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MEDLIFE Ecuador : A Daily Journal

By: Tyler Daugherty

Ecuador – December 14, 2013 to December 21, 2013

The following are excerpts of the daily email journal I send to friends and family when traveling abroad. It details my time in Ecuador with MEDLife, helping to provide healthcare and infrastructure improvements to the community in Esmeraldas, Ecuador.

MEDLife is a national organization with a UGA chapter that is headed by students Zoheb Sulaiman and Sarah Premeji, whose mission is “to help families achieve greater freedom from the constraints of poverty, empowering them to live healthier lives”.

12.14.13 – Quito, Ecuador

Hey all,

As most of you know, I am currently in Ecuador with a group called MEDLife, going to help provide basic healthcare to the more rural areas of the country, specifically Esmeraldas. I hope to stay in touch with all of you by sending an email once a day or so just detailing the experience and including some pictures. Of course, feel free to ignore them, but I hope they will contain some interesting experiences that I can relate. Anyway here goes…

So I flew in last night around 10 p.m. and, after an hour-long car ride, arrived at my hotel in Quito. Not too much to report from last night. I met my roommate, Sergio, a Spanish exchange student, and we chatted for a while, but then just headed to bed after a long day of travel.

On a side note, one of my plans as I continue to travel is to read a book by an author from or set in the country/city I am visiting; one of the books for this trip is Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut—a story centered on a modern day Noah’s Ark plot. It has been quite good thus far, though I am only halfway though.

Anyway, I woke this morning and explored the city with about a dozen students from Ohio State—of course mentioning in passing the loss to Michigan State—who I have really gotten to like a great deal. Today we went through churches, which were breathtaking, and toured a great deal of important sights in Quito. We have just finished eating at a Tapas restaurant, and I am back at the hotel waiting to be picked up in the wee hours of the morning to head to Esmeraldas.

 

Picture provided by Zoheb Sulaiman

Picture provided by Zoheb Sulaiman

12.15.13 – Quito/Esmeraldas, Ecuador

Today started with the bus ride I hinted at last night, a 7-hour, curvy, mountainous trek with a group of about 35 students on each bus starting at 1 a.m. Not the most pleasant experience of all time, but not too bad either! I sat next to a group from College of Charleston, and it was a joy getting to know them—occasionally mocking the few troublemakers (idiots) at the front of the bus making a raucous intermittently. All in all though, I got to read a fair amount and talk about music, which made the ride wonderful; also, I caught a few hours of sleep—a full 40 minutes.

It felt superb to get out of the bus, and we were given breakfast and four hours of freedom upon arrival in Esmeraldas. The hotel in which we are staying is not elegant but definitely not bad either, and the location is incredible—directly beach front with a view so beautiful it is almost indescribable.

At noon, we all went to the market and bought snacks for the week including tons of water. So much bottled water. Then we ate lunch and played volleyball and football (soccer, I am trying to be authentic here) for a few hours.

Finally, we had an intro meeting for the work we will be responsible for tomorrow and ate dinner out by the beach.

Overall, it has been a delightful day with some great new friends, but I cannot wait to start work tomorrow. Hopefully we      can really make a positive difference here.

 

12.16.13 – Esmeraldas, Ecuador (Med Clinic Day 1)

Today has been a very special day, as all of the others have, but for different reasons. We began by stopping off at a ceremony the community put together to welcome us here. Wow. What a humbling event. Additionally, their band played for us, and the marimba player was out of this world—I get very excited about music.

Following that we set up our mobile clinic in a rural part of the Esmeraldas province. I began the day working in the Dental department with my friend Sergio, who I had no idea is actually a 4th year dental student (vocational schooling is apparently very different in Spain). I got a ton of hands-on experience here. He allowed me to help with everything from drilling out/filling cavities to pulling teeth. As an aside, may I say, these are the places to learn a foreign language. I have become so much more proficient in three days here than I ever have in a classroom.

After lunch, I joined an internist seeing patients in an interview style where we discussed the patient’s complaints, did work ups (I took bps and some other vitals), and then prescribed medication for them to receive from our pharmacy department. Working in the realm of internal medicine was tremendous—talking to each patient and being able to help in some way was very rewarding. I loved it. Additionally, when an adult had a child with them and they needed to talk, I was able to entertain and play with them so that the adults could talk.

Work went from around 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and when we came back to the hotel (about 45 minutes away), we were all tired. Somehow though, a group of us caught a second wind and played football (again, attempting to be authentic here) for an hour or so before eating dinner.

After dinner, we have all been sitting around and getting to know one another better. I knew going on this trip would give me the opportunity to meet new people from other universities, but I did not expect meeting new people from UGA—perhaps that’s just freshman/Tyler naïveté though. I talked with a guy named Anish for around an hour and a half and found that he is a wonderful, kind guy and lives five doors down from me in Myers. Then I had a heart to heart with a number of people from UGA, which was an amazing bonding experience. I feel so much closer to each of them now. I guess that all just goes to show two things. One, how big the UGA campus is in a positive way; there will always be a new group of interesting people to meet at a school of that size, affording you the opportunity to meet so many incredible people. Two, each person has a deep background. I can remember talking to my dad about how fascinating I found it that every person walking by us at, say, Universal Studios had a family, life and past that lead them to the moment where we walked by one another. Every person. That is so much history. My heart to heart did nothing but confirm my thoughts on the richness of those lives, showing just how trying, painful, enlightening and wonderful life is for each person, in each story.

Anyway, this is getting very existential and philosophical, so it may be getting a little late. Tomorrow I will be building a staircase in another portion of the province. A lot of physical labor ahead, so I believe I will now get some sleep.

 

12.17.13 – Esmeraldas, Ecuador (Project 2)

It is quite late as I begin this, but there is so much to tell. I will jump right in.

Today I was assigned to work on a building project for the community—with which we’re partnered with—building a staircase in a rural, mountainous part of Esmeraldas. Today included some of the hardest work I have ever done in my, albeit quite blessed, life. First, we mixed cement by hand by retrieving water from the river (gallons upon gallons), shoveling crushed gravel from a pile and stirring in cement mix. We worked this all together by shovel, and began filling up buckets with the cement and carrying them up the, no kidding here, 150 yard mountain which was at a 35 or 40 degree angle. We formed an assembly line as the great American patriot of doing more by working less, Ford, would have done, and we accomplished a great deal. However, that continuous lifting and carrying of massive amounts of concrete was, to say the least, utterly exhausting, especially since we worked straight through from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. It was strenuous but so worth it. Not only did it feel great to help the community with such a basic need (the mountain up which we are building the staircase is incredibly challenging to navigate on foot, let me tell you), but doing that sort of physical labor gives you the feeling of having truly accomplished something with the added bonus of a much needed workout.

A brief word on the landscape of this community : this place was easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been—sprawling mountains, rivers and everything one could dream about being in a rural South American community. Additionally, it was so humbling to see the state in which these families live. Truly, I cannot express it in words.

After working till noon, we ate lunch with everyone and played in the river for a bit. We then boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel. A large number of us ran straight out to the ocean and dove in—marking what I believe to be my first swim in the Pacific Ocean. We then hung out by the pool and finally played a few games of volleyball, as if we weren’t tired enough.

After dinner, we built a bonfire on the beach and talked for a long time, and I ended the night chatting with some great new UGA friends on the back lawn, getting much closer to a wonderful group of friends.

It has been quite a day, and I have absolutely loved it. I feel very lucky to be here.

 

Picture provided by Zoheb Sulaiman

Picture provided by Zoheb Sulaiman

12.18.13 – Esmeraldas, Ecuador (Med Clinic Day 2)

Today has been utterly wonderful; really, I believe it to be one of the best days of my life thus far. So here we go.

I started the day working the pharmacy department, which afforded me the opportunity to practice my Spanish skills and get closer to two friends with whom I have worked a good deal this trip, Zoheb and Nick. This was a great deal of fun. Then we ate lunch at 11:45 a.m., and after lunch, things started to get wonderful because my job for the afternoon was essentially this: play with circa 100 kids under 17 who for one reason or another were waiting around.

I played goalie in soccer while they attempted to score penalty kicks on me (as we all know, I am quite pathetic at soccer, but I actually am not too shabby as a goalie, so I suspect those years of baseball drills are still paying off). We traded games such as slaps and the like, and they taught me some dancing games that seem to be a staple for the younger kids. It was adorable and awesome. I got especially close to a young boy named Christian (I love that name, perhaps for some mixture of religious reasons and the movie Stardust). He was such a good, kind kid. My word, will I miss him. The whole afternoon culminated in a massive game of Duck, Duck, Goose (seriously about a circle with a 40 yard radius). I cannot express how happy that afternoon made me.

We left around 5 p.m. and, after a trying bus ride, had our nightly meeting and group meal. At this point, I was sweaty and generally messy, so I hoped in the shower.

Then at 8:30 p.m., a group of us went salsa dancing at a rooftop dance pad in the city. This was a blast! I felt it was possibly the first time I have truly let go while dancing (no intents but moving and having fun) and it made the night wonderful. It was a superb night of dancing with friends and fun.

The funny thing about this entry is that I feel the section about the kids was insufficient though I have expressed in text what I felt and feel. I think that is because nothing I could write could justly portray my feelings on it.

As an aside, I finished the first book inspired by Ecuador, Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut. It was quite good, centering around Darwinian theories of evolution in a world in which humanity must begin again from a small group stranded on the Galapagos Islands. Though it was quite good, it is not at the top of my recommendations list (that by the way, is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett)

Finally, the gaggle with which I went salsa dancing and I sat down by the hammocks and chatted about anything and everything.

Overall, this has been a wonderful day.

 

12.19.13 – Esmeraldas, Ecuador (Project 1)

As I write this I am about to close my eyes on our last night in Esmeraldas since we leave at 6 p.m. tomorrow for Quito. But, I will save the grand, sentimental synopsis for tomorrow. Let us dive in to today.

Today I worked at the city staircase we are building in the province of Esmeraldas. Really, I had a wonderful enlightening time, but there is not too much to report from that portion of the day (it was quite similar to the work on Thursday with lifting, shoveling and hauling cement all over the mountains). One thing I want to emphasize though is how wonderful it feels to push your body beyond what your mind says you can do. One more bucket turns into 50 and soon you are in territory that you did not believe possible. It is a wonderful feeling. Additionally, I met a few kids at the site who were a joy to be around.

After work we swam in the ocean, hung by the pool and ate dinner. The real highlight of tonight though was part the mayor invited us to a celebration of our work in the community. We danced. We ate. We had an incredible time. At the end we all took a huge picture with the mayor and his wife.

Finally, when we arrive back at the hotel, I talked with Gabby, Justin and Vi for a long while.

This seems to have been a pretty boring day, but I assure you it was not. I loved it, so I think I am simply exhausted.

 

Picture provided by Zoheb Sulaiman

Picture provided by Zoheb Sulaiman

12.20.13 – Esmeraldas, Exhaustion and Travel

I am writing at 4:04 a.m., a palindrome that makes me a little happy but does little to alleviate the exhaustion my group and I feel. Three consecutive days of hardcore labor have taken a toll on us, and we spoke today about how nice it would be to take a shower that wasn’t freezing, eat a meal that was filling and drink water from a source other than a bottle. And all that first world whining makes me feel kind of pathetic after working in the living conditions of so many people here; but I know this, I am incredibly grateful to live in the US. Little can do more for patriotism than traveling abroad. (I kinda like that line—can I get that quoted?) Anyway, moaning and groaning aside, today was not too bad. Let’s see what I remember (this one will be a tad shorter though, given that I have to be up in four hours)

We started the day at a small clinic in another part of Esmeraldas; not too many people showed up, but this was somewhat by design—we had an event early in the afternoon and we had to finish up early so we picked the smallest one for today. I worked the tooth brushing education station, so teaching the children to brush their teeth was extremely adorable. Good fun.

After that, we went to an inauguration of the staircase we built this week. The mayor spoke, then we toasted and cut a ribbon. It was a very kind and enjoyable ceremony. Then we headed back to the hotel, slept on chairs for a while (we no longer had rooms), ate dinner and boarded the bus for Quito at 8 p.m.

We have just arrived in Quito. I am definitely having a wonderful time, just a little exhausted at the moment; nothing a little shuteye can’t handle though. We have an excursion in Quito tomorrow, so I’m going to hit they hay.

 

12.21.13 – La Ultima

I am hopping in bed and mixed with emotion to write this final synopsis. I am sad to leave this adventure behind, but I am so excited to come home and spend Christmas with my family. I miss you guys so much. For those who have hung with me, thank you. At the very least this has been a wonderful way for me to reflect on, remember and record the events of this adventure. For the last time on this adventure, let’s dive in.

As those of you who read yesterday’s entry know, we arrive back in Quito at around 4 a.m. That technically may be the beginning of the day, but let’s just start after the three hours of sleep I got. Honestly, I was not that tired at all when I awoke, and a few friends and I grabbed breakfast at a local cafe (I have done my best to be adventurous and authentic in my culinary choices). Following that, the whole gang of around 70 people boarded a bus—one that might as well have been name the SS Minnow—for a 45-minute ride to the biggest authentic market in Ecuador. As the Gillian’s Island reference would imply, the journey did not go as planned; in the end, it took four hours to make the 35-mile drive. Some lovely scenery of course, but we were a little less than delighted by the end of the never-ending ride. I sat by a group with some of my closest friends though, and that made it very enjoyable.

We arrived around 1 p.m, and it really was a superb market. I hope you like some of the gifts I found there—it was a very amazing place. I did, mom will be proud of me, haggle a great deal (ba-dum-ching), employing the walk-a-way technique on more than one occasion. Most of the stuff though will be Christmas surprises.

We rode back in only two hours, so some mild improvements. This time I sat by a guy named Chris who is a sweet, good person. We talked for a long time and became friends with those around us too. It was so pleasant. We made it back, and went out one final time with everyone to a nice restaurant in central Quito.

This has been an incredible experience, and thank you so much to each of you who have made it possible whether through financial or friendly support, or your interest. It means so much to me. Truly, I do not think I could have gone on a better trip at this stage of my life. I was able to see a beautiful new country, honestly help some of those in the most need, gain experience in the area I want to pursue vocationally, and meet and grow close to many people from UGA and all over the world. It has been a wonderful adventure. I am so lucky and thankful to have been given this opportunity.

I do hope this won’t be the end of our adventures together though. I hope to do a good deal more traveling if I am able, and I would love to share those experiences to come with you. I hope you will continue reading and supporting me. I am very blessed and grateful.

Again, thank you so much, and I love each of you so much.

Until next time,

Tyler