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.