Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Last week was our mid-term evaluation camp, and it shocked me into realizing that I have less than two months left here. Not a lot of time to accomplish a long list of things – including travel and putting together an art exposition. I have a feeling that the time will fly by.

In the interest of seeing as much of Ecuador as possible, I headed to Montañita with Natalie, Olga, and Ida for a quick two-day trip over the weekend. Montañita had been described to me as a hippie paradise, and it didn't disappoint. Reggae poured out from every thatched-roof restaurant and the markets were crammed with every hemp product imaginable. We had a great time relaxing on the beach during the day and sampling the endless varieties of cocktails at night. There was a fun mix of people there – foreigners from all over the world traveling the “Ruta del Sol” and plenty of Ecuadorians too. Wish we could have spent more time there!

Alas, it was back to the work week on Monday, but I was pleased to finish my towel! Check out this fine craftsmanship:

Tuesday we had our monthly FUDIS birthday party, which is always a fun activity for the patients and the señoras alike. Can’t wait to celebrate my cumpleaños next month!

And finally (FINALLY!!) I am so unbelievably happy to announce that I am officially headed to Columbia University in the fall for my master's in social work. Residents of New York City, rejoice.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Work Things

I realized this week that I've been writing a whole lot about all of the traveling and sightseeing I've done, but next to nothing about my work at FUDIS. Don't worry, I've found time to volunteer in between trips, and things are going really well.

Every Monday the senoras come for a few hours to what I like to refer to as "The Stitch and Bitch". We sit around eating snacks and embroidering handtowels and chat from 3 to 5:30. It's probably the highlight of my week, mostly because I get to be so crafty. The ladies assured me that I can definitely get married now that I've mastered the art of embroidery. Super. Here are some photos of my progress:

During the last few weeks of March, much of my time was consumed by preparing Fanesca, which is a traditional Ecuadorian fish stew/chowder served at Easter. Fasneca has 8 grains in it (supposedly to represent the apostles? I never paid attention in Sunday School), and every single one of these grains has to be peeled. Hence, many an afternoon was spent with a few patients and a 2 pound bag of peas or corn. Though it wasn't my favorite task, it was a great way to get to know many of the long-term patients better. And the end result was absolutely worth the work. Yum.

There's been a really great group of patients and families here at FUDIS for the past week or so; sometimes it can be really hit or miss with so many people coming and going. We've got quite a few long-term patients staying with us right now (here for the next 2 to 6 weeks), and it's nice to have such a family atmosphere in the building. Jorge, a patient from Argentina, brings fresh flowers every day and likes to play Argentinian love songs during lunch. I have a really hard time understanding his accent, though, and Jimmy thinks it's hilarious to listen to us talk. There's another couple, Luis and Marta, who are here for the long haul and like to get rousing games of cards going at night. They're big into word searches, and I'm currently trying to teach them the joys of Soduku.

One of the biggest projects that I'm working on right now is putting together an exhibition of the patient artwork that we've been doing in the past few months. Amparo, the director of FUDIS, is super excited about it and got a friend to frame 40 of the paintings for free. There's an reception planned for late May with the hopes of raising some money for the foundation - more details on this later - but it's a pretty big deal for us and I'm really looking forward to it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

La Basilica

Since the last few weekends have been consumed by traveling, I was long overdue for some quality time in Quito. One of the sights on my list was the Basilica - I've tried to go twice before but it's notorious for being closed at strange hours. Luck was finally on my side and it was open (!!!!), and we were able to climb to the top of the towers before a storm blew in over the mountains.

Also, for all of you non-facebook users: I finally made an album of photos from the last three months. You can check it out here:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Since 95% of Ecuador is Catholic, pretty much the entire country had a vacation for Easter last week. Though FUDIS wasn’t closed, I took some time off to travel. TO THE AMAZON. Hello, fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

It’s nearly impossible to describe how amazing it was to be cruising along the Cuyabeno River and seeing spider monkeys leaping from tree to tree, or spying bats sleeping upside down on a trunk, but I’ll do my best to give you some highlights:

We spent our first afternoon swimming in the Laguna Grande and took in a really spectacular sunset along with the birds and pink dolphins. Later that night, we were told that we were going to look for caimans. So back we went to the same Laguna. Um, really? Lo and behold, there were caimans aplenty, and one got rather close to our canoe. Possibly a little too close for my own comfort, but our guide Jose is some kind of caiman whisperer and made sure that it didn’t jump onto my lap.

Most of the trip was spent knee-high in mud, trekking through the forest looking for every kind of Amazonian beast imaginable. We saw tons of birds and insects the size of my hand and monkeys and butterflies. But one of the coolest things we saw was right above our heads at the dinner table one night: a snake swallowing a bat. Who needs the Discovery Channel?

One of the things I was most excited about was going piranha fishing in the river. Alas, my fishing skills are no better in the southern hemisphere as they are at home. I caught nothing, which is just as well because later that night a fish jumped into our boat and all I could do was scream “IT’S A FISH! IT’S A FISH! OH MY GOD IT’S A FISH!” hysterically until Olga kicked it out. Granted, we had just come back from a night hike and I was sufficiently creeped out already, but I clearly am worthless in a panic situation and would make a horrible fishermen.

So maybe I’m not exactly cut out for life in the jungle (and I have the bug bites to prove it), but it was an incredible trip only made better by the company. It doesn’t get much better than sitting around the table playing poker by candlelight with a room-temp Pilsener in your hand and a tarantula hanging out on the beam directly above your head.