Archive for September, 2011

Ecua-circus, Casa Abierta, Pre-birthday Jitters, and Other Randoms

Its been less than a week, so I don´t have TOO much to write about, but here we go. Last week after I posted here, I met with the PC doctor to get a flu shot. I got to see some other volunteers, so that was cool. I also picked up a few things I needed that I could only find in the city, like cat food.

Friday, I had my usual reading hour with the kids. This week starts English lessons immediately following the reading hour. Friday I was supposed to head to Jipijapa and meet up with another volunteer for the weekend, but she called to say she had a fever, which was kind of a bummer, because we were planning on visiting La Isla de la Plata, which is nicknamed “The poor man’s Galapagos”. It’s ok though, we have two years to get around to it, right?

Saturday, I went to the city even though I had not really been planning on it… see, Friday night I realized I had left my USB in the internet café there. Luckily, I go to the same place every time, and I have talked with the owner, so she knows me and that I am a volunteer… she had my USB waiting at her desk! Oh the advantages of being a novelty gringa. The best part of my day was skyping with a friend that I hadn’t talked to in awhile. It put me in a great mood. When I came back from using internet, I spent the afternoon hanging around with my cousins who are around my age. They are a hoot… they sit on the porch and comment about the guys that ride by the main road. They are really good at painting nails, so they gave me a very pretty mani/pedi, with a flower design and everything. I guy rode by on a horse selling some kind of toffee/carmel thing… it was delicious. Saturday night was fun too… I went to an Ecuadorian circus! It was small, with wooden planks precariously balanced on metal stands to make up the bleachers. There were no animals, but there was an acrobat, and a contortionist, and a crazy guy running outside of what I can only describe as a giant swinging hamster wheel. Between acts there were little comedy sketches that were quite funny. Bonus: They were selling candy apples for 75 cents! I obviously purchased one.

Sunday I spent most of the day at an open house at one of the two high schools in the nearby town. Once a year, they have an open house as a fundraiser. You pay a quarter to enter, and each class is responsible for a stand to sell food. They had tons of different dishes to try, and I tried a few small things, but I ended up with Ceviche for lunch, which is one of my favorite dishes here in Ecuador. Besides the food stands, there were also little activities that the students, parents, and professors were participating in to raise money, like a jump roping contest and basketball games. I came home to an empty house (my family had gone to one of the “off limits” beaches for the day) and it was a welcome break. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading in the hammock and enjoying the quiet. It was quite a pleasant Sunday. (That’s right; I can use a HAMMOCK without falling out of it!!! Maybe my grace is improving in Ecuador! …Then again, maybe not- after all, I did kind of fall getting out of a pickup truck the other day.)

Monday I was dizzy and nauseous, so I stayed home. I actually think it might have been dehydration/sun poisoning. I had worn sun block and a baseball cap Sunday, but had stupidly worn a tank top, so my shoulders and the back of my neck were fried. What’s more, it was super hot out and I only drank two bottles of water. My own fault I guess. I made use of my time at home though… I put together lesson plans for my English classes this Friday.

Tuesday I met with the high school students to go over their role at the health fair Thursday, and then spent the rest of the day doing various other errands for the much anticipated Feria. I really hope this fair goes off well… there will be a lot of great resources there, so I hope people show.

I am feeling a little weird about my birthday this weekend. For one, it doesn’t feel like it should be my birthday… maybe it’s because, with the exception of my 21st in India, I am used to the fall weather leading up to October. It is perpetually hot and sunny here, so it doesn’t feel at all like the last week of September. The second is, when everyone was asking each other about birthdays and ages at the beginning of training back in June, October seemed like a ways off. If its October 1st, that means I have been here for FOUR months… is that really possible? The third (and more influential) reason for my hesitation is that I know my host family is planning something and I am wondering how big it will be. I am sure I will end up having fun, but I just wish I had some idea of what to expect. I guess I’ll find out in three days…!!!! (Don’t worry, I’ll let you know how it goes =p)

What´s Normal Anyway?

This week has consisted mostly of running around organizing things for the Senior Citizen Health Fair next week. I think my instincts were right about the effects of my crying in front of Senora Nelly and the other volunteers last week. Nelly has been on her best behavior this week, calling me and letting me know exactly where we were going and when. I don’t know if this trend will continue, but it’s been nice. Yesterday we had a workshop on children’s rights. It was interesting, plus I got to meet some more volunteers from the committee. I have had quite a bit of comic relief from the family parrot this week. He has decided that he is in love with the neighbor, and has taken to following her around, singing to her. He even tried to cross the street to get to her!

The thing that has struck me most this week is the physical challenges I have had to account for since I moved to my site. Of course I was expecting challenges in stress, language, communication, etc. but I severely underestimated the physical challenges. My body is tired and beat up. I have near constant redness on my face from the sun even though I always apply sun block to my face and am often wearing a baseball hat and/or sunglasses. I have tons of mosquito bites even though I consistently wear repellent and sleep under a mosquito net. Thanks to the aforementioned sun block and repellent, plus the fact that I am sweating all the time, my skin is breaking out. I am congested due to all the dust, and I have bruises on my back, hips, and legs from riding on dirt roads in the back of pickup trucks for the medical brigades. Because it is so hot and sunny, it is difficult to stay hydrated, and I have trouble sleeping as a side effect of my malaria medication. All of these factors have left me in pretty rough shape. I am hoping that my body will adjust to a lot of this with some more time, but I think some of it I will just have to learn to deal with.

Speaking of adjustment, I find myself in a strange phase of it right now. I feel like I have already fallen into certain patterns and habits, so that at times I “forget” what an unusual situation I am in, living in a foreign country and all. It’s amazing the things that quickly become “normal”, like speaking Spanish instead of English, showering with a bucket of cold water, not having running water, waking up at the crack of dawn, riding around in the back of pickup trucks, or seeing 4 people crammed onto a motorcycle. Then something REALLY different happens, like someone rides by on a donkey, my neighbor serves me soup with a chicken foot floating in it, or a gecko pops out of my shoe, and that’s when I remember… aha… I am living in a totally different environment/culture. It’s awesome if you think about it, how many changes a person can get used to!

And Its Been a Month in Site Already…

The last two weeks have been mostly ordinary, punctuated by some interesting events which I should highlight for you. I spent most of last week working on monthly reports with my counterpart, and creating some project proposals. Wednesday morning I went to the little school across the river to introduce myself. The school is only 3 rooms, with a total of about 30 students ranging from ages 5 to 12. Wednesday afternoon turned out to be very exciting, because my counterpart’s neighbor gave me a KITTEN! It started out as a joke because I had been playing with the kitten, but then as I was leaving, the lady told me I really should just take her, so I did! Her name is Lulu, and she is super cute, but definitely a handful.

Last Friday, I was waiting for Nelly to call me, but she never did. I had texted her the night before asking that she call me when she was ready. I didn’t hear from her all morning, and then she called about 15 minutes into my reading hour with the kids, which she knows is from 3pm to 4pm every Friday. She wanted me to come over to make posters for the parade the following day. I told her that I was with the kids and I would come over after. She called again right at 4, wanting to know where I was. I told her I would be right over. She chastised me, telling me the Committee was always my first responsibility. Marcela came over a few minutes later, as I was getting ready to leave. Nelly had called her too, upset. We walked to Nelly’s house together. When I got there, Nelly was there, along with Cecilia and two other members of the committee. My goal with this blog is to give an honest account of my PC experience, so I am going to give you the truth of what happened, without trying to minimize it. Nelly immediately started in on how they had been waiting for me, and I burst out crying. Not just tears, but full on sobs, the kind of sobs where you can’t catch your breath until someone makes you drink a glass of water, which is exactly what they did. After I had caught my breath a little bit, I tried to explain to Nelly why I was crying. Honestly, I was frustrated, upset, and angry. I was frustrated that she was trying to chastise ME for being late or messing up plans, when she does exactly that all of the time. I was frustrated because she had been doing this all week; telling me she would call or message me, then saying she had been waiting for me. I was upset because I felt like she was minimizing the reading program I am trying to do with the kids. I was angry because it was her responsibility to call me and she never did, and now she was trying to make me look like a flake in front of the other volunteers. Of course, my Spanish is not good enough to say all of that in a delicate enough manner as not to permanently destroy the relationship. Instead, this is what happened. I asked her if she had been waiting for me all day, why she didn’t call me or answer my messages? She said she had been busy doing errands all day in Sucre, and that our communication can’t just be by phone. She said it was my responsibility to look for her, to walk to her house. I reminded her that I had done that the other day like she asked and she hadn’t even been there. (And I didn’t say this, but if she had been in Sucre all day, what good would me walking to her house have done? She wouldn’t have been there!) Then she tried to tell me that the Committee is the reason I am here and I have to prioritize it above everything else, to which I said Peace Corps tells us we need to have secondary projects, and she needs to respect that. Then she said that we needed to have better communication, and I said I agreed… that means she needs to return my calls and messages. Even her teenage daughter asked her why she hadn’t returned my messages! The conversation just kind of ended with that. At first I was kind of embarrassed about crying, but I actually think now that it might have been a good thing. I think me crying in front of the other volunteers kind of jolted Nelly a bit, made her realize how bad she was making me feel.

Saturday was the parade in Sucre to celebrate the founding of the county. I was walking in it with the committee, which is why we had needed to make posters on Friday. The parade turned out to be 3 hours long, which is saying something, since the parade route was only about 15 minutes. All of the schools and committees and groups you could think of from the entire county were marching in it; I was surprised there was anyone left to watch the parade! I was done walking in it pretty early, as the committee was right in the beginning. About half way through, my friend Kris, another volunteer who lives about 45 minutes away, arrived in Sucre. She was going to be spending the weekend in my site, since her family was going to one of the cities that is on our restricted list. We watched the rest of the parade with my family and neighbor Marcela, ate lunch, and then went to the motocross show. The motocross show was not exactly something I thought I would enjoy a lot, but I actually had a blast. We sat close to the track (there was no fence up or anything so you could basically sit wherever you wanted in the dirt around the track). I got some great pictures; the guys were crazy how high they were jumping on their bikes. We spent most of the afternoon there, and then after dinner at home, we bought some junk food and watched a few movies.

Saturday night into Sunday, I woke up with the chills but didn’t want to get out of bed to take my temperature; I could already tell I had a fever. I fell back asleep and when I woke in the morning, took my temperature. I had a fever of about 100.4. I am not sure what is worse: having a fever in a place that averages 85-95 degrees where there is nowhere to escape to air conditioning, or the absurd amount of worried attention I received after I told my family I had a fever. Thank goodness Kris was still there to buffer them a little bit. All I wanted to do was lay in bed, but person after person kept coming in, checking my forehead, asking what happened, suggesting possible causes, and telling me I should go to the Centro de Salud. They were appalled when I told them I couldn’t do that. See, unless it is an emergency, like a serious accident or something, volunteers have to call the PC medical officers first. This makes sense; some doctors here just give injections for the sake of giving injections, if it is simple the PC doctors can prescribe antibiotics over the phone, etc. But the idea seemed ridiculous to my family and neighbors. So I spent Sunday watching movies with Kris, being constantly asked about how I was feeling, and talking to the medical officer on the phone. Kris left in the afternoon to go back to her site, and when I still had a fever that night the doctor prescribed some antibiotics to see if that would help. I took my first dose that night, then went to bed. Before I did though, my host sister insisted on rubbing lime on all of my joints to help get rid of the fever.

Monday I woke up to pounding at the door. It was 8:30am. My host mom was panicking because I was not awake yet. I answered the door and assured her that I was just resting because I was sick. By mid-morning I was feeling slightly less achy but still had a fever. My neighbor Marcela came over and asked if she could pass an egg over me. I figured why not; it not like it would hurt me, and maybe it would get everyone to layoff a little bit. Passing an egg over someone is a ritual here that they use to extract bad energy. The mix a bunch of herbs in warm water, then dip the egg into the mix and use the egg to rub it on your head, back, stomach, and joints. She did this twice on Monday… once in the late morning and once after dinner.

Tuesday I woke up feeling much better. It could be the egg, or the 4 doses of antibiotics I have taken so far, or a combination maybe (Who am I to judge what works and what doesn’t?). It doesn’t really matter to me; I am just happy I don’t have a fever anymore. My neighbor and host mom are sure it was passing the egg over me, but now my neighbor is worried about who put the bad energy on me in the first place. I don’t know what made me sick; I don’t see how it could have been anything I ate on Saturday, since Kris and I ate exactly the same things and she was perfectly fine. Oh well, it’s to be expected every once in awhile (anyone who thinks they’ll get through their Peace Corps experience without being sick a few times is delusional) , plus it provided some very interesting cultural insight.

Wednesday was nothing exciting; I hung out and went to Nelly’s to type up more memos and such. There is a big health fair coming up on the 29th which is why I have been writing so many oficios (official letters) lately.

Thursday was a really fun and productive day. There was a huge medical brigade for one of the more isolated communities. That day there was a dentist, someone to take blood, a doctor to give vaccines, and a doctor for checkups. Plus Nelly, Cecilia, and I were there measuring height and weight and checking for malnutrition. We saw about 50 people in about 3 hours, which was awesome. Everything ran really smoothly.

Friday we had to go to the high school because one of the administrators had doubts about the students in the health group continuing to go with us to the communities, but I think we cleared it up. Then we met with the doctora in the health clinic to talk about what still needed to be done for the health fair. In the afternoon, I had the reading hour with the kids. It is so cool to see them rush to the bookshelf to pick out their book for the week after the reading hour is over; they get so excited about it!

I can NOT believe that I have been in my site a month already! Time is so strange. I really need to step up my community assessment surveys… the presentation in November will be here before I know it I’m sure.

Week 2 in Site

Since its been over a week I have lots to update you on!

Last Saturday, I went to Portoviejo to use internet and do a little shopping for the basics. I met up with Erin, another volunteer who lives right in Portoviejo. It was nice to have some company while I ran all my errands, and to speak English. It was a little overwhelming checking my email after not doing so for 10 days to be honest. I think I have to unsubscribe to some of the newsletters I get… it was just way too much. I got back from Portoviejo around 5pm and I was exhausted. It had been quite sunny and hot out, and Erin and I had done a fair amount of walking around the city. I was also feeling a little sour because most of the internet cafes had been closed, thus I had not been able to find one with Skype to talk with my mom. When I got back, my host mom told me we were going to a quinceañera that night. I showered and tried to nap but was not able to fall asleep because it was still warm out. While we were eating dinner, I asked if I could leave a little early because I was so tired, and my host mom said no because I couldn’t be home alone by myself. This agitated me because I felt like I was being treated like a little kid. Since I was 18 years old, I lived 5 hours away from home, with peers. I lived in India for four months with no one that I had known before hand. I thought to myself, I am pretty sure I am able to sit in a house by myself for awhile in a community where people live their doors wide open on a regular basis. I tried to breathe and remind myself that she was just trying to look out for me. I got dressed up in one of the two dresses I had brought with me, but I was definitely underdressed compared to what everyone else in my family was wearing. Everyone was dressed like you would dress to go to a fancy wedding or a semi-formal dance. While everyone was getting ready, I asked my host mom if we could leave a little early since I was not able to come home by myself. She said sure, we could leave at 1am. My jaw may have dropped a little. 1am is early? We left for the mass in Sucre. I thought the mass was just to celebrate the quinceañera but that was not the case. Apparently, whatever is being celebrated that day is all celebrated in one big mass, so in this case, the mass was celebrating 2 quinceañeras and a wedding. After the mass, each celebration had its own procession out of the church and into the town square. First one quinceañera, then the other, and finally the wedding party. It was cool to see. Once everyone had processed out, we hopped in the car to go to the party. At this point I was still really tired but I was definitely in a better mood. By now it was about 9pm. At around 9:30 the entire quinceañera party including the birthday girl, her damas, her cabellos, and her parents, all processed into the tent that had been set up in the yard. There were some similarities to a wedding; a first dance, a dance with her father, toasts, etc. There was a really adorable moment where her father switched out her flats for heels to signify her growing up. After these initial activities, there was some dancing occasionally interrupted by more speeches and such. Dinner was not served until MIDNIGHT! I left with my host parents at around 1am like they had promised, and we were literally the first ones to leave! My host cousins did not get home until after 5am. Overall, I am really glad I went because I had a good time and if I hadn’t gone I know I would have regretted it, but I wish I hadn’t been so tired.

Sunday I went to a waterpark with my host cousins, aunts, and neighbors. It was small; 3 pools and 1 waterslide. It only costs $2 to get in which was awesome. I had a blast. It’s really nice that there are cousins who are around my age; they are really fun to hang out with.

Monday we had a meeting at the high school with the parents of the students who will be going with us on medical brigades. We needed to inform the parents because the kids will be returning home later than normal and we don’t want them to worry. I followed Nelly around while she did some errands and I was home by noon. At 2:15 Omar, who works with PLAN International, picked Nelly and I up so we could go help him with a family photo program about 1.5 hours away in one of the more rural areas. The real reason Nelly arranged for us to help was so I could ask Omar to pay for the surveys I needed to print for my community assessment project. It worked, which means I don’t have to spend my own money to print them. That was a relief, since each survey is 6 pages and I need 100 copies. After the family photo program Omar had to do some paperwork with a family so Nelly and I were waiting in the car. I got a little uncomfortable because she started asking about where I want to live after my 3 months with my host family and telling me that she would really rather prefer I live closer to her rather than closer to my host family. This turned out to be just a precursor to the incredibly tense conversation I would witness on Friday.

The next day, Tuesday, we went to a grade school about 1.5 hours away. The doctora that we work with was there to check for anemia, we were weighing and measuring kids to check for malnutrition, and the high school students presented a charla. The Doctora told me I have to learn how to take blood pressure because high blood pressure in adults is another big problem here, so that night my neighbor Marcela came over to teach me. I practiced on my host family, but it was difficult. I get the concept of listening for the last and first heartbeats, but it is hard to hear them!

Wednesday, there was a meeting that was supposed to be for all of the health volunteers/promoters in the area, but only a few showed up. For this reason, the presenter only did a basic presentation on what he was supposed to go over, and they started talking in general terms instead. They talked about the projects that Jen started, problems in the community, etc. The director of the Centro de Salud was there, and he said he really wants me to help them start a family garden project, so that should be fun. After the meeting I came home for lunch and then at 3pm I walked to Senora Nelly’s house to write a formal request to give Omar so he could get the copies made for me. After dinner, Marcela came over again, and we started talking about the possible gardening project. I told her how we learned about making tire gardens, and the benefits of using them. She thought it was a really neat idea and seemed really excited about it, which was very encouraging.

Thursday I had a communication hiccup with Senora Nelly. In fact, I got so frustrated that I was on the verge of tears. Yesterday before I left her house, I asked her what we were doing tomorrow. She said we were going to Portoviejo. I asked her what time, and she said maybe around 10am but she wasn’t sure. At around 10:45 that morning I hadn’t heard from her, so I sent her a text message asking if she knew what time we were leaving. I needed to mail some things and was excited to go into the city. She never answered. Finally, my host mom called Nelly. Nelly said we weren’t going anymore, the doctor was going instead. When asked why she didn’t tell me, she said she didn’t have any minutes on her phone. I was frustrated and could not deal with her, so I told Marcela and my host mom that I was going to go to Portoviejo anyway to mail my items and check email. It was a nice break and I felt better by the time I returned.

Friday got really interesting really quick. In the morning, I read over some material on the physical development of children. At around 10:30, Nelly called and asked if I could come over. I walked over there and helped her type up the monthly report for the Municipality, then came home for lunch. At 3pm I walked to the Women’s/Mother’s Group meeting with Marcela. There was a charla on how to purify water using solar power, discussion of this and that, and then Patricia, the President of the community, formally introduced me. I said a few words and also announced that I was starting a reading hour for kids every Friday afternoon. There were a few more topics of discussion, and then right before the meeting ended, my host sister (a married adult) suggested they should have a little welcome party for me. Everyone started throwing out dates, but nothing seemed to be working; there was a dance that day, a festival this day, etc. Instead of deciding on something, they moved on to discussing a location. That is when things got interesting. My host sister said that she could ask my host parents if we would have it at my house. Then Nelly went off about how that wasn’t a good idea because it was so far away (a 10 minute walk from her house, at most)that it would be difficult to coordinate and less people would come, etc. Some people agreed, other disagreed. That prompted Nelly to make a speech about how difficult it has been communicating with me because I live so far away, and how she is a busy person and it is my responsibility to find her (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, especially if she doesn’t answer my calls/messages). She said she felt like she wasn’t spending enough time with me, and she wasn’t able to teach me things, etc. This lead to a greater debate on what I was really supposed to do here, with Nelly arguing that my commitment was to her and the committee, and others saying I was there for the whole community. Too me personally, this indicates the larger social divide between the different areas of my little community. It was really tense with people going back and forth on different points, and I could also tell that my host sister was hurt. The meeting just kind of ended after Nelly was done talking. After dinner, Marcela came over again and we talked about strategies I could use to work better with Nelly. She is just a difficult personality I think, one of those people you have to learn how to handle. My biggest problem with her is how possessive she is. She wants me to live near her, she doesn’t want me to work with anyone else, etc. It is not a huge problem and I am not really worried about it yet, it’s just a challenge I have to meet. If anything, it makes me more conscious of reaching out to everyone in the community, not just the families that have leadership positions.

Saturday was Parachute Day. Behind Los Tillales and the surrounding communities, there is a mountain shaped like a seat, so that it had a flat plain built into it near the top. Every year, men with parachutes jump from this mountain and land in a dusty lot in the neighboring community, Miraflores. The set up a tent at the far end of the lot for spectators to be protected from the sun, and at night there is a dance there. First I watched them jump from the mountain from my host grandma’s back porch, because her house is higher than ours. Then a little later I went to the lot to see them land. It was pretty fun, but after about an hour there was an accident. One of the parachuters came down too early so that instead of landing in the lot, he landed in the trees about quarter mile before the lot. It took the ambulance like 20 minutes to get there, but from what I understand, he is going to be ok… he just injured his leg pretty badly. At night I was supposed to go to the dance with some of Jen’s friends who involved in the youth groups here. They picked me up at 8 and we walked to the dance but there was no one there, so we went to Sucre and hung out at the park for awhile, then went back to the dance at like 9:15-9:30. I didn’t really feel like dancing though, so I just kind of hung out. It was still fun though. They are a very funny group and kept asking me to say words in English for them. Also, I overheard my neighbor Marcela and one of the girls saying my Spanish has improved a lot in the last 2 weeks, which made me feel really good.

Yesterday, Sunday, I hung out with Marcela and my host mom, and then went swimming in the river with some of the kids. They were trying to teach me how to skip rocks, and I got a few, but my success was limited. After we left the river we walked a little bit until will found a mandarin tree, them plucked some off and ate them. It was a nice, lazy day.

I am getting excited for the next few weeks; I will be starting the reading hour for the kids, then a couple of weeks after that I am starting English classes, since so many people have asked me to. I will also be looking into collecting materials to start the gardening project with the health center. Plus, I will get the copies of my community assessment survey on Wednesday so I can start those too. I feel like every where I look, there are opportunities for great programs!

A Small Request for You

So this isn’t exactly a typical blog; I am actually writing you with a specific request, which requires a little background information. There was a volunteer here before me, Jen, and she started a small children’s library in her house. When she left, she left the books for me to continue the project. In addition to this, I am also having a reading hour with the kids in the community, like Jen did. I plan on reading to them every Friday afternoon. This will help me get to know them and their mothers, and also give me a chance to practice speaking Spanish in front of a group.

The way Jen collected the books was by asking friends and family to mail her Spanish books from the United States, and now I am asking you to do the same. It is of course in no way obligatory, but if you are able, it would be awesome. I am also asking that even if you can’t send anything; please forward this to your friends, family, and coworkers; as many people as possible. The more people that know about it, the better. There is no time limit; I will be trying to collect as many books as I can in the next few years. So, you can send them now, or for Christmas, or 6 months or a year from now, it is up to you.

I also realize it could be little challenging to find books written in Spanish in the United States. Jen said that her family and friends were able to find a lot online, and that discount stores like Ollies, Big Lots, and Ocean State Job Lots are good places to check. Scholastic Books also publishes books in Spanish, under “Scholastic en Espanol”. Jen collected quite a few books for little kids, so what I really am looking for are books that fall into three categories: middle school (think Judy Bloom), young adult (currently we only have the Twilight series and some of the Harry Potter series), and books for adults (the moms asked if there were any books that they could borrow too). I have attached a current list of the books so you can see what we do and don’t have. You can mail the books to my address below. Please declare a value of $0 on the customs forms so that I do not have to pay fees to receive them.

Katrina Organ
Casilla 13-01-296
Portoviejo, Manabí
Ecuador, South America

Thank you in advance; I know you are all wonderful people and you will do what you can, whatever that may be.