At my new site in Cuenca, I’m working for the nonprofit foundation Hogar de Esperanza. I’ve been here two weeks so far. Two weeks doesn’t sound like a lot, but in that time I’ve:
- Located the missing children of an HIV+ mother who has experienced memory loss due to trauma and has found herself on the opposite side of the country from her home
- Presented on our organization’s work for nearly 100 Catholic leaders and congregants at a local church
- Began a partnership with two local university students to create a sustainable source of dry goods for our food bank
- Interviewed our current patients to learn more about their history and needs moving forward
- Built a shared calendar system for us to manage doctor’s appointments, events and commitments across the organization
- Designed our 2017 Annual Report and created a pamphlet educating about HIV and our organization for an open house in the center of town this Sunday
- Visited three local nonprofits to learn more about their organization and how we could collaborate moving forward
- Seen my boss be honored for his humanitarian service in front of the governor of our province, Azuay, and the expat community
Moving forward in the second half of my Peace Corps service, I can only see my responsibilities and activities continuing to grow. After the mañana pace of life in my previous site, the speed I’m experiencing here is leaving me a bit breathless (or maybe that’s just the 8,370 ft altitude). Nevertheless, I’m excited for the challenge.
Besides, life in Cuenca is a lot more fun than the campo, too. Through another volunteer in the organization, I’ve been connected with soccer groups that play each Wednesday, Thursday and Friday after work. Although my soccer skills can’t compete with the locals who’ve been playing since birth, I created a network of friends through sports that extends outside of playing soccer. At least, all the way to watching soccer. We cheered on Deportivo Cuenca at the stadium – less than a ten minute walk from my new apartment! – despite heavy rain. The game coincided with Mother’s Day, and I scored a giveaway “Juntos para Celebrar con Mama” jersey featuring the Russian World Cup imagery.
This past weekend was my first birthday spent celebrating in Ecuador. In classic EcuaBella fashion, I spent most of my birthday and the weekend following vomiting and incredibly ill. Despite an entire year in Ecuador, my stomach still gives me regular food poisoning. Unfortunately, I had fun plans for hiking through Cajas National Park, one of my closest friends in Peace Corps had bussed 9 hours to come visit me, and I was about to sit down for a nice Italian birthday dinner with about a dozen volunteers when the vomiting hit.
At the time, I was very disappointed, but in retrospect that experienced exactly what my Peace Corps service has been like thus far: food poisoning, and unexpected setbacks.
Luckily, the night before my birthday, some of my new soccer teammates had insisted on taking me out so that I could start celebrating my birthday right at midnight. We went out to a local salsateca, where they surprised me at midnight by playing a salsa remix of “Happy Birthday” and having every guy in the club take a turn dancing with me for the duration of the song while everyone else surrounded me and clapped.