Thursday, May 22, 2014


(Ali) Banos offered so many different activities such as walking, hiking, canyoning, rafting and even just walking in the village. My favourite thing about Banos was biking up a pathway in order to reach a waterfall. The bike ride there was very scenic, and we made a few stops in order to ride a gondola near a waterfall. We saw a different type of animal called Sponge; I think it was a type of raccoon, but who really knows. Once we reached the waterfall, I was amazed. I have never seen a waterfall so close before and climbing into really tight crevices was an adventure to say the least. Since I am very tall, it was very funny to have to roll in order to see the waterfall up close. I was actually impressed that so many different types of people were making the difficult climb to the waterfall. I witnessed children and elderly people make the climb which was surprising since the climb was even difficult for me. I have grown up in many major cities where seeing nature was rare, which have made me crave the wilderness. I enjoy its silence and marvel. Another amazing part of the trip was the hot springs. I imagined hot springs to be a stream in the middle of the mountain where I could swim, but it turns out it was in a place similar to a swimming pool. At first I wanted to leave because people were swimming in such close proximity and the idea of personal space was absolutely void. Yet once I entered the water, it was amazing.  The water was incredibly hot, which was very relaxing. I had an amazing time with Jen who was with me through cold and hot.  Overall it was an amazing unforgettable trip. 

To New Adventures

This past week we spent the weekend at Banos. It is a tropical get away set high in the mountains with waterfalls and jungle all around. It was my very first time at a hostel and to be honest, I did not get a great vibe initially but the place definitely grew on me. I met many interesting people from all around the world, who each had an interesting story to tell. I learned how to play pool and how to lose with dignity. Hhahahha. The thing I loved most about this place was its peacefulness. There's something incredibly warm and sweet about Banos. The town is set in  very remote area and everything such as shops and parks is accessible. I got to hang out with members of my group and get to know them on a more personal level. As well, the nature was breathtaking. One of the most beautiful adventures was getting to get close to a waterfall and actually stand behind it. It was breathtaking. Looking at the waterfall made me really appreciate life and realize that it has so many beauties worth protecting. Since I study environmental science, nature is a huge part of my life. I feel it calms us down and makes us realize the true meaning of life lies beyond houses and cars. I as well learned amusing details about myself such as my body can take some serious bruises and still survive. Experiencing canyoning was amazing. Even though I am not a very adventurous person, I learned that if I am outside my comfort zone I can still survive. The support of Nicole and Jen was amazing. I loved having people around me who made me feel so safe and loved. I owe them a lot or I would still be stuck on that mountain figuring out a way to climb up a waterfall :P.


As my journey in Ecuador is coming to its end, with only one week left, I must say that I've experienced some amazing unexpected things.

For one, though I've always wanted to try, climbing down a waterfall was never on my short term "to-do" list. Last weekend however, we went to Banos and climbed down not one but three waterfalls. Though the group we were with was large, resulting in a lot of waiting around, I was never bored. While I was cold, the five hours during which we were climbing down these falls were so fun. While waiting in line we dared each other to stand under smaller waterfalls, we sat our body fully in the freezing water pooled at the bottom of the waterfall we just descended and chatted up people from Germany, Ireland and France. Never a dull moment.

Another incredible experience in Banos also involved another waterfall. This time myself and two other dear friends went on an excursion on our own to find this famous waterfall that we had heard so much about the night before from some new Columbian friends we made. We took a bus, stayed super alert so we wouldn't miss our stop, strolled through a seemingly abandoned town, through the forest, had some sugar cane and sugar cane juice, bought some bracelets and then finally arrived at the most breathtaking waterfall. We were so proud of ourselves for having found the waterfall and we're totally blown away by the view. Then we saw that there was a way to climb the waterfall all the way to the top and stand behind it. Of course, we did. It was such an exhilarating adventure.

This weekend we are going to Mindo, which is conveniently known as the mini Banos. Quite excited to see what kind of adventures I will have this time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Change of Pace, A Change of Temperature

After several weeks in Quito it was nice to have a break and leave the city. Our trip to Baños has definitely been a highlight of the trip so far. We spent the day on Saturday biking around, saw a dog with a giant croissant in its mouth, got doused by el pilon del diablo waterfall and had an overall nice day.

Saturday night we went to the Baños' namesake- the natural thermal baths scattered throughout the town. Our supposedly relaxing adventure included several trips up and down the stairs to figure out where to change, where to put our belongings, where to get shower caps (that's right we all donned some pretty awesome shower caps), where to take our pre-thermal bath entry shower and finally, where this hot pool was. Up and down, up and down.. at long last we stuck our toes in the water- I think mine burned off. The water was so hot that it may have been boiling at one point. In the smaller pool behind us the water was so cold that  you'd think you were there for a polar dip in Lake Winnipeg in January!  I think there may have been ice you had to break through to get into the water.

That said, Ali and I decided, after a dip in the boiling cauldron, to attempt the frozen ice water. We plunged in and I'm pretty sure my heart skipped a beat. I have to say we did very well- we managed to stay there for at least 2 minutes! The little pool was packed with people braving the ice cold. We dunked our heads under the water just to complete the process. One more minute until our bodies were numb and we ran back to the hot pool to warm up again. The water from both pools in the hot springs come from the nearby volcano- the hot water is heated from the steam near the magma and the cold is glacial melt from atop the crater. This was the perfect relaxing way to end the day- with a relaxing thermal bath!  Thanks everyone for braving the hot and cold waters!!!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Canyoning in Banos!

One experience from our weekend in Banos that I found to be awesome was when our group went canyoning with MTS Adventure. It was a great experience to do with the whole group and an awesome way to end the weekend. The scenery was beautiful and the staff was extremely nice and helpful. However, when the bus took forever to reach the waterfall (and when we had to turn around), I was a little bit suspicious of how much fun the activity was actually going to be.

One particular experience that I will remember from our adventure was to see Nada be a super trooper at making her way down all six waterfalls. I think if I remember correctly, Nada said that she was not an adventurous outdoor person. It was very courageous of her to go out of her comfort zone and participate in something that was so different. I am extremely happy that I was able to be apart of that experience for Nada… Way to go girl !!!

P.S Nada – I am speaking from my own opinion so please feel free to correct me if I am wrong!

Thursday, May 15, 2014


You studied for the test
And you wait for the result
You werent privelidged for paid help,
But you've given it your all.

Maybe they'll accept you
Chances are they won't
No money,  woman or black,
The odds hold you back.

You've made it!  You're in!
But wait, change comes on the wind.
The power targets your academy,
And down it falls so quickly.

Not up to par,
Not fair in judgment.
But what is to be done?
Your back to square one.

Pablo's Journey

I am in the middle of the jungle, and my feet are bleeding. All I see is spots in front of my eyes, and hear the night.  It’s raining and I just close my eyes hoping the sound will drown away my thoughts. Last night, I was in my bed. I was reading a book “Crime against Humanity”, when my dad came in to wish me good night. As he left my bedroom door, I heard a sound outside our house. Men yelling in harsh voices, and a knock on our door. I slipped out of my bed, and crept to the door and opened it slowly. There were men in our living room, and I could hear my dad talking to them in a low scared voice. My dad is a very large man who usually intimidates people, not gets intimidated. I could hear a sound coming up the stairs, very softly. I thought I was imagining it.  My mom came into my room, with the palest face I’ve seen. I heard gunshots downstairs, at the same time; she gave me something in my hand, and said one word “run”. I crawled out of my window, and ran into the jungle. My mom had always told me if something happened and the Guerillas come, to follow a path in the jungle that would lead me to my distant relatives in Ecuador. I found some dry leaves, and put my head down. All I could see was my father as he was wishing me goodnight. I closed my eyes and wondered if I’d ever see him again.


Oh Canada

Oh Canada

Oh Canada with your summer days and polar nights
Representing the true north with a southern face
Our safe haven, our home away from home
Although- not as cozy as we would have liked..

Oh Canada we love you with your latin flare,
Your southern glow.
We want to know more about you, about your compassion
Your cool friendship.
You barter and trade, your hearts are large but,
In proper Canadian style, cool and distant-
Cautious and calculated

Oh Canada you've opened your homes and your hearts to those less fortunate
Taking pity on those who could never stay here,
Those who need refuge from the storm
As the Magdalena river runs red,
Colombians arrive one by one, two by two
Until the boarders are overflowing into the valley of Pichincha,
causing the carita de dios to shed tears of sorrow,
Washing the Quito of its grime, letting new sun shine down on a new life

Oh Canada, we are happy you've made friends,
You've wrapped yourself in red, blue, yellow
colours plastered on the sides of buildings, walls;
Swishing in the cool afternoon breeze
Ecuador is a temptress who sings to us in the night
Come dance in the street, drink and be merry
But careful- Ecuador is harsh and firm when you betray her
Seven others have learned that devastating lesson
Destined to live up the mountain, with cool nights and
glacier water splashing down as the scrub off their sentences

Oh Canada, we thank you for allowing us a glimpse into of your life,
Your camaraderie with Ecuador
We too have made a new friend in her which, with the passing of time
may blossom into a rose red romance
As we find our centre at the the middle of the world.

UN: peace & security

  Canada is known as a multicultural nation, and that is obviously due to the amount of immigration and refugees accepted. As a life-long citizen of Canada, who has gone to school with and been friends with many immigrants, I know surprisingly little about the logistics of it all. For this reason I was very excited to be visiting the UN to gain a little bit more background knowledge.

Ecuador is heavily involved in immigration as it acts as the country of origin, destination and of transit between countries. Most immigrants are from Columbia that are arriving in Ecuador, at 98%, and the other two are from 70 other countries. The UN does a lot of interesting work in Ecuador, one concept, that I believe is unique to this country, is the law of human mobility. This states that it is a right of all humans to have the freedom to leave a country and not be sent back if the implications would involve risking your safety or freedom. Unfortunately, these types of laws in human’s rights are more often violated against migrants and seekers of asylum.

As Ecuador has no refugee camps, immigrants are actively brought into communities. I believe that this integration would help the transition into a new culture. I find this similar to Canada as many internationally arriving students are put right into the Canadian educational system, although it can be very difficult for immigrant children to find their place in a new school full of students who don’t fully understand their culture or way of living. This is also seen in the schools we are working at in Quito, with a main focus on children from Columbia. There are many factors that can act to segregate these students, regardless of social norms or language barriers, the base structure of schooling; its curriculum, is often completely different and puts them at different learning levels. The UN does a lot of heavy work in the law and world peace but I found it interesting to learn that they also work on a smaller scale Helping families adjust through the educational system or finding work, shelter and food are part of these goals.

The United Nations is an amazing organization joining the world together to target world peace. As necessary as this is, it is also quite ambitious. The UNHCR was originally meant to last 3 years as they were hoping to end a conflict in that time, its present existence prove that that was not possible and is an example of the complexity in gaining world peace. The UN symbolizes its goals of peace very well within their logo. The olive branches and the colour of blue depict peace, and the view of the countries are the regions that are protected by the United Nations. Overall their goals are in peace and security.

Even though this last section was requested by a certain group leader I'd like to note that it is still completely sincere. soo.. 

P.s.  As we say goodbye to you this weekend, David, I'd like to let you know you are super good at your job. If it wasn't for you none of us would be in Ecuador right now, and I'd like to thank you because I am getting so much out of this trip. From your salsa lessons to charade based debriefs, you're one hell of a leader. See ya around.  

One Last Chance

Kiss of ocean and sky bleeds into blush
Awakening the soul of greenest lush
Press hard and deep into my black red core
 Hear sounds of humanity being tore

Quivering breaking shattering falling
Their feet are coming I hear them bawling
Fleeing the red crown’s evil twisted greed
Darkness fills memory, they only bleed

Softer, softer our pain is almost gone
Darkness is fading into one last dawn
New is safe for only a sweet short time
No home now, you are a victim of crime

For centuries I have drank your spilt blood
Pounding woman and child into the mud
You left your own man wounded and broken

Enter me; I will have won their token

Educational presentation @ PUCE

On May 15, 2014 the group went to hear an educational talk at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE). Although all the discussions that we have heard have been interesting and informational, the talk presented by Dr. Nelson Reascos Vallejo was my favorite thus far.  His presentation was in regards to the educational system in Ecuador. He discussed various topics such as the generation of the universities, the objectives of the universities, and the effects of the new regulations for universities that was implemented by Correa passing mandate 14(?). Although the professor presented a biased opinion, it was refreshing to hear someone challenge the positive views of the education system that our group has been hearing.

            One topic that the professor covered in his presentation that I found interesting was when he discussed about the grading scheme created by C.E.S, C.E.A.C.E.S, and SENESCYT for universities in Quito.  The grading scheme is based on letters A to E with A being the highest and E being the lowest grade. It was shocking to hear that 14 universities in Quito have been closed due to receiving a letter grade of E and 40,000 students have been displaced because of this process. From my understanding from the presentation, the students of the closed universities have not received anything in compensation for the government shutting down their school. This means that those students did not get refunded their tuition, accreditation or acknowledgement for the progress in their programs, nor were they able to transfer their grades/courses to different universities.  I was shocked to here that the government did not support the students who were displaced.

The new regulations and policies defined by Correa’s government state that students must take two exams in the middle of the degree and two at the final (one is about general knowledge and the other is specific to program) as well as an exam before becoming a certified professional. The one similarity that I can see between the University of Manitoba (U of M) and the system in Ecuador is some degree programs have a final exam at the end of the program.  For example programs in law, medicine, nursing, and physiotherapy have final examinations before students can become certified professionals. However, U of M is different in the sense that degree programs do not take two exams in the middle of the degree or at the end, the courses have there own midterms and finals.  I found it interesting that the general exams the students take in Ecuador are based on questions from all fields around the degree program. For example, if a student were specializing in criminology during the general exam period they would have to have knowledge in all of general sociology. I find this very unfair to students and would make it very difficult to do well.  Overall I found his presentation to be extremely interesting and very informative.

Politicized Education

The government is re-thinking education;
Education falls victim to Politics.
The student’s voice is muted.
The cost of free speech is incarceration.
Silence is more affordable;
The cost of silence is time wasted, worthless degrees and jobless futures.
Big brother is watching.
The teacher’s voice is muted.
Surveillance reigns-in the freedom to think and to be different.
Unrealistic standards discredit public education.
Standardized tests marginalize the poor and the indigenous.
The rich once again prevail.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Lama Love

Hi this is Ali. This is my first blog entry ever, so keep  your expectations low. This is my first time travelling to Ecuador. This country encompasses many different components that when totaled make this country very unique. So far since I have arrived, I have been teaching English with Ella at a Spanish school. I have truly enjoyed the children whom I am teaching. They are very smart and really friendly. I found it amusing that when I first arrived everyone was confused when I said I was Canadian. I suppose that is due to the difference in immigration between Canada and Ecuador. The children I teach are very inquisitive and ask many questions which makes each day exciting and fun. The country itself is beautiful and provides numerous types of nature. I have seen green lands and mountains. This is something I will cherish when I return to Winnipeg since we are unable to view this type of nature. We have so far done site seeing in many different places. Each place I  visit, people are very friendly and kind. Since I have met Amber, I love lammmaaassss.  I can see myself living in this type of a country. The city seems to always be alive, and there is always activities to be done. I love the group I am with. Everyone is so supportive and kind. Being the only guy is at times a bit awkward, but I have to admit I truly am enjoying my time.

llama face.

We have all had a variety of New experiences in our schools over the last week. Learning lots and seeing what the education system is like in another country. It's quite different from the schools I've been in back home, and in a way almost refreshing. Students are all very confident and comfortable talking in front of the class, the all laugh with each other and with very well together. The classroom dynamic is quite different, and learning is controlled by the teacher rather than the clock like back home.

We have been teaching grammar rules to our classes, and taking time to talk about Canada. The students were very excited to see a map of Canada and pictures of animals and landscapes that we brought to share. They had a lot of questions for us and were very eager to learn about our home.

Possibly my favorite activity we have done outside of class was taking a gondola ride up a mountain to get a view of Quito. It was here that we also came face to face with some llama friends.

First Week in Ecuador

       It has been one week since I have landed in Ecuador. When I landed I was amazed by the incredible view surrounding me. Mountains, trees, and beautiful sunshine. So far I have been attending schools to help and teach English. Though at first I was not sure what was expected of me, I have now considered myself a friend to the students and teachers.
      I learn from them more than they would ever learn from me. Today I was talking to the students and asked them if they thought Canada was better than Ecuador to which they replied yes. I then asked the teacher to translate for me what I was about to say in Spanish. No country is better than another, and no group of people are smarter. We are all one and what may be strength in one country, may be the shortcoming in another country. Ecuador is blessed by its natural beauty and the beauty of its people. This country reminds me so much of my home country Egypt.
     The people are so warm to one another and show affection every chance they can. There's emotion and love and passion running within this land. I am so blessed to be here and to be able to meet these people. In three weeks it will be time to go home, but I will leave with a part of Ecuador. This place will always mean something to me. As for the people, I hope they know happiness is not measured by technology or money, it is measured by the people around us, and the friendships we make and keep.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

No way, I'm in Ecuador!

             In less than a week I have fallen in love with the city of Quito, with all its beautiful sites and loving people. Although the days are long and exhausting, I have yet to feel completely overwhelmed …and that is of course thanks to my wonderful group members!

              One of my favorite touristy adventures we've been on this week, was to the presidents palace downtown. When the current president, Rafael Correa, became president in 2007 he decided that the riches of Ecuador should be shared with the people, so the gates were opened and tours through the palace began. I think this idea of equality in riches and the wellbeing of the community really speaks to Ecuador's character as a whole. They are a people full of warmth; the teacher I'm working alongside, at Calderon, says that "we are poor but happy."

But there are still some things about Ecuador that will take some getting used to…
  • Putting toilet paper in the garbage not toilet
  • No toilet paper in stalls- you better grab it before you go in or else your searching your purse for napkins or flyers
  • Using bottled water to brush your teeth
  • Students are extremely confident.. They have no problem asking if you are married or are single…or if they can have your phone number
  • Getting lots of kisses on the cheek from students and teachers
  • Living with strangers (although that one hasn't been tough because they have all turned out to be awesome roomies!)


Our first week in Quito is slowly coming to an end. I have been assigned to the Humberto Mata Martinez highschool where I have been following the English teacher around for the past three days. The students are wonderful and are easily one of the best part of this trip. They spent a whole class asking us questions about our lives in Canada and the things we like and dislike. The last class we met even sang us songs and read us poems. They are such warm and friendly people. The class dynamic in Quito is very different than in Canada. Here in Quito, the students must pay five cents for every page of a test before they can take the test. The students stand when they address the class and answer questions. They also stand when the teacher enters room. They remain standing until they are seated by the teacher. It is all very interesting. I cannot wait to spend more time with these kids.

Stay classy Winnipeg,

FIrst Day of School

Quito is a city of contrasts and change. It is referred to by locals as the "carita de dios"- god's face; when he is sad it rains, when he is happy the sun shines. It can rain in the north, hail in the west and be sunny in the south. As we travel around the city from place to place, changes can be seen unfolding in front of us. New roads, new hospitals, new police stations and new schools. Our first Monday we had a tour of the three schools we will be working in for the rest of the month, Humberto Mata, Cotocollao and Calderon. The first two schools were small, laid back and seemed very nice.

The new school, Calderon, was opened in the past year and is a school of the millennium. Our tour was guided with enthusiasm and pride- computer labs, projectors, a pool and "baby" bathrooms! This 1800 student school is one of many built throughout the country and is truly amazing. Our first day of classes proved eventful. The students told us about their old schools and how many of them have come to study together in their last years of high school. It will be an adventure to work here for the rest of the month!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Made it to Quito!

So after a long night in Montreal and finally joining my group in Toronto (:S) ... I finally made it to Quito! Quito is an amazing city with break taking views! The landscape pictures I have tried to capture on camera do not accurately portray or encompass the beauty of this city. I have quickly realized that Quito is it not what I expected to see and my ideas that I had were quickly squashed. The city is larger and more developed than I had expected.

In the four days that we have been in Quito, we have been extremely busy trying to keep up with the fast paced tempo of the city. We have travelled to different sight seeing (touristy) destinations as well as we have visited the schools that we will be working at for the next month.  My favorite place that we have visited thus far would be downtown Quito. I love the architecture of the buildings. The fine details on the outside of buildings are exquisite, especially at one church that we passed near the downtown square of Quito (Plaza De La Independencia?).

Although there are many topics that can be discussed with all the things that we have done in the last couple of days! The moment that stands out the most at this time is the first day that we went to visit the different schools. I was overwhelmed with emotion to see how welcoming and excited that the school staff and students were at our arrival (especially the little kids at Calderon who sang to us). The warmth and kindness they portrayed to our group such as welcoming us to be apart of their family made me realize the kind of meaningful and reciprocal relationships/connections that can be built in our time in Quito. Their generosity and excitement made me also extremely excited to meet and get to know the staff and students that we would be working with. Although Jen and I were only able to meet one class, I believe that this next month will offer many opportunities for us to build relationships with the students and staff of Calderon.