Haley Smith
Haley Smith
Ecuador, 2018
From July -September 2018, I will be interning with Sinamune, an organization in Quito, Ecuador that provides music education and other services to individuals with special needs. I will be assisting with music classes, performances, and more. I am excited to experience the Ecuadorian culture and learn from these incredible individuals! Read More About Haley →

The Ultimate Differentiation Challenge (Week 5, Day 1, Part 1)

Monday, August 6th

After today’s 15-hour non-stop day, I almost felt like I was back in music school! I started at Sinamune; Cosette’s and my new schedule had us staying until 10 am, after which we would go to Spanish lessons for 2 hours, and then to La Casa de La Música to start teaching our new classes. However, apparently the director Klever, who Diana had given our new schedule to, had left for a trip to South Korea with one of those students, forgetting to share our new schedule with the staff. Of course, today of all days, the psychology majors had to leave at 10:00 as well for some sort of class. So, the staff had Diana cancel our Spanish lessons so that we could stay until 12:00. We’re getting so used to the schedule changes and lack of communication/organization that we just shrugged and went with it. About 20 minutes after they left, the psychology majors returned. Turns out they didn’t have class after all! By then it was too late to reschedule Spanish again, so we just stayed at Sinamune.

Also, there is a new girl that arrived today named Ashley, who is a junior music education major. She will be at Sinamune for two weeks, and will essentially take Paige’s place. (Paige is teaching classes for Núcleo Pichincha the same time as Sinamune.)

Unfortunately, however, Cosette was sick today and unable to come to Sinamune or the Núcleo. Fortunately, Ashley’s principal instrument is flute, so she was able to fill in at the Núcleo. This was going to complicate the day though, because as Cosette’s birthday is tomorrow Paige and I had planned a surprise party for this evening! (Her parents were coming to visit Ecuador and she would be with them tomorrow, so we needed to do it today! We were just going to have to wait and see, though.

After Sinamune, Ashley and I took the bus to a stop near our Spanish school and grabbed a quick lunch at one of my favorite empanada places. Then we met Diana at her office near there, because she was going to go with us to the new job for the first day.

We took a taxi and arrived at La Casa de La Música. They showed us to the rooms where we would teach. My room was magnificent, with two door-size windows that opened to a magnificent view of La Virgen del Panecillo and the south of Quito. They had also already placed chairs in the room. They had told me that I could use an electronic keyboard that they had, but someone had to go get it. Fortunately, we got it set up in plenty of time. The students were about to arrive!

And now I would like to talk about the danger of expectations. Try as we might not to have expectations, I think it’s part of the human condition that we are going to expect things to go or be a certain way. I don’t know if this is a side effect of imagination, or wishful thinking, or maybe a survival method to prepare ourselves for what is to come. Anyway, I had expectations. You’d think after the past month in Ecuador I would have learned and have known better than to expect things to go the way I expected…

Here’s what I expected. And this wasn’t wishful thinking, because this is exactly how the directors at Núcleo Pichincha told us things would go.

2:00-4:00: Choir with children from 8-12 years old, beginning singers with little/no experience

4:00-6:00: Choir with children 13+, beginning/intermediate singers with some experience

Here’s what I got:


  • 10 students of various ages and abilities (and when I say various I mean VARIOUS)
  • One 6-year-old accompanied by her parents, 3 teenagers, and 6 adults over the age of 30
  • 6 people who had never sung in their life, 2 people who had sung in school choir, 1 director of a music school, and 1 semi-professional opera singer who had studied in Quito’s conservatory but stopped after he kept getting sick and having vocal problems


  • 6 students of various ages and abilities
  • One 8-year-old, 2 teenagers, and 3 adults
  • 1 adult who had studied music in college, 1 teenager who had never sung in her life, 1 professional singer/guitar player, 1 lady who sings in a chorus in Quito, 1 lady who has never sung in her life, and the 8-year-old who said her favorite song was Despacito

I had planned songs and activities for children! Also, in no universe should a 6-year-old and a 44-year-old sing in a choir together! I was too overwhelmed to really analyze the situations, so I started warm-ups and just went with it. I allowed some time for people to introduce themselves and for a 10-minute break, but let me just say 2 hours is a long time to improvise teaching after having to throw away your whole lesson plan.

Somehow, though, I did it, and all of the students were so gracious and patient with my Spanish and truly grateful to come to the class. They all told me as well that they were under the impression that it would be divided by age/ability, but they went with the flow when it wasn’t.

I’m trying to refrain from being disappointed that things didn’t turn out as I expected, but I am a little frustrated again. Also, I have never taught ADULTS, and I feel like I’m not equipped to do that. Add to all of that the language barrier; I didn’t realize how much technical terminology is involved with singing until I tried to explain things in Spanish!

However, I know I’m going to figure something out, and I know I’m going to learn a lot, and I’m trying to view the whole situations as “THE ULTIMATE DIFFERENTIATION CHALLENGE.” Stay posted, wish me luck, and please send me any advice/tips you have about differentiating with such groups. Gracias!



At least the view is fabulous!



Week 4, La Más Mejor! (Part 3)

Friday, August 3rd

Today was a nice relaxing day. We went to Sinamune and did finger painting and play-doh (yes it was as messy as you’re imagining). We had a nice lunch of choclo and some great conversation with the psychology major girls. Then we went to our coffee shop, Serendipity, to work on lesson plans for next week. Jun, the owner is always so welcoming and gracious to us. If you are ever in Quito, go to Serendipity! And that’s about it for today.

Saturday, August 4th

Today Paige and I had planned to take the teleferico up Pichincha and hike to the top, but our plans were thwarted by rain. So instead I slept in and then met up with Paige to run some errands. Cosette’s birthday is Tuesday, so we are planning a surprise party for Monday night. Also, at the mall today, we ran into one of our psychology major friends! Literally, what are the odds?! It’s like being in the US and running into your friend in the mall! Except even less likely because Quito is a massive and there were two other huge malls in walking distance of the 4-story mall we were at.

Sunday, August 5th

This morning I went to mass at La Basilica del Voto Nacional. It was a beautiful mass and a beautiful basilica. Afterwards, I paid $2 to climb to the tower at the very top of the church, which boasts one of the best views of Quito. It was stunning! The way up was pretty precarious, as the stairs were more like straight-up ladders, but it was exhilarating. I feel like it would never fly in the US, but there nobody minded if the wire between the steps protecting you from a massive fall was missing. After that, I explored the old town walking around, so I could get my bearings and figure out which buses I would need to take to get to my new job on Monday. Here are some photos of the basilica and the climb!





Okay, I can’t get the rest of the photos to upload, but I’ll try again later. Or check out my Facebook because I will post them in the album there as well!

Week 4, La Más Mejor! (Part 2)

Wednesday, August 1st

Today we went to Sinamune and found out the plan. Essentially, we will still go to Sinamune in the mornings from 8:30-12:00 because there will be a summer program for students of the school who wish to come. There are three groups of about five students each, who will rotate through music group, flute group, and dance group, each for an hour.

Before we even tried that, all three of us could have told you that hour-long groups were not going to work for these students, but we humored the Sinamune staff and tried it. It didn’t work very well, and all of us were pretty frustrated and concerned about doing this and the other groups in the afternoon. We also didn’t know when we were going to go to Spanish. (One suggestion was six hours on Saturdays – yikes!) We asked Diana if we could meet with her, and she said she could meet with us before Spanish.

Because I was now going to be working with the same students consistently every day, I told the staff it would really help me to have some background info on the students and their needs. One of the teachers, Sonia, said of course and gave me a binder with the students’ names, diagnoses, and basic info. I also asked for documentation of other services and therapies they had had. I don’t know if she misunderstood me, but she said they didn’t have that. I asked, “But haven’t they had at least speech-language therapy or physical therapy, like early intervention stuff when they were younger?” She said no. I couldn’t believe it.

Later that day, we met with Diana and spent an hour speaking with her about Sinamune and the plans for the remainder of the time. It was a really helpful conversation, as she told us some more about Sinamune, attitudes about disabilities in Ecuador, and the background of the students. I told her about my questions about documentation and past therapies and also whether or not there is actually anyone who knows what music therapy is there! Here is what I found out:

  1. Music Therapy at Sinamune: The directors of Sinamune, Klever and Aidita, both know what music therapy is and may or may not be music therapists. However, because Sinamune is technically on summer vacations, none of that has been happening and I haven’t gotten the chance to talk to them because they have been either traveling or in the office working on administrative things. Diana said she would make sure I had a chance to talk to them soon.
  1. State of Disability Rights in Ecuador: There is anti-discrimination legislation in place, but that doesn’t always translate to no discrimination in reality. There is a law that for companies who have more than 100 employees, at least 5% of them must have a disability.
  1. Backgrounds of Students at Sinamune: Diana said that because of lack of education, many of the Sinamune families don’t believe that their children with disabilities are capable of doing much. Sinamune is not only a positive and safe place for them, but it also plays a role in educating the families about the purpose and potential of their children. Diana said that families are sometimes ashamed to have a child with a disability, so they essentially shut them away from the world and keep them locked up inside the house. For this reason, many of them didn’t receive services or necessary therapies in the past. Diana said technically those services are provided free of charge by the government, but actually getting them is a whole other story, especially if families don’t want to admit they have a child with a disability.

All of this was so enlightening; I just wish I had known it the first day. It’s really frustrating that the families don’t always see the potential of the students, but it’s awesome that Sinamune is actively working to change that. I understand a lot more where the students are coming from and why things are the way they are here.

Oh, between our meeting and Sinamune we found a delicious place for lunch called La Torre! It is French-themed and has French pastries but still serves Ecuadorian food. The lunch was $3 for soup, main course, juice, and dessert. Qué delicioso!


Thursday, August 2nd

Today was a chill day at Sinamune. There are about 10 students that come consistently to the summer programming. Cosette, Paige, and I work with three psychology students who are at Sinamune for practicum hours. Their names are Melissa, Katherine, and Veronica, and they are awesome. It has been fun getting to know them as well.

We started off the day with an intense soccer match between the professors and the students. At one point it was Cosette, Paige, and I against three of the students, and they creamed us. It was actually comical how terrible we were at soccer. The students were quite amused. It wasn’t a very competitive game, but at least it was entertaining!

After the game, we did music group, dancing, and played some games. I am enjoying the routine of the same students every day, because I am really getting to know them as individuals. Part of what was frustrating before was the lack of consistency or continuity with any of the students.

Oh, and we got to see the final promotional posters and videos from our photo shoot Monday! I will share them below! I don’t think I’ve ever been this official before!

So, the plan for the rest of the time is this: During August, I will go to Sinamune in the mornings to lead music therapy groups. On days when there is orchestra, I will perform with them first and then lead groups. On days when there is not orchestra, I will only lead groups at Sinamune for a couple hours and then go to Spanish lessons. Every day, either after Spanish or after Sinamune, I will go to La Casa de La Musica in the historic center to teach two different choir groups for two hours each. The days will be long, but I am used to long days and thrive on business. Then, in September when the school year starts for Sinamune, I will go there from 8 am to 1 pm every day. In the evenings I will teach one choir group at La Casa de La Música from 4-6. I’m not exactly sure where Spanish will fit in, but I am sure I will figure it out! Cosette has the same schedule as me, but Paige will not be going to Sinamune anymore because she will teach one dance class in the morning and one in the evening for Núcleo Pichincha. Today is our last day of the schedule all together!



Here’s a link to the video from Núcleo Pichincha!


Week 4, La Más Mejor! (Part 1)

Monday, July 30th

Today was a great day! It started out at Sinamune rehearsing with the orchestra. After that, they told me I would do music therapy sessions one-on-one. As a reminder, our program coordinator Diana had a meeting today with some people from La Casa de La Cultura del Núcleo Pichincha (the cultural sector of the provincial government). Apparently the meeting went well, because she messaged us to say they wanted to meet with us this afternoon and take some pictures for the promotional material.

We met Diana at her office and then took a taxi to the historic center, where La Casa de La Cultura is located. The official people were still in a meeting, so they sent us to take pictures. We thought it would be a quick snap of our faces for a poster or something, but oh no. This was a legit photo/video shoot. The three of us were freaking out because we hadn’t know this was going to happen, so we had not dressed for the occasion and we all thought our hair looked terrible. No matter. For the next hour, they took photos and videos of us, first on a patio, and then up a ladder onto the roof of the building! It was beautiful; you could see all of Quito stretched out before you. They had Cosette play her flute and move around on the roof. Then they had a synthesizer for me to (pretend to) play, and then instructed me to sing something and do a lot of gestures (lol). Then they had Paige dance on top of this cement block and she almost fell off the roof! We were all pretty awkward haha but the whole situation was so strange and unexpected.

After the photo shoot, we met with the directors of La Casa de La Cultura. They were very friendly and we talked about what classes we would offer and what our schedules would be. The plan was for us each to teach 2 2-hour classes every day. I would be teaching choir, Cosette would be teaching flute, and Paige would be teaching dance.

We were still waiting to hear whether or not Sinamune would have enough students to offer camp to in the mornings or not. Diana said they would let us know tomorrow.

Well, this all seems very promising, so I hope everything works out well!

Addendum: Today was the first day in three weeks that I didn’t bring my rain jacket with me and of course today was the first day in three weeks that it rained here in Quito! Just thought everyone should know.

Tuesday, July 31st

Today was the last official day of Sinamune summer programs. First, the orchestra played for tourists and then we loaded up the buses to head to… the discoteca! At 10:00 am!

They had rented out a discoteca for Sinamune at some public park complex, and we danced for three hours. It was so much fun and so entertaining. All of the students had the best time. Some of them can really dance, and they were all so into it. One boy in particular, a 13-year-old named Israel, was so excited he could hardly contain himself. The whole bus ride he couldn’t sit still, and then when we got there he was enamored with the mirrors that covered the entire perimeter of the circular room. He also kept running to the bathroom every 5 minutes to slick his hair down with water! He would come back dripping wet, and then would dance in the mirror and watch himself! He kept wanting to dance with Cosette and he wouldn’t leave her alone! He told her that he had a girlfriend who was also named Cosette. We couldn’t stop laughing. Another man, Eduardo, was running around the room yelling “ESTOY BORRACHO!!!” (“I’M DRUNK!!!”) Of course, he wasn’t; all they had had to drink was cranberry juice, but I think he truly thought he was drunk. It was a wild time!

After that we went to Spanish lessons. Then I came home, showered and went straight to bed. Dancing for three hours is not for the faint of heart!




Week 3: Part 2

Thanks to all for their prayers and words of encouragement and support the past few days. They have definitely helped a lot, and I am feeling a lot better and optimistic that something wonderful is bound to work out!


Thursday, July 26th

Today at Sinamune I did “music therapy.” I was supposed to have sessions with six students, but only three came. I was actually able to work on some stuff with them though, because they had pretty extreme language deficits, so I used my few translated Spanish songs to work on language. The problem is though that I am not the person who should be modeling the Spanish language, because I speak with quite an accent. However, I didn’t know what else to do.

After Spanish classes, I went home with Cosette, Meghan, and Paige to Diana’s house for a farewell pizza party. Zach leaves tonight, Katie leaves tomorrow, and Meghan leaves Monday. It was nice to see everyone and spend time with them before they left. Also, Diana gave us a little bit of an update on the August situation. Because Sinamune started advertising the community music classes at the last minute, they don’t know what the turnout will be like. But Diana has a meeting Monday with some people at La Casa de La Cultura, which is a cultural organization in Quito run by the government. She said we might teach at their camps. So at least something is in the works, but I still have no idea what we are going to do exactly.

Friday, July 27th

Yesterday, Sinamune told us not to come today because there would be no rehearsal, no students, and nothing to do. I still had to go to Spanish lessons though.

In the evening, Cosette, Meghan, and I went to La Casa de La Música to hear La Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Ecuador. It was magnificent! It was over two hours of music, and it only cost $10. It was a great way to end a frustrating week.

Saturday, July 28th

Today I slept in until very late and then met Paige for coffee. Quito is very quiet on the weekends! Afterwards I came home, read for a while, and went to bed.

Sunday, July 29th

Today was a nice relaxing day. I slept in until 9:00 am and then went to mass with Pilar at La Iglesia de La Dolorosa. It was a beautiful church. She cooked a delicious lunch at home and her daughter and son-in-law came over to eat with us. I spent the rest of the day writing emails and catching up on things.


I can’t wait to find out what the plan for August is, either tomorrow or the next day hopefully!

Week 3: Part 1

Monday, July 23rd

Today I woke up with a terrible headache, so I called in sick to Sinamune and stayed home to rest. I fell back asleep even though I had gone to bed at 8 pm the night before and ended up sleeping for 18 hours straight! I felt so, so tired. The other girls told me that they felt like the altitude really hit them the third week and they all had headaches and were exhausted, so probably that’s what it is. Hopefully by the end of this week I will be completely acclimated and settled in! Fortunately (or unfortunately), I didn’t miss anything at Sinamune because apparently no students came!

Tuesday, July 24th

Today I went to Sinamune, rehearsed with the orchestra, and then played in the performance for tourists. After that, we went on an excursion to the historic center of Quito. We went to El Museo Cultural Metropolitano. It was an hour bus ride there, and then some more waiting to enter the museum. The actual time spent at the museum was only about 30 minutes, but it was interesting. I learned some about Quito’s history, but I spent most of the time helping to manage the students and making sure they didn’t touch anything or fall into any exhibits. I’m not sure how much they got out of it, but I know our tour guide was amused because some of them kept asking the same questions over and over. One boy asked (about the historical wax statues) “Are they dead?” After we finished the tour, we had to wait 45 minutes for the rest of the group. Then we had to wait 45 minutes in the sidewalk for the buses. This turned out to be quite interesting because we happened to be waiting on a street where a woman was screaming and stripping naked, yelling at three police officers that were trying to calm her down. I have no idea what was going on. There was no way to get away from the scene or to cover all the students’ eyes. I’ll let you imagine the reactions of a bunch of adolescent and adult males with special needs upon seeing this crazy naked woman. As I said before, never a dull moment!

Cosette, Meghan, Paige, and I didn’t ride the bus back to Sinamune with the students because Spanish lessons were close by and it didn’t make sense to go all the way back and then return to the area for Spanish. I stopped by my empanada place for lunch and then headed to Spanish.

Right now we are doing a lot of conversation to help me practice speaking and also reviewing certain grammar things, currently preterite versus imperfect. I forgot how confusing preterite versus imperfect could be!

Oh, and after Spanish lessons, Cosette, Meghan, Paige, and I all had a salsa dancing lesson! It was a lot of fun but also difficult. I felt like a dead fish flopping around and I’m sure I looked like it too. Paige was of course a natural what with all her dance experience, but the rest of us were on the struggle bus! I don’t know if we are ready for the salsatecas yet…

Wednesday, July 25th

I have to be honest and say that this has been a bit of a rough week. I am growing increasingly frustrated with the program and everything I thought it would be that it isn’t. All of us interns were told there would be summer music camps and classes in July and that Sinamune would be on break for two weeks in August, during which time we would go to another music program. Well, to begin with, there are not summer music camps or classes. The students only attend Sinamune two days per week in the summer and when they do, they go on excursions. The other days are filled with painting rooms, moving desks, and glorified babysitting. Any music lessons or classes that happen are run by us and they are sporadic at best.

Also, we found out recently that Sinamune is actually on summer vacation for the ENTIRE month of August, five weeks. No matter, we thought, it would be interesting to experience another program. However, we have just found out that there is no other program that they had planned for us to go to, and now they are talking about just having us teach music lessons to people in the surrounding neighborhood for the entire month of August. We all feel misled and frustrated. Diana did tell us about a music school by her house that we might be able to work with. However, Cosette and Meghan went there on Monday and they said all they did was join a jazz improv group that lasts for two weeks. There doesn’t seem to be much going on there.

Anyway, to elaborate on my frustration, here is how today went. We arrived at Sinamune for orchestra rehearsal and waited an hour, only to find out there was no orchestra rehearsal! Then we went downstairs to ask for further instructions and they had us move a bunch of desks from the third floor to the second floor. Then some of the teachers were working on organizing their rooms, and we were just in the way with nothing to do, so we retreated down the hallway to the small rooms used for practicing.

I forgot if I mentioned Kevin yet, but he plays violin in the orchestra and teaches lessons as well at Sinamune. He is in high school and wants to go to college for music. Last week he and I talked about doing an exchange where he will teach me violin lessons and I will teach him English lessons. There was nothing else to do, so we had our first violin/English lesson. My goodness, I forgot how miserable it is to be a beginner learning an instrument. We worked the whole time on bow grip exercises and who knew it could be so difficult?!

After that, I practiced piano for two hours while Meghan practiced violin and Cosette practiced flute. Paige practiced Spanish. Finally, it was time to leave.

I rode the bus to a coffee shop near the other girls’ houses because I was supposed to go to the other music school with them today. (We would have Spanish Friday instead of today.) When it was time to leave, I walked 30 minutes to their house so we could walk over together. After I arrived, Diana called and told us that classes were actually cancelled at the other school because the professor was sick. Honestly, I’m not even surprised anymore.

There is no bus from their house to mine, so I had to walk 45 minutes home. Fortunately, it was a pretty day and I got to see some of the city. I am realizing though that I could NEVER live in a city permanently. It is a nice experience for three months, but the smells and sounds are just too much sometimes.

Well, who knows what tomorrow will bring? The disorganization and lack of planning is incredibly frustrating, but at the very least I’m going to improve my piano-playing and Spanish a great deal while I’m here…

Thanks to all for their continued thoughts and prayers.

Weekend Trip to Baños!

Friday, July 20th

We went to Sinamune this morning and had orchestra rehearsal. However, no students were coming and after waiting an hour doing nothing, Zach, Paige, and I asked if they had anything for us to do the rest of the day. They said no, and let us go ahead and leave for Baños.

This was a good thing because we ended up getting very lost on the Quito bus system trying to find our way to the Southern terminal Quitumbe, where we would get a bus to Baños. 2.5 hours and four buses later we still hadn’t made it to Quitumbe, so we made the decision to split a taxi. Fortunately, taxis are very affordable, and we easily made it in the taxi. (PSA: Just because the bus says QUITUMBE on top does NOT mean that it goes to Quitumbe.)

We bought our bus tickets to Baños and settled in for the 3.5 hour ride. It was scenic and not too long. Upon arrival, I contacted our AirBnB hosts, Mayra and Manuel. They met us to show us the apartment and they were the sweetest old couple. They had lived in Baños their whole lives and were very proud of their town. Mayra made us jugo de babaco (another new fruit), which was delicious! Then they offered to take us on a tour of their town. They drove us around in their truck to the beautiful viewpoint on the top of the hill and also showed us the baths in the city.

The others were arriving in Baños throughout the evening, so we waited and met them. Katie arrived from Quito, Sarah and Jane arrived from the coast, and Jonah and Emily arrived from Riobamba. It was great to see some old friends and to meet some new ones.

Saturday July 21st

Unfortunately, it rained almost all day today. Paige and I found some great coffee shops, but we didn’t get to do all of the outdoor stuff we had intended because of the weather. At least, though, we all went on a tour to Casa del Arbol, where we rode “the swing at the end of the world.” It was exhilarating and made the trip worth it.

Sunday, July 22nd

Paige came with me to mass this morning at the Basilica de la Virgen de Agua Santa. It was a beautiful basilica and service. After that, we got crepes for breakfast and were ready to head home. We were soaking wet and exhausted and still had the bus ride to Quitumbe and then from Quitumbe to our houses. Katie came home with us.

The way back was much easier and we found the right bus from Quitumbe to go home. Baños was a beautiful little town, and I’m sad that the weather was so miserable. Apparently they were having record low temperatures this weekend, and there were a lot of mudslides there this weekend that were all over the Ecuadorian national news. I would love to go back sometime and truly get to experience all the town has to offer. For now though, I am happy to be snug and warm in my bed in Quito.


Pictures to come soon! I am working on figuring out how to upload them, haha.

Week 2

Monday, July 16th

Well, the confusion continues. Today I arrived at Sinamune and there were no students. They said the students weren’t coming today. However, there was orchestra rehearsal. Apparently there is another girl who plays piano sometimes and she has the partituras but she wasn’t there today, so I just listened and watched again. I tried to write down a few chords to make some lead sheets for some of the songs but there were so many and they were so fast that I didn’t accomplish much. (Aural Skills IV failed me – but also I almost failed Aural Skills IV.) They told me that they would give me the sheet music tomorrow. We shall see.

After the rehearsal, they told Cosette, Meghan, and I that we would teach 45-minute private lessons to the three little girls there for summer camp (flute, violin, and piano, respectively). We were quite amused that they thought a 5-year-old was going to sit through three 45-minute instrument lessons. However, I went to the piano room and Rosita brought me the first girl. Except at the same time, Sandra arrived with one of the Sinamune students. Rosita said that I was teaching piano and Sandra said of course not because I was going to do “music therapy” sessions with some of the Sinamune students. Apparently there was some sort of miscommunication. Ultimately, Rosita took the piano girl away and remade the lesson schedule for the three little girls, and they told me I would do “music therapy.” They brought me the first student, along with his mother, and left me to it. I still don’t know what kind of black magic they think music therapy is, but I was pretty stressed. I had never met this student; I didn’t know his diagnosis, much less his name! I explained to the mother that nobody told me that I was even doing this today, that I wasn’t a licensed music therapist yet, and that I was not told anything about the objectives for her son. She was understanding and patient. But, I made up some activities, because we weren’t just going to sit there for 30 minutes! I sang a hello song in Spanish, we did some instrument exploration, musical conversations with drums, and then a game with drums and guitar. All things considered, it was pretty successful. Then came three more students in succession, each with very different abilities and needs. I made it up as I went and somehow finished all four sessions. I don’t know how to explain to them that music therapy is not what they think it is without delegitimizing the excellent work they are doing, especially with the language barrier…

Also, I asked Rosita if there was any sort of schedule for the rest of the week. She showed us a schedule for the whole month of July! It showed which days students came and which days they didn’t, which days were which excursions to where, which days the orchestra rehearsed and which days they performed for tourists. This would have been so helpful to have from the start! Oh well, at least we have it now!

After Sinamune, Paige and I took the bus into the city center to get lunch and find a coffee shop to work on our laptops. We found the BEST empanada place for lunch, called “Los Empanadas del Negro.” They sell empanadas for only 50 cents each, and huge cups of fresh-squeezed juice for $1. The best part was they had about 12 different fruits to choose from! (Most places just offer one specific fruit every day.) I ordered a strawberry juice and watched them make it with fresh strawberries on the spot. It was so delicious. We will definitely be coming back.

Next, we found a coffee shop called Quito Coffee and Art. It was a quiet and cozy place and we got a lot of work done. When I returned home to my house, I ate dinner and warm brownies that Pilar had prepared. Hasta mañana!

Tuesday, July 17th

Thanks to the schedule I asked to see yesterday, I knew that today we were going to “Happy Farm.” However, first I had orchestra rehearsal and then a performance for tourists. Except unfortunately the girl who was supposed to bring the partituras forgot them. So I just listened to the rehearsal again, until her sister dropped them off right before the performance. I was not about to sight read fifteen pieces on the spot and mess up the performance, but I also didn’t have time to get off the stage, so I just turned my keyboard off and marked the whole time, lol. Most of the songs aren’t too difficult, other than the fact that they play everything at rocket-on-steroids tempo. I can sight-read basic piano music slowly, but it is going to take me a while to get everything up to tempo. Now I have a notebook filled with about one hundred pages of piano music to learn; thank goodness my host family has a piano at home! I almost feel like I’m back in college again!

After the performance, we loaded up the buses for Happy Farm! It was about an hour outside Quito. It was a farm for children with various activities, and the students had the best time. There was a lemonade making station, seed-planting station, petting zoo, horse-riding, duck-feeding, playgrounds, and a trampoline. When we got there, all the students stormed the trampoline, and they had a hard time understanding that there could only be four at a time. Cosette and I were somehow put in charge of the trampoline while we waited to eat a picnic lunch of salchichas and papas fritas.

After lunch, we split into groups to go to the different parts of the farm. My group went first to the lemonade station. We started cutting lemons in half to juice them, and next thing I knew half of the students were just eating the lemon halves plain all by themselves, without showing any sign they were sour! I was astounded and at first I thought maybe they weren’t lemons, but I asked a teacher and she said they were. She said they are delicious plain and everybody grows up eating them so they don’t think they are sour. She offered me one and I tried to take a bite and almost choked, it was so sour! Fortunately, there was sugar to add, which helped a lot.

We were running late at the farm so one of the teachers who had driven there instead of taking the bus kindly drove us back to Quito early and dropped us off near the Spanish school so we wouldn’t be late. This week I have a different Spanish teacher, named Arturo, but he is very nice as well.

After Spanish, I stopped by the grocery store on the way home and the nicest thing happened. I was checking out with only a few items, and the cashier had already started to ring them up. The couple behind me interrupted and asked if I had a discount card (of course I didn’t). They told the cashier to use theirs. The cashier said that he would have to get the manager to cancel the transaction and do it over again using the card. The couple said it was no problem and they didn’t mind waiting. They did this even though they didn’t have to and they had to wait longer at a busy time of night. It was such a little thing, but when you are in a foreign country, the smallest acts of kindness from strangers go such a long way. It warmed my heart and was the highlight of my whole day.

Wednesday, July 18th

Today I arrived at Sinamune and rehearsed with the orchestra. There was no performance for tourists today, so we went down to the second level to await instructions. Finally someone told us that we would be teaching lessons today. I taught my student A piano again, which went well. Then they told me I was going to do “music therapy” and I had about four different students back-to-back. I managed to come up with a translation of Down on Grampa’s Farm as well as Rainbow Round Me, and all of the students seemed to love them. I wasn’t sure if they would like them because they are children’s songs and almost all the students are adults, but because of their developmental level they seemed to enjoy learning them. It also helped me gauge where they were at cognitively. When we were leaving Sinamune, they told us that we didn’t have to come tomorrow because there was no orchestra rehearsal and the students weren’t coming, so I have the day off tomorrow.

After Sinamune, I went to Spanish and then home. Buenas noches!

Thursday, July 19th

Since I did not have to go to Sinamune today, I slept in until 10:00! A little while later, I had lunch cooked by Anita (who is the housekeeper). It was delicious as usual. After lunch, I headed over to the Mariscal area where the Spanish school is located to find a coffee shop to work on my blog. I searched for a coffee shop in the area on Maps.Me and found one close by called Isveglio. I walked to where it was located on the map and there was a nice coffee shop there but it was actually called Serendipity. It was a fancy coffee shop with US-like drinks (and US-like prices unfortunately). It was a little pricy, but it reminded me of some of my Nashville coffee shops. I ordered an iced Nutella latte, which was delicious. The server was very friendly and after my latte was almost gone, he came over and told me that the manager would like to offer me another drink for free! He asked what I would like, and I said anything was fine. He brought me over a fancy layered iced coffee drink and told me it was called “café dulce.” It was delicious; I think it may have been some sort of latte made with sweetened condensed milk. He was very patient with my Spanish, which is always helpful. I told him that the café was very close to my Spanish classes and I would definitely be back. He said they would look forward to seeing me.

I walked to Spanish class, then took the bus home, had dinner, and went to bed. I think I am finally starting to settle in here. Tomorrow I will go to Sinamune and then afterwards I am going to Baños for the weekend with some of the other volunteers. Hasta luego!

First Week: Part 3

Friday, July 13th

Today we arrived at Sinamune and loaded up the buses to go to who knows where! I immediately fell asleep, which was impressive, because one of the students in the seat right behind me yelled for the entire bus ride. When I woke up, we were arriving at a place called Cuicocha. It was a beautiful location in the mountains with a gorgeous lagoon. We each had two students that we were assigned to keep track of during the excursion. My students were L and A, both adults with Down’s Syndrome. They were both easygoing. When we got to Cuicocha, everybody shared some salchichas and papas fritas (hot dogs and french fries). Then the teachers and volunteers helped everybody get into life jackets, because we would be taking a little trip around the lake in a small boat called a “lancha.” My group was in the first lancha. It was a bit of a wild ride, because the boat went fast and cold water was splashing on everyone. Poor A started crying because she was scared and she wanted me to hold her hand and hug her the whole time. I held onto her and assured her that she was safe. Poor thing!

The lancha took us through a tiny little passageway that was a tunnel made out of tall reeds. On the other side, we found ourselves in an even more beautiful part of the lake with mountains stretching to the sky all around us. I only got a few pictures because I was holding onto A, but the pictures don’t even begin to capture the beauty of the lake and mountains.

After Cuicocha, we got back on the bus and drove some more. I fell asleep again. This time, when I woke up, we were in a small town called Ibarra. We went to a restaurant for lunch, and ascended to the second floor, where there was a private party room set up for us! (There were about sixty of us total.) In the banquet room they also had a DJ and a singer! We ate a delicious typical Ecuadorian lunch, starting with soup and a glass of fresh juice, followed by a main plate with meat, rice, and vegetables, with ice cream and fruits for dessert. As people finished eating, they started to get up and dance. Eventually everyone was up dancing and singing, and some of the students would try to lean into the singer’s microphone and sing, and she would hold it out for them to do it. Then they would yell “Te quiero!” to her. It was so funny! We all had a wonderful time. As far as unexpected adventures go, it was a very good one.

After lunch, we boarded the bus and rode three hours back to Sinamune. And here is where my bus luck runs out. We got back about 6:30, so it was already getting dark. This would be the first time I took the bus from Sinamune back to my house, and I knew I needed to take the Catar bus. Meghan, who had lived in my house for a week, told me that I needed to go to the stop further down the road in front of the blue wall, and get on a Catar bus that turned from the left, not one that went straight. I went and waited by the wall for 20 minutes, by which point three Catar buses had come by straight. At that point, I thought maybe they just didn’t turn this time of night, so I got on the next one, because I thought it said the things it was supposed to say in the front (Carcelén Amazonas – but apparently it didn’t say Amazonas – I was tired). I kept an eye on my map during the ride, and it seemed to be going the right way, until about fifteen minutes later when the bus abruptly pulled into a large bus terminal. My bus on the way to Sinamune had never stopped at a bus terminal, but I thought maybe it was just different on the way back. Until the bus stopped and EVERYONE got off. Uh oh. I waited a couple minutes, but there was no one else getting on the bus and it didn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Finally, I went to ask the bus drive if he could help me figure out which bus to take, but he didn’t know any of the landmarks or streets near my house that I told him. Or maybe he did’t understand me. Finally, I thought to show him on the map, and then he told me I could take such and such bus and pointed toward it. I didn’t quite understand him, but I got off the bus and headed in the direction he pointed. I found a map with some bus routes on it but it didn’t’ make any sense and didn’t have any stops I recognized. I was starting to get a little worried, because the terminal was busy and loud and dark, I didn’t know where I was going, and I had been warned about how common theft is in buses and terminals. I also didn’t want to accidentally get on the wrong bus and end up somewhere I didn’t want to be at night. I walked toward the bus I thought I needed, and found a nice looking lady to ask if it went where I thought it did. I showed her my house on the map on my phone, and she assured me I was in the right place. She made sure I got on the right bus, same as her, and then wished me luck.

Thank goodness for Maps.Me! I just watched the map until the bus got as close as I thought it would get to my house. My house was still several blocks east, but it was definitely walkable. I walked about a mile until I got close, and then I discovered a place called Petit Crepe right around the corner from my house! I felt like Hansel and Gretel lost in the woods discovering the unexpected gingerbread house! (Except fortunately there was no villain inside the crepe place.)

I went in and got a strawberry nutella crepe and a fresh strawberry smoothie. It felt like I was at home at The Perch in Nashville! A sign on the wall said “Al mal tiempo buenos crepes” which basically translates as if you’re having a bad time, the best thing to do is eat crepes. Never has that been more true!

After that, I walked the one block home safely and went straight to bed. Better bus luck next time!

Saturday, July 14th

Even though I went to bed at 9 pm last night, I still slept until 12:00 noon today! I was so tired, but I felt much better after all that rest.

I needed to buy a few things I forgot to bring, namely sunglasses and a coat, so I asked Katie if she wanted to go to the mall with me. She did, so we took the bus (successfully!) to Quicentro, the biggest shopping mall in Quito.

Wow! It was even bigger and fancier than The Mall at Green Hills in Nashville if you can believe that! There was a Sweet and Coffee inside, so we got coffee, and wandered around for a couple hours. I found an excellent warm blue coat that was on sale for a great price! I also found a cheap pair of sunglasses. The mall also had an entire grocery store in it, which was convenient because we needed to buy a few things.

Overall, it was a nice relaxing day, but I also got a good bit accomplished.

Sunday, July 15th

This morning I went to mass with my host parents. We went at 7:30 am to their church, which is called La Iglesia de la Inmaculada. Of course, the content and sequence of the mass was just the same as in the US or anywhere, but there were some cultural differences that I noticed. In the United States, during the congregation’s responses, everyone says it together and usually not very enthusiastically. In this church, everyone says it at their own pace, some slow and some fast, but all very loudly and enthusiastically. Also, every single person sings the hymns, even though there are no hymnbooks. They also don’t have missals, but there is a small printout with the readings and responses for the day. Also, there are kneelers, but some people remain standing instead of kneeling when it is time to kneel. When it was time to receive Communion, there was no sort of organized method, pew by pew. Everyone just sort of rushed forward in a clump. Partly this was because only half the church received Communion, apparently because they take the Eucharist very seriously and will not receive it if they have not been to Confession the past week or recently. It was a relatively small church; it probably held about 150 people, and it was simple yet beautiful. My host parents said we will go to a different church next week so that I can experience some different churches and masses in Quito.

After mass, we had a delicious breakfast of fruit and scrambled eggs with ham. Then I took a short nap and then did some laundry. They have a washing machine, but they also have a clothesline where you hang everything to dry! My host mother thinks it’s ridiculous that I am excited about a clothesline, but that’s where we’re at.

I had a nice restful day and I am as prepared as I’ll ever be for another week of confusion and new adventures.


Well, if you made it this far, congratulations, and thanks for reading my lengthy blogs! There are just so many wonderful things to tell about and I don’t want to leave a single detail out!

First Week: Part 2

Wednesday, July 11th

Today I arrived at Sinamune and one of the ladies in the office confirmed that I played piano; I said yes. She told me that I would play in the orchestra and she took me up three flights of stairs to the performance hall where the orchestra was rehearsing. Out of breath, she introduced me to Maestro Edgar Palacios, the founder of Sinamune and director of the orchestra. She told him I played piano and he said, “Great, she will play with us!” I asked if they had sheet music, but the primary pianist is blind, so she did not have sheet music. Maestro Palacios told us to go back to the office, where they would find and make me copies of “las partituras.” So, we went back down three flights of stairs to ask for the partituras in the office. They had no idea where they were. So back up three flights of stairs to ask where they were. Maestro Palacios told the lady where to look and we returned to the office one more time. However, still nobody could find them, so she told me to just watch the rehearsal today and they would find the partituras for me to play tomorrow. By this last time up the three flights of stairs, I was very out of breath and gladly sat down in the audience to observe the rehearsal.

I am glad that I had the opportunity to do this, because I got to observe the hour-long rehearsal and then watch one of the performances the orchestra and dancers present to tourists. It was a beautiful performance and I was very impressed. The orchestra consists of Maestro Palacios on trumpet, two violins, two flutes, a clarinet, and several percussionists. Most of those players are local Ecuadorians or teachers at the school. A couple are students. Also, Cosette plays one of the flutes and Meghan plays one of the violins. There is also a small percussion section made up of students from Sinamune who play tambourine and shaker. In addition, there are several dancers and a few singers, who are all students at Sinamune. It was a joy to watch, and the tourists enjoyed it immensely. I cannot wait to play with the orchestra!

After the performance, I followed Meghan and Cosette back down to the second level. (Sinamune is four stories, the first level is offices and a shop, the second and third levels are classrooms, and the fourth level is the performance hall.) They said after performances they just come down here to wait to be told what to do next. Well, it turned out that we would be teaching lessons today; they gave us a schedule of students and showed us our rooms.

Let me just say that teaching adaptive piano lessons is difficult enough when you and your students speak the same language. It is markedly more difficult when you speak a different language. And it became even more difficult when I discovered that Ecuador does not use the same system of music theory as in the United States…

My first student, A, came in. I think she has Cerebral Palsy or Spina Bifida because she has difficulty walking and moving her hands, but I couldn’t say for sure because nobody gives us any information. I spoke to her a little bit first about her background at Sinamune and with piano. She told me she has been playing for three years, and then she played Bach’s Prelude in C for me from memory. She did well with all the notes and rhythms, but because of her limited finger mobility she has difficulty sustaining notes after playing them, as well as playing legato. Perfect! Something to work on! She had never used the pedal, so we gave it a try. It was difficult with her leg, but she started to get the hang of it, and I think it will be a great physical exercise for leg mobility. It was great because it helped her make the notes sound as they should even though she couldn’t hold them down. Next, I tried to gage her music-reading ability. This is when I discovered that in Ecuador, they use fixed do and they only use solfege for music reading for all instruments. C is always Do, D is always Re, E is always Mi, no matter what key you’re in. Sharps are called sostenidos and flats are called bemoles. Thus, they call it Do sostenido, or Re bemol. To me, this seems very complicated and counterintuitive, but of course it works well for them because it is what they are accustomed to.

Next, I had another student named S. He was more cognitively impaired and also only had vision in one eye. He has difficulty speaking, so it was hard to understand him, but he told me that when he was a child he fell off the third floor of a building and had a traumatic brain injury. He can play several melodies with his right hand, so we worked on those and learned a few new ones.

The third student I was supposed to teach was not there, so one of the teachers introduced me to three little girls who were there for summer camp. From what I understand, Sinamune also offers a summer camp for typically developing peers, but almost no one signed up. These three girls were 5, 10, and 12. The teacher left me with them and said “Do some music therapy!” I immediately thought: “Oh dear, they definitely don’t know what music therapy is.” But I didn’t have the opportunity to explain at that moment, so I just played guitar and we sang together. At this moment it also occurred to me that I didn’t know any songs in Spanish, I was hoping I would get to observe some teachers first and learn some songs. Nope. So I did my best to translate the children’s songs I know in English into Spanish there in the moment, with a bit of help from the girls. Then I taught them some of the English words, because they were already learning English in school.

After that, Cosette, Meghan, Paige, and I went to Spanish lessons. Then I went home for dinner and went to bed at 8:30 pm. I don’t know if it’s the altitude or the longs days or both, but I am so tired!

Moral of today: I have no idea what is happening or what I’m supposed to be doing, but I’m getting a lot better at improvising and making things up as I go along. Hasta mañana!

Thursday, July 12th

Today, it was rather empty at Sinamune because the orchestra was off playing for Congress and for some reason the rest of the students weren’t attending today, as is sometimes the case. Since I didn’t have the partituras and hadn’t rehearsed with them yet, I didn’t get to go unfortunately. At this point, I had no idea where Paige was.

For the morning, they gave me the three little girls for two hours to “do music therapy.” Ha ha. Instead I played guitar, sang with them, did some Orff games, and then started teaching them piano when I ran out of things to do. They are very sweet girls, and their vocabulary is about the same level as mine in Spanish, so we got along nicely.

After that, I went down to the office and they told me that some Sinamune students were coming for music therapy in an hour or so. I asked if I could walk down the street to get some coffee until then. I found a typical little Ecuadorian restaurant, got some coffee, and then headed back. I waited for another hour, before asking again if any students were coming. They told me that actually none of them were coming, so I could go ahead and leave. I was honestly a bit confused and frustrated, but I’m trying to just go with the flow.

I went ahead and headed to Spanish early, found a good place to get an empanada and some fresh juice, and then went to Spanish. Paige was there! I asked her where she had been, and she said they sent her to another school today! Then Cosette and Meghan arrived and told us how incredible it had been to play for Congress. They even got to watch them vote on a bill about eliminating pollution!

After Spanish, I went home, ate dinner, and went to bed. Apparently tomorrow we are going on some excursion with Sinamune, but nobody really knows where. Originally we heard we were going to a town close to the border with Colombia, but apparently that is like six hours away so it couldn’t be a day trip. Long story short, we don’t know where we are going, but we’ll find out tomorrow! Stay posted!