Archive for the ‘Kelly in Ecuador’ Category


Kelly: dónde fue el semestre?

May 7, 2011

So… guess I’ve fallen behind on the updates lately. It’s the whole “living in the moment” initiative. The past two weeks has been a rollercoaster ride of mized emotions about having to leave and getting to return to the states. There have been many, “We’ll see eachother in the states soon,” “What’s your skype name?” “Lets take a road trip to reunite in Chicago!” and, “Of course I’m going to come back! When? Um… as soon as possible?”


  • I left Otavalo last Sunday… with much difficulty and a few tears. Eight people from my family (which was not even everyone who was home) walked me to the bus station and helped carry my bags. They joked about me smuggling cuyes to Quito. I almost gave Erika (the three-year-old) a heart attack when I pretended that I was going to take her with me… she’s very sensitive. When Regina arrived, we got on the bus and headed towards Quito
  • This past week I stayed in the house and spent many hours working, and procrasting, on my final report. I got it done finally… several hours before it was due. It’s 40 pages of Spanish, 2 pages of English, and 2 pages of photos if anyone cares to see it
  • MY PARENTS (from the States) ARRIVE IN QUITO TONIGHT! I’m a bit nervous that they’ll get themselves into trouble not knowing or understanding ANY spanish, but hopefully I’ll be able to keep them from straying too far. We don’t have any set plans for travels besides to visit Quito and Otavalo- vamos a ver que pasará
  • After my parents leave, I’m travelling with my friend Julio to Colombia… in bus. We’ll see how far we can get until we have to start the return trip to Quito.
  • Itumi decided to help me out with picture-taking a few times, the following photos are his handiwork: Click to view slideshow.

Kelly: solamente una semana más en Otavalo :(

April 29, 2011

Some pictures from the week. Many are of Cotacachi. I see her out my window every day and get really excited when there aren’t clouds covering her peak. In the indigenous cosmovision, all parts of nature have a gender (i.e. Mama Cotacachi, Taita/Papa Imbabura). The most wise and respected Yachaks of the community are the ones who assign gender to the grand landmarks. The genders can change or be more masculine/feminine depending on time, weather, and current characteristics of the natural feature.

I rode a horse in el Parque Carolina across from my house yesterday. Wow, les extraño mis caballitos! It was great.

I’ve been called “jovencita” (joven= young, cita= an affectioante, diminutive add-on that is used a lot here) several times, by different people, once I disclose my age. I wonder if it’s true. The typical age guess for me has been about 24. It’s one of those things I won’t be able to recognize until I’m past this life-stage, right? Like when I was in fifth grade and thought whatever little click I was part of “ruled the school,” and then came sixth grade all of a sudden and we got our egos checked.

Luzmila, Humberto, Maiya, Itumi, and I took an adventure to el Lago San Pablo today. It was beautiful. The local communities used to supplement their diets with fish from the lake, but then an invasive species was introduced that ate all/most of the fish inidgenous to the lake (colonialization happens in waterlife too!). This fishy lives in the very bottom of the lake, so is hard to catch. There are also problems of pollution and receding water. Despite this, the lake is gorgeous and gave me peace. We took a motorboat tour of half the lake; Itumi pointed our every duck to me, “Miraaa Kelly. Un pato allá, y allá, y aquí…”

We went on a walk after eating fruit and bread on the dock. We were trying to get to El Lechero, but we ended up above la Cascada Peguche. I didn’t know that San Pablo supplies the waterfall before this; I have a better idea of the geography now 

Most of the soccer fields can also double for swimming pools. Hay demasiada lluvia en este momento.

Itumi, enthralled by feeding the ducks. “Mis hijos, mis hijos,” he kept saying.

Lago San Pablo

Boat tour over half the lake

Would like to mention that there is a pair of adirondack chairs suspended on posts above the water… don’t think this picture shows them.

Totora- it grows in quantities around this lake and many local women earn a living (well…hopefully) from constructing tortora mats. Most indigenous families use these mats under mattresses, as doormats, and/or as beds.

Taita Imbabura (can you see the heart?)

El corazón de Imbabura

Estimado Peguche: Te encanto. Mejores deseos, K

Now to continue working on my beast of a paper…


Kelly: The past week

April 20, 2011

Jueves (14/4): Completed a couple of interviews with people. A friend made a Chinese soup with shrimp for lunch. My tutor and I tried to meet in Ibarra to talk about my paper, but we couldn’t find each other and the cafe we agreed to meet at was closed and buses took longer than normal. It was three hours and an entire 90 centavos needlessly spent on buses (round trip, mind you).

Viernes (15/4): Did more interviews. Had a meeting with Emilia from CIMAS to talk about how my internship is going and what I’m doing. I had a hard time explaining that last part because I don’t necessarily have a set schedule, but I end up doing a lot of little, varied things that make the days fly by. I got a bit overwhelmed in realizing that a) this paper is going to take a lot of time to write/complete, b) I only have two weeks left in Otavalo and, c) I only have 4 weeks left in Ecuador. Emilia was very complimentary of my project though and said it’s something that’s never been looked-into before.

There was a going away party for several Ecuadorian friends (and friends of friends). Two people are going to Venezuela (separate cities though) and two are headed to Chicago for nine months. I left the activity at 4am, which, I found out later, is when things started happening. It’s probably a good thing that there will be less people to hang out with in these last couple weeks… I hope it will help reduce my procrastination.

Sábado (16/4): Transcribed interviews for a while; it takes so long to do, especially when there are words in Spanish I don’t recognize or screaming babies in the background who make it difficult to hear. Had fanesca at the family of a friend’s house. Here’s how wiki translated some information about la fanesca: “

“The fanesca is a soup typical Ecuadorian cuisine , is traditionally served during the period of Easter (or even a week before). This is a soup that is served hot. Tradition from Spain. Its preparation brings the whole family several days before getting down to work to peel the beans and let the soup more delicate, so are taking away the grain, grain husks. The fanesca is all a celebration that marks the Ecuadorian culture, is about teamwork, sharing and enjoy the cooperation of all members of the family, the Andean tradition, the wisdom of the elderly, children’s hands and the time of the grandmothers. Cooked in milk and cod. This exquisite dish blends indigenous tradition of Spanish culture. In honor of the twelve apostles, has 12 ingredients, including grains are typically Andean such as: corn , quinoa , lupines , beans , peas ,lentils , peanuts and beans . It tastes very special and delicious. Its scent back to the grandmother’s home preparations.”

Anyway, it was quite good and I was easily welcomed into the family affair. Out of necessity, I’m getting better at denying seconds and thirds.

After a nap, a friend and I hung out in the Plaza de los Ponchos for a couple hours: people-watching, making up movie-scripts about stray groups of dogs, and playing a second of hot lava monster. We joined others to play Jenga at a pub, then braved the rain to go dancing. There ended up being a huge fight—evidence of which remained in blood splatters on cars. When they started letting people in/out of the bar again, the energy was tense and we witnessed the beginings of more conflicts. Maybe the full moon had influence.

Domingo (17/4): Went with Humberto to the start of a soccer tournament in Iluman (I think?) called “Llullu Muru Raymi Pascuas La Bolsa,” which I assume is Quechua. It’s an indigenous tourney for kids/young adults, and like all indigenous festivities here, food was not lacking. During the comencement ceremony, the madrinas (which translates to “godmother” but has different significance in this situation as most of the girls were under 18 years old) of each team and the madrinas of the tourney in general were recognized and the organizers and other women of the community presented their gifts of food (chicken and potatoes or a quantity of cooked grains). Once all the grains were dumped onto a sheet in the middle of the field, tended by several women and circled by hungry dogs, it was an unorganized rush to grab handfuls of the communal snack. Humberto didn’t have a bag with him, so we ate out of his cupped fleece jacket as we walked to Peguche to meet up with Luzmila, Shryi, Ishanti, and Itumi at the church.

So it was palm Sunday, right? Did you know that there is a species of little birds who live in the special type of palm-Sunday tree whose numbers are endangered because of the desforestation of this plant? It’s true. Which is why it’s not allowed to use that type of plant anymore—any leaf will do. Luzmila brought the tops of two stalks of corn and we carried the now-blessed bundle with us back to the soccer fields to watch a game or two. Shyri had been upset that this was the first tournament he hadn’t played in in nine years, but he ended up meeting up with friends who let him join. From everything I hear, he’s a great jugador and is always participating in some tournament or pick0up game.

Lunes (18/4): Worked on transcribing. Conducted two really interesting interviews. One with a holistically-minded gynocologist and the other with Luzmila. Found out that before pharmacists sell anti-conception or birth-control methods to women, they ask whether they are married or not; this helps explain why the pregnancy-rate of teenagers is one of the highest in South America (also, 94% of sexually-active young people know about birth control methods, yet only 42% use them). Men are not questioned about their marital status. Oh machismo—it manifests in so many ways. From a liberal, feminist, equal-rights perspective it’s interesting to live in this culture that degrades and highly values women at the same time. I don’t always know how to deal with it.

Went to Regina’s house to have fanesca with her host family. Every family has their own special way of making it and each claim that their grandma’s is the best. (I preferred the first type. It had peanut butter. PB always wins).

Martes (19/4): More f-ing transcribing. Practiced to a new Dave Farmar yoga podcast! Helped grind chochlo to make a colada. Will be meeting up with a friend to hang out before she returns to the states.

Also, did I ever post a picture of me wearing the anaco? I have proof…

 (I’m staying in Cesar’s room. He told me once that he likes the indigenous from my country and has dreams to meet and marry one… explanations for the wall decoration)

At the wedding. One friend of Humberto’s told me I should always wear the anaco. I think I look like I’m 12.

Erika and I took pictures with Photo Booth today. She’s been in a surprisingly friendly mood compared to the usual blank face she gives me when I try to chat with her.



Kelly: una semana de actividades

April 13, 2011

Lunes (4/4) y Martes(5/4): yoga y sauna

Jueves (7/4): yoga, dance party

Viernes (8/4): yoga, salsa class! more dancing after a snack break

Sábado (9/4): went to Quito, hung out with Carlos and Patrice (mis padres Quiteños) as they ran around the restuarant serving people, met up with a friend, hung out for band practice (metalrock band… five hours of electric guitar= tired ears), ate homemade bolas de verde con cafecito, went to a karaoke parlor (didn’t get a chance to sing though), more dancing (ahh! new people to dance with and different styles to learn)

Domingo (10/4): trip to Quisapincha with friend and his family. Bought fantastic bread and helado, went leather-jacket shopping (I contributed my opinions on the fit/style). The trip home took twice as long because everyone was returning to Quito on the Panamericana.

Lunes (11/4): Went to a community with Dra. Miriam and la Rosita to give medicine to kids with parasite infections. Made pan with Luzmila, Abuela, and Shyri. Luzmila kneaded the dough for at least 4o minutes, I held the bowl (which was as big as if I imaginary hug a tree in front of me). We let the dough rest for a while, then we all sat on milk crates around the pan of hot oil and fried the whole batch for a final product called roscillas fritas.

Martes (12/4): Desayuno- colada de uvilla, roscillas, huevo/frijole/chochlo fritada, té de anise. Went to a charla with Mariana y Regina. I held the synthetic penis as Regina demonstrated the proper way to put on and remove a condom. Registered for summer classes: Basic Social Stats and Summer Dance Intensive (!!!). Went back to the community. Yoga. Ate hummus con pan pita y ensalada with Regina, talked to a man a hot dog stand, went home and watched fútbol with my brothers. Long-overdue skype date with Caitlin.

Miércoles (13/4): Desayuno- chocolate caliente, roscillas, tortilla de huevo/espinaca/zanahoria, jugo de tomate de árbol. Learned a lot from Luzmila as she told me about how/when/why the chakras are planted as they are and the importance of growing complimentary plants together. Started my interviews for my research project (sometimes I forget I’m here because of an academic program…)


Goals: live in the moment, listen with sincerity, act out of love



Kelly: My host family

April 4, 2011

This makes almost two weeks with my new host family. How time passes quickly. My family is indigenous, large in numbers, and full of love. Here it comes bullet-point style:

-Luzmila is my mom, Humberto/Imbaya (as he’s more commonly referred to in house) is my dad, Shyri is my 25 yr old brother, his 10 month old daughter is Ishanti, Maiya is my 20 yr old sister (she usually is in Quito though), Itumi is my kick-ass 12 yr old brother who calls me ñaña. Abuela and Abuelo also live in the house (parents of Luzmila)—they have 11 children total. I’ve met Estela, Roberto, Batí, César, Sarah, and Mita. So the people who are most frequently in the house are Abuela, Abuelo, Luzmila, Roberto, Batí, Erika (3 yr old daughter of Batí), Itumi, and me! The house fills up on the weekends (and then Luzmila comments about how empty it is when everyone leaves). Imbaya’s parents live in Peguche, which is close, and there’s an organic family chakra (farm) there so I think he spends a lot of time at that location. There’s another family chakra towards the other side of town, but I haven’t visited it yet. There’s also a garden, chickens, 5 pet ducks (of Itumi), 2 rabbits, 1 dog, and lots of cuy at this house.

– Last Friday I went to a paña with Imbaya, Maiya, Batí, Erika, and two family friends. My interpretation of it is comparable to an indigenous discotheque. We descended into a basement pub, complete with fireplace and woven wall-hangings, where there was an incredibly talented, young band playing traditional music. A pitcher of hueyusca was ordered—enough to wet my tongue went straight to my head. I understand why they serve it in dixie cups. My family started the dancing and pulled me out with them. I shuffled around looking like an awkward gringa and later went to join friends salsa dancing in another location. My dad and the family friends didn’t get home until 5am apparently.

-Last weekend I attended my first wedding! I went to two of the three days of celebration. Saturday was the evangelical celebration in a church. I don’t have any weddings to compare it to, but I’m sure this celebration was much more casual than the typical wedding in the United States. The pastor opened the occasion by saying something close to, “In other parts, they have to marry men with men and women with women. Gracias a Dios that we marry men with women in this community.” The offensiveness continued as he preached about sex before marriage, “bastard children,” promiscuity, the problems of “this generation,” and generally took a “better than you sinners” manner in addressing the wedding attendees. I looked back at one point and noticed half the older indigenous women taking a siesta. The bride and groom had to be coaxed to kiss—it was a quick peck on the lips and lots of blushing. When the ceremony was done, Luzmila and I ran out of the church and met up with Shryi, Maiya, and family-friend Lucretia to have lunch and buy food for the pachamanca later in the day.

– La Pachamanca, ( A basic definition of a pachamanca: cooking food in a hole in the ground with hot rocks. There was pollo (en ojas), papas, piña, banana, choclo, camote, habas, and maybe more that I’m forgetting. So the rocks heated in a big fire while we prepared the food. When everything was ready, the hole was lined first with rocks, then with the tougher vegetables, pollo, and fruits. It was covered with a water-soaked sheet, splashed with more water, and then covered in the land removed from the hole. We all found a flower, made a wish, and stuck the flower on top of the pachamanca (In complete honesty, this part was extremely powerful to me and I worked at not crying). After an hour, the food was ready, more people had arrived, and we dissembled the hole. There was so much food and though it was prepared so simply, the flavors were incredibly rich. Pachamama gave her power to our pachamanca.

– Sunday was the indigenous wedding ceremony. I wore an anaco and traditional Otavaleño dress—at one point, Batí, Mita, and Abuela were all working on securing the double-layered skirt around me. My family has pictures and we have plans to share them. As soon as we arrived (which was earlier than we needed to), we were offered food and relatives roaming with sodas and fermented (nonalcoholic) corn drinks pushed the communal cup at us. When the families had arrived, we all walked to a natural spring flowing from the side of a hill. The process is roughly this: the bride, groom, parents of each, godparents of each, and other family members pair up and one pair after the other complete the cleansing ceremony. Added to a bowl of cold water are flower petals and ortiga (comparable to stinging nettle). One person rubs the water/flowers/ortiga over the face, hands/arms, and feet/legs of the other person, then they switch turns. Some people also chose to take swigs from an apparently extremely strong liquor in a length of sugar cane (my dad told me it is only for experts). At this ceremony, they flung the water on the crowd once each pair was finished—my mom later told me that “they weren’t in agreement” with this part of it because it detracts from the significance of the event. Ortiga promotes blood flow and in this ceremony cleanses the pair of their old life and provides a fresh place to start from. The ortiga stings, but it is supposed to give good luck, purify, and clear bad energy (it’s also used, in much greater quantities, in the indigenous’system of dealing with out-of-line community members, ex: thieves). Once this part was complete, everyone walked back to the house and was fed soup, a mixture of rice/habas/frijoles/potatoes, a plato fuerte, and a sweet colada. I ate around the chicken in the soup and didn’t have much space for more food after. When everyone was finished, the dancing commenced (my family kept telling me that there were “poca gente” at this wedding and that it’s better when there’s a live band and not just a DJ). I left shortly after people started dancing. The cake wasn’t cut until late in the day and my family got sent home with leftovers. I ate a big piece for breakfast the next morning (along with té de anise and a tortilla de espinaca).

I spent the evening with a friend watching the sun set over Otavalo from a high point in the city, sharing a chocolate brownie and fruit salad (topped with helado de paila and crema). Era casi perfecta- falta una botella de vino y mi cámera.


Kelly: This past week

April 2, 2011

This past week flew by!! I figured out, with the help of my tutor, my question of investigation for my internship (and the theme of my 25 page page paper, in spanish, due at the end). I’ll elaborate more on that later. I watched the neighbor cow be milked by hand and enjoyed hot chocolate from her milk the next morning for breakfast, and colada con avena the following morning. I played fútbol with my host family one afternoon—I was so clumsy in comparison to the others, but they were encouraging anyway. The lights went out in the whole city for several hours two nights this week- one time was during the Shavasana of a yoga class taught by my compañera, Regina, at CEMOPLAF. The other time was when Luzmila, Abuela, Roberto, Itumi, Shyri, and I were de-graining half a fifty pound bag of choclo (corn) by hand. We continued by candlelight. I wonder how many times the family has sat on milk crates in the kitchen, preparing food together for the next day. I helped grind the choclo to make humitas on Thursday. Mmm, humitas asadas son ricas!

A friend from Quito came to visit last night/today. We walked all over Otavalo and to La Cascada Peguche today. There’s a tunnel at the top of the waterfall that leads to a little, rocky lookout spot onto the river before it falls. We spent the afternoon there hanging out with Pachamama.

There are plans to wake up at 6:30am tomorrow morning to go play basketball and soccer. Apparently the fields fill up quick and we can “beat the crowds” if we get there early. Haha. Later they’re going to introduce me to some of the lakes in the area. I’m excited.


An unorganized apology/disclaimer of sorts: It’s been difficult to share true reflections on my experiences here. There is always something to do, always people to talk with, always new things I’m discovering but don’t realize until I’ve talked with someone who hasn’t yet. I don’t like/want/need to spend a lot of time on my computer when I could be hanging out with my family. Also, some things are expressed better, or with a truer sentiment, in Spanish (instead of in English). I’m falling more in love with the language and can only hope that when I return to the States I will find a way to retain the speaking ability/confidence I’ve gained here. I don’t want to think about going back to Minnesota/Wisconsin, as much as I love them; I feel at home here and there is still SOOO much I have yet to explore. I have three families—not including my family of friends and companions in Mpls and from this program. Tengo ganas para viajar todo de Sudamérica y decir ‘f#@! it’ a mi último año de la universidad. My current incentive to stay in Mpls is that my bro (my biological one, Brian) will be going to the U of M next year (whoop whoop!!). Someone’s got to show him the ropes, and I have some personal-experience suggestions to help him avoid life frustrations (not that I expect him to listen).


Kelly: Backstreet Boys en Quito!

March 11, 2011

Went to the Backstreet Boys concert a few nights ago at El Coliseo Rumiñahui!! I didn`t plan on going until a few hours before the start when a friend called to see if I would buy her ticket because she was sick. It brought back so many childhood memories; most of them involve singing into fake microphones with friends when we were in our tweens. Appropriately, the majority of the fans at the concert were of my generation and the one before me. I was surprised by the number of people in attendance. The amount paid for general admission seats alone was $127,000.

Whenever the Boys sang a song from their new album (which apparently they have…), there was only a handful of people who were able to sing along. I lost track of the number of outfit changes they had… my favorite was the outfit that consisted of a swacket with a big, sparkly, red “B” on the back, jeans, and bright red chucks. They said they first got together 18 years ago- this was their first time in Quito.



Kelly: los fines de semana

March 6, 2011

Story from a few weekends ago: We (a group of 8 ) were at a club/bar on Saturday night where we were dancing and celebrating the birthdays of Toby and me. We were enjoying ourselves and looking like an obvious group of gringos who can’t latin dance when a male and female stripper appeared on the stage in front of the club. They each twirled around solo for a while and then started pulling people from the audience to, um, entertain. In several minutes, all layers expect the skimpy undies (the woman was wearing several pairs to start…I don’t understand) came off. And THEN, my wonderful friends Geoff and Toby decided to push me all the way up to the stage; Toby promised to go with me as he was dragging me towards the front, but decided to change his mind as soon as I was pulled up on stage. After a minute, the terminator-like man listened to my “No, no quiero estar aquí.” He gave me a hand off the stage, and I went back to my friends and punched Geoff and Toby in the arms. We left soon after.


The past weekend: I went to Otavalo to visit my future internship site at El Centro Médico de Orientación y Planificación Familiar (CEMOPLAF: I had a fantastic welcome and think I’ll have a great time there. I’ll be working on sexual health and family planning education projects, or, like Regina (the Peace Corps volunteer from Beaver Damn, WI) told me, “Whatever you want to help out with, really.” I’m excited to start my internship and am waiting to hear who my new host family will be. My mom in Quito has been making sad faces about me leaving for a week now- I feel the same, but will be close enough to visit easily. Regina and I had lunch at a family restaurant; I managed to eat a fish served whole without swallowing too many bones. We walked to Regina’s host family’s house and, again, I was graciously accepted. As we snacked on cheese, potatoes, and popcorn, Lesli, the ten-year-old host sister, asked me if I liked cuy (remember, cuy=guinea pig). She explained that she loved cuy- as animals and to eat- and suggested I try it sometime, even though I don’t eat meat. I think she’s probably right…

As I waited for friends to arrive in Otavalo, I hung out at a restaurant overlooking La Plaza de los Ponchos and had a two hour conversation with a thirty-year-old woman from Switzerland. She quit her job to travel, has been exploring South America since October, and just extended her return ticket until this next October. She’s never been to Norway or Sweden.

Raquel, Julio, and I went out Friday night and met up with Julio’s Colombian friend and his two compañeros. We danced most of the night and the Colombians continued the music with their maraca, guitar, and drum as we danced back to the house.

Woke up on Saturday and decided the best way to cure our headaches was to go to a restaurant that overlooked the market square, and have mexican food, coffee, and cerveza. We wandered around the market afterwards and then went back to the house. After my nap, Raquel and I took the bus home to Quito.

It was my host sister’s b-day on Saturday (18- which is the legal age here) and the restuarant was set up as a discoteca. White covers over the chairs set along the walls, balloons, tables of snack food, beautiful chocolate cake, chocolate fountain with fruit, live DJ, funky lights, and confetti… oh, and a bartender. They arrived in a chiva (an open-sided party bus that takes a tour of the city while encouraging dancing, drinking, and cheering). My mom danced up to me, gave me a huge hug, and told me that they played drinking games on the chiva (she had a plastic cup on a cotton string around her neck). There were about forty people in attendance (some arriving, the relatives leaving after a while). One joven made it her objective to teach my friend Becca to dance… it didn’t work all that well. Many couples (sixteen to eighteen-year olds) were dancing quite closely and taking periodic breaks to make out in the small plaza in front of the restaurant; my parents would simply point, smile, and occasionally make a tour of the dance floor to monitor the goings-on. Especially in the context of dancing, signs of affection by body contact are widely accepted in this culture (it still takes me by surprise when I see couples unabashedly making out at bus stops or in the mall).


Updates: A group of people and I are going to the beach town Atacames for Carnival- maybe I’ll finally get some color from this Ecuadorian sun. Also, I’m going to Colombia for spring break- Cartagena first, Medellín second.

I have a list of “topics to reflect on” and hope to elaborate on cultural themes instead of just the details of my travels here in following posts. It’s difficult to keep track of everything when it seems that all I do/see/hear is new.

I had my first case of homesickness today- I thought I was going to be able to avoid it completely. I got most of it out of my system. Thank Pachamama for skype and friends who are always online : )  At the same time that my heart hurts for not having seen my family, friends, and roommates in six weeks, I feel that four months in another culture/place/country is no time at all to understand it. There’s still so many places I want to travel, so many people to meet, so much to discover, and I’ve already been here for a month and a half. The idea, first, of leaving Ecuador, and second, of staying in the states for an entire summer and academic year once I return seems impossible.


Kelly: emociónes

February 27, 2011

Last Thursday, we gave presentations on the group essays we wrote for our tracks. Both groups in our track chose themes about globalization/development and its relation to the concept of  ”interculturalidad” between Western and Indigenous medicine in Ecuador. When we finished with the presentation part of the class, we had a debriefing with our professor. She asked us to share our experiences in relation to the different conceptions of health and medicine we’ve encountered here. She wanted us to share our feelings, not the theoretical and analytical points we wrote about in our papers. She complimented us for our work, but said she was interested in how we reacted internally, for example, during the limpia con cuy.

I can’t remember being asked for my personal feelings from any educator in a long time. Our professor made it be okay to feel skeptical of these new systems of knowledge and ways of promoting health. After all, we’ve only just been exposed to this new cosmovision. I have had frustrations with the capitalist, Western system prior to this adventure, but if I am truly honest with myself, I don’t completely accept indigenous medicine at this point. I want to. It’s difficult to change my idea of health care from one of experts and evidence to one that encompasses the total well-being of an individual in their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

Our professor shared an example of how uterine cancer can be caused by poor relations with the woman’s partner. That to treat the cancer, the woman needs help resolving whatever negative aspects exist in her relationship. Herbs and forms of  body cleaning can help, but the woman won’t be completely well unless her mental/emotional health is improved.

I like to be hugged when I don’t feel well. Someone told me that older women who live alone or in nursing homes get their hair done weekly just to be touched. That seems tragic to me.


Kelly: Field study to Otavalo & Cotacachi

February 24, 2011

Our program is divided into 4 tracks, one of them being a Public Health group, which I am in. Last Wednesday–Thursday we took a trip to Otavalo and Cotocachi to observe indigenous medicine practices (un parto vertical y práctica curativa por Yachac) and to observe the interrelations of health systems (medicina occidental y indígena).

Our first visit was to Hospital San Luis in Otavalo. This hospital is the only intercultural hospital in the area and has been making an attempt to integrate/co-opt/absorb/accept (the word choice depends on your viewpoint) indigenous medicine into/with the Western medicine system.  A unique part of this is the presence of a sala de parto, which is a room that mimics the house of a partera (midwife/doctor) where a woman would go to give birth. We were fortunate enough to be able to enter the sala while a young woman was in the process of giving birth. The traditional way of giving birth is for the woman to be kneeling and kept warm by layers of blankets around her, and usually to be surrounded by her family. The partera present explained the different herbs used and we saw how she used massage, touch, and her voice to aid the mother. She said, several times in different ways, “Da ayuda de un montón a la mujer, nuestras compañera.”

After we left the hospital, we went to a health center with a focus on indigenous practices called Jambi Huasi (Casa de Salud). We visited with a Yachac (medicine man) who told us that his grandmother lived past 110 years old and started teaching him how to heal when he was three. His children don’t know his secrets and he doesn’t use or promote plantas sagradas (like Shamans do). In his candle-lit room filled with animal skins, bones, shelves of dried plants, some christian relics, crystal pyramids, and other assorted “sources of power and energy,” he explained that his knowledge is not studied, that it is knowledge of his ancestors and wisdom from nature.

Next we filed into the fregador, where we met the experienced fregadora Mamá Juanita (who our chauffeur later described as poca expresionante). She demonstrated two forms of body cleaning for us—one with an egg, the other with cuy (yep- a guinea pig). I volunteered to be cleaned by egg. Mamá Juanita had me sit in a chair and proceeded to rub an egg all over my body, softly chanting the entire time. She paused on my palms and the top of my head to tap the egg against me, saying “Chunga, chunga, chunga.” When she had finished, she cracked the egg into a metal dish and examined the contents. She proclaimed there was nothing to be seen and that I was healthy. If the yoke is runny or has odd colors, it signifies that the egg has absorbed bad energy from some part of your body. My yoke was golden and perky. Chévere.

And now for el limpia con cuy… Adriana was the only one interested in volunteering. Before I explain the process, I feel the need to give a cultural disclaimer so that this practice isn’t misunderstood. So, in a cleaning with cuy, the cuy is viewed as a sacrifice for the health of the individual. The cuy dies in the process of the cleaning and is cut opened afterward to reveal what bad energies it had absorbed from the person.  To start: Adriana stood in the center of the room as Mamá Juanita pulled the cuy from the burlap sack it which it had been silently stationed. Mamá Juanita grabbed two legs in each hand and began vigorously shaking it up and down Adriana’s body. It was a bit difficult to watch as I remembered my former pet piggies Patches and Oreo. During the cleaning, we could hear the sloshing of the cuy’s insides; later, Adriana told us it was making little vocal noises as well. Mamá Juanita checked a couple of times to see if  the cuy had died, and after the third time she decided it had passed and let Adriana take a seat as she began to skin the cuy. Turns out Mamá Juanita had judged wrong because once she had removed most of the skin, we heard noises from the cuy and saw his back legs contract; Mamá Juanita looked up at us with a surprised laughsmile and said, “He’s not dead yet!”

Once she had examined all of the organs and musculature, Mamá Juanita told us that Adriana was pretty healthy, but had a bit of lower back pain (the cuy had had black area in his lower back). She added that Adriana’s heart is “muy fuerte!” Claro. We collectively decided that if our group is faced with an armed robber at any point, Adriana gets to protect us since she has a heart that will never perish.

Once we arrived at our rather lavish hotel, ate lunch, and took a little siesta, we had a conference titled Cosmovisión andina y la salud with Enrique Cachinguango. He talked with us about how the idea of an intercultural health system is lovely, but there are still many limitations and ways in which it is not being realized. I found much of what he told us profound—it was a life lessons, ways of living talk with Grandpa. He told us, “Viva fuerte y con amor, con mucho amor.” He stressed that, “No somos parte de la naturaleza. Somos naturaleza.” We took a walk to la cascada Peguche afterwards to take part in a what our syllabus called a “ritual ceremony.” What this ceremony consisted of was standing together in a circle, lighting our neighbor’s candle, telling Peguche our name, why we were here, and te amo. It was lightly raining, Peguche was continuing to fall, and I felt a deep sense of peace.

(Due to the title of this part of our day and religion, there was one individual who chose not to participate. This individual also read her bible the two hours from Quito to Otavalo. She explained later that she didn’t know what to expect and didn’t want it to conflict with her own religious beliefs. This seemed strange to me as Enrique had earlier explained the importance of putting all cultures/beliefs on the same level and not being scared of what is different.)

On Thursday our easily-confused driver got us to Cotocachi where we saw a simulación de parto vertical ancestral. Three women and a blushing man acted out how a traditional indigenous birthing process would happen. This partera told us as well, “We always help the mama.” Maybe I’ll elaborate on the whole process in another post.

Thursday night, two friends and I stayed with our couchsurfing friend Julio. We went out to a bar where I got a free, strong fruity drink topped with two cherries. In the Plaza de Ponchos, we got empanadas and walked back to the flat drinking beers. His two cousins and their two friends came over before we went out to dance the night away. At some point during the night a flaming shot was put in front of me. I almost drank the whole thing :) I’d say we brought my birthday in right.

Friday, the actual anniversary of the day of my birth, I returned to Quito, took a shower, and went with a friend to the museum and house of Guyasamín. SUPER CHÉVERE! Then we went to La Ronda with my parents, had dinner, and drank boiled wine. There was a live band that said, “To the cumpleañera!” after every song, thanks to my dad’s note to them. It was a very enjoyable evening.

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