Peace Corps · Travel · Uncategorized

Experimental Learning and Escaping to Banos, Ecuador

I created a video of my experiences (featuring Despacito, a song you can’t go an hour without hearing in Ecuador) thus far! Check it out here.

This week, everyone in my Omnibus (cohort of incoming Ecuadorian Peace Corps trainees) began our experimental learning, a hands-on aspect of training that brings us into local health clinics to give thirty minute charlas, or presentations, in Spanish. Picture this: 10-15 people sitting on plastic patio chairs – they’re ubiquitous in Ecuador, used everywhere and available for purchase at a tienda for $1.99 – in a central waiting room at the Ministerio de Salud Publica (MSP). They’re primarily mothers with children, breastfeeding their babies or with hands nervously holding onto their bump. People are constantly streaming in and out of the three doctor’s offices, as well as the dentist’s, and the occasional stray dog wanders in as well. The only five Americans in el campo stream into the room, and share lessons on water sanitation, tooth brushing and hand washing for whoever is willing to listen. I was skeptical at first, but again impressed with Ecuadorian’s continuous kindness and generosity of spirit: they rose their hands to answer our questions and sang along to our silly songs – “Aserrin, aserran, mid manitos a lavar, con aguita y con jabon, muy bonitas quedaran”. In addition, the MSP in our host community, Puembo, offered to let us give presentations to their biweekly exercise club for local elderly individuals. About 40 members of the community, mostly women, gathered in a gymnasium for light exercise, stretching, and now our health promotion presentations, each week. The MSP had requested a Peace Corps volunteer of their own for the upcoming four years, so we’ll see if one of us is assigned to live here!

Thursday was my first charla. I nervously prepared my thirty minute presentation – I don’t think I’ve ever spoken in Spanish straight for such a long time before! I would start the session with some stretching to wake up the audience (and myself!), a “true or false” warm-up activity about the benefits of drinking water, a presentation on three easy ways to treat your water before consumption: boiling, chlorination and filtration, and a closing activity to assess what they’d learned. As I headed to Puembo to give my charla; however, the now-familiar rumblings of food poisoning began to rumble in my stomach. Most likely, someone else had prepared my food without following the water sanitation and hand-washing lessons we were about to present, because I was clearly coming down with – another! – viral gastrointestinal infection. About two-thirds of the way through my presentation, the symptoms began to escalate. I rushed through the charla, cutting out examples on the benefits and drawbacks of each water treatment strategy, and clamped my mouth shut tight when I finished the presentation. I answered their questions as quickly as I could, kissed a few goodbye, and rushed out of the gymnasium. Spotting a patch of grass outside the door, I vomited and tried to avoid eye contact with cars passing by. To the woman sitting next to me on the bus home: I’m so sorry you had to watch/listen to my retching for the entire forty-five minute ride home.

One thing is for sure: my presentations can only get better from here.

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My fellow volunteers and I visiting the Ministerio of Salud Publica at our host site

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The audience for my first charla

To celebrate finishing our first charla for experimental learning, one of my fellow Peace Corps Trainees, Amy, and I went with her host brother and his girlfriend to Baños, Ecuador – a city in the Sierra and on the edge of the Amazon, known for its hot springs, waterfalls and mountains – for a day over the weekend. I’m only allowed one night away from my host family during training, so I used it on Friday. We headed out of Quito right after training, and took the easy three hour direct bus to Banos from Quitumbe, Quito’s southern terminal. We’ll be right back there in a week, when we head south for our visit to the coast. I’ll be hosted by a Peace Corps volunteer in Santa Elena-Salinas, a beautiful beach town where one lucky Community Health volunteer gets to live for two years!

In Banos, Amy and I woke up early at our hostel to explore a bit of “downtown” – it’s a pretty small town – Banos while her host brother and his girlfriend slept in to enjoy their vacation. We found a market that hosted restaurant-style food stands, fruit, bread, and other snacks. We put together a breakfast of coffee, bananas, granadillas and a roll of bread for under $1.50! Ecuador uses the US dollar just like back home, which makes it easy to understand relative prices here. Produce and other locally grown goods, like rice, are cheap and widely available at fruterias or mercados, but imported goods can be wildly expensive. For example, I just visited the toy store to buy a deck of Uno cards for my little sister’s birthday present (she’s obsessed with the game, and we play with my cards all the time, so I want her to have it when I leave), and they were selling a Pictionary game for $80 USD!

Afterwards, we headed to Casa de Arbol for the famous “Swing at the End of the World”. Due to the drizzly weather, it felt like we were at the end of the world for a different reason: it dropped off into white nothingness. I hope to come back and visit on a clear day to see the stunning mountain vistas I know are on the other side of the fog! Next, we caught a ride back into town and headed back to the mercado for a traditional Ecuadorian lunch: chicken soup, rice, plantains, fried egg, ham, potatoes and a pinch-sized salad. We found a bus tour that would take us to Pailón del Diablo to walk across the canyon on a rickety bridge and stop at various other sites along the way. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking…

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Rio Verde in Banos, Ecuador

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Swing at the End of the World at la Casa de Arbol

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Pailon de Diablo and the Steps Amy’s Host Family was Afraid to Visit

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This Bridge was Almost as Scary, Though

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Me, Walter, Kathy and my Fellow Peace Corps Trainee, Amy

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Rio Verde, Banos, Ecuador

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