Archive for the ‘Ecuador’ Category

Thursday, 19 February 2015
Hello to all. All well here in Villa Vasquez, Dominican Republic. We’ve almost completed our first week and with no mishaps. The team (Hancock County Medical Mission) left Maine ahead of a major snowstorm and arrived smoothly. I came to the DR three days earlier with wife Jeri’s team, caught up with old friends in San Pedro de Macorís and saw how much the school Colegio Moriah and the Haitian Baptist church had grown since I was last there. On Saturday I met my own team members as they arrived at the airport.

We’re working in two medical groups as usual: the surgical team, which works every day in the local hospital and hardly sees the tropical sun, and the clinic team which goes by bus each day out to small farming villages and shamefully gets sunburned while doing general family medicine and occasional referrals to the surgical team or to Dominican specialists. Teo and Frida, the MMI directors, are also MDs and are treating patients. I’m translating for an MD named Ron from Saskatchewan, Canada.

Most of the days we set up clinic in school buildings, usually a kind of sprawling affair of long rooms separated by courtyards, secure for kids and also for a medical team. We’ve seen some beautiful places along the way, one of them about 1000 feet up with a view of the sea. Not too hot here, mid-eighties, and comfortable nights sleeping. Good hotel, concrete and tile with running water (usually) but no hot showers and no wi-fi. We eat in a rented house about four blocks away, meals cooked by MMI staff (that’s Medical Ministry International, our hosts) and the hospital is a few blocks from there, so it’s easy to walk around. Small town, easy to walk from one side to another, and friendly. We’ve gotten to know a few people in town—Andrea, the lady who owns the pizza place (best wi-fi AND best pizza around) and she speaks good English because she comes and goes from New Jersey.  Antonio, the security guard here at the hotel is also very friendly and we aren’t at all intimidated by the stockless shotgun that he carries around like a cane. Very talkative, and these people are great to learn from. Besides ourselves I don’t think we’ve seen anybody from the United States except for a woman with the Peace Corps. Villa Vasquez NOT a tourist destination.

Farming country nearby, lots of bananas, rice fields, and on today’s trip some tobacco. Sugar, but not so much in this area. Saw a few kinds of cactus on the ride today, and that area was very dry¸ many buildings with gutters and pipes set up to collect rainwater in cisterns. Old fashioned outhouses at the school where we worked today, and in some ways this is a step up from the proper flush toilets at the hospital—I’m told that there was no water at all there today and they had to lug buckets when the toilets got too foul.

Typical surgeries include hernia repair, gall bladder removal, lumpectomies. Probably other major surgeries like hysterectomies and tubal ligation but I’m not with that team this year [update: Charlie just confirmed all of the above, but said “lots of hernias”]. The hospital in Villa Vasquez has an OB unit so there have been two or three childbirths each day. Sarra, one of our scholarship students, has been with the surgical team, working pre-op and post-op, and has seen a few newborns, although not the births themselves. Taylor, our other student, has been with the clinic team and working with integrated health, which works as a waiting area after patients have seen the doctors and while prescriptions are being filled. During that time they receive a lesson in health care and hygiene and a gospel message, then instructions about taking their medications when the meds are ready. Taylor has been translating and assisting and she clearly loves kids. Also, there are three other teenage girls on the trip from Virginia. All are rooming together with an adult, an OB surgeon, to keep things on the level.

Food great, by the way. The MMI cooks have been doing this a long time. No chance of losing weight, especially with the pizza place as the wi-fi hot spot. Breakfasts include eggs, maybe bacon or sausage, fruit, choice of cereals and the best granola except for Jeri’s. We start breakfast with a praise song and close it with a short devotional by whoever had volunteered. My turn was this morning, and it was on Psalm 100. We also start the work day with an introduction to the people we’ll be treating, with a “circle time” that includes the song “Alabaré” (I will praise) and a prayer. The key is to be brief because it can be a long day.

I’ll close now, go over to the pizza place to connect and (try) to send this. Charlie and the gang are already over there. This time of evening I’ll walk past a bunch of older men playing dominoes on card tables on the sidewalk. You’d think it was a world-class chess match. Maybe it is, or better.

Thanks for praying. Keep it up for us, would you? See you next week in the snowdrifts.

PS—Also check out our Facebook page, Hancock County Medical Mission.  Charlie has been posting photos and videos of the OR team.  I’ll try to put this up on my blog, https://fromoffshore.wordpress.com and may include a few of my own photos in a few days.

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Oswaldo Guayasamín, La Pieta de Avignon, 20th century (after Quarton)

Oswaldo Guayasamín, La Pieta de Avignon, 20th century, Ecuador (after Quarton)

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[another in a series of pre-scheduled blog posts.  we’ll see how close this comes to reality.]

I don’t mean to poke fun at our surgeons Charlie and Joe, but I couldn’t resist this video from a Seinfeld episode.

Except for the Junior Mints and the viewing gallery, this could be an operating room in a hospital in Ecuador on one of our mission trips.  And our students Lily and Seth will get a chance to view surgeries and possibly to assist in a small way.  An opportunity like this would never come their way in the U.S. until medical school.

Junior Mints, however, are available over-the-counter.

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Ecuador: the market

[I’ll schedule this to post tomorrow, Monday.  Today is Sunday the 17th and most of us spent the morning wandering around the market a few blocks away.  Some of us attended church service next door (see blog post below, churches).  The market is mostly indoors with open sides, with some vendors out on the sidewalks.  The streets around were nearly impassable to traffic if not blocked altogether for pedestrians, and because today is also election day the nearby schoolhouse became a voting center.  Police and military personnel all around when voting started at noon.]

 mercado 1

mercado 2

mercado 4

mercado 5

mercado 6

mercado 8

mercado 9

Our dining hall at Hotel Jarfi in Salcedo, where some of that good food ends up.

Our dining hall at Hotel Jarfi in Salcedo, where some of that good food ends up.

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Ecuador: a few churches

On Sundays we relax, maybe go into town (or out of town for an excursion), and those who wish may go to a church service.  Sometimes we hold a service ourselves on the hotel grounds.  Often, there are volunteers from an evangelical church nearby who have been helping us all week with food and logistics, and we’ve become friends with them and attend their church.  Or, we have the option to attend a Catholic service.

Sorry no photos of evangelical churches.  I have photos of the insides of a few of them where we’ve set up clinics, but these churches tend to be low-budget—and only the posters inside or the signs over the doors outside can distinguish them from a house, an apartment, or even a barn.  Often they are based in the back yard of the pastor’s home.

The Catholic churches are always a work of architecture, even in a small town, and always adjacent to the town square.  One of the things I love about Ecuador is their city planning:  the downtown will be laid out as a grid with a beautiful park at the very center.  Across the street on one side will be a church, and along another street usually municipal buildings and also shops.

It’s better than going to the mall!  It’s a very clean, safe area for all ages and on weekends—besides church services—there may be celebrations, or outdoor markets on Saturdays.

But here are a few typical churches from previous years:

[liveblogging edit:  I’ve added a few photos of the Catholic church here in Salcedo, across the street from our hotel.  A few of us attended service this morning.]

One of at least three Catholic churches in Cotacachi, and the most modern.

One of the Catholic churches in Cotacachi, and the more modern of them.

Interior of the church above in Cotacachi.  The posters have a verse from Acts, chapter 4, in which the apostles Peter and John are warned by the religious authorities not to speak about the risen Jesus.  They replied,  "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard."

Interior of the above church in Cotacachi. The posters have a verse from Acts, chapter 4, in which the apostles Peter and John are warned by the religious authorities not to speak about the risen Jesus. They replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

Another church building in Cotacachi.

Another church building in Cotacachi.

An older church building in Cotacachi.  Notice the park in front.

The above church building.  Notice the park in front and the dome in the center of the building.

Church in Salcedo

The Catholic Church in Salcedo where we’re working this year. This and photos below were taken this morning or Wednesday evening.

Church in Salcedo by night - Ash Wednesday service as I was walking back from work

Church in Salcedo by night – Ash Wednesday service as I was walking back from work

Church in Salcedo - Ash Wednesday evening service - no flash -

Church in Salcedo – Ash Wednesday evening service – no flash –

Church in Salcedo from the park

Church in Salcedo from the park

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[pre-scheduled blog post]

In Ecuador it’s called el día de San Valentín”  and often “el día del amor y de la amistad” (the day of love and friendship).  There’s usually some kind of recognition among the team-members, and often something with our Ecuadorian hosts.  

This video has a good example of folk music, or música folklórica, around here, and the scenes of fiesta and people in the streets are pretty typical of a celebration day in a small city like Salcedo in the Ecuadorian highlands.  Some of the lyrics say about Salcedo, “for it’s the land of love.”  We shall see.

I don’t know if there will be any kind of extravaganza going on while we’re here, but if so this would be pretty typical.  Although I have never seen any bullfighting.

[Live update:  I had forgotten that it would be Carnaval time when we got here, and we arrived on the day itself, called Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday elsewhere.  People were partying in the streets, music blaring, kids shooting people with shaving cream cannisters (I got sprayed as did many of the others) and water guns and throwing water balloons.  All in good fun.  Yesterday wa Ash Wednesday and more subdued.  A lot of the patients had a cross of ash on the forehead.]

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Ecuador: duct tape

[I’m scheduling a number of posts, some of them foolishness, to show up automatically while we’re in Ecuador.  The wonders of WordPress.]

Remember what Karl Malden used to say?  “American Express Travelers Checks:  Don’t leave Karl Maldenhome without them!”  And then the ad would show a horrible scene of a honeymooning couple who did leave home without them, lost everything and went crying to the embassy, destitute.

With credit and debit cards, travelers’ checks are now as out of style as Karl Malden’s hat.  But what has never gone out of style, like ketchup on A Prairie Home Companion, is good old-fashioned duct tape  (click link for 101 uses).

I won’t say that our surgeons use duct tape as extensively as the ones in the cartoons below, but the stuff is so useful on these medical missions that we never leave home without it.

[Liveblogging update from Salcedo, Ecuador:  while we were unpacking and sorting the medical supplies this afternoon, Mary T the O.R. nurse (aka Boss Mary, as there are four of them this year) looked for a roll of duct tape and when she found it said, “The most important tool in the O.R.”  Sometimes these blog posts just plain write themselves.]

Glasbergen - surgeon nail clippers duct tape       

Rhymes with Orange - surgeon duct tape

Thanks to http://www.glasbergen.com and http://rhymeswithorange.com

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Thanks to Mary O (or “Tall Mary”; there are four Marys on the team this year) our website has a facelift.  She has also started a Facebook page under “Hancock County Medical Mission” and that is proving to be really popular andcolorlogo interactive.

Check us out at both places:




Thanks to Rick H for the people tree logo, now in living color.

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Normally the medical team arrives in Ecuador late on a Saturday night.  We may board a bus right away for our destination or, if too many hours away, spend the night in Quito and travel on Sunday morning.

After  settling into our hotel (this year in Salcedo, three hours south of Quito) we unpack and sort the duffel bags of medical supplies, and the surgical team will waste no time getting to the hospital to talk with the administrators, look at the operating rooms and equipment available, and possibly begin screening a few patients for surgery on Monday.

Often, we are hosted also by city officials, mayor, council and always, always the press.  Sometimes we’ve been on national TV.

Here is our medical director, Doctor Charlie Hendricks, in the hot seat with officials in the town of Cayambe last year.  At his right elbow is Pablo Logacho of InterSalud, our host organization.   It was a very friendly exchange and we were introduced to members of Operation Smile, who were to be holding a clinic to repair cleft lips and palates in the near future (see the poster Operación Sonrisa behind).

Doctor Charlie in pale green shirt.  Pablo at his right hand.

Doctor Charlie in pale green shirt.  Pablo at his right elbow.  The posters hanging in front of the desk advertise our team:  “Because you are important, medical caravans are free in Cayambe” and the dates of our availability.

On the balcony of the city hall after the press conference, in view of the church.  Heavy rain interrupted traffic as well as the conference.  Here a cleaning lady sweeps water from the balcony.

On the balcony of Cayambe City Hall after the press conference, in view of the church. Heavy rain interrupted traffic as well as the conference.  Here a cleaning lady sweeps water from the balcony.

Web Cayambe cleaning lady

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By now you will have heard or guessed that we didn’t fly out of Bangor this morning.  Some parts of Maine got 30 inches of snow, heavy drifting beyond that; and here on the outer islands our houses shook to winds of more than 60 knots, gusting above 70, all night and into this morning.  So we’re flying Monday, 8:30 AM.

A few photos of what to expect shortly after we get there:

Web Ecuador 2012 arrival Qto

Quito airport, after midnight last year upon arrival. Bags loaded on carts, and listening to Mary T patiently before going through customs and boarding the bus.

Patients waiting outside our clinic, which was set up in a community hall in this town.  Often we set up in a church building or a school or gym.  We'll work out of the hospital in Salcedo entirely this year, as we're primarily a surgical team.

Patients waiting outside our clinic, which was set up in a community hall in this town. Often we set up in a church building or a school or gym. We’ll work out of the hospital in Salcedo entirely this year, as we’re primarily a surgical team.

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This photo was taken last year in the Cayambe region.  Note the traditional clothing worn by the women.  There are many indigenous people in the higher elevations and we have loved working with them during our trips to the north of Ecuador.  They are extremely friendly and their kids are suspiciously well-behaved.

The non-Ecuadorian to the right of the photo is my daughter Marya, who had just finished her third year at Tufts University School of Medicine and was getting some experience treating patients.  She speaks Spanish better that I do, so I didn’t need to translate for her.

marya.enhanced - mary o photo

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Ecuador 2013: Salcedo

We leave  Saturday morning from Bangor International Airport if the snowstorm doesn’t keep us aground.tedecuadorfamily1

Salcedo, Ecuador, will be our home for two weeks, comfortably placed right in the middle of that tiny South American republic.  They say that this town is famous for ice cream, as last year Cayambe was for bizcochos (something like a cheese danish) and Guaranda a few years ago for chocolate, but I never found any of that.  Loja is famous for its shoes, Cotacachi for all kinds of leather products.

But ice cream isn’t why we’re going.  We’re Hancock County Medical Mission, a small band from Maine with several other states and Canada represented too.  We number 23 this year, plus several Ecuadorians (more on them in a future post) and our team is mostly surgical, so we’ll stay in Salcedo and work in the hospital keeping two operating rooms going full-time.  I work as a translator.

Stay tuned for more posts while we’re away.  I’ll try to schedule several to show up automatically, and hope to put up a few while down there.

In the meantime, find us on Facebook at Hancock County Medical Mission or on our website, http://www.hcmm.homestead.com

Stay warm back in Maine and pray for us in Ecuador (by the way, don’t think we’re basking in sunshine.  We’ll be at 9000 feet, and the 7-day forecast for Salcedo is cloudy and rain, temps between 9 and 17 degrees Celsius, or 48 to 63 Fahrenheit).

But no snow.

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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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