Que viva Quito!

9 Dec

To quote my host mom: Wow, how the time flies!

Today is my second-to-last day in Ecuador, since tomorrow I am off to Peru and I’ll only be back for one night before I fly home to the US on December 20th! This whole experience has been a crazy, roller-coaster, amazing, eye-opening, life-changing ride. I am really excited to come home for Christmas and be able to see my family and friends, but at the same time it’s hard to accept the fact that this adventure is coming to an end. I thought I would reflect a little bit on some of the things I will miss most about Ecuador, and some of the things that I can’t wait to get away from 🙂

Things I will NOT miss:

-stray, rabid dogs in the street that bark all night and all morning

-the poop that can be found everywhere in the streets due to above mentioned dogs

-not being able to flush toilet paper in the toilet!!

-creepy catcalls and honks from random men, even police!

-feeling awkward with a host family

-having basically no sense of independence- Latin American families do not value this

-eating potatoes, rice, and other bland, starchy foods for every meal

-being afraid to ask what exactly is in my soup

-whole milk

-terrible road conditions, crazy drivers, and no traffic laws

-altitude sickness

-bacterial infections

-living on Latin American time, meaning everyone is late for EVERYTHING


Things I will miss the most:

-the mountains, the jungle, the rainforest, the beach

-being able to find a panadería with hot, fresh bread on every corner

jugos, batidos, and fresh fruit

-empanadas and fritadas

Ice cream from Crepes & Waffles- the best restaurant ever!

-being able to ride the bus for 25 cents

-llamas and monkeys

-getting sunburned in December

-all of the new friends that I have made

-my internship in the Sub Centro de Salud Juan Montalvo

-having the opportunity to travel to exotic places every weekend

-a country where people go out of their way to help you with directions, etc.

-the feeling of accomplishment of knowing how to navigate the public transportation in Quito

-fresh mountain air

-my adorable little neighbor man who always says “Buenos dĂ­as, veci!” (Good morning, neighbor!) to me every time I walk by

-learning constantly about another culture

-artesian markets

-the constant challenge of communicating in Spanish

-friendly taxi drivers


I guess there are a lot more things that I will miss than not miss! This experience has definitely been fantastic, but it’s still not over yet! Hopefully I’ll get a post about Peru up before I head home. To all my Solheids, I can’t make it home for Solheid Christmas, so Merry Christmas from across the world! Love you and miss you and see you soon!

Cuenca… and leaving Cayambe

2 Dec

Happy December everybody! Above is a picture of my friend Lizzie and me in Cuenca, Ecuador. Cuenca is a city about 8 hours south of Quito by bus and it feels much more European than the rest of the country. Everything there is very historical, pretty, and clean. Here is a picture of one of the pretty buildings there:

Pretty much the whole city looked like this. We spent the weekend walking around downtown, exploring museums and churches, and eating A LOT. In Cuenca, you can find gelato, cakes, and other delicious yummy things that are not normal in Quito, so we definitely took advantage! I think I probably gained like 10 pounds just from the weekend :/ We also visited Cajas National Park, which was absolutely gorgeous. Here’s a pic:

After the Cuenca trip, I headed back to Cayambe for a week to finish out my internship, and today I left Cayambe FOREVER. That was pretty sad! My host family got me a cute card and a gift, and I definitely cried a little bit as my bus was pulling away from the station. I am really going to miss my host family from Cayambe, as well as the quiet lifestyle of the town and working in the sub centro.

This week, I am in Quito writing my monografĂ­a, which is my final research paper and presentation for school. It has to be more than 20 pages- which is the longest paper that I have ever written in my entire life and it’s in Spanish! My paper is going to be about measles and the vaccination campaign that I helped with in my internship. This week also marks the Fiestas de Quito, which celebrate the foundation of Quito, which happened on December 6th of some year in the 1500s that I don’t have the energy to google right now. That means that this place is going to get crazy! If you remember my post about the fiestas in my neighborhood, try to imagine that but throughout the entire city and millions of people! Be sure to look out for a post about that soon…

And now, for the part you have all been waiting for….

Weird stuff I ate!

Oh man, I can’t wait to hear what you guys are going to say about this one! Today, since it was my last day in Cayambe, and seeing as Cayambe is known around the country for it’s cuy, naturally I had to try it before I left. In case you don’t recall what cuy is, it is GUINEA PIG. Yes, you read that right, I ate a guinea pig. It’s a delicacy here in Ecuador, since cuys are believed to have spiritual powers. It wouldn’t have been that bad, except it looked like this:

The meat was actually okay, it tasted like chicken or rabbit, except smoother. But I just couldn’t get past the fact that I was eating a guinea pig, and the way that it was cooked didn’t help. This is what my plate looked like:

Yep, that’s the leg. Complete with toenails and all. I ate a good amount until I hit the kidneys and that is when I couldn’t eat any more. But overall it was a good experience and I am glad that I did it before I left!

Alright, that’s it for now. Merry Christmas preparations to all!

Working for the weekend

23 Nov

Hi everyone, sorry it has been so long since my last post- it is just really hard to keep up when I don’t have internet. But right now I am in Quito again for Thanksgiving, so I have internet and I am going to write a post about my internship! Above is a picture of the building where I work- it is called the Sub Centro de Salud Juan Montalvo. It is basically a tiny little clinic outside of Cayambe that serves a rural population. All of the services at the clinic are free, since all health care in the public sector is free in Ecuador. At the clinic, there is one general medicine doctor, one gynecologist, one orthodontist, one nurse, and me. I have been working here for about a month now, and I only have next week left before my internship is already over! Here is a photo of the signs that you see right when you walk in the building. The sign on the left lists all of the services offered at the Sub Centro in both Spanish and Quichua, the language of the indigenous people in the area.

Here is picture of the area that serves as “triage” more or less.

Every morning I arrive at the sub centro at 8 am, and I am always the first staff person to arrive. Usually at that time, there is already a line of about 40 people outside the building waiting for me to let them inside. Then, I start to give out turnos, or basically appointments for the day, to all of the patients that are waiting. I also have to open new patient histories for the ones who have never visited the clinic before. This can be difficult because there is no computerized system of information, rather each patient has a folder filled with their paperwork. Each folder has a number, and it is the patient’s responsibility to remember that number. If they forget the number, I have to take the time to search for their folder among the 2600 folders on the shelf. It is also difficult because the majority of the people here do not know how to spell their own names and do not have a specific address, since the houses don’t have numbers here.

After I give out turnos to everyone waiting, I start to prepare the patients for the doctors. This means taking their vital signs, measuring their height and weight, and asking some general questions. Here is a picture of me preparing a baby for a visit:

Another part of my job is to give patients their medicine that the doctor has prescribed. Here is a photo of the pharmacy here at the clinic:

As you can see, there are not many medications to choose from! I continue to do these tasks until 4 pm, which is when the sub centro closes and I head home.

The other main part of my job is to go out with the nurse to the schools in the community to vaccinate all of the children against measles. A few months ago, 48 new cases of measles broke out in Ecuador. This was surprising because it was thought that the country had already eradicated the disease. Because of this, the Ministerio de Salud started a new vaccination campaign to vaccinate all children against measles.

It has been super interesting to be able to see the reality of the community in this way. These schools are literally one room schoolhouses in the middle of nowhere on the side of a mountain with 40 students of all ages and only one teacher. Sometimes it takes us more than an hour of driving up the mountain just to get to the school! I am really glad that I have had the opportunity to participate in this campaign because it has helped me to learn a lot more about the community.

Overall, I have been really happy with my internship so far because I feel very useful, and I am always busy. I am also glad that I have been able to help without crossing any ethical lines by doing things that I am untrained to do. I think that my internship has been a great experience, and a wonderful way to learn more about rural life, the indigenous population, and the health care system in Ecuador.

As a bonus, here is a picture of me and my new host family (Delma, Maria Paz (9), me, and Mateo (11)).

The Galapagos Islands

5 Nov

I just got back yesterday from my too-short vacation to the Galapagos Islands! Here’s a picture of me with some sea lions on the beach of Isla Floriana. I was super excited to go to the Galapagos because I heard that it was beautiful and full of exotic animals and endemic species. Also, it is where Charles Darwin studied and came up with the theory of evolution, and since I am a huge bio nerd it was really exciting to finally see what I read about in my textbooks every year! Unfortunately, I was only able to spend 4 days and 3 nights there, and that definitely was not enough time to see and do everything that I would have liked, but I am glad that I got to go at all!

While there, we stayed in a hotel on Isla Santa Cruz, and then took day trips out to other locations. We visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, Isla Floriana, Isla Santa Fe, and Tortuga Bay. In order to get to the other islands, each day we had about an hour long boat ride in the ocean. It was beautiful and made me miss back when my family used to have a boat 😩

We went snorkeling twice and that was AMAZING! I saw practically every tropical fish that you can imagine: a rainbow fish, manta rays, sharks, sea turtles, and every fish that is in the movie Finding Nemo. I even got to swim with sea lions- one swam right underneath me so close that I could touch it! We were also able to see many iguanas, giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, and many other animals up close. I am going to put some pictures below, I apologize because my internet isn’t very good right now so I can’t put very many up.

Here is one of the zillions of iguanas that are native to the Galapagos. There are so many, and they blend in so well, that I narrowly missed stepping on one a few times!

A Galapagos finch- the poster child of evolution.

A giant tortoise. You can’t tell from this picture, but they are probably about as big as… I don’t know how to describe it.. a laundry hamper? And they can live up to 200 years old!

Baby sea lion

on the dock at Isla Floriana

Puerto Ayora at night

The Galapagos were formed from volcanic eruptions. Here is one of the twin craters- former magma chambers whose roofs collapsed.

Okay, that is probably all I can get away with uploading right now. Overall, it was a wonderful trip, and I am very happy that I was able to do it while I am here. Sorry that the pictures don’t do it justice, but trust me when I say that everything was gorgeous!


30 Oct


I am in my new town right now, Cayambe, which ended up being probably what the equivalent of a suburb of Quito would be. My host family is fantastic, it is a young mom and dad with 2 kids- Mateo, who is 11, and Maria Paz, who is 9. They are all really sweet and I already feel super comfortable with them and like them a lot! My host family doesnŽt have internet, though, so I have to run down the street to rent a computer at an internet cabina. I just wanted to write a quick post to let everyone know that I am doing well and everything is great! My new internship is going well so far, I am working 8-4:30 every day at the subcentro, which is basically like a super tiny rural free clinic with one general doc, one gynecologist, one orthodontist, and one nurse. Right now I am basically acting as a nurse taking all the patientsŽinformation when they come in, like where they live, who they are, their weight and height, their blood pressure and pulse, their respiratory rate and tempurature, etc. Apparently soon I will have to learn how to give injections! I have also been helping out with the country-wide vaccination campaign against measles that is going on. Each day the nurse and I go out to schools and daycares around the area to vaccinate all children under 5. It has been really cool to be able to see the realities of the community each day this way.

On Tuesday I am leaving for my vacation to the Galapagos, and next Saturday I am going to the Aerosmith concert in Quito! I am super excited 🙂 Hope all is well at home!

Packing it up

23 Oct

Tomorrow I leave for my internship in Cayambe, so today is my last day in Quito until December! I can’t decide if that makes me happy, sad, scared, nervous, or excited, but most likely a combination of all of the above. On one hand, I am sad to leave Quito just as I was starting to feel like I was getting the hang of living there. On the other hand, I am starting to get antsy for sure and I can’t wait to head off to a new place!

I know pretty much nothing about where I am headed… I know it is the city of Cayambe, which is about 1.5 hours north of Quito. The area is known for it’s many florĂ­colas, which are flower plantations that I mentioned in an earlier post. Knowing this, I actually just wrote an 8 page paper for my public health class about the terrible effects of florĂ­colas on health. I hope to learn a lot more about this topic during my internship. However, I have not met my new host family, nor do I know anything about them. I don’t know what their house will be like, if I will have internet, if I will have hot water, or anything! I do not know exactly where I will be working, since it could be at the hospital or at the centro de salud. I have no idea what services the health centers there offer, what kinds of things I will be doing, or what health disparities and problems affect the area. Basically I am going in blind!

I am nervous that I am going to get there and feel dumb and useless since I am not a medical professional, I don’t have any training, and let’s not even talk about how hard it is going to be for me to figure out medical jargon in Spanish! I also am nervous about meeting my new host family. Will I like them? What will they be like? I am going to have to go through the awkward process of figuring out how I fit into a  family of strangers again.

But this is exactly the kind of thing that I live for! I can’t wait to get going- to start working on something that I enjoy and am passionate about, to be able to do something active and hands on, and to completely throw myself into learning as much as I can about health in Ecuador, health in general, and rural life.

That’s all for now, wish me luck! Hope this post finds everyone well 🙂

p.s. after one whole month of anxiously worrying and waiting, 3 visits to 3 separate post offices all across quito, 2 unhelpful phone calls, and a lot of stress, I finally got the amazing package that my parents sent me, which means that I now have a new camera! To see the few pictures that I have taken so far with it, and to keep up with them as I post them, follow this public link: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150515440074896.471558.834179895&type=1&l=c38844f2e6


Baños and Puyo

19 Oct

Sunset in Baños, Ecuador.

This weekend, I visited the town of Baños with some of my friends. Baños is a small, tourist town about 4 hours away from Quito, and it is named after the thermal pools that come from the heated springs of the volcano Tungurahua which is right next to the town. We headed to Baños with the intention of doing a 60 km bike ride on Saturday morning to Puyo, a neighboring town that has a monkey reserve. So on Saturday morning we woke up and rented some bikes from a tourist agency down the street. It was a beautiful day, and we were having a great time biking, but we only got about 2 miles in before 2 people’s bike chains completely broke, and I found out that I couldn’t change my gears! So, we had to call the lady that we rented the bikes from and we ended up waiting for at least an hour on the side of the road for her to come and pick us up.

It ended up being a good thing that we stopped, though because we decided to put the money we had spent on the broken bikes towards canyoning instead! Canyoning is basically rappelling down waterfalls. Here’s a picture of us in all of our gear heading out to the waterfalls:

We got to do 4 different waterfalls that day- the first two were pretty easy, and more for practice, the second one was like a water slide:

that’s me! And the last waterfall was the mother of all waterfalls- we each had to go one by one and there was a tiny little part that to rappel down before each person just disappeared down a cliff! When it was my turn, I realized that it was because after a little bit it became a sheer drop/free fall! So basically, I was sitting in my harness, rappelling myself down a 40 meter waterfall with nothing to hold on to and nothing to put my feet on! It was super fun and exhilarating! However, also really sad because for this waterfall both of our guides had to hook themselves up to the equipment, so they couldn’t take any pictures of us 😩 So here is a semi-cool picture of me doing one of the easier waterfalls instead:

Canyoning was really fun! I am so glad that we did it. After we got back from the waterfalls, we headed to the baños- the hot water baths- and hung out there for a while. There were 3 levels of baths- cold, medium, and HOT. The medium one was actually probably hotter than a normal hot tub, and the hot one was blazing! I couldn’t even put my feet in for more than a few seconds at a time without feeling like I was going to die, but there were people swimming around in it like it was no big deal! Supposedly, the baths have magical healing qualities. Not sure if I believe that, but my skin is definitely a lot softer now!

After the baths, we went on a night chiva tour up the mountains. A chiva is basically like an Ecuadorian party bus that is open to the air, made out of wood, has a bunch of strobe lights and glow in the dark things on it, and blasts popular music out of a speaker in the back. Here is a picture of us on our chiva:

When we got to our destination, we could see all of Baños at night time- it was beautiful! We were also supposed to see the volcano but it is inactive right now, so there wasn’t much to see…

On Sunday morning, since we didn’t make it to Puyo the day before on the bikes, we took a bus there to visit the monkey reserve!

The monkey reserve is, basically, exactly what it sounds like- a rescue center or reserve for monkeys that have been abused, were abandoned by their previous owners who had them as pets, or given to the center by the government. The center is located on the edge of the jungle, and most of the monkeys just run free! Here is a picture of one of the monkeys trying to eat something- he was so cute:

Here’s another picture of one of the annoying little lemurs that were also running around there trying to climb up my leg. I made the mistake of wearing shorts, and that little guy had super sharp nails- it was like a cat with claws trying to climb up my leg- not fun!

While we were walking around, we came across a certain brown monkey. As our guide was explaining her name and what type of monkey she was, she just came right up to my and grabbed my hand, like a little child! Then she totally just scampered up my arm and sat on my head!

Yep, I actually had a monkey on my head! How cool is that?! It was SO SWEET, I still can’t really believe that that actually happened!

Well, I guess that’s all I have to say about my weekend trip. Now for:

Weird things I ate!

I didn’t really eat anything weird when I was on vacation, but I have been kind of sick for the last week, and my host mom has made me some…interesting.. concoctions to drink.

1. Oregano water: this is not that weird, but it tastes really really bad! It’s basically hot water with oregano in it, and it is supposed to help if you are having stomach troubles. I think it works!

2. Lemon and onion water: if I thought the first one was bad, this one is horrible! When my host mom gave it to me, she wouldn’t even let me taste it first because she knew it was that bad. I had to chug it as fast as I could. But supposedly this one helps when you are sick too…

3. Colada morada: this is not a remedy for being sick, rather it is the traditional treat for DĂ­a de los difuntos, or the Ecuadorian “Halloween.” DĂ­a de los difuntos takes place on November 1st and 2nd, and it’s very similar to Mexico’s DĂ­a de los muertos, in that it is a special holiday to honor the dead. The colada morada is a hot, sweet, fruity drink that is traditionally accompanied with guaguas de pan, or bread that is shaped to look like a baby. Here’s a picture of what it looks like- it’s delicious!

Alright, that’s the end of my post! This week is my last week of classes (!) and Monday I am leaving for my internship! I actually got some great news today because I thought I was going to be working in the hospital of Cayambe, which wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for because I already volunteer at a hospital in the US, and I wanted to do something different, but my teacher told me today that after the staff there had read my letter of intent, they realized that I would rather be doing work that is more public health based and directly connected in the community. So now I am going to work at a small centro de salud in the same area that works directly with the hospital, but on a smaller, more primary level. And that is exactly what I was looking for! So I am excited to get going on that!

In other news, I just planned my trip to the Galapagos in 2 weeks- look out for a future blog post about that! And right now, I am in the middle of trying to figure out my Peru trip after the program is over! Also, my dad sent me a new camera about a month ago, but I still have not received notification that I can come and pick it up. I think that it is lost in the Ecuadorian mail system somewhere 😩 And since I’m leaving the city on Monday, I probably won’t be able to get my package until at least Thanksgiving, when I return to Quito, so I guess that’s that. But anyways, hope everyone is having a great time at home and enjoying the beautiful fall weather!

The Amazon!

11 Oct

Hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because you are about to read a post about how I went to the JUNGLE. I still can’t believe that I was actually in the Amazon- it’s so cool! Above is a picture of a canoe on the Napo River in the town MisahuallĂ­, which we visited. I am going to include lots of pictures in this post so that you can see what it was like, but I should warn you that the pictures don’t do it justice!

Last week, we had Friday free from classes, so I traveled with a group of 10 students to Tena, which is a city on the banks of two converging rivers on the outskirts of the Amazon. It took about 6 hours total by bus for us to get there. We left early Friday morning and arrived in the afternoon. Since we didn’t have much time to plan anything super adventurous that day, we mostly just hung out and explored around Tena.

On Saturday, we got up early again and took a taxi over to MisahuallĂ­, which is a port town on the Napo river. There, we hired some guides to take us on a canoe trip and a tour of the jungle. We had several guides, but one of them was named Panther. Literally. I still think that is pretty funny! Here’s a picture of him next to a “walking palm” on our jungle hike:

Before we set off, the tour guides explained what we would be doing and gave us each a pair of rubber boots and a bottle of water for the hike. Then we walked down to the river to get in the canoe. They told me that we would be canoeing for 2 hours to get to our destination, so I was all ready to row. But then I found out that the canoes actually have motors and we didn’t have to row! That was pretty nice. Also, the canoes have roofs, which helped a lot because in the Amazon it rains off and on all day.

After canoeing for a while, we got off the boat and began the jungle hike. This hike was actually pretty tough at some points- especially at the beginning and the very end, when it was super steep. Plus, because of the rain, the ground was really muddy and slick, and it was very hard to get a good grip. A lot of us ended up slipping and falling at various times, but it was so worth it 🙂

During the hike, we did a lot of cool things, including swinging on a vine!

That’s me! I felt like Tarzan! We also had our faces painted with a special kind of fruit, I can’t remember the name. There is a tribe of indigenous people who live in the jungle called the Tsachilas who use the natural paint as hair dye. Other groups just use it as face paint. Here is a picture of what I looked like after our guide painted my face- he really went to town!

Apparently the designs are symbols of the power of nature. The hike was super cool because we got to learn a lot about traditional healing methods, curative plants, and animals. It was sad, though, because we weren’t actually able to see any exotic animals in the wild because they have all migrated further into the jungle, due to all of the people hunting them for food and for trade. However, as part of the day we got to visit an animal reserve in the jungle for animals that are endangered, injured, or sick. Here is a picture of a monkey there:

So cute! We also saw some mini crocodile things:

And some toucans, parrots,  ocelots, and many other animals that I don’t have room for pictures for! After visiting the reserve, we got back in the canoe and returned to MisahuallĂ­ around 5 pm. It was a long, tiring, but awesome day!

On Sunday morning, we visited the Cavernas de Jumandy, which are real caves in the town of Archidona, which neighbors Tena, where we were staying. Exploring those caves was another of the funnest things I have ever done- it was pretty intense! It was pitch dark in there and we had to wear headlamps. Also, there is a river running through the caves, so we only wore our swimsuits. There were a few tight squeezes, and a couple of times we had to crawl in order to fit through the spaces! Here are some pictures of the caves:

This was our guide. He was super cool, and very passionate about the history of the caves, which was great!

Us climbing through the caves- that’s me in the red swimsuit.

That’s us swimming in a pool in the caves! It was super fun. After the caves, we returned to our hostel, got everything together, and caught the bus back home. I didn’t get home until 8:30 at night, just in time to eat dinner with my host family and go to bed!

It seems like many people have been interested and shocked to find out about all of the weird things I have been eating here in Ecuador (chicken ovaries, guinea pig, etc) so now I am going to start a new segment of my blog- it will be called…

Weird things that I ate!

And now, an explanation of the weird things I ate in the jungle!

1. ANTS! Yes, Ants! Right out of a leaf. And I am not kidding when I say that they were delicious! They tasted like lemons, and I wish that I could sprinkle them on top of all of my food now. Here’s a picture of the leaf that we scooped them out of:

2. This one isn’t as weird, but when we stopped for lunch, our meal was served on ojas dulces, which are big leaves that grow on jungle trees and are known for their sweet taste. A lot of the traditional food of the Oriente (the eastern part of Ecuador) is cooked inside of the leaves, to give it more flavor. Here’s a picture of my lunch:

Alright, that’s it! Overall, the trip was amazing and super fun, and I still can’t really wrap my head around the fact that I was actually there! Hope everything is going well for you guys! I’ll add some bonus pictures down at the bottom. Bye!

View from the exit of the caves

Family panning for gold on the river bank

View of the Rio Napo

Monkey in a tree!

Field trip!

6 Oct

This blog post is coming a little late, but last week I went on a 3-day field trip with my public health class to visit various sites relating to public health in Ecuador. Above is a picture of the signs that we saw in one of the sub-centers of health. I think this picture only shows signs in Spanish, but many of the centers had signs in both Spanish and Quichua, the indigenous language of the sierra.If I try to include everywhere that we went and all of my thoughts about the trip, this post could become a 200 page novel, so I will try to keep it short with just the highlights!

One of the problems that the health system of Ecuador faces is attempting to provide health services for the indigenous population. The indigenous peoples of Ecuador have a completely different cosmovision and way of life than the rest of the population, so they have entirely different ideas about sickness and health. Often, indigenous people are afraid to go to a hospital or health center that provides regular western medicine, or else they don’t believe it will work, so they opt to be treated in their communities with traditional methods. This can be dangerous, because much of the time the traditional healers in the communities lack sufficient resources, funds, and tools to heal the patient.

One of the places that we visited on our trip was called Jambi Mascaric, and was basically a cooperative of parteras, or traditional midwives, who offer their services to the community. We had the opportunity to speak with several of the parteras and to see a demonstration of traditional indigenous birthing methods. I found out that indigenous women prefer vertical births, as pictured below.

The pregnant woman is kneeling on the ground and is completely covered by the green blanket. This is because traditionally, indigenous women prefer more privacy when giving birth. She is supported by her spouse, or in the case of this picture, her mother, and the partera is performing a limpia, or a cleaning ritual with herbs, on the patient. Some other interesting facts about vertical births is that it is a very important indigenous tradition to bring the placenta home after the birth. Sometimes the placenta is buried in the yard and a tree is planted above it, which can grow along with the newborn baby. Other times, the placenta is hung above the doorway into the family’s house for good luck. Also, painkillers are not used for this type of birth! Instead, the midwives prepare aguitas for the mother, which are sort of like teas made from traditional healing herbs. Below is a picture of some of the midwives giving us a tour of their garden, where they grow all of the plants and herbs they need for their practice.

Another super cool place that we visited was called Jambi Huasi, which is a center of traditional medicine, located in the city of Otavalo. Here, we were able to see a limpia con cuy, which is a traditional method of diagnosis that uses a guinea pig! In the indigenous culture, guinea pigs are believed to have special power regarding energy. For example, in pre-colonial times, the indigenous people used to keep guinea pigs running free in their houses. If the guinea pigs started freaking out when someone came to the door, this was a sign that the visitor had bad energy, and was not allowed to enter the house. Similarly, it is believed that a guinea pig can be used as a diagnostic tool to find out what is making a patient sick, because it can absorb all of the patient’s bad energy. Basically what happens is the healer grabs a guinea pig by the neck and shakes/rubs it all over the entire body of the patient, while reciting traditional prayers. During this part, the guinea pig dies (I think because it’s neck gets broken from all the shaking, but I’m not quite sure!). Next, the healer skins the guinea pig completely and examines all of its body parts and organs. If the patient is sick, it will be visible in the guinea pig. For example, if the patient had a heart problem, there should be a visible problem with the guinea pig’s heart, because it absorbed the bad energy of the patient. Below is a picture of the guinea pig we saw- don’t look if you’re queasy!

I am not sure if I believe that this actually works, but the indigenous people definitely believe it does! Even my host mom believes that it works- she told me that she went to have a limpia done one day because she was experiencing pain in her lower stomach area. The healer skinned the guinea pig and found a tumor in its uterus, and told my host mom that she had uterine cancer and would need surgery. My host mom went to the western hospital soon after, and sure enough had her uterus completely removed because of the cancer! Even if I don’t know if I believe it, I can see that it is pretty powerful stuff for those that do.

This post is getting really long, so I will just note that we also visited a hospital, a sub center of health, an afroecuatorian woman with knowledge of traditional healing herbs, and also a dispensary of health in an area with a predominantly afroecuatorian population. Here’s a picture of one of the young doctors that we met- she wasn’t that much older than us!

It was wonderful to get to visit these places and actually see them first hand, rather than simply learn about them in class. Furthermore, it was a super eye-opening experience for me to learn more about the public health problems that communities in Ecuador face, the problems within the infrastructure of the Ecuadorian health system, and the struggle to provide both traditional and western health care to everyone. Every place that we visited, and every health care worker that I spoke with was utterly inspiring. In a few weeks, I will be moving to a rural town called Cayambe to do an internship in the small hospital there. This trip made me really excited to get started there! I can’t wait to learn and experience more, because this is the kind of stuff that I’m really passionate about!

Fiestas de San Isidro del Inca

2 Oct

Sorry guys! I’m getting a little behind on the blog posts, but here is a picture of my host family and me at a party at our neighbor’s house last weekend.

Last weekend we had huge fiestas in our neighborhood! My neighborhood, San Isidro del Inca, is one of the few neighborhoods left in Quito that has traditional fiestas every year. Ours are held in honor of the Virgen de Mercedes. In order to picture what it was like, just think of it as the biggest block party you have ever seen. There were street vendors lined all along the roads selling everything from roasted cuy (guinea pig- it’s a delicacy here!) to illegal dvds to alpaca sweaters. In the plaza that surrounds the community church, there was a giant stage where traditional bands played for free, and demonstrations of traditional and indigenous dance were performed many times throughout the week. i would estimate that there were probably 500 people in the church plaza on Saturday night dancing and celebrating!  Below is a picture of some of the traditional dancers- they are called Yubios and are indigenous people from the Amazon region. You can see from the picture that they dress up in crazy costumes!

On Saturday morning, I went to church with my family at 9 am (where I found out that Catholic mass in Spanish is basically word for word the same as Catholic mass in English, however I felt super awkward because I don’t know how to recite or pray in Spanish so I stuck out like a sore thumb..), and I expected that we were going to return home after mass, but instead we ended up following a marching band from the church down the streets of our neighborhood to a neighbor’s house where there was a huge party!  The bad stopped marching and set up inside a giant tent in the neighbor’s back yard and everyone started dancing. It was super fun, and not too hard because apparently traditional Ecuadorian dancing is just kind of like randomly shuffling back and forth! My friend Liz and I had fun learning how to dance, and showing everyone some American dance moves as well. Another thing that surprised me is that in Ecuador, people dance continuously to the same song without stopping for up to 30-40 minutes! Then they take a 5 minute break and start back up again. I was exhausted by the end of the party! Here is a picture of one of the bands from the weekend:

Also at the party, we ate some really….interesting… food. First, we were served a chicken, potato, and vegetable soup, which is pretty standard for Ecuador. However, each soup bowl contained a huge piece of the chicken- bones, intestines, and all! My piece happened to include the ovary of the chicken and some of the unborn eggs that were inside of the hen! I don’t really remember what they tasted like because I tried to choke them down really fast because I was scared, but that was definitely a new experience for me! The next course was rabbit- which I actually liked. And with all of this food we had a traditional drink called chicha, which is a homemade fermented drink, usually made with corn.

On Saturday night, the fiestas in the neighborhood continued with more music, dancing, and fireworks! Below is a picture of one of the big statue thingies that they set on fire-

Yes, they set that huge wooden thing on fire right there in the middle of the huge crowd of people. I should note that they also set off really intense fireworks from that exact place as well- it was actually pretty scary! At one point, someone lit one of those big lanterns like in the movie Tangled, which had an open flame in the bottom and then it accidentally got stuck on a tree and set the tree on fire! Needless to say, Ecuadorians don’t seem to care much about fire safety 🙂

Overall, it was fun to see so many people from the neighborhood and surrounding area come together to celebrate, and to experience what a true Ecuadorian party is like! The fiestas lasted pretty much the whole week and included concerts, dances, church services, and prayer walks. A note about the prayer walks- every morning at around 5 am, about 100 people from the neighborhood would walk up and down the streets with candles praying the rosary. However, the person in the front of the line prayed the rosary through a giant MEGAPHONE! So, I pretty much woke up at 5 am every day that week haha. It was cool to see how the fiestas were an interesting mix of religious activity and crazy drinking, eating and dancing.

Sorry so late with this post, hopefully I will be able to write another one soon about the 3-day field trip I just went on with my public health class, and then another one about what I did this weekend- Happy National AfroEcuatorian Day! (today is a national holiday for the Ecuadorians of African descent- will write about it soon!)