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.