Sunday, September 28, 2008

I´m just sowing seeds, hombre

Well it´s a scorcher here in Yantzaza, ladies and gentlemen. Forty-five degrees celcius, that´s like 130 in Farenheight?´s just hot. This is the Ecuador I was imagining! Not the sleeping in a sleeping bag with 5 blankets sort of thing...goes to show how variant the country is.

Anyway, yesterday I was in Guaysimi working in the fields! I know, I know...Corrie? Manual labor? But it happened. I am learning how to adapt, people. (It is Chris´s site, however I didn´t get to see him.) Friday night, Polivio and Monica told me we were going to do a family minga which is like an activity (usually involved cleaning or labor...). We arrived late at Monica´s grandmother´s house...very campo. They had turkeys running around, chickens laying eggs in make shift coops, the works. Very hard to sleep due to the massive amount of animal noise, but it´s something I guess you get used to.

It was pretty incredible to meet her grandparents, though. Her grandmother is 79-years-old and has uterine cancer. She´s had it for the past eight years, and you would never have thought this woman had cancer. She has more pep and spirit than any old person I´ve ever was incredible! Monica said the doctors didn´t give her any medicine because it was in its terminal stages, but clearly that hasn´t affected her at all. Her grandfather is in great shape, too. Slow, but he gets the job done.

At 6 am, we all got up. Literally, 15 minutes after waking up I helped Monica kill a chicken for breakfast. Good morning, gringa! She took the chicken and stood on its wings and feet and held the neck back. I held the ¨blood bowl¨ while she sliced the throat and pretty much let it bleed out while snapping its neck. Really disgusting...and you all know how I am with blood. The best part was as she sliced it, the blood splattered all over my arm. Gross. Needless to say, breakfast was not nearly as appetizing as I had wanted it to be, as I had seen it killed, plucked and disembowled a mere 2 hours prior (we had soup, by the way).

Then we went with various cousins and uncles to their piece of land to plant corn. They follow a lunar calendar for crops, so yesterday was the day to do it. There were about nine of us and we all stood in a row and took palos or long sticks and drove it into the ground. Then, we took two to three seeds of hybrid corn and planted them. It was actually pretty hard because the field they were planting on was basically chopped down forest. So there was a ton of bamboo and branches and weeds you had to step over. Really difficult. The hardest part for me was staying in a straight line. They kept yelling at me to move over; either I was too close on the sides or not making the distances between seeds large enough. I´m just sowing seeds, hombre.

Went back for lunch...bull soup...and then I took a delicious nap. For dinner we had cuy, straight from the kitchen. The grandma has about 30 cuy just running around her kitchen and I had a ball watching Valeria, the devil child, try and catch them.

Great day though. Met a lot of family and they asked me a lot of questions...very curious about my motives for coming down here. But it´s good I am making friends. Just today I went running and someone came up and shook my hand because I am the gringa he sees running around all the time... At times like these I am really glad I am white and blonde...

The grandma in the kitchen with the cuys. They think it´s so funny that we have cuys as pets in the US...and the grandma couldn´t understand why we don´t eat them...Oh, and that´s bull meat hanging above the stove.

Me with the boys...there are 3 generations of Guayas standing here. Pretty amazing to see. We´re taking a break from sowing seeds for 2 hours. It was hot...but really rewarding.

Monday, September 22, 2008

And why isn´t riding in the back of a pick-up truck legal?

Seriously...riding in the back of a pick-up truck/camioneta is one of the greatest things ever. I have never enjoyed riding around in a car as much until I got to this country. Not only do you have spectacular scenery to enjoy, but riding in the open air is like being in a real life Jurassic Park video game...sans dinosaurs. SO. COOL.

Yesterday was Polivio´s birthday so we all crammed into the pick-up truck to go to a river to ¨baƱarse¨(aka swim then bathe...I chose not to bathe). It was the five of us plus Richard, Monica´s brother, and two other doctors and their families. We managed to fit 15 people into one truck...truly amazing (once again, it´s a good thing Ecuadorians are small people...)

We took a beautiful one hour drive to this river where we swam, kayaked and ate. They stopped and bought chancho (pig) to grill. Polivio lit this fire and then they found or borrowed some sketchy looking racks to grill on, but swear to god, it was the best meal I´ve had in this country. It was cooked perfectly, and we had yuca and tomato salad...mmm so good. And I didn´t get sick!

It rained off and on all day, but the weather was fine. The water was incredibly warm, as well. I wore shorts and a t-shirt...that´s what the locals wear and being as pasty as I am, I didn´t want to stand out anymore than I needed to. At one point, there were about 30 women that came in the afternoon to bathe in the river. They were all screaming and giggling and they had the longest hair I´ve seen. It was like 30 black rapunzel heads in the water...

Overall, awesome day. Reminded me a lot of canoeing on the Little Miami River...except this time it was Ecuacanoeing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Here...have some bananas

So apparently my last post was popular with the ones who read it. Did not realize that:
A) My comments would be taken so much out of context. Totally didn´t notice that...but thank you to those who called me out on it...I miss you guys.
B) Aunt Sheshie knows/took jello shots?!?! Wow that one almost made me fall off my plastic lawn chair in the internet cafe. Well done.

Moving on. Sunday I was rudely awakened by Polivio, my host dad (who is dying to see a drunk gringa), at 6 am to go to the market. I was like umm can we wait a´s not completely light yet. But no, the crack o´dawn is the way to go. So we rushed over there and spent all of 10 minutes in the market...all of that for nothing? But I guess you need to get there early to get the best pickin´s. We had fried frog legs for breakfast...yumm (and that´s not sarcastic...they are really good!)

Then Monica told me that my job was going to be in Zamora and no longer Yantzaza. Zamora is the capital of the province, about an hour bus ride away or 40 minutes by car. I was pretty surprised because she said I was going to be staying there, overnight. So I packed a bag and jumped in the car. We arrived at where I was going to be staying, with the family of the director of the Health Ministry for the province. First of all, his house has a name..Tzanca. That should have been one indicator of what was to come.

We get there and it´s like a mini nature preserve in a house! He has over 100 animals in this house and it´s absolutely gorgeous. His wife maintains them during the day while he´s away busy managing the health care of the province. Just fascinating the types of moonlighting that goes on here!

Anyway, I was in the kitchen with one of their daughters and in walks this danta which is this bear-like anteater type of animal only native to the Amazon. It was so big! I freaked out! She just calmly walked over with a potato and led it out! It was crazy...apparently it escapes every now and then. Luckily it hasn´t gotten into my room...

So I´ve been staying there and working with the Ministerio de Salud, helping out with some magazines/guides they want to publish as well as various health fairs. This week I just chilled and read a book, but I think it will deal more with what I´m trained to do (more PR activities) in the future.

Yesterday I went back to Yantzaza and stayed there for a meeting in the hospital. In the afternoon I went for a run. My usual route was changed as the road was no longer there, so I had to go a different way. As I tried to cross a ¨babbling brook,¨ if you will, a woman walking yelled at me to go another way. Well, long story short we started talking and I ended up walking with her all the way back to her house. She works in a finca or farm and walks 2 hours each way. I suggested she get a bike. She said that her husband wouldn´t let her because women who ride bikes suggests they want sex....

I´ll let you ponder that one.

We get to her house and she´s like, here...I want to give you some bananas. She takes a plastic bag and puts, swear to god, like 5 pounds of bananas in for me. She was so cool...we had a great conversation and afterwards I was so glad the road had been changed. Moments like that reminded me why I´m here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

This ain´t your typical company picnic...

Yesterday was a reunion of the Colegio de Medicos de Zamora-Chinchipe, which is basically the doctor´s association for the province. Turns out I´m actually going to be working with the Colegio rather than the hospital. They want to me to do work on a medical magazine they are trying to produce.

Anyway, they had a doctor from Cuenca come and talk ALL DAY LONG about how to write medical journals. Monica was laughing at me because I kept falling asleep, but it was hard not too! I felt like I was back in school, listening to a boring lecture, lights turned off, it was know what I´m talking about..

So after the reunion, I´m thinking it´s time to giddyup but hold isn´t a company meeting until we bust out some whiskey and guitars! Seriously, within 5 minutes of the lecture ending, one of the doctors opens up a bottle of whiskey, unwraps his Marboloros and grabs a guitar. So we sat, drank and sang for about an hour or two. Very bizzarre...but very enlightening! We dined on ancas de rana or frogs legs. They were really good! I thought it was fried chicken until someone told me.

Then, after the mini-fiesta I went to Zumbi for a birthday party. One of my co-workers in FODI, Yadira, invited me to her mom´s birthday party. It was really fun...again, the only gringa there but I had a blast. Ate some food, danced all night...drank some ridiculous liquor that tasted like gasoline. But hey...I´m just living the Ecuadorian dream.

Doctor Mauro y Doctor Ivan jamming out. They had to put their cigarrettes down in order to do so. However, Doc. Mauro did know some Nirvana...pretty hip hombre.

The US Ambassador´s house (from swearing-in). Absolutely gorgeous, really foggy though so we couldn´t see the apparently amazing view.

Um...two gorgeous doctors I work with. Yes...I´m in heaven as you all probably know. Doctor Daniel is on the left and Doctor Yezid, or Doctor Gato, is on the right. (Gato means person with light eyes). Yummmm.

One of my host sisters, Valeria. She is the devil...don´t be deceived by this picture. She´s not that bad...I have made it my personal mission to work on manners with her.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Family Planning?! HAH!

Made my first (somewhat) major gringa mistake. I worked in Zumbi today and after not really doing anything, decided to take the bus back to Yantzaza. Well, not decided but had to. I waited forever and then this bus came, which I assumed was going to Yantzaza. Ususally they yell the destination as people are boarding and usually I ask to verify they are going to that destination, but I was feeling cocky and just boarded without asking or hearing. Whoops. The bus definitely headed towards Loja---a three hour bus ride. I was like AHHH! LET ME OFF! And they did...luckily. I just felt really stupid as I did a walk of shame back to Zumbi.

But I double checked when I got on the Yantzaza bus...the little ecuadorian in the Metallica hat was nice enough to help me out.

This week has been exciting so far. On Monday I worked at the hospital and within 15 minutes of getting there, we got news there was an accident so Monica swooped me up (figuratively, I´m like 3 times her size) and we rode in the ambulance. It was a really bad bus accident; the bus driver tried to pass another bus, hitting a Pilsner (beer) truck and flipped on its side. There was beer and broken bottles all over the street and it was really scary seeing the bus on the side. Luckily no one died, but there were a lot of injuries. I believe they said 11-15 people. The driver of the bus ran away to the river to wash off his blood so as to escape conviction; that´s what Monica told me.

By the time we had gotten there, all of the victims had been transported to the hospital. The whole time we were driving there I was thinking what the hell do they expect me to do? Gracias a Dios I didn´t have to do anything.

Yesterday, on a lighter note, was cool. I went with the Zumbi ladies to two communities they do work with and help set up their new FODI centers. FODI is like a government preschool program that does outreach with families, as well. In the communities they serve, they have to have at least nine children, ages 0 to 5, attend and have a woman in the community serve as a ¨teacher.¨But she has to be attending high school, as well. So the first community, Triunfo, was cool...very rural. I got to do some interviews we are required to do the first three months in site. They are just diagnostic, but a good way of getting an idea of what the community needs. For both communities, it looks like water sanitation, trash removal and maternal health are the greatest needs.

The second community, Tuntiak, is a Shuar community. Shuar is one of the indigenous communities in Ecuador, mostly populated in the Amazon. So we get up there and I couldn´t understand half of what they were saying..later to find out it was in Shuar. This made me feel better. But we met in one of their traditional meeting huts, which was really neat and built with palm-like leaves and wood.

We are like 10 minutes into the meeting and a woman comes in, one of the community members has died and could we postpone the meeting for tomorrow. The coordinator from Zumbi looks at me like, what should we do, and I was like I have no idea! I have never been to an indigenous community was crazy. All of the people in this community, though, looked at me like I was some blonde giant...I felt very much like what Christopher Columbus probably felt like when he stepped into the New World. Many of these people have not had much gringo contact. We resumed the meeting, however.

As I was interviewing these women though, it was hilarious. They were all joking and laughing around, half of them didn´t have their front teeth and all were wearing their guaguas on their backs. One question I asked was if anyone practiced family planning, and you would have thought I said the funniest thing in the world. It was crazy! They all either didn´t know or it wasn´t an option for them. Needless to say, this may be one of my first charlas with them.

Lastly, the FODI girls had to find a new teacher in this community. It was so hard, because all of the women wanted to work yet no one wanted to study and continue in high school. After a lot of stalling and awkward silence, one woman said she would but would have to talk to her husband to see if he would allow her to go to school. I had heard about this happening, but to actaully see it--women asking their husbands for permission--was another thing.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Burro=Breakfast of Champions

This week I accumulated another ¨weird breakfast food¨entry: burro (aka DONKEY). It was actually pretty good. I asked what it was, and Monica, my host mom/counterpart, was like well it´s similar to cow...but it´s donkey. I was like ummm I didn´t think donkey was similar to cow, but whatev. It´s apparently healthier and not as fatty.

This weekend was the end of fiestas for Loja and their Virgen del Cisne. This is their Virgin Mary and the story I´ve heard is that this doll of the Virgin ended a drought Loja was having in the 1500s and now she´s the Virgin Mary of Loja. All the buses and cars say ¨Virgin del Cisne¨ (El Cisne is where she appeared) as a form of ¨protection¨.

So Friday I traveled to Loja with a doctor that I work with. He showed me around a little and then I went and met up with the other volunteers who live in Loja. They are really cool and super laid back...I am really happy they are my new support system.

Then, Friday night seven of us took a chiva, which is a bus without doors or windows, and we sat up top. For about 2 hours the bus drove us around Loja, with us on top blowing whistles and bopping to music. It was a fun way to see the city at night, especially while it was in fiestas. Afterwards, we went to the Parque and watched fireworks. It was hilarious because the fireworks are shot off literally 50 feet away from you and they all look like they are going to drop on top of you. It´s pretty scary, actually, as some flames dropped into the audience. It also makes you appreciate how anal the US is with their fireworks regulations...

We drank some big ass beers for a dollar and then went to a bar with live music. That was one of my favorite parts...the band was awesome. I didn´t realize how much I missed concerts and live music until we went to that bar.

On Saturday, we hung out, bought some bootleg DVDs, and watched the Ecuador-Bolivia soccer game (we won!). Saturday night, another volunteer, Akul, and I went to this club. There is an ex-volunteer, Zach, who lives in Loja. He married an Ecuadorian woman and her family owns the best night club in Loja and it was pretty cool. Very mafia like...

But now I´m back in site. We cleaned the hospital last week, actually shut down the hospital so we could clean it...didn´t think that was possible to close a hospital. But the president is now coming this week so we had to prepare...I kinda felt like the Wizard of Oz...buff buff here buff buff there...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Whoop whoop...I´m here finally! What a crazy past few days. Chris and I decided to leave on Sunday, that way we could rest a little. We were a little chuchaki from the crazy partying the night before. Let´s just say...things got weird.

So we managed to catch a 3 pm bus from Quito, hoping to arrive around 6 am in Loja Monday morning. I am now learning you need to have a 1-2 hour window for every bus ride...long or short. All night the bus was having problems; having to stop every few hours so they could make repairs. I also learned that the buses board not only the driver, but two extra guys just to help with repairs. Simply because they happen so often.

So at 6 am, the bus stopped and people started getting pissed. Like shaking the doors open to try and get out, I learned some new swear words...the works. So they let some people off and we started rolling again. Chris and I tried to stay on the bus as long as possible because we had so much stuff with us it was going to be a pain to try and transfer everything. Then at about 8 am, we were driving, a mere 10 minutes away from the bus station in Loja, and the driver lost control and the only way to stop was to run up into the side of a hill. It was a little scary at first but then I just started laughing. What a welcome...

The only way for us to deboard the bus was for them to rip the door off and our luggage had to be handed to us by the smallest Ecuadorian...luckily they are small and can fit into tight spaces, because the doors to the luggage area were blocked.

Then we hopped into a camioneta with 2 other families to get to Loja. So our first leg of the trip was 18 hours in total. My 3 hour bus ride to Yantzaza was fine...luckily. Then my host dad, Polivio, picked me up and I just chilled the rest of the day.

Felt a little more in touch when I talked to my parents last night. Big news about Sarah Palin´s daughter and her bun in the oven...nice twist to the elections. Should be an interesting race...

Things are getting heated down here as at the end of the month the whole country is voting Si o No on the new constitution. Monica, my counterpart/host mom, told me that President Rafael Correa will be visiting Yantzaza on Friday and Saturday, so I´m going to try and see that.