Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

So I realized after talking to my good friend Julia and re-reading some of my postings that I may not be giving an accurate description of my experiences in Ecuador because I tend to write mostly when I have something to vent about. Well, my New Year's resolution is to start writing more frequently, and more positively! I'm starting today, by wishing everyone a Merry Christmas!! People here have been celebrating all month, and the fiestas are really quite something. People dance here for hours without getting tired, and its intoxicating. I'm probably heading to a dance tomorrow night, but will be turning in early to make sure I'm ready for my trip to Guayaquil to pick up Andrew Friday morning! Will write more to update about our trip. We'll be in Guayaquil at first, then heading to my site, and then spending New Years on the beach. Yay! Merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Stuff´s Been Goin Down

Dryin out the phone after a night swim...woops

Mi Casa! Still in the building stage, but got approval to live there yesterday. So excited!

Grupo de Jovenes after a Campout on the ¨Silla¨

AguaFria - one of the communities I work in with Corazon Feliz

December 9, 2009

Remember that saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is;” or how about, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Well I was reminded of those sayings the hard way today. After putting my time, effort, and credibility into a project for the community, turns out the one man with the key to it all decided to walk away.

Supposedly, this man had tons of chickies to give away – 100 for each family that wanted them. The families only needed to pay for the transportation, $7.50. I talked to the President of my community right away to gauge her interest, and we proceeded to develop a proposal and present it to the community. I’ve been talking about this project with my family for a month. I presented the project last week to the entire community, and about 15 families wanted to participate. We are supposed to have a meeting tomorrow again, with a doctor who is coming to give a charla on how to care for the chicks. How embarrassing to have to tell everyone that as it turns out, there really are no free chickens. I put my credibility on the line, and I never should have taken the risk. From day 1 I knew something didn’t feel right. There were too many details missing, pieces of the story didn’t quite fit together, and the more questions I had about the whole thing, the fewer answers there were. But I thought, hey, I’m in Ecuador. An Ecuadorian wants to be helpful to his fellow Ecuadorians and I can take advantage of this to help out my community. No one else questioned his motives or whether or not he would come through, so I figured I could take it at face value. Well, WRONG.

My friend, Ingrid, and I went to this guy’s house tonight looking to talk with him about the whole thing as he hasn’t answered her calls for the past 2 weeks. For the first time in my life, I felt what its like to be locked out, to be standing on the outside of a gate with no means to enter. I felt what its like to be stuck on the street when a limo drives by with black tinted windows as opposed to the one in the limo. (ok, maybe thats a little much, but thats seriously how I felt!) This guy has a huge house surrounded by a locked gate. We had someone that works at the house ask inside for him, but the response we got was that he was sleeping. Sleeping!! At 7pm!!! What a liar!!!!!! He didn’t even have the balls to come out and talk with us, to tell us that something happened with the incubators or make up any other story. All he had to do was make up a story about why it wouldn’t work out, but he doesn’t even have the decency to talk to us. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it.

My family wanted to invest in this project. They’ve been talking about the chicken coop they’re going to build, and were going to start to build it on Monday. Who knows what other families have already started to do. And this is a big deal. Its not like families have money lying around to throw here and there as the wind blows. Getting people interested in this project and ready to commit to the gallpones, food, everything was a big deal. Now its for naught.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Broken Health Care System? Try NO Health Care System

No appointments for the poor, only waiting in line at 6 in the morning when the doctors don’t arrive til 9, hoping you’ll pull a number that gets you seen before the doctors leave for lunch, if you could afford to pay for the transportation to get you to the health center in the first place. And that’s not just to see a primary care doctor – you have to go through the same thing when that doctor refers you to a specialist, again when you need tests done, to get the results of your tests, and for all follow-ups. These services are only offered in Portoviejo, which means more time to travel and more money. My neighbor has a tumor on her ovary, and she is going to have her entire uterus removed rather than getting a biopsy to see if its cancerous because she doesn’t want to have to deal with all the waiting. She’s already been dealing with the “system” for over a month, and still no biopsy or surgery. She finally got a date for surgery either the 15th or 17th, but had to go back to the doctor yesterday to confirm which day. She also needs to buy 2 bags of blood in case anything should go wrong during surgery.

The government “gives” supplies – birth control pills and condoms; nutrients for pregnant women, women breastfeeding, and kids under 5 years old; supplies for pap smears - to the health centers in the campo “when there are.” When there aren’t, those women on birth control pills having sex with men that refuse to wear condoms just have to pray they don’t get pregnant; babies eat rice and drink soda; and women never get pap smears. But for Christmas, the government has money to buy toys for kids, computers, mattresses, and other things for nurseries and schools. Does anyone else see a problem with this picture?

All kinds of laws exist that are great on paper, for example giving all pregnant women and their children under 5 years old free care and supplies, but aren’t put into practice because the country lacks resources. Well, the country itself doesn’t lack resources. As someone famous said, Ecuadorians are poor in a rich land. There are plenty of resources here. The government just has its hands in too much rather than letting privatization happen.

So there is no health care system here in my opinion – to me, the rules of care only prevent and discourage people from being seen by doctors. This, and tradition drive people to see the “shaman,” basically witch doctors in the campo that practice curing bad energy, therefore healing you of your ailment. Sometimes they are right, and do cure people; other times, in the case of my neighbor, they tell you that a baby is growing outside of your uterus.

When I think of health care in these terms, I get so overwhelmed and don’t know how I’ll ever make a difference here. What good is the education, if the system puts up barriers for people to be seen or if families don’t have the resources to buy the medicine they need? What I’m doing here is really all about behavior change – getting people to change their day-to-day lives to be healthier. Because when it comes down to it, the day-to-day activities are sometimes the only ones that we can control. I need to focus on what individuals can change in their daily routine to lead healthier lives, and leave everything else, because I can’t tackle the system. For me, this is so hard to do. In the states I worked to change the system, now I have to forget the system and change the people. I’m not sure which is harder.

P.S. I have new life in regards to the chicken project. It comes down to looking for other sources of funding, which exist and I will find. You can kick me down, but you can’t keep me down!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Los Fieles


I celebrated my first “Feriado de los Fieles,” or Fair of the Faithful, more commonly known as Day of the Dead. People traveled from all over the country to visit cemeteries and give respect to those that passed away. My family alone had 9 visitors – that makes for 15 people. I had no idea anyone was coming, but on Saturday they started showing up – cousins, nephews, friends, brothers, etc – and are still here. We went to the cemetery in Sucre Sunday and Monday night at about 7:30 until 10:30pm. It was packed with families. People sit in front of a grave and light candles for hours. The streets are packed with people, cars, and stands of food. There is also a traditional drink – colado morado – see pic of it cooking. I’m not sure why its traditional to drink during the Feriado, but its really good, and the color purple. There are different fruits and spices in the drink – pineapple, uba, cinnamon, sugar, mote, not sure what else – and you can drink it hot or cold, with alcohol or without.

Afterward, there are fiestas, of course. Some people don’t agree with holding fiestas during these days, but the one in Miraflores and my town were packed. Music was blasting so loud my bed was vibrating with the beat all night and into the afternoon. I went both nights; but didn’t amenecer – make it til the sun rises, because we celebrated Halloween too, and for that I did amenecer. Three nights of that in a row is too much for my body to handle – I’m no spring chicken.

I really liked being a part of this holiday here. I think it’s a great idea to have a national holiday for the dead. It brings families, friends, and neighbors together; and it’s a time to dedicate to the loved ones we’ve lost. I was thinking about the last time I went to a cemetery to visit anyone that I’ve lost, and I realized I couldn’t remember. Its been years since I’ve visited my Grandmother, Uncle, or Great-grandmother. I think about them all the time, but I never stopped to take the time and actually visit them. When I get home, I’m lobbying for a national holiday for the dead – we have holidays for everything else, why not the dead too?

Clinica Movil Was a Success


My friend and co-volunteer, Ali, organized a Mobil Clinic to visit her site to give free pap-smears today. Alea and I went to Las Mercedes to help her put things together, and it went really well. There were almost 100 women! The Mobil Clinic is a part of SOLCA – a private hospital here dedicated entirely to treating patients with cancer. Ali gave a mini-charla on how to do self-breast exams and Alea and I did our Corazon Feliz thing – took blood pressure and BMI for everyone and tried to educate people individually on the importance of a balanced diet and exercise. After about 60 people, I started feeling and sounding like a broken record. Some of the women were attentive and had questions about what we were telling them, while others listened politely. I can’t tell if the ones that listened but didn’t talk understood our message or not. Getting people to change their behaviors is so hard, and I doubt that hearing about nutrition and exercise once is going to make a difference for anyone.

It’s interesting to me that Ecuador and the US have the same problems with obesity, hypertension, and diabetes, when the resources of each country are so drastically different. In the states, there is so much more education and access to services – be it exercise, a nutritionist, doctors, support groups, or stores with healthy food - and yet, there is a huge problem with obesity. In contrast, in Ecuador people work in the fields with machetes, wash clothes by hand (in general seem to work harder because they’re not sitting behind desks all day long), grow various types of fruits in their backyards, have access to vegetables, and need to walk more if they leave their house, and services just don’t exist. You would think that both countries would have obesity under control based on the services provided or the lifestyle necessary to survive. But the opposite is true. Obesity poses a huge health problem in both countries. This may be an over-generalization, but I think in both countries the problem is that people don’t understand the importance of preventing illnesses, and don’t want to change their habits. Resources stop being an issue, and the individuals’ decision becomes more important, and people are the same everywhere, regardless of their material possessions or governmental infrastructure. People need to eat healthier and exercise more – what is so difficult about that??

Monday, October 19, 2009

More Photos

Partido en Quito

Life in the Campo

livin la vida loca


I didn’t get to run in the race in Guayaquil. PCVs were on travel restriction until October 6th. I did, however, go to Quito for the seleccion mundial! Alea, Sarah and her boyfriend Danielle, and I decided to go Friday afternoon for the game on Saturday. It was a really hectic trip – we took a night bus Friday and arrived in Quito at Kristen’s around 4:30AM. We napped for a few hours and then headed to the stadium at 10 AM because we only had general admission tickets and were hearing that to get a seat we’d need to get there super early.

The game didn’t start until 5pm, so we made friends with people sitting around us, hung out, drank a bit, and got caught up in the atmosphere. The entire stadium was filled by around 2 or 3pm. When Ecuador scored the first goal, the stadium went nuts – it was really the most exciting moment in sports I’ve experienced. And then no more than 30 seconds later Uruguay scored, and the stadium was completely silent. Also the first time I’ve been in a stadium and its literally been silent. I could see the Uruguayan team celebrating, but couldn’t hear a thing. When Peru scored a goal against Chile and their score was tied 1-1, the stadium got some life again, only to be shut down once and for all when Uruguay scored on a penalty shot to end the game. Ecuador lost 2-1; and lost again the following Wednesday, killing their chance to play in South Africa for the World Cup.

Although it sucked that Ecuador lost, that didn’t stop us from going out Saturday night. We danced the night away until about 4 – ran into some other volunteers and folks that work at the embassy. Sunday we went to an artesania market and watched AMERICAN FOOTBALL. It was so incredible!!!! I felt like I was back in the states. Sunday night we were back on a night bus to Portoviejo. I am not a fan of night buses. I basically didn’t sleep for 3 days. And my body is still mad at me for it. I ended up getting amebas somehow. Not a fun experience, but my meds have helped. Now I’ve developed a cough and sore, scratchy throat. I hope I don’t get TB from the wood-burning stove we use to cook.

Today was the Nutricion Fair in Portoviejo. The Committee of Volunteers were asked to make soy products to sell at the fair, so yesterday we made everything from scratch. There were about 10 of us at Sra. Nelly’s house from 9 AM until 8 PM. We peeled the soy beans, cleaned them, crushed them by hand-churning a tool to squeeze the milk out, boiled sugar, and shredded yuca, verde and other vegetables to make tortillas. 11 hours! I was thinking about trying to sell soy products every month in Sucre during our health fairs to help raise money for the committee, but after Thursday, I hope to never have to make soy products by hand again.

It wasn’t the fact that we did everything by hand that was frustrating; it was the lack of organization and the attitude from some of the people working. In general, people here don’t seem to have a concept of organization, teamwork, or commitment. I’m not sure why, but volunteers don’t attend meetings that they say they will and they don’t notify you that they’re not coming. When people do show up, they don’t want to participate. I’m not sure how to create a better sense of comradery, but I’m going to try and figure something out because the fact that 24 de Mayo has a committee of volunteers is pretty special and not something that all cantons have. We need to take advantage of this instead of pissing it away.

Somehow the soy milk ended up “breaking,” and we had to salvage what we could and boil it again. There were some tears involved in that process and finger pointing as to who’s fault it was. I guess I was a little frustrated too because I still feel like an outsider. I don’t understand everything that is said, so I can’t enjoy the little inside jokes that are made while working; no one listens to my suggestions whether or not they can understand them; and I just don’t see how I can help or improve things. I’m great at identifying problems, but finding practical solutions is another issue.

Anyway, the soy was a hit during the fair – we sold a cup of soy milk and tortilla for $.25 and ended up making about $10-$15.

10.18.09 – Aerobicos!!
Friday night we started the first aerobics class in Los Tillales. I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to show up, but about 15 people came - basically on time too. So we agreed to do class every Wednesday and Friday at 7pm. If anyone reading this is ever in the area – be sure to stop by! You don’t want to miss it! I’m quite the instructor…I’m sure those of you back home can appreciate that picture. What I really need is a tv and dvd player so I can pop in a dance-therapy class. I am accepting Christmas presents!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Que Paso Con Septiembre?

Its hard to believe an entire month has passed by again – September literally flew. I had charlas every day, sometimes twice a day and seemed to be rushing to other meetings in the mornings as well. Looking at my calendar I feel pretty accomplished. And yes, I’m going to gloat about this feeling for a moment because it’s the first time I’ve felt like I’ve done anything since arriving. I usually get caught up in the daily miscommunications and feel like I’m not making a difference here at all. I don’t know what the people in the Corazon Feliz communities think about my charlas, but they say they understand me and they participate, so hopefully they’re learning something.

Also, another exciting bit of work news – another volunteer and friend, Alea, and I printed the first edition of a magazine – “Salud y Bienestar.” It’s a monthly magazine about health issues in the community, interesting little factoids about the community, and an entertainment section that featured none other than Michael Jackson. We’re printing the mag and selling it in our respective cantons in hopes of raising money for additional projects.

Themes from the month of September include:

Daily miscommunications ranging from silly things like confusing “bono” (welfare checks) with “abono” (fertilizer) to more serious problems with scheduling who is going to what community and when.

Watching my host grandmother and aunt kill a chicken by slitting its neck and then pluck it, skin it, rip out the insides, and chop it up into pieces more recognizable to me like legs and thighs.

Attending my first community baile (dance) and dancing until 4 AM. The fiestas here never end. The next morning I had a health fair in Sucre at 8 AM, and while driving into town at 7:30 AM I saw 2 guys just leaving! The dances here are different than in the states – first of all, everyone dances – it doesn’t matter where, in the streets, in someone’s backyard, in a school – everyone and everywhere. And there are steps – the simplest is like you’re marching in place or slightly to the right, middle, left, then back again – and then there are actual dances like salsa, meringue, cumbia, Don’t ask me when you dance which one, but somehow everyone here knows and I just follow along.

El Paro (the stoppage) – the indigenous population is protesting different proposals of Correa – a potable water system in the Sierra, education reforms, and one other I can’t remember - throughout the country. The protests are bigger and more problematic in larger cities, but Portoviejo has had some problems with student protesters. Correa wants every teacher to take an exam evaluating whether or not they actually know what they’re talking about and are fit to be professors. Who could disagree with this? UNE, like the teachers union here is who. They don’t want to take these exams, so professors and students have been protesting and classes have been cancelled. Yesterday, in anticipation of the protests, things basically shut down. People didn’t have work because there were no buses or cars traveling to Portoviejo. The bar across the street was open bright and early – before I even rolled out of bed at 8 AM! PCV are on travel restriction…which sucks because the ½ marathon is this weekend in Guayaquil! I’m not sure if we’ll be able to go. Lindsey, Ali, and I are supposed to be visiting JCov and running in the race!! It was our something to look forward to this past month.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My First, and Hopefully Last Security Problem!

2 kids just tried to rob me! Like 30 minutes ago in Portoviejo. They couldn´t have been more than 12 years old. Those little $%"& didnt get anything though. I´m so mad at myself for even letting it happen because I felt like something was wrong and I should have ducked into a store, but instead I kept walking over a bridge even though they were trying to talk to me and followed me when I crossed to the other side. Then the one tried to yank my purse off of me, but it didnt break and I hit him and yelled at him. So him and his friend just ran away. It was on this bridge and a ton of people were around. I looked for a cop, but didn´t see one. So another attempted crime goes unpunished...I was shaken up at first, but am settling down now that I´m in an internet cafe where I feel safe. Hopefully this is the first and last incident of this kind...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Long Overdue Update from the Past Month

Tech Trip – July 19ish

For my tech trip I went with 9 other aspirantes and some PC staff to Manabi for about 5 days. We visited my site for 2 days and helped with a “Dia de Prevencion” at a colegio in Sucre. My group prepared a charla on HIV/AIDS – how its contracted and how to protect yourself against it – to three different groups of 15-17 year olds. The next day we went to Ali’s site, Las Mercedes, and gave a couple different mini charlas to another escuela about the importance of recycling and what to do with different types of basura. In Ecuador, everyone burns everything – plastic, paper, aluminum – or throws it on the ground or in a river. General cleanliness is something I took for granted in the states. Here, I carry around trash in my pocket for an entire day because I never come across a trash can. Even in my house, when I finish dinner, I don’t know what to do with my plates. I don’t know where to put the leftover food, where to put the paper, and where to clean them. We usually have a bucket of leftover food to feed the animals, but I’m not always sure where it is.

Anyway, our third day we went to Ayocucho in Santa Ana to participate in a health fair for women there receiving free pap-smears. My group had 2 stations – the first station was about how to give a self-breast exam. A phenomenon here is that women never touch themselves. Out of about 80 women that were there for the pap-smears, 1 woman had given herself a breast exam. And the doctors don’t do it here either! The other station we had was about the benefits of the Free Maternity and Child Health Law. I was surprised to hear that most of the women knew about the services that were offered through the law. However, the majority of these women live close to a subcentro where they can receive the services. People that live farther out in campos and can’t travel to the subcentro tend to not know about the services that are offered. And just because a service is written in the law as being free, that doesn’t mean the subcentro actually has the materials needed.

That night we stayed in a Finca. Its basically an ecological reserve type place where different groups go for cultural & naturey events. For instance, we hiked to a waterfall, picked mandarins and other fruit off of trees, and had a fiesta that night. It was a blast…and the phrase “La Gente de Manabi” was coined.

Day 4 we traveled about 6 hours to Chone, another canton in Manabi to give a charla on paternity/maternity. This is a really touchy subject for foreigners to talk about with nationals when we don’t know each other, because there is a real difference in cultures. Many girls are pregnant here at 12, 13 years old. The charla we gave was about thinking about the right time in your life to have a baby; and the things you have to sacrifice to have one. But when you don’t know the language very well, and it’s a touchy subject even when you do, things can be misconstrued. Bottom line, the charla didn’t go over that well. We were all tired and hungover too. But we had tonga for lunch, which was awesome. Its chicken, rice, and money (peanut) cooked inside banana leaves – ricisimo.

The tech trip was a lot of work – we were up early every morning and went to bed late every night, partly because we were preparing charlas for the next morning and also because we built in a little time to relax with vino. But the trip was awesome. I really bonded with everyone – people that I hadn’t been able to spend much time with earlier. Its so true that you become friends with people here for life that in any other situation you probably wouldn’t even know. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made here, and for the support they’ve given me over the past couple weeks.

Last Week in Cayambe – August 15th

Today was “Family Appreciation Day” – aspirantes day to thank our families for taking us in as one of their own during the past 2 months. We decorated, played a slideshow with photos throughout training, organized a traditional Sierran dance – and yes, I participated and wore the traditional dress – sang an Ecuatorian song, and served lots of delicious Ecuatorian food. Overall the day was fun, and my family definitely enjoyed the gesture. Tomorrow morning we leave Cayambe for good and head to Quito to finalize paper work before swearing-in.

August 16th –
This morning I said good-bye to my family, and out of nowhere, the waterworks came. I had no intention of crying, felt no desire to cry up until that exact moment, and then couldn’t hold it back. The finality of training ending and the reality that my site was only a few days away hit me. I’m not looking forward to the few days we have left in Quito either, because it just feels like they’ll be delaying the inevitable.

Swearing-In – August 19th

Its official – I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer. We had a service at the Ambassador’s house in Quito this morning. Instead of feeling excited or like the ceremony was great, I just felt this huge letdown. Like yeah, I’m a volunteer, but now I have to leave for my site. And instead of being excited, its all those feelings I had in the states before coming to Ecuador in June – nervousness, anxiety, and an overall feeling of uncertainty. I guess its normal…

First Week at Site

I’ve walked directly into someone else’s life – a life that I am supposed to be “replacing.” The end of one Peace Corps volunteer’s service is in 2 days, and mine began a week ago. I’m supposed to be continuing the work of this volunteer, but really its not work, its life here. Work encompasses everything one does. So its not just like I’m replacing someone that works in an office, I’m replacing someone that has eaten, slept, and breathed this community everyday for 2 years – someone that is a godmother to numerous children; that teaches classes in the escuela and colegio, and keeps her door open at night for private English lessons; that participates in mass and prepares food for senior citizens at the church; that works with the local government and health center; that every storeowner, restaurant owner, bus driver, and citizen in this canton knows, loves, respects, appreciates, and protects.

My every movement will be watched - compared, contrasted. I am different. I like different things. I have different project interests. In the beginning, it will be nice to know the places I can go to help and be around trustworthy people, but I need to make my own schedule and life here. I have my own goals, desires, and boundaries that I am anxious to put into motion.

I need time to myself. I need to think, reflect, talk with my friends. I need to get out of here because I’m drowning in a language that I don’t understand.


What a day…this morning I traveled with the health promotores to Aguacate, a campo about 45 minutes from Sucre for a charla on deparasitacion. The government organized a campaign to give anti-parasite pills out to everyone, so the subcentro in Sucre coordinated with the health promoters days to visit each community in our canton.

People here have so little, and are so poor, but happy. They don’t know what they’re missing. And in spite of the poverty, everyone has a cell phone and television. The paradox that I see everyday is amazing. Life seems so normal to me here sometimes, like this morning when I traversed down a mountain to get to a woman’s house for lunch made of cana and nothing else. So normal walking with my friends, talking or trying to talk and understand in Spanish. And then nt hits me; the people here are so poor and have nothing. But they go about living their lives…because this is their life and it is normal. The differences in 1st and 3rd world amaze me. I’m not sure that amaze is the right adjective…maybe perplex. The juxtaposition hits me sometimes like a slap in the face.

But I’m here, doing exactly what I’ve dreamed of doing. I’m out in the middle of nowhere, giving medicine to kids and families, educating about health. While I’m overwhelmed almost every second of everyday, this is such a cool feeling. And I think I’ve been able to continue going for so long, because everyday I get a new dose of adrenaline. This is the first time in my life I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. It will take me time to get to know the language, culture, and people…and for this I get frustrated. But its part of the experience too.

Tonight one of my Ecuadorian uncles was robbed at gunpoint on his motorcycle. My family was a wreck, and my grandmother passed out. They all turned to me as if I should know what to do. I had no idea what to do. They wanted me to take her blood pressure…know if she had a fever…what she should drink. One of her daughters got rubbing alcohol and dabbed it on her forward with a cotton ball…crazy, right? Before passing out, my grandmother was on her knees in front of her shrine to the Virgin Mary or Jesus (not sure which one) with a candle praying. In a matter of seconds the entire family was transformed. At first I thought Edgar was on a moto and in an accident. I thought he was dead. Then I realized no one was dead, so I thought it can’t be bad, right? So he got robbed…big deal. Well, it turns out they still really didn’t know if he was ok or not.

I cannot get past the language barrier. Instead of understanding more, I feel like I’m understanding less. Maybe it’s that I don’t have the patience anymore. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t understand what people are saying when they talk to me, when they talk around me, and when they talk to one another. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t know what to do. I can’t sleep because its too hot and gross in my room and cars speed by with engines that sound like they’re going to fall out every 30 seconds. I don’t want to leave my room because then I’m forced to see people talking in Spanish, and I feel like I could cry at any second. I have cried in my room this morning, but I think I’m at the point where I might break in public, and that would be so embarrassing. It would help to go on a run, but I don’t want to run because everyone sees me and watches me. I just want to be invisible, but I’m the exact opposite. I have a spotlight on me everywhere I go. This is exactly the kind of thing we talked about in training, and we were supposed to develop “tools” to cope with the problem. But its so different when it happens in reality – when you are living it day in and day out. I really want to hide out in my room forever.

I’ve talked to other volunteers and I know they’re feeling the same way. One girl left already. It helps to know that I’m not the only one feeling this way, but it doesn’t make my situation any better. The only thing that will is learning the language, and I want to know it immediately. I’m getting so frustrated.

Every time I start to feel comfortable with my surroundings, something changes. I was comfortable in the compound getting to know other trainees, then we had to leave to live with our families. When I was comfortable with my family more or less, we left on our site visits. When I was really comfortable in Cayambe with my family and friends, we left for our tech trip. And there I became even more comfortable with my friends and Cayambe when we returned for a week. After that one week, we were off to our sites. Out of my comfort zone again…and I haven’t been able to recover one yet. This Thursday will mark the 3rd week I’ve been in my site. I’m comfortable with my family, and the people I work with, I even have some friends! But I’m not comfortable with the language, and I’m not comfortable with being on display everywhere I go. I know with time I’ll become more accustomed to the language, but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being in the spotlight.

My time here has been intense. I’ve given one charla so far for Corozon Feliz, but I’ve been prepared to give three other ones as well – people just didn’t show up for them. Every morning this past week I traveled to different communities with the health promotores as part of the desparasitacion campaign. The government purchased de-worming pills and is working through the subcentro’s to distribute them to communities. That means we travel out to all the communities in 24 de Mayo and give a charla on hygiene in schools and then feed the kids and their parents (if they come) pills. Its been interesting for me to see how this stuff actually works. Whenever there are advertisements on TV, or you see things in movies or read about them, they seem so much more glamorous. There is no glamour in what we do. It’s a way of life.

Driving to these communities has given me a lot of time to think. I’ve come to realize that education really is the primary piece of development, empowerment, freedom. But education isn’t enough – a change in tradition and culture is necessary. And that process is slow and long. I came here expecting to see results from my work pretty much immediately, and while I still am searching for a project that can show results, I’m trying to tell myself to slow down because I’m not going to be able to change anything in the grand scheme of things. My victories will be with individuals and families, if at all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Adventures of My Site Visit July 23, 2009

I survived my site visit. You may have not had any doubt about my return to Cayambe, but I did, especially after maneuvering through the different bus and metro terminals just to get to another, final bus terminal in Quito, WITH TRAINERS. Had an encounter with a drug addict and watched a guy have a seizure next to me on my 8-hour bus ride from Quito to Porteviejo. But I’m home, safe and sound in my room in Cayambe, able to share my adventure in Los Tillales.

I was greeted in Noboa, a community about 2 hours outside of Porteviejo by the current volunteer, Kristen, and other volunteers of Corozon Feliz who were there for a health fair – checking blood pressure and calculating BMI. The group of women volunteers I met are awesome – very spirited. I hung out at the fair with them all morning, trying to learn as much as I could in Spanish. This job would be so much easier in English! After a few hours we headed to Los Tillales in the back of a pick-up truck, all 15 of us.

My first impression of Los Tillales was, wow, its really rural and in the middle of nowhere. I knew I was spoiled in Cayambe, but I had no idea how much until actually arriving at my site. We have all the main amenities – electricity, indoor plumbing, and a stove. However, the water is frequently turned off, so everyone keeps big containers as full of water as possible for the days when it doesn’t come through the pipes. I got to experience this for 2 days, and took my first bucket bath. There is no hot water, but because its so hot on the coast, the cold showers/bucket baths feel refreshing. Also, although my host family has a gas stove, they rarely use it. Rather, they use the orno in the backyard. I sleep with a mosquito net (tolda) to keep them and other things out of my bed…(see photos).

My host family is super sweet. I live with the grandmother, 2 of her daughters basically live with us too – their houses are almost attached – and their daughter and son. So we have three generations under one roof. Their Spanish is really fast and its hard for me to understand, but I’m making some headway with one of the daughters, Maria.

Everyone else that I met my first day was extremely friendly, but I was on sensory overload and couldn’t get past the physical conditions of the town. There is basically one main road that connects Porteviejo to Sucre (another bigger town about 20 minutes from Los Tillales), and Los Tillales appears to have sprung up along it, like many other communities. At first, I didn’t get the sense of really having a neighborhood, I felt like I was just living in a house sprung up along a road. But after talking with lots of the people, and hanging out there for a few days, I felt the presence of the community. Everyone knows everyone, lots of people are related, and they were all really welcoming, which helped warm me up to the site.

I went to a charla with Kristen and some other volunteers in Aquacate, a town about 1.5 hours from Tillales. It was really interesting – about 20 people showed up to participate. We weighed everyone, took their blood pressure, talked about the importance of exercise and physical fitness, then did aerobics for 30 minutes. Good times – I sweat like a pig!

As far as the work aspect goes, there are so many opportunities – the town, like many places in Ecuador, doesn’t have many resources. I’m going to have to keep reminding myself that I can allow myself months to get to know the people, the town, what programs/projects already exist, and what other needs the community has before trying to “save the world.”

My head is spinning with ideas of how to expand Corozon Feliz and meet the other needs already expressed by my counterpart, Nelly, of the Committee of Health Volunteers that solicited Peace Corps for a volunteer. Not to mention potential opportunities to work with Plan International, colegios, the new local government that comes into office in August, and another group being formed to address domestic violence. Sucre and the surrounding communities have more projects put together than I expected, and seem very energetic and open to trying new things.

After my one tough night, I’m super excited to get back to Los Tillales, improve my Spanish and start to integrate into the community. As I said all week while I was there, I have big shoes to fill as the previous volunteer did awesome work and is loved by everyone.

This blog posting wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the food orgy that occurred last night in Porteviejo with other volunteers – you know who you are, but shall remain nameless here. It felt sooooo good to be in a mall, with a food court that had a movie theater. We had 5 hours to kill before heading to the night bus, and what better way to kill it than by eating and watching a movie in English??!! I think I ate my weight in ice cream yesterday, along with sanchipapas, a sandwich, pieces of a burger, and popcorn. We watched The Proposal, which made me a little homesick, and then ate more ice cream. To top things off, we took an executive bus back to Quito, which was basically like staying in a Ritz Carlton with a flight attendant, seats that reclined, and a foot rest!! Oh how I love La Reina bus line! Good thing I do, because I’ll be spending another 24 hours on her again in the next month.

And my sandals spell like a litter box. Miss you Boo.

July 18 - Breakfast with D´Lenny´s

This morning was our last day with the world’s best language facilitator. What better way to send him off than with food? We made breakfast together – emborajadas, which are like banana funnel cakes, and tortilla de platana, which is like an omelet with platanas. We added cheese, tomato, onion and pepper too. Muy rico! Tonight we all leave for our sites!! Sad and exciting.

July 16 - My Site Assignment

Found out today where I’ll be spending the next 2 years of my life – in Los Tillales, which turns out, is a little town in the province on Manabi on the coast. There are 7 other trainees heading to that province, and a handful of other volunteers there already. I learned the closest volunteer is about 45 minutes away from me in Porteviejo, the capital of Manabi.

From the basic information I have, it looks like my main project will be working with Corozon Feliz (Happy Hearts). It’s a project started by another volunteer in my site who is wrapping up her 2 years. Basically, I’ll be giving charlas on obesity and its co-morbidities. OBESITY!! Its followed me all the way to Ecuador, which I cannot believe. I thought for sure I’d be working in the area of transmittable diseases; not non-transmittable diseases. Who even knew obesity was a problem in Ecuador?? I certainly didn’t think it was as serious as other diseases. Turns out, I was wrong.

I head to Los Tillales on Saturday to meet my new host family and get a better sense of the town, its leaders, and its needs. The trip is about 12 hours…all night long…should be interesting.

July 14 - How Much Spanish Do I Know?

We had our second LPI (language proficiency interview) today. I wasn’t really nervous about it like some other aspirantes because I did so horribly on my first interview I knew I’d improve to some degree during my second. But…as the hour drew closer and I found out the interview was with the idioma jefe – a completely serious and intimidating dude – I got a little nervous. Things didn’t get any better when I walked in for the interview and had to explain how to put a condom on – in Spanish. You may be thinking that’s a bit of a strange topic to discuss during an interview, however, I had just come from a session on that, so it wasn’t really Rolando’s fault for asking – he just wanted to know what I’d been doing before the interview. I struggled through that part with lots of strange facial expressions and we moved onto other topics, thank God. The LPIs are tape recorded, but I wish they were on video camera too because I’m sure if some of them were submitted to America’s Funniest Videos, PC trainees would win millions.

Bottom line, my Spanish has improved! I graduated to the level of intermedio medio – the level volunteers must achieve to be sworn in as volunteers! I came in at precipio bajo, which means you can’t even say “hola” correctly. Yippee! I can talk to people on the street, buy food, and perform other basic functions. I still cannot understand my host dad, the internet dude, or just about anyone else that tries to have a normal conversation with me using verbs other than can, should, want, and need. Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but I still definitely have a long way to go.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pics Coming Soon...I hope

I´m having problems uploading hopefully I´ll get that worked out this week so you can get a glimpse of what my life in Cayambe looks like. For now, use your imagination :-)

De Empezar - July 6

I haven’t been too great about posting blogs, so rather than try and chronicle the last 2 weeks or so, I thought I’d just mention some of the highlights.

My group took our first cultural trip to Mascarilla – an Afro-Ecuatorian centric area about 2 hours north of Cayambe, in a valley, so its tropical. Mascarilla is known for its masks, the dance – la bomba - and futbolistas. I made a mini mask (see picture), but it cracked in the sun. I posted some pictures of the real masks too. There are only a few hundred people who live in Mascarilla – it is a rural town, and appeared to be pretty poor – but because of the handmade masks and other artisans its on the tourist map. In Mascarilla they also have big organic farms and grow bananas, papayas, mangoes, peppers and more. We also saw aloe plants, another plant used as insect repellant, and another plant that shampoo is made from.

I went to my first ever bull fight at the Plaza de Torros with my familia. Picture a big ring with about 70-100 men in it, all drinking, and a bull being taunted. It makes for a pretty good show. Some of the braver men ride the bulls out every once in a while rodeo style. In the 4 hours or so that I was there, I witnessed about 4 bull-to-person contacts, and the Red Cross had to rush into the ring to carry men out on stretchers. I’m still not sure if anyone died that night or not.

I got sick (puked a couple times and had a fever) for the first time last week. I felt awful for about 24 hours, only being awake for about 6 of those 24. Luckily my body is muy fuerte and I was back to myself in time for July 4th festivities. Well, actually July 3rd – we celebrated Ecuatorian style with a futbol tournament and a “Reina Competicion.” My friend JCov was La Reina! As part of the competicion, each language group came up with a cheer and the potential Reinas had to answer why they’d make a good volunteer in their site – in Spanish of course. This may sound pretty basic, however, keep in mind that my language group rides the short bus, so our victory was huge, at least to us.

A few of my favorite Cayambian things:

• Bizcochas with Nutella – Cayambe is known for its bizcochas, which are like pieces of bread that melt in your mouth. The Nutella is a North American thing…
• Fresh juice every morning. This morning I had tomate de arbol, but my favorite is mora (raspberry). And when I say fresh, I mean fresh. We bought the tomate de arbol at the mercado at 6:45 am during our every other day family run.
• Desfiles todos los fin de semanas. I’ve finally posted some pictures from a couple of the parades I’ve been to in Cayambe. They are literally every weekend, and sometimes during the week.
• Mountain Cayambe – I don’t even know if that’s really what its called, but it is such a beautiful, snow covered mountain that you can only see when its clear. On days when its cloudy, you wouldn’t be able to tell that the mountain/volcano existed. I’ve tried posting some pics of it, but my camera sucks and the photos don’t do it justice.

I still can’t believe this Wednesday will mark the 3rd week I’ve been here. I think once I hit week 4 it will feel more permanent and “home” will feel further away. Its hard to explain how it feels now…I’ve had such a tight schedule and need to learn so much that it doesn’t feel like my own life, so its hard to feel settled and like this is home. My host family is great and so are the people in my language group that live in Cayambe close to me. But its like I rush through every day, to go to bed, get up, and do it all over again. Its like I’m at camp or something. I guess this hand-holding breaks the reality in more easily and gradually. But I think in 2 weeks when I head to my site I will get a wake up call.

The “Change-Ranger” - July 12, 2009

Although I’m nothing like a change-ranger yet, it’s a nickname Andrew has given to me to help me out of my periods of doubt – doubt that I’ll ever be able to fully comprehend and speak in Spanish; doubt that what I’m doing here makes a difference; doubt about where I’ll be spending the next 2 years of my life, which I find out on Thursday; doubt that my community will accept me. So at least thinking of the “change-ranger” puts a smile on my face, even if I doubt its truth.

On Thursday, I’ll know where I’m living for the next 2 years; I’ll know which other volunteers will be in my “cluster;” I’ll know whether or not I need to learn another language – Kichwa; I’ll know what needs the community identified during their initial interview with PC; and I’ll have a better idea of what project I’ll be working on. Note the emphasis on BETTER IDEA, because I really will have no idea what I’m doing until I’m at my site and spend a few weeks or months there.

I think I’ve had an open mind about this entire process, from last May when I sent in my application to packing my bags for Ecuador, having no idea what I really needed to bring or would want once I got here. And I’m trying to keep an open mind about my site placement, but the closer it gets, the more specifics I can give about what I want. I don’t even want to write them down for fear of jinxing things and tempting fate; or worse yet, getting everything I want only to find out that its like nothing I expected. But here goes… I WANT a site on the Coast or in the Oriente, or a transitional area; I WANT to work in public policy and tropical disease prevention; I WANT to be close by to my friends so we can get together on the weekends when we need a “mental health” day/s; and I WANT an awesome apartment with hot water, a toilet, electricity; and without bugs, rodents, reptiles, and other icky things.

However, I know I’ll survive wherever I’m placed, and I believe that wherever I’m placed is for a reason…I just hope they’re reasons I like J My biggest fear about site placement is having to learn Kichwa when I barely know Spanish. Part of me thinks that because I don’t know much Spanish, the powers that be wouldn’t put me in a site where I needed to learn Kichwa. But the other part of me thinks that because I’m like a blank slate, that may be reason enough to assign me to an indigenous site. There is no use in worrying, but I can’t help but think…

Next week all, or at least the most pressing questions, will be answered, and on Sunday I’ll be headed for my site to spend 5 days with my new host family, in my new community. Wish me luck!

Monday, June 22, 2009

En Cayambe

I´ve only been in Ecuador for 5 days, but I can almost say a sentence in Spanish! The language barrier is proving to be my biggest challenge. I´m living with a host family who only speaks Spanish, so we result to gesturing and drawings after I say - como - about 3 times. They are very patient with me, and I´m teaching them some English too.

To back up a minute...I arrived in Quito last Wednesday, was greeted by the PC Ecuador staff and wisked away to a hostel in Quito. By the next afternoon, I was on a bus to Cayambe, a small city in the Sierra about 2 hours north of Quito. Luckily, I haven´t had any problems adjusting to the altitude - I am about 10,000 ft. above sea level. It is beautiful here. I went for a run this morning and had a crystal clear view of the Cayambe Mountain covered in snow. I also watched a parade yesterday as part of the fiesta celebrating Saint Pedro. Lots of children participated in the parade and dressed in the traditional style for the Sierra or the Oriente. I´ll try to upload photos soon.

I´ll be living with my host family for the next 9 weeks during training. If I pass all of the PC evaluations (and I will), I´ll be sworn in as a volunteer August 19th. So for now, I have lots of tests and community activities focusing on improving my language, learning the technical skills I´ll need to support my community health projects, safety and security, and culture. Its exhausting and the hardest thing I think I´ve ever done. But its worth it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Let the Countdown Begin...

I can barely believe it, but tomorrow morning I head to Miami for my Peace Corps pre-orientation. In less than 36 hours I'll be in Quito, Ecuador to begin my 27 month adventure. Lots of emotions running through me right now, but mostly the desire to sleep. After 4+ hours of packing and re-packing I'm exhausted physically and emotionally.

Before heading out I wanted to make sure to share the message below with everyone from the PC that pertains to the first couple of months I'm in Ecuador training in Cayambe:

Please advise friends and family members not to send packages more than 4 lbs., not to declare a value, and not to send expensive items, such as cameras or computers. Normal business size letters or small padded envelopes are welcome during training and usually not held up in customs. Please send mail to:

Jennifer Conklin, PCT
Cuerpo de Paz
Casilla 17-08-8624
Quito, Ecuador

I'm off for now, next time you hear from me I'll be in South America!