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.
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.
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…