Thursday, August 6, 2009

Leaving Palmar

I left palmar on sunday night and I am on a plane tomorrow night: destination- home. I don't know how two years have passed. It feels like i am only just beginning. Leaving palmar was so much harder than i ever thought. So many tearful hugs and kind words that just melted my heart. I guess you find out a lot when you leave. I think leaving makes us honest and willing to say all those things that we assume that other people know. But no one ever really knows until it is spoken and communicated in actions. I spent so much time worrying that i wasn't a good enough volunteer and fearing that i would fail.... but the way that my community reached out to me in my final days let me know that I am loved. I ate so many lunches and dinners with various families and so many people took the time to thanks me and share how much they were going to miss me. And it's hard. It makes me so uncomfortable- being thanked like that. But it's really wonderful too. I also had the chance to thank them. My friends at neo juventud and the whole community of palmar welcomed me into their lives without question and they accepted me as their sister. And as for me-- two year outside of my country and far from my family and culture- I needed that. I remember leaving two years ago on june 18th, 2007-- My mom dropped me off and the airport and I remember wanting to ditch the security line and just run back after her and go home where things were safe. But i didn't and that decision has changed my life forever.

These past two years weren't easy. But I wouldn't change them. I will miss my palmar family so very much. But it really isn't good-bye because they are my family now and I will be back to visit.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fiestas de 16 de Julio- Palmar

palmar just has their fiestas. this time it´s for 16 de Julio which aside from being the date of the fiestas and the name of my neighborhood i am not really sure why that is when we have the fiestas but my guess is that it´s the birthday of the Virgen Carmen who is also the patron saint of the fishermen. And being that palmar is a fishing village..... anyway the fiestas include burning the castillo which is crazy fireworks and a vaca loca ( more crazy fireworks). this is always kind of scary and this year my friend actually got hurt when a chunk of burning firework landed on his head and he had to get four stitches and there was a lot of blood. this is when i feel very lucky to personally know the nun who runs the clinic and where the nurse lives so that stitches at 2 in the morning is not too hard to come by. each night there are dances in the tent where i am seated below. the music booms until about 7am and then there is a parade and a well... long program of singing, dancing, talking etc and they always try to get me up on stage but nope--- this gringita is not about to dance in front of the whole town. not now not ever. after that there is more dancing all night again. it´s a rowdy time and the people have lots of fun. so did i. i am always amazed at how people can dance all night and work all day and do it all over again. strange to think that these are my last fiestas and that i really only have a few weeks left here.......

Medical Brigade 2009

Last week or so an amazing group of korean american doctors and volunteers came to palmar and offered their services for five days. I was lucky enough to be able to help their efforts by translating. I was also really lucky in that the same dentist from last years medical brigade returned and we got to work together again. I really love to work with him because he really cares about the people and doesn´t lose his cool when kids scream bloody murder ( which they do.)

Actually everyone involved in the medical brigade is pretty amazing . This year we spent three days in palmar and two days working in some more needy communities. Medical translating is one of my favorite things to do. It´s the next best thing to being the doctor because you really get to help someone. One of the medical services this medical brigade offers is acupuncture. I got really bad food poisoning and so the doctors offered me acupuncture. So i thought- sure, why not? So I did acupuncture which was a really cool experience. I really hate needles but you almost don´t feel them and i really believe that without acupuncture i would not have been able to continue working. I actually ended up doing acupuncture twice.

We set up the dentist office outside one day and worked around dogs, turkeys, a bee hive and chickens. i don´t have the exact stats but my guess is we served about 250 people (dentistry alone) altogether my guess is 1,000 or so. It was a tough week but so worth it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Night Bus Blues

I don´t know if I can really call this the blues but I sure do have to get on a night bus in an hour. I am taking advantage of internet in libertad. I am taking a night bus to quito for my cos conference. In peace corps language that translates to close of service conference. Its two days of info and preparation for finishing one´s service and taking the next step--- returning home.
I was just scanning my first couple of entries written almost exactly two years ago and I cannot believe that my peace corps experience is nearly finished. At the cos conference it will be the last time my omnibus (omnibus 98!!!) will come together before we all go our separate ways. We started this crazy adventure together and sadly some of us have gone home already for different reasons but for the rest of us-- the remaining group it... it will be really great to see eachother and sad to say good-bye. But we made it. We did it. Anyway-- I guess that is all I have to say right now. I better catch my taxi to the bus station and get ready for the long, bumpy ride to quito.
Buenas Noches from Ecuador

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The gift of sight

Not only did we celebrate the fiestas de Santa Rita but we held our very first campaña de lentes! For the past five months a group of youth and I have been working closely with a great NGO, Community Solutions and after months of trainings in how to give eye exams and identify various vision related illnesses we held our first campaign.

The youth gave free eye exams and also sold reading glasses, eye drops, sun glasses and protective eyeware for very very reduced rates. What is really cool is that when the people arrive they always assume that the gringos are giving the eye exams and the youth are assisting us but we get to say, NOPE- these very smart and capable young ecuadorians are in charge and we are assisting them.

We sold 24 pairs of glasses to people who had thought they could no longer read or sew because of near-vision issues and with the aid of reading glasses are able to enjoy those activites and in many cases earn a better living. (many women sew etc).

The youth involved also earn a small wage which can help pay their school tuititon and help their families. In the next months we will continue to set up these campaigns and travel to small communities where no health care is available. This is a great chance for people to learn how to take care of their vision and for many people who thought they were going blind- it an amazing chance to see again!!! So many great things are going on here! And what an amazing group of youth!!

Fiestas de Santa Rita

Sunday morning coffee and content to find myself here- Sunday. The past four days have been put to good use and I am tired and happy.
Thursday and Friday were the Fiestas of Palmar or the Fiestas de Santa Rita and Palmar knows how to throw a party. Lots of music, dancing, soccer, traditional games, parades, castle burning and crazy cows.
That is right–even crazy cows or vaca loca. The infamous vaca loca consists of a very brave man donning a metal cow head strapped with fire works and running into crowds of happily screaming party-goers. He shoots fireballs off and people run. After the vaca loca we burn the castle or quemar el castillo which involves a large structure booby-trapped with spinning wheels that spit flames and fireworks in all directions and various other types of fireworks and fire. It’s a rowdy display of light, color, sound and general festive glory. Meanwhile the traveling carnaval has set up camp and have built a rickety ferris wheel and constructed other childrens rides from scraps of metal and what I will call “pieces of vintage amusement park history”. In the sandy street runs a little train that looks like a worm taking laughing kids from one end of the street to the other. There are candied apples, fried plantains, pink popcorn balls and homemade ice cream as far as one can see and tents selling plastic jewelary, toy guns, hot wheels, teddy bears, tiny blue-eyed dolls and other plastic toys that kids everywhere just love.

It’s a beautiful haphazard world of lights, salsa music and families having a wonderful night with the ocean a few feet away and a sky awake with stars.
At the heart of this festival is the saint herself, Santa Rita de Casia. A friend recently gave me a book about the life of Santa Rita which I am still reading.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Scholarship Kids and Nuestra Señora de Fatima

The photo with the kids holding their school supplies are this years scholarship recipients. One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to help coordinate this program. We recieve the money for the scholarships via the catholic church. These scholarships allow for 24 children to attend grade school without this help they would not be able to go to school. Through-out the year i meet with their parents at least once a month to give workshops and discuss ways for them ( many of whom have not finished grade school or highschool) to support their children. I have now been working withthis group for two years and it´s been really great. Students recently entered classes again and it´s always a great time as they get their school supplies and i am always so excited to see their big smiles and their great motivation to be the best students they can be. It´s strange and sad to think that we only have two months left together as my time with the peace corps is starting to wind down but there will be a new volunteer to take my place and continue this work.

These photos are from the annual pilgramage dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Fatima. It is 20 km walk that takes place under hot coastal sun. Our youth group volunteers every year to help control the crowd so that we stay on one side of the highway. This is tough work. But after a long hot walk and a long mass-- it always feels good.