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¡Ciao, Quito! ¡Nos vemos!

15 Jul

When I started my work at Copprende, I was so excited to finally have something meaningful and important to blog about. I had no idea that the 9 hours a day that I work would make it absolutely impossible to make it to the internet cafés before they closed! So, now I´m stuffing my last alpaca sweater into my suitase and wondering where these past 6 weeks went. Don´t worry, I still found time to journal and scribble down thoughts in a notepad I carried everywhere. I have so many stories and photos–they´ll just have to be posted once I´m back home.  So, don´t give up on me yet!

The fact that I´m boarding a plane tonight to return home has me in kind of a strange mood. I feel like I´ve finally adjusted to life here–in all of its craziness–and in some ways I´m having a hard time imagining what my life at home will be like. I´ve gotten really used to waking up to car alarms and dogs barking, to showering in lukewarm water as fast as possible, to stumbling down the stairs to a breakfast of fresh fruit and tea, to rushing out the door to fight with Ecuadorians for a taxi to work, and to crossing my fingers that the elevator will make it up all 10 floors to the office. I´m really going to miss walking into Copprende and being greeted by kisses on the cheek and hugs, feeling a bit less touristy when wearing my Copprende uniform and walking with Normita and Fernanda all over Quito, walking to Plaza de las Americas to get some pan de yuca and yogurt or a McFlurry, watching “¿Quién Quiere Ser Millionario?” on the TV at dinner with my host family, late night talks with my roommate, practicing my Spanish all the time, and that weird feeling that a place so foreign is now somewhat familiar.  I fear going home and getting busy and caught up in life, and losing all I´ve gained here. I don´t want to get worse at Spanish, I don´t want to lose touch with people I´ve met, I don´t want to forget the schools I´ve been to or the stories I´ve been a part of, I don´t want to forget how to take the TroleyBus, or which keys to use for each of the 5 locks to get into my house. But, most of all, I don´t want to forget the way working here has made me feel–the direction it has given me. For that, Quito, I can´t say thank you enough.


So, I guess all I can do is keep going. Remind myself that this is the start of something new. I´m going to continue to help out with Copprende, and I will to stay in touch, and hopefully return sometime soon. So for now, it´s not goodbye, it´s nos vemos! because it´s definitely not over.


Today, Quito is bidding me farewell with some absolutely spectacular thunder and lightning storms–but I´d be lying if I said I wasn´t exited for a California summer. I´m glad to be back home, and I´m thrilled to return with the direction I was craving on the flight here to Quito. So stoked to see where it takes me next! (Machu Picchu? Panama? Rio? More blog posts to come!)



4 Jul

I knew this trip would change me somehow. In fact, on the plane to Quito I wrote a list of hopes for this trip and numbers 1 and 2 are “discover new goals, passions, and paths” and “be open to new ideas, mindsets, and perspectives.” I had no idea that just a few days later I´d be writing in the same journal about how underwhelmed I was by my experiences at the hospitals and clinics here. It took me just 3 days of clinic to realize I would not accomplish my goals here in Quito if I didn´t change something. I appreciate everything the doctors were doing, and I admire them for their work, but for some reason it didn´t click for me. I wanted to reach more people, to do my part to educate the population here about ways to improve their health, and to leave feeling like I had accomplished something challenging and truly great. So, I did some research, made a few phone calls, and found myself in a small office just a few blocks from my Spanish school. I was hoping this man, Juan Carlos, could lead me to my dream job, and was completely shocked when he seemed unimpressed by my excitement and past experience with women´s health work. As if it were just to make me leave, he handed me the information of a woman at an NGO called Copprende, and told me to call.

Confused, but still excited to find the perfect volunteer work for me, I called Cristina Ulloa, the Executive President of Ecuador´s branch of ProSalud. She could only meet me the following week, so I waited patiently and prepared for my conversation with her in ways that I hadn´t for Juan Carlos. The drive over felt like forever, and of course it was raining, and there was tons of traffic. I was so anxious, but as soon as Cristina hugged me and gave me the customary kiss on one cheek, I relaxed a bit. I launched in to what I had worked on before, what I was hoping to do here, and why I so desperately wanted her to let me volunteer. She seemed overwhelmed by my excitement, but looked really enthusiastic about finding a spot for me. After assuring me that I could come in the following week at 9am, I pretty much skipped out of the door and down the 10 flights of stairs. I hardly understood the variety of public health interventions that Copprende works on, but I was eager to learn.

Although that conversation feels like it just happened, it actually was three weeks ago. I stopped my work at La Maternidad, and have been working with Copprende for two weeks now (8:30am-6pm!), and have left the office every day feeling the fulfillment and excitement that I was anticipating the whole trip. I walked into the office the first day knowing that they work with students in high school and college and do lectures, but I had no idea the extent of their work. They go to the campuses of these schools and universities that do not have sexual and reproductive health education themselves, and hold information booths, fairs, and lectures to educate the public about sexual and reproductive health. It was so popular, that they now to go the clinics as well! They hand out pamphlets that are bright green, yellow, blue and pink, and I have never seen any of these vibrant gems of information thrown on the ground or in the trashcans after our charlas. They have visual aids, physical examples of different forms of contraception, demonstrations that show the correct way to use a condom, and have plenty of time for questions. While my Spanish isn´t fluent enough to actually do these charlas, I get to hand out the pamphlets, try to answer questions to the best of my ability, and demonstrate correct condom usage. On Fridays we walk through the streets of Quito searching for pharmacies to educate. We have a small prepared talk about a particular topic (correct usage of the morning after pill, condoms, birth control, and the importance of doble protección–condoms for STI/HIV protection, and hormonal birth control for pregnancy prevention) and we leave behind information for their customers.  I had no idea, but apparently there´s a big issue with students going to the pharmacists to ask questions about sex ed and a lot of the pharmacists don´t know the right answers! So, every Friday, we educate the educators. So cool!  I even get a vest and a bag with Copprende´s logo on it, so I look just like the real employees.

Aside from all of the awesome stuff I get to do with Copprende outside of the office, they just asked me to work on a new blog for them! I´m so excited that I get to leave behind something that I worked on, and I´ll definitely pass it on when it´s done.

I can´t explain how incredible it feels to find something that just feels right. I don´t know if I´ll be working with sexual and reproductive health for the rest of my life, but I definitely know I have a passion for public health and education. For now, I´m so excited to be given the opportunity to work with such an incredible organization, and I can´t wait to share more about their invaluable work that is changing and challenging  the culture, mindset, and norms of Quito´s youth, all while it changes and challenges  me.

Survival of the Fittest

29 Jun

As we stood on the pier of Puerto Ayora, looking out on the turquoise waters of the Galápagos spotted with crusie ships, we smiled as we breathed the salty air deep into our lungs. It was a welcomed change from the smoggy streets of Quito. Eyes wide, we tried to absorb as much of the vibrant town, the landscape, and the wildlife as we could. Painted across one of the stone walls was a quote by Charles Darwin “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” It didn´t really surprise me to see a quote by Darwin right when we got off the plane, but for some reason this one stuck with me the whole trip. Our boat took us through as many islands, beaches, and reefs as it could in the short time we were there, and each time we stopped we looked confused. Many of the beaches were made up of black or deep red lava rock, with sparse vegetation and zero signs of life from afar. The ocean was similar, we would jump in, and at first, all we could see were piles of lava rocks. I should have gotten used to this process, but each time it overwhelmed me to find how much life had adapted to every possible form of living, even in what seemed to be harsh environments.  One bird, the Frigatebird, lacks a certain oil and hence can´t dive into the water like other birds, but it´s primary source of food is fish. Instead of starving, it has come up with quite a show to steal fish from other birds after they´ve done all the work. They´re known as the pirate birds! Or, take the Giant Tortises as an example. There are two types of shells found in the Galápagos, one that looks like a helmet, and one that looks like a saddle. The tortises developed these shell shapes based off of their food sources. The helmet-shaped ones don´t need space to lift their heads far off the ground because they primarily eat grass. The saddle-shaped ones eat cacti and other plants elevated off of the ground. For this reason, they have space to lift their heads. It´s incredible how much they´ve adapted to their forms of life. Of course, there were also blue footed boobies, sea lions, the most incredible array of fish you can imagine, sharks, rays, massive sea turtles, birds of all shapes and sizes, and plants of various colors, smells, and appearances. We got to swim with the sea turtles, the sea lions (who just wanted to play!), and a penguin (the second smallest species of penguin in the world!).  It was four days of the most incredible adventure I can imagine.


But I couldn´t help but think about how much Darwin´s quote applies to my life here. It´s not like there was a sudden ice age, nor did I survive molten lava after a volcano erupted, but my environment sure did change pretty quickly. I changed my daily schedule, my diet, my exercise routine, my modes of transportation, my goals, my home, and my support systems. While some days of it have been unbelievable like the days I spent in the Galápagos, and my experiences in the hospitals, some have been quite honestly really hard. It´s not uncommon for people to be shocked by this change, but, as Darwin said, it´s all about how you adapt. I´ve gotten pretty good at taking the TroleyBus, going to bed early, getting up early, haggling with Taxi drivers that don´t have meters, finding food I can eat, managing my physical activity, and having fun all at once. I´ve even found a way to volunteer that inspires me, and has completely rekindled the passion that dimmed at times. Everyone knows I´m not the strongest (especially health-wise), and as an extranjera in a foreign country with a foreign language, customs, and culture, I don´t always seem the most intelligent. But, I´d say I´ve adapted pretty well to this new environment, and I´m really excited to see what it has in store for me these next few weeks.

Quito´s Botanical Garden

23 Jun


23 Jun

Centro Historico

23 Jun

My Last Day at La Maternidad

23 Jun