Archive for February, 2012

Ecuador: la musica

[the following program was pre-recorded for broadcast at this time. just like pbs…]

Often, before our medical team leaves Ecuador, we are treated to an evening of music after dinner. The traditional Andean music includes flute, pan pipes, charango (small 10-stringed instrument, originally made with an armadillo shell) as well as guitar and simple percussions.

I’ll post a couple of songs from YouTube to give you an idea. The first one is traditional, the second is too but with more of a Spanish influence. See what you think.

Hmmm… After listening a bit I almost think they’re the same tune… If not, pretty close.



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Apologies to Ernest Hemingway.

This may be the only blog entry while here in Ecuador.  All others have been pre-scheduled, but we finally got a chance to see the mountain for which this town is named, so I thought I’d pinch a photo off the internet and give you a glimpse.

In fact, it’s a better glimpse than we got Tuesday morning because it’s been pretty cloudy and rainy here and our glimpse didn’t last long.  And chilly too, but not cool enough to snow down at this altitude (slightly below 10,000 feet).

On the top of Cayambe, however, the snow never melts.  This extinct volcano stopped growing  just short of 19,000 feet (18,996) and its southern slope has the only snow in the world directly on the equator.  Although not the tallest in Ecuador (that one is Chimborazo at more than 20,000) they tell me that Cayambe is the most treacherous to climb.  Believe me, nobody on our medical team will attempt it this trip.

I hear the weather back in Maine is still pretty mild.  We may have seen more snow yesterday morning than the rest of you will see all winter.

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I don’t always see the Southern Cross while in Ecuador because it comes up late at night this time of year, and the sky is often cloudy or bothered by street lights.  It’s the most prominent constellation unique to the southern hemisphere, and on the flag of several nations.

When I saw the Southern Cross for the first time (quoting the Crosby Stills & Nash song) I was sitting on a big Volvo bus in Quito, sometime after midnight in February of 1997, waiting for the ride to the south of Ecuador.  I was the only gringo aboard because I had signed on to the mission late and they had no ticket for my plane ride to Loja.  So the other forty or so went to sleep in a hotel that night after throwing me on the bus with all of the medical supplies, baggage, a half-dozen Ecuadorians and a German woman named Christina who spoke English and Spanish flawlessly.  She came in handy as my Spanish was just getting started.

As we waited with the engine idling, Ofelia, one of the Ecuadorian staff, pointed out the window upwards and said, “Es el Cruz del Sur.” (It’s the Southern Cross) and then, for some reason, in broken English, “You…believe…in…God?”

I responded in Spanish, “Sí, soy cristiano.”  And I looked up.

That was my first impression of Ecuador, mellow and meaningful, and it got more intense.  We left on a wild ride on the Pan-American Highway along the Andes, thrashing back and forth on winding roads, not sleeping (and it didn’t help that Gina, an Ecuadorian woman, wanted to watch “una película de acción!”  Action films on a VCR while thrashing through the mountains.  Wild.

Daylight broke as we approached Cuenca and we stopped at a roadside truck stop for breakfast at outside tables, shoulder-to-shoulder with locals and drivers.  Best breakfast I ever had, fried corvina (sea bass), rice and plátanos (fried plantains, something like banana).

We blew a tire somewhere north of Loja and that delayed us, making our travel time a total of 14 hours (normally about 12) for a distance of about 250 miles as the condor flies.  The rest of the team flew in about 40 minutes the next day, but the bus ride made a greater first impression and I’ve always felt sorry for the others (the others, having ridden on buses in Ecuador, appreciate my sorrow but would take the plane).

Besides the Southern Cross, other notable constellations along the Equator include Orion (who oversees both northern and southern hemispheres), rising straight up and standing straight overhead; and Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (Big Dipper and Little Dipper) but they are low in the sky when above the horizon at all (remember that they swing around the North Star, which is at or below the horizon in Ecuador).  The Big Dipper, when it’s in the sky at all, can’t hold water because it’s upside-down or half-showing and on its side, rising or setting like a porpoise jumping over the pole star.  The Little Dipper, with the North Star on the end of its handle, swings around looking like a kite.

I’ll leave you with Crosby, Stills & Nash in this live performance of their 1982 song “Southern Cross” which has absolutely nothing to do with South America and more to do with Stephen Stills getting on a boat and sailing away to the South Pacific to forget a woman.  But it’s catchy.

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
‘Cause the truth you might be runnin’ from is so small
But it’s as big as the promise, the promise of a comin’ day.”

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Ecuador: more churches

[Another in a series of automatic blog posts.  There is nobody at the helm.] 

Last year about this time I put up photos of various churches in Ecuador.  Take a peek HERE for those. 

Here are a few more.  I’m running out of time for posting beforehand, so these photos may be thrown in with the last-minute packing. Read last year’s post for a bit of commentary. 

Topiary (sculpted hedges) is very popular in the parks opposite the churches.


the rear of the building above

This one is on the equator. The yellow line runs down the middle of the aisle.

the basilica in Quito

the basilica by night

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Ecuador: lago cuicocha

[another in a series of pre-scheduled blog posts… see also posts from last year by clicking the Ecuador link to the right…]

On the weekend we’ll go and relax somewhere, and here in the north of Ecuador we’ll likely go to Otavalo for a day of shopping.

What?  Shopping?  Relaxing?  Try Otavalo.  Very colorful and good food too.  Click the link above to last year’s shopping post.

And after leaving Otavalo we often stop at a beautiful volcanic crater lake called Lago Cuicocha.  If there’s time you can take a hike around the rim, high above the lake (thanks to daughter Marya who took these photos three years ago) or you can take a boat ride around the lava-plug islands in the middle.  The skipper will take the boat right over a place where bubbles have been coming to the surface for thousands of years, then you’ll come through reeds between the islands and back to the restaurant for a hot drink.  It gets pretty chilly up at that altitude, whatever it is.

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Ecuador: more fine art

Oswaldo Guayasamín, madre e hijo (mother and child)

Last year I posted on Oswaldo Guayasamín, an artist whom I like very much.  He’s considered the Ecuadorian Picasso and you’ll see reproductions of his work everywhere, on postcards, T-shirts, in restaurants, and some of them are really poor knockoffs. 

His home overlooking Quito is now a museum, not only of his art but of the many pre-Columbian artifacts that he had collected.  Put that on your list. 





Eduardo Kingman shows up everywhere too, and as I remember there are knock-offs of his work in the stairwell of the hotel La Carolina, where we stay while coming and going through Quito. 

Some of the imitations of Kingman’s work can get pretty wild, as you can imagine by this popular painting by him, below.

Eduardo Kingman, couple

I’ll include a few others with typical styles often seen in Otavalo at the outdoor markets.

This one is by Ariela Boronat,  Otavalo Girl :

The following is by Tarquino Mejía, Otavalo Natives.  The woman is wearing semi-traditional dress and the girl sports a baseball cap.

This one interests me not only for the cartoonish style but for the subliminal image of the flag of Ecuador, yellow over blue over red.  Do you see it? 

And the flag of Ecuador for proof!

The following of Madonna and Child is from the dining room of the hotel where we stayed in Ibarra several years ago.  Notice the Andean pan-pipes that the musician is playing for the baby Jesus. 

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Ecuador: surgery team

[I’ve scheduled several posts to go up while we’re away on the trip.  The wonders of WordPress.]

Our surgery team sets up in an underserved hospital and, in effect, takes over the place.  The local staff doesn’t know what hit them until a few days into the project, as they are accustomed to only a couple of surgeries a week (if they can get an anesthetist) and our surgeons normally perform about six to twelve per day, keeping two operating rooms going.  As an untrained bystander, I’m always astonished that they mobilize in an unfamiliar hospital, with antiquated equipment, and often start cutting flesh by noon the first day.

We bring our own anesthestists, surgical techs, nurses (and surgeons, naturally) as well as all the

Pre-op in the military hospital. Some of our patients were dependents of the soldiers.

necessary equipment:  tens of thousands of dollars worth of drugs, sterile drapes, gowns,  surgical instruments, etc.  We do rely on the hospital’s own anesthesia monitors and oxygen, and on hospital administration and cleaning; but we’re largely self-contained so there’s no miscommunication in the operating room.

The need for translators like myself comes before and after surgery, while interviewing the patient and then afterward explaining care and medication.  We also serve as orderly, helping to move patients or hold an I.V. drip, or as errand-boy/girl because we’re the ones who know how to ask to get copies made or to plead for more bedsheets—or go get some more lactated ringers, whatever that is.  And, at the end of each long day, we’re among the last to leave because we have to talk with family members and field Ecuadorian paperwork as the patient is getting discharged.

The surgeries most in-demand are hernia repairs and gall bladder removal.  As a translator, the words are easy in Spanish because they’re pretty much the same:  “hernia” and “colecistectomía”.

(I had no idea either, until I learned it in Spanish, that when they yank out a gall bladder in English it’s called a colecystectomy.  The bigger the word, the closer to the Spanish.  But the gall bladder itself is called the vesicula biliar, and that’s took getting used to.)

Other surgeries include hysterectomies, tubal ligations, saphenectomies (vein stripping), apendectomies, circumcisions, undescended testicles, lumpectomies and more.
One time we had a gunshot wound.  We were working in a military hospital and one of the soldiers was horsing around with his pistol and shot himself in the leg.

One time a man came in carrying his hydrocele.  Don’t ask about that one.

By the end of the first week the surgery team has exhausted the Ecuadorian hospital staff, but we’ve also made some friends and allies.  The ones who can’t get used to us (or just plain don’t want us there, and that happens) have made themselves scarce by then.  By the second week we know our angels and allies and there’s always a ceremonial going-away party with speeches, refreshments and awards.  And no doubt a collective sense of relief as we wave goodbye to them.

Haley and Rebecca were our high-school translators two years ago. The each got a chance to observe in the O.R.

Mary sterilizes the instruments and guards the valuables.

They even allow lobstermen in the O.R. if they can speak Spanish.

Post-op. The same little boy in the earlier photo.

This was our first military hospital in at least 15 years. It was also the only brand new one (they were still wiring and laying ceilings when we arrived). The commanding officer and director of the hospital, Doctor Sotomayor, liked us and we learned early on that if we want to get anything done we go see el coronel. He make it happen.

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This year we begin work on Valentine’s Day.  Here they call it el día de San Valentín, also called el día del amor y de la amistad, the day of love and friendship.  

While in Ecuador we split up into two very different teams:  the family medical clinic, which travels each day by van or bus or truck out to small villages; and the surgical team, which stays in the city (this year Cayambe, a small city of 30,000) and works in the same hospital each day.  More about them in another post.

Getting to work. Doctora Susana introduces the team to the patients.

Today I’ll post a few photos of family medical clinics from previous years.  We usually stay within an hour or so of our host city, but sometimes go out (or UP) to more remote villages, and even stay overnight in some.  Normally we hit a different village each day and so we get to see a lot of this gorgeous country.  The poor surgical team only enjoys the same streets on the way to work each day and the same fluorescent lights inside the hospital.  But they make up for it on the weekend.

La farmacia. Setting up in an evangelical church. The verse overhead says, "Glory to God in Heaven."

Inscripción. Taking vital signs is the first step. Notice the soccer goal, as we worked in a gymnasium that day.

 Our family clinics provide treatment for much of the same things we see here in the States:  chronic aches and pains, age-related problems, infections, skin care, small wounds, minor lumps, well-baby check-ups, gynecological care.  Some years we have a dentist or an optometrist, but not this year.  And if we see anything that could use surgery, we refer the patient to our surgical team.  Much of what we do is repetitive, which makes it easier for translators like me who don’t have medical training. 

Sponge Bob is really popular with kids in Ecuador. By the chalkboard, you can tell that we worked in a school building that day.

We set up shop each day, either in a small under-utilized clinic, or a church building, or a school, or a gymnasium or other public meeting place.  Sometimes we’ll do a home-visit for an elderly patient.  The Ecuadorian communities that host us go out of their way to provide us with space, with chairs and tables, and often with a large meal at noon.  And we find that the smaller and poorer the community, the more lavish their hospitality. 

Ear wax. This indigenous woman is wearing beads and blouse traditional to her region.


One of our student translators, Sasha, with doctor and patients

Happy Valentine's Day! This was 2006, when "la reina" (queen of the village that year) presented us all with flowers.

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Ecuador 2012: Cayambe

We fly this coming Sunday morning from Bangor and arrive in Quito, Ecuador, before midnight.  I’m with Hancock County Medical Mission again, my 15th trip where I serve as a translator.

Sometimes the translator needs a translator. At the higher elevations we meet more Indigenous people and many of the older ones speak only Quichua. Blanca, in the striped sweater, was my Quichua-to-Spanish translator a few years ago in the Cotacachi area.

This year we’ll work in Cayambe, a small city of about 30,000 people in the north of the country.  Cayambe is at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, so we’ll probably see a llama or two.   

Ecuador is a small South American country in the middle of the world, that is, the equator, from which it gets its name:  La Republica del Ecuador, the Republic of the Equator.  The sun rises straight up and leaves no shadow at noon.  The people are kind and friendly, and the Andes mountains indescribable. 

Our medical mission has two components, surgical and family clinic.  More on these later.  I plan to schedule several articles and photos to post automatically while I’m away, but for now click the “Ecuador” link to the right of this page for a peek at last year’s posts.

Hasta pronto.  I’m off to Ellsworth for our final meeting before the trip.

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Super Bowl XLVI

Ernest Hemingway: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

Some of you will be cheering for the Giants this evening, others the Patriots (around here it’s Patriots or nothing, except when it’s Red Sox or Bruins).  You may find yourselves cheering opposite teams in front of the same flat-screen TV (from opposite sides of the living room) because New York and New England overlap and you can’t do anything about the geography.

William Faulkner: “Hemingway has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

As far as I’m concerned you can have the Super Bowl and whichever team you like.  Me, I choose up sides between Hemingway and Faulkner (as if one needed to choose) and it’s Hemingway all the way. 

I’ve just been informed that Daughter Number Three has succumbed to the William Faulkner bug as her mother did years ago, and has enrolled in a seminar toward her thesis as an English major (you know—you try to raise up your child in the best way you can, you pray for them, you pay for them, you send them to a good school—and you never know which direction they’ll go).  What went wrong? 

Her studying Faulkner could be like somebody around these parts cheering the Giants this evening.  In her parents’ living room.  On their TV.   

A person shouldn’t have to choose sides between great authors, you say; why not enjoy them both?  But that seems to be how it shakes down between Hemingway and Faulkner.  Either you like one and not the other or you just haven’t read them both.  Sort of like me with football.  I had to do an internet search even to find out who was playing, so why all the fuss?    

Part of the contest among literary fans may stem from the alleged feud between the authors themselves.  If they couldn’t get along, can we expect ourselves to?  Of course not; no more than you football fans can.  So enjoy the fight and be satisfied that the Patriots are the best.  Unless you’re from New York, God help you.

To help you choose up sides in this clash of titans, read these opening lines from a selection of each.  I’ll start with William Faulkner, from the last chapter of The Sound and the Fury (entitled “Dilsey” in my wife’s Portable Faulkner): 

The day dawned bleak and chill, a moving wall of gray light out of the northeast which, instead of dissolving into moisture, seemed to disintegrate into minute and venomous particles like dust that, when Dilsey opened the door of the cabin and emerged, needled laterally into her flesh, precipitating not so much a moisture as a substance partaking of the quality of thin, not quite congealed oil.  She wore a stiff black straw hat perched upon her turban, and a maroon velvet cape with a border of mangy and anonymous fur above a dress of purple silk, and she stood in the door for a while with her myriad and sunken face lifted to the weather, and one gaunt hand flac-soled as the belly of a fish, then she moved the cape aside and examined the bosom of her gown.”

And Ernest Hemingway, the opening lines of his short story Cat in the Rain:

There were only two Americans stopping at the hotel. They did not know any of the people they passed on the stairs on their way to and from their room. Their room was on the second floor facing the sea. It also faced the public garden and the war monument. There were big palms and green benches in the public garden.  In the good weather there was always an artist with his easel. Artists liked the way the palms grew and the bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea.  Italians came from a long way off to look up at the war monument. It was made of bronze and glistened in the rain. It was raining. The rain dripped from the palm trees. Water stood in pools on the gravel paths. The sea broke in a long line in the rain and slipped back down the beach to come up and break again in a long line in the rain. The motor cars were gone from the square by the war monument. Across the square in the doorway of the café a waiter stood looking out at the empty square. 

The American wife stood at the window looking out.  Outside right under their window a cat was crouched under one of the dripping green tables. The cat was trying to make herself so compact that she would not be dripped on. 

‘I’m going down and get that kitty,’ the American wife said.”

You’ll either get this or you won’t.  Never mind.  Enjoy the game.


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