Friday, February 28, 2014

Un Viaje- Wednesday

Returning to Quito on Tuesday didn't mean our viaje was over.  We had the opportunity to visit a primary healthcare clinic- Centro de Salud Guamaní, on our final day.  Guamaní is a part of a network of primary healthcare clinics in the furthest southern part of Quito.  They handle cases at the least complicated level we saw on our viaje- think of a really big doctor's office.  They boast four general practitioners, but also offer homeopathy, electromagnetic therapy and neurotherapy.

First, we toured the complex.  It is small, but has a pharmacy, which is free with the healthcare law.  My favorite part, however, was the large garden that the subcentro has, maintained by women with lower financial resources in the community, who harvest the food to eat in their own homes.

Much of the work of the subcentro actually happens out in the community.  They head up vaccination campaigns and measure they health of students in schools.  A local committee helps run the hospital, and since they have been around for fifteen years, the partnership is very strong.  They also work closely with a church that is situated right next door, so closely, in fact, that while the largest center associated with Guamaní is being built, some doctors have their offices there.

Guamaní was my favorite location because the woman that guided us was very complete in her explanations and understood and sought to answer all of our questions.  (Maybe we just got better at asking questions?)  Plus, I'm really into community health promotion.

We also got the opportunity to spend time talking to the doctor of homeopathy, who has a relationship with our program.  He spoke about his own practice, as well as the partnership his practice has with other traditional medicine providers.  Though the hospital can no longer employ a shaman because of issues of licensure, he maintains a relationship with a group of healers and makes referrals to them in cases of espanto and similar issues.  He described these issues as culture bound, but said he did not believe he could heal them, so he encouraged his patients to use traditional medicine, which I thought was really cool.

We headed home to work hard on our upcoming (due today) papers and presentations (and took a little time to head to a salsoteca).  I am super grateful for the opportunity to travel with my program and apply all of the theory from class.  It is also great to see many different parts of the country and their takes on health.

I'm headed to the coast for Carnaval with the family of a friend of mine here.  I'll check back in afterwards!

Un Viaje- Tuesday

So it turns out I learned a lot on my viaje... so I am breaking it down so as not to overwhelm everyone.

After a nice breakfast at the hotel, we headed to Jambi Mascaric in Cotacachi and met an organization of indigenous parteras.  Carmita, our guide for the morning spent the first half of our time together explaining her role as a partera, what certain medicinal plants were used for, and her personal experiences.  She explained that she had cured her own anemia and nervios (a culturally connotated illness somewhat similar to anxiety) with medicinal plants.  She had even seen a psychologist about her nervios, as it lasted several years.  However, the plants were what worked for her.  She told her psychologist that they had worked for her and he wanted to know what they were, but she refused to tell him, deciding it was an ancestral secret.  I think she must also have not had the best rapport with the psychologist, as she told us the name of the plant.  This made me think about keeping culture a secret in order to preserve it (because heaven knows that the West has appropriated much traditional knowledge, corrupting it, gaining profit from it, and/or not giving credit to the source) versus sharing culture in order to preserve it.  Many indigenous organizations dedicated to preserving culture and historical memory will share with whoever is willing to listen because they are afraid of having their knowledge forgotten.  I wonder what the solution is, especially for groups that are not like the Kichwa in Ecuador, strong, large, with diminishing but sufficient youth interest in the culture, but rather are dying out.

Carmita also explained why she had become a partera.  She said that when she got married she had no idea how pregnancy happened, nor did she have any knowledge about childbirth.  She thought that the baby would just come out when it was ready.  She was not assisted in her first labor.  She experienced complications and the labor lasted two days until a family member was able to get her a partera that finally helped the baby come out.  It had died in the process.  She decided, then and there, that she had to gain knowledge, she had to know how to do this on her own and had to help her community.  She studied under the partera that had attended her birth and is now the leader of the group.  They are helping to integrate indigenous birthing practices into the medical system, to educate their community members, and to make sure women receive prenatal care and help with birth.  They still face challenges, such as the fact that their work has not been officially recognized or paid and actually had to be done in secret to avoid liability as there is not exactly certification.  However, Correa's government now recognizes parteras as legitimate care providers.  They are still working on official pay, which I think means being a part of the insurance system.

For the second half of our morning together, Carmita and several other parteras demonstrated what prenatal care, traditional home birth, and postnatal care look like in a skit.

Prenatal care- checking the position of the baby

Keeping the mother in labor warm is a large part of the home birth.  The whole household is usually involved in the birth.  The woman hangs onto her husband as she finishes labor on her knees.  Her mother or another household member may bring her food, herbs, water, whatever the partera determines is necessary or she desires.

Cutting the umbilical cord with a string.

Initial blessing of the baby.  Who is always temporarily named Maria or Jose.  Because Catholicism.

After visiting the parteras, we headed to lunch in Cotacachi, where we also got to spend some time checking out the leather work they are famous for.  I, personally, spent nearly all my money in Otavalo, but it was still fun to look around.  I also had become obsessed with finding a necklace that the indigenous women wear (many, many strings of small gold beads).  Their necklaces, it turns out, run somewhere around $50, but there are replicas you can buy of lower quality that they also sometimes wear.  Other girls really liked the traditional shoes, so we found a store outside of the market for ingenious women, not tourists.  I liked the people that ran the store (they were selling blouses for $10, rather than the "you're gringa so $35) so I decided to buy my necklace from them.  I am wearing it in the picture below, which is from a trip to a salsa place on Wednesday.

After that, we just had one more hospital to go before we headed back to Quito.  This one was the Hospital Básico de Atuntaqui and I am kind of in love with the place.  The first thing we saw as we walked in was a group of elderly people dancing- the diabetes/hypertension management group.  Atuntaqui serves 17,120 people and they have primary care services, significant community involvement, as well as basic surgery, two psychologists, physical therapy, a nutritionist, a basic lab, an emergency room- tons of stuff, just on a very small scale.  They have a relationship with parteras, but the emphasis on traditional birth is a lot less prevalent here.  A couple of girls in my program are going to work with the adolescent group on sexual health and education, as well as other relevant issues.  It looks like they are going to have a good time!

Un Viaje- Monday

It has been a while since I have checked in, but I promise I have been up to awesomeness- also essays.  How did I pick a study abroad program with at least as many essays as I write at Mac?  Aren't I supposed to be messing around or something?  I just keep reminding myself that this is exactly what I wanted.  AND trips like the ones we took Monday through Wednesday make it seriously worth it.

We have now separated into our tracks.  I am studying Public Health.  While classes are a bit underwhelming if you have already taken Intro to International Public Health with Christy Hanson, I'm really happy to be spending every day studying something I'm passionate about.  The tracks separated at the beginning of this week for trips specific to them, and I'll give you the rundown of what happened on mine!  (A lot of this is for my memory/ family, so permission to skim granted!)

We left bright and early to head to Otavalo, a larger, highly indigenous city north of Quito.  Otavalo is famous for the Plaza de los Ponchos, where they sell every kind of artisinal item you could ever want, but we weren't there to see that... at least not yet.

Our first stop was Jambi Huasi, a private primary care hospital that specializes in indigenous medicine.  They not only boast a "conventional" medical team, but also offer special massage, diagnostics involving the passing of an egg or guinea pig over the person, the services of a yachak, an indigenous traditional healer, culturally specific adolescent sex ed, a medical doctor that speaks Kichwa, and services of indigenous parteras (midwives).  It was here that Chelsea received the barerra del huevo (which was some intense rubbing of a whole egg across her body) from the Yachak Mama/ partera.  The yolk broke when the egg was cracked, which signifies bad energy.  Devon was a trooper and volunteered for the barrera del cuy.  The barrera del cuy is a practice where a live guinea pig is rubbed on the patient's body until it dies.  It is then skinned and cut open.  The characteristics of the cuy's autopsy reveals what is wrong with the patient.  Devon had parasites and back pain, which was almost entirely accurate.  I, and the rest of the group, struggled with this diagnostic technique, especially solely for the purposes of demonstration, as a life is taken away in the process.  This is especially tough if your Western brain keeps saying things like, the cuy has absolutely nothing to do with the health of the patient.  My anthropology brain is upset that I think this way, but the best I have been able to say is that only people truly invested in the diagnostics that the cuy might give them should undergo this process.  Of course we don't blame Devon for taking one for the team, and it was a learning experience, but learning, in my mind, is not enough to justify the taking away of life.  We had one more procedure at Jambi Hausi, but we actually had to come back in the afternoon because the Yachak was busy all morning.  He demonstrated a change of energy/spiritual cleansing on Kelly with many essential oils.  It looked like an awesome process, even if she did come out a bit doused in the end.  This yachak had the most Catholic religious symbols in his office I have ever seen in one place outside of a church.  I wanted to ask him more about his beliefs and how Catholicism plays a role in the practice of his work, which is highly connected to Kichwa spirituality, but he was a yachak de fuego, which means he focused on the candle in his workspace and said not a word to any of us.

Yachak de fuego

Our next stop was Hospital San Luis de Otavalo.  Here, they focused on teaching us about their unique partnership with indigenous parteras and the ability of a woman to choose how they give birth in the hospital.  Indigenous women give birth vertically and often avoided going to the hospital to give birth or for prenatal care because their language and customs were not understood or respected.  Since eight years ago, the hospital has worked to become completely integrated with parteras and women give birth in the traditional way, but with emergency care available if need be.  They also have an area with free lodging for families that come from far away so that a mother about to give birth can travel before the birth actually happens and not while in labor.  Many babies are born en route to the hospitals and if there are any complications, the mother or child die.  We witnessed both the room for giving birth and the room for prenatal care.  The partera giving prenatal care had patients while we were there, two young women, both in a sweatshirt and leggings, while the partera wore traditional indigenous dress. We felt uncomfortable because we were not sure the patients wanted us to watch them.  We were also asked to feel a woman's stomach for the baby's head, as the partera had just helped it turn around from sitting upright.  The question of consent was a big deal here, and I'm sure it will be again and again in our internships.
Women who come to this hospital to give birth can do it sitting, standing, or kneeling.  

Everyone was friendly and answered our questions.  Many of the places we visited on this viaje thanked US for being there.  Of course, it was them to thank, sharing valuable time and knowledge with us.  I always wonder about my role in this country and if my presence is sometimes deemed important just because I have light skin and I am from the United States.  I can only promise to go forward in my life using the knowledge that I have gained, for whatever reason, to fight for social justice.

After that, we got my favorite things- lunch and free time!  We spent our free time in the plaza de los ponchos and I went shopping and spent way too much money.  I kept telling myself to cool it- I'm going to live there, but there were so many cool things, most of them created by hand, and once you start bargaining, you are basically done- that item is going to be yours.  Talk about high pressure shopping!  But everything is much cheaper than in the United States, and I'm a fan of supporting the local economy.  Also earrings.  I am a fan of earrings.
I bought earrings from this super cool dude in Otavalo.  He handmade them, and he also carves out coins with a hand saw to create jewelry.  Sarah got a pic with him first, but my experience was a bit different than hers.  This was just after he whispered in my ear "You are very beautiful."  Lol thanks, Pluma! (He claims his name is Feather.)

We next visited a yachak in a cultural center- with a fire in the middle of the floor! He spent time sharing songs and stories with us, communicating with the spirits, and also performed a cleansing to get rid of bad energy. This was a great opportunity to get to know more about Kichwa beliefs and spiritual customs- and the music that went with it.  While I don't remember details and I don't have my note sheet, the things that stood out to me about him were charisma, patience, harmony with nature, willingness to engage with his former doubts about the beliefs of his people, and allowing his daughter to help with the ceremony when she emerged instead of shooing her away.  My favorite part of the day was asking him where I could purchase an indigenous flute (I play the metal kind).  He said that they weren't available in the markets, but he sold me one of his, a mucu, which is key in communicating with the corn for times of harvest.  I'm thrilled and it sounds beautiful.  A teacher in our program plays many indigenous instruments, and I hope he can teach me.

Mi mucu

We stayed the night in a gorgeous hotel and I finally got the rest I have been missing to go on to day two!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Week (the third one, in particular) in Review

So there is a thing that is happening that is upsetting me.  That thing is school.  (Everyone is shocked, Mariah has NEVER been upset by school before, or so they think.)  No, actually, I like my classes and professors (except literally every one of them is a dude, I'm going to write about gender and this country later). It is just that we are in school from 8:30 until 4 almost every day (classes vary, but it is a LONG time).  There is quite a bit of homework, but now that we have started to divide the reading, it has been much better.  It is easy to feel, with this, that I am not getting to experience the country and that I am exhausted, but, looking back on this super awesome week, really only one of those things is true.

Monday was an great day because we got out of school at lunchtime to go to the immigration office to pick up our passports.  It didn't take long at all, so we went out to lunch in Mariscal/the Plaza  Foch, where all the gringos hang out.  It was the first real food I had had in a while, and I was excited!  It was also a girl in my program's birthday, so it was nice to be able to celebrate with her.  Most people took taxis back to school, but a group of us took the bus because it was 25 cents and there is something that just feels much more Quiteño to be smashed up against everyone and trying not to fall over.  We then all got super stressed over a group paper/presentation that was happening on Thursday and I was very excited to return home.  That night, I decided to go to the Supermaxi to get some food to make lunches.  (My host mother got very upset that I got sick and decided I should not even get bread or bananas from the tiendas around school.  Probs Supermaxi bananas also have germs, but it was nice to go see what was there and my lunches have been great.  I made a huge pot of chili, my favorite food ever, and it turned out to be 8 servings.  Not sick of it yet!)  I also checked out a gym within walking distance to my house, but it seemed awfully expensive for one treadmill, three elipticals, three bikes, and two group fitness classes per day.

 (Lunch for 8 days!)

Tuesday was one of the longest days of school we will probably ever have, but that night it was my host sister's birthday.  She is 36 or so and lives with her family outside of Quito, but we had the birthday party in my house.  It was a really fun time watching all of my nieces and nephews run around together, meeting baby Nicolas, who is my host cousin's child, eating really good pizza (more real food!), being offered wine (I passed because I was still on antibiotics), and talking to my family.  More than half of them speak English, but my host mother has insisted that I want to learn Spanish, so we always talk in Spanish.  After the party, I went to my across the street neighbor's house to do homework.  I'm so lucky to have someone in my program living so close to me.

Wednesday we got out of school early, but I was exhausted from lack of sleep and trying to coordinate a group paper with ten people (don't ask, I never want to speak of it again), so I headed straight home.  I took a nap and when I woke up, Sarah (my neighbor on the program with me), our host moms, and I went to get our nails done.  Sarah and I were under the impression that the salon was like those in the U.S., where multiple people could go at a time, but it was just one girl in the back of a hair salon.  We were there for probably three hours just to get Sarah's and my nails done.  They use the same tools on everyone, spraying them with alcohol, and it isn't exactly luxurious.  But there is a book of hundreds upon hundreds of designs to choose from, and I was really missing doing fun nails with my mom.  Sarah and I were worried about homework, but when "Hopelessly Devoted to You" started playing in the salon and I serenaded her ridiculously, she said "I needed this," and I couldn't agree more. Plus, my manicure cost $6 including a $1.50 tip.  I got home and ate dinner, skyped with a good friend from back home, and agonized over my presentation the next morning before falling asleep on my homework, but I wouldn't have had Wednesday any other way.

(Cute nailz.)

Thursday after school I went to my friend Katrina's house (we took a long walk that was fun until we had to run in front of cars to cross the street to get to her house- pedestrians do not have the right of way here, and crosswalks are only sort of a thing).  Katrina, Annie, and I were going to go to bible study together in the evening, but first we sat in Katrina's little room talking about boys and insisting that we should be doing our homework.  Katrina's mom fed us traditional Ecuadorian food with really good tea, and we caught a taxi to this church.  I was interested because the bible study was bilingual and a lot of people our age go to practice English or Spanish.  It was really more of an English bible study, since the pastor spoke about as much Spanish as I do, but I met some really nice people, and we stayed and talked after for a long time.  I talked mostly to Marlon (24 and a veterinarian), Jairo (around 25), and Galo, a man who had lived all around the world.  I'm sad I probably won't be going back.  I wanted to meet the people and experience different religious life in Quito (I've already been to Catholic Church), but it just feels disingenuous to really be a part of the group.  Although I'm not sure what I believe entirely, I know that it does NOT include "salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone," (was raised Catholic, dudes) which I get the impression that that is all this bible study will ever talk about.  I got back home in a taxi at like 10pm after getting a bit lost, which was scary.  It was my first time in a taxi alone because the other girls got dropped off much before I did, but all was well, except that the guy charged me $8 (it should never be more than 6).  I just felt glad I am starting to be independent in this country.

Friday was Valentine's day, and we got out of school early.  I gave my parents flowers and my niece and nephew a Dora valentine from the U.S.  They were there to hang out and help prepare for the HUGE birthday party that happened on Saturday for my two year old nephew Rafael, who, you may recall, already had a birthday party.  His father was on business in Colombia, though, so they had two.  This one involved 70 people, a cake, cupcakes, and cake pops, a jumpy thing, cotton candy, and a Despicable Me theme, I heard.  (I was sad to miss it, but I went to the hot springs on Saturday.) A whole bunch of us went out Friday night to Bungalow 6, a very popular dance club type place in Mariscal.  I had a FABULOUS time because I love dancing, and my group was super fun (and also good at looking out for one another, which is a good thing in crowds).  One of the girls in our program went with her host sister, and her host sister brought friends. I ended up salsa dancing with an acquaintance of hers and was SUPER happy about that because salsa dancing is #1 on my list here and he was fun, not creepy, and probably one of the best dance partners I have had.

Saturday we were up early to head to Papallacta, about 2 hours outside of Quito.  We went on an incredible nature hike, got some lunch at the little restaurant, and bathed in the hot springs all day long.  There are two hot springs options, the regular baths, or the spa.  Regular baths cost $7.50, the spa $21.  Most of us chose the regular baths, and I was thrilled with my experience there.  There were at least nine pools, most of them bathwater or warmer, but some freezing, as well as the river to play in (which was colder than the freezing pools, but we stayed on the rocks).  Most of the visitors were Ecuadorian, actually, and I love feeling like I'm doing things that people here do, rather than people that visit here do.  (This was really both.) Check the pics on facebook. We were home by just after six and I relaxed because I was exhausted.

(Chillin' with a llama in Papallacta!)

Today is a homework day for sure (two essays due this week), but I had to get in some sort of reflection, even if it is just listing what I did  As you can see, it has been quite a bit too busy for journaling or blogging.

I write this less reflective piece both to give people who care (hi mom!) an update, as well as to remind myself that no matter how much it feels I have too much work, I am making lots of excellent time to experience life here.  (And just talking to my host family is probably the most genuine experience I can get.)  I am so, so lucky and this week was a blast, even if stressful.  I'm not sure how grades are looking or really how we are graded at all, but perhaps I shall continue to try not to think about those things. It has been going pretty well so far.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Going to the Hospital in Spanish

Oh hi guys.

So it turns out I have a severe bacterial infection in my intestines.

For reasons I will not elaborate upon, instead of going to the museum field trip scheduled yesterday, I waited at school for my (host) mother to pick me up and take me to Hospital Vozandes's emergency room.

On the bright side of having a severe bacterial infection and having spent seven hours in an emergency room (we'll get to that in a second), this situation gave plenty of time for the public health nerd in me to do some observations.

Before I went to the hospital, I was instructed by everyone to exaggerate my symptoms so that they would agree to see me in the emergency room and not ask me to make an appointment, as well as to see the doctor more quickly.  When I entered the waiting room, I saw why this was the case- it was full.  But it turns out the waiting room is for the extended families that come to visit.  Huge groups of people turn up, not just to the regular hospital like in the U.S., but also to the emergency room, to support their family.  So, in reality, exaggerated symptoms were not necessary.  In triage there was only one person, a Chinese-appearing young man who could not stop coughing (luckily he was wearing a mask), with his mother.  So I was in my room and being seen by a nurse in about fifteen minutes, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't because I am American.  I have never spent this little time in an emergency or urgent care waiting room.

My host mother kindly requested a doctor that spoke English so that I would understand what was going on and not be scared, which was a good idea considering technical terms.  The nurse that first came in changed me into one of those stupid hospital gowns that was totally unnecessary for our purposes and filled out my intake form, asking me questions in Spanish.  This was terrifying because I knew from the U.S. that this is what they would primarily use to assess me and that I needed to communicate my allergies and the medications I had been taking.  Also I was half naked for a reason not at all apparent to me.  The nurse did not speak any English, so I did my best in Spanish and my mother requested an English-speaking doctor again.

In no time at all, a team of three doctors entered my little curtain partition of the emergency room and did the assessment again.  They decided that I needed a stool sample, a urine sample, and a blood sample for testing and that they were going to give me hydration via IV.

The IV hydration felt really unnecessary to me, but I remembered that medical malpractice laws are extremely strict here, so they were probably taking every precaution.  I kept this in mind as they took my blood from one arm and put the IV in the other.  My mother told me not to look, but I was looking to make sure everything was sterile.  This is, of course, a paranoid response.  I was at a modern hospital in Quito, probably the best city in Ecuador for having a medical procedure, being attended to by qualified professionals.  But they were sticking stuff in my veins and I wasn't taking any chances.  The IV was terrifying.  I have never had one before, I was really not sure I needed one, and the doctors didn't tell me exactly what was in it (saline solution) until my mother called one over after seeing the panic on my face.

The IV went into my right wrist, right below my Brave bracelet.  This was the first time I felt like I needed the reminder since I have been here.

I found the staff to be effective and kind, and after the initial scary testing, I had a really uneventful time.  We watched the IV solution drip into me painfully slowly for about five or six hours.  I slept, talked to my mother, met her sister who came to visit, listened to her tell everyone on the phone that she was in the hospital with me, and drank the Oralyte they gave me.  When my nurses changed, the new one actually came to introduce herself, unlike the other one, and poked her head in every now and again to make sure I was still okay.  When I needed to go to the bathroom or had a question, my mother simply grabbed the attention of one of the nurses that was always walking by.  (I give thanks every day for her assertiveness because I am not yet used to this way of being.  For example, it is encouraged to interrupt your professor if you have a question in the middle of lecture.  I feel, though I have not been told, that this sort of attitude permeates everywhere.  So long as you are polite, getting what you want or need requires being direct and interrupting.)

I spent a lot of time thinking about my visit and what it might mean in the larger context of the Ecuadorian health system.  People (especially me) seemed to stay in the emergency room a long time.  I explained to my host mother that there aren't enough beds in emergency rooms in the U.S., so people wait a long time to be seen by a doctor unless they are dying and are then sent as quickly as possible on their way.  I doubted that they would ever hook someone as well as I was to a five hour long IV in an emergency room, but I didn't know for sure.  I did not feel like I was getting special treatment because I was American.  There simply were sufficient beds that day and the doctors weren't taking any chances.  It surprised me that there were so few people waiting because Ecuador has a doctor shortage probably worse than the one we do in the U.S. and a resource shortage far worse.  But there are tons of hospitals in Quito, so I am guessing that the problem is more for the wider country.  I have heard that people who get severely ill in the more rural areas need to be transported to Quito- nowhere else can provide the level of care the hospitals do here.  This, obviously, can be extremely dangerous.

I also felt an immense amount of empathy for people who speak little or no English in the United States, who are not familiar with the health system, and find themselves, like I did here, in need of medical care.  I have studied this population in depth for one of my classes and intellectually understood why it is important to have doctors who speak the language of the patient (not, as is usual, unofficial, untrained interpreters), why it could be prohibitively scary for cultural reasons for this population to go to the doctor or hospital, and why health outcomes for this population are generally worse than in cases where the patient and doctor speak the same language and come from similar cultural understanding.  However, intellectual understanding is not at all the same as this deep, gut understanding that I now have at least part of.  The frustration at not being able to communicate symptoms, the fear that something will go wrong because you are not being understood, the terrifying feeling of entering a space where you have no idea what might happen to you, the anger at not feeling your medications were properly explained to you.  I have felt all of that.  And did I mention that MY doctors spoke English?  I simply cannot imagine using an interpreter, especially not an unofficial one, in a medical setting.

In the end, everything will be fine.  I have stronger antibiotics than my doctor in the states gave me (which I had already been taking but apparently did nothing).  I have to rest and eat bland food for two or three days.  I hate that I cannot go out and have fun and see and learn things here, but I always try to have a positive attitude because I am living my dream simply by being here.  So I see seven hours in the emergency room as a valuable learning experience, as well as a sort of bonding time with my host mother.  I kept saying I was sorry that we were here among all of the germs and that it was taking so long, and she kept saying that it was no problem.  When at first we thought they hadn't found anything wrong with me, she said that at least we were together for the day.  (My host family rocks.)

It was a bit embarrassing and overwhelming to receive as much attention as I did yesterday, but I also feel very loved and glad that there are so many people here for me, come what may.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Brief, Incomprehensive List of Names My Host Mother Has Called Me

A weird thing is happening in this house- my host mother does not know my name, or so it would seem.  While her grown daughter insisted on calling me by the proper pronunciation of my name and making her four and six year old children repeat it until they said it even without the slightest hint of an accent, the same cannot be said of my host mother.  It has never been important to me to go by Mariah in a Spanish-speaking country because this name, while it would seem easy, often causes people to trip up, and I already have Spanish names that I love.  So I didn't insist on my exact name upon coming here.  However, I would like to have A name, and currently it feels like mine changes every day...

For the first few days, my host family called me Mariah with a bit of an accent without a problem.  (I'm no linguist but I think the difference is that Spanish speakers tend to put the emphasis on a different syllable, which one I am not sure, and they pronounce it more MAR than the more common English Mer.)

Then strange things started happening.  Here is a list of things my name has become since:
1) Mari (Mar-ee)- Actually love this one, my Spanish name at camp
2) Maria (duh)- Also totally acceptable
3) Mori (Mor-eye)- What?
4) Mories (Mor- ays) This is the most recent and strangest, also is occasionally Mar-ays

While my host mother has been creating combinations of consonants and vowels I have never heard before, it seems my father (who I think knows my name anyway) has opted for the much easier option of mijita (my daughter), or increasingly often no matter how I look, mijita bonita (my beautiful daughter).

I believe names are really powerful, and I'm not sure, if given the choice, what I would want mine to be, but I would kind of like to have one, ideally not Mories...

I'll have to keep reminding my host mom.  Despite being entirely confused on what to call me, I still feel that my mother truly cares for me.  It is a strange thing, this host family relationship.  Because Ecuadorians are really loving and caring (so far that I have seen in general) and this family in particular has clearly opened their home to me and have made me part of the family.  However, it is also a bit strange because they are paid to have us.  I wouldn't say it is in any danger of ruining our relationship, but realizing that I have had five names in one week makes me feel a bit more like the paying client than the daughter.  Luckily, this is the only thing, and I love my host family to the moon and back.  They really are my parents here, and I think every day about how lucky I am to have people willing to take care of me in the absence of my own parents and to open their homes and lives to a complete stranger.  It is a miracle, and if it takes a few weeks to have a real name, no me importa.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is the Honeymoon Period Over?: On Being Sick and Tired in a Brand New Place

It is currently 1am in Quito, and I just woke up from being asleep- on top of my computer, with my light on- since like 7pm.  Maybe earlier.

Yes, I have managed to get myself some sort of strange bug, which isn't even the stomach bug I was expecting.  I am exhausted and I occasionally have a headache and feel like my body is not regulating temperature sometimes.  I could have a fever (a thermometer is one thing I did not bring from home and I am not sick enough that I want to worry my host family just yet) but I really don't think I do because fevers put me entirely out of commission.  (Sleeping at 7pm may sound entirely out of commission, but it is not that strange with how early I wake up and how exhausted each day makes me.)

So is the honeymoon period over?  Everyone talks about that point abroad where things stop being exciting and start being like, "Please I just want to get a haircut, why is everything so hard in a foreign language?"   (Oddly enough, a haircut is one thing I know how to get in this country- there are peluquerías on practically every street.)

Honestly, I do not think it is.  I think being sick is keeping me from loving everything as much as I used to, and I think it feels a little annoying because this happened at the exact same time as I have to start actually doing things.  These (terribly complicated and difficult, you'll see) things include:
1) My laundry
2) Grocery shopping for lunches- not  completely necessary as there is lunch stuff around CIMAS for less than $2.50 usually, but I would prefer not to just have bread every day.  I'm planning on cooking a few things on the weekend to take to school.
3) Figuring out this phone situation.  I am the only person on my program now without a working phone.  The neighbor gave an extra to me, but it looks like my phone number is missing a digit.  If this is the case, I cannot put minutes on it.  I just want a phone so I can go places and do things.

The going places and doing things is my other frustration.  Because I do not know how to take the bus, do not know where much of anything is, live in a residential area where there are few stores around, and do not feel comfortable being out and about without a phone, I feel really trapped.  I want to explore the city and see and do new things.  I feel crappy for being in a new country on facebook- the world is so big out there, but I feel like I cannot see it just yet.  In this way, I guess it is a blessing that I am sick.  It is normal to stay in bed when you are sick, no matter the country.  

I also made the goal of writing in my journal or blogging every day that I was here, and that has not been happening so much.  Sometimes, when I am just in school, it doesn't feel like much is happening at all.  Otherwise, I'm falling asleep on my homework.  That is (I suppose) why this blog post is more journal-y and complain-y.  I also think everybody talks about these kinds of struggles but no one really elaborates on them, which makes them seem scarier.  (They aren't that bad or mysterious or anything, trust me.  It is almost magical- I can identify what is making me a little upset and I can work to fix it.  I'm going to talk to my host mom about laundry and my phone tomorrow and ask her what their week plans are and if we can maybe go out somewhere.  I don't even care where- I have gone with her to the panadería, to church, really everywhere.  I was going to accompany her to the hospital to see my host niece, who got bitten by some bug it sounds like and had some kind of reaction, but I thought bringing more illness to a hospital might be a bad idea and I was exhausted.)

Honestly though, I am proud of myself, since usually illness turns me into a baby in the fetal position unable to function, and I have been fine.  More than that, if this is the greatest challenge I have faced thus far as a part of my study abroad experience, well, then I'm not doing too badly at all.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

It's the Little Things

I just finished an amazing trip to an hacienda in San Jose de las Minas.  It isn't something I am going to write about, I don't think, because it is better expressed in photos.  Check them on facebook.

Tonight, I am home unexpectedly completely by myself.  My host family up and left for another province a day early without even a note, but they left a tiny bit of info for the neighbor.  It was approximately an hour into having the house to myself when I realized I don't know how to do anything here.

Being in a new country is really humbling because you are like a child, relearning everything.  I realized quickly that I don't know how to make myself dinner here or if that is even okay, that I don't really know how to leave my house and I can't anyways because I would be alone and girls alone in taxis is never allowed and alone after dark is even worse.

This made me feel trapped and stupid.  I know my street and how to get back to my house, but I don't even have my address memorized.

However, it also gives me the opportunity to reflect on the things I do know how to do here, and to celebrate a little.  When everything is hard and new, learning something small becomes a big victory, which is awesome.

For example, the first day or so that I was here, I would get stuck in the bathroom.  The door sticks and you have to turn the handle a specific way to make it not do that.  I could only do this sometimes.  Usually, I would be audibly jiggling the door handle, stuck inside, but sure that if I just tried one more time I could get out.  My host mom's room, however, is right across the hall, and she would always hear me and come rescue me.  This was awkward, of course, because I don't like to bother people and because I go to the bathroom a lot.  So I asked her to teach me how to get in and out of the door.  She showed me the very specific way to turn the handle, and now I do it almost every time.  It is a little victory every single one.

So in celebration of this, here are the things I know how to do in Ecuador (the correct way, as defined by locals):
1) Find my way home
2) Wash the dishes
3) Take a hot shower
4) Get in and out of the bathroom
5) Go shopping for fruit
6) Eat all of the food on my plate (most of the time)
7) Ask lots of questions.

I'm sure there are more things, but hey, I have only been here since Monday.

I'm exhausted.  I've been speaking, reading, reflecting, having so so so much fun, getting my mind blown by gorgeous views and contrasting ways of life and the information that the academic staff gives us (you would be amazed how a tiny question can turn into an incredibly interesting, informative lecture), so although I have much to do, like reading and planning for my time here, I think I'm going to take advantage of my wifi luxury and watch U.S. TV and call it a night early.  There is much more learning to be done tomorrow- I think we are going to church.  You know, if my family ever comes back from Ibarra.