The last few months

I am sorry its been awhile, but its become a lot harder to write posts in the last few months for 2 main reasons: 1) I am a lot busier now, and it seems like “write blog post” always gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list. 2) I have been there long enough that everything starts seeming normal, and so I don´t know what to write about!

While I can´t possibly detail everything thats happened in the past few months, and can give a brief summary: I am happy, I finally feel like I am really working, and I love it here.

So… I have been to Quito twice since my last blog: once for PSN training, which was wonderful. Since I was elected as training coordinator for PSN at that meeting, I went back to Quito in March to talk to the trainees about the first few months in site, stress, and coping strategies. Hanging out with the trainees was fun, plus I stayed and helped out for their cookout, sponsered by the volunteer advisory council. After I finished up in Tumbaco, I hung out in Ibarra with 2 girls from my training group, Jen and Abbey. We had a blast and it makes me sad that they live so far away.

I also went back to the States for 2 weeks in February. Although it was a little strange being back, I did have a lot of fun-I got to see ALMOST everyone that I wanted to. When I first got back I still felt a little lost, like I still wasn´t really doing anything… but then all of a sudden a few weeks ago its like everything fell into place. With the doctora in the health clinic, I am doing medical brigades a few times a month. We also have a “club de Adulto Mayor” (senior citizens) and a “Club de Hipertensos y Diabeticos” (People with high blood pressure and diabetes). I am really enjoying these to clubs. They each meet once a month, but a lot of the members overlap. The abuelitos are ADORABLE.About 2 weeeks ago we had a meeting. We started out playing a memory game, then we did dance therapy, another memory game, a nutrition charla, and FREEZE DANCE which was the cutest thing ever. For the finale, they elected a King and Queen of the club. The queen got a sash and the king got a crown. It was the cutest. I almost cried at one point because the queen started crying in her speech and saying how its so nice to have somewhere to go and people who are actually interested and paying attention instead of just being put off to the side. It made me really happy that we are continuing this group for them.

I am also doing an anemia project with the doctor, although its mostly just me and then she helps out with the medical parts. The last volunteer got 20 cast iron pots donated and sent to Ecuador and they finally arrived. Cooking with cast iron pots is supposed to help treat anemia. We did exams on all the families, and right now they are using the pots. I am doing surprise home visits and they also have to come to a meeting once a week where I give a charla about anemia, nutrition, parasite prevention, etc. In about a month we are going to retest to see if the pots are working. If it works, we want to ask for more money from the government to replicate the project in other communities.

I am now teaching at the school across the river every Wednesday. The school has about 22 kids in all different grades, but because they only have 2 teachers, they divide them into “upper grades” and “lower grades”. I teach the upper grades for 1.5 hours, then recess, then the other group. I am teaching mostly health stuff and self esteem too.

I am supposed to be teaching at both of the high schools in the county. The name of the project is “Educacion Integral para Vidas Saludables”. Its an all inclusive life skills/health class. Every month is a different theme, and at the end of the month they have to replicate what they learned and teach it to the younger students.I have started at one high school and it has gone really well so far. The other colegio still hasnt gotten organized enough for me to start classes there. I will be teaching for the duration of the school year, April to December.

I also still have my kids group and recently the women´s group finally started. I had 14 women attend last week and this week we are baking cookies so I am sure that more will show up.

Two weeks ago at a community meeting I was asked to give a charla specifically on parenting/child abuse. There is a current trend of parents buying leather whips to discipline their kids. It started with one or two families, and then other people thought it was a good idea.I didn´t want to just do something on child abuse, because it goes deeper than that. There is no consistency with parenting here. The kids cry and cry and the parent gives them whatever they want so they stop crying, except for random instances when the parent decides to hit/slap/yell at them instead. So I presented 5 definitions: Physical abuse, emotional abuse, and 3 styles of parenting: Authority-Repressive Based, Authority-Reciprocal, and Indulgent-Permissive. We talked a lot about consistency, forming rules and sticking to them, discussing and setting up punishments according to the actions of kids, etc. It went really well and we had a lot of good discussion. At one point a woman asked what she should do if her husband is the one beating up the kids. Myself and the ecuadorian I was facilitating with explained a series of actions: first discussing it with him BEFORE it takes place, when he is not angry, if that doesn´t work, intervening when it is actually taking place, and finally if that fails, filing a report with child services or the police. We also explained that there are laws that protect her and her kids. I hope that Step One works for her, but I guess we´ll see. It felt really good to discuss such an important and sensitive issue and know that the women felt comfortable enough to ask questions, and to think that maybe I helped to empower someone to change their situation, whether it be the woman with the husband, or someone else in the audience who previously was using physical violence to discipline their kids. The session went so well that I was asked to repeat it this past Saturday with the parents of kids who are in CCD class. Some of the CCD teachers were in the session and thought it would be great for more parents to hear it.

This past weekend I had a few volunteers visit, and everyone had an amazing time. I love having people visit my site and my host family loves it too! I am not going to describe it in detail because I won´t be able to do it justice, but all you need to know was that it was a wonderful relaxing weekend.

Thats it for now… I really am going to try to blog at least once a month, but no promises!


Updates from January

Work-wise, I have spent most of January helping Dra. Velez setup the SubCentro de Salud that we will be working out of, and trying to start up the community groups for Los Tillales. Like I mentioned last time I wrote, the SubCentro has been neglected for quite some time. While we did get cleaned up at the beginning of February, there was still a lot more logistics to deal with. The two big tasks we’ve been working on for the last 3 weeks or so: inventory, and stocking the pharmacy. The doctora had to submit an inventory of everything in the subcentro; right down to how many tongue depressors were there. The second big thing was reorganizing and stocking the pharmacy. When people come to the subcentro de salud, because it is part of the Ministry of Health, there are certain medicines that are available to patients for free. Every subcentro has a pharmacy, so after you visit the doctor, you can walk over and (theoretically) get the medicines you need. They don’t have everything, but its seems like they have all of the important stuff: birth control, vitamins, blood pressure, basic antibiotics, etc. We finally got everything set last week! I also have being TRYING to set up the women’s groups, youth groups, and kid’s group. I went door to door with invites for everyone, but attendance has been a little small compared to the number of people who signed up and said they were interested. I think part of the reason is the rain. Now that we are into rainy season, it doesn’t rain all day here, but it does rain every day. And even though it rains every day, and you would think everyone would be used to it, they still don’t like going out in the rain. Everyone pretty much stays in their houses until it passes. So that fact that it was down pouring during the meetings probably didn’t help. Hopefully attendance will grow once I get back from the States. The only group that has really strong attendance so far is the kids group, probably because it is most of the kids I have been working with in the reading group. They are so great, and it is so fun and rewarding working with them. Last week I had them do personal flags; a collage of things they like, their families, etc. It was a difficult task for them; as I anticipated. Here in Ecuador, creativity and critical thinking are not a huge part of the curriculum for grade school like it is in the States. It’s more about memorizing and repeating, being able to fill in the blank, choose the right answer. So when I told the kids they had to draw things that defined them, things that they liked or experienced, they were baffled. The kept asking for more specific directions, and once they finally did start drawing, they kept asking me if they were doing it right… and I kept saying “yes, because it’s impossible to do it wrong!” Afterwards, I had everyone present their work, which is another thing that they are absolutely not used to. They were super nervous about it; I actually let 2 girls present together because they were just too afraid to do it by themselves. They ARE getting better at speaking in front of the group though, which is great to see.

Another highlight from January was my tech exchange with my friend Kerry. Kerry lives in a rural community in the mountains of Cañar, about 3 hours from Cuenca. A tech exchange is an opportunity for volunteers and communities to learn from each other. I went to Kerry’s site to teach her community about the environment and the importance of reducing and reusing material. On the way to Kerry’s site, I got to stop in Cuenca and see Lauren, my friend from Stonehill. It was nice to see her again, meet her friends, and see where she’s living. While I was in Kerry’s site, we co-taught the kids in her community’s school about reducing the amount of garbage we produce, and how we can reuse some of the things we consume. Though some of the classes were a bit difficult, for the most part it was quite fun… the little kids were the CUTEST. I also taught Kerry’s girl’s group how to make wallets out of potato chip bags or soda labels, which I learned from a 3rd year volunteer, Olenka. It was nice to pass on knowledge about such a cool little project. Aside from the tech stuff, it was just great to hang out with Kerry. She doesn’t have cell phone service and her nearest internet is about 2.5 hours away, so I don’t get to talk with her very often! She also has an adorable puppy, which is a plus obviously.

Qué más, Qué más? In January, I found out that I was accepted into Peace Corps Ecuador’s Peer Support Network. I was thrilled to be accepted and it is a program that I am very excited about. Next week, I am heading to Quito for some training the PSN… I am excited for it, but it’s also kind of awkward timing… I get to Quito Wednesday, leave Saturday, and then about a week later I will be on my way to the U.S.! I can’t believe I only have 2 weeks left until vacation!!!

The last month… aka the holiday season in Ecuador

So it’s been about a month since I last wrote… oops. First of all, I just re-read my last post to see where I left off, and WOW. So many grammar/spelling errors. It really is true… the more my Spanish improves the more my English deteriorates. Anyway, let’s get to the updates.

A few weekends ago, I had a few volunteers over, as well as a friend from Stonehill who is currently here on a Fulbright, researching in Cuenca. It was definitely one of the most fun weekends I have here so far. Lauren, my friend from Stonehill, got here Friday night. It was SO nice to see a familiar face, someone that I knew before I came to Ecuador. We had a good time catching up. Saturday a few volunteers who live in the area arrived. Among them was a 3rd year volunteer who came to teach the community group how to crochet with plastic bags. The meeting for that was in the afternoon, and there was a pretty good turnout. The women seemed super enthusiastic about it too, was great to see. I also took the opportunity to present my “Plan de Trabajo” aka my work plan. After the meeting was over, we all walked back to my house to make baked ziti, no bake cheesecake, and pudding, as well as eat copious amounts of junk food. Since I don’t have an oven (just a stovetop) I have to borrow my host mom’s. We made a gigantic batch of ziti so we could share with my host family. We brought the ziti over to bake and once it was done we all enjoyed it. After that it was time for smores… my host family has been asking me to make them again and I figured this would be a good opportunity. It was so much fun. I honestly don’t think I can do it justice here. Everyone, gringas and Ecuadorians, were laughing, talking, eating, and having a great time. Once smores were finished, my host dad took everyone for a ride in his pickup trucks so Lauren and the other volunteers could see “The Centro” aka Sucre. After we got back, the gringas all went back to my house. We just sat around, talked, had some wine/beer and listened to music. It is nice to just talk to people who are also living this absurd lifestyle, to have someone to relate to. Sunday everyone headed back to their respective sites, and I have to admit, it was a bit lonely that evening… it was such a blast having everyone here.

I spent the majority of the next week planning for when my groups start up in January and baking an obscene amount of Christmas cookies. I have been kind of missing the “Christmas feeling”, since it’s not quite as big of a deal here and it’s not cold at ALL, so I have been obsessing a bit over whatever Christmas things I could do. My wonderful wonderful friend Shannon sent me Christmas music and “It’s a Wonderful Life” on DVD, plus I had copied “Elf” from another volunteer’s computer, so I was basically watching/listening to that stuff on repeat all week. One cool Christmas tradition that I really like here: Novenas. Novenas are like little prayer meetings, but more than that. Every night for the 9 days before Christmas, the neighbors all meet in someone’s house… a different house every night. At this meeting, they pray, then do a little skit with a specific theme (for example, how Christmas is not meant to be a material holiday), and then they sing to the baby Jesus doll, which gets passed from house to house. Afterwards everyone enjoys some kind of snack or food together.

Friday was probably my favorite day of Christmas weekend. Friday I went to my nieces and nephews’ school to watch their Christmas pageant. But of course, being the token gringa, I couldn’t just watch the show… the principal asked me to be one of the judges. I personally thought I shouldn’t do it, since my niece was in the running for the Christmas Fairy, but no one listened to me. This is how it works: Each grade selects a Papa Noel (Santa Claus), Godmother for the Christmas Tree, and Christmas Fairy. Then the day of the Christmas Pageant, the three judges are supposed to pick the best of each category to be the Papa Noel, Godmother, and Fairy for the whole school. Each group does a little parade for the judges to decide the winners. We picked the Papa Noel from 5th grade, because he had everything: gloves, glasses, beard, belt, hat… the whole gig. We picked the Godmother of the Tree because she was just plain adorable. And then, of course, seeing as how life is absurd, the other judges, not knowing she was my niece, both voted for Sheyla. It really was completely fair; she was one of only 2 fairies that had the hat, wings, AND wand, plus a very pretty dress. To top it off, she did an adorable little pose once she stopped in front of the judges. So basically, she would have won whether I was a judge or not. It was pretty funny afterwards though… everyone was asking me how much her parents bribed me and stuff… basically my whole host family was giving me shit for it (all in good fun of course!). Friday night after the novena, they had a little welcoming/thank you party for Kris, the first volunteer in my site who was here about 4 years ago, because she was in town visiting for two weeks. They included me in it to, and my favorite part of the little “programa” was the “besos”. Beso literally means “a kiss”, but in this instance it meant little 2-3 line poems. Kris and I were seated in the front of the room, and a bunch of kids and teens from the neighborhood lined up in front of us. Then each person took their turn reciting their little “beso” or poem. It was absolutely precious!
The week between Christmas and New Years was a lot of fun too. I got to hang out with Kris quite a bit, and it was really nice meeting her and getting to know her after hearing so much about her. She also was super helpful with tips on how to deal with Nelly. Even though she is not my counterpart anymore, because it is such a small community and she is still the president of the community, I do have to maintain a decent working relationship with her. Kris even went so far as offering to facilitate a meeting to help me figure out a work plan. I took her up on it, so last Thursday Kris planned to facilitate a meeting with me, Marcela (my neighbor/guardian angel), Nelly, Cecilia, the woman from the municipio, and Doctora Velez (my new counterpart). Unfortunately, Wednesday afternoon the Dra. Velez heard from her bosses, who told her she had to come in for a meeting the next morning because they were probably going to change her assignment. I was severely disappointed; this meant that I would need to find a new counterpart. So, Thursday morning, Dra. Velez arrived just as the meeting was wrapping up, and told me she would be changing clinics. She was going to move from the Centro de Salud in Sucre, about 20-25 minutes away, to…… the Subcentro de Salud in Miraflores, which is about 10 MINUTES AWAY! It actually worked out pretty perfectly. Now it looks like I finally have my schedule set:
In the community where I live, I will be facilitating 2 youth groups and 2 women’s groups (one for each side of the community, because they refuse to cross the river!) plus a kids group in Tillales Afuera and teaching a class at the school in Tillales Adentro. I will also (hopefully!) be teaching a life skills class in the high school in Sucre. With the Doctora, I will be working on a project to reduce anemia and also an organic gardening project. Those two projects will be replicated in several communities in the county and will be in conjunction with her medical brigades, which are twice a week. I will also be accompanying Nelly and Cecilia on their medical brigades once a week. So Mondays I will have class in the colegio, a women’s group, and kids group. Tuesdays I will have class in the school, a women’s group, and a youth group. Wednesdays and Fridays I will be with the Doctora and Thursdays I will be with Nelly. Thursday nights I will have the other youth group. I am excited to get going! Thursday the Doctora and I had our first community meeting for our anemia project. The project is targeting senior citizens, kids under 5, and pregnant women, so our first step was to have a meeting to explain the project and look for clinical symptoms of anemia. Over 50 people showed up, which is HUGE for my community; normally you get around 15-20 people at meetings. It was really exciting and made me feel really confident about this project.

New Years was CRAZY. In Ecuador, the biggest tradition is the burning of the “Años Viejos” or “old years”. Not everyone does it, but it is really common. The week before New Years, you make or buy an “año viejo”. If you make one, it basically consists of making a scarecrow, and then buying the head to put on it, which is made out of some kind of paper machete. But you can also buy “años viejos” in all kinds of shapes and sizes; smirfs, Simpsons, action figures, or other television characters. They are basically like big, creepy, paper machete dolls. You put your “año viejo” on display in front of your house in the days before New Years. Then, at midnight, everyone drags their dolls out into the road, gives them a few good kicks, pours gasoline over them, and lights them on fire. See, the idea is that these dolls represent all of the problems and negativity of the previous year, and by burning them you are getting rid of that and starting fresh with the New Year. A good majority of people also buy industrial size fireworks and set them off at midnight. Basically, with the huge fires in the street and the fireworks going off, it kind of sounds like a warzone…. But a really cool and fun warzone! I kind of wish we did this in the States…

New Years day, Kris left to go to Quito before heading back to the U.S. I was sad to see her go, but very glad I got the chance to meet her. Since Monday was a holiday and everyone had off from work and school, the whole family went to the beach for the day. And by the whole family, I mean EVERYONE. Three trucks full; about 40-50 people I think. It was really fun to hang out with everyone; we were there for pretty much the whole day and everyone brought picnic lunches. I also enjoyed going to the beach to celebrate New Year’s, since you can’t really do that in good old Scranton, PA. While the day was incredible, the horrible sunburn I left with was not so fun… its five days later and it still hurts! And trust me; this was not a case of negligence; I applied sunscreen multiple times and ran to the shade as soon as I got out of the water… I guess that’s just what happens when you bring a gringa to the beach that’s basically on the Equator.

This past week I have spent most of my time helping the Doctora set up the SubCentro de Salud. It’s been a few years since they have had any staff there, so we are basically re-opening it. The community helped clean up the space, and I have been helping her inventory all the medicine and organizing patient files. Next week I will be organizing of the logistics to start up my groups, getting everything in order. It funny, I have been in my site for about 5 months, and I feel like I am just getting things started. Oh how time escapes us. That’s all for now I guess… I swear I am trying to get back to writing every week… or at the very least every other!

Food Security, Moving In, and a Big Change

Once again, its been a few weeks. November FLEW by. I feel like I was barely in site all month!

First the food security conference. I really enjoyed myself. The staff did an awesome job; the presentations were interesting, hands on, and helpful. It was also nice to meet the agriculture group who arrived a few months before us. I think a got a few program ideas out of it, but will see. I currently have an experimental garden and its not going super well… I am having trouble finding appropriate soil. A lot of the “dirt” in my site is real just rocks, clay, or sand. Since Peace Corps discourages night buses, Erin and I decided to leave Thursday morning instead of Wednesday afternoon/night. That meant we had the afternoon free, so I went to Quito for bagels and Indian food… two things I have been seriously missing since I left the States. There was a pretty big group of us at the restaurant, it was a nice, relaxing afternoon. Once again, it was sad to say goodbye to everyone knowing I won’t see a lot of them for awhile.

During the food security conference, I had the chance to talk to my program manager about Nelly. No need to go into details, but things were definitely not getting any better. She tried to call Nelly after we spoke, and left her a voicemail, but while I was there for the conference Nelly never called her back. Monday morning I went to the Centro de Salud and Nelly was there. I texted my PM to see if she had got in touch with her, and my PM proceeded to call her in that moment. Nelly walked away to take the call. After she hung up, my PM called me. She said that after talking to Nelly for a few minutes, she explained that I was going to be working in projects with other organizations, but I could still be around to support the committee. Nelly said that if I was going to be working with her every day then she didn’t want to be my counterpart any longer. I am know working on locating a new counterpart and will have to send some project proposals/schedule to my PM. It’s a relief on one hand, on the other hand I’m a little nervous about being such a free agent. I have some ideas in place though… I just need to work on implementing them in the community.

I also moved into my house this week, which is really exciting. The best part so far has been cooking for myself… for a couple of reasons. I don’t have to feel bad about not eating a lot if I am not hungry, because my host mom is not cooking it. I can choose what I eat. And, the most fun, each time I cooked something this week, I brought a little bit around to the houses in the family compound so that everyone could try it. It was fun to see their reactions… they liked pretty much everything. Plus, it showed them that they don’t have to worry so much: I can actually make food for myself. This weeks menu included apple honey walnut pancakes, tangy chicken and mashed potatoes, and veggie chicken curry. YUM.

That’s about it I guess. This weekend a 3rd year volunteer is coming to teach the women in my community some crafts with recycled materials, so that should be a lot of fun!

Its been awhile… oops

Its been awhile…

I will try to remember what has happened since the last time I wrote. Basically, two weeks ago I was still going on vaccination campaigns every day. Its fun… always an adventure, that’s for sure. Sometimes the truck gets stuck, or we get a bit lost, or we end up picking fruit for a half hour… I don’t mind it. The highlight of my week was receiving almost $200 worth of brand new, beautiful, hardcover books for my library from Amazon. The shipment was anonymous, so I don’t know who sent them! But whoever it was, it was an EXTREMELY generous donation, so thank you!!! The kids loved them! I was also getting ready for my community assessment presentation the following week. Which brings me to…

The Peace Corps Reconnect Conference. This conference takes place after about 3 months in site. It has a few purposes. First, every new volunteer has to summarize and present their findings from their community assessment surveys. The idea is that the results help the community decide what programs they want, rather than the American arriving and saying “ok we you need this this and this, this is what we are going to do”. It is also a practice run.. we need to present the results to our communities after the conference. Another reason for the conference is to work on project planning and management with our counterparts… everyone is supposed to bring someone. Nelly didn’t want to go, so I brought Cecelia instead, which was nice. The counterparts were only there for the first half… the second have was more technical training, medical review, and safety and security review. They also introduced a new program- the peer support network- for volunteers, and run by volunteers. I am really interested in it, and I think I will be applying in December. My favorite part of reconnect was just seeing everyone again, talking to everyone about their sites, about the craziness that is the PC Ecuador experience, about whatever. Everyone seems to be doing pretty well aside from the hiccups here and there. Actually, a really cool thing happened with this group. No one else has early terminated from our training class between training and reconnect, which apparently is really rare; usually 2-3 people leave before reconnect. In fact, a staff member told my friend that they were now actually a little over budget, because they work into the estimate that two or three people will leave, and we are all still here! I personally think that’s pretty badass. Ending reconnect was kind of sad, because I know I won’t see some people until our one-year conference about 10 months from now.

This Sunday, I am heading back to Quito for a food security conference. It should be fun, and I am excited to meet volunteers from other training classes (finally… no offense 106). When I get back from that conference, I am moving to my new house!!!! It is only a few feet away from my host parents’ house, but I will have my own living space, so it is really the best of both worlds. Then we are into December, which marks six months in Ecuador. When we got here, everyone told us that time would pass very slowly, but for me, its flying. I feel like I can barely keep up! If this keeps up, I will be back in the States before I can blink twice!

I also received some exciting news from my Aunt… she and my Uncle are allowing me to use their airmiles so I can fly home! I will be visiting the States for two weeks in February/March, and I am super excited about it! It was not something I even considered before I left for my service, so it is an extremely pleasant surprise, and a very generous gift.

I guess that is it for now… I am sure I missed a lot but I think I hit the most important stuff. Look for pictures of my house soon! =)

Day of the Dead and Translating

This week was insane, but great. I hardly slept and now have a cold, but it was totally worth it. All week during the day, I was helping out a fellow volunteer, Erin. Her organization is an American medical foundation based in Portoviejo (the nearest city to my site). This week, the owners of the foundation brought about 10 doctors from the States to give medical attention for one week. However, the doctors don’t really speak any Spanish, so they were looking for translators, and that’s where I came in. At first, I didn’t want to do it and I was really nervous. I didn’t know if my Spanish would be good enough to help. But, actually, it was really fun and a lot easier than I thought it would be. I wasn’t always able to translate word for word, but I know enough Spanish now that it was easy enough to explain what the doctor was saying to the patients in Spanish. The other thing that was really cool was that even though these were people in other towns who I had never met before, I was able to understand almost everything that they said. Moreover, it was so much easier to alternate between Spanish and English than I thought it would be. I am still using basic tenses, but I feel like my comprehension/listening skills have improved immensely, and I definitely have sufficient vocabulary to communicate efficiently. I never ever would have managed to translate like I did when I first got here to my site. WHOO! The doctors were also fun to be with. They were all older, and mostly from southern states, so their accents were great. They all had a good sense of humor and made the week fun.

The other thing I loved about this week was that Monday and Tuesday my community had Day of the Dead celebrations. It is not actually called Day of the Dead here, and it is not quite the same thing. Here in Ecuador, it’s called Los Fieles DisFuntas or Los Fieles. They celebrate the night of November 1st a little bit of during the day on November 2nd, and the night of November 2nd. My host family said that everyone has their own little rituals that they like to do, but in general, families go to the cemetery after dark on both nights, and put candles and sometimes flowers, on the grave sites. This is also a time to repaint the names or do any repairs they need. It is a totally different atmosphere than cemeteries in the U.S. I think most of us think of cemeteries as sad places, not somewhere anyone really enjoying going. But here, they had vendors set up selling not only flowers and candles, but also tons of food, like any other street fair. Once families light the candles, they just sit in front of the graves and talk and eat. The kids run around and play. The families move from one grave site to the next, making sure to visit all of their relatives. It felt to me like they were including their passed relatives in a party, including them in their lives and conversations. It was really special, and I think it was my favorite holiday here so far.

Drama, Baked Ziti, Measles, S`mores, and Trick or Treat

The last two weeks were busy and started off a little rough. The week before, Nelly had mentioned that they were invited to a nutrition fair a few hours away for the following Monday. She also told me that she was not sure if they were going to participate or not because they needed to see first if they could get money for transportation and materials. I never heard anything else besides that. I didn’t hear from her at all over the weekend, or on Monday. So, Monday I took the opportunity to do more of my community assessment surveys. My neighbor, Marcela, went with me. Most of the surveys were without incident, but we came across one house that left me feeling terrible. The woman’s house was a bit isolated from the main road, but there were a few other homes around her. She is elderly, and lives all by herself, with her daughter (married with kids) visiting when she is able. She is very weak, and can barely breathe or walk, really. She has what the doctors suspect is cancer. It is making it hard for her to breathe because it is attacking her face; the skin there is being destroyed severely; you can see the cartilage of her nose. No one can offer her treatment here, and she can’t afford to travel to see a specialist. There are not really hospices here that I am aware of, and so she just sits in her home, getting sicker. It is bad enough that she is so sick, and worse still that she is not receiving any kind of treatment, but the thing that upset me the most was how alone and vulnerable she seemed. I could barely keep myself from crying, and was only able to do so because I knew that it would upset her… it was clear to me that she was already self-conscious.

Tuesday morning was bad. Monday around dinnertime, when I still had not heard from Nelly, I sent her a text message asking if we were still going on the medical brigade Tuesday morning. She responded yes, and then I sent another message asking her where and when we were meeting. She never responded. I called her early Tuesday morning and she didn’t answer. Then she called me while I was eating breakfast and asked if I was in Sucre yet. I told her no, because she didn’t answer me and I therefore did not know when/where we were meeting. She told me I should have known, and I replied by asking her: if I knew, why would I ask her? She told me that it was clear I didn’t want to go, and hung up. Once again, Nelly had me in tears. Marcela called Nelly, and Nelly yelled at her too, saying it was none of her business, and saying I skipped out on the fair the day before (skipped out?!?! she never told me they were going!!) and said that if I did not want to work with her, she did not want to work with me either. I was so mad, not so much for the way she talked to me, but more so for the way she treated Marcela, who is basically a saint. A few minutes later, Cecilia, the other woman I work with, called to tell me she was on her way. I was still crying and when she asked what was wrong, all I could blurt out was that Nelly didn’t want me to go so she should just go ahead. I was still visibly upset when she came to my house. She was appalled when I told her what happened. She talked me down, and told me from now on I should just call her or message her when I need to know something. She talked me into going by telling me that they needed my help, which I knew was true; they needed the extra hands because we were going to do blood tests for anemia on the kids. I went, but I did not say a word to Nelly the whole time.

Wednesday I went on another medical brigade, again for anemia tests. This was unusual since we usually only go on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Nelly didn’t go.

Thursday was yet another medical brigade, but this one was the normal one… us checking for malnutrition, a doctor, and dentist. Nelly didn’t go… Cecilia told me she was sick.

Friday was another medical brigade, but with a special purpose. I don’t know if its news in the U.S. or not, but there has been an outbreak of measles in Ecuador, and therefore the Ministry of Public Health has mandated a vaccination campaign. The first day of that campaign was Friday. We went around in the ambulance with a big microphone attached to it, and one of the health promoters that works for the health clinic spoke on it telling people to come outside. The first batch is for kids under 5, and today we vaccinated about 100 kids. We’ll be continuing on Monday, so its sure to be another busy week.

The weekend made me feel better about everything. Sunday I made a HUGE batch of baked ziti for my family (everyone who lives in “the compound”). It was so funny. They were watching me make it like… oh god what is she making. Almost everyone liked it, with the exception of 1 or 2 of my cousins. Some people REALLY loved it. My host aunt had at least 3 servings of it! Everyone liked the baked ziti, but they absolutely fell in LOVE with s’mores. I had tried explaining it to them before, and they were like yeah sure its good, whatever you say. But we started the fire, made the first couple, and it took off from there. It was like a stampede! They went through about 4 bags of marshmallows in a very short amount of time. Everyone loved it… now they keep asking me when we can make them again! It was a great day for two reasons… it was so nice for me to have familiar food, and it was great to share something with them that they really enjoyed.

I spent this whole past week, with the exception of yesterday, helping with the vaccine campaign for measles. Everyday we went out to the rural areas, door to door, giving vaccines. The nurse would give the vaccines and I was responsible for noting in the paperwork for the health center and on the carnet of the child, which is like a mini growth and vaccination chart for kids under 5 that the parents are responsible for.

Yesterday was a bunch of fun. For my English class in the afternoon, I taught the kids about Halloween. I explained what we do in the U.S. for Halloween, and then taught them some words like pumpkin, candy, witch, ghost, vampire, and monster. Then I taught them the phrases “boo”, “trick or treat”, and “Happy Halloween”. We also played pin the tail on the donkey, which was hilarious. Finally, I gave them all some candy to celebrate. They loved it, of course.