Longest. Post. Ever.
I have to apologize for my lack of posting for since I've been home. We had so many activities planned during the last week in Ecuador that I didn't have much time to sit down, let alone write a blog. Since I've been home, sickness has laid it's hand upon me in the cruelest way, and I've been extremely fatigued. So I'm going to pick up where I left off with the trip, but it's going to be the simplified version. If you want to chit chat about the trip (I'd love to anytime) just give me a call and let's grab a cup of coffee.
Each day our amazing driver Rita would take us to the orphanage around 9AM, and we usually took the morning to do as much painting as we could. Throughout the week we painted the entire kitchen building and recreational building on the outsides and insides. The paint they use there is thinned with gasoline, so it was a pungent job, but we didn't complain much. Water was a necessity while working in the humidity and heat, as well as sunscreen and bug repellent. Taking breaks was sometimes the most tiring part, because I'd go play with the kids, and they can really wear you out!
Our lunch was brought in every day and always had the most delicious desserts (tres leches and flaan to name a couple). After lunch I usually helped with whatever craft project or game the kids were up to. They shaped pipe cleaners into flowers and glasses, made designs out of adhesive-backed foam, blew bubbles, colored with crayons, and played with the new soccer balls and hula hoops that some of the volunteers and I bought for them at the mall.
We usually left the orphanage around 3PM and would have some sort of outing or event planned before dinner. One day we went to the home of a boy who had been flown to the Mayo Clinic about 10 years ago for a surgery. His father proudly welcomed us into their home. They have a handful of sewing machines at the front of their house that they make sweatshirts with and sell to the schools for uniforms. Each completed sweatshirt is worth about 40 cents and they have to make about 100 per day in order to reach their goal of 3000 per year. The workers start at about 7AM and end around 10PM. Their home was very commonly built for this area; the floor of the consisted of packed dirt, walls of bamboo, roof of corrugated aluminum, usually no doors, and absolutely breathtaking views of the landscape from atop a hill. As we were leaving, we stopped to take a photo of our group. We invited some children that were watching us to come sit with us to be in the photos; before we knew it, there was a stampede of young children running up the hill toward us with smiling faces for the camera.
Another adventure we had one evening was the tour of Portoviejo that we received from one of the four local ambulances. We packed in the back of the ambulance (driving sometimes with the doors closed, sometimes open) and were told about the emergency services there. They brought us to their civil defense headquarters and showed us around, and brought us to a park with great evening views of the city. The ambulance was donated by New York and was actually used there during the attacks on 9/11. All of their emergency responders are volunteers and everything they have for supplies has been by donation.
The next day, after the orphanage, I had the opportunity to scrub in and be in the operating room to watch a foot surgery at the Fundación de Niños San Lucas. This was an amazing experience that I'm sure I'd never be able to have in the US because of more strict laws and policies. I watched the last hour or so of the surgery on a 4 year old girl's foot which had been operated on a few years ago by a different surgeon and hadn't healed 100% correctly, so they were re-aligning the tendons and bones in her foot. I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle seeing the inside of someone's live body, it was heavily intense, but when I was watching, I was in serious awe of the surgeon's abilities. If you've never witnessed something like this before, you may think I'm exaggerating, but watching this life-altering process was miraculous.
After writing about all of these things I am becoming very surprised as to how we fit all of this in! Another day after "work" with the kids, we went to the market in a nearby town, Montecristi. You can find all of the shops along the main street selling locally inspired (and mostly locally made) souvenirs including: tagua nut jewelry and figurines, alpaca blankets, sweaters, and scarves, Panama hats (not actually made in Panama!), hammocks, and many other things. In these shops they usually expect a little bartering, so we could talk down the price on most items we bought.
Leaving the children at the orphanage on Wednesday was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. They did a few more dances for us, and some of them spoke words of thanks into the microphone. One small girl, Andrea, who I believe is about 8 years old, said, "You not only painted on our walls, you painted love on our hearts." We were pretty much all in tears after that one. We gave long embraces before finally taking off in our shuttle, they waved white handkerchiefs at us from both sides of the van and handed us flowers through the windows.
The last full day we had in Ecuador was spent in Crucita, a beach town. Myra's family has a beautiful beach home there directly across the street from the ocean, and allowed us to take it over for the day. This was a much needed day of relaxation, and fun in the sun. We were able to ride the rather powerful waves and were actually warned by the guards to stay in further than we were because of their intensity. The sun was only a few days off from the point when it is closest to the earth (and we were directly at the equator, of course) so, needless to say, even with avid reapplication of sunblock, most of the crew was bright red at the end of the day. Some of us had a chance to go paragliding which was something I'd never done before and surprisingly a very calming experience. But, the winds weren't very strong, so some people weren't able to go. (I guess they'll have to come back next year!) We ended the night by going to the discothèque and dancing the night away.
So there you have it, the main points of the last week. If I've forgotten any, it's because I'm a little lazy at the moment, and I'll post them as they are recalled. I'm currently sorting through the thousands of photos from the entire group, so I'll post some of those as well when I have another spare moment, I promise!