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?

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!