Sunday, October 19, 2003

hola mis amigos! I'm writing from Quito, Ecuador today! I arrived last night after a rather adventurous trip...

I left Sunday with Ramon for Lima. He needed to take care of some papers for his trip and I wanted a few new things to wear for my conference. (Some things never change, do they?) So that was a 24 hour or so bus ride. We stayed in a favorite hostal of Ramon's and I got to finally see parts of Lima that didn't terrify me. And when I return I now know where to go. So we had, walking, exploring, looking in bookstores (but nary a book in English!) We stayed for 2 days or so and then took a plush bus to Trujillo where his family lives. (I now also have learned there is 'economico', ie., sin baño, sin comida, cillas no comodos (without bathrooms, food, and horrible seats) and then there is 'ejectivo', ie., con baños, con comida, y tambien con semi-camas (with bathrooms, with food, and seats that extend into an almost bed!) So we traveled in the night and it was relatively comfortable. We arrived early in the morning to his family's home. Now there are 3 niños around and oh so cute. Eduardo, Pierro and Emily. Emily es una gordita (plump!), only 2 months old and the boys are close in age, 1 1/2 years or so, very sweet but are also at the age sharing is a difficult task. So, Pierro, frequently pulls the hair of Eduardo when Eduardo has a toy he wants. Seeing his family again was wonderful. We spent time taking care of errands for my trip, walking, seeing friends of Ramon's and of course eating ceviche. We went running one day near a pre- inca site and then trekked halfway up a sand dune mountain overlooking Trujillo (or part of it.) Everywhere are pieces of old. old pottery so the sand is mixed in color with brown pieces of pottery everywhere. Trujillo itself is a big city and at night in the center of town, it's just crazy! So the last day I was there I started feeling both blue and excited at the same time. Blue because I wouldn't be seeing Ramon for 2 months and excited because of the conference and opportunity to learn more about the practice of traditional medicine here. And I'm sure his family thought I was nuts for crying. (But since menopause I cry about everything, so I blamed that!)

So the trip from Trujillo was sola (alone). Ramon wrote explicit instructions about what to do when I reached the border, buses, Quito, costs, everything. But, it was not like he thought!! From Trujillo to Aguas Verdes all went fine. At Aguas Verdes it was announced we were at the oficina de migraciones. So at the door of the bus I was immediately accosted by 3 young men, 'my guides' to this process. We went to the Peruvian office first and they took my peruvian visa and then walked to the Ecuadorian office over a little bridge. All the time these guys are babbling rapido en español...I could understand it was about the road and there were problems with the road to Machalla, the next town where my bus was supposed to be, to Quito. So, after all this they insist I change my soles into dollares (the economy is dollarized in Ecuador). So for 130 soles I get back 28 dollars. So, after the visa for Ecuador was issued to me, we walked abit and then they led me to a taxi to get to Machalla. I tipped them but they said it wasn't enough! (I ignored that.) Then I was told it would be $25.00 for the taxi! And that took care of my $28.00... (Ramon had said $10.00) Well being in between a rock and a hard place I said, 'OK.' So off we go. Then I see what the problems are with the the time I didn't understand but asked questions later and then understood. The people that grow bananas were on strike trying to get more money per kg. So every kilometer or so, there were tree branches, leaves, people, etc blocking the road. To have them clear it, of course you had to pay more money. So this happened at least 6 times. (At the time not understanding just why the roads were blocked, I thought well. ' I guess it's one way to make a little money...') We then came to a huge trailer (without a tractor attached to it) completely blocking the road. The taxi couldn't go any further. So the driver simply says I have to walk across the blockade...mind you I am the ONLY turista here). So I crawl around the trailer and lo and behold there is a combi (van) going to Machalla. So off we go again. And in Machalla, they drop me off at an office for a bus station. They say 'ask here'. Well the office is obviously closed and the van is gone in a second! And everyone I ask as I wander about this town flatly answers 'No hay un bus.' So this town is not the prettiest, the people not the friendliest and its HOT and the bus stations are always in the worst part of town. So after asking 5 or 6 people and getting the same flat response of 'no hay' (There is no bus.) So, I then almost cried but held it back. I thought of my very tall dutch friend Margo when she was in spots and terrified and that always she got through it and it was how she realized how good she was at thinking on her feet! So I took a deep breath and then looked for a map (I forgot to get one from Ramon, so here I am with no idea of how far I am away from anything!!) Well, I must have asked the question, is there any way out of this hellhole? (I didn't really say that!) But the man at the store had no map but did say there was an airport! So I grab a taxi and get to the airport. (Sylvie, it reminded me of TAM only smaller!) So miraculously I arrived in time to be the 4th and final person that could fit in a small plane to Guayaquil where there was a bus! So 4 is the pilot, with 3 passengers for $60.00). I wait 1/2 hour and the next thing I know I am next to the pilot in a DINKY plane and flying over parts of the ocean (Machalla is near the coast), rivers, and over islands. It's clearly jungle like. I have photos. So we arrive at a private airport and then ride in a truck belonging to Juan Pablo and Rodolfo (for free!) to a taxi and then to the bus station. One of the passengers of the plane paid for the taxi, directed me to the right bus, got me throught the gate and to the bus with 10 minutes to spare. UNBELIEVABLE. And he never told me his name! Thanks to my stranger! It was if I had planned it this way!! So then it was 8 hours to Quito, an easy taxi ride and when I opened the door of the cab, there stood Rohan, one of the people involved with the conference! Again it was as if I had planned it. Am I lucky or what???

So the hostal is very nice. The bed is WONDERFUL (but minus Ramon). Tonight we meet about the conference and then for dinner. What I have seen of Quito is very pretty with more of a colonial feel than Cusco. I'll be here for 2 weeks and will not be able to download photos until I return. But I will write when I can. It will be a full 2 weeks, between the conference itself and then trips to the mountains and jungles meeting with shamans, curanderos, midwives and bonesetters. Again very different than any conference I've been to. (To say the least!!)

Much love, Laurie

Thursday, October 09, 2003

I am back from another few days in Sipascancha. It is so much another world; I can't believe it . This time I arrived late because I spent the weekend in Machu Picchu and !Aguas Calientes with Ramon and friends of his. Sunday was a day where the Peruvians could visit Machu Picchu 'gratis' or free, so we all went. It is very expensive otherwise and here with this incredible place right in their midst you don't often see the locals up there. Crazy. So we climbed Huallya Picchu, a mountain next to where the ruins are all the way to the top and then came down the other side via ladders and steps upon steps upon steps to the Temple de la Luna. I will try to download pictures before leaving for Ecuador. It was a gorgeous day and the sites incredible. But, I will say my knees, after all those damn steps hurt afterword and unlike my friends I was covered, just covered with bites from 'mosqos'. (I guess it's because I am sweeter and whiter than them!) So after taking the train from Machu Picchu Monday morning, and then catching a taxi to Cusco from Ollantaytambo, I scurried and packed another bag for Sipascancha and then took a bus and a taxi up to my little town and got there at 1:00, just in time for almuerzo.

So after unpacking my few belongings and eating a great bowl of soup, it was time for work. The clinic is freezing and I just hate to have people undress in there. The first thing I do is plug in my electric tea pot for hot water, not only for coca leaf tea but for clean water to wash wounds with. The day was very peaceful with the usual curious kids peaking in my window, and an occasional pig or two wondering by...And things are looking up here. I have more medicines and I am getting more comfortable with both using them and not using them. The people tend to think of the medicines as a cure all but many times the respiratory, or gastrointestinal problems they have don't require antibiotics. So many of their problems are caused by poor sanitation. They often require more fluid intake, boiling the water and home remedies that take pateince and time. But, I can imagine in the dark homes they live in my instructions are easier said than done. So my patients this time ranged from 2 months of age to a woman in her 60's. I had the help of my buddy Placido in translating the Quechua to spanish. I just love him. (Really I just love them all.) But Placido, is very much like his name and he has the sweetest smile on earth. We were paid in everything from eggs to beans and when the people can afford it, the charge for services, medicine, everything is S/.50 or about $.15. Can you believe it? Because Placido was such a great help, I gave him the eggs and the beans and a fleece jacket. (I keep a box of donations in my office so I can give things out personally when I see the need.) So as I said things are looking up there. I've made posters in spanish and quechua to help teaching and one day I had 20 kids outside all with pieces of paper held down by rocks (it was windy) and all my pens and crayons and now have the walls of the clinic decorated with their art. And its all of their life: the mountains, animals, birds, smiling suns, a few trucks and madres complete with hats and skirts.

After my day, which usually ends about 6 PM, I head to my little room to get warm clothes. After about 5, it is FREEZING in Sipascancha. Then I get to have a small cena with Parela, Inga and any other volunteers. Uually its a fried egg with rice or vegetables. And because its so damn cold, we then head to the cocina and sit by the embers to heat ourselves through before trekking again to our rooms in the penthouse. My room is sparse to say the least. There are 3 windows with blue plastic over them serving as curtains. I have a bed, a cardboard box as a table, an electric teapot, a light by the bed and otherwise a pot to pee in and a bucket to hold water to wash in. (I got the pot to pee in after reporting that I get up to pee for some unknown reason 3 times every night I'm there and it is freezing!! So it helps.) And when I get ready to retire, its not unusual to hear music from neighboring houses. So I wrap my head in my poncho, and wear long johns and socks and then sleep on top of one blanket and under two others and sleep until its time to pee again.

So one of the highlights of my 3 days this time was to help out in the kitchen with 5 or 6 women, one of which spoke spanish and quechua. So that was cool . I got to talk to them more about what they need and thier lives. I can't believe how hard they work. Many have husbands with problems of drinking. They have up to 10 kids. They take care of everything and often do not have enough food to feed their families. They told me of women who die in childbirth and who have lived with chronic vaginal infections. They need help with birth control and help with prenatal care. So, in spite of how difficult it is, they laugh and enjoy themselves. So there we were, the gringa shucking beans and everyone chopping vegetables for two enormous pots of soup that will feed over 300 kids.

I have decided to just work there because the need is so great. I informed Padre Rene and hope he is not upset. They do have a doctor in his clinic and Sipaschancha has nothing. So its obvious to me where I'm needed the most and I like being part of a small community and hope to have an impact of some sort. But I plan on visiting his community along with Ollantaytambo and helping in other ways when I'm not in Sipascancha. SO once I return from Ecuador, I will visit the nearest centro de salud and coordinate the programs the people most need with them. I want to start keeping growth charts onb the kids under 5 so to better follow who neds the most help with nutrition. And I want to follow the healthy pregnant women and provide birth control and methods for family planning. So with being there every week for 3 days, I think I'll be keeping busy!

Many of you have written me and asked how you can help. I asked Parela and she said 'just look'. At the time we were surrounded by kids in ragged clothes and smiling faces. So the best way to help is with money. After my experience of collecting donations and mailing many of them, it is now clear to me the money I spent on all that would go further directly spent here. Right now any money would go towards Christmas for the kids. We will buy new sandals, clothes, have a special dinner with meat (they don't eat meat often) and a few sweets. I have to talk to my credit union on how we could do it. And, of course, many of you may not be comfortable with this. So let me know. There may be a way to set up part of my account under a title, 'Pencils for Peru' and then deposits could be made to that and I can keep track of it on line here and be responsible for it going to the kids. And remember even $5.00 is equal to almost S/20 and alot can be bought with that here! (And, for my doctor friends, the only other thing I really need is an otoscope!)

So I mentioned going to Ecuador. I'm going to a conference on traditional medicine in South America. Part of it will be public policy with respect to indigenous methods. There will be representation from this continent, the US, WHO, and other parts of the world. Believe it or not I will be delegate. I am not sure of what all this entails but shudder at the thought having just a couple months experience. After that we will travel in a small group and visit shamans, curanderos, bonesetters and midwives. There will be programs on herbs commonly used here. And more! I'm hoping my being more educated on the traditions of the people here will allow me to blend what I know with their practices and maybe the outcome will improve. Who knows?

So my only ohter news is that my roommate (of sorts) got an invite to Europe for 2 months. So I will be sola for awhile. I'm a bit nervous about it. I have lots to keep me busy between my friends here, my work, my english students, running, the gym I joined, my spanish and quechua lessons but there are times I get bored with my own company. I will keep the litel apartment in San Blas and keep moving albeit slow!

And finally I want to apologize to many of my family andbest buddies for very few personal notes. When I'm in town, i accomplish very litel in spite of staying busy!! And computer time can get expensive when you write as much as me!! So forgive me, always know I think of everyone of you often and sometime wish I was home in Eugene closer to all of you.