Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On Silence

If I picked words to describe this semester, silence would not have been among them. Maybe: Professor Shandy is trying to kill me. Or growing up. Or a series of question marks. Not silence.

But I realized that this semester is the first since I started this blog of just that- silence.

I wrote nothing here for an entire semester. A semester filled with blessings and curses. The blessing of classes I cared about. The curse of my most challenging semester yet. The blessing of a boyfriend and friends who kept me talking enough to keep me from writing as much as I like. The curse of writing only essays and transcripts of interviews and being too tired all the time. The blessing of a beautiful place of learning and so many wonderful minds and opportunities and the curse of being let into the beautiful castle, only to find out it is all grey on the inside, or looks that way to you.

The depression. The bleak emptiness. The staring at the A, at the news that you got the internship, at the well-regarded event you hosted and feeling nothing. 

Even though I functioned, silence wracked my whole being this semester. A deafening silence that hurt so bad I couldn't feel it anymore. A silence that was everywhere, descending with the dark of the winter and looking an awful lot like it too.

Being too busy may have come first. The classes, the lack of sleep, the wondering what all of it was for anyway, not my brain chemistry, may have caused this depression. That didn't make it less real. And it certainly didn't make me like this place much more. It made the silence louder.

Macalester has done many wonderful things for me. Among them, it taught me to be a critical thinker, to constantly reflect and question. Turns out if you mix this lovely skill with the nothingness that is depression you will get a recipe for a bad time. 

If you deconstruct something enough, you are left with only fragments. I was left with no opinions- nothing to believe meant nothing to say, even if I'd had the time to say it. 

I have been so afraid to make a mistake or so sure that there cannot be an answer that I stopped saying anything at all. 

I don't know who "they" are- Macalester, the little depression-bringing demons, society, serotonin- but they took a lot of things from me this semester while I was buried under a pile of work. They took my hope, my unabashed positivity and belief that people are good; that we can do something, and even if we can't we must try. They took my belief in any institution, in any religion, in anything, except maybe my immediate family. And in so doing, they took away my voice. 

And back when I was a devoted, silly, mistake-making crusader for justice, who wrote for herself and for even just one person who might need the words, back when I believed that choosing doubt as a philosophy of life was akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation (Life of Pi), I vowed never to let them. 

I am okay now with doubt. I know now that in some cases, it is better to let others speak. But along the way, I forgot how good it is to be messy, how valuable it is to be wrong. How success out there in the complicated world requires falling flat on my face with grace, writing things no one should care about, and things lots of people will, looking back on previous actions with both pride and embarrassment. And it is okay to congratulate myself, knowing what it is like to be frozen, to be drowning in silence, that I acted at all. I'm okay with the fact that I will be figuring it, whatever it is, out, for probably forever, and I am grateful to be able to do so. I've always figured it out best through words. Now, I have been given one of the most precious gifts- time (a gift that I won't have to give up for a while, with a nine credit semester on the horizon). With this, I will write and I will sing and I will talk and I will tear holes in this silence. I can already see the light.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Graduate School and Lessons from the Third Grade

The first time I can remember being convinced I could not possibly continue with my education was the second grade.  Apparently instead of letting us just, like, move up to the next grade my educators decided that year it would be a good idea to "prepare" us.  They "prepared" us all right- with talk of bigger chairs and "benchmark tests" and "higher expectations" but no real advice on how to actually be ready for them.  I, as a generally S+ or E (Satisfactory Plus or Excellent) second grade student (except with money... I had no idea what coin combinations made up a dollar), was convinced that I could not handle the third grade.  Bigger books, bigger chairs, bigger expectations, bigger backpacks, everything looked gigantic and terrifying.

I went to the third grade.  Things were not gigantic and terrifying.  In fact, things were so un-gigantic and terrifying that they gave me materials for gifted students.  I did not find these materials to be particularly engaging, but they were not gigantic and terrifying either.  I loved third grade.  I loved my teacher.  I loved my bigger chair, the former symbol of everything gigantic and terrifying.  I loved being able to read better and more interesting things, making good friends, all that stuff you do in the third grade.

Unfortunately (probably fortunately, actually) bigger and scarier things do not end in the third grade.  For example, I was literally so terrified of middle school I'm pretty sure I spent an entire summer feeling like I was about to throw up.  And I begged my mother to homeschool me.  (Hey, it was a practical plan in my brain back then.  She had a teaching license and I was convinced there was no way I would survive).  (Anxiety disorders make a mountain out of not the molehill, but the tiny grain of sand on the molehill).

Middle school is the definition of terrible, but even by non-middle school standards, things weren't really that bad.  I joined the swim team.  I officially made best friends with a wonderful human being I am still close with today.  I failed my first quiz and learned how to ask for help.  I got to be in choir and band AT THE SAME TIME, a wonder not allowed by schedules before or since.  There were three options in the cafeteria at lunch.  It was a good, if awkward, time.

Since I got through those two calamitous events in my life, you'd think I'd figure I can get through anything, but this story repeats itself for every summer camp, every new math class, and every (seemingly) life-changing decision. (Like the crisis prior to taking the pre-pre-ACT plus career assesment in the 8th grade because I thought that the results were determining the whole rest of my life.  Good times).

So it is no surprise that I sat in a grad school seminar today having all the physical symptoms of an anxiety attack for two hours straight.  The people in the room wanted to talk about the realities of graduate school, some of them tough, some of them great.  But all I heard were the tough, scary parts, especially how unstable things can be in the immediately pre-and-post- grad school life.  Even once I remembered to breathe long enough to hear that they were also saying, "You can do it."  and "It is worth it,"  I couldn't really calm myself down.  I felt like I was heading for a life-changing decision and transition I wasn't ready for.  I saw all of my uncertainty become concrete before my very eyes.  (And when it became concrete, it took the shape of a large, hungry monster staring me down).  I almost left the room.  So yeah, I paid an ever-so-familiar visit to the anxiety spiral, but I'm getting better at this game.

I scribbled in my notebook the entire seminar, attempting to take the mangled up thoughts out and put them elsewhere in order to regain a semblance of function.  In the midst of my scribbles, you will find:

Graduate school is just like going to the third grade.

And sometimes, I actually believe it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Last Week in San Pablo

Because I really don't want to transfer my field journal from this week to my computer, I'm attempting to make it a fun activity and turn it into a blog post.  Luckily, this past week was actually super interesting, so sharing it with the world makes sense!

Monday, May 5- Today, the Técnicos de Atención Primaria de Salud (TAPS- I'm doing my monografía on their community health worker program) had a quiz, so none of the doctors or nurses wanted to go to the community.  Home visits only happen with the TAPS because they know the communities and help save time in actually finding the house or in giving instructions in Kichwa to those who do not know Spanish.  When the TAPS aren't around and people go to the community, it is to go to schools to do eye checks or vaccinate.  I interviewed the TAPS that were not taking their quiz on vital signs (it was oral and two at a time) for my project and waited around for something to do until it was time to lunch and leave, and then I'm pretty sure I slept a lot because I travelled over the weekend and that always exhausts me.

Tuesday, May 6- Sadly, this was my final day with the TAPS, as they have classes Wed-Fri.  Lots of people left to the community- I believe some decided to go and vaccinate for the campaign against influenza.  I chose to visit the community with the obstetrician- my favorite community, where I always seem to end up, Topo, which is also where I thought the puppy I was looking for might be.  We left late in the morning because Dr. Chavez called all the TAPS in for a reunion, but after that, I had my first chocos ever and we were on our way.  We ended up walking a ton and only seeing two patients- it is always this way- the houses way out there are spread out, there is no transportation, and our patients work or are not at home.  I do like walking, though when it rained, that was less fun.  By the time we were done, it was 2pm and I wanted to look for the street puppy I wished to adopt, so we did for a bit.  Not having found her and having missed the bus, Silvia, one of the TAPS, and I hitchhiked back to the subcentro.  Well, it is a bit different than hitchiking because the community knows us as working in the subcentro, but still.  Not having been killed, raped, or kidnapped from my first hitchiking experience, I went and ate some well-earned salchipapas and returned to the subcentro to finish all of my TAPS interviews.
First chochos as I can def eat street food now- so delicious!

Chochos were good fuel for walking through Topo.  We did a lot of walking to get to this gorgeous view- think 30 minutes of pure, pathless hill.

Coca cola and salchipapas at the Heladeria Bamby- because I am living in the 1950s.

Promise it is more delicious than it looks.

Wednesday, May 7-  Today I joined in the campaña de las Americas- a vaccination campaign against the flu and walked around Araque- a community just outside of San Pablo offering vaccines to the people.  It came to my attention that the digitization of vaccination records needs to happen stat out here because most people cannot remember if they have been vaccinated/ have lost the card that is their vaccination records.  Internet, and Internet on phones is common here, so my ideal way of doing this would be to create an online vaccination record that could be accessed through a phone or tablet and mobilized in the field.  Considering the subcentro has like two computers, this probably won't happen anytime soon, but the second they start digitizing records, vaccinations should get first priority.  I stayed in the subcentro all day today, and attended a 3pm meeting about how clinical histories are being filled out incorrectly and in a hurry- the first 3pm meeting we had ever had.  It is a much better time to have a meeting than 8am, because mornings are when everyone arrives to the subcentro.  I also had my last meeting with the Club de Adolocentes.  They planned a field trip and then gave me the most adorable "despedida" of kind words ever.
These are the clinical histories in the subcentro- digitization would be so helpful.

Thursday, May 8- Today was the campaña de las Americas again, this time around San Pablo proper.  It rained on and off and the roads are being rebuilt (really, the fact is more that they destroyed all of the roads simultaneously and may or may not be rebuilding them), so the streets were mostly rivers.  The campaña de las Americas is specifically for children under five, people with chronic illnesses, and people over 65 years of age.  Not finding too many of these, we mostly ate chochos and got a lot of nos.  The people here are also afraid of the vaccine and say it produces the flu in them and can be really really brusque when offered.  Then again, I might not feel super comfortable about taking a vaccine I wasn't really sure about from a stranger (in uniform, but still) in the middle of the street either.  We returned to the subcentro by lunchtime, as is usual for when we go out to the community.  Everyone was really sad I hadn't yet found my street puppy, so Adrianna, my friend and the auxiliary nurse helped me and one of the interns sneak off and search for a couple hours.  (Technically, I didn't have to sneak off, as I had completed my hours, but still...) We didn't find her, but we did get drenched in the rain.  You know, on the positive side. I returned, intending to go home, but the Club de Adultos Mayores was having a fiesta for Mother's Day with delicious sandwiches.  There was music and dancing, and Antony, the hospital leader's seven-year-old-son would not let me sit down.  So we danced around like lunatics, I had a blast, and I forgave him for that one time he stuck a booger on my arm.

Friday, May 9-  My last day at the subcentro came way faster than I could have ever imagined it to.  I got to spend the day in my favorite community again, vaccinating for the campaign.  This day was much more effective because we communicated with the community ahead of time through the community president, as well as while we were there with a bullhorn, and the people came to us, rather than us to them.  Being that they live so far away, they also really likely hadn't been vaccinated, which made remembering easy.  Plus, the subcentro had officially decided to start vaccinating all adults because there is a requirement to finish the quantity of vaccine that had been sent, and we really do not have a large enough elderly population to do so just vaccinating those over 65.  The day flew, and was gorgeous in the morning.  We also crashed a Mother's Day party down the hill at a daycare and vaccinated everyone there in the rain.  Happy Mother's Day!  I got back to the subcentro, said a very sad goodbye to the salchipapas lady, waited around for my supervisor to grade me, gathered my papers, said my last "chao"s, and took a final bus ride away from San Pablo.  I'm really going to miss that place, but hopefully I'll meet the staff again one day, as I've told them all to come to the states a zillion times, and I know I will be back here before I know it.  Plus, we are friends on facebook, which obviously means we are friends forever.
Vaccinating in Topo

Mother's Day Party Crashers!

I didn't have too much time to be sad because I had to work on my term paper and get myself ready- I was going dancing with my friends in Ibarra!  I hopped on the bus by myself- easy as pie now, and when we arrived I ate pizza with the girls.  They made fun of my choice of Neapolitan, saying people here only go out to pizza for the meat, and then we got ourselves all ready to go out.  We danced the night away, of course.

Saturday, May 10- I was up bright and early to meet my friend from Norway I met two weekends ago in Quilotoa in the Otavalo market.  It rained the entire morning, but we still had fun.  I'm so glad I met Kristine and we got to see each other again.

I made a last-minute decision to go see my Ibarra friends again, as I hadn't wanted to leave my extra adoptive family.  So we got together again Saturday night, and first stopped at the hair salon to get me a red streak- I'm such a rebel.  (But actually I figured that as I'm about to be a senior and hopefully someday enter the professional world, the crazy hair window of opportunity is closing fast.  I'm very calculated about my rebellious moves.)  We ate salchipapas- I swear to you I am so unhealthy here- and decided to go dancing again.  You don't have to ask me twice!  It was really sad to leave them Sunday morning, but by afternoon I was home to my Quito family again, and I can't tell you how overjoyed I am to be living there.
About to get really rebellious.

At least it isn't a tattoo, Mom.

Well, I gotta go- I have some serious term paper writing to do.  But this was technically productive procrastination.  It also might be my last blog post before I am in the States again.  I hope you'll stay along for the ride because I hope to do some post-Ecuador reflection- I have so much to say about my time here!  See your lovely faces in person soon!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Riding in the car with Strangers

On January 6th of this year, I made a list of fourteen potential goals for Ecuador.

"Learn to trust others/ believe people are good." -- That was number three.

I came to the right place.

Ecuador is one big trust exercise, and it is no place for old anxieties.  Living in a country where you know no one and cannot drive pretty much guarantees riding in the car with strangers, for example, and that involves a lot of trust.  That they are safe drivers and that they are not going to kidnap you, for example.  Oh, and backseat seatbelts aren't really a thing here.  So almost constantly, I am riding in the car with strangers, often without a seatbelt.  I have progressed from doing this nervously to just getting in the car- so here are some highlights of times I rode in the car with strangers, and how it has helped me learn to trust.

1) In the taxi on the way back from the airport.  In every taxi actually, but this one is when I was sitting on a little jump seat in the middle of the taxi bus with my fellow program participants and I was intensely preoccupied over my seat belt.  Like I really wanted one and I was terrified of what would happen without one.  Oh how times have changed.

Public health/service announcement- you actually should worry about your seatbelt.  Srsly.  But like, sometimes there aren't any.  And then you have to assume the Jesus on the dash is going to protect you from Quito traffic because there really ain't anything else you can do.

2) Being picked up from CIMAS by my host family- and riding home in the neighbor's car because of pico y placa.

3) Almost right away, I went to a birthday party.  My host sister, who I just met that day, drove me.  I distinctly remember thinking- "I am riding in the car with a stranger without a seat belt."  In that moment, many weeks ago, this blog post was born.  After that, my host niece and nephew sang "Libre Soy" Frozen a million times.  Why worry?  Libre soy!

4) Carnaval- from being driven to the coast by Katrina's family to that one time a dude who was a friend of the family friend we were staying with offered to take us to the discoteca and I rode in the bed of the pickup.

5) Waiting for the bus one day to work, probably my first week, two of my coworkers passed by, honked and told me to get in. I did.

6) A traveling musician who may or may not been friends with one of the auxiliary nurses (possibly a stranger to everyone in the car) brought us to a community celebration for work that he wasn't even heading to.  Later, he saw me waiting for the bus and offered to take me to Otavalo, but I declined because I was alone and I'm not stupid.

7) During my weekend in Ibarra, the daughter of the coworker that invited me picked us up from the bus station- she looked about 16, but was actually 23 and a fine driver.  Also in Ibarra- her uncle and father took turns driving this ridiculous basically bus-van filled with all the cousins in this family, once while literally drinking a beer (that they were sharing with the whole van).  I was obviously freaked out by this, but I couldn't exactly jump ship from the people who had invited me over.  Luckily, my coworker (the sister/ wife of this duo) told them to stop.

8) For Easter weekend, I met a doctor who just got back from vacation who lived in Quito.  She was returning the same day I was and offered me a ride, so instead of taking the taxi or the bus, I took a one and a half hour drive with a stranger- for free.  We didn't even run out of things to talk about, which, at this point in my Ecuador time, was my biggest worry.

9) In Quito, I went out with my cousin and I figured it would be safer to come back with him than to take a taxi.  He wasn't exactly a stranger, but it was still an interesting ride- he got lost and of course I don't know where I am going...  He also sat at every red with me as cars went around.  I thought that was very nice of him, as traffic signals are really treated as more of a suggestion here, and I know he thinks so too.

10) The San Pablo police took us out to one of our rural communities one day so that we did not have to catch an infrequent bus and then walk a lot.  I found myself in the bed of a pickup again, sitting on a thermos of anti-rabies vaccines and appreciating the mountains. Talk about strangers- I never even saw the faces of the people who drove me.

I'm sure in my last 2.5ish weeks here (AHHHHH I'm not leaving.  No.  I'm not.) I will continue to take risks, learn, possibly use the subjunctive correctly in conversation, and ride in the car with strangers.  As for goal number three?  I'm making it there, through little things every day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Mini Update

This isn't the blog post I would like it to be, but it is all I have the energy for.

Every morning I wake up at 6:30 and get to the subcentro by 8.  From about 9 to 12 or 1 every day, we do rural community visits- this could be anything from visiting people with disabilities to vaccinating dogs against rabies.  It usually involves a lot of walking, sometimes on steep dirt paths.  I really like it, especially going way out to the communities that are further away from the subcentro and town.  It isn't because I have a big bleeding heart or because I feel like I am actually helping, but because I like walking and way out there every day is something different.

Then I return to the subcentro, get some lunch, and generally have nothing to do.  Sometimes I observe in the doctor's offices, sometimes I try to create my own activities.  Everything I do at the subcentro is up to me.  I choose what I want to do and do it, with almost zero supervision or support- this kind of bothers me- I feel like I need some guidance and that I am an intelligent person who only needs a small amount of direction to get going on a project.  I get that people don't have time to make up activities for me, but, for example, on my own initiative (and my own dime- they don't have funds for this type of activity), I created a super awesome bulletin board on healthy eating.  And I would be willing to do more, or plan activities for the club de adolocentes, or even clean/organize something.  I just don't know what needs to be done and I need to persistently ask before getting answers.  I've been learning a lot about how much I don't assert my own needs during this internship.  A doctor is not going to talk to me unless I barge in and ask my question.  (It isn't really barging, outside of my new host family house, boundaries are less distant here, but it feels like barging, and it is hard to talk to "important" people in bad Spanish.)  I'm working on it.  Being young and female (and Minnesotan?) in this world has given me a seriously warped sense of non-entitlement to the point that yesterday I purchased cookies and specifically asked for vanilla instead of strawberry, but when I was given the strawberry I left and ate them anyway.  What is with me these days?

It is especially hard to talk to important people in bad Spanish when you have lost your voice, and I have.  One of the many plusses of the subcentro is working in close contact with many doctors who really like me, so one examined me and gave me free medication. (The Subcentro always gives free medication- but you have to live in the service area to get free care.) The diagnosis was amigdalitis bacterial, which translates to tonsillitis.  I have literally never heard of anyone having tonsillitis in real life, and I feel more like I have a cold that just keeps hanging on.  I'm very respectful of the doctors professional opinion, but we don't do throat cultures in the subcentro, so there is just no way to know for sure. If I have a bacterial infection of any kind, my free azythromacin should knock it right out, but it does not appear that it is going to.  Maybe I have an allergy to Otavalo?

Anyway, with tonsillitis and all the walking and eight-hour days, (I work 30 hours per week, but I like to travel on Fridays) I always want to come home and sleep.  I feel bad that I am not adventuring or spending time with my family, but even homework is hard to complete.  I try not to be too hard on myself- I am doing a lot.  Plus, even though it is not all fun and games, I am working with Community Health Workers (here it is a brand new career called Técnicos en Atención Primaria) on the daily, and that is only my dream come true.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Just My Luck

Today, after our guides decided weather conditions were too bad for the planned parasailing adventure of the morning, I thought to myself, "I guess it is just not in the cards for me this weekend..."

And then I promptly mentally slapped myself back to reality.  It seems in this country you have developed an overly high standard for an excellent weekend.  Dude, you had ice cream yesterday.  Twice.  In the United States would be like the best weekend of the month!  You are in a truck, on a mountain, with new friends, seeing a famous lake you read about in a book.  Not to mention it is a gorgeous day, and the family of a coworker has taken you in just for the heck of it to show you a good time.  Of course it is in the cards for you!

So yes, I did have a bit of bad luck this weekend, consisting of three major issues:
1) My travel buddy got the amazing opportunity to go on a weeklong trip with her host bro because she doesn't have to work at her internship this week.  And, as thrilled as I was for her- and I am, how cool of an opportunity!- I was a bit disappointed to cancel my travel plans and have nothing to do.
2) Someone squished my camera on the buseta, rendering the screen and therefore the camera (because for some reason they did not also put a little eye window on Kodak EasyShares all the way back in 2007) useless.
3) And then I didn't get to go parasailing and probably will not be able to because all my weekends have been filled and I am guessing there is no parasailing in Cuenca.

And to myself I say, boo-hoo.  Therefore, this post is about what an AMAZING weekend I had anyway, and just how lucky I am.

1) How cute is it that my coworker called my host sister (they are friends) to invite me to spend the weekend adventuring with her daughters just upon hearing of my predicament???
2) I ate a fish.  Like one that was fried with scales and eyes and everything.  And yes they laughed at me because I didn't like it THAT much, but I still ate it, almost all of it, by myself.
3) I went to my first ever Ecuadorian party that was just of young people.  The daughters are on a rock climbing team, and their trainer had a little dinner grill out.  It was a strange dynamic because he is 33 and acted like one of them, but otherwise it felt like when I hang out with my friends in college, and I really missed that atmosphere.  It is lots less common here because people live with their parents until they are married and also for me because I do not have Ecuadorian family members my age, so it is hard to meet people my age.
4) At this grill out, I ate a hot dog.  Well, two.  I actually missed hot dogs.  Also popcorn and mate.  Popcorn and mate deserve their own celebratory blog post, practically.
5) Ice cream count of the weekend- three.  Due to generosity, I only paid for one.
These are Ibarra's famous ice creams. They put the ingredients (just sugar, fruit, and egg whites) in a big copper pan and spin it around until it freezes. It is delicious and special to the region.

6) I watched my first horror movie.  Yes, first.  Ever.  (I may have been avoiding them on purpose...) And then I went to bed in a strange house with strange noises and slept like a baby.
7) I got to see the most beautiful view of Ibarra- and the famous Yahuarcocha, which translates to "Lake of Blood." This is where the Caranquis fought off the takeover of the Incas (and lost quite badly).  They say that the body count was over 30,000, and the lake turned red with blood. Today it was just a pretty lake, though.


8) I saw the coolest environmentally friendly house ever- one of their relatives built it himself, bit by bit.  It was built directly out of items in the environment, part of the plumbing system uses rainwater, and it definitely has a lookout on top where you can chill in a hammock.

9) There they set up a little discoteca for us because they know how much I like to dance.  Everyone was a bit embarrassed movin' it to reggaton at 3pm, but really every weekend needs a bit of bachata, so I'm happy about that.
10) I made Ecuadorian friends my age- lots of them, considering the nieces and nephews of my coworker also came along.  They are super nice people and hopefully we will hang out again before I head back to the U.S.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Un Día en San Pablo

Sooo maybe some of you, like my mother, are wondering what I'm actually doing all day at this mysterious internship of mine. So in order to show you, and to not have to complete a different field journal tonight, I am going to take you through today (not a typical day, just today) living in Otavalo and working in San Pablo.

6:00am- Some mysterious neighbor's roosters start crowing.  I haven't enough sleep, or maybe I'm used to them, so I don't hear them.
6:15am- My alarm goes off-I hit snooze, giving myself a lecture on how I actually have to shower this morning.
6:30am- I actually wake up, take a shower and head down to breakfast.
7:10am- Breakfast is on the table, like it always is.  It is a cup of hot water with a plate over it so it stays hot, a glass of juice of a mystery fruit- it is always the same fruit, but I still don't know what it is, kiwi (so much better than the usual papaya), and bread.  I always hope it will be eggs.  It is almost never eggs.
7:25am- I leave the house to go to the bus stop.  It is a short walk, but to get there I have to cross two busy roads.  Since crosswalks mean nothing in this country and pedestrians do not have the right of way, I'm getting pretty darn good at judging when is an appropriate time to enter traffic, and when is definitely not.
7:30-something am- I hop on the "buseta" which is a little bus that says "escolar" on the side of it- it takes a group of people to San Pablo every day for the same price as the regular bus with fewer stops.
8am- I arrive at SCS San Pablo and greet the street dogs that have made this place their home.  I put my stuff down and wait around for people who are late to get here.
8:15am- I watch Dr. Chavez, the person in charge of the subcentro, give a talk to all the patients lined up outside about how they should call ahead to get an appointment.  This doesn't usually happen, so I wonder why he is just telling this group.  I think, good luck with that one.  He also reminds everyone of the large campaign going on this Saturday where the provincial government is giving an educative talk about uterine cancer and those women who attend will be eligible for free PAP smears, free treatment if needed, and lab results much faster than usual.
8:30am- I help out in giving the people who called ahead "turnos," which is the closest it gets to an appointment here.
9:15am- One of the doctors, Dr. Gloria, is asked to make a house call.  While we usually go to the community every morning to do school screenings or check on the elderly, pregnant women who didn't come to their checkups, or those with disabilities, a house call is unusual.  We visit a woman who has some form of bone cancer who has gotten sick on top of this.  She lives in an elaborate, brightly-painted house with her extended family not too far from the subcentro.  Her son-in-law brings us to her in their car, and I watch the doctor give her a checkup.  She seems to just have something viral, but she is prescribed pain medicine and nebulizers.  The family brings us juice and bread as we visit.  I can't help but compare this visit to the visits we pay to the elderly in Topo, a rural and mostly indigenous community.  There, many elderly are abandoned and receive no family care at all- some cannot hear or speak or can barely walk.  Not twenty minutes away lives a woman who could be just like them- socioeconomic status is the only thing that separates them, and I don't have to look back to my experiences in the US to find disparity.
10:20am- We arrive back to the subcentro. The doctors are already in their appointments and I do not want to interrupt.  I have observed enough pre and post consult for my entire life, so I sit down at a little desk and do some planning of my final term paper on my experiences here.
11:40am- When I get sick of that/ observing in the post-consult a bit, I go to see if Adrianna needs help- she's the auxiliary who runs the front desk- she doesn't, but she shows me the room that is supposed to be for the nutritionist, which the subcentro doesn't have right now.  Instead, this is where they do TB control.  I look through a book on sputum tests that they have done on suspected cases and read a flipbook on drug-resistant TB.
12:15am- Dr. Lorena, the other doctor completing her one obligatory year of rural rotation, has been asked to do a presentation about drugs at the police academy down the street.  I go with her to observe yet another facet of community health promotion the subcentro does.  The visit is interesting because I get to re-experience 10th grade health class in Spanish but also because I do not think I have ever been in a room with that many men my age before.  I know that women can be police officers, but do they have to go to a different school or something?  We are invited to eat with the instructors, so we have a great meal, and then head back to the subcentro.
2pm- I catch Dr. Arotingo (He introduced himself to me as Jose, but everyone always calls him Dr. Arotingo.) on the way into an appointment and ask him if I can observe.  Dr. Arotingo is probably my favorite doctor at the subcentro.  He is also a student, already a general practitioner, but doing his specialization in family medicine.  He specifically invited me to observe his appointments, and he is very good with his patients.  Plus, his family medicine specialty calls for looking at the whole patient- including their family structure and household relations, which is basically social work and a bit of mental health work.  He also always tries to speak English with me, and even though his accent is hilarious, he knows a lot.  Today, one of his patients is more comfortable speaking in Kichwa than Spanish, so they do the appointment in Kichwa.  Dr. Arotingo is indigenous and the only doctor at the subcentro that speaks Kichwa.  I think understanding and being understood is SO important to the medical encounter, and I am happy we have at least one Kichwa-speaking doctor for our significant indigenous population
3:40pm- I leave the consultorio to try to find the club de adultos mayores (Senior club), but I learn that all of them decided not to have club today because we had a surprise activity yesterday.  Since I have worked way over my hours this week, I decide to leave a little early and go walking to find some food to feed the "new dog of the subcentro."  She is the sweetest thing I've ever seen and she is afraid of everything.  She is also very obedient, which makes me think she maybe had owners.  The subcentro already has two dogs, and we feed them and they come with us on our journeys.  This dog has recently, very tentatively, joined them, so when they got fed today, she got nothing.  Logically, I know that it is futile and counterproductive to feed the street dogs, but I decided I'd rather be the kind of person that feeds the street dogs than that doesn't, so I buy my new friend two rolls (couldn't find meat), and head for the bus.
4:45pm- The 4:30 bus never comes, so I spend 25 minutes at the bus stop. Luckily it is beautiful and the most important item on my agenda for tonight is going to get (yet another) $3 manicure with my host sister.  Oh yeah, and just a bit of work finding a faculty mentor for my summer research program, deciding how I'm going to write my term paper, and planning the trips I'll be taking for the just a little bit over a month I have left here.

My head always hits the pillow hard when I finally get back in my bed in Otavalo, but I'm pretty happy about that.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Song lyric Some Days: Study Abroad Edition- Mariah Translates

So, I still need to give you a deeper look at my new job and my new family... but today I'm feeling lazy.

And how very, very applicable that is to the theme I have chosen instead.  You see, a coworker drove me home from work today, and he put in a CD that included "The Lazy Song" by Bruno Mars.  Since it was one of the first songs in English I'd heard in a long time (my other host parents weren't so hip and with it), I started musing about what it would be like if I were asked to translate.  Tonight, after dinner, surprise, surprise, my host sister put on the song and asked me what it meant- I only translated the chorus, but here is an imagined version- translated as best as I would be able to on the spot and without a dictionary (I promise, I used nothing, which is why it is sometimes terrible) and back-translated literally for maximum comedic effect for those who don't speak Spanish.  (Mariah translates- because google translate is so five minutes ago.)

"The Lazy Song"- Original Lyrics

Today I don't feel like doing anything
I just wanna lay in my bed
Don't feel like picking up my phone
So leave a message at the tone
'Cause today I swear I'm not doing anything.

I'm gonna kick my feet up
Then stare at the fan
Turn the TV on, throw my hand in my pants
Nobody's gonna tell me I can't

I'll be lounging on the couch,
Just chillin' in my snuggie
Click to MTV, so they can teach me how to dougie
'Cause in my castle I'm the freaking man

Oh, yes I said it
I said it
I said it 'cause I can

I said it.
I said it.
I said it because I can.


Tomorrow I'll wake up, do some P90X
Meet a really nice girl, have some really nice sex
And she's gonna scream out: 'This is Great' (Oh my God, this is great!)

I might mess around, and get my college degree
I bet my old man will be so proud of me
But sorry pops, you'll just have to wait


No, I ain't gonna comb my hair
'Cause I ain't going anywhere
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
I'll just strut in my birthday suit
And let everything hang loose
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah


Hoy no quiero hacer nada.
Solo quiero descansar en mi cama.
No quiero contestar mi telefono.
Entonces puedes dejar un mensaje.
Hoy te prometo que no voy a hacer nada.

Voy a poner mis pies arriba.
Y mirar la cosa- no se como se dice- que se usa para hacer viento cuando hace calor?
Prender la tele, y- poner mi mano en mis pantalones...?
Nadie puede decirme que no puedo.

Voy a descansar en la sofa
En mi snuggie- ustedes saben que es un snuggie?
Voy a mirar MTV para que ellos puedan enseñarme como bailar el "dougie"
Porque en mi castillo soy el hombre más importante

Yo lo dije
lo dije
Lo dije porque puedo

Mañana voy a despertarme, hacer ejercicios P90X
Conocer una chica muy simpatica, y tener relaciones sexuales buenas...?
Y ella va a gritar: "Esto es lo mejor!"
... siento incomoda...

Tal vez voy a terminar la universidad
Creo que esto haría mi papi sentir muy orgulloso
Pero lo siento, papa, simplemente tienes que esperar

No voy a cepillar mi pelo
Porque no voy a irme a nigun lugar
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
Solo voy a andar desnudo puedo traducir esto
Si, si, si, si, si, si, si, si, si, si


Today I do not want to do anything.
I only want to rest in my bed.
I do not want to answer my telephone.
So you can leave a message.
Today I promise you that I will not do anything.

I am going to put my feet up.
And watch the thing- I don't know how to say it- that they use to make wind when it is hot?
Turn on the TV, and... put my hand in my (multiple pairs of) pants?
No one can tell me that I cannot.

I will rest on the couch
In my snuggie- do you guys know what a snuggie is?
I am going to watch MTV in order that they can teach me how to dance the dougie.
Because in my castle I am the most important man.

I said it.
I said it.
I said it because I can.

Tomorrow I am going to wake up, do exercises P90X
Meet a very nice girl and have good sexual relations...?
And she is going to shout: "This is the best!"
... I feel uncomfortable...

Maybe I will finish the university
I think this would make my papi feel very proud
But sorry, papa, simply you have to wait

I am not going to comb my hair
Because I am not going to go to any place
No, etc
I am only going to walk around naked
...I can't translate that...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

What. Just. Happened?

So, if you have been paying attention on Facebook, you may have noticed that a lot is going on right now, and, as you probably caught only snippets, you may be wondering what just happened.  Don't worry, I am too.

In the past few weeks so many things have changed so significantly I'm not really processing all of it as real.  I want to do some significant blogging, but for now, just the key points of what happened the week between March 24 and April 1.

1) What feels like ages ago, but was really two Mondays ago, I had to make the hardest decision I have to date- how to spend my summer.  I was fortunate enough to be selected into two summer programs, the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Minnesota and the Public Health Summer Enrichment Program at the University of Michigan. I tell you this not to brag about how special I am, but to illustrate the agony of this day.  Headed to the rainforest at 10pm, having been accepted to the public health program just on Friday with a Monday decision deadline, taxiing around the city buying bus tickets and finalizing trip details, eating only bread because my host parents were unexpectedly called away, I was not having the most zen time.  I skyped with a friend, my parents, a representative from both programs, chatted on facebook with more friends, took breaks to fold laundry and think, visualized what I wanted my summer to look like, and even flipped a coin.  Up to the last moment, I wrote four emails- the email saying "Yes, I will be a part of the program" and the email saying "Thank you but I will not be participating" was fully composed for each.  In the end, I chose the McNair Scholars Program and I will be doing research this summer- still doing public health work, but closer to home, in a way that I hope will be more personalized and offer more long-term support than the other program.  I'll keep you updated.

2) And then I went to the Amazon.  After my tough decision day, we took the night bus landing in Coca, an oil-drilling town a couple hours from Lago Agrio, where we enter the rainforest.  We visited my friend Katrina's host relatives in Coca, then headed for a four day tour of Cuyabeno.  Honestly some of the best days I've had.  I will hopefully reflect on the rainforest soon, but here are a few pictures of some highlights.

Fishing for pirañas

Making friends with a tarantula that decided that the seating area was a cool place to hang

Making pan de yucca

The group motor canoeing the Cuyabeno River- motor canoe is how to get basically everywhere- and also see the animals

3)  After a surreal, beautiful, I-never-wanted-to-leave weekend without any electricity, much less Internet, it was time to pack my bags and say goodbye to my host family in Quito.  There wasn't any time at all to process this, as I got back Sunday and left early Monday morning.  These people are like my family by blood that i have known for years.  I am only comforted knowing I will see them again.

4)  And then I moved to Otavalo.  I met a new family, which consists so far of my host mom, two older host sisters, Belen and Fernanda, and the son of Fernanda, Pablito, who is four, as well as NINE poodles- their two dogs just had puppies! ADORABLE!  I also have a host dad, but he works far away and is only around on weekends.  Fernanda works at the Subcentro de Salud where I work, so we spend a lot of time together, and Pablito is absolutely adorable and SO excited that I am in their family.   Even though I miss my Quito family, I am excited to be here.

Mama poodle- Chispa- she is so sweet.

Mountain view from close to my house.

5) On Tuesday, I started work at Subcentro de Salud San Pablo.  It is the main health center for San Pablo and the surrounding rural communities.  I shadow the nurses and go with the doctors on rural visits.  I also am learning all about a program called Técnicos de Atención Primaria, which gives people from the community basic medical training.  It is like a more formal version of the Community Health Workers that I learned about in International Public Health.  I am super interested in community health, so this works perfectly for me.  I also get to be a part of the Teen Club and the Senior Club, each meet once a week at the Subcentro to do various activities.  So far I am really loving it.

The Subcentro has dogs- Toby

And Bobby.

This is where I work guys!

I am learning so much here- about taking advantage of every opportunity, about trying new things and remembering that to this day I am still learning (so what if you hate camping and the rainforest has spiders the size of your face- you want to see it? Live your dreams, you might love it) about being comfortable with uncertainty (which is everything here) and moving forward even in that uncertainty, about trusting strangers- not too much of course- and taking chances (two different families have opened their doors and their hearts to me, and so far, it has gone swimmingly) about myself- about what I can offer and how much I have left to learn.  It is cliche and sappy, but it is true, so I am saying it.  I am ever so grateful to be here, and for the moments where it does not seem real, where the decisions are too hard for one person alone, where I just need someone to listen, and so many more things, I am ever so grateful to have you guys!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Five Images of (Whitish) Womanhood In Ecuador

1) I am walking down the street with my blonde friends, "Hola Princesas," a group of men calls to us.  "Hi."  "Hello!"  "Hello Beautifuls."  Without them, I have not been catcalled once.  I wonder what this means, or if it means anything, and what it is like to be an Ecuadorian woman in this city.

2) During Carnaval-  The host aunt of my friend is trying to set me up with the 23 year old guy who lives where we are staying.  We are going to the Discoteca.  "Take her by the arm.  Take her by the arm!"  she says. "Tell her, you are my property for the night."

This was funny for a while, but she couldn't have picked a better phrase to set me off.  “I will never, never, never, never, never, never be anyone’s property, including when I am married.”  I struggle to express in rapid Spanish.  I wonder what they think of my flash of feminism, and if many young women here think it is normal to be, or want to be, the "property" of men.

3) The streets are filled with flowers- International Women's Day is a big deal here.  I am wished well wherever I go, and the next day at a party, a mariachi band dedicates their performance to all the women.  They say they believe it should be Women's Day every day.  But the activism associated with the day in the international community is largely absent here.

4) When going anywhere with men, they often let me go through the door first.  This really bothers me and my friend Sarah, not because chivalry is awful and sexist, but because usually these people are leading us on a tour or something, and we have no idea where to go.  It is a very inefficient system.

5) I am wearing a skirt, so you can see the severe mosquito bites on my lower leg, already two weeks old, but pretty awful looking.  "Do not scratch," my host mom instructs me, "You don't want scars.  Men won't like them."  My body is dotted with probably hundreds of old scars, but I don't think to be insecure until much later.  Instead, I say, "If they don't like it, they are not important."  I was going to say, "If they don't like it, they can't have it," but that felt a little inappropriate for a family gathering. I spend the afternoon talking to a young man at the party about racism, cultural differences, and our respective educations. He offers to take me to a museum, so I guess he didn't mind the mosquito bites. He is the first Ecuadorian man in 8 weeks to have even a remotely intellectual conversation with me. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fotos on fotos- Baños, Ecuador

For my mother to show her friends who are not friends with me on facebook.

A White and Latina Woman who Doesn't Speak Spanish Fluently Studying in Latin America

Note-  I wrote this piece for a weekly required diary for my Spanish class here.  It is posted both in the original Spanish and in English because I feel it speaks to the identity issues I begin to explore in the piece.  This is the English translation.  When I was translating it to English, I became aware of how much more deeply I could probe these ideas and therefore how far I have to go in my dominance of Spanish.  On the other hand, I feel that the Spanish version is much more elegant and expresses more directly what I wish to say, even though I was thinking a lot in English when I wrote the original.  I will observe this while keeping in mind that I also thought I was a great writer in English in the fifth grade.
The translation is almost exact, for the purposes of communicating how I write in Spanish, as well as for the sake of my time.  (Hi finals week!  Should probs go back to that paper now.)

My skin now is darker than when I arrived.  My hair is dark and long and thick, my eyes brown and small as always.  I always say  I look more like my self identity- which is to say, Latina, Mexican- in the summer. 

Only one fourth of me is Mexican.  I will never speak the language like a native and my parents and grandparents do not speak Spanish either.  I grew up in a suburb full of white people.  I was the second darkest in my Kindergarten class, even though I have white skin.  In high school, there were more people of color, but I didn’t consider myself to be automatically a part of them.  My Mexican great-grandparents met in Minnesota.  My grandfather changed his name from Miguel to Mike.  But I remember days with my big family, with tamales and love, and I know the history of my Mexican family, and I want to return there and learn more.  I will never forget my mother insisting “You are Mexican, you are Mexican” almost every day of my childhood.  Not German, not Irish or Norwegian (which I also am), Mexican.  And I am.  But it is complicated.

Images of Ethnicity in Ecuador:

“Where are you from?” he asks.  The question is easy and normal here because there are many people passing through, and obviously I’m not from Ecuador- when my skin does not give it away, my Spanish does.
“The United States,”  I answer.
“But where are you from originally?” More specifically?
“But where are your grandparents from?”  Oh, that’s what this is about, I think.  He has noticed I look Latina and wants an explanation.
“But you aren’t Chinese?” I guessed wrong, apparently.  Goodness, this again…

The next morning in the hostel, a man speaks to me in rapid Spanish.  I only understand one word- habitaciones (rooms).  He repeats it again.  When I look at him funny, he says, “Oh, you don’t work here!  I’m sorry.”  In less than 24 hours I have been Chinese and Ecuadorian.

But when speaking about the topic of my ethnicity and the interest the whole world has in it, my friend says, “I don’t understand.  You just look white to me.”  But other students have asked me about my ethnicity. And no one asks if you just look white.

Is What They See What I Am?

It is a bad thing that many mixed people have to explain to people (mostly white people, and for me, mostly males) why they look “different” or really, why they are not white; that people think it is okay to ask super personal questions to strangers just because they aren’t white.  But the thing that bothers me the most isn’t the questions.  It is when the other person tells me what I am.  It is more than that I want to self-identify.  I think I want to appear Mexican because sometimes I feel like it is the only thing that I have of this part of my identity.  Clearly this isn’t true because the identity of and with my family exists independently of appearances (for example, my cousin is blonde)  but sometimes I feel like I am not Mexican at all, except in the sense that my appearance belongs to my Mexican family.  I cling to this.

So when someone tells me that I don’t look Mexican, of course I do not like it.  Mostly it is because it is none of their business.  I’m not sure why people feel like they have to comment on the appearance of others all the time, especially in regards to race and ethnicity.  But really it is because I want to self identify— AND I want to look like my self-identification. 

Why?  Why does it matter what other people think?  Because it is important.  In the world of race, a social construction in the first place, the only thing that is important is how you look.  If I look like a person from China, people are going to treat me like I am Chinese.  If I look like a white person, I will receive all of the privileges of being white.  The way that other people see me is part of who I am, though I do not like it sometimes.  My identity cannot just be my self-identification, even though that is confusing enough.  It also includes the opinions of other people. I am reminded of this often here, as a white and latina woman who doesn’t speak Spanish fluently studying in Latin America.  It makes me think a lot.

Una Blanca, Latina Mujer que no Habla Español con Fluidez Estudiando en América Latina.

Note-  I wrote this piece for a weekly required diary for my Spanish class here.  I am posting it in the original Spanish because I feel it speaks to the identity issues I begin to explore here.  Note that often when I write in Spanish, I am really translating from English in my head, that there were no fewer than fifteen mistakes fixed by my professor before I posted this, and that while a great many of my white friends will be able to read this original version, my Mexican family will not.   A translation is available above.

Mi piel ahora es más oscura que cuando llegué.  Mi cabello es oscuro y largo y grueso, mis ojos son marrones y pequeños como siempre.  Siempre digo que en los veranos me veo más como la forma en que me identifico- es decir, latina, mexicana.  

Solamente un cuarto de mi misma es mexicana.  Nunca voy a hablar la lengua como nativa, y mis padres y mis abuelos tampoco hablan español.  Crecí en un suburbio donde vivían muchas personas blancas.  Yo era la segunda más oscura en mi clase de Kindergarten, aunque tengo la piel blanca.  En la escuela secundaria habían más personas de color, pero yo no me consideré automáticamente una parte de ellos.  Mis bisabuelos mexicanos se conocieron en Minnesota.  Mi abuelo cambió su nombre, “Miguel,” a “Mike.”  Pero recuerdo días con mi familia grande, con tamales y amor, y sé la historia de mi familia mexicana, y quiero regresar y aprender más.  Nunca voy a olvidar a mi madre insistiendo “Eres mexicana, eres mexicana” casi todos los días de mi niñez.  No alemana, no irlandesa o noruega, mexicana.  Y soy.  Pero es complicado.  

Imágenes de etnicidad en Ecuador: 

“¿De donde eres?” pregunta él.  La pregunta es fácil y normal aquí porque hay muchas personas viajando siempre, y obviamente no soy de Ecuador- cuando mi piel no lo revela, lo hace mi español. 
“Los estados unidos,” contesto.
“¿Pero de donde eres originalmente?” Más especifico? 
“¿Pero de donde son tus abuelos?”  Ah, eso es de  lo que se trata, pienso yo, él ha notado parezco latina y quiere una explicación. 
“Pero no eres china?” Supuse mal, aparentemente.  Híjole… esto otra vez…

Y la próxima mañana en el hostal, un hombre me habla en español rápido.  Solo entiendo una palabra- habitaciones.  Él repite otra vez.  Cuando le miro a él con extrañeza, dice- “Oh, no trabajas aquí- lo siento.” En menos de 24 horas, era china y ecuatoriana.  
Hablando sobre el tópico de mi etnicidad y el interés que todo el mundo aquí tiene en ella- mi amiga dice, “No entiendo.  Sólo pareces blanca  para  mí.”  Pero otros estudiantes me han preguntado sobre mi raza o etnicidad, y nadie pregunta si solo pareces blanca.  

Es lo Que Ven lo Que Soy?

Es una cosa mala que muchas personas mixtas tengan que explicar a personas (principalmente personas blancas, y para mi, hombres) porque parecen “diferente” o porque no son blancos; que personas piensan que está bien hacer preguntas super personales a desconocidos solamente porque no son blancos.  Pero la cosa que me molesta mucho no es las preguntas.  Es cuando una otra persona me dice quien soy.  Es más que quiero autoidentificarme.  Pienso que quiero que aparezca mexicana porque a veces siento que es la única cosa de esta parte de mi identidad que tengo.  Claramente, no es verdad porque la identidad de y con mi familia existe independientemente de las apariencias (mi prima es rubia, por ejemplo) pero a veces siento que no soy mexicana nada, excepto en que mi apariencia física pertenezco a mi familia mexicana.  Me aferro a esta.  

Entonces cuando alguien me dice que no parezco mexicana, no me gusta.  Principalmente es porque no es asunto de ellos.  No estoy segura de por qué las personas sienten que tienen que opinar sobre la apariencia de alguien todo el tiempo, especialmente en lo que se refiere a la raza y el origen étnico.  Pero en realidad es porque quiero autoidentificarme—y quiero aparecer como mi autoidentificación.  

¿Por qué? ¿Por qué me importa lo que piensan otras personas?  Porque es importante.  En el mundo de la  raza, que es un construcción social, la única cosa importante es como pareces.  Si parezco como una persona de China, las personas van a tratarme como si fuera china.  Si parezco como una persona blanca,  voy a recibir todos los privilegios de ser blanca.  Entonces la manera en que otras personas me ven es parte de lo que soy, aunque no me gusta a veces.  Mi identidad no puede ser solo de mi autoidentificacion, aunque esto es bastante confuso para mí, pero también incluye las opiniones de otras personas.  Me recuerda esto a menudo aquí, como una blanca, latina mujer que no habla español con fluidez, que estudia en América Latina.  Me hace pensar mucho.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Define "House"

It has been almost a week since I got back to Quito from my viaje de Carnaval, but we've been pretty busy, from class trips, to more birthday parties, to bumming around gringolandia (okay, so I guess that was a non-busy choice), so I'm just now getting to everything I want to say.

Carnaval was a BLAST- I hung out with my good friend Katrina's super fun host family, saw some beautiful beaches, rivers, cute little towns (and bumping Atacames), and lots of gorgeous costal scenery.  The coast is completely different from Quito.  Quito is a sprawling city- I'm sure I haven't seen all of it, or even driven across the entirety of it, yet.  The buildings aren't tall, and I'm still not sure how it fits all of the stores and the people it does.  It is all concrete and pavement, dominated by apartments, houses, and individual tiendas (the bakery, the fruit store, the haircut place). It is usually 75 degrees and it rains nearly every day.

The coast is out of the mountains and therefore hot and tropical and humid and probably what you imagine when I say I am studying on the equator.  We hung out in little towns, with houses made of concrete or wood, often risen because of snakes, surrounded by grass and dirt, far apart from one another.  We spent most of our time in rural areas or tourist-y, happening beach towns.

We stayed the first night with Katrina's host grandparents and the second night with a friend of the family.  The host grandparents live on a finca de arboles (tree farm), and getting there required driving down a path one vehicle could barely fit through (as we were entering, another car was trying to leave, so that was a little adventure).  The friends live on a finca de camarones (a shrimp farm, made of shallow pools)  and the only way to get there is by boat.  We parked our car in the cute little town close by and hopped into the family vehicle, a medium sized motor boat (think super huge canoe mixed with speed boat).

Katrina's grandparents' house was made of wood on stilts a story high, with a concrete bathroom with running water (usually) out back. The family friends lived in a house made of palm and wood, risen a few feet off the ground, with a porch, and a bathroom with running water around the back (but attached to the house).  In reality, both houses were beautiful, in gorgeous areas, especially the one on the shrimp farm- there was a beautiful porch around the entire front of the house (which was also the hallway) where you could look out over the river.  The food was great (and free!) and I'm so grateful to the families for hosting me.  Things were clean and simple.

And hot, and humid, and buggy, and the first day there was no electricity at all which meant no running water because of the way the system works at the grandparents' house.  Openings in the houses, whether windows without glass or simple separations between the boards on which we stood (remember, they are raised and sometimes felt unsturdy) provided the only relief from the heat, while allowing entire extended families of bugs to come in and hang out with us at night.  Decoration was old calendars and posters. (Including the head scratcher in the family friends' kitchen from what looked like a swimsuit magazine featuring a topless woman sitting backwards on a horse, which was proudly displayed above the dining table.)  Entertainment included television (at the house with electricity) and watching the chickens that had free run of the yard in both places (as well as all the beauty that the surrounding nature had to offer, but there were some points in that trip where I did not want to see any more nature).

While I'm not the kind of girl whose life depends on wifi, I'm ashamed to say that I had some problems way out there in the country.  Besides phones and television (which everyone seemed to have nice, newer models of), I felt like I had stepped back in time.  Way back.  I used to read the Little House on the Prairie books.  One of them described in great detail the building of a house made out of finished lumber (which was special, as they usually used logs).  I swear Katrina's grandparents' house was a more colorful version. (The inside walls were painted vibrantly.)  While I was super grateful to be where we were, I could never imagine living there.

At Katrina's grandparents, when we arrived, the electricity had been out for who knows how long.  No one seemed the least bit worried, not even about the food in the refrigerator or accessing running water, much less lights or music or television.  We bathed in the stream that night with one of the girls who lives in the house as if it were routine.  While there, I came face to face with the fact that people don't just do their laundry in a stream in theory, but rather in actual practice.

At the next house, we went to a party with the young people in the family.  I was astounded at how beautiful and made up the daughter about our age got before we went.  I was sweating and covered in insect repellent and I couldn't do my hair with all the tangles from the car and the boat and I couldn't even think about putting on makeup. We were (in my mind) so much camping that appearances couldn't possibly matter.  But we weren't camping.  We were staying in someone's house.  I had to keep reminding myself of that, and not, perhaps, that we were hanging out in the treehouse of my childhood dreams.

(Okay, so while we were staying in someone's house, we were also camping, but I digress.)

But houses keep bugs out, and they always have running water, and they have more furniture than a table and chairs and beds, and you can't see through the floor or the outside walls in houses.  Houses don't have hammocks on the inside.  Houses don't make me feel like I am deeper in the wilderness than I have ever, ever been.  This, most certainly, is not a house, said the Mariah that was sweating and getting eaten alive, somewhere between bathing in a stream for the first time and experiencing a river driveway.

I mostly got that Mariah to shut up and enjoy the beautiful experience, all while reflecting and overanalyzing because I'm pretty sure there is no version of myself that does not do that.

It would be really easy to sit there and say that people living in houses without glass windows who bathe and do laundry in the stream are poor, and that they don't live in houses- more like shacks.  It would be easy to turn up our noses and be judgmental and then take pity on them.  (See the above attitude if you do not believe me.)  However, this would be a huge error.

It has become clear to me with the observation of the fact that I cannot define a house (at least not without turning to a very Western-and in particular, suburban, Minnesotan-perspective) I certainly cannot attempt to define poverty.  However, from what I could gather, the families that lived in these houses were far from poor by any standard.  They had what they needed- and more- and they chose a country lifestyle in a place where it makes sense to build raised houses with cracks in the walls.  The fincas are a family business, being next door neighbors with nature a way of life.  Like many things are (and many things aren't) here, it is just different.

I'm not sure about how poverty came to be defined anyway.  It seems to me that poverty should be when people don't have what they need to live healthfully, but the idea of being poor or not poor is all the sudden wrapped up in having houses that meet a certain definition, in consumption, in a whole bunch of stuff I don't really understand to this day.  And then I am sitting here in my house in Quito, which looks like an old house in St. Paul, and judging and deciding the economic class of my host family based on the things they have that fit my definition of house, of poor, and of not poor.

And when I was on the coast, attempting to fit my new experiences with my old definitions, I discovered that I can't define house, and I can't define poor, and more than that, I have no business to be doing so.

(However, some questions remain.  If money makes the world go round- and it does- then definitions of poverty certainly matter.  What would happen if we all adopted the lifestyle of "buen vivir," living in harmony with each other, ourselves, and nature, consuming only what we need to survive?  I have seen it exist here, in a couple who organic farms.  That, to me, does not equal poor, even though the people I met who live this way only earn $5 to $6 every week.  Is this sustainable?  Can it exist everywhere (you know, if people sucked less)?  Does this render social classes and poverty meaningless?  Certainly not, I do not think.  Even if I have no business defining houses or poverty, being working class, for example, is a huge part of certain people's identities, and even if a social construct, obviously has very real implications.  What about social classes around the world?  I tried to talk to my host mother about this, but did not get very far- in my world, where everyone is "middle class," how could I?- And even though Ecuador has the same currency in the United States and many of the same jobs and expenses, it is even impossible to compare economics this way.  The minimum salary is under $400 per month, but living costs are less, but a toothbrush costs the same, but bread costs next to nothing, and anything with a U.S. brand costs double.  Money makes the world spin around for sure... And also my head.  I'm thankful I've always had a safe place to rest it, whether protected from the cold in Minnesota, in a tent in a house on the Ecuadorian coast, and many places in between.)