Saturday, December 8, 2012

Change of plans

I have the strangest feeling that my life is not going to be at all what I expected. This is particularly odd because I’ve never really had any expectations of what my life would be like at all. So to feel like it will be different, different that what, I wonder? But the feeling is still there.

It’s like that story where the woman prepares her whole life to go to Italy, saves her money, studies the culture, learns the language and then is suddenly surprised to find herself landing in Norway (or wherever). It’s still a beautiful country. There are still many adventures to be had. There is still the opportunity for a beautiful life there, but she is entirely caught off guard and unprepared. There it is, a beautiful life to be had with many beautiful experiences...completely different from what she had envisioned.

Again, I hadn’t ever really envisioned anything. And along with any heartache, that comes with it, I’ve always (nearly always, certainly as an adult) had an underlying calm about things and life in general. I know that the Savior loves me. I know that I can try again, even when I get frustrated with my own laziness and inability to make myself try hardly at all. I knew the opportunity was there. The opportunity to be happy in any circumstance. In any location. Perhaps my job choice is merely a subconscious effort to prove that point over and over, every three months. :)

When I decided to go on a mission I had one thought in mind: I want people to know that they can be happy. I want them to know that whatever their story is or was, or will be, they can be happy, even through the hurts.

Are there hurts? Please, are there ever not hurts? Are they ever too much? Sometimes it certainly feels like it. Can you pick yourself back up? I wish sometimes I could stay down, but surely enough, a few minutes, days later I find myself hopeful again. Blast that unquenchable hope and underlying knowledge that there are still things to enjoy once the hurt has had its moment. It’s embarrassing at times. To be so maddened and upset at one moment to find myself only a short while later singing the praises of what fun ride this life is.

And it really is. I’ve always seen this life as very short. It’s amazing how one can always feel like they’re right in the middle of their life. But I do. I have very strong memories from the time I was very young and I remember thinking, even then, how quick this life would fly by. I also remember knowing that I didn’t want to waste it. That I want to soak up all the wonderful things, and all the fun that this first time mortal can conjure up to endure, like tasting new wonderful foods for the first, or even disgusting foods for the first time. HA! (Frog legs. Yuck. Not that I’m the most adventurous person with food. Just that I enjoy learning and growing in this crazy, short life.)

When the topic of this life is brought up at church and how we all rejoiced at the idea of coming to earth and being blessed with the gift of agency, having to push through difficulties, heartaches, and overcoming weaknesses, and constantly having to correct ourselves and drag ourselves back to the path, I still get all excited.

I think to some extent, we all do. When kids ask for a puppy I think they really are excited to take care of it, feed it, walk it, clean up after it. I think they know exactly what it will entail and it enthralls them. Of course, like the rest us with this life, they get lazy, they get distracted, they get bored, or think there is something more important than the puppy (or whatever else it is we want) that they wanted so badly in the first place, the puppy and all the challenges that come with it.

We’re created to love a challenge, or at least growth. I’m terribly lazy and my faith lacks more in myself to care for a puppy, or do what it takes to get, keep, maintain the “puppy” rather than the promised and sure reward that will come from having whatever it is that I want. The exhausting, constant, tedious, re-correction, that in the end is part that means the most and that we become most proud of.

We’re more proud of the culmination of events, dedication and survival of preparing for a the marathon when we cross the finish line than those last 26.2 miles we just completed. These are all metaphors I assure you. I’ve never run a marathon. Not yet anyway. I did train for one once though and got up to 17.5 miles...then I got strep like 6 weeks before the race. But that’s another story for another time.

I don’t claim to be a motivated or productive person. In fact I think I score very low on both ends of those measures. But it doesn’t mean I don’t see joy in the today and for whatever reason am very excited for the road ahead, whatever it is.

This is kind of on point, but probably more off point. I think about this subtly when I think about my dad. His birthday is coming up and I’m trying to think of the appropriate way to celebrate. There are so many to choose from. And any or all of them would have some sort of sweetness to them.

The hurt is still there. He’ll always be dead. Time can’t fix that, like it can the frustration of a friend canceling plans, a failed work out, a bad day at work, or a bad haircut. For the rest of my life, I won’t have a father. And nothing is going change that. But it sneaks up at the oddest times. And strikes the most unexpected cords some times. But even while I’m releasing the tears, whether they be of fond memories, or past hurts, I know that when the hurt has had it’s bittersweet moment (because sometimes it feels good to hurt-it forces you admit that you care-and that there are things worth being hurt about...that your soul is shapable), I will continue on again and, sometimes despite my best efforts, find joy in life again.

Do you know that when my father died, and since, only three people in the entire world asked if I was okay? Many offered condolences. Many asked questions and were kind and it was all well-received and very appreciated. But only three looked me straight in the eye (well, two looked me straight in the eye the other via phone, I could tell was sincere, and was really asking, choked me up at the thought of someone seeing through me in the midst of it) and asked how I was doing. It meant the world to me. Just being asked was enough. I didn’t even need to respond.

But like I said, despite the hurt, there is an underlying calm. A peace, happiness, and assurance that all is right in the world. Not that everything will eventually be right, but that right now, even during the hurt, everything is just fine. I’m just as capable of picking up right now and enjoying life (even enjoying the ability to care enough to hurt) as I will be in ten years or was ten years ago. It’s supposed to be that way, and it’s useful. And it’s wonderful.

So here I sit, looking at my beautiful Christmas tree decorated in memories (I used pictures of family, children in Ecuador I fell in love with, and pictures of really good moments that remind me of exactly how I felt in that particular moment), feeling like my flight has just be redirected to some unanticipated path. I look forward to looking back on it, like I do the pictures on my tree and being amazed at all of it.

I’d love to promise you a post about how I end up celebrating my dad’s  birthday but we all know I don’t have that kind of follow through.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Me Again...another Ecuadorian tangent.

I may have mentioned this before, or many of you know, the past few years were pretty rough. And although I thought I got through them just fine and had returned to normal life, I really hadn't.

Ecuador brought me back to life. It was a big catalyst for me. And although, it's something I have always wanted to do, and plan to continue to do (the whole international travel/volunteer thing) the timing was quite perfect.

Time had done all it could do in the healing me from my Father's passing, the scare of my mother's cancer, and letting go of a guy I really cared about but  new it would never work, but I didn't have that spark/zest for life again yet. And I didn't even know it.

Through these years I still found plenty to be happy about and some things to entertain me. And I don't know if it was just because I was bored or if it was because I was a bit numb. If I was numb I didn't know it, but looking back I can see how maybe all my resources were put into "getting through" that I didn't have much of me left for anything else. (And I did it all alone, which is sometimes easier, and sometimes harder.)

Either way, Ecuador came at a perfect time. I feel pleasantly guilty for how much I got out of loving those children. Whereas I always thought of everything in terms of plane tickets, I now think of everything in therms of orphanages and children and getting back there.

My poor ENT who told me I need to get my tonsils out, (I do, they're really bad. It's quite disgusting), who had me break down in his office in tears because of how much it would cost and me sobbing, "But that's orphan money!" I felt like an idiot.

And I realize that I will remember them much more than they me. I just hope that if I do get to go back to Ecuador the orphanages will let me back in to volunteer. (My sister-in-law, Kelsey-who btw, is one of the coolest people I've ever met- got me in the door the first time. I don't know if she knows how cool she is...) Ecuador will only let you in for 90 days in a 12 month period. By the time I could go (May) and by the time I save the money (set back majorly by the tonsil-thing...if I ever find a way/someone to babysit me when I get them removed), they most likely won't remember me or be fine with me just walking in the way I did before.

When I was there I felt totally alive. Couldn't wait to think of something else to do with the kids, to watch them grow and progress. And I had a good enough report with the staff and those who ran the orphanage that I feel like I was getting into a position to both know what would be useful there, and had their trust enough to start adding/making changes that would benefit the children and the home as a whole.

(Thanks to everyone who gave, especially that last minute effort to get the propane tanks. We were- able to buy two of them, for the record-so that the kids could have warm showers. What they really need now though is showers. I think there is one or two for all 52 children at that orphanage.) I'm sure we could do that without too much trouble...get them showers I mean. I don't know. I don't know what it would take to build like a little bathroom/locker room. The teenagers were clean for the most part, but the younger ones I don't think were cleaned/showered very well/often. And anyway, like I said, I no longer have the report I had with the staff to have them let me start a project like that. It takes time to build a relationship and I don't want to just walk in and step on toes or act like I know what's best. Because it also takes time in the orphanages to see what they, for me to even know/recognize what would be helpful.

(The books were a MAJOR hit! But I was there almost 2 months before I knew that's what might be most beneficial to that orphanage at that time.)

:) Like I said, I think of everything in terms of orphanages now, rather than just plane tickets. That was quite a tangent to prove my point though.

Those kids brought me back to life. And even though I'm home now I've been changed. The flip has been switched back to "on' and I care about things again. I'm excited about things again. I care about learning, and knowing, and doing, and loving. And I'm calm. I feel like me again. And I'm so excited to be back.  I owe those kids myself.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dating on the Run

 (only video of this song I could find....would have been much funnier with Prince's version. I guess this one sounds more like my kind of music anyway) (But for full effect of this post, go ahead and just find the Prince version and play it while you read ;). )

Inevitably one of the first questions people ask me when I move somewhere is, what on earth do I do about dating if I move so much.

The truth is, I’d do just about anything for the right guy. I’ve even made some good faith gestures to let the universe know that I’m open for anything. However, I some times feel like it backfires, or is misinterpreted.

You see, I’m only somewhere for approximately three months at a time. (Although it sometimes ends up being longer than that, if I like it, like the nine months I spent in L.A.) Now granted, that isn’t a whole lot of time to get to know someone, but in my book it’s long enough to know if I’m interested, and that on the off chance that I do meet someone, I can always extend for another three months just to see where it goes.

To me, this is the perfect set up. Staying somewhere I like for another three months, isn’t a huge commitment, and if it means I get another three months with someone I like,  to figure out it’s worth yet another three months, great. Major bonus. I also see it that if I end up staying three months and things don’t work out, neither one of has had our lives interrupted, and BONUS, you don’t have to run into someone you’ve dated previously, over and over again, no matter how well it ends.

The universe doesn’t seem to understand my logic, however. The universe, or rather, guys, still see me as a flight risk. Not understanding that I just figure everything will work out just fine eventually. I’m sure this leads to uneasiness and a lack of ability/desire to get close/trust, whatever to believe me when I say I’m interested. I’m sure of it because I’ve had guys say it to me.

Obviously, I haven’t been interested enough, or they haven’t been interested enough (or believed that I would stick around for them if things did go somewhere) for me to actually stick around indefinitely.

I have put out into the universe (admittedly, always more for the universe than the guy, thus far) those good faith gestures, you know just to let the universe know, that I would stick around to figure things out if necessary, by signing up for additional contracts in the area where I thought there might be something with the guy.

Now obviously, as I’m newly in Dallas, and very, very single, there wasn’t ever really anything worth sticking around for, but the universe should really know now that if I needed to I would, for the right guy. Or even just for a guy that seems like he could be the right guy. If he’s not, no worries, I can go back to traveling.

A lot of guys, and even people in my life, wonder if I really have any interest in meeting someone. Sure I do.

Many I think, feel like I’m “running away from something”. Nope.

I would love to find someone and create a life with them, even if it was only in one place. I don’t see it as scary or confining, I just see it as a different kind of adventure. Truth.

I live the way I do now because it works for me. It works very well. It allows me to enjoy the advantages of being single. And I might as well enjoy those advantages now. Just as I intend to enjoy all the advantages of being with someone if and when that happens.

There are many people who think my life is super exciting (And I admit, it has it’s moments ;), but it can be kind of dull sometimes, too).

I’ve never been an either or kind of girl, so I plan on having both. I think I’ll love being single. And when I get married, I intend on enjoying every minute of that as well, and will love it even more.

I hope this clears some things up. Or really, maybe it’ll just give me a reference page to hand to all the people that have and inevitably will ask me this question again the next time I move :).

I’m super excited to meet someone and have a family, which will include at least a few orphans ;). (Too bad Ecuador doesn’t let you choose the child, otherwise I would seriously be in the works right now of bringing my kids home, which would include a permanent job near a good support system.) But the reality is that I don’t have that now.

I don’t see marriage as a trap or confining or undesirable. Quite the opposite. I see it as my greatest and most exciting adventure ever! (Think “My Adventure Book” from UP :).) I very much see it as something I look forward to and hope to have one day. But in the meantime, I think I’ll live it up anyway. And be quite happy to do so.

So, right guy, when you find me, don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

And the dam breaks

I miss my kids in Ecuador. I feel like I loved each one of them SO much and then they are just suddenly taken away from me. :/ I was thinking about that a lot tonight and trying to figure out how to get back to them, and if I do get back to them, how do I get back to them again after that and how long could I stay and could I make a difference, and how do I get them all the things I want them to have. And not just stuff, but like the love and attention and encouragement and knowledge of possibilities. I feel kind of selfish for how much good it did me to love them. And to be loved back. I miss them so much. I actually couldn't talk about it for a while when I first got back. Too much. it was just too much. I loved them too much and missed them too much that telling people about it seemed trivial in comparison to what it was.

I have 3 weeks when this job ends before my next contract, and although it will completely blow all the tiny bit of money I will have recovered-and then some-from this most recent job, I'm looking in to figuring out how to get back there, if only for those short 3 weeks. 

Having been down there and knowing how things work, and what they have and don't have,  I know better what to bring with me and what help I'd like to try to provide. It's on my mind quite a bit. 

...And so is the wonderful shawarma ;) and potato soup.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Meet Maria Belen and little bits of BIG Happiness

I’m surprised how long it’s been since I posted something. I guess I just write these in my head or jot down notes and forget that it never quite made it all the way to the blog. I came back on here yesterday to find a link for the paypal button for a few friends who really wanted to help. God bless ‘em. I think God must be a big fan of children, especially ones in need of a little extra love. Turns out there are a lot of amazing people out there who’ve got the extra love to give. I’m so happy I got the chance to be here and to see so much good in the world. Thank you to each of you who have offered, prayers, financial assistance, encouragement, kindness, and many combinations of these and more.

I must let you know that people here, here in Ecuador, are generally the friendliest and kindest people I’ve ever met. And I’ve lived a lot of places. They are more than just kind, they are very giving. I’m always surprised by how many people hand over change to anyone who asks it, whether it be a street performer juggling between stoplights, a person jumping on a bus with some spiel or song, or even just a beggar woman who’s in the same spot everyday probably making a killing off of people’s goodness and generosity, they give. I’m always surprised just how many of them do give.

I have to relate a story to you that happened to me just last night before I forget to write it down and I will also try to get additional past stories up for you to read as well. (Even if I’m not the best at writing/keeping a blog just know that goodness is here and the children I work with...if you can call work-I love every minute of it-continue to melt mine, and many others hearts. And although I only got to be here a short time...just shy of 3 months...I’ve loved as much as I could. I’ve done as much as I could. And even if the only life here changed is mine, it has been changed forever and for the better. I do hope that the love I’ve given, or should I say that God himself allowed to just pour, no flood, right out of me, makes a difference to these little ones. (In fact, I loved one little girl so much she got a bit jealous the last time I came to the orphanage and had to take time away from my talking practice to help another little boy who fell. She cried for a long time and just looked deserted. I can’t say that I didn’t feel a little bit of sweetness in that moment. I do hope that someone continues to work with her after I leave.

Speaking of which, thanks to many of you and another baggage miracle (if you don’t remember the first one, or if I didn't post it here...I don't remember...I was over weight by like 4 pounds, I almost had to leave some stuff behind and the lady at the counter let me take out some of my own books (my scriptures: Bible and Book of Mormon), she weighed the bag and was like, "hey look it's good", printed the tag and then let me put my books back in. this made sure all the donations and my scriptures, really everything I'd packed made it to Ecuador. :) ) a plethora of books will be arriving tomorrow! In fact, 5 boxes of books and developmental toys arrived at a friend’s house and he will be transporting ALL of them to Cuenca, Ecuador in his suitcases. I really believe that this sweet girl (approx 1yr 3-4mos old)-who is so full of happiness, I just refer to her, and her baby sister (6mos-ish old) who looks just like her-as liquid sunshine, will take to the books so rapidly that who ever comes after me won’t be able to stop her from talking once she starts getting read to. In fact, I’m going to have her saying at least 5 new words before I leave this next weekend. I WISH I could show you pictures of these heart thieves. And so you that bright smiles of the faces of the children you’ve helped, but gladly the government does protect them and I’m not allowed to post pictures of them on the internet. (If I’m every in person though and you’d like to see them you can bet that I’ll be so excited to show the photographs of these angels...and terds. Funny how kids can be both and so often at the same time. Aaaaaah, little buggers! I’m tearing up just thinking about their smiles and mischief.)

I will describe this one little girl to you at this time know, instead of getting to that story from last night that I initially intended to write first. I doubt you’ll mind the side track though. :)

She is light as a feather and so small you wouldn’t expect her to be able to be so incredible and agile and balanced as she is. She’s an expert walker even though she looks too young to walk. A pixie really. She is black...well African American, but I can’t really call her African American...I mean I guess she could be. More likely Caribbean? Islander? African-South-American? Whichever is correct, or whatever you prefer. I guess she’s just Ecuadorian to me, or really she’s just a cute piece of heaven to me, with slightly darker skin and tight black curls, yes, a little fro. It’s short, or looks short and tight against her head. Lots of hair, a little pixie sized afro. And the BIGGEST smile you’ve ever seen with lots of excitement lines around her eyes and mouth when she does smile. Her eyes are beautiful, too. Super dark. Almost like a mirror (I’m so glad there’s another one just like her-her baby sister/clone.) In fact, the other day when I walked into the orphanage I mused to another volunteer, “does her hair suddenly looks like a whole lot bigger?” We both giggled as we realized her hair was definitely...bigger. Later that morning the speech therapist (I think that’s her title) came into the room we were playing in and patted her head and started laughing. My Spanish is  horrible, but I did understand the story. She, the therapist, had tried to brush out--I’m pretty sure with an actual brush--out her hair. She said the little girl wouldn’t have any of it and hated having her hair brushed, but brushed it was and the more it was brushed, the bigger it got. Hence, the aforementioned, new...bigness. She was so extra cute that day with her poofy hair. Now big hair or not this girl is the happiest little thing I’ve ever had to pleasure to meet. I can’t believe anyone is just born that happy. Let alone able to be SO happy SO many times over SO little. At the mention of her name this little girl is rendered immobile. She gets so excited by someone saying her name that she smiles so big you think the skin on her little face may stretch so far it’ll never go back, and doubles over, more like curls into a ball and can’t move. If you happen to be holding her when you say her name she’ll wrap around your hand (or arm, but really she’s so slight  that you can hold her with just one hand) like a little potato bug (aka rollie pollie bug). She laughs so hard she only squeaks at the very beginning then can’t make a sound for the duration of her giggle just jiggles like a silent Santa Claus. I love this little girl so much. I’m so glad God made a clone. her baby sister-also at the orphanage-will light up just the same when given any kind of attention. It’s as if the entire human race could be rebuilt from ruins just with the glow and happiness contained in the tiny little package of this one little girl.

She’s like the all-spark for the human race (for those of you who know transformers ;).)

Back to my story from last night. I was chatting on Facebook, of course about my time here and how I don’t have much left, specifically about wanting to get some propane tanks (for hot water and fuel for cooking) for one orphanage (the one with 51 kids...that’s a big hot water and cook need)...that they have asked help in getting when someone, Amy Awesome Big-Hearted Sharpe, mentioned posting on my old San Diego ward’s Facebook page (a ward being what we call a specific geographic congregation in my church). Now Amy has already done a lot with helping with books and so much else, wanted to be able to contribute as well. So I posted on the Pacific Beach ward’s Facebook page and on my status as well that the opportunity to serve had once again come. I was overwhelmed by the response. In fact, some people who probably don’t even want others to know they’re big ol’ softies, donated as well. An old friend from High School that I haven’t seen since caught the conversation and donated. Even a sweet cousin (Cherie-yes you) who I remember only meeting a few times when I was young (thanks Facebook for keeping family reachable). People just want to help. Not only do they want to help, people, given the opportunity WILL help. Even some that may not have much to give, give, and wish they could give more. I found myself wishing I could help. My heart was bursting with how many wonderful people there are in this world. There are so many people who showed me what I want to be. People I wish I was more like. I was absolutely glowing by the time I headed home from the internet shop last night, bursting with gratitude and the excitement of being able to go to orphanages and tell them, “YES! We can help. We can get you the propane tanks. YES! We can make needed repairs, and YES there is good and beauty and God in this world.” As Mother Teresa says, “God does still love this world. He loves it through me and through you”. (Or a very close approximation of those words. She repeats that several times in a book entitled, “Where There is Love There is God”.)

I can’t believe with as many good people I know I ever forget that. That God does love this world, and also according to a friend, “’s contagious”. It totally is. And thank you for infecting me.

Anyway, so here I find myself walking home, starving, and fully infected wishing I could pass this on RIGHT NOW. Wishing I could give and share the love that I’d just been filled with. I detour a Pizza Hut I’d seen near my house to pick up some dinner and to honor my American peeps who’d just donated...and because it’s my last week here and it’s Saturday night. Turns out it’s 2 for 1 night at Pizza Hut. What I’m going to do with one medium pizza, let alone two is craziness. The lady seems stunned I don’t my second pizza, but really, WHAT am I going to do with a second pizza. Again, I do not speak Spanish, but we all got each other when I turned to the lady next to me and asked, “tu quiero?” She smiled, I smiled, the cashier smiled, her teenage son (or kid with her, don’t know if it was her son) smiled. We all smiled. And she got a free pizza that night. I know it’s silly and small, and didn’t cost me anything, especially compared to what many of you gave, but I’m sure it made her night. Or at least made her smile for that time. It was a kindness of another human being. And she appreciated it. And good humor filled that little Pizza Hut waiting room.

I thank God for that little opportunity it forward...I guess one could say. Because I was about to explode with happiness, gratitude, and desire to give more. I’m glad that silly little opportunity came my way.

It really is the little things. The one dollar, the ten dollars, the free cup of coffee (or hot chocolate in my case ;) --Mormons don’t drink coffee ;)...) on a any given day, especially one when you’re in a funk and don’t deserve someone to be nice to you, that makes all the difference. And even if one can’t give something tangible, the kind word, the whispered prayer. It all, though small, makes the biggest difference in the world.

I’m glad to know such good people, including these children that I’ve grown to love so completely.  It’s makes me want to curl up like a little potato bug around God’s strong hands, I’m so excited and happy. :)

Maybe this is why I don’t post so often...a small post turns into several pages of me gushing. :)
Also, for those who were looking for it here's the link again so you don't have to scouring through old posts to find it:

Saturday, June 30, 2012

What I´ve Loved and What I will miss about Cuenca

  • Do you know what I think I´m going to miss most about Cuenca (besides my kids)? That´s it´s okay to be open and friendly here, just because. It´s okay to be happy and smiley because I am happy, and it´s okay to smile at others and to laugh at myself. I´m going to miss nice people. And I´m going to miss that it´s okay for me to be nice without being questioned or barked at for it. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Ecuador: Amy: Infested

I don't have fleas!!!!!

....I'm just allergic to them...

I've had this obnoxious rash for about 5-6 days now. It's itches really bad and the doc of course can't really tell what it originally looks like because I've scratched myself to bits. It looks oddly like chicken pox...pre-scratched...but I've already had the chicken pox so I'm pretty sure that's  not where it is. I've missed 2 days at one orphanage and 1 day (today) at another at the other orphanage because I wasn't sure what I had and didn't want to be case zero of adding another complication to the orphanages.

I had stopped by the Emergency Department (mostly cause it's functions as an off hours clinic) Saturday late afternoon. They kept calling the dermatologist to come in to check out my gruesome scratched up rash, but weren't able to reach him. I'd also been kind of short on breath, but they didn't even listen to my lungs. I was sure to emphasis that I wasn't worried about the rash as much as I was about being so short of breath. Oh well, I went home and thankfully they didn't charge me.

Went to the derm today turns out he thinks I'm having a systemic reaction to few flea bites. he says the rash doesn't really look like bites themselves but that is looks similar to a rash many people not native to Ecuador get when they have an allergic reaction to a flea bite here. Apparently, it's not uncommon. BLAST my awesome, over-active, immune system. It's kind of scary to think I could be having a reaction to something enough to effect my breathing. I can't imagine having asthma and dealing with this on a regular basis. My reaction-breathing wise-is not bad. It's tight and makes it hard to sleep and it's a little tight all the time. In the ED on Saturday they wanted to give me a shot of benadryl, which I declined. I found out from the derm that you can't get Benadryl in pill form in Ecuador....good thing I brought my own!

So it'll be 7 days of steroids (16mg- it sounds like a hefty dose, but I think I'm just used to peds dosing) and Benadryl for at least 10 (that's what the doc said but I'm one of those non-compliant, self-diagnosing nurses that will take just until I feel better and then as needed :) ). Oh and this wonderful cream (I think it has atarax in it) that instantly made me feel better-itching wise. Lungs still tight.

After the doc told me I could try to debug my place but he thinks with the few bites I probably got them from a stray dog rather than my bed, especially since I itch all the time and not just at home or at night and he couldn't find any actual bites. Then I mentioned I work in the orphanages, one of which is particularly dirty and he then became concerned that it might even be scabies because those are fairly present in orphanages he says. If I don't feel better in 7 days or it gets worse I go back to get treated for scabies.

I think the doc is probably initially right with the allergic rash since he's seen it before he says and because my lungs are tight. But I'll let you know if I turn out to be scabies infested.

Either way, fleas or scabies....


Just take this as evidence that I am huggin' and lovin' these wonderful kids :)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ecuador: She looked right at me and moooooo-ed!

I was gone for a week at the coast and returned to the baby and toddler orphanage this morning. I´d really love to see some, if not all, of these kids saying some words before I leave. (I also have a goal to have the currently 1 month old baby, that has been there escentially since she was born, laughing like crazy before I go back to the states in July.)

I am only at this orphanage 2 days a week, Monday and Thurday and since I cou ldn´t find any children´s books, I bought a colorful photography book full of animals and bright colors. I had brought it once before and sat down with some of this kids to look at, christeing it´s pages with tears and lovin´ (spit and kisses), but it was a big hit. Two of the kids, two of the younger kids, actually said a few words, well, one said banana, and another little girl picked up on the animal sounds we would make. As I walked into the playroom today, again with my book, SHE LOOKED RIGHT AT ME AND MOO-ED!

I was so excited. Several of the kids also at least remembered the book, or books in general, I don´t know, gathered around me-more like piled on top of me-and started looked through the book with me. It got a few more tears and bends and a lot more smiles. Today I got the moo-ing girl to say, ¨boom. boom. boom,¨ when we were looking at a picture of a drum and pounding the book/floor like a drum.

I can´t wait to spend more time with these kids. Another super bonus today was that one child, who usually just kind of spaces out and plays on his own was super interactive. He was giggling and coming up to volunteers to play. He also had a nasty chest cold and would cough with his giggles. Yuck. But I couldn´t very well not play with him the first time I´ve seen him try to interact, and he was kind charming me like a champ. More updates to come. Thanks for you support everyone. I can´t wait for those books to get here!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ecuador: the simplest toys are the best

I arrived at the orphanage with my paranoid-nurse supplies. (I may not matter in the long wrong, but perhaps I can prevent a few colds now both for them and myself, and I can keep thing like play-doh, which I brought today clean enough for another go around. Gotta remember even if I can’t see how it will matter in the long wrong, I’m going act like it all matters now.) Such supplies include: hand sanitizer and kleenex. I also brought cornstarch to mix with water and play dough. It’s going to be a textile day.

I accepted the first 10 kids that swarmed my table. Trying to explain to them that I could only have 10 at a time for this particular game. I doubt I got anything across in words, but they eventually go the picture, except the 12th kids to show up: my amigo, the charmer who immediately started in, “Tia, aaah Tia. Uno mas, Tia.”. I eventually had to just ignore him once I was sure my point got across and he was just trying to force his way in.

The cornstarch didn’t go so well for the first group. (If you’ve never played with cornstarch and water you ought to give it a shot. HOURS of endless fun, even for an adult. Works for kids of all ages, too. It’s totally benign so even young kids can mess around in it for a long time and be safe while remaining totally occupied.) With all the initial excitement and confusion and grabbing I wasn’t able to explain or control the amount of water and corn starch kids were getting. And I wasn’t able to clearly demonstrate what it was supposed to be. So nix the cornstarch.

I pull out the play-doh (Thank Alena Malloy) and the kids go crazy, except they don’t really know what to do. I think mostly cause they are so ready to grab and make sure they get some that they aren’t even concerned about what to do with it yet.

I should mention here that every kid had to wash their hands with water first, then use the sanitizer. There were a few younger kids in the first group that had super booger-y noses. Boogers I did not want mixing with my cloths, face, hair, or play-doh. So I pulled out my kleenex and started wiping noses repeating constantly, pointing at the kleenex: No piso, necessita basura ___________.  I controlled the first few pretty well, and they were young so just let me wipe their noses and threw their tissues away. We’ll come back to the kleenex later as it wasn’t quite the issue at this point.

My group of 10 finally calmed down enough to enjoy the play. The lids had molds imprinted into them which was the first discovery. I showed them how to make balls and cubes, and roses. Slowly the got a little more creative. The first group is always a test group. I got some kinks worked out but ended up taking so much time to get things calmed and organized that we hit lunch time and had to clean up. Of course others were disappointed and didn’t want to use the table I was at for lunch so I asked the director if we could continue using the table after lunch was finished. She was, of course, okay with this if we waited until after lunch was cleaned up--a common chore for the older girls.

I grabbed a few index cards and all by myself wrote out, “Groupo Dos” and “Group Tres”, numbering them from 1-10. I also had one of the teenage girls write out the names of everyone who had already participated. This ended up working quite well as when one group was finishing up I’d have an older child wanting to be more included and more grown up, go find the children in the next group. I would also have them monitor who showed up, since I don’t know everyone’s name, to make sure I didn’t have kids sneaking in before their turn. Also, a very good thing as I always ended up with at least 15 kids at the table...5 of which obviously didn’t belong.

My friend, the charmer, sat around moping all through the first group. I told him he had to leave or have no turn at all several times. He eventually hung back enough to be out of the way, lessening the chaos, but never all the way gone. I told him he could sign up in the 3rd group and it was like I refused him food. He through a huge fit to which I had no response and ended letting groupo tres fill up, and fourth group and a fifth group. Each time we changed groups he through a fit and pouted. Each time I reminded him to stay back or he would have no turn. And each time I also reminded him that all he had to was sign up with one of the groups. Finally, right before the 5th group was to start he relented and signed his name. I welcomed him to the table and showed a few fun tricks with the play-doh, even though he’d been watching from not far off for a while. We had a good little moment though there at the end. I think the little bit of extra attention allayed all the ignoring of his fits I’d done through out the day and we were friends again.

Now let me tell you about the kleenex. It was a bigger hit than the play-doh. Humorously so. The obsession with the kleenex was incredible. The older kids, the ones I let help me out--and even had sanitize a few hands and wipe a few noses for me--quickly learned that tissues were scented. I guess that’s pretty common here, more than unscented tissues. And started sniffing them. I didn’t get what was going on at first. Just holding kleenex to your nose isn’t especially effective. (I don’t know if it was because they expected it to be scented or whether it was just the idea of having something that set it off, but many kids were more interested in getting a tissue to put in their pockets than they were in the play-doh, not that they didn’t like the play-doh I had just explained that this was mine and needed to be returned at the end of their allotted time.) I eventually had to bribe kids to blow their nose with the tissue with the promise of a new one they could keep. But the HAD to blow their noses with their first one. I couldn’t stop smiling. Every time I handed one out though I insisted: “No piso, necessita basura”. I think they started making fun of me a bit about it, repeating it with me and rolling their eyes as I handed them out :).

I only lost one red play-doh and one bottle of sanitizer that day. Not as bad as I was prepared for but for sure worse than I had hoped for. I’m pretty sure I know who took the sanitizer and have a few guesses as about to the time the red play-doh disappeared. I guess all I can do is hope the sanitizer is used appropriately and prevents infection. As for the play-doh, it will probably be stolen from the person who took it and end up dried up and ruined in no time. It is a little disappointing but I can’t get too upset about it. It would drive me crazy and probably be very ineffective trying to fight that battle.

I debated on how much I should try to explain to the children that if my things were taken or treated badly I wouldn’t be able to bring them but have decided that at this point I’m just going to let it slide, especially since several of the kids, after they found what I had lost started going through other people’s bags and looking in their beds where I’m sure they keep a few private possessions. I certainly don’t want them to think it’s okay to steal, but I also don’t want to teach them that going through other people’s things are okay.

I did the best I could to tell the children who were looking--a little too hard--to help me find my missing items, “thank you but I’d rather not have you go through others' things”. Knowing they will most likely do it anyway, I don’t want it to be done on my account. And even if found, the person who stole it (if not knowing it was found and returned to me, and maybe even if it was) would feel like it had been stolen from them. So unless it becomes a much bigger problem I’m just not going to worry about it for now.

Ecuador: infested

One Friday I went to the orphanage with 51 kids (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this yet, but I work mainly in two different orphanages. One is for babies and toddlers, at least the children I work with are these ages; they also have a few preschool age children here as well. I also work at one that has 51 children of all ages).

I wasn’t expecting the kids to be there, as most of them are old enough to go to school during the day when I am there. So on Fridays I just do hours and hours and hours of laundry. This particular Friday they were all home. Big four day weekend of some sort. Maria weekend, I’ve heard it called.

Upon my arrival I was swarmed by a few of the older girls, while a large number of children sat surrounding a tv that was fuzzily playing Lord of the Rings with Spanish dubbing. I welcomed the greeting at first, (I do really love hanging with the kids.) until I looked over a second group of kids being combed over at table at the back of the room...for lice. I looked at the girls hugging me and their dark hair--speckled with white. One in particular had an excessive amount. I can handle a lot of things, especially things I can wash off or get over. I tried not to make my squirminess obvious but wriggled free of my lice-dotted friends and worked my way over to the opposite side of a barrier, (a railing-like thing all around the common area) near the kitchen. I stood outside the kitchen, on the opposite side of the railing--hoping it to be a bit of deterant from direct contact or at least close hugging and cuddling until people had been debugged. I stood there trying to come up with a minimal contact activity. I got nothing. So I hung out and watched Lord of the Rings and joked with the group watching--mostly boys--about which one was my novio (boyfriend) and which one was their novia (girlfriend). Grimbly is my pick to be my novio, by the way.   

Eventually I pulled out some Spanish flash cards I made for myself (my first week here and sadly haven’t looked at much since). The kids went nuts grabbing and swarming. It was a bit absurd. I eventually got across, in my incredibly broken, nearly non-existent Spanish: para mi por que no espanol! No ________!

The older kids had grabbed most of them (biggest kids rule, there’s definitely a pecking order here) and figured out what I was saying....well, they probably didn’t, but they figured out what they were and returned them. A few of the boys, one in particular, took interest in them. My little playa I mentioned before who tries to get his way by  smacking his lips and saying, “Tia, aaaah Tia”. You know the one. He learned to recognize the words quickly but pronunciation came a little slower. He was pretty excited to learn though--most of the kids can do numbers and colors in English already. We did this during commercials of Lord of the Rings. (Most of which were commercials for exercise equipment, which equates to more novios and novias :). )

My ipod was a big hit, too. There were a few of the older kids I let play with it. I still can’t figure out how to get it off repeat, but I think I managed to avoid having anything erased.

During all of this the older girl with the most lice was most insistent on hanging on me. I buried myself in short-haired boys as best I could and eventually got up and sacrificed the last hair tie in my bag to put her hair in a braid to at least prevent it from flopping around so much--and it was pretty and gave her a bit of attention. (I alcohol-ed my hands a million times that day...and several of t he kid’s hands as well.)

I’ve decided to start just start taking my own paranoid-nurse hygiene supplies with me to these places. Even if they aren’t up my snobby standards all the time, they can at least be clean when working with me and the things I bring.

The next day was Saturday and I had swung by the store to pick up hand sanitizer and kleenex. We’ll save that for the next post. :) I’ll tell you allllll about it.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Orphans all grow up

Chronologically there are a other posts that should go up before this one, but this one just happened and I wanted to get it typed out and make sure that all of you who have donated and pass a very special "thanks," I just received on to you all as quickly as possible.
I went out for a walk on the beach this morning, took my body board with my just in case the waves were any good. I, as usual, ending up collecting a bunch of cool rocks and shells (what is it about cool rocks and shells that make us pick them up like we have the biggest plans in the world for them?). I plopped down at a spot near the shade to take a look at my collection. I've been on this spot of beach a lot of have pretty much been the only person on the beach for long periods of time. Today there was a little more activity than usual, but still calm and mostly alone. I had some really cool clear rocks with tinges of yellow and purple and pink-I found out later it's quartz and is supposed to help pull out pain, or bad energy, when placed on a sore spot. (Maybe I'll try it on this weird bite/rash/thing on my foot.)

While I was surveying my collection-and the waves-I was approached by a man, probably in his late 20's early 30's who looks native, who also checked out my collection. I felt a little silly because really...I'm collecting shells I don't know what I'm going to do with. He had come out of a house behind me somewhere and had brought with him some broken pieces of clay. He said they were pottery from an island afar off and that the darker they were in color the older they were. He had some that were almost entirely black. (Me, the ever unromantic skeptic, thought, "that would be pretty cool....if it's true".) He went on to check out some of my rocks and shells as well. This is how learned that my rocks were actually quartz and could help heal me. He spoke very good English, and with only a tinge of an accent that didn't sound Ecuadorian.

He told me a his story. He was an orphan in Quito. He was found wandering the streets on his own when he was about 2 1/2 and placed in a orphanage there (Quito=capital of Ecuador). He wasn't there a terribly long time but he says when something that big happens you remember it. And that I believe. On the streets alone at 2? Yeah, you're gonna have some memories of that, and of the orphanage too I'm sure, which he said he did. He was adopted by a couple in Quebec, Canada, explaining he speaks French better than English or Spanish. Now the tiny bit of accent makes sense. Although I'm sure his English and Spanish are just fine. At least his English was perfect.

He saw the burn on my knees from the yesterday and asked if I'd like some aloe for it. Yes, please. (I'm burnt enough that and bending and creasing of the skin stings, but it's not the worst burn I've ever had...guess I was body boarding much longer yesterday than I realized. I thought it was about an hour, turns out it was closer to 2+ hours.) We went to the house he'd come out of and met the owners, a couple of Minnesota, and he cut me a piece of aloe off one of the plants growing nearby. God is so smart to make aloe grow in places where the sun is the strongest :)--you know beaches, desserts, etc. He showed me around the grounds a bit and we went to the top of a small lighthouse attached the main building on the grounds. As you can imagine, the view was terrible :-P. He pointed out some land he owns nearby and hopes to turn into a rental place with surf lessons, etc. Very cool for him. Said his mom and grandma came from Canada just this past February to come visit.

He says that his mom knew when she met him that one day he would end up back in Ecuador. He is of Incan decent and very much looks native to Ecuador. Funny how mom's just know some things. He said when he came back he spent time in Quito, including a night in the orphanage. He also traveled in the jungle and round about some of the places his ancestors would have come from. I don't think he knows who his biological parents are and I'm guessing he knows his ancestry by his features, very "typical" he says of Incan people. And I would agree he looks very much like the indigenous people I've met.

It was a nice morning stroll, and it was an interesting conversation. It was nice to hear about his plans and about how he'd overcome some of his "holes" from being an orphan. And he talked about his supportive family and his one white brother but he also still refers to the orphans here in Ecuador as his brothers and sisters. 

As I was leaving he said, "thank you for taking care of my brothers and sisters" and did a hand to mouth kiss towards me in gratitude. I thought since so many of you are helping me out with taking care of his "brothers and sisters" that I should pass that thank you on to you. This man speaks gratefully of the opportunities he had growing up and all that he knows from growing up in Canada that he wouldn't have ever known, or had the chance to know growing up here. He was apparently a swim champion in Canada and was able to compete quite a bit world wide. He also attributes his size (he's not much taller than me but he's bigger than most Ecuadorians) to growing up elsewhere :). That one may or may not be true but certainly his education, his family, and a lot of other experiences he's been able to have would been have been much less likely had he grown up in an orphanage in Ecuador. He does seem like a very well-adjusted and appreciative man.

And my sunburn feels a ton better already. Thanks for the aloe, Pablo!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ecuador: Doing the best I can

After a rough day at the orphanage yesterday (the one with 51 children of varying ages from young children through adolescence), I had a very good day today.

Yesterday I wondered if anything I did mattered. I realize that all help is good help, but if I weren’t here, would it just be someone else, and even if it were someone else, would that matter. What would happen if no one were here to volunteer. Nothing. Kids are tough and they are resilient and they would find a way to survive. But then, thanks to someone’s Facebook status reminding me that, “There is no such thing as a small kindness” (I forget who the quote was attributed to), and a quote from a book about Mother Teresa I’m reading (no I don’t at all compare myself to her, but am inspired by some of her words) that reminds us that “we don’t have to do great things, just small things with great love,” or something very close to that. And to top it all off, I happened to come across this talk:

I like that he reminds us that the Lord has a plan to help people and to help people who want to help and I want to help.
Finally, a conversation with a good friend about what remember from being very young. The odd things you remember. The one or two sentences or minutes in time that someone did something, good, or bad, that has stuck with us and shaped how we view certain situations.

I just have to remember that at any moment, THAT moment, might be one that these kids do remember. A small kindness that one of them might be saying one day, “you know what I remember from when I little that make a huge impact on me”, or even if I can just give them one hug the matters, then I’ve done enough.

It’s hard here. It’s hard to see so many ADORABLE and AMAZING children go without everything I want them to have. I don’t mean things, I mean attention, hugs, reminders of how much potential they have, confidence builders. It’s not that I’m afraid I won’t give them these things, it’s that I’m afraid the few short months I’m here won’t be enough of a reminder. And it’s not like the workers and other volunteers don’t give them what they need in these aspects, too. They do, at least as much as they can.

Often when I go in I’m pretty much invisible. I try to stand back and be as helpful as possible. Often times I’m completely ignored. The workers are off busy somewhere else. Sometimes there are other volunteers there, sometimes not. At this particular orphanage, usually not. I always try to find the workers first before to see if they need help but as I was sent home yesterday early, having completed a lot of chores, I decided I was just going to be a little more proactive (which I wasn’t before, trying to be respectful and helpful rather than be in the way). It was a huge hit.

I arrived to find probably 30 kids running around outside. I just found a small area on the grass and sat down. Of course, there were several kids who instantly came over to give and receive hugs and some just curious as to who I was, as I’d always been in the back catching them up on laundry. I had pipe cleaners. That’s it. Just pipe cleaners. So I opened up my back pack and was immediately swarmed. I didn’t think it could be such a big hit. Not knowing much Spanish we were still able to make some order out of things and the children quickly learned that there was to a line and they could each have 5 of their choosing. It was kind of fun to see how excited the kids got, and to see what they came up with. Oddly enough, the biggest and most immediate game became getting back in line to trade their previously chosen pipe cleaners for new ones. I would only allow them to trade one at a time because there were so many kids wanting to trade. I don’t even think that they necessarily wanted different pipe cleaners. They just wanted to trade. And so it became more of a circle than an like with an end. Kids would come and trade one and circle back to the end of the line to trade again. It’s always funny to see what kids can turn into a game. And today, this was the game.

There was one boy, probably about 9 years old who kept trying to be a playa; getting to the front of the line he would try to sway me for additional turns or additional pipe cleaners with puppy-dog eyes and calling me, “Tia, oh Tia”. And smacking his lips like a pop sensation before saying, “come on girl”. It was pretty hysterical...and ineffective. I worked with kids long enough not to be swayed but such awesome attempts and “working it”. I’m sure it works on lots of people though. I just did the same thing back to him and went, “awww, Amigo” which he could barely keep a straight face.

A few people including my “amigo” I just mentioned hung out around me and I helped them to make shaped with their pipe cleaners, mostly corazons and estrellas (hearts and stars) and a few gaffes (silly glasses). Eventually everyone had their shapes and we were sitting around goofing off in the grass when I started using the grass to whistle through my thumbs. Instant knew games. These guys love anything new and were super excited to learn and practice. At first they jeered each other, but with a bit of luck and a lot of work, they were soon cheering for each other and getting excited instead of upset when someone else was able to get the whistle down. It started raining a bit and so I learned how to say raining-which I have already forgotten (ugh).

One girl came up to our little group and wanted me to repair her star wand (she kept saying repair in Spanish but I forget what the word is right now-I’m typing from the beach so my mind is pretty blank :) as it should be). I had no idea what she was saying so I pulled out my dictionary and gave it to one of the older boys who started looking up words for me. They got all excited about looking up words and trying to say them correctly in English. So we all learned a little bit of a foreign language that day as well.

It was a good day.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ecuador weeks 2 & 3

I found out something really special the other day. While I was at the orphanage with babies and toddlers, which I am at twice a week. I was admiring the floor in the playroom as I sat with two on my lap and one child fussing in front of me on the floor. It’s a very nice laminate wood floor. This evidently was put in for the orphanage as the rest of the building is a beautiful old building with beautiful stone floors. Beautiful, and painful. Painful for little babies who bump and bobble around. I was especially appreciative of this floor in this particular moment as I was able to safely slide the fussing number 3 baby smoothly and safely back and forth, kind of like rocking it while we were all sitting on the floor, consequently changing the fussy baby into all smiles and giggles. The babies bump and bobble their way across this floor with the usual baby fumbles and spills, but with far less devastation than the stone floors elsewhere in the building.

I had mentioned my love of the floors, both that they were pretty, and very conducive to both baby play and pacifying-as with baby giggles I mentioned earlier. I was later informed, I think by Kelsey (my sister-in-law), that when my parents visited here several years ago they, and a few others, got together to see what was most needed and would be most helpful at the orphanage. The idea of a safer floor for the children to play on came up. Apparently my parents helped fund the purchase and installation of the very floor I was now playing on, and admiring. Very cool.

This is especially sweet to me because I lost my father last year. I had no idea that he had done this or that I would be here helping out. I certainly wasn’t expecting the wonderful reminder of how good of a man my dad was and wanted to be. Here I am now, using the very floor he helped purchase for these little ones, for the express purpose I’m sure he’d hoped it would serve. He must’ve giggled like crazy as I sat there commenting on how great that floor was, having no idea that he had been a part of getting there. And I’m sure years ago he had no idea that one day I would be sitting on the very floor he helped purchase. I’m hoping that I am doing a good job and that he is proud of his floor, and of me, and the fun I’m having with those kids on it.

I want to quickly share another sweet little story that took place on my father’s floor. (I’m sorry the last few weeks are jumbled together. I’m not the best at writing and I tend to take notes and then the chronology gets all mixed up, but I hope you enjoy the story anyway.)

I was playing in the playroom with I think 6 or 7 babies (by babies I mean less than 2 years old) and one other volunteer. I forget what we were playing, blocks I think, but there a few kids getting a little restless-and I think not feeling the best...lots of little colds going around-mine included. One of them came up to me for some down time and some loves. Now usually, I am not a fan of kids hands in my hair. They pull, and hurts. And I’m a wimp. But my ponytail fell forward and was brushing the kids cheek as I was also playing with another child at the time. I went to get it out of this kids face and just to let him know it was okay and not too fuss with the mess in his face, I took a section of hair in my fingers and tickled his cheek with it. Bit hit. He grinned. I tossed my hair back behind my face and went back to snuggling and playing. He reached for my hair. Uh oh. I went ahead and tickled him with my hair again. If I do it, he can’t pull and my delicate brains won’t get frazzled. He wrapped his fingers kind of around mine sort of, “helping me” tickle his face. He was actually very careful...probably saw the warning to be cautious in my eyes and panic :). He tickled his cheek, then my cheek, then the cheek of another child. It was all very quiet and calm and very, very sweet. Turned out to be his favorite game of the day. Of course, nearly anything could beat the rest of the day. It was immunization day. :(

This in and of itself is a great story. It simply involves 3 volunteers, 6 babies, a nun, an old truck, and dirt roads full of deep tracks and potholes going straight up a mountain.
Okay, so maybe not so simply, but it did happen.

There was once an orphanage who was good about making sure all of the children had their immunizations up to date, including our adorable 10 day old baby that came to us after being abandoned at the hospital. When the day came for 6 of these babies to go the doctor, at the top of the mountain to ensure they all had their shots, the 3 volunteers that happened to be at the orphanage that day were all enlisted to help rearrange and move all the cribs, as it was also apparently floor cleaning day. Easy enough. The communication gets a little fuzzy here. Something about shots. A doctor-one volunteer notes, that the doctors who see the children regularly come to the orphanage itself to check on them. I don’t know. What I do know is that the 3 of us ended up in the back seat of truck (it was a small 4 door truck). One volunteer holding 2 babies, another volunteer-crunched in the middle, holding another child-and myself completing the sandwich whilst holding the 10 day old darling. Wait, that’s only 4 babies you say? Where could the other two be? The other two, being the oldest of the group, were strapped in via seat belt into the front seat, by themselves. While a seemingly cheerful but unconcerned nun hopped in the driver’s seat. Okay. Off we go. At first it just seems a bit crazy. Then it gets down right hysterical. We start to go back and forth, switch-backing, if that’s a word, up the road to a go a little higher up the mountain (all of Cuenca is mountains, so you're always either headed up or down a mountain here-this one just seemed a bit steeper than most). The pavement gives way to dirt, which gives way to what looks like was very muddy at one point and has now dried in a big ruddy mess, with random, GIANT holes all over. At one point the volunteer in the middle just loses it and starts laughing uncontrollably. I just don’t think she knew what else to do, and so she laughed, a lot. We all did. I’m pleased to say that nun did the best she could and didn’t drive as madly as one might have expected. I will also say that crossing paths with a few buses on this barely one-lane carved up “road” for lack of a better word, was nuts. The buses here take on roads that four-wheelers shy away from! Needless to say, all the immunizations were administered and we returned safely to the orphanage.
I’m sure this is very appalling to many of you, as it should be. But we have to keep in mind that not everywhere is overly-regulated, and not everywhere has the luxuries of car seats for every child. Or, in this case, even the luxury of a family. So before we get too heated about the ratio of seat belts to nuns and babies think of where these children would be without that old truck, the volunteers, and the wonderful nun driving them faithfully and carefully as possible, on those crazy roads to ensure they get proper medical care. Sure it’s a bit “different” here. But they do a lot with what little they’ve got and I’ll do all I can while I’m here to help out where I can. Thanks again for you support.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ecuador: a long update, pace yourself.

I have now been in Cuenca for one week. And whereas, things seemed to be going slow at first (I wanted to jump in and know everything the first day, me and my dreamer’s ways), things seem to be flying now. I can’t believe I already have one less week here. I won’t let myself think about that though. And if I have to come home, work, save money, and come back so be it. :)
Again thanks to all you who made this a little easier on the dent this is making in my savings, but what else are savings for than to live life the way one has always intended? :)

So a recap of the week. I have visited two orphanages, one run by OSSO (you can donate to them at, which takes care of a lot of the special needs kids. More than one of which I’m told was found in trash cans. Many were dumped at police stations. I hear there are worse places that they have been found but my sister-in-law, Kelsey (who should be known as “The most patient-wonderful-nicest-helpful-loving-lovable-person-queen-goddess”) prefers not to mention. And let me tell you something: I am no expert on special needs kids, but I do have my fair share of interaction with them at work. (I’m a pediatric caner nurse and see a lot of special needs kids there as often time it comes with more complications-like cancers. I hope I’m not offending anyone by calling “special needs”, I’m not sure what the preferred term is to many of you, but we all do the best we can to be respectful, and that is the term used here.) But let me say this, this kids receive more love and opportunity to function than many that I see in the states with all of our therapies and special care. There is even an equestrian center that allows them to come and interact with them there. I accredit this to the amazing love and permissiveness for these children to interact and do whatever they can try to do, even if it makes a mess. The place is run by a few regular staff and many volunteers. The supplies are meager and the house is humble, but clean and organized. I can’t stress how much LOVE, and patience, is given to these kids.

I was blown away by one girl, that at first glance to me, appeared to be lost so far inside her own word, and so very limited on her ability to interact with the outside world, that I thought she do little more than sit in her make-shift wheelchair and vaguely notice the changes in her surroundings. I was sitting near her with another little boy who was also delayed (sorry if that offends, it’s the term used in the medical world for people who are developmentally delayed for one reason or another) and was recovering from any ear infection. He would occasionally smile at the bubbles being blown, but for the most part he just wasn’t feeling well and was pretty lethargic. Poor little guy. Back to my story-we were sitting near this sweet girl, probably about 7 years old, who was showing no signs of interest or interaction with the outside world when one of the loving workers hurried by. This little girl’s leg shot straight out. Not knowing this girl and seeing that no other part of her body or face had changed, I would have taken this as a reflex of some sort perhaps. The worker, although hurried, stopped and tickled the underside of this little one’s leg, calling her by name. The light in that little girl’s eyes said it all and the leg shot out again. This game went on for a little while with the slightest change of expression on her face but with the biggest smile in her eyes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people with that much limited expression ignored or dismissed. Perhaps, even by me. But not here.

I was able to join right in and learned that even though many of these kids can’t necessarily speak very well, they know and understand both English and Spanish. Like I said, although they may be limited in some ways their intelligence is not down-played here.

I was able to stay into dinner time and even help with the feedings. There were a few children so limited in their abilities to move that I was surprised when they were given utensils and allowed to feed themselves, happily, I might add, even if they only got about half of their simple dinner of noodle soup with popcorn and few chunks of mystery meat in it, made it to their mouths. One of the girls was having a giggle fit over the new visitors and had the most difficult time concentrating on dinner and kept putting noodles on her nose and calling me “loca” by spinning her finger around her ear and then pointing at me. (Remember doing that in grade school?)

The boy I was feeding did most of the work even if his hands didn’t work well enough for him to use the utensils himself. He had his subtle ways of communicating showing that he had no fear of interaction with adults or others.

I have to interject my own thoughts here. Kids are smart, way smarter than us. And you can tell a lot about the how a child is treated by how they interact with adults. Forgive the comparison, but they way you might trust some one if your dog trusts them is very much they way I feel about children. I trust the adults that they trust and un-self-consciously interact with. And from what I can tell and the ease in which these children love, trust and interact makes me want to give all I can to the people who take care of them day in and day out. And quite frankly, makes me want to learn to love they way both these children and those who care for them do. They do an amazing amount with the little bit of resources they have. A little love goes a long way. And you can see it reflected in these children’s faces. I’m so glad to know that someone(s) who care so much are the ones caring for these kids.

You may notice I’m talking a lot about the special needs kids. Well, I didn’t get to interact with the other children at this particular orphanage all that much because, well, they were all sick. :(

I fear many of you may get bored by this long post. Sorry about that :). I just am already so in love with these kids and these orphanages.

I stopped by another orphanage that is very short-handed in the baby-care department. I will be headed there regularly on Mondays and Thursdays and will be on bath duty. :) Shout out to Clarke, and his co-worker, who purchased two cases of baby soap for me to bring down in my bags. It IS crazy expensive here! (Cheap, no-name shampoo is like $4!) And shout out to the desk lady at the airport I mentioned earlier (maybe only on facebook?) who let 7 extra pounds slip past the scale without charging me the extra $100, to make sure all of the donations made it here safely. Go awesome lady at the airport with a big heart!
I will start baby duty this Thursday. The time I spent there this week however was spent with four adorable little three year old girls. One of which greeted us with a gruff, “HOLA!” with her arms defiantly crossed when we entered the room. All sass. I knew instantly she and I were going to be friends. :)

She ignored us for a while and played defiantly on her own, making sure we knew she was ignoring us. Shortly thereafter, she made her way over to me and stood in front of me, leaning her back against my legs. She took my right hand and pulled it close to her cheek. Her height was such that my finger tips, hanging casually, grazed the top of her shoulder. She pressed her cheek into my hand and I tickled her shoulder a little bit with the few fingers she wasn’t holding. We stood like that for a good 5 minutes. Not talking. Her just snuggling her cheek into my hand and playing with my fingers, with her back pressed up against the front my legs. I’ll never forget that quiet moment and her love of the affection. She gave more to me in that moment that I could have given to her.
After our silent bond of friendship was made we played a bit on the swings until she felt the need to show us who was boss again and stomped off on her own, making sure to look make and make sure we noticed.

(Now this I understand. I prefer someone choose my company rather then giving me attention because they feel they are supposed to or if I have to try to get it. I figure someone will offer friendship or attention without me begging for it or going out of my way to force them then it means more. I smiled at this similarity she and I share.)

I walked up to her and smiled, she turned and grunted. So I walked a few paces off and found myself a seat on a brick planter. I patted beside me, smiled, then looked away and waited. That was enough. The invitation was sent. A moment later someone, you guessed it my little friend, had sidled up against me and was ready to play. She sat on my lap and we made funny faces at each other for a bit. Giggling, which was all the communication we needed (good thing too, because my Spanish is no bueno). After about fifteen minutes of play I was surprised to find my face immobilized in her two little hands. She looked me straight in the eyes and gave me a big ol’ smooch. I laughed uncontrollably for a moment because of the sweetness and the surprise of it all. Another little piece of my heart got left in Ecuador right then and there. I’m sure I’ll see this little girl again, even if I am on baby duty on this orphanage. I’m sure I could stay a few extra hours occasionally to have my day brightened by this sweet girl, all full of sass.

I hope you’re enjoying my little stories because I’m certainly enjoying remembering them, even if I’m not such a fan of writing.

I met with the director of a third orphanage today. I found out that it’s more like a foster care. They have only two orphaned, orphans there, whereas the others have been through some pretty difficult things in their short, little lives, at home and have had to be removed things got so bad. Another kind of special need, I guess one could say. Kids are resilliant but that doesn’t mean they go unaffected by the ugliness they face. I have turned in all of my information to be cleared to work there as well and most likely be there on Saturdays with more of like a lesson plan I come up with, working with a few of them at a time and rotating to make sure they get some more one-on-one attention. At least this is the hope of the director. I’m pretty comfortable with this as I’ve worked in my fair share of “child development” centers and even studied a bit of early childhood development and hope to come up with some good ideas for activities to do with small groups (probably three at a time).  They do, understandably so, have some behavior issues, the director tells me. Live and learn, I guess...and love. Love probably being the best thing I can do with these guys. I’ll have to remember it’s not about the project or activity we’re doing. So I’ll put that sentence here as a reminder to myself. It’s not about what I’ve planned for the day, it’s that they walk away uplifted and encouraged and loved. There Amy, don’t forget.

This particular orphanage/foster home will also have a medical/surgical clinic some time in June I hope to be useful at.

It’s been pouring rain pretty much all day. Sprinkles in the morning, to heavy, lovely-sounding drops all afternoon. It’s late evening now and I’m getting ready to turn in, the night before my 32nd birthday. And I’m going to bed with a smile. I’m so glad I get to be here. I’m so glad for this pause in my life and the opportunity to give freely of myself, or at least try to. Funny thing is when it’s not about you, you tend to get a lot out of it. And I’ve got a lot it not needing to be about me in my life. Who doesn’t :) ?

Tomorrow for my birthday I hope to get a few things done that I didn’t get done today. Silly Ecuador thought today was the holiday and not tomorrow (my birthday). So everything was closed today and I didn’t get some of the things done I was hoping to. And maybe I’ll even see if there’s time to get my niece and nephew to go to the flower market with me and help me pick out a birthday bouquet. I do love pretty flowers and don’t mind getting them for myself. I also really want to go by the fruit market. I have no fruit in my house and I live in Ecuador. That’s got to be some kind of crime, I’m sure. Don’t turn me in, I’m on it.

I have also signed up for a spanish class with my brother, Aaron. We’ve gone twice so far. We have a very eager teacher, Nancy. Both days we’ve had to cut her off, as our lesson is only an hour and she is happy to keep on going well after the time, which normally I wouldn’t mind but Aaron has work and both days we’ve had things needing to get done immediately following the lesson. Her son, Sebastian, is a quiet, helpful and swing young (probably about 10) man who kisses me hello and then retreats into the background (as I’m sure the “school” is also their home). We occasionally hear him sweetly shout out helps to his mom, who doesn’t speak much English but needs help getting her point across. His English is pretty good and he’s so calm and kind. Aaron obviously speaks a lot more Spanish than I do, as I speak NONE. And he’s been here six months, plus he’s lived here before. But he says he doesn’t mind me being so far behind because it makes him feel smart, which is good I guess. I did get a bit frustrated today at the lesson as after and hour I was done and we were there for another half hour learning non-sensical stuff. Well, I guess it’s sensical, or will be eventually, but my brain was full and we were wandering around the house just pointing out and saying different things when I already have a whole stack of new phrases to learn I feel like learning the phrase for “sugar dish” was just pushing them out. I’ll get there though. I make up a lot of my Spanish, and at least 30% of the time it seems to come across just fine. Either many people speak more English than I realize or my guess as to what something might be in Spanish is close enough that they understand. I really do make up a bunch of words. I’m such a gringa.

That is a very long update, and I hope you get something out of it. I should go to bed now, after reviewing my Spanish phrases. I have a big day tomorrow....

....Oh and tomorrow I’m going back by the Red Cross to sort out times to volunteer there. They gave me a website and some questions to answer before being able to volunteer but it all came up a bit funky and so I’m taking my super helpful sister-in-law with me tomorrow to help translate and set things up clearly. She’s been a HUGE help despite having two crazy, cute kids (3yrs and 2yrs old) who are rambunciously full of energy as well as being at the beginning ills of her third pregnancy. HUGE help. I hope carma comes back her way. I don’t think Sammy and Harmon (my niece and nephew) will mind too much as they might get to see some ambulances there. :)

Good night all. Hope I remember to post this tomorrow when I mooch internet off my brother tomorrow. ;)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ecuador day 2, getting settled

It's funny how I feel like everything is going so slowly. I know I've only been here two days, well two days-ish but I feel like everything is moving so slowly. I know to expect that in places like this. There is a ton of run around sometimes and lack of efficiency sometimes. Or maybe it's just my urgency and excitement to get started.
I will meet with the director of one orphanage next Tuesday, and possibly another this afternoon or on Monday. I also stopped into Cuenca Cruz Rojo (The Red Cross-Cuenca) to see if I might help out there occasionally when I'm not at the orphanages. I was able to talk a bit to a girl, who started showing me around and then had to run off on a call-sounds like they could use the help as well. I'm pretty excited about that. I'd love to able to put my medical background to work here as well. One of the orphanages also mentioned that they have a surgical clinic and wondered if I might be interested in spending some time in there helping out as well. I'm very excited to do that as I've been able to go to Mexico with a group and do cleft palate repairs. I loved it.
I did get a lot done today despite not feeling like I'm getting anything done. I think I'm just ready to jump right in even though I haven't even had time to completely unpack
Today I found an apartment. It's small, but it's very clean, in a quiet, safe neighborhood-or so I'm told. :) I do like it. It already feels like home. And I'm getting the hang of taxis and working on getting the hang of the buses.
I tried walking from my place to my brother's place last night and got hopelessly lost. It was fun. :) I figured I would just follow the river...well, turns out there are like 4 rivers. It was lovely though. Beautiful sky, mellow weather, and lush green all around. I thought I could get my bearings by watching the mountains but there are just too many and I don't know them yet. There it is again, the feeling like I've been here forever and should have it all figured out by now. Hahaha. I'll get there.
I've already learned the musts before I leave my apartment (weird, only been there one night and I already feel like I've been there a while): sunglasses for sure! My pale eyes can't handle it's intensity without them; a sweater and scarf-cause the weather changes instantly from hot to cold and everywhere in between--the only rain I've seen so far happens to have been when it was the sunniest; and my Spanish dictionary-I'm having fun reading the signs though and trying to figure out what they say. So much of Spanish is so close to English that if I know the context I can sometimes pick out words or phrases.
I'll keep you posted on things as the details I worked out.
Here a few pics of little apartment and the streets of Cuenca.