Archive for February, 2011

Ecuador: last day

Updated flight schedule:  We just got word of the change yesterday.  This is another pre-scheduled blog entry, updated in Quito…

We’re scheduled to leave Ecuador today (leave Quito 12:30 AM, lv Atlanta 7:25 AM, lv Detroit (NOT La Guardia) 9:30 AM and arrive Bangor on Delta flight 6017 at 12:16  PM Saturday (NOT 2:41).  If you’re picking somebody up, bring a warm jacket and don’t offer to take them out for fried chicken. 

They’ll tell you about chicken and rice when they see you. 

We haven’t flown across Ecuador lately.  Since we’ve been working in the northern or central part of the country we fly into Quito and then go by bus.  But when we used to work in the south of the country, instead of a 12 to 14 hour bus ride (oh, but the mountains are spectacular by bus) we’d fly for 45 minutes to the Loja airport.

Sometimes by local airline, sometimes in an Army C-130 cargo plane (Sara, the director in those days, had connections with higher-ups).  A girl would pass out earplugs at the door and we’d strap ourselves into the cargo nets. 

We have NEVER flown in a bi-plane.     

Cartoon by Rick H.  He’s also the who thinks the plane is cool.

Read Full Post »

Ecuador: fine art

I love the paintings of Oswaldo Guayasamín, and if you’re ever in Quito make a point to visit his home, now a museum dedicated to him.

Like images of Che Guevara, many of Guayasamín’s paintings show up on T-shirts and knock-off tourist paintings.  He’s more or less an Ecuadorian Picasso, and I also love Picasso.  Your tastes may differ.

I’ll include a few of his paintings in addition to this self-portrait, so you’ll know what we’re seeing around us.  And you don’t even have to like them.











Read Full Post »

Ecuador: they feed us cuy

[leftover cuy from previous years.  pre-recorded blogpost.]

They are a delicacy.  The Incas ate cuy (pronounced kwee because that’s what they sound like  before you kill ’em and eat ’em).  kwee kwee kwee kwee 

Poor little things. 

The poor little things are pretty tasty though.  Something like chicken.  Serve on a bed of white rice with ají sauce and tomatoes.  Don’t eat the lettuce. 

It’s not really a tourist thing because even in a lot of out-of-the-way villages you’ll see signs that read, Aquí Se Venden Cuyes (Guinea Pigs Sold Here).

Guinea Pigs…  Yes… They do taste like chicken.  And the locals feed them to us to be nice, just as we do with lobsters when midwestern relatives visit the island (What?  You’ve never seen the ocean?  Have a lobster, then). 


Read Full Post »

Ecuador: plenty of fruit

Fresh fruit juices every morning—pineapple, orange, mango, mora, papaya, tree tomato.  And fruits we have never seen before and can’t pronounce.  Here is a tray of them, labeled, that the kitchen staff put together for us a few years ago.  Click once or twice to enlarge.

[This blogpost has been previously scheduled to provide juice for this occasion.]

Read Full Post »

Ecuador: Presidents’ Day

They do have a president here, but I forget his name, and that’s probably a good sign.  Nothing controversial.  He’s a leftist they say, friendly with Evo Morales of Bolivia and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.  Funny how I remember their names, though.

The government here can be described as “a stable, corrupt democracy”.  “Oh, it’s like ours!” you say.  Well, maybe with a South American accent. 

During the first ten years I had come to Ecuador there were ten presidents in succession (Three of them during the first week I was here, and I swear I had nothing to do with that).  But the politics never affect our medical mission, except when the Indigenous go on strike and blockade certain roads.  We simply go on different roads or re-schedule a clinic for a different day.  So far so good.     

Rafael Correa.  Yeah, that’s his name.  He don’t bother us none. 

The largest political presence in Ecuador, except for the flag, is the image and likeness of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.  In fact, his presence is probably second only to images of the Virgin Mary or Christ on the cross. 

He’s a legend all over Latin America and his picture or drawing shows up on walls, buses, T-shirts, tourist paintings, postcards (got one on my fridge); and even the right-wing governments don’t get too worried these days.  Che was shot by the Bolivian government in 1967 after encouraging a revolution there.   I think the CIA had something to do with it.

Che was born in Argentina, became a medical doctor by training, yet abandoned that for politics.  He aided Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution and became part of Cuba’s government, doing his best to frustrate the United States.  Til he got shot. 

Enough politics.  Happy Presidents’ Day!

(Edit while here in Ecuador:   I haven´t seen very many images of Che this year for some reason, but on the first day when we were welcomed by the director of the San Miguel hospital in his office, there was—I swear—a portrait of Che, like the one at right, over the director´s desk.  And in another clinic there was a portrait of Fidel Castro.) 

Read Full Post »

Ecuador: Churches

[Pre-recorded for broadcast at this time.  Just like PBS]

On Sundays, those who wish may attend a church, whether católica or evangélica, or we’ll hold a service of our own at the hotel (we kinda take over places, whether hospitals or hotels.  Or schools to hold clinic). 

Often the pastor of a local church will have been working with us during the week, or providing transportation, or his church members making lunches, and we’ll have got to know some of them pretty well.  They become our patients, and we their parishoners-for-a-day.

I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of iglesias evangélicas (Protestant churches) except on slide film.  Many of these are small, often backyard or in the pastor’s house; or perhaps a rented storefront building—and not photogenic.  In farm villages, an iglesia evangélica may be a plain wood or concrete building with no more than a sign above the door, or a cross, to indicate what it is. 

The iglesias católicas, on the other hand, are often very beautiful and much older.  Even a small town may have a gorgeous building, almost always opposite the town square.  And town squares can resemble the Garden of Eden, as in the first photo from the village of Guano.



La Iglesia de San Francisco, Quito, begun construction ca. 1550

View of the old city of Quito from la Iglesia de San Francisco


Read Full Post »

Ecuador: weekend shopping

[pre-recorded blog post yet again…]

After five days of hard work in a strange land we  try to relax.  If we’re up in the north of the country we take a day trip to Otavalo, the site of an Indigenous market.  That is, on Saturdays Otavalo IS an Indigenous market.  They close off the downtown and set up shop everywhere.  And we buy stuff.   Not very relaxing.  

Part of our fundraising comes from the sale of Ecuadorian handcrafts like sweaters, handbags, scarves, hammocks and more.  Everything is colorful and the styles change over the years. 

Here are some photos of previous years in Otavalo.  I don’t think we’ll get there this year, but there are other opportunities.

There's a baby in here somewhere.


Dr. Charlie bargaining for tablecloths

A sale has been made. Packing into the medical bags.


Leaving Otavalo. These girls come aboard the buses, sing in Quichua, and try to make one last sale (or at least tips for singing).

Read Full Post »

[This post, like most while in Ecuador, is pre-recorded]

By now most of the group will have traveled around quite a bit by bus.  The clinic team goes out each day to rural, even remote villages, through mountains and farm country (and here the farm country is often on 45 to 60 degree slopes) while the surgery team will be sequestered within the concrete walls and flickering fluorescents of the Guaranda Hospital, wondering what Ecuador must be like.   (edit:  They´re working in a smaller hospital this year, in nearby San Miguel.  Our hotel is in Guaranda)

We let the surgery team out on week-ends and they make up for it. 

Funny thing about these bus rides:  the reactions vary from “Never again!” to “I live for this stuff!” 

Cartoon by Rick H:


Read Full Post »

Ecuador: murals

[blogpost made in the USA before the trip]

Everywhere in Ecuador you’ll see murals.  Some along walkways, commissioned by city governments; some inside church buildings or hospitals or schools.  Much of them are done by and for children, and there are a lot of children in Ecuador.

This was in the military hospital where we worked in Riobamba last year. Jane and Kathy stand next to Christ the Healer. Ecuadorians have no problem with religious art, symbols and shrines in their public buildings, schools and hospitals.


Daughter Christina with friends. The mural reads, "Sow around yourself goodness and forgiveness so that tomorrow you may reap fruits of peace and happiness."


At a nursery school next to a clinic where we worked


At a small church in a very small village. That's me walking outside the boat, and I think Peter was the only other fisherman to do this.

In Riobamba last year we worked at a military hospital and slept and ate on the base. I have never seen so much military art and never dreamed there would even be a "tank genre". Here Kristophe and Alec ham it up in the officers' dining hall where we had meals.

Read Full Post »

[This blogpost is pre-recorded… I can’t do this while in Ecuador.] 

Thanks to Rick Henion for the cartoons.  We miss you, Rick! 

This is how pharmacy is done with the clinic team.  Normally we set up the meds in a secure room in a schoolhouse or gym, or perhaps on the platform of a small church.  Nurses or pharmacists (aided by the occasional forest ranger off-duty) will administer what we’ve got, and by the end of the two weeks have to advise the physicians about what’s running low, or arrange to purchase some the next morning. 

And when all else fails, there’s M&M’s and Flintstone vitamins.

  The characters in the cartoons are Kathy T and Ranger Rick himself.

This is how pharmacy is really done. A missionary nurse, a doctor and a pharmacy technician. Danielle and Deb (center and right) have been regulars with our group and we miss them too.


We always have teens on the trip (or Sarah, the daughter of the missionary nurse above). Daughter Number One, in MDI sweatshirt, is showing Sarah how to count out pills. This photo is from 2003 and all have grown up.

Read Full Post »

¡Feliz día de San Valentín!   (o, Feliz día del amor y de la amistad.  Qualquiera cosa).

I don’t think I’ll be doing many live blogposts while in Ecuador.  This one is pre-recorded, to post on Valentine’s Day (or, The Day of Love and Friendship.  Whatever).        

The photo is from Valentine’s Day 2006.  Here is La Reina de Urcuquí (the Queen of Urcuquí, the village we worked in that day) presenting us with flowers and ribbons.  Judith on the left is the doctor that I translated for that year. 

No telling what’ll happen for festivities today, but Ecuadorians are always friendly. 

Today is our first day on the job.  The surgery team will set up in the hospital in Guaranda and will most likely start cutting flesh by noon.  The clinic team will hop into a bus and go out to a rural village for the day.  It always amazes me how a group of people who don’t normally work together (or have even met before!) can set up shop and get to work so quickly.  And we have fun doing it.     

Read Full Post »

Ecuador: the middle of the world

By now (Sunday) we should have arrived in Quito.  We’ll be in working in Guaranda, Ecuador for our two-week medical mission and plan to get on the bus this afternoon for a four-hour ride along the Andes to our destination. 

I have scheduled this blogpost in advance, also about ten others during the next two weeks.  So stay tuned for messages and photos based on previous trips at least.  I’ll be getting e-mails out to family members with up-to-date info, but I don’t expect to do much live-blogging.

They call Ecuador La Mitad del Mundo, the Middle of the World, because it’s right on the Equator.  In fact, that’s what Ecuador means.  Sun straight up at noon, and when it gets dark it gets dark fast because the sun sets straight down.

We'll be working in Guaranda, in Bolívar province just to the left of the center. Click on the map to enlarge it.

The official language is Spanish and not many speak English here.  For the next two weeks that’s my job.  I’m translating for Hancock County Medical Mission, an annual two-week tradition put together by medical and non-medical people from Maine.  Our medical staff provides free or low-cost health care and medications. 

Our surgery team will work out of the hospital in Guaranda each day, doing hernia repair, gall bladder removal, vein stripping, appendectomies, hysterectomies, and minor surgeries.  Possibly a childbirth or two. 

Ecuador has many hospitals, but they are underutilized.  We make arrangements with one in an area of need and essentially take over the place.  Fortunately for the Ecuadoran staff (administrators, nurses, cleaning ladies) we’re only there for two weeks because it’s pretty busy.  Generally we have two operating rooms going full-time. 

In the cities, even a smaller city like Guaranda, the culture will be more Spanish.  We’ll be staying in a hotel there in order for the surgical team to be nearby the hospital.  The Clinic team (family practice, checkups, aches/pains, infections, thumps/bumps, eyeglasses, etc) will go out by bus daily to smaller farming communities where there is more need.  This makes for some great rides through spectacular mountains and valleys.  We take trunks of medications with us and set up clinic usually in a school building, or an evangelical church building, or a gym or community center.  The locals make us very welcome.               

 Lots of Indigenous people in Ecuador, descendants of the Incas and other tribes.  The Quichua language is spoken widely along the Andes mountains, from Columbia through Ecuador, Peru and into Bolivia to the south.  The Quichua language (spelled Quechua elsewhere, and differing in dialect) is a beautiful, musical language with more consonants than Spanish, so there’s no doubt which language they’re speaking.  Many Spanish words have been adopted, but it’s very different.  In the higher elevations and among the rural poor the language is more common, and among the elderly, but younger Indigenous people speak Spanish too as a native language.  As a translator, this is fascinating because during those times I also need a translator.  Surprisingly, it becomes easier because often the very old are hard for me to understand in Spanish.  So, if they need a Quichua-Spanish translator it’s usually a younger family member, and the younger ones speak great Spanish!  

Incidentally, the Indigenous are about the friendliest people I have ever met.  And their kids are suspiciously well-behaved as well as unbelieveably cute.

Our team numbers 24 this year.  Most of us are from Maine, but several from Canada and southern US states.  Doctors, nurses, PAs, anesthesia providers, surgery technologist, translators and general helpers.  We have several young people including two high school students who earned a scholarship to come, improve their Spanish and translate for us. 

We may be avoiding Carnaval this year; it’s not until March 8.  Also known as Mardi Gras, it’s a time when kids in Latin American countries soak everyone they can find, with water balloons and home-made water cannons.  It’s considered a triumph when they can soak a whole busload of gringos, the entire length of the bus, because the windows didn’t get closed fast enough.  All in good fun, but it’s still wet.

More later.  Thanks for checking in and keep praying for us. 


Read Full Post »

Honorable Mention

I entered a contest in the MLA Newspaper (Maine Lobstermen’s Association) a few months ago, and the results are in!  Here is Daughter Number Two and a pretty-good-sized male lobster.  We made “Honorable Mention”. 

They titled it “Christina and the Big One” (although he’s not really that big) and the category is Lobster/Bait. 

So, if the one in front is the lobster, does that make Christy the bait?

To see the other entries, click here and scroll to page 16.

Read Full Post »

Ecuador 2011

Annual trip to Ecuador is coming up fast.  I’ll be with Hancock County Medical Mission as translator again, for the 14th time.  We leave this weekend for two weeks.  More later.

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »