Archive for October, 2011

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.

8 Things I`ve Observed in Ecuador

A few updates from the week:
– My kitten, Lulu, escaped… briefly. In my room, I had my little desk/table against the window, looking outside. While I was eating dinner, she literally ripped the screen from the window and jumped out, only for me to find her walking around below the window, meowing. My cousins helped me catch her, but she didn’t put up much of a fight anyways. The desk is now against another wall in my room, and the window is high up enough that we shouldn’t have that problem again.
– The chickens have been getting braver… not sure why. They have started wondering into the house via the open back door, near the kitchen. Maybe they are looking for food in there; I am not really sure. The point is, it makes great entertainment to see my host mom flip out and chase them back outside while they squawk noisily at her.
– A Peace Corps staff member came to visit on Tuesday. Everyone gets a visit in the first few months, and she was doing the rounds. She chatted with my host family a bit, talked to me, and also talked to my counterpart about communicating better. She said she thinks I am doing really well, which was nice to hear.
– I went to a conference in the city on Wednesday about gender and masculinity in Ecuador. Very interesting, and not just because of the different speakers… there was a song and dance number at the end of it. (No, that is not a joke or something; there LITERALLY was a song and dance number at the end of the conference.)

Now for the main topic of the week: THINGS I HAVE OBSERVED IN ECUADOR

1. It is totally acceptable to keep your phone at the loudest volume possible, with the most obnoxious ringtone you can find, at all times. ALL TIMES. It is equally acceptable to answer your phone regardless of your current situation, and have a complete, full volume, non-whispering, conversation. You could be in a meeting or a training, on a bus, in a movie theater… heck, you could even be presenting on a stage at a conference and pick up your phone (as I witnessed at the gender conference Wednesday). No need for silent/vibrate settings or voicemail here!

2. You should be careful about complimenting people on their accessories if you are a gringa. They might just give you whatever you complimented, and will do it in such a way that you feel you cannot refuse. In this manner, I have received a headband, bracelet, and hair barrette in the last 12 days. (I hope) this seems to be a trend with inexpensive trinkets… nothing valuable or meaningful.

3. There are no limits on the amount or age of people who can ride on a motorcycle. Family of 4? Throw them on. 3 guys on their way to a soccer game? Not a problem. A two year old? They sit with unnerving calm in front of their father while he drives. This makes sense when you think about it. Its really the only mode of transport for some people. Buses don’t run everywhere, all the time, and most people cannot afford cars.

4. There is no such thing as taking too many pictures, and if you are working, you absolutely must take photographic proof… even if that means falsely pretending to do something for a photo that you actually do do anyway (you follow?). Give an Ecuadorian a camera, and they will take pictures for/of you until the battery in your camera dies. This has actually happened to me several times, both at home and at work.

5. There will ALWAYS be noise. It does not matter where you are or what time of day/night it is. There will always be animals (dogs, chickens, cows, donkeys…) making noise, a radio blasting somewhere, people yelling to each other from house to house, motorcycles going by, buses driving past, etc. etc. However, you do used to it a little bit.

6. It is totally fine to take pictures of the gringita over there without asking her. She probably doesn’t know enough Spanish to tell you off, anyway.
6 b. As a news anchor and/or cameraman, it is also a fine practice to pressure/pester the gringa into doing an interview for the local news. Never mind that she has been telling you for 20 minutes she can’t speak Spanish well enough for an interview and that she is supposed to get permission from her boss first. After all, she is the one who will have to see herself on television a few days later, red-faced and choking out the simplest Spanish she could manage. (Yes, this is in fact based on personal experience.)

7. It does not matter if it is 60 or 90 degrees outside… you will ALWAYS eat soup with lunch. It does not make a difference if the temperature outside is actually hotter than the soup. This is non-negotiable.

8. Everyone in Ecuador is a creative entrepreneur. (This is one of my favorite things about the people here). The lady who could afford to buy a washing machine does people’s laundry for a fee. Men with pickup trucks will let you hop in the back and hitch a ride to wherever they’re going for a quarter. The guy who owns a motorcycle will strap a container to his moto and go door to door selling fresh baked bread. If you have a cow, you sell the milk to neighbors who don’t have a cow. The list goes on, and there are much more creative and wonderful examples that I just can’t think of right now.

Medical Brigades, Program Ideas, and a Crazy Animal

Tuesday was another successful medical brigade. This community was the poorest and most rural I have visited to date. About 80% of the kids we weighed and measured were way below normal weight and also showed signs of anemia. We are going back in two weeks, because many of the kids were unvaccinated as well. There was also a woman, 5 months pregnant with her 4th child, and she had never had a medical checkup during pregnancy. I think we are also bringing a dentist, as many of the kids have never had dental care. You can’t really put the responsibility too much on the parents… the nearest health clinic is where I live, which is AT LEAST an hour and a half away. As far as I could tell, there is not a bus that runs directly to the community; only part of the way. So that only leaves the option of paying a car or motorcycle to take you in, which costs money.

Wednesday we did some running around for the next medical brigade. We were supposed to go Thursday, but not everything was ready, so it was rescheduled for Friday.y This specific community has had a few recent cases of HIV, so we had planned to bring someone from the lab to take blood for HIV tests, for whoever wanted it. She didn’t have enough supplies ready though, which is why we had to change the day to Friday.

Thursday morning we met with the Director of the health clinic to plan the medical brigades for the rest of the month. I currently find myself in a slightly uncomfortable situation; the doctor I work with and my counterparts from the committee had a falling out last week, and now that are not really speaking. This puts me in an awkward place, because my counterparts are always asking about the doctor. This is where is once again comes in handy… I can say I don’t know or I don’t understand. Hopefully they will get over it. I spent Thursday afternoon doing interviews in my community with Nelly, for the presentation I will have to do in the middle of November. Already two things that people seem to be asking for are a youth group and women’s group, so those might be something I end up doing in the future. Right now though, I am still working with the anemia project Jen started, and I am also in the planning stages of a family gardening campaign.. oh and I also think I will be doing some kind of life skills class in the high school, and some health classes in the grade school…. I always do this: I say I will not do a lot, but then I just see so much that can be done, and I want to do it all!

Friday we had the medical brigade I mentioned earlier. It was extremely successful… we examined over 90 kids, and about 80 received blood tests for anemia. We also saw some adults and senior citizens. I am definitely getting quicker and the weighing and measuring thing, and shouting out the numbers for Cecilia to record. In the afternoon, of course, I had my reading hour and English class. There were a few new faces this week which was nice.

In other news, Lulu is insane. I know she is a kitten and all, but even for a kitten she’s nuts. She chases her own tail and tries to jump up concrete walls… she climbs up my jeans in the morning… and yesterday before reading hour started, one of the little girls dropped her and she got scared and ran across the street. In fact, as I am writing this, she is clawing/biting my hair. Oy. At least she provides some comic relief. That’s about it I guess.. I am expecting a visit from Peace Corps next week, so we’ll see how that goes. Next Thursday we are going to an EXTREMELY rural community, so I am excited about that.

Successful Health Fair and “Surprise” Birthday Party

The day after I wrote to you last was the day of the big health fair for senior citizens. We had been working a lot for this day, and I was really hoping it would be successful. It was. Roughly 200 senior citizens showed up. We had hired a bus to pick up those in one of the further communities or others who could not afford transportation, and others came by themselves. There was plenty of stands for them to visit. We had collaborated with several non-profits to offer a range of services. There was a tent were they could get their blood pressure and BMI checked, a stand for tests for glucose levels and blood sugar, a stand for healthy eating giving away fruit salad and a nutrient enhanced soup base, somewhere to get their eyes checked, etc. I spent a good majority of the morning with the high school students, helping them give charlas on anemia. I think everyone was pretty pleased with the turnout and how well it went. After it was over and we were almost done cleaning up, the doctor that we work with brought out a birthday cake for me, which was really sweet.

Friday was the usual… I didn’t do much except have the reading hour and English class with the kids.

Saturday in the morning, I went to a big meeting between several communities in the area to present myself. When I got back, I ate lunch and read for a bit. When I got out of the shower at like 3:30, a family friend, Senora Betty, was at the house. She suddenly was anxious to have me see her house, because I hadn’t seen it yet… she lives in Sucre. I asked her if we could go a little later because my cousin Carolina was going to paint my nails. Carolina volunteered to go with us. After about 2 hours- Carolina painted my nails AND toenails in an intricate design- someone called Betty and she announced it was time to go home. We got home, I opened the door and…. “SURPRISE PARTY”!

I use “surprise” because even I, who could probably be classified as gullible, had a few clues as to what was going on. First, they kept making comments about how we weren’t having a party but we were going to celebrate at the dance that was happening across the river. Then, Thursday I saw my host my putting together little candy packets… a norm for parties. Friday night, my family killed a few chickens… another must for a birthday party. Saturday all of the women were cooking up a storm at the outside oven/fire pit thing. Then of course the fact that I was whisked away, and finally, we I got back from Betty’s, both the front door and sliding glass door were closed, which is almost never the case. They asked me at some point if I had really been surprised, and I said yes. Usually I am a terrible liar, but I was already blushing, giggling, and stuttering, which are my 3 main giveaways.

Now, back to the party. So I opened the front door, and as soon as I did, the lights came on, music started, and everyone began singing. It was better and worse than I expected. Better because they kept it to just family, so there were only around 35 people there. Worse because it was it was more embarrassing than I had anticipated. They had hired a mariachi singer, and he immediately placed his sombrero on my head. I also had to give a thank you speech, and of course dance with everyone. I can only recall a handful of times when I have been equally red from blushing, the most recent being the student life awards last year at Stonehill. After the speeches from people like my host dad and neighbor, there was some dancing. Then dinner, and more dancing… this time reggae tone. There was also a piñata. My host family had put flour in with the candy, which was hilarious because the kids who darted forward first got covered in flour. Then it was time for the cake. They sung what was probably the longest happy birthday of my life… first in Spanish, then to a different beat in Spanish, then in English, then faster in Spanish… again, very funny. After I blew out the candle, my host mom said I had to take a bite of the cake by leaning my face in… I had a feeling where this was going, but I did it anyway… of course they pushed my face into the cake. Everyone got a kick out of that, including me. Then there was more dancing, until 10:30 or so… then my host cousins still wanted me and my friend Erin (a volunteer who lives in Portoviejo who came down for the night) to go to the dance across the river! I didn’t have the energy, so I bowed out of that one. I had so much fun, and my family was so sweet about the whole thing. I feel like this somehow solidified my relationship with them… like that last little bit of still being treated like a guest finally disappeared. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday.

Sunday (yesterday) was a nice day too. In the morning I gave Erin a little tour of the area, and when we got back, my host mom, aunt, and sister, taught us how to make ceviche. It was fun, and made for a delicious lunch. I hung around, uploaded pictures from the night before, and napped a little, and then after dinner I went to mass with my family. It was the 14 anniversary of my when my host mom’s mom died, so they went to mass for her, and then came back to the house and said a rosary. A solid weekend in Ecuador overall, don’t you think?