the usual goodbye peck on the cheek. Good luck to him and his wife as they attempt to expand their family!

Our second day in Baños we headed east out of town to the Manto de la Novia waterfall. We took a cable car across the river, which was quite exciting, and then hiked a little backed down to the river and crossed on a suspension bridge. BG rode in the kid carrier on Steve’s back, and was passed out for most of the hike, but woke up in time for our accent of the cliff via a second cable car.

The Manto and it's cable car.

Steve and I holding BG in the swaying cable car

We hopped on another bus and traveled a few more km to Rio Verde and the Pailon del Diablo. That was quite the experience! After a nice little hike on a well maintained trail we got up close and personal with the waterfall. The owners of the property had constructed viewing balconies that got you within about 100ft of the roiling water under the falls. Steve and I left BG with her Nana and Thor and followed a path that scrambled over rocks and through a cave to get right behind the waterfall. We got soaked, but it was very cool!

Dennis (Thor) at the Pailon

Mom (Nana) and BG bonding during our trip to the falls.

Unfortunately that was it for our time in Baños. We caught a bus the next morning heading (eventually) to Guayaquil. We got in to our hotel in time for dinner, and then spent a relaxing night in. The next morning saw us on yet another bus (I’ve lost count at this point, really) to get us out on the coast and show my parents where we live. My mom had some real issues that first night, adjusting to the heat and humidity. They’ll take mountains and snow over beach and sun any day. Because of that we didn’t do a whole heck of a lot, but I did get to show them my site on Thursday. It was great being able to share that with them, and show them what I do, and I think they got a kick out of it too.

On Friday I took Mom to a friend’s shop where she picked up a few handmade crafts, and then we headed into Montañita for lunch and too see them off to Guayaquil. We almost ran into trouble, as the direct bus was entirely sold out for the day, but when one came in at 3pm there were a few open seats, so they were on their way. They got home on Saturday, with relatively little excitement.

Saying goodbye was hard, but the visit was so much fun. BG got some good quality time with her grandparents, and I got to see Mom and Dennis. In some ways I hadn’t realized how much I missed them until they were here, but it reminded me how much I enjoy spending time with them. Hopefully, when all is said and done, we can end up a little closer to home, but who knows how many years away that is!