Posts Tagged ‘field study’


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.


Jonathan: Discovering India’s relationship to Israel

February 12, 2011

Our lungs filled with the oppressive pollution that seems to hang over large parts of urban India, and our minds exhausted from the constant interactions with rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers, a small group of us decided to venture out into more serene surroundings.  Pushkar, a town of about 15,000 lies in the foothills of the Aravelli mountain range surrounded by sand, shrubs, and goat herders.  Housing the only temple in all of India to the Hindu Lord Brahm, considered to be the supreme god/creator, it is a major pilgrimage site for Hindus.  But before I can begin telling of the visit, we must travel first to a different corner of Asia: Israel.  How Jaipur, Pushkar, and Israel are intimately related is a fascinating investigation into the economics of tourism and trendiness, globalization, and Israeli society.

Nearly every Friday, our group is taken on a local field trip where we can observe, in action, a little slice of another India (for there are many India’s in this vast, densely populated, and culturally diverse land).  This past week we traveled to a paper-making factory (whose fancy envelopes and pretty boxes are sold in TJ Maxx and Walmart) and a block printing/stoneware factory.  It was here that one could truly understand the scope of globalization in the twenty first century.

In Israel, artisan markets and tourist centers are literally filled to the brim with stoneware and glass Hamsot (plural of Hamsa, the familiar hand hung to ward off the evil eye).  It is a staple gift to take back for friends and family eager to own a piece of the Holy Land.  It is, in many senses, the quintessential part of Israeli tourism.  And yet, these are not produced by Israeli artisans, Jewish or otherwise.  Rather, they are molded, fired, and painted in factories across India but especially Jaipur, a city known for its beautiful blue stoneware.  And thus, in the middle of a showroom for a well known ceramics studio sits scores of Hamsot and other home decorations with hebrew letters.  One can only imagine my great surprise at such unexpected sights, and when I learned that Israel was one of the major international trading partners for the industry.  You can view images here and here.

But my immersion into Israeli–Indian connections did not end there.  Pushkar, amongst many other things, is a hot spot for Israeli tourism amongst the young adult set who have just completed their military service.  For those who are unaware, Israel maintains a mandatory co-ed draft in which young people are given no choice but to enter and participate in the armed forces.  For some, this aligns neatly with their politics, but for others they are asked to take actions they may be hesitant or unsure about.  Israeli young people literally come of age while holding AK-47’s.  After completing their service, many in the middle class choose to travel in either South America or India, a phenomenon which many Israeli’s claim is a direct manifestation of their challenging experiences and thus ‘spiritual dysphoria.’  Pushkar, being an important place of spiritualism, is thus a popular spot.  This has come to mean that shop keepers can speak in Hindi, English, and Hebrew; that signs are written in Hebrew; that it is easier to find Falafel than it is to find a good Dal (I had some of my best hummus there); and that Hebrew is spoken widely.  Even Doar Yisrael, the Israeli postal service, maintained an office in town.  I never thought my hebrew skills would be of use in India.  That’s globalization!

But Israel aside, Pushkar, and neighboring Ajmer, offered a spectacular experience.  After our luxurious accommodations in Agra, we were ready to experience travel as Indians do, and bought tickets on the government run intercity bus system.  Sitting near the breezy door, we experienced our first, and certainly not last, bumpy, hilarious, and surprisingly comfortable bus trip.  Near the end of the ride, two elderly women and a man entered the bus.  With a scarcity of seats, I offered to stand, and thus, according to one of my fellow passengers, road the bus as true Indian’s do: holding on for your life as the bus takes sharp turns and the open road lies precariously close through the open bus door.  We arrived just in time for a beautiful sunset atop our hotel, and quickly went to dinner where we had a delicious meal of falafel, hummus, and sweet chai.

The first thing that hits the visitor to Pushkar is the quiet.  The narrow walkways make driving impossible, and motor bikes take great care when riding down the packed streets.  A city built on the reputation of spiritualism, the shop keepers were firm but not pushy, and we recieved more friendly “Namaste’s” and “Hello’s” than we had ever expected.  For the first time in India, we did not feel (constantly) harassed.  Sure, every interaction was laced with undertones of either economic or romantic intentions, but on the whole we were left alone.  After watching the sun rise, we enjoyed a long breakfast, and then rented rickety and heavy bikes for a trip to the desert.  Unfortunately, the terrain was too hilly, the sun too hot, and the bikes too bad for us to complete our 16K goal, but we did see some beautiful desert scenery, witnessed stone mining that so delicately threatens the local ecosystem, and saw a number of women herding goats and sheep in search for greener pastures.  After lunch, and the obligatory shopping, we visited the Brahma Temple, Puskar’s most important holy site.  Made of white marble, it was filled with Hindu’s on pilgrimage, and had the well worn feel of an operating temple.

Pushkar is too known for its hawkers of spiritualism, a ruse which my travel companions unfortunatley fell into (while I avoided only after great effort and some thorny remarks to the hawkers).  In a country dizzy with the onslaught of global capitalism, even inner peace has been commodified into a disgusting extortion process.  Young men offer flower petals to tourists, enticing them to walk down to the ghat (a ritual bathing area).  Once there, they are treated to a long speech about ‘the soul,’ and are offered blessings (for the steep cost of 100 rupee).  Don’t have the cash on hand?  Don’t worry, the ‘priest’ allows you to promise that your friend will pay for you instead.  They then bless you for a whole host of things: your grandparents happiness in heaven, a future husband/wife, and a whole host of other wonderment.  I, characteristically, refused to participate in such an activity, and was thus harassed for ten minutes and berated with thinly veiled threats (“how will your grandparents experience happiness?” he asked).  Soon, however, he and the other hawkers lost their false veneer, and we began to chat.  They, of course, were primarily interested in my relationship with my three female companions, about whom they inquired relentlessly.  When I eventually convinced them that I was neither married, nor dating, any of them, they (by this time a small crowd had gathered) became conviced that I was sexually interested in them.  How wrong they were.  It was a uncomfortable, testosterone laden, heteronormative, and otherwise unpleasant interaction that I was all to happy to leave.

The next day we awoke very early and took a short hike up to a mountain top temple with spectacular sunrise views.  Listening in silence as the city awoke, we saw the sun crest the mountains and the city become awash in the first rays.  It was a beautiful and tranquil sight.  Back in town we had a delicious breakfast, followed by an hour hike up to another mountain temple with sweeping views of the city and desert.  Along the way we met a number friends, including a band of monkeys who had dangerously placed themselves in the middle of the path.  Finally, we hopped over to neighboring Ajmer where we visited the famed Dargah (shrine) to a Sufi Muslim saint.  It is said to be the second most important Muslim site after Mecca.  The Dargah is a dizzying and delightful crush of people, bazaars, prayer, food, and color that seems to collect itself into a oddly peaceful and relaxing scene.  Our first true encounter with Muslim India, it was an interesting and inspiring location.

And now, I sit back in Jaipur ready to plan the next adventure.


Eric: Roma, day 3

January 22, 2011

Sooo I set my alarm last night for this morning at 7 o’clock to make sure I had plenty of time to get ready to hop on the bus at 8, but I did not set the time on my phone correctly!  My house mate instead woke me up at 8. My host dad had already brought up the espresso, and I slammed two quick shots and decided I would be nice and rinse out the thermos, but I did not realize that it was lined with fragile glass!  needless to say the instant I added cold tap water to the thermos the thing exploded. Great! I hoped to just leave some Euro underneath the broken thermos and run to the bus stop, but Valentino came to the door before we left and wanted to get more information from me and Brian in order to fill out his paperwork for hosting us.

The morning was dreary with light showers and stayed overcast most of the day. Considering we would have been really late for school if we had taken the bus Valentino drove us to school in his Focus. I was sort of looking forward to riding the bus again, but it was a really nice gesture and we got to school right on time.

When everyone arrived at the ACCENT center we headed off to Emporium alla Pace, which is a cute little coffee bar a block or so from the center. There were newspapers all around and a book shelf with several Italian cookbooks. The clientele was comprised by single ladies attempting to enjoy a peaceful morning, but we packed the place to the brim with our group of 20. From the bar we walked through some side streets and loaded into taxi’s aimed at the Villa Borghese. As the Taxi zipped through the city a blur of designer shops, restaurants, fountains, sculptures and Ferraris shone through the windows of the quick little Puegot.

The Villa Borghese is beyond words. We were given what was similar to a phone that you were able to punch numbers into the digital pad and synch up different rooms and particular pieces of art in order to get an exciting description and meaning behind each work of art. We were able to roam free and explore and get intimate with Bernini’s finest works which were simply amazing. Micro mosaics, incredible frescoes, oil paintings oh my! I am going to return and spend all day there. From the Villa we walked the grounds to the Spanish steps which overlook the chic district where every designer has a only buyers welcome type of shop.  After doing some window ogling of the seasons fashions we split for lunch.

Me and a few of the fellow students found a little gem on a corner named, Café terra forno which is owned and operated by a father-son team. The make excellent espresso, fantastic sandwiches, hearty salads and aperativo. I personally had an espresso to start, followed by a pancetta and mozzarella penino and a aperativo made with orange juice with gran marnier and schnapps.

After lunch we met up with our guide who teaches a class on modernism. She is a fashionable five foot powerhouse of Rome. We went to check out the Hotel Art, a chic boutique hotel and a store called Tad which sold all things high end. I was not really impressed with the hotel or the shop, but they are both very popular in the city. From there we strolled to a few more destinations and ended up at Santa Maria church. The church has been remolded and a chic bar is perched above and overlooking a fresco by Rafael. We all had a glass of wine and enjoyed some friendly banter before heading off to enjoy a five course meal at a restaurant. The program paid for our meals which would have been around 50 per person not including wine. After dinner everyone retreated back to their houses to get some rest after another full day of sightseeing.

I went back to the ACCENT center with Steven to get an extra cell phone that he had to use for the trip. I am able to receive international calls for free (caller pays), but international sms texts cost 50 cents each and Int calling can be quite expensive. Phone cards are available, but I think that I am going to rely on SMS, email and Skype for the duration of the trip.

When I left ACCENT I took my first bus alone, at night, in the rain. It was a short walk to a busy bus stop servicing an endless parade of busses scurrying off to different destinations. I had never taken the 870, but I was able to print out a route plan at the center and it got me home quickly with a great view on the way of illuminated Rome at night from a hill on the west bank of the Tiber.

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