Friday, October 15, 2010

Coup Scare and Life After Quito

Taking blood pressure in Las Flores during a medical bridage.

On September 30th, during my mid-service conference (to mark my year+ of service), in Quito there was a civil unrest situation that spread across the entire county, which Correa has labeled an attempted coup. Basically what happened was that Correa fed a public service bill down the throats of assemblymen that would have changed some benefits of the police, along with other public servants. The police didn’t like how the bill was passed, much less that they would have gotten fewer benefits, and so they rioted. Correa went to police headquarters in Quito to try and talk to them, and things got out of hand – tires were burnt, tear gas thrown, the Pres ended up voluntarily entering the police hospital to be treated, where he was supposedly held hostage for 11 hours until the military came to rescue him in a shoot-out with the police that left at least 1 cop dead. I could hear the shots from the hostal I was in.

During all of this, us PCVs are holed up in a hostal watching TV, reading articles online about what is going on and wondering what it all really means. At one point Correa came on TV ripping off his tie and yelling, “If you want to kill your President, go ahead, here he is!!!” I thought for the first time in my service that things might have reached that point like they did for volunteers in Honduras and Bolivia, where we would be sent home with only the bags we carried, not being able to go to our sites or tell our families, friends, or communities goodbye.
When the military did rescue Correa and he gave his speech from the balcony of his palace, I started to think the worst was over and that we would be safe as volunteers. So far, that has been true. Now the government is taking that entire day, Sept 30, and using it as propaganda to promote the President and his agenda, naturally. They are even accusing certain people close to the ex-President, Gutierrez, of orchestrating the whole thing, and ultimately placing blame on Gutierrez himself as the leader of the “coup attempt.”

The scariest part is that the people of Ecuador, the real people who I live with and most of the other volunteers live with, believe the President. They are only receiving information from him, so I guess that makes sense. But the talk of the town is how the police tried to kill the President. No one has mentioned anything about it being a show completely and totally orchestrated by and for Correa. I think what happened will unfortunately make Correa stronger, and in the long run hinder democracy in Ecuador as he continues to act more and more like a dictator.

In other more personal news, mid-service was fun. It was great to see everyone, eat great food, and have access to hot water, TV and internet 24/7. I went shopping and bought a pair of much needed jeans (I have holes the sizes of fists in one pair, paint stains on another, and my 3rd pair recently starting tearing in the thigh. And I came home to discover a huge tear in my khakis too ). A group of my friends and I took salsa lessons and tested our skills in a salsa club a few nights later. While I will never quite have the kind of rhythm that I want, I at least know the steps of salsa now and can do a bunch of curly turns. I love Quito, because it’s like DC. It’s young and vibrant with people from all over the world. There are art shows, galleries, movie theaters, artisanal markets, clubs, restaurants, parks, and active people riding bikes and running. It’s a breath of fresh air. So coming home was tough, and it’s taken me this week to readjust to life again. Part of me is ready to pack things up, call it a day, and just head home. But the bigger part of me would never let that happen, even if I was miserable, which I am not. I made a list of what I love about Ecuador and Ecuadorians when I came back from the states and was having an even harder time readjusting that I like to read whenever I have a case of the blues…

I love that Ecuadorians will talk to anyone and everyone. I love that they say hello and that they look out for each other, they take care of one another, even complete strangers. I love how friendly and connected they seem – connected to one another by land and family. I love their smiles, the tired and worn faces of tiny abuelos, the spunky and uncreased faces of little babies and small children, the workers trying to get by supporting a family of 5 on their harvest, and those who wake up at 3AM to drive to the beach to fish and are back home selling their fresh catch before the world has cleared the cobwebs from their brains and pushed aside the cold morning dew. I love the young adults and men who play soccer every afternoon, the girls that lose their youth to motherhood, the students dreaming of a better day, the women who work day and night preparing food, washing clothes, tending to the yard, animals and house. I love the families and bars that blast music from their stereos at all hours of the day and night, the men driving buses, pumping the gas only to slam on the breaks 30 seconds later to pick up a passenger and officials who yell “siga siga siga” while packing so many people on the bus we are like sardines in a can; and I love all of those who fall between.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Overdue Post of Home, One-Year Mark, and More

My Cuanto Sabes Jovenes

Sept 1, 2010
I update my blog posting so infrequently that I always have a hard time starting because I don’t know where to begin. The last you heard from me, I was getting ready to go home for a 2-week vacation in early July. The two weeks that led up to that vacation were intensely busy. I started workshops in the high school with 20 students to get them ready to teach about HIV and AIDS. We worked 6 days in a crash course including themes in:

ProgramacionNeurolinguistica (This crazy theory about how people process certain environmental stimulations while ignoring others without even realizing it; and how this process of what we take in fires synapses in our brain that affects how we communicate. The only part I or anyone else truly understand about this theory is that there are visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. I’m a kinesthetic learner, no surprise there.)
Basic Concepts of HIV and AIDS
Characteristics of contagious vs. transmittable viruses
Blood tests required to determine if a person has HIV, and the window-period for testing
Forms of Transmission
Rights for People Living with HIV or AIDS

Each session also emphasized life-skills ranging from self-esteem and knowledge of self to managing pressure from groups, how to make a decision, and ultimately defining your life-long goal and the steps necessary to make that goal become reality and the circumstances that could prevent one from accomplishing that life dream.

Working to prepare workshops, and giving workshops 6 days in a row was like having a real job again. And it exhausted me. Meanwhile, on the social front there were 2 community dances in the midst of the workshops, and Christen came to visit me!! It was spirit-lifting to see an old friend’s familiar face and talk with her as if we had just seen each other the week before, when in fact we hadn’t seen each other in almost a year and a half.

During this time period, I was emotionally drained. I was running from one meeting, lunch or dinner, or social gathering to the next, not taking any time for myself. I was becoming wrapped up in the culture – accepting life as it was instead of looking to how things could be improved; watching novelas about broken families and constant love affairs, an everyday reality not something that just happens on TV, and beginning to actually think it was normal; laughing off or ignoring the drunken men asking me to dance or stumbling down the street instead of at least in my head if not out loud saying how unacceptable that behavior is; and being an active participant in chisme (gossip) instead of avoiding it like the plague. Wholly being a person that I only started to realize I didn’t recognize during my vacation in the states – while surrounded by the people I love and trust, and the culture that asks what next, what else do you want to do/to be, the culture that doesn’t allow you to settle for anything, not in your career, your degree or continuing education, love, food, clothing, cars, apartments, furniture, electronics, friends, hobbies, weekend activities, happy hours. Everyone is striving for the best, and when they get it, they immediately start planning their next move.

My trip home wasn’t all rose bushes, though. I was so overwhelmed by the choices of where to shop for clothing, toiletries, shoes; the options of what to eat, when and where (and boy did I eat sushi, steak, crab cakes, pizza, Five Guys burgers, hot dogs, pasta salad, pasta, ribs, corn on the cob, salad, cake, cookies, milkshakes, and more regardless of the fact that my intestines were revolting against me and no sooner would I eat one bite than I’d feel bloated and end up on the toilet by the end of my meal if not sooner. Yes, I’m living proof that traveler’s diarrhea goes both ways depending on what continent you’re coming from); the constant questioning of who did I want to see next; and being enclosed in a car with rolled up windows and air conditioning or in a house with glass panes on the windows, walls that reached to the roof and left no room for light or air to sneak in, and only walking to the garage to get into the car and go anywhere instead of walking down the street, talking with my neighbors, looking at the trees, green and lush hills, and blue sky until a bus passed.

In Ecuador you go to the Bahia and find everything you could ever need or want to buy ranging from broom sticks to elegant dresses in a few short blocks underneath tents; there are a maximum of five restaurants in Sucre, and zero where I live, that serve lunch until there is no more, which could be at 2pm, and don’t have breakfast and rarely will you find dinner in more than 1 or 2 places. The closest grocery store is an hour away and what you buy you have to carry home on a crowded bus, which absolutely cuts back on the purchases. There is no delivery, no fast food or take-out. If you are hungry at 8pm and have no food in your house, you will have to wait to eat until 6 AM, when there is a tienda that will open, selling eggs, bread, rice, frozen chicken and some other things I would never consider eating.

Now, after being back in Ecuador for a month and a half am I able to put words to my emotions and identify that rather than pushing the people and culture ever so little by introducing a different perspective or idea, they pushed me until I transformed myself – my thoughts and actions – into ones of an Ecuadorian and that I lost my American idealism and work ethic. And somewhere in the midst of the build-up to my trip home, the trip itself, and then coming back to Ecuador I realized that I was changing, and that I have a choice to make – I can fully embrace the Ecuadorian way of life, or I can push myself out of my newly found comfort zone and work harder, trying to change some behaviors by embracing what I view to be the best of the Ecuadorian and American cultures rather than conforming to either completely.

September 5, 2010
My life here seems more compartmentalized than my life at home, perhaps it is a survival skill or actually a learned skill that I finally do have divisions in my life and night to day and day to night don’t run together anymore to the point where I don’t know who I am or what I’m doing; that I can break things down into my work, social life, and emotions. Like at home, I never bring emotions to work – there is no crying in baseball afterall. That doesn’t mean I don’t lose control of my emotions in other moments, say for instance in the middle of a bus ride home from Portoviejo one Sunday night when I just cannot stop the tears from dripping down my face, and have to put my sunglasses on in the dark due to my embarrassment to try and hide my water-filled, red eyes.

My entire first year here I thought I couldn’t take any ME time, that I needed to always be working, visiting people, and constantly on the move. If I had a quiet moment in my house, I felt guilty like I should be somewhere else, with someone, doing something. Working in the high school has helped to regulate my work hours and my confidence and definition of my role in the community has helped to create some boundaries, so instead of feeling guilty about time to myself, I savor it. My social life is coming into balance as well. I no longer say yes to everything, nor do I feel guilty when saying no. I do the things that I can, and that I want to do. If I have another conflict or just simply don’t want to go to another dance and stay up until 5AM, I say so. I am FINALLY making decisions based on what I want rather than out of obligation. Certainly remain those somewhat dreaded community meetings where people arrive an hour late and talk forever about one teeny, tiny topic – the next beauty pageant and which lucky little teenie bopper will be participating - without ever coming to a conclusion. These beauty pageants NEVER end, and I will never understand the pride families and communities take in presenting their candidate, nor will I ever understand the amount of money that is spent on costumes, preparations, and the actual event. The same goes for 15th birthday parties for girls. Its like the sweet-16 TV show on MTV – beautiful, extravagant, and elegant dresses are just the beginning of these passages to womanhood.

While the girls receive parties well beyond the means of what the family can afford that have been in the planning stages since the girl-child was born, the boys are taken to a whore-house to become men if they are lucky. If there are not so lucky, they are taken out to a field where they’ll find a donkey to give them their manhood. No joke, it happens here, in the year 2010.

Its so American of me to think that instead of throwing a fiesta or beauty pageant or dance that breaks the bank, that money should be spent on, I don’t know - buying healthy food, materials for school - or actually SAVING it for a rainy day.

Which brings me to another topic of interest. The fact that apparently as soon as you reach a working age and have some sort of income, however sporadic it might be, you immediately go into debt. It doesn’t matter if another member of your family starts working, or you get a better job and start earning more money or have extra income from raising animals or anywhere else, regardless of the fact that you are earning more money, you are still in debt. The only way I can make sense of this is that with more money, people want bigger, better, and more expensive things. Instead of being practical and paying off their debt, they dive headlong, eyes wide open, into it. They is a favorite saying here when trying to make plans to do something, “Si Dios me permite y no pasa nada…” Translated to mean that if God permits me and nothing happens…I will do whatever it is we are talking about right now, but I can’t come out and actually commit to it because I could be hit by a car tomorrow and die, nadiesabe – no one knows. Hence, I believe, the attitude toward money - spend it while you’ve got it cause you ain’t always gonna have it and even if you did, you might be dead tomorrow.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hit by THE DENG and other stuff

April 22, 2010
I dreaded getting out of bed this morning, knowing that I needed to go to Los Laureles to weigh and measure kids to see how they’re growing. Los Laureles is far, and during the rainy season not accessible by cars. The last time I went, it was about an hour walk. This morning things got better when it started raining, and I had to ride in the back of a pick up truck for about 40 minutes without a roof just to get to the closest community to Los Laureles reachable by car.
Upon arriving in Resbalon, I was reserved to the fact that I’d be walking, in mud up to my knees for at least 1 hour, by myself. I figured this was better than the alternatives – going to another community closer only to sit around and wait for someone else to come back from Los Laureles. I don’t like waiting. I’d much rather be on the move. And I thought it would be some nice time to myself; plus I packed a PB&J sandwich that I really wanted to eat all myself. After psyching myself up for the journey, I was pleasantly surprised when a volunteer from Resbalon started asking owners of horses if I could borrow one for the morning. I didn’t understand everything that was said, but I did get that one man said yes and started preparing his horse.

I’m standing there thinking, “is this guy coming with me? Are we riding double, or is he just going to hand over his horse to me? I have no idea. He must be coming with me, he couldn’t possibly be giving me his horse – he doesn’t even know if I know how to ride.” What do you think happens? Of course he just hands me the reins and says “here ya go senorita.” So I hopped on and said thanks, and off I went on horseback!!

The only downside was that the stirrups were really short, and couldn’t be adjusted, so the volunteer that was coming with me swapped my horse for a donkey, and that guy rode my horse. But it was still awesome – trail riding if I’ve ever done any. We rode for about 40 minutes to get to Los Laureles, through mud up to the donkey’s knees, slippery spots, holes that had to be jumped over, up and down hills and it was absolutely, incredibly amazing. I’m buying a horse with my readjustment allowance!

And the very next day, the symptoms of dengue presented themselves - fever, achy body and horrible headache. I was in Portoviejo running errands and even though it was the first day of fever, I knew it was dengue. In Ecuador people don’t get viruses with fever, they get dengue or something worse. Little did I know the fever would last me 6 days, I would have a headache so bad I couldn’t be out of bed for more than 10 minutes without feeling nauseous, that I would lose my appetite or throw up if I ate, and that just when I started feeling better, I would break out in an incredibly itchy, red rash apparently due to the fact that my white blood cells dropped so low. It was horrible. But on the 10th day when my rash was under control and I didn’t have a fever or headache, I felt like a completely new person. To be healthy never felt so good. So ended my 10-day sabbatical. I was back to work, with only one week before Andrew and Scott were coming to visit.

The week of May 10th Patricia, Marisela and I presented the HIV/AIDS project we wanted to start to one of the high schools and received enthusiastic responses. Two days later, we gave a presentation to the students to stir up interest. Everything was going really well, according to plan, and then this guy from the health center threw a wrench in everything by saying that the students who participated in our program would need to do all kinds of other health activities in order to get the appropriate credit and to graduate. This was the day before I was leaving for vacation. So I ended up having to leave not knowing if we were really going to be able to start the program, after I had already applied for a $1,000 grant. Long story short, I got the grant, and talked to the higher ups in Portoviejo about the project, and it’s a go. We start in the high school this week (June 14). After almost a month of back and forth all because this one guy is incompetent, and finally we are right back where we started – just doing workshops on HIV/AIDS according to the model of VIHDA Foundation and AID for AIDS International. JUST WHAT I WANTED. I only got what I wanted though, when I was finally ready to compromise and accept whatever this guy wanted to do. Funny how things turned out.
The trip with Andrew and Scott was great, and a nice break from things in my site. We traveled a lot, and the boys got a good taste of Ecuadorian culture – just ask them. We were in my site for only 2 days, but we decided to teach the kids how to play baseball. Andrew and Scott had the idea to make a baseball out of a little rock wrapped in a sock, wrapped in dried banana leaves, and covered in tape. They work surprisingly well. For a bat, we used a piece of cana. We had a great time – and everyone here loved it. We’ve played a few more times since then, but its not the same without the American boys. I’ve been playing a lot of soccer lately, trying to do baseball before.

Besides starting the HIV/AIDS project, I’m still working with the Committee of Volunteers. Right now we’re in the middle of a month long medical campaign where we’re visiting the majority of the communities that participate in the Committee to bring medical attention; vaccines; control of weight and height for children; and weight, height, blood pressure for adults. It’s the best thing the Committee has done in the year I’ve been here. The mayor finally agreed to a contract with the Committee, and he is paying 2 health promoters, so they have ganas to work again. I still feel like I can’t get through to them though on changing anything. They are too consumed in the day-to-day activities. I’m not giving up, but I am letting go. I’m focusing my efforts on the high school students in this HIV program – they are the ones that can still be influenced.

Pics of HIV Workshop in Guayaquil

Pics of HIV Workshop in Guayaquil

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Lovely Waterfall in Sucre


The day after a big storm and our little bridge to cross the river was washed away, so we had to build another one. I was the only one tall enough to get in the river and swing across the caƱa.

DRUM ROLL PLEASE....What you´ve all been waiting for...

I’ve been negligent in posting blogs, and so I thought it was finally time that I shared something with the world. But at some point in mid to late March, things really came together here, and I’ve been feeling like this is my life – every part of it from the roosters and chickens crowing at all hours of the day along with the dogs barking at all hours of the night to visits with friends, working in communities only reachable by foot, and eating rice. Its no big trip, no study abroad, its my life. And so I felt funny about posting blogs, because more than blogs, my “posts” have turned into my personal journal. I’m a little uncomfortable about sharing that with anyone, let alone the internet. But then I decided that because I want my friends and family to know what’s happening here and I’ve done a poor job of keeping in touch with everyone the past month and a half, I would share – hope you enjoy!

So here is a summary of the past 2 months…you’ll start to notice a theme…
~ life balance or lack there of
~ changing work themes/opportunities
~ lots of time with family

February 15-16 - Carnaval
Right before Lent starts in Ecuador there is a huge party. Its called Carnaval. It’s an excuse for people to dance, hang out with family, go to the beach, get each other wet and dirty, and drink. My host family had a ton of family visiting – about 10 or more people. On Valentine’s Day I went swimming in the river behind my house with Prisci, Daniella, Deana, Luis, and Johanna – for the most part all family members. I wasn’t as excited as they were about jumping in the muddy river in my clothes, but I did it…and we had fun.

Mercedes organized a tour to the beach, San Jacinto, and so the next morning we caught the bus at about 8AM (1.5 hours late), and headed to the beach. About halfway there, water started flying, and so did the shots of cana. We spent the day at the beach, it was a lot of fun. It was crowded, and at one point the water rose up to the rocks, completely eradicating the beach; and turned the ocean into a wave pool. During the wave pool ordeal, some random guy poured a beer on my head because I refused to drink any of it.

The fun really didn’t start until the bus ride home, little did I know. Not only was water, coffee, and who knows what other liquid flying, but so was face paint. By the time we got to Lodana, my face was covered in blue, along with my tshirt and shorts. Everyone said I looked like the girl from Avatar. I’m trying to find a pic to share!

March 6, 2010

When you live anywhere long enough, you stop feeling like a visitor and start feeling like you actually belong – like you are a part of a family and a community – through the good times and bad. For the first time last night I felt more than “integrated,” I felt like I belonged. I didn’t think about work or how my actions would be perceived – I just was - a friend, me - and I didn’t think about being anywhere else. And I belonged because I shared the feeling of grief - a feeling that is more raw and cutting than any other. It is an emotion that bonds people together or tears them apart.

One of my best friend’s brother-in-laws killed himself yesterday, leaving behind a wife, 4 children, a sister, parents, and many more. I didn’t know him that well, but I know the family well, and to see them broken, broke me too. It also brought back memories of all the people I’ve lost, and the feelings of despair, hopelessness, and frustration with the unanswerable questions that follow.

This particular family has suffered so much already. They have lost their father, uncles, cousins, friends and they struggle to earn money to put food on the table. This family isn’t unique. Their story is similar to so many others in Ecuador. I wish there was something I could do, but there isn’t. The entire country is broken, people live in slums and don’t have food, sufficient housing, or clothes. Money won’t solve this; a change in culture, education, and the creation of an informed civil society is needed. How does that happen? I used to think that NGOs could help educate the people and equip them with the knowledge needed to organize and demand more from their government; but now I think NGOs only cripple development because instead of creating responsible and educated people, the people are more dependent on the NGO and unwilling to work. No desire exists to change the status quo because with handouts from the non-profits, things are still bearable.

March 14

I headed up to Quito with my 2 closest Ecuadorian friends on Thursday morning. We spent the night hanging out in Kristen’s apartment, and then Friday I went to Cayambe for a picnic with the new volunteers. I’m not the newbie anymore! I met my little brother, Naim, who is really cool and excited about being here. The picnic brought back a lot of memories, and at the same time served as a good marker to see how far I’ve come in learning Spanish, and just feeling comfortable in general living in Ecuador. I remember when volunteers came to our picnic, and some of them jumped in the back of a random pick-up truck to head to another city and I thought I would never be able to do that…but 7 months after training I can and do and its completely normal to me.

Saturday I went to Cotacachi with 2 other friends and volunteers to hike around Laguna Cuicocha. It took us about 4.5 hours to walk around the whole thing. It was beautiful – check out the pics. The lake was created by the crater of a volcano. Hiking in altitude is no joke! I was sucking wind, and my calves were burning, and I was only at about 3,500 m. It felt so good to be in nature, away from everything. I needed to just get away and not think, and being up there, hearing the wind and the water was perfect.

March 16

I got home from Quito yesterday morning, and it felt good to be home. Maria greeted me through her window, Mercedes came around the house to give me a hug, and when I went in the front door, I could hear Abuelita in the back asking Maria and Mercedes where I went. She greeted me with a hug and kiss on the cheek, and gave me a recap of what I had missed on the ranch. After a nap, I headed back into PV to run errands, feeling tired and depressed. But lastnight, I started to feel better after another conversation with abuelita about her parents. We were talking while she was using canamanabita – alcohol – and a knife to try and relieve some of the pressure on her leg after a tire fell on it, causing it to swell. She had looked for a frog earlier to run its belly over her leg, but couldn’t capture one, so was hoping the cana and knife would do the trick.

I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately. I’m frustrated with work, I miss home, and I’m getting annoyed with Ecuadorian culture, but after jumping rope this morning for 30 minutes and after the conversations with abuelita I realized I’m feeling better. A conversation with Patricia lastnight helped too, because it made me realize that I’m struggling with the same questions that she is about how to make a project sustainable, and what we can do to make a difference. I know I’m no superhero who has all the answers, but to be reminded that no one else does either makes me feel a little better. And Doritos. And summiting Cotopaxi. That is a goal of mine, which is measurable and in my control. If I work hard, I should be able to summit, and that feeling of accomplishment is something I miss so much and need to feel good. I am American – goal driven and results oriented. And I love Doritos.

March 26, 2010

Its pouring rain, a much desired refreshment after the unbearably hot day, and we lost power (which I had spelled pour until just checking – as my Spanish improves, my English gets worse!). I’m sure we’ll lose water any minute too, but luckily I already showered! This week the youth group’s in all of Plan Internacional’s communities ran summer camps. I helped out with the camp in Los Tillales and Miraflores. It was a blast – I love working with kids. We played a bunch of games, drew pictures, and taught them about the environment and the need to take care of it. The kids were really good in Los Tillales, had a good time, and learned something. The kids in Miraflores were another story…there were so many of them, and they were too young to understand or appreciate most of the lessons. SO the jovenes mostly played games with them. But today for the closure, both groups performed a play about the environment – the song is still stuck in my head.

I’ve also been working on a proposal for the Committee to try and help them get funding. The latest drama with them is that the mayor withdrew all support and hired new health promoters, who have no previous experience, to work in the same communities as the Committee. He also took away the car we used to have to visit all of the communities, but recently agreed to give us a car 3 times a month. In turn, the Committee has to allow the new health promoters to participate in all of their workshops and educational stuff. I call BS on this little arrangement. So we’ll have to see what can be done about that…best if I say no more.

I had this breakthrough the other night about doing a project on childhood nutrition. I know it doesn’t sound like a breakthrough, but after all of the possibilities and the ups and downs I’ve had, the Committee has had, and everything, this theme fits perfectly and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. The proposal requires a lot of detail, and I’m struggling a bit with some of the budget details, but overall it’s coming together. It’s turning into more of a parenting class than just about nutrition. I hope I can finish the proposal in the next week, get some people to look it over and correct my horrible Spanish grammar, and sell it to the Committee. It means more work for everyone, but at the same time, if the Committee wants to sustain itself, it’s a step that must be taken, and its better for the families in the communities because they’ll be learning. Hopefully we can get some funding for the project, and then we can also start to work on organizational reform. Or at least build in organizational skills into this project.

I did the first taller on organizational development at the end of February. It went well, all thanks to the help of Patricia who stepped in and got the people motivated. We did some team building activities and talked about what everyone wanted to get out of the Committee. We didn’t have enough time to get into the roles of everyone, something I planned on doing, and so we saved that for the next meeting. But in the meantime, all the shit hit the fan with the alcalde, so we’re putting that stuff on hold until we can sustain some kind of project.

April 21, 2010 – Part A

Right after Easter I went to Guayaquil for a workshop on HIV/AIDS. Washington has finally decided to bump up the priority of HIV prevention in Latin and South America…not really sure what they were waiting for, but anyway…PC Ecuador applied to start a HIV/AIDS program and was accepted. We have a group of volunteers coming in June to specifically work in the area of HIV/AIDS and are opening an office in the big bad city of Guayaquil, where HIV rates are the highest in the country. In the meantime, Washington wants PCVs in the field already to prioritize HIV prevention, so they paid for this awesome workshop in a beautiful hotel in Guayaquil for volunteers interested and already working or planning on working in the area. I’m not doing anything with HIV yet, but I want to start a program in colegios or the communities here with youth groups, so I went, and Patricia Chavez, Pres of my community came with me.

A big HIV organization here, VIHDA ran the workshop, as we’ll basically be replicating the program they helped to create. The idea is to work with youth to help them develop life skills – public speaking and facilitating, confidence to stand up to peer pressure, self-identity and life plan, etc. – and through these skills talk about HIV and AIDS = what is it, really; how it can be prevented (VIHDA unlike Plan includes abstinence and fidelity as 2 methods of prevention, which you would think is a no brainer, but its not); how it affects your body; how you can find out if you’re infected; and human rights and the rights of people living with the virus. My job now is to replicate the workshop with a group of students who are leaders – about 20 – and then have them replicate the workshops during classes so the entire colegio or institution receives the information.

There are 2 colegios in Sucre, so I want to start with Colegio Gonzalo hopefully in June, and then with Colegio Sucre in August or September. This is the kind of project I want to do – I like the topic, I like the audience, I think its important for people to learn, and I think there is a real lack of information on the issue.

In other news, the Committee is falling apart. After having my “breakthrough” on a project, another light went off, this time on the opposite side of my head and had a completely different message. This one said, why in the hell would we develop a project in the space of childhood nutrition when that is exactly what a government organization, INFA, is doing, and in what the municipio intends to become more involved. INFA and the municipio have made it blatantly clear that they do not want to work with the Committee, so why would we compete for resources with them? We’d be picking a fight we will never win. Hence, there is no reason for the Committee to exist as they have defined themselves thus far. The opportunities could be endless – the communities need a lot in terms of health prevention and education – but its SO hard to get anywhere with this group of people. I was trying to drive the Committee the entire time that I’ve been here, but I really think it can’t be done. I’m not giving up so much as accepting the reality. Instead of fighting with them, I want to focus my limited time and energy in areas where I can get something done. The Committee is at a point where they need to define a project and figure out what they’re going to do, or they won’t exist. Delivering nutrients to communities isn’t going to cut it anymore, nor should it in my opinion.

April 21, 2010 – Part B
They say you’ll change living abroad for 2 years, that when you go home things will be different. But I wonder how much I’ve changed already or will change. I don’t feel like I’ve changed. I think I have more patience and am more tolerant and giving, but “me” – the person I am hasn’t changed. I know what I like and what I don’t like; I know what I want to do, how I want to do it and when. I have more knowledge – I am living my dream and learning what it is like to be in a developing country – so I will go home with a better understanding of this and experience.
I’ll also go home having had amebas at least once and fuetazo – DISCLAIMER: this description is not for people with weak stomachs, Scott, make sure you don’t have food around – Fuetazo is a gross skin infection caused by irritation from a bug’s urine. Yes, I said urine. A bug peed on my face and it looked like I had rug burn under my chin that kept growing and started turning white, then spread to my chin and made it all dry and blotchy brown. Not to worry, I have cream and things seem to be under control. Luckily those are the worst 2 medical conditions I’ve had so far…besides the 2 or 3 times I puked from adjusting to the food and water, which seems like nothing.

Part of me has this expectation that I need to develop some “big” project, but when it comes down to it, I don’t want to. I’m not interested in that, and because I’m not interested should be the end of it. I’m only here a limited amount of time – I need to do the things that I think will be valuable and helpful and am interested in doing. More importantly than what I’m interested in, I don’t think giving charlas works. I know its important to get information to people, but when they are like rocks and nothing is absorbed, can you say that the information reached anyone? Just because we’re up there talking, doesn’t mean anyone is learning. In the majority of charlas I’ve given or attended, people don’t listen and they don’t learn. I know that means changing the delivering, the method, and I think charlas need to be more interactive. But these people are all charlad out. I’ve always like working better on an individual level, and I perform better on that level. I need to accept the fact that I’m not going to change and I need to start taking advantage of my talents instead of trying to change the world. I never thought I would be able to change the world, but I did come in here guns ablazin, thinking that I could re-organize the Committee while developing another project for them to do; while managing the pen-pal program; starting something in schools; publishing a magazine…etc, etc. I’m almost finally realizing that I need to pick 2 things to work on, because in order for anything to happen, it requires other people, and when other people are involved it means waiting, it means working through completely different goals and expectations and visions. That takes time. Its not like multitasking in the states, where everyone is basically on the same page – you have your to do list and you get it done. I’m always on a page sola here.

Even when I think I’ve clicked with someone, and we’ve had a breakthrough, a few days pass and its like so did that moment and we start over from square one – starting with the misunderstanding. I’m not sure if the misunderstanding can be blamed on culture, or if its just a major difference of opinions. So I’m in 10 months…have I changed?

Next up: Ecuadorian Gladiators Mud-Water Rugby-Polo. For now all you need to know is that Las Gringas dominated the game, niimporta that we were playing mostly against 12 year old boys…

Friday, February 5, 2010

Delicious and Nutritious All Natural Honey!

A Walnut Heart