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 The traditional Andean music includes flute, pan pipes, charango (small 10-stringed instrument, originally made with an armadillo shell) as well as guitar and simple percussions.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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