25 September 2006


Anti-chocolatism and the Backpacking Life

Those of you who experienced my tirade against bananas during my time in Costa Rica: get ready!! This time, I've got words to share about everyone's favorite commodity: chocolate. Last Friday, we had a session on community involvement outside of English teaching and a woman named Judy came to talk to us about her organic chocolate production NGO. There were a couple things Judy said that turned a lot of us off (ex: "I didn't go to an Ivy League school and I didn't grow up with any money, but by the time I was 30, I was internationally recognized by a bunch of fancy people with Ph.Ds in Chicago for my great altruistic work.") but overall, she was very informative about the cultivation, production, and exportation of cacao and cacao products. Now it's been said that the anti-oxident properties of chocolate is good for the body, but most commercial chocolate doesn't have a high enough percentage of said anti-oxidents (lost in the process) to do anything beneficial for the body. She asked us to guess some of the higher quality chocolates in the world and when one guy yelled "Godiva!" her response was "oh, no! Godiva is crap crap crap." Apparently, Godiva processes their chocolate so much that the anti-oxidents are no longer present. But more importantly, they use low-grade cacao and mix it with so much processed sugar and milk that it's hardly chocolate, let alone fine chocolate. If you look on the package of a chocolate bar and it says "dutch processed" or "alkali processed" it means the anti-oxidents have been eliminated and therefore you're just holding a bar of processed sugar in your hand. The chocolate also needs to be at least 60% cacao for it to be good. For those of you who are white chocolate lovers, you're eating milk, sugar, and cacao butter. Oh, and "Rapunzel" is the best organic chocolate out there. Of course, nobody ever eats chocolate with the intention of being healthy, but it sure doesn't hurt to eat the better-for-you chocolate in this day and age of processed everything!

Our second guest speaker was a guy from Mexico, Daniel, who works with an NGO that teaches children with Type 1 diabetes how to adapt to a new lifestyle so that they can live a life just like every other kid without diabetes. In Ecuador, 95% of the people who have diabetes have Type 2 diabetes, which comes later in life to people who are obese, have unhealthy eating habits, don't exercise, etc. and almost 100% of diabetes research goes towards dealing with Type 2. The victims of Type 1 diabetes are children ages 0-25 and without any knowledge of how to deal with this annoyance, a child can slip into a coma without warning. Anyways, this NGO, AYUDA (which stands for American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad, and which also means "help" in Spanish) holds week-long camps throughout the summer for local children to give them the food and emotional nourishment they need by surrounding them with understanding counselors, both from within Ecuador and abroad, and with other children from their communities so that they know they aren't alone in their struggle. AYUDA attracts a lot of college students who want to travel, learn Spanish, or what have you during the summer and also do something good. They also have a lot of trained medical professionals come in from the U.S. who don't mind giving up a week of their vacation time to help kids. You don't have to be diabetic to help; they provide training seminars as well as Spanish lessons for about a week before the camp starts, so that everyone is well prepared to teach the kids to help themselves. Daniel gave a really inspiring talk about the program and it's internationally accredited, so if you know anyone who wants to help out in any way, let them know about AYUDA. They have camps, as far as I know, all over Latin America, including Mexico and Ecuador, and perhaps on other continents as well.

Last night, I went to see "Que tan lejos" (Very far away), an Ecuadorian movie (one of like, 4). It was absolutely hilarious and poignant. It's about 2 girls, one from Barcelona and one from Quito, who meet on their way to Cuenca, a city about 10 hours south from Quito. The Quiteña (girl from Quito) is going to Cuenca to stop her boyfriend from marrying a girl he impregnated, and the girl from Barcelona is going simply for vacation. On their bus ride down, they roads become blocked by a supposed indigenous revolt, and the movie is about the slew of interesting characters they meet on the way, who help them get to Cuenca and who help them (especially the Quitenña) realize what a ridiculous mission she's on. It really made me feel glad to be traveling again, but at the same time it made me realize who fast life is moving along and how easy it would be for me to pause life by getting lost in the sea of backpackers that you see floating around. And part of me really wants to just join the current and go wherever I may go. (Don't worry, M & D: I won't be doing that any time soon.) It's an odd, wistful feeling that I get every time I feel that I'm not getting the most out of life. Of course, here in Quito, I'm having a great time and am living it up as much as I can, knowing that I'll be leaving here in a short week (!!!!!) to head to Machala; I only felt the wings of desire flutter when watching the movie. It's an odd thing, thinking about where you are in life, where you thought you would be even 5 years ago and where you want to be vs. where you think you will be in 5 years time. It's like nostalgia, but you don't know exactly what you're looking back on!

In other news, the other 2 Machaleños (people from Machala) and I will be heading "home" on Sunday night to leave some of our stuff before traveling to a couple of other cities. We start work on October 10th, so we're trying to see as much as we can, on as little money as we need, before settling down to work.

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