Friday, May 16, 2008

It´s been a long few months, as usually pass between my posts. No excuses this time, just new updates.

Some exciting news, I got the job working as the assistant director with Rostro next year, meaning that I will be moving to Boston about a week after I get home (mid august), working at an office at Boston College, where Rostro (and it´s wonderful directors) are moving to. I am really excited to continue working with RdC, an organization whose mission I am learning to understand and appreciate more daily still, and with a group of passionate and motivated people to really care about the work they do. My job will be mostly working with retreat groups before and after they go down to Ecuador, visiting their campuses and meeting with their groups in their preparation process, and helping them go forward with their experience once they return. This will mean quite a bit of travelling, which I am excited about - not to mention getting to see how different colleges and university run their service learning/immersion experiences, something that I may find myself pulled even stronger towards in the future. Along with the retreat groups, I work past, current, and future volunteers also, helping choose the next years volunteers, doing interviews, planning orientation, and getting them ready to go. Basically, a lot of good stuff. Definitely a different role than my world here, but still along the lines of the same big picture.

Life down here is getting only more and more busy. With less than 3 months less, I find that I am looking forward too often, thinking of all the things I have yet to do before I leave, all of the things I will not have done and the relationships I will leave fealing somewhat unfinished. The time crunch at least keeps me accountable, as I find myself less susceptible to distractions and more dedicated to my work here and the people I serve. Leaving here in August will be no easy task. It´s one that I would like to put off selfishly, but one that I know is necessary, to follow the next step and see where to go from here- how it is that what I have learned will dictate the next paths I follow, and the responsibility I have to actively go forward.

I´ve stepped into a new world of comfort and embrace at Damian recently. I was able to visit the home of Teresita, the patient who is perhaps the closest thing I have to family here in terms of the connection we share, and although plans to return have been cancelled due to health issues, we get to be sick together at the foundation. And then I was invited to lunch at another patients home, one of the most amazing cooks, in a town outside Guayaquil that brought me right back to Ojo de Agua and so many memories of my childhood in Venezuela, including a rediculous baseball-like game played with a plank of wood, a half deflated wallball, huge rocks, and a tiny uneven path (they may have called it a street, but that is quite a stretch) winding up between homes on a steep hillside. Both of these visits, being able to share in the home lives of the patients and see them outside of the foundation and their illness, really just exemplify the way I have been feeling my relationships change with the patients there. And then there is the staff too. Who have become some of my best friends here, and huge sources of support in times of illness as well as celebration. Their truly is a beautiful family within those walls, and I´ve been blessed recently to realize that that family extends SO much farther than those walls.

Oh how I pray that Sr. Annie finds a way to keep this place open! And the reality is, she has done everything in her power to do so, and it is on others that know and understand the importance of the foundations work to take the responsibility upon themselves to (on ourselves) and do what we can also. Accepting the reality that come June, not even a month away, only a miracle will keep us open, is a bitter pill to swallow. My heart has been troubled by this to such an extent these last few weeks, I cannot even try to peel back the layers and put it into words, except to say pray for a miracle....

Thy will be done


Friday, April 11, 2008

I am getting progressively worse, I know.

Just wanted to throw out a couple tidbits (not all, there is too much to say). My second retreat group comes in tonight, and I am really excited to see what they are like and how this week will be. It is a group of high school boys, which will surely bring back flooding memories of Esperanza with O'Dea, and I really just can't wait to talk to my mom about it when it is done.

The only downer about having the group this coming week is that I feel like I only just finished with a group, having been with the medical group last week, and I feel like I haven't been in the neighborhood for a very long time. The Medical Group was absolutely incredible. This one was the group that comes down specifically to work with the patients at Padre Damien and do nerve decompression surguries, and a team doing full knee replacements for the hospital patients also. Getting to work with the patients at the foundation really made it what it was for me. I would have loved it simply for the medical perspective and the excitement of scrubbing in on a knee surgury and talking to doctors and nurses all week, but to have gotten to expand my relationships with the patients from Damien was just a blessing I was not expecting. I know the inpatients there really well, the 50 or so men and women that live there and I interact with daily. Of the hundreds of outpatients though, there are maybe two I would have considered even acquantances before. Now, they are dear friends. Getting to share in the entire process with them - testing at the foundation for weeks before the group even got here, taking them into the rooms to be seen by the doctors for the first time, checking them into the hospital for the surguries and talking with them before they go in the following day, watching part of the surgury itself in most cases, checking in on them in post-op, going around with the physical therapist and teaching them their exercises and encouraging them to keep them up, and then most notably just spending this week with them at the foundation, checking in, changing bandages, laughing, sharing stories, and just accompanying these friends I've grown to love and will miss greatly when they go home in a week - has been truly humbling. It has made my fall in love with Damien all over again, and really begin to understand the extent of the amazing work that Sr. Annie and the entire foundation does there.

The foundation is in trouble though. They are in a huge financial crisis, and the threats that the foundation may not be around when we leave in August is becoming more and more plausible. I cannot express the sadness I feel at even writing that here. And that is coming from a volunteer who has only been here for 8 months and only gets to spend half days there 4 days a week. When I think of all of the staff, inpatients living there, and even outpatients that rely on our clinic exclusively, I shut down. They've been in crisis before, and part of me wonders if we just won't get through it as we have in the past, but as Annie tells me yesterday that they are depositing their last check for 15,000 in the bank, the equavalent of keeping the foundation running for less than a month (a foundation that runs on 300,000 a year, incredibly low for all the services it provides and people that it serves), I can't help but admit that they truly are desperate. I admire Sr. Annie so much, as her faith continues to move her in face of the panic she must be feeling. "If it is God's will, we will find a way to keep our doors open." That woman spends half the year in the states fundraising as it is spending every waking moment battling to keep the foundation going, she doesm't even have the time to spend with the patients that she loves so much. So us crazy volunteers do our best to light up the faces of aging friends, hoping to God we may be able to transmit even just an ounce of the love Sr. Annie has for each of them.

Outside of the foundation I have found comfort in reading lately, a luxury I rarely am able to make time for, but fully enjoy whenever I do. I am currently in the middle of Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, and am thoroughly enjoying it. If anyone needs a book to pick up, I definitely recommend this one, and it is a relatively quick read (assuming you have more than a half hour a day).

A few reflections it has brought me to recently:
one, as a church, all of us that claim to make up this romantic world of Christianity, as a whole suck at being Christians. And what a truly beautiful vocation it is! I won't waste either of our times trying to paraphrase or explain, but pick up the book. I promise you won't regret it.

and two, I've been thinking a lot this year about what it means to practice resurrection. It has come to mean different things at different times, and has never left me short of topics for meditation and challenges to intentionally. One new one that this book made me look at though was the creation component of practicing resurrection. The beauty of creating something new from something old, of taking a withering and rotten reality and finding the beauty in it, bringing it to the surface to be released onto this world with such force that it cannot be ignored. It is a beauty that was always intrinsic, but just lacked a visionary to show the rest of us where it was hiding. And it is up to each of us to be those visionaries - to acknowledge the beauty we find in things and not just be content with knowing they are there, but allowing them to boil over and flood our culture and our reality with this truth and simple profound expression of love and of God in this world.

three, organizations are made by and of people, not ideals. It is the people who give it the vision and bring life to their ideals, and without that backbone, they are nothing. I feel like I've have long had this naive admiration for ideals and organizations that I felt embodied them, but was never ever to realize that it was people like you and I behind them giving them that idealism and execution. Or at least I was never willing to acknowledge my own responsibility of making that happen. But with the examples of Sr. Annie, Pat and Sonya at Nuevo Mundo, and our very own Fr. Ronan, I realize that I KNOW these people. They are the ideals I aspire to live out, not the foundations they have built that I confuse them with. They ARE the foundations- what keep them going, what give them purpose and vision, and what they look like skin and bones. There is a beautiful simplicity in that, although the responsibility (and vulnerability that it entails) can be kind of scary.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Clear Kidneys and Crazy Kids

According to my fifth visit to the urologist this month, I have GREAT kidneys! Mind you, this is 2 urograms, a kidney stone, a treatment with ESWL, and too many x rays to count later. But none the less, my kidneys are clear, and I am WAY too excited! It´s just nice to not have to worry about it and countdown to the next trip to the doctor - because as much as I would like to pretend that it wasn´t affecting my work here, the exhaustion was taking its toll.

This past week though I´ve found myself with a newfound energy. Things are going really well at work, and I am heading into these last 6 months with maybe even more energy and excitement than I started with 6 months ago (though I wouldn´t have thought that was possible). I think that is partially becuase I am in denial of the fact that my time here is half over. It has gone way too quickly.

And it´s weird, becuase I find myself looking back to the reasons I came, and the challenges I set for myself and ways I was going to push myself this year, and I find myself disappointed. That I haven´t made the progress I would have liked to by now, and that the reality of getting to the place I envisioned by the time I leave in just another short 6 months is very unlikely. I realize that I have explored so many other aspects that I could never expected, and have really allowed myself to get lost in my reality and my work here (which above all else was something I wanted to do), but it is humbling to see the places I have failed as well. So maybe it is this realization and my stubborn nature that takes those failures and just sets myself up to hit these next six months even harder, I don´t know. Whatever it is, I am enjoying this newfound energy, and just pray I can let it all out and don´t keep coasting as I feel I have done at times here.

Valdivia is going really well. Dan and I have really changed the way the program runs, trying to really push the educational side and give the kids a service that would at least be more aggressive in reenforcing the material they learn at school. It is currently vacation for them (summer break as we would call it), so our numbers have more than doubled and we have close to 40 kids daily. We´ve divided the kids into 3 age groups, of which I am in charge of the middle group (8-11 yr olds), and have each day of the week dedicated to a different subject, allowing ourselves to focus more on each kid and what level they should be working at.

One of the biggest challenges we´ve had all year is figuring out how to really provide a needed service to the kids with the after school programs. They serve the purpose of giving the kids a safe place to go and reinforcing positive values with the different themes we have each week, but in the academic area they just haven´t been set up to really give the kids the skills they need. We´ve still got a ways too go, and we´re working with our director Kevin and the other programs to adopt a critical thinking curriculum, but we´re on the way at least. And what is great, is that the kids seem to really enjoy it too. It´s beautiful to see how excited they get about learning, and even come a half hour early just to get a quick english lesson or practice their math. The reality that these kids just aren´t getting those desires fed at school or at home just kills me. Whether it is resources, individual attention, or patience in an overcrowded public school system that is lacking, I hate to see so much excitement be little by little beaten down. We aren´t foolish enough to think we are changing that, or making any permanent solutions, but to see the faces of the kids light up when they can explain the different between a verb and an adjective is enough to make me excited to come back to work the next day, with some new activity or some new strategy to get them to think for themselves and be creative.

Apart from Valdivia, Padre Damien has been especially exciting recently also. I´ve kind of fallen into this role as the liason between the medical groups getting ready to come down from the states and the foundation down here. Mostly, this means I spend quite a bit of time emailing back and forth and getting lists of patients and schedules of surguries organized, but I also get to communicate quite a bit with the hospitals here - going and meeting with the main doctors we work with here and making sure everything is ready for the medical team. Its a lot of grunt work, but I must say that I love it. Just going to the hospital every week or two, looking over lists of patients from the last surguries and seeing which ones need to come in for followups, and talking to Germania about how we can make the week run as smoothly as possible is way more exciting than it should be. Maybe I really am destined for medicine, I don´t know, but I am definitely enjoying the little exposure that I get to it down here.

Community wise, I´ve decided that living in Duran is not so different from college. At least in so far as living in the Logan neighborhood. The same feeling I´d get walking around Logan on the weekends, just randomly stopping in friends houses when the door is open and they are out hanging out on the porch, listening to music, or playing frisbee in the street, where I´d end up stopping to say hi and end up spending the majority of the afternoon there, is really not so different from here. Granted, the houses are tiny and made of cane or cement and much closer together, but the general feeling of knowing everyone and not being able to walk by withut stopping to say hello and just getting into friendly conversation for what turns into the better part of the afternoon is just the same. It will be weird going home to a place where I don´t know each of my neighbors, or can just walk into thier house uninvited at any time (or actually - where it is rude if i just walk by and don´t come in), where the joy of not having a strict schedule or full day of *stuff* to do allows me to just live with my neighbors and enjoy just that. And in a round about way it makes me miss college too, and realize that I am not going back to Gonzaga - a reality that I don´t think has fully set in yet.

A few fun updates -
we had our second all volunteer retreat at the beginning of february, and it was great. We went to this cute little beach town and stayed in this great (but WAY too big for us) jesuit retreat center. I spent a good portion of the time just climbing along the rocks on the beach - which you could explore for what seemed like miles - mostly just in thought or enjoying the peace of the ocean. I really don´t think I can live more than a couple hours from the ocean for longer than a few months of my life at a time - I just love it too much.

I spent a day at the beach with my roommates and the beautiful family that lives below us also - Graciela and her two children Nicole and Miguel. It was nothing short of an Ecuadorian adventure, spending more time getting too and from the beach than actually on it, but it was great. Just getting to share the kids first time to the beach and how excited they were about it, and understanding more of the true life of a young ecuadorian mother, as she struggles with the reality of her children´s father in prison, his mother´s dependency on her, and her own persistance in not getting back with the father despite the utterly lonely life she leads. It was really special to get to spend that day with them, and I am really enjoying the relationship we are building with this family, which I know means the world to them also.

The craziness of retreat groups has officially started up. We have only a couple weeks in the entire time we have left in which there will be no retreat groups here. It´s kind of exciting, but also means we have less time to ourselves and to spend freely with our neighbors than we would like. But the energy the groups bring to both the kids and us is great, and a continual reminder to be giving our all while we are here.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Feliz Ano Nuevo!

Happy New Year!!!! Saying that in English brings back memories of champagne toasts, countdowns, fireworks, balls dropping, and all other reminders of New years in the states. Here, it was nothing of the sort. About the time the ball was dropping, I was running around outside watching my neighbors (ALL OF THEM) set fire to massive life-size mannequins (called ano viejos, simbolizing the bad things from the past year), as my street and all others in the neighborhood, probably all of ecuador, were lined with bonfire after bonfire burning these things, as my neighbors circled around them throwing firecrackers and more gasoline on them. It was seriously the most REDICULOUS new years ever. The mental image doesn´t do it justice.

Basically, New Years was a blast. The holiday is bigger than christmas down here, and people just go all out. Before the burnings, I spent the afternoon in Guayaquil with some friends and fellow volunteers, where they had a bunch of huge stages set up with all sorts of live music, magicians, dance shoes, and childrens theatre. It was a huge party, and I even saw some of my neighbors from Duran there which was really cool. When we got back, we went to mass, and then were just out in the streets celebrating with the neighbors until the burnings. Afterwards, we went to a big cena (huge dinner with all your family and friends) at our friend Pablo´s, which quickly turned into dancing. About 2 we left his house and made our way to a dance Shalom (the music group at the church) was having, where we proceeded to dance until after 4 in the morning, when we seriously could not continue and made our way home. All in all, the day was a combination of lots of food, fire, and dancing. What more could a girl ask for?

So I know it has been a must be used to my excuses my now.... but this past month has been particularly eventful. Most notable becuase my brothers were here!!!!!!! I was just overjoyed to have them down here visiting for 5 days. I wish it could have been longer, and I think there should be rules about never having to say goodbye to family on Christmas eve, but it was definitely a jam packed trip. We spent the first day here in the neighborhood meeting some of my neighbors and the kids i work with at Valdivia, and I got to take them to Padre Damien so they could see where I work in the mornings. We took off that night though to head to Montanita, a little hippy beach town on the coast that is just really chill, for lack of a better word. We spent two days just hanging out and catching up, went surfing one day, and just had a great time. The last couple days back in Duran blur together - we had a nice dinner and climbed up to the lighthouse in Guayaquil, we spent more time with my neighbors and got a few card games in, we went to some crazy markets, and just hung out a lot. I wish we had more time, we could have been kept busy for weeks, but it was nice to just get to introduce them to my life here and my wonderful neighbors and roommates, and to get to see them and catch up. They are some pretty incredible fellows, and I really just miss them way too much.

Saying goodbye was hard, but we had some good Christmas fun to keep me distracted. Christmas Eve my roommates and I spent the morning making cookies, and then the ENTIRE afternoon (almost four straight hours) going around to all of our neighbors housing, caroling and passing out cookies and cards. Yes, we were dressed in holiday colors and I was wearing an elf hat. Yes, i still have a horrible voice. We all do. It was wonderful. The response from our neighbors was priceless, some were a little confused by the tradition and just kind of looked at us blankly, but most had the biggest smiles on their faces and really loved it. It was really cool to get to share some good ´ole US-style holiday cheer.

That night, pretty much right after we finished caroling, we went to Christmas Eve mass, which was just jam-packed as expected, and included some fun children acting. Afterwards we were invited to a neighbors (Nancy Javier and the three girls, I´ve talked about them before) for the big Christmas CENA after 12:00. Getting to join in that was really something, as it was when all of their family came over and they exchanged gifts. It reminded me a lot of Christmas at home when I was younger, and my grandfather or uncles passing out the gifts to all the grandkids and us making our little stacks of gifts. The gifts themselves were fairly simple, a couple little shirts and trinkets, one from each family that came. The kids just lit up, an the warmth one feels in such a universal environment an time of joy and family was just beautiful. It was a very humbling experience, and I was just so overwhelmed by the simple gift of getting to share this special evening with them. After the gifts, we all ate, and of course began dancing. We didn´t stay much later than 2 am I think becuase we were pretty exhausted, but the dancing continued there and at most of our neighbors´ houses until late in the morning.

In Christmas tradition (missing my own chance to sleep in the same room as my brothers awaiting Santa Claus) Dan and Frank and I dragged our mattresses out into the living room and slept there in front of our makeshift Christmas tree (cleverly made out of curtains and hanging from the ceiling), falling asleep listening to Kenny G Christmas music and chatting. It was just a great end to a great day (except that Vicki was in bed sick and really not feeling well).

Christmas day we all went to Sr. Annie´s for dinner, which was delicious. After we ate a wonderful italian feast, we sat around and sang Christmas carols. It was just a very simple but joyful gathering, and I was glad to get a little family sing-a-long like gathering.

After Christmas, that night in fact, Frank and I left for Quito, where we would spend the next five days. We had a week of vacation, so wanted to get to see the Capital and check out the incredible Guayasamin museum we kept hearing about. Of course, when we got there the museum was closed until after the New Year, which was really a bummer. But we spent the next few days getting to know the city, which is really incredibly beautiful. I like it a lot better than Guayaquil. It just has this wonderfully old and quaint feeling in part, and then just fun and modern in the other. But it is gorgeous and nestled up in the mountains surrounded by hills. We spent a lot of time walking around the historical district, checking out beautiful old churches, hiked up to the top of this hill that had an incredible statue of Mary and a great view of the city, went rockclimbing one day, went on a hunt for some awesome artisan works, spent time in the parks (I miss grass!), and made our own interpretive painting on a canvas we bought from this wonderful man we met on the street. All around, it was a great trip, and just really nice to get away from a bit.

So I guess that is pretty much all of the holiday fun. Since New Years though there have already been quite a few big occurences here in the neighbrhood. The mother of one of the girls that sometimes comes to Valdivia and is a student at Nuevo Mundo commited suicide about a week ago. She was 23-years-old, lived about a block and a half from us, and left her 8-year-old daughter Jomira motherless. I ask you to keep her in your prayers.

In lighter news, my other neighbor Nancy (different Nancy, but I have spoken of her too) got a new house! This woman´s story is a tragic one, whose husband passed about 6 months ago and has been left to raise her two daughters, but has some mental challenges and the two girls must basically take care of their mother and on´t really have any sort of life of their own. The director of the Guardaria was able to get a new house built for them becuase there old one was just barely liveable. Vicki and I were able to spend the entire day with them, emptying out their old home, and were just blown away by some of the conditions they were living in), tearing down the cane house itself, digging out the foundation and cutting down a tree, and watched them erect an entire new one where the old one stood. It was an incredible feet in one day, and really cool to see how other neighbors would just filter in as they finished their own full days of work to help finish the task.

That day I helped take some food over to another family whose house was being built also, about 2 miles away, and was just blown away. Now that the rainy season has started, the homes in this area are all in about a meter of water (luckily they are all built on stilts), and people were just wading through waste deep water which their children on their shoulders or carrying massive planks of wood and cane walls which which they are going to build this new house. Apparantly there was a giant snake in the water too (evidenced by bubbles coming up) that killed a dog that had been teachered to one of the homes not a few days before. I was really just speechless, as I was finally confronted with an image of the reality I had been plainly aware of since we got here, but with the arrival of the rainy season, finally saw firsthand.

The rainy season itself is something else. You can´t help but here the horrible rainfall and imediately think of how many of your neighbors homes are now being flooded with water. Kids from Valdivia that can´t sleep at night becuase there is a HUGE hole in the roof and are soaked all night. Yet amidst this reality, you little through the thundering rain to hear children running the streets and playing in the rain and having the time of their lives. So you can´t resist but go out and joy them, seeing their parents soaked in the doorways with smiles on their faces at just seeing their kids joy, well aware of the fact that they don´t have a change of clothes for them and will probably be drenched all through the night.

So I guess that is a basic update of my life, or at least the events in it any way. Not much on the thought train and my current ponderings, but I figured if I can get this part out first, hopefully the other will follow.

Oh! A couple really exciting projects we´ve been working on too. We are putting on a mini weekend retreat for the morning school children at Nuevo Mundo, the ones that attend the private Catholic HS and come from really affluent families in Guayaquil. We´re basically shortening the weeklong retreat we do for US schools, and hoping to educate some of these students as to the reality of life only a half hour away in the same way we aim to educate groups from home. Basically just taking our mission as a program and extending it to where it really needs to be heard. I´m really excited to see how it goes in a couple of weeks.

The other project is the proposal that DePaul (the retreat group I lead in early december) is putting together that is really getting off the ground. Really it´s all them, I just get to get really excited by looking over their proposal and watching it progress. You go team!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A month of mayhem

[FYI - this was written Dec. 13th, I don´t know why it didn´t get published.... but here it is]

I feel like I just updated, but I realize that it has already been a month--and whats more, an incredibly busy and full month.

I feel as though there was a definite transition after Cajas into the holiday season. Everything has just had a different feel about it since.

Thanksgiving was wonderful. We spent it on the roof of Pat and Sonya´s, the incredible directors of Nuevo Mundo, with all the volunteers, our director from the US and his family that was intown, our in-country director and his soon to be wife, and the families of some of the volunteers that were visiting. It didn´t quite have that thanksgiving feeling from home, but there were some delicous stuffings and mashed potatoes that really hit the spot. It took me about a week afterwards to realize that thanksgiving had already passed and we were officially in the Christmas season. It´s kind of hard to get into the holiday spirits in 90 degree weather and mosquitos, but we´ve tried our hand at makeshift Christmas decorations, such as the green curtain turned Christmas tree hanging in the corner, and of course it could never be Christmas without Kenny G.

The weekend after thanksgiving was probably the most fun we have had as a Rostro community. It was Kevin´s (our incountry director) wedding, and it was just nothing short of wonderful. The service itself was held in the chappel of Nuevo Mundo, which I am just in love with. It was a relatively small gathering, mostly Emilia´s family and friends, but really nice to be there for Kevin. The reception was then held at a pretty fancy club on the river, and was pretty much just one huge dance party. I think the 12 of us were literally on the dance floor the entire night (with MAYBE a half hour break to eat dinner). It was just a blast, I really can´t explain it. We always have fun when all of us get together, but there is just something about weddings that just steps it up a notch. Even the ride home was hilarious. And when we finally got home at about 330 in the morning, the five of us in our house just sat around the table and laughed and hung out until we literally could no longer function from exhaustion. It was a beautiful thing.

I still don´t know how I managed to wake up relatively early and go finish our mural with frank the following morning. It´s a mystery to me. But FYI, the mural looks awesome! It´s on the entrance wall to Padre Damien and is this really colorful beach sunset. ...

I also just had my lead my first retreat group, which I actually loved! First of allthe group itself was awesome! They were from DePaul university, and really just a handful of absolutely beautiful, curious, and inspiring individuals, I wish I could have had more than my 10 days with them. It was funny though, prior to them coming I had almost forgotten that it was the retreat program that really drew me so strongly to Rostro, having gotten so caught up with just daily life and my work here. It was just an awesome suprise to then get to share that work with 13 people that wanted nothing but to meet my friends, ask questions and learn all about it. Of course, I would say they are the best group that has been down thus far (being the fourth), but even in all honestly they were just so above and beyond when it came to really challenging themselves to understand why they were here and what they are going to do about it. It was just a very life-giving presence and experience, I can´t wait to see what they do with their lives.

Apart from that, there has just been great times with neighbors as usual. We celebrated Eric´s birthday at Nancy and Javier´s, we went to the first communions of a bunch of our neighbors, and just continued to really solidify these awesome friendships and relationships. I went out with a medical brigade too one weekend which was really cool, to an area north of Guayaquil where I have never been, with a team of doctors and volunteers doing visits and providing needed meds and consults. It was really warming to see such a passionate group of ecuadorians serving other ecuadorians - I´ve been seeing that so much more from the visiting gringo side lately, it was cool to remember that they have their own beautifully giving services also.

I guess that is about it for now.... My brothers come in a few days, I can´t wait!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

To end the hiatus

(note, this was began on tuesday, finally had a chance to finish it this morning...)

Wow. I wish i had a good excuse for having taken so long to update again, but I am just too excited about my reason for doing so now to make up a good one.

I just got back last night from a three day trek though Cajas National Park, where Frank and I seriously left civilazation at 11 saturday morning, and returned about 4 monday afternoon. What did we do for the three days in between? Got completely and beautifully lost in the middle of the most breathtaking scenary, hiked 6-7 hours a day through every type of terrain imaginable (except snow, although hail was definitely involved), froze our butts off huddled and shivering in a tent for two nights, woke up to awe-inspiring landscapes that reminded us why we put ourselves through the night, and took off to meet the next incredible day of mountains, forests, waterfalls, walking through clouds, rainstorms, rocks to climb on, streams to walk over, and life to meditate on. Basically, i was in heaven. A tiny person lost amidst this paradise that is the world God has given us.

I could never do justice to this excursion in words, though I hope the pictures that are coming soon will help out some. It was just a needed escape. A reminder of the simplicity and basic presence that is God and love in this world, that is just as present in Cajas as in Duran as in Kirkland as in anywhere, but sometimes just harder to remember when it is being shouted over by so many distractions.

It came at a perfect time. But I guess in order to explain why the timing was so perfect I should back up a bit and fill you in on some of the events of the last month.... (feel free to return to this at a later date, this could take a while)

I guess I´ll pick up where I left off, after the surgical team. Life at Damian since then has gotten pretty much back to normal. The first couple weeks after were still a little crazy, getting everything taken care of and put away and ready for the next group in May (the december group cancelled and won´t come till June, huge blow for patients eagerly awaiting surgery), but since then I have spent most of the time at the foundation getting my butt kicked in Dominoes, laughing with patients and the kitchen staff (who i love!) and painting. Three massive walls are offically under my control now, and I am just about finished with the first. An exciting underwater scene began by the children of Nuevo Mundo and left horribly just barely begun. And I have to admit, it doesn´t look all that bad! Quite fun too! If anyone is in need of a wall mural when I get home, i will surely be a pro by then! In other fun Damian news, today was Scott´s birthday (one of the Rostro volunteers with me at Damian) so they threw this beautiful birthday party with all the patients in the patio, sang happy birthday, the kitchen staff made cakes and jello, and then patients got up and said kind words. Somehow though, i got suprised and thrown into this, so they decided to celibrate my birthday too since mine fell on a weekend and we didn´t have a party, and I too got a cake the whole shebang. It almost brought me to tears (or maybe that was from the belt beating my ass got in traditional Ecua style). All in all, it was a great way to return to work today, and so unexpected! Happy Birthday Scott!

My work at Valdivia has been a little less calm and collected. It´s really gone through quite a few ups and downs these past through weeks, really at the heart of my struggle of finding purpose and usefulness here. I won´t bore you with the currently distant frustrations, which were mostly centered around a few difficult children and an even more difficult sense of a lack of purpose and impact. It has since changed SO MUCH! Our numbers have doubled, the new kids that are coming are absolutely wonderful and adorible, and I seriously just look forward to seeing their faces everyday. The difficult older ones are still around, but we have since sat down with them and worked out our differences (still trying to make those understandings a reality, but definitely on the way at least). I have found a huge joy in continuing to recall games and activities I played or made up when I was little, and even more joy in figuring out to adapt those games to some good old value learning and critical thinking skills also. I still wish I had more time to spend planning for Valdivia alone, like to put together a good databank of math worksheets and start making a program notebook full of games and activities to leave for future volunteers, and even just to get to spend more time with the kids and get to know their families, but alas, there simply aren´t enough hours in the day. But I am content for now looking forward to the smiling faces and huge embraces that await me each afternoon, and only hope that the smiles and embraces I give them back make obvious even just an ounce of the insane amount of the love I have for those kids.

My time in the neighborhood has been another aspect I have been struggling with- mostly becuase I just don´t have any. I am pretty much working from 8 in the morning to 6 in the evening, dinner is at 730 and each night is followed by some sort of Rostro event, whether it is a house meeting, spirituality night, community night, or cleaning night. You may imagine that when a free night does come along, it is hard to pass up the lure of just resting and catching up on journaling (which has become almost as poor as my blogging). There is often an hour here or there to just go out and chat on the way to the store or something, but its just never enough and also leaves me feeling like I have to rush off somewhere and I hate it. I don´t understand how a program based around BEING with people can leave you so little time to actually do just that. there is just seriously no way to fit everything in with two full time jobs and a community to answer too. I hate feeling like I don´t know what is going on in my neighbors lives, and how the more time I spend away the less authentic and natural each conversation becomes. I feel like I am left to talk about the same surface level things instead of getting at the heart of life and how it is that we share in it together. It´s just a balance I need to work at, I know, I am just realizing the curses that accompany the blessings of community. I have been baking a lot of bread though late at night, and the joy of getting to share that with neighbors is a simple and beautiful thing.

Speaking of the blessings though, I must take a moment here to comment on just how amazing my community is. I realized the other night, as the five of us were getting dinner finished together and getting ready to sit down and eat together, that I am seriously living a dream. The community I´ve idealized for so long is now a reality, and as much as it has its ups and downs and difficult times and relations, I am just so blessed to live with four other people that in a nutshell really just want to be here. We love this work. We strive on pushing ourselves and trying to solve problems. We look forward to praying together and to lifting each other up. We serve each other daily. We hold each other accountable. We share stories together. We laugh together. We nap together. We just really love each other, and love that we have each other here to love. This makes it sound like a utopian dream rather than a reality, and is much more natural than that, I guess that at this moment I´m just on fire with it. And I realize that although it frustrates me a lot of times, I truly am living in a vision I have always wanted, and just took me 4 months to realize that it has become a reality. Kind of blows my mind still really.

Along with these daily toils, challenges, and moments of joy, there have been quite a few daylong or weekendlong escapes as well. Mostly unplanned and absolutely incredible.

Probably the most exciting was the weekend in Montañita, this peaceful little hippy beach town about 3 hours away, with Fercho, Dan, Conner, and Vicki. Dan and Vicki being my roommates, Conner being this wonderful 18 year old kid from California taking a year off before college and working down here for a few months, and Fercho my wonderful medical school friend i met when the surgery team was here. (Quick background, Fercho is basically my Sergio of Ecuador, and so wonderful). Despite Vicki being sick in bed all weekend, it was a dream. We basically just spent time laying on the beach, reading, surfing, eating amazing local food, taking walks along the beach, doing a little dancing at night, and really just resting and taking in the peace of this little town.

I spent one day at Padre Damien´s farm picking ciruelas (an Ecua fruit I don´t really know how to explain...) which reminded me oddly of washington though i have never picked apples... I am supposed to go back soon actually becuase mango season is just beginning, and they need help picking. I informed them I would probably eat just as many as I pick, and I´m pretty stoked about it!

I finally went out dancing for the first time about a month ago now, with Eric, Frank, and two of our medical student friends Susana and Valeria. It was SO much fun! Really didn´t feel all that different from college, going to a bar in Guayaquil, having a couple drinks (or at least I would have if it wasn´t for my parasite medication) and dancing all night. It was definitely weird being in that culture though, a completely different world going out with our medical student friends than with our friends from the neighborhood in Duran, and in all honestly I couldn´t help but feel a bit out of place. It really is odd how we bounce between Duran and Guayaquil daily, becuase they are absolutely different worlds. It was great to go out dancing though, and i am looking forward to getting some more stress out like that again soon.

I visited the huge cemetary in Duran for day of the dead (Nov. 2, after halloween), and that was quite an experience. I wanted to visit Olmedo´s grave, the first patient at Damien that I really fell in love with (who died during the week with the surgery group at the hospital). It was really special taking part in that celebration though, as all the families use that day to go and clean the gravesites and spent time with lost loved ones. It wass quite a shock at first, in terms of the amount of people that cram into the cemetary, but by the end I felt a unique sense of solidarity I hadn´t quite experienced before, and definitely a new insight into ecuadorian culture.

One weekend we went with the Christian-based community of our church on this all-day trip to the equivalent of an ecuadorian spa to help raise money for the community. Basically it is a mini waterpark, with four or five huge pools, diving boards, and water slides. One of the families that is part of this community, Nancy, Javier and their three little girls Marta Maria and Rosita we are really close to, and we pretty much spent the entire day with them, teaching the girls to swim, splashing around, playing cards, and just laughing a lot. It was really so fun getting to share this experience with them, especially since it is one that they seriously look forward to every year and is a very special day (when else would they save up money to go have a fun day at a waterpark). I just love this family. Nancy helped Vicki and I sew a blanket for one of our neighbors that just had her daughter too. They are all just wonderful.

So now transitioning back finally into why it was that the trip to Cajas was so needed and came at the perfect time. Two weeks ago, Father Jim Ronan (the founder of Rostro and one of the coolest priests ever) was down here for a quick three day trip just checking up on everything and saying say to some friends of his. It was a very short visit, but in those three days we had three masses, two of which were in English - you have no idea how much I missed he simply comfort of hearing mass in English, and one of which was at the Dominican monastary of this wonderful order of cloistered nuns, who then invited us all to breakfast (though it was more like a prison scene, us eating on one side and them sitting behind bars on the other side of the room just smiling and chatting with us). We also got to each sit down individually with Fr. Jim for 45 min or so and just check in, let him know how we are doing, ask any questions or if we needed any help with anything, just whatever was one our minds. And I must say, i didn´t realize I was in such need to talk with him. Verbalizing my struggles to Fr. Jim was just so comforting, he is such a calm presence and just knows how to listen and respond with exactly what you need to hear. It wasn´t anything revolutionary, just simple and right on. And I realized that part of the reason I was really struggling was becuase I had let a lot of the spiritual side drop. We were still doing our daily prayer, and enjoying sharing our sprituality in the house, but however it happened I was just forgetting that the spirituality is central to the work too, and that that is the purpose I was missing and the faith that I was forgetting. I guess I can´t really explain it very well, but the gist of it is that I just really needed some good prayer and reflection time to get back to that center.

Luckily, the following weekend was our first all RdC retreat, and the 12 of us spent the weekend at the beach, staying at the beach/retreat house of Pat and Sonya, the directors of the Nuevo Mundo school. It was a great time, but just felt more like an experience in community building and bonding time with the 12 of us (who don´t really see the other house all that often) than a time for needed personal prayer and reflection. I got some good meditative walks along the beach, played in waves, slept in a hammock on the roof, and just laughed and hugged alot. But it just left me wanting more. So the following weekend at Cajas (this past weekend) was just perfect.

So yeah...that´s pretty much a brief (believe it or not) update. Some fun stuff coming up. Kevin (our in country director) gets married next weekend, and weddings are always a good time. The next retreat group is mine to lead and will be here in a little over a week. And my brothers are coming down in less than a month!! I can´t wait!!!

Apart from that it is just life as usaul in AJS. Continual struggles to figure out how we can best help our neighbors. Waking up early to the sounds of machines digging holes in the streets to put in water pipes (which by the way is a HUGE deal! Almost everywhere water is brought in by truck and held in large tanks at each home, but is very unreliable and families are often out of water for days. While the roads are getting ready to be paved though, the community rallied to get pipes put in also. It costs each of them an arm and a leg to get the pipes put in, and water will probably take years to actually get flowing in them, but in the long run it is going to be great). And yeah, just living life I guess.

Oh, and you should check out a video my roommate Vicki made with the help of our friend Conner. It´s got some wonderful pictures and just kind of follows her life here, jobs, neighbors, etc. It´s pretty well done. I make a few cameos. Go to and search for ¨snapshots of my life in ecuador¨

Monday, October 8, 2007

A week in scrubs

I am absolutely exhausted - and ecstatic about it!

This past week, we (at Padre Damian) hosted are first medical team of the year, a group of orthopedic surgeons, residents, anesthesiologists and nurses from New Mexico and San diego. We basically lived at the childrens hospital, where the team operated on 30 children, doing preliminary evaluations one day on about 100 kids (electing 30 for the surgeries themselves), five FULL days of surgeries, and then one day of reevaluations and follow up plans.

Basically, my life as a volunteer was completely redefined. I felt like i was working in Alaska again. Waking up at 530 every morning, picked up and taken to the hospital at 6, working until about 130, catching a bus home to make it to my after school program from 230-5, and then returning right to the hospital until going home with the last group at about one in the morning, just in time to pass out for four hours before waking up and doing it all over again. Crazy thing is, I probably could do it for another month straight and be fine- it was just so energizing (mentally and spiritually that is).

I spent most of my time at the hospital helping translate between the doctors and the parents of the children or Ecuadorian hospital staff. It was tricky at first with my limited familiarity with medical terminology in spanish, but by the end of the week i was explaining detailed medical procedures and drug instructions as though i had been doing it forever - it was crazy! I did a lot of running around the hospital, bringing patients down to surgery, running to get xrays, talking to parents about how things were going, translating for nurses in post-op, getting supplies to operating rooms, pretty much any random job that came up and needed to be done. It was a lot of go-go-go, mixed in with some down time to just sit and talk to the nurses or anesthesiologits about drug dossage, or procedures, or medical school, or life...

One of the coolest things I got to do during that down time was going into the operating rooms and observing some of the surgeries they were doing. I could just run in for 20 minutes at a time and watch some crazy hip surgery on a 2 year old. And here is the kicker - I even scrubbed into 2 of them! This was seriously the coolest thing i have ever done. I was in on a tibial osteotomy of a nine year old boy named Danny, where we had to saw the tibia in half, rotate it about 30 degrees, and screw it in place with a big metal plate. I mostly just held open the incision and retracted tissue, but I actually got to screw in one of the screws and did one of the stitches too! Granted, i would never have gotten to do that in the US. It was incredible. And of course as soon as the surgery was finished and they were casting, I was nailed with a huge stream of pee as one of the surgeons accidentally leaned on his bladder, and was literally SOAKED in urine. The entire operating room just burst out laughing, informing me that i had now been officially initiated. It was hilarious.

I got to scrub in on another surgery too, which was moving a dislocated hip back into place on a three year old little girl. This surgery took over 3 hours but it was so interesting i felt like I was in there for no more than an hour. With all of the time in the operating room, i was seriously just blown away... In my discernment about whether to go into medicine, i just kind of always thought the more clinical side appealed to me, doing family practice of pediatrics. But there was something about being in that operating room, retracting a muscle or tendon or something so the surgeon could get to the tissue she had to cut through that just really made me want to take the knife myself and do it. It was just SO awesome. It´s definitely making me want to look into surgery more if I continue along the medical path. And after this week, its looking even more promising.

I was just on fire all week, so excited to learn more about medicine and getting to talk with these families and the frustrations of the Ecuadorian medical system and horrible expenses that keep kids from getting needed surgeries. I wish i had time to just continue working with these families and get them what they need to care for these kids. But if nothing else, i am just already looking forward to December when the next team comes and anything i can do to just get even more care for some of these kids.

The only somewhat really hard thing about being at the hospital all week is that I really did miss out on a lot at home. I barely saw my roommates, for one, but more importantly I missed out on the usual time I have in the evenings going around and visiting neighbors and talking with the kids in my after school program. I feel as though I just have no idea what is going on in their lives right now. Even in weeks where I spent every minute out walking around that I can, I still don´t get to everyone I want to visit or is expecting me to stop by, so being absent this week was especially hard.

oh, and i officially have a parasite! It´s name is Ascaris Lumbricoides (but I call him Al) and is a worm making its home in the lining of my stomach at the moment. But no worries, in four days I will be worm free!!!

Blessings and hugs!

Friday, September 21, 2007

of purpose and pavement

Asphalt is amazing!
They have just begun the process of paving the road outside our house, the beginning of the long process of paving all the roads in Antonio Jose de Sucre - an incredible undertaking! It is such a blessing for the community, much less horrible dust in the air and the escape from the mud that overtakes the rainy season will save so many from sickness. With the awareness of how wonderful a thing this is, however, it´s been a lot to handle - huge house size (US house size that is, about 3x the size of an ecuadorian home) mounds of dirt on every block corner, roads closed down to water trucks--a HUGE issue for all our neighbors-- and trucks and construction drowning out daily conversations in the house. Its a huge inconvenience for the time being, but such an amazing accomplishment for the long run. Mind you, it will probably be months before the entire project is done, maybe even a year to finish AJS.

The reality that my neighborhood is being paved has brought to light my recent struggle for usefulness and purpose. There is no doubt that there is need here. Way too many families go without water for days, have little or no education, and live in shacks that will soon be flooded mudpits in the winter to warrent any sort of dismissal. The problem I have been having recently though is why are we here? Why AJS? When Rostro first moved in it was definitely one of the worst areas, but now it seems to be one of the most developed (relatively, of course). Some of the neighborhoods that we work in are just so much farther behind - where every single house is made of cane, school buildings are literally no more then fenced in tiny areas with benches crammed in, and children live among cows grazing in garbage - as is the case in 28 de Agosto, a community built on an old dump site, where one of our after school programs is. In the face of such disparity, I can´t ignore the guilt I feel walking out of my gate and seeing the majority of my neighbors in at least partially concrete houses, with fairly well established public schools (again, this is all in perspective--compared to the US system each school here is a educational crisis). I look at the after school program I run, and while I would never take it away from the 15-20 kids that come daily and that consider it a huge part of their lives, I wonder about its usefulness- yes, we take advantage of the time we have with the kids and really try to make it engaging and educational at the same time, but sometimes I just feel there are other places that could better use us. It´s just a struggle I´ve been having lately....and i know that all I can do is take advantage of the kids I am in contact with and make as much of an impact on them as I can, for each child deserves so much more than I can give. I wonder how much longer Rostro will be in this house, in AJS, but recognize that as long as it is Valdivia will keep going strong. I wonder though where we will go next--if in a couple years we will move out to 28 de Agosto and answer another call.

In all of this, it is really just my obsession with analyzing how programs like ours work and how we put our mission into action that lead me to these questions. Part of what I love about being down here is that it gives me a chance to see first hand the kind of work that foundations like ours do, what the needs of the community are, and how a foundation or international program may intercede to help reach those goals--but also where we can step aside to national organizations to take the reigns. It´s a huge learning process, but with both Rostro and Padre Damien, I´m enjoying the opportunity to take in as much as I can. I guess I´ve always been drawn to these types of organizations and maybe going into the administration of one someday, so again, just another unexpected opportunity thrown at me down here.

So in other random news....

I am officially the last member of my house to contract a Parasite! Well, let me amend that, I am the last one to visit the doctor and receive a diagnosis that I have a parasite - I may already have one and just not know it yet, but I´ll take what I can get. I´ve been remarkably healthy so far (knock on wood)..... take that ecuador!

I built a cane fence last saturday. It was kick ass. It was supposed to be a quiet saturday, i was in need of some good reflection and personal time, but then went outside to run to the store and ended up helping my neighbor Walter all afternoon building a fence. Imagine me with a machete chopping up large pieces of cane- it was SO much fun. And i just love those random run ins. Like last night, we helped another neighbor ¨"steal" dirt from the massive mounds left by the paving process. Turns out a truckfull of dirt is about $25, about what anm average person makes in a little under a week--so massive mounds that will soon just be hauled away are quite a commodity. The entire neighborhood was out well into the night. It was actually a really cool bonding time.

We have mice. Well, HAD them hopefully. Finally found the dead one in the corner of the kitchen that had almost entirely decomposed. And to think we just kept wondering why the kitchen smelled so horribly for so long...i don´t even want to know how long it was could have been the same one that sent Vicki running into my room about 2 weeks ago in the middle of the night. We had a sleepover for a couple days, didn´t hear more of the mouse, and kind of hoped it got out. Guess not.

I am painting a mural! yeah, i know, what am i thinking, but i am really excited about it! The walls at Padre Damien are pretty much all covered by different murals and drawings left by volunteer groups or patients, and Sr. Annie wants me to do another wall that could really use some excitement. Here goes nothing...

I guess that is it for now--not it in terms of stories, just too many to pick from. Long story short, I am good. healthy, happy, pensive, and busy. Life - you know.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A weekend in the mountains...

(for some reason this didn´t get published on friday when i wrote it.......)

It's been another wonderful week of work, but I just can't help but relive my incredible experience in the mountains last weekend. Four of us (Santi, Scott, Patrick and I) headed up to the village of Pilko outside of Mocha, about 3 hours south of Quito to visit Aracelly's family in the Sierra. Ara is the wonderful bouncy little Equadorian we work with who works with community relations and basically is our ecuadorian 13th volunteer.

I will try to sumarize... We take a bus at 11 pm on friday night five hours north where we get off in the middle of nowhere and hike 45 min in the pitch black up a mountain (mind you the altitude change is quite noticable and we are sucking air like nobody's business) until we get to a small stone house in the middle of an open field at five in the morning. Here we would spend the next two days experiencing real life in the Sierra. This meant waking up at 6:30 to go up to the hills and move and milk the cows, (I don't want to brag, but apparantly I am quite gifted in this arena, and have been promised a daily duty should i return - and i drank about half a pitcher of fresh milk and felt sick for the next couple hours, but earned my stay), letting out the pigs and sheep, walking through fields of onions and potatoes, killing and skinning Cuy (guinea pig - a delicacy in ecuador, and one of the most scarring experiences of my life, given that the only pet I ever had was a guinea pig named Slick), wearing ponchos and wool scarves all weekend but still being completely freezing and soaking wet becuase of the dew and long grass and mud, cooking and warming ourselves over an open fire with two pieces of rebar over it where they cooked all their meals, and cramming 5 people into 2 single beds. It all reminded me of the farm I worked at in Germany and I loved it. That and Assisi, as the hillside looked just like looking down over the farmland below assisi, but adding a much brighter green color and closer horizon with mountains on all sides. Sunday we hiked up to this huge stone cross on top of the hill, a few thousand kilometers elevation, which was originally this old wooden cross that Pope John Paul II had carried up at the beginning of his papacy - talk about a pilgimage! it was amazing. you could barely see anything from the top because of all the cloud cover, and to be honest I didn't think i'd even make it to the top with the hour and a half hike i was panting entirely throughout, literally having to stop after every three steps to catch my breath. Mt. Rainier, here I come!

The entire weekend was just another world... So peaceful, such welcoming and hospitable family, and more natural beauty than I could have ever tried to fit into such a short amount of time. I think I may need to go spend a week or two there after my year ends, becuase I just can't get it out of my mind.

On a different note though, I recognize that while I would love to spend months of my life in those mountains, for the people that I met there that is the only reality they know and will ever know. Their understanding of the world outside of their village is more or less just a marketplace - the only part pertinant to their daily survival. They wake up and do the same incredible labor every day, and know no difference. It's a matter of survival, of comfort, and of education. It's a lifestyle that is simultaneously both incredibly natural and beautiful and peaceful while also being naive and trapped in a sense.....i don't really know how to explain it....but to say that part of me will be calling me back to try to figure it out this entire year.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

One month in...

It´s crazy to think that as of tomorrow I will have been here in Duran for an entire month. In some ways time seems to have just stopped passing, as every day just runs together with the next - each full of wonderful neighbors, unforgettable scenes, exhausting days of work, countless hugs from children - and best of all, all in spanish!

I guess I will start with work. Working at Padre Damian in the mornings has been nothing short of exhilerating. I spent the first week learning some massage and ocupational therapy techniques. I spent the second week in scrubs paintings walls and planning murals. And now I find myself jumping daily from games of dominos, hourlong conversations with patients about anything and everything, a lot of just holding patients hands, learning how to make hammocks, running exercise classes for the women, organizing pharmacuetical supplies, and anything else that comes up.

One of the most exciting things about Damian though is that I am being trained on how to use this sensory testing machine that tests patients nerve operation. The surgical teams that come done for the states (the first one gets here the end of september) use this data to evaluate patients for nerve decompression surgury, a life-altering surgery for the patients down here, which i get to scrub in on if i want! I am learning so much about Hansens disease and just general health care in Ecuador every day it is unbelievable. How I was able to find a job where not only do I get to pass my day just BEING with people in accompaniment, but also get to basically take a service learning class on health care in Ecuador at the same time and learn all about the medical system here and all about this misunderstood disease is seriously unbelievable. I am just so blessed.

And that is just my morning job. In the afternoons Dan and I run an after school program for kids called Valdivia, one of three after school programs that Rostro runs. It is a challenge, to say the least, but I love it. It's basically just an open program run in the Casa Communal, this big open community building around the corner from my house where kids come to do homework, take part in other non-homework activities, read, play, and basically get a break from home. For alot of them, it's mostly just a safe place to be (often in contrast with home life). It's alot like working at the YMCA, in that I spend most of my time thinking up random games or relays or ways to make a language lesson or math worksheet the most entertaining thing ever. It's beautiful how excited the kids get about learning for the most part, but depressing when you realize that the only thing they are learning at school is how to copy letters. They spend hours daily just copying over the notes the took in class, in perfect cursive, without having any idea what they are writing down. and if one letter is sloppy, they have to start over and do it again. They have absolutely no critical thinking skills. I feel like I have a monstrous battle daily with the ecuadorian school system, and am always beaten. And then I sit chatting with neighbors afterwards about how their daughter is about to graduate high school and can start work. What kind of work does she want to do I realize is a completely insensitive question as she will be lucky to find a job selling bananas. College is nowhere near a possibility. This is just reality. I thought I was beginning to recognize it, but every time I find myself in a conversation such as this I am newly blown away and brought back to reality-the reality of which I am so trying to be a part though subconciously know I will never be able to be.

Valdivia has given me an incredible opportunity to get to know the kids in the neighborhood. Last weekend Vicki and I went with a family to their schoool Olimpiadas, basically a giant field day in a gym with dance and futbol competitions. Kids got out of classes for a week to train, and some even missed classes the week before in order to make money to pay for their uniform, a rediculous seven dollars - enough to feed the family for a week. It was really just culture shock. On one level you see these kids running around and having a good time, but on another you are disturbed by the trouble the family went to just to get this day out, and the rediculous lack of order at the event. The family took us out for ice cream afterwards and to show us a little of the centro, and I was just just breathless realizing that this in probably the only time the family has gone out like this together for months, let alone treated to ice cream.

Life in Antonio Jose de Sucre has been one adventure after another. From trying to figure out what natural remedy the lady at the corner store gave us in an unmarked plastic bag to treat Eric's parasitic illness, to getting lost on the bus system (which i finally thought i had figured out), to late nights at the neighbors eating dinner and learning how to play Cuarenta....You never know what the day is going to hold. Nights at home with my house community seem to be filled with continual questions of the frustrating reality of gringo privelege, attempted reflections on the reality of poverty and lack of opportunity, and just the overwhelming challenge of finding our place here. I realize daily just how blessed I am to share this experience with four incredible housemates, and seven others close by who really just seem to get me after no time at all. We've become some weird combination of family members, coworkers, best friends and annoying siblings all at once. We laugh, we bicker, we cry, we sing, we dance, we hug, we comfort...... all in the course of a single evening.

I find myself in need of more personal reflection time, but find myself equally unwilling to cut into my time in the neighborhood, my time chatting with my housemates, or my sleep (already less then I need to function). It's a balance I will figure out with time, I am sure.

{This is longer than I imagined, so I will leave it here for now. Hopefully following blogs can be less of a this is what I am doing and more of a this is how I am feeling about it today. I really will try to update more often, the first one is always the hump to get over. }

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Let the games begin....

alright, this is it. I´m pretty new to this whole blog thing, but we´ll see what happens. I´m going to do my best to write regularly, but on ecuadorian time that means very little..... Here goes....