One of my best friends Cristella arrived in Quito about a week and a half ago, and it has been beyond amazing to have the company. It’s really nice to be around someone who already knows and loves you. And someone with whom you can speak English. After a few days to allow her to get her bearings, we started working hard to get all of the clinics set up for the group of 8 volunteers from Santa Barbara arriving June 27th, and so far we have been really lucky with how well everything has been falling into place.
We first went out to Otavalo for the night to set up a clinic in the neighboring town of Esperanza de Azama. Otavalo is a popular tourist destination mainly because of their huge Saturday market, and as a result it has tons of hostals and good restaurants. We stayed at a hostal called HOSTAL ALY, which was beyond thrilling for me. When we told the girl working behind the front desk that my name was Aly as well she just laughed at us, and explained that ‘aly’ in Quichiwa (no idea how to actually spell this, it is one of the indigenous languags in Ecuador) means ‘bueno/bien’, good. Things in Esperanza exceeded my expectations, it was amazing to see the developments in the town that had happened in the nine months since we had last been there. The kids had grown up so much, and they now had a basketball court and soccer field, as well as a new scholarship fund set up so they could continue school after grade 6, and plans to start a community garden. The community leader is this woman named Margot, she is really impressive, she knows everything that is happening in the community at all times, and she was glad to have us back and to help us set up. She really wanted us to have two full days of educational presentations, covering topics like nutrition, taking care of the environment, dental hygiene, parasitosis, family planning, alcoholism, tobacco, and skin cancer, which we were pretty happy about. Just treating the people for a day with doctors will not change much in the long run, but we are hoping that with this kind of education we can actually create some long term changes that empower the people in Azama to help themselves and improve their quality of life.
We also went out to the jungle to set up clinics in three different communities there. I forgot how beautiful the drive was out to Archidona, we wound through these misty green valleys filled with orchids and all kinds of other colorful flowers and trees that I had never seen before. Once we arrived, I was again I was blown away by how kind people were to us. Romel, a guy we briefly met last year, waited for us at the bus station in order to help us find a safe hostel, and then all of the next day drove us around and bought us a delicious lunch of homemade cheese and bread, and copious amounts of beer, which helped my Spanish immensely. It was quite the experience zipping through the lush green forests, over shaky bridges and through rivers in a red jeep blasting reggaetone beats, with a beer in hand. These communities had also changed a lot, especially La Libertad, which was the most rural and impoverished community we visited last August. Since then they had built a school, and were in the process of installing solar panels in order to have access to electricity. It was a bit more difficult to coordinate in these communities, since there wasn’t any Margot for us to rely on, but they were also really eager to have us back, and to hear presentations about family planning, alcoholism, and dental hygiene.
After visiting all three communities, talking with the community leaders and school teachers and women, all the while suffering from humidity, mosquitos, and heat, we were exhausted. We ate dinner at a local restaurant, and our food consisted of a giant plate of french fries with a hamburger patty, a hot dog, and a fried egg on top, which we proceeded to smother in mayonnaise, ketchup and aji sauce. It sounds like it should have been completely disgusting, but it was maybe one of the best things that has ever happened to me. And also maybe simultaneously one of the worst. There is still plenty for us to do, we need to go out to one more community on the coast, we have to find volunteer doctors from Quito to come out to each community with us, figure out transportation for the group, put together all of the educational presentations for the communities… but I feel good about things so far, and am tentatively confident that this year will be a success :)