Friday, February 26, 2010

Table for Glasses

Yesterday a group of eye doctors came to FUDIS to give all of the residents a free examination. Out of a group of 32, 24 of them needed glasses. For many, it was the first time they had ever had their eyes checked.

It was amazing to watch how faces would light up when the correct prescription was found and words could finally be seen on the screen. That second when everything comes into focus; the world seems more crisp, brighter somehow. It was such a wonderful moment to witness. Some of the patients were so funny choosing their frames – they would go back and forth between pairs, asking everyone waiting what they thought. The technicians were incredibly patient and so generous to donate their time. What a gift to give.

That afternoon brought up a memory of the first time I realized I needed glasses. I was twelve and watching cartoons with my sisters. I can remember thinking that Bugs looked a little more fuzzy than usual. A few weeks later, I was sitting in the chair at the eye doctor’s, hearing the news that confirmed what I already knew. How different my experience was than that of some of the people who I’ve met here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Trip to the Zoo

Last week I was invited to join in on a trip to the zoo by Jimmy, the cook at FUDIS. Since I spend the majority of my free time in the kitchen (hah big surprise) with him and the other cook, Rosa, and her daughter, Alexandra, I was only too happy to show them that I have other interests besides eating. We left early on Sunday morning to catch the sights at the animal market outside of Quito. I was definitely the only gringa there and prayed that I wasn’t going to be sold alongside the cows and goats.

The town also boasted a beautiful church, and we dropped in to light a candle for the patients at FUDIS and pose for a few pictures.

After wandering the town a bit, we hopped on a bus going towards the zoo and I was dismayed to discover that half of the shoppers from the market were also headed our way. There were live chickens and bags of feed scattering the aisle, but nobody seemed to mind. It was this sort of scene that I had envisioned when anticipating traveling in Ecuador, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. It was a relief when we finally reached the zoo and I could step off the barnyard on wheels.

Confession time: I can’t recall ever going to a zoo in my life. Readers, thanks for reminding me if I have. We had a blast checking out the animals, many of which are native to Ecuador, and feeding a few of them. There was a moment when a ferocious looking donkey bared its teeth at me and I panicked, thinking that I really should have opted for the rabies shot, but luckily it only wanted the carrot I was holding. Whew. Close call.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vamos a la Playa

This weekend was an excellent one, thanks to my (mostly) tireless companions and the kindness of our bus driver, Roberto. What could have been a string of horrible events (no hostel, pouring rain, mediocre Spanish, no bottle opener, a sketchy beach…) turned out for the best and we left Manta having gained new friends, new dance moves, and some serious sunburns. I feel that most recent events can be best summed up with the following:

Ode to My Ecuadorian Family

9 hours overnight in a van
Yeah, I know my hair is looking like trash
None of us thought to pack a toothbrush in the side pocket of our packs
We’ve been traveling for what feels like years.

Our hostel was booked on a fraudulent website
Tranquila, Roberto knows a guy…
Find a hotel steps from the beach
I’ve been waiting for a view like this for years.

Borrow my sunscreen since yours exploded
Teach me the proper way to throw a Frisbee
You'll break your teeth opening a beer that way
Ahh it hasn’t tasted this good in years.

Are you going to finish your rice?
Plates and forks and knives passed around the table
Laughing and joking and then silence once we’re satisfied
Like we’ve been eating together for years.

Learning salsa in a hot apartment
Jumping on counters from the cucarachas
Telling stories, singing songs
Like we’ve been doing it for years.

Standing in a line on the balcony with our yogurt and bread
Eating standing up, dripping wet
Still cursing the kids who chased us with buckets
Who have been looking forward to this for years.

Driving in the rain
Weaving our way through mountains and jungle
Over unpaved stretches of roads
That go on for years.

Friday, February 12, 2010

After last week’s interesting turn, it was a relief to finally clear up the “Dr. Olivia” misunderstanding. It turns out that Ines had received an email before I arrived describing my educational background and work experience. The higher education system works differently here in Ecuador, and most college graduates finish school with a certificate of some kind. When Ines saw that I was a psychology major and have worked in several hospitals, she assumed that I was indeed a psychologist. Ah, cross-cultural differences. There’s just so much that can get lost in translation.

Luckily, I was able to meet with Ines and Gina, my VASE coordinator, to iron out the details of what I’ll be doing at FUDIS, since the initial plan obviously wasn’t going to work out. The activities I lead will be largely up to me – meaning that I have a whole lot of brainstorming to do in the next few days. I’m thinking of incorporating more art therapy into the programming here, as well as introducing some physical activities. FUDIS is also in desperate need of a better admissions system, so I’ll be lending my Excel talents in the office a few mornings a week.

Now that I’ve got a clear focus, I’m feeling ready to embrace my work at FUDIS and am really looking forward to the months ahead. Of course, I’m also looking forward to this weekend – its Carnaval, which is a huge pre-Lenten celebration that involves a lot of water balloons and talcum powder (or so I’ve heard). I’m headed to the coast with a few friends to see what all the fuss is about. Should be a treat!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Dr. Olivia

Oh, this what an interesting first week working at FUDIS. Through a series of miscommunications, I was believed to be Dr. Olivia, the psychologist who specializes in cancer patients. Now, I may have been a psychology major in college, but I’m still a far cry from a licensed therapist. Unfortunately the patients at FUDIS didn’t realize this. In my first few days here I was approached for advice and counseling and urged to use the private medical office for my “meetings”. Gulp. I’m still working on setting the record straight with Ines, and have been brainstorming other activities and groups that I can lead without breaking every ethics code in the rule book. There’s such a need for more emotional outlets here – it was evident during Wednesday’s prayer hour how much pain and uncertainty the residents here are feeling. My goal during my time here is to alleviate some of that by adding more fun, distracting activities to the weekly program.

I’ve been going on walks with Amparo every morning, and on Thursday she pointed out that the US Embassy is only about two blocks away. The place is huge, taking up an entire city block, and looks like some sort of impenetrable fortress, complete with the stars and stripes flying from the top. How I didn’t notice this before, I don’t know. The wheels started turning when Amparo told me about shipments of cheddar cheese rumored to arrive every week – I am now devoted to making friends with at least one employee so that I can satisfy my craving for hard to find dairy products.

This weekend was a nice mix of both English and Spanish activities. I met up with several other volunteers and was relieved to hear that I wasn’t the only one who had an overwhelming first week. We saw a movie, enjoyed the most delicious Indian food I’ve ever tasted (sorry, Hampton Chutney!), and went out dancing. I also attended Sunday mass with Amparo and her husband and was very excited that I was able to understand the majority of the sermon. Little by little (or poco a poco I guess) my Spanish is improving, which feels like a huge accomplishment.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


This week is my first working at Fundacion FUDIS. I moved in on Monday and got the lowdown from Ines, the resident activities coordinator/psychologist. It was a lot to take in, but luckily she speaks slowly so I was able to understand most of what she was telling me. (Wheaton friends, I'm sorry to report that she is not as awesome as Inez, the Emerson Queen. A disspointment, but could anyone really top her?)

FUDIS is essentially a foundation has been privately funded by the directora, Amparo, and her wealthy friends. Though it’s been around for about ten years, three years ago FUDIS started a huge fundraising campaign to raise money for the new building that I currently call home. Amparo appeared on tv, the radio, billboards, the works asking for donations, so she’s a pretty well-known figure in Quito. The building provides housing to patients who are being treated at the cancer hospital, SOLCA, down the street. The first floor has offices, a large industrial kitchen, dining room, chapel, and doctor’s office. The second floor has dormitory-style rooms for the patients and their families, private rooms for people like me who live and work here, an activity room, and a tv/lounge room. FUDIS can accommodate around 60 people, which is pretty impressive.

All of the patients who stay here are referred by the social worker at SOLCA. Most of them are from out of town and either don’t have the funds to rent an apartment for the duration of their treatment or aren’t able to travel home while on treatment. The mission of FUDIS is to provide a safe and supportive home for the patients and their caregivers for the duration of their treatment. FUDIS believes in total well-being; physical, psychological and spiritual. There’s a weekly schedule of activities which include games, occupational therapy, group therapy and prayer hour. I’ll be leading some of these activities in the future, but for now I’m just observing Ines to get an idea of what a typical day is like here.