I am back in Tumbaco after a long and exhausting tech trip! I have to say I didn’t realize how much I have begun to think of this town as home until I was far away from it and couldn’t wait to get back to my familiar supermarket, bed, and walk to the training center. Tech trip was tough, but it was a much needed reality check. I have gotten so used to my sheltered life in the cushy suburbs of Quito that I had begun to lose sight of why I am really here. Although training is far from a cake walk, I have almost all of the comforts I had at home in the US, including wifi, showers whenever I want, constant electricity, amazing weather, beautiful mountains, and pretty much any type of food I am willing to pay for (although JIF peanut butter is $10/jar here…no thanks). There’s a reason there are no Peace Corps Volunteers working in Tumbaco. The communities we spent this past week in provided me with the reality slap in the face I needed to begin emotionally preparing for the next two years in my site. I saw poverty unlike anything I have ever seen, here or in any other country, and it was hard to swallow. But I also saw the incredible impact Peace Corps Volunteers are having in their communities and it reaffirmed why I am here.
We spent our first few days in Pedro Vicente, about 3 hours west of Quito. The difference the altitude makes in temperature is HUGE. We stepped off the bus into a sweltering hot, 99% humidity pool of slime. It was rough. Everything smelled like mold, including us after about 15 minutes. We spent pretty much the entire first day learning how to make beads out of old magazines in an unventilated, un-airconditioned, windowless room, which was even more rough. Luckily though, the trip had nowhere to go but uphill from there! The next day we gave charlas on hygiene to kids at a school in Pedro Vicente and they went really well. Well, the charla on tooth brushing that I had planned for a class of 7th graders went really well, but when I finished I was unexpectedly herded into a class of 1st graders to give the same charla and that was a little bit of a disaster. Somehow activities planned for 7th graders don’t go over too well with 6 year olds…who would have thought!? I’m not bitter. It was a learning experience. We also learned how to make tire gardens! –>
They are difficult because you have to flip the tires inside out, but they are a good way to make gardens in an urban area that doesn’t have a lot of land available. I’m not sure whether this will be something I’ll do in my site, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how much land for gardening there is.
Here are some views of Pedro Vicente from our hostel:
On Wednesday we packed up and rode the bus another 2.5 hours to Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo is a much bigger city than Pedro Vicente. It’s crowded and fast-paced and very, very unlike Quito or really any other city I’ve seen before.
Even though Santo Domingo was a little bit scary, I loved our time there. We spent our time with a volunteer who works at a health center on the outskirts of the city in a small neighborhood. She is doing the most amazing things there. Walking down the streets with her was like walking with a celebrity. All the kids we passed by ran up to greet her and hug her and actually all the adults too, for that matter. We spent one morning in an elementary school she works at and I did a self esteem workshop for 3rd-5th graders. I had them create a “personal flag” (mi bandera personal) with different drawings representing their biggest accomplishments, what they wanted to be when they grew up, their skills and talents, their heroes, and a few other things. It was so much fun and I think the kids enjoyed it. Right now I label my presentations a success if I can get people to understand my spanish, so I’m going to go ahead and say it was a success.
We also helped put on a 2-hour bailoterapia class (“dance therapy”) that about 40 people came to, we taught a cooking class and a class on nutrition for pregnant women, and spent a lot of time playing variations of tag and hide and go seek with the kids in the neighborhood. The volunteer had also written a grant to get funding to buy water filters for households in the community…she got the money and used it to subsidize filters to offer to families at an affordable price. The families had gotten the filters about a month ago, so we went on a few home visits with her to talk to people about how the filters were being used and whether they were being used/cleaned correctly. The people we spoke with said the health of their entire families had improved drastically since they started using filtered water. Before, they either had to get their water from wells, which has parasites that cause a lot of health problems, or they have to buy bottled water from stores, which is too expensive for most families to afford. The filters now allow them to access clean water easily.
My experience in Santo Domingo was amazing because I was able to SEE the impact this volunteer was making in her community. The coolest thing I saw wasn’t even the tangible projects she had started, like nutrition charlas and bailoterapia. The coolest part for me was seeing how she was able to bring her community together to spend time with one another and build relationships that will last long after she is gone. During the two and a half days we were there, we were a part of 4-5 different community events that brought people together to have fun, learn something, and be there for one another. How amazing is that!?? I left Santo Domingo feeling optimistic and a bit more ready to face my site.
I’ll end this post with an anecdote from my trip that I found pretty amusing. I learned that in Ecuador, there is literally NO spanish translation for “healthy snack.” I was getting help from one of the Ecuadorian PC staff on preparing for a nutrition presentation this week, and I asked him how to say “healthy snack” in spanish. It turned into a 20 minute debate between PC staff about whether it is even possible to say that in spanish…the short answer is no. When people talk about snacks, they say “cachitos” or “piqueos”, which are the fried, greasy chips they sell at all the little tiendas. They aren’t specifically referring to these chips, these are just the words that encompass all snack foods. It says a lot that “snack” LITERALLY translates to “fried grease” in this country. I think I have my work cut out for me.
FINALLY I just have to put in this quote because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. It’s by Ralph Waldo Emerson. “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…This is to have succeeded.” I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m going to measure my own success over the next 2 years. I’ve given up a lot to be here and it hasn’t always been a walk in the park, and my biggest fear is that I’ll come away from this in 2015 unsure about whether I’ve made any kind of impact. I think that if I continue reminding myself to focus on people instead of the entire world, I’ll be successful.