Today was my last full day in Quito.
Tomorrow at 2 pm I leave for the airport and arrive in Lima, Peru that night. Then I take an early flight to Cusco, where I will meet my Aunt Anna and friend Blake for a train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu.
It has yet to hit me that I won’t be living here anymore. My bags are packed and my plane tickets are ready, but it still feels like a regular old day. I don’t have the excitement and anticipation in my stomach like I did before I came here. I’m ready to come home, but I know when I do I’ll be leaving a piece of my heart here in Ecuador.
Before I get too sappy let me back up and talk about how the last week and a half has gone.
Last week I was at a public hospital for family medicine. I got to shadow in on specialties like chronic illnesses, the emergency room, and pediatrics. Surprisingly, I liked pediatrics way more than I expected. Don’t get me wrong, I loooove babies and kids, but they’re so difficult when they’re sick! They’re sad, they don’t cooperate, they don’t tell you where it hurts or what kind of pain it is, you have to literally pin them down to take their temperature or give them a vaccine, etc.
That being said, it was fascinating! I learned how to do the 3 month check up: listen to the heart, lungs, and digestive system of the baby. Move their hips and check for dysplasia, measure their growth, then chart it and compare it to the mean statistics of other babies in their age group, and more. I saw babies that were under weight, overly large, had infections, children who couldn’t walk and had underdeveloped lungs from improper care during premature birth, and other interesting impairments I had yet to see for myself in the United States.
I really love that babies and little kids don’t have the social filter to refrain themselves from looking shocked or quizzical when they see something new. Those kids did not know what to think of me. They looked me up and down, from my hair to my eyes to my skin and my shoes (huge difference between shoe choices in the US and Ecuador). Some of them had looks of terror, some of them were just confused, and some of them were intrigued. Either way, I won most of them over by having stickers and lollipops in my pockets. Works like a charm.
On Thursday I spent part of the day skyping some of my family before they ate Thanksgiving dinner — which was so nice. That evening Rebeccah, Lauren, and I all went out to a fancy dinner to celebrate. We couldn’t find anywhere with traditional American Thanksgiving food, so we went downtown and paid way too much for a meal, but had a fantastic Thanksgiving. The best you can hope for when away from your home, family, and close friends. (And mashed potatoes)
That weekend I went to the doctor for my knee due to the persistent reminding that it was necessary to go by Rosita and my medical director. Thankfully, the doctor agreed at this point the damage has already been done and I can wait to get an MRI/XRay in The States. Not thankfully, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if it was a ruptured ligament that required surgery in the future. For now I am still constantly wearing my brace and have been given some physical therapy exercises to prepare my legs for Machu Picchu. So pumped.
On Sunday we went to my Spanish teacher’s son’s 3rd birthday party and had an amazing time. But first, we had to go toy shopping. Oh my goodness. I’ve talked about how anything imported is crazy expensive here, right? The only toy store we knew of was Toys R Us, and we were in for a huge surprise.
Toys that would cost anywhere from $10-$20 in the states were at least double, sometimes triple or quadruple, here in Ecuador. I took pictures so people could ACTUALLY see what I meant. Look at those price tags (which are not including tax).
Luckily, there were 3 of us, so we split the price of an iron-man action figure and a toy dinosaur 3 ways, and didn’t have to break the bank.
Once we were there we got to play with Dimitri and a street puppy that hangs out near by. SO CUTE.
Then, the party began. Ecuadorians are no amateurs when it comes to throwing a party. There was lunch, snacks, dinner, dessert, drinks, music, dancing, clowns, games, the works. We were there from 2 pm to 9 pm. They even had little Pinatas for each kid who came that were made out of ceramic clay. (I was the only one who broke their’s, those 3 and 4 year olds got to see how it was done) OH, and Marco, our Spanish teacher, was of course one of the clowns.
This week I got to shadow a gynecologist, who also happens to be a surgeon. I saw HPV, cervical polyps, paps, mammograms, was taught how to diagnose osteoporosis, and then scrubbed in on two hysterectomies. One was done robotically and vaginally, while the other was the conventional method. Both were done due to myomas and fibroids. I also really liked this field. So now I have 3 or 4 specialties I could picture myself going into…great. (Also can we just take 2 seconds to recognize how fantastic the female body/reproductive system is? We literally have the ability to create life and undergo unfathomable change and pain to support it. Women are superheroes)
Okay, now for some observations about Ecuador I think I have yet to share (everything is kind of blending together):
- The strawberries are the size of orange cuties here. At least. Literally like the size of a fist.
- Even the best, wealthiest, hospitals violate health codes like not changing gloves or hygienic furniture coverings between patients.
- Ecuadorians love their crocks. Yes, the plastic shoes. Love them. If you have a profession where it is socially acceptable to wear crocks here, huge added bonus.
- There are way more female med students than female doctors. I have no explanation as to why this is but I have two guesses: Either after years of needing to prove themselves more than their male counterparts, they got fed up and dropped out. OR as this country makes strives to end the machisimo culture here, women are feeling more able to assert themselves in male dominated roles and professions. I’m hoping for the second guess.
- People here have four names and you write them down in this order: Father’s last name + Mother’s last name + first name + “middle name”
- There are security guards and parking assistants for every business and building ever in Quito. I think I pass more guards on my way to work than actual pedestrians.
- Troles are really really awful. They’re crammed full, they’re stuffy, they smell bad, they jolt around and make you carsick, and people literally ride the trole all day every day trying to rob you. Like, that is their profession.
- People with disabilities here are treated better than I expected (from what I have witnessed). If someone who is blind or has a different physical ailment gets on a bus alone, people take it upon themselves to make sure they get a seat or are guided out the doors when necessary. Kids with downs syndrome happily hold their parents hands and play with them in the park without protest. City jobs are given to people who otherwise wouldn’t normally be employed. That being said: I have yet to see a child with disabilities put into a school with children without disabilities. Quito is also not a physically safe or accessible atmosphere for people with disabilities: hand rails and wheel chair ramps are not a thing, there are very few troles with places to put a wheal chair, and basic needs like walking on a smooth sidewalk are not obtainable.
- Women curl their eyelashes with the back of spoons
- Toilet paper pretty much doesn’t exist here
- You have to pay to use a public restroom
- Fiestas de Quito is coming up: Quito’s largest holiday and celebration that stretches to be a week long. Shops and stores shut down so people can have plenty of time to drink all day, then ride in a bus called the “Chiva” that looks like a cart made for livestock, but has flashing lights and music blaring.
- Everyone who asks me what my name is, hears it then replies with “no, I mean what is your first name?”
- People love public displays of affection. Especially 13-year-olds on the trole. Another reason to not like them (troles that is).
- Breast feeding here is totally acceptable. Whenever, however, in front of whomever. People recognize that breasts were first made to give nutrients to babies, so I have yet to see a mom be given a dirty look for showing an exposed breast in public when her baby is in need of food.
Alright, now for the sappy stuff.
This country, the people in it, and their culture have taught me so much. Who knew a person could grow this much in just a few short weeks? I’ve laughed a lot, cried, seen things I wasn’t prepared for, was shocked in both happy and sad ways, and so much more. On top of that, I can now carry out full (yet still limited) conversations with strangers in Spanish. I feel like that alone is a fantastic accomplishment.
Through this experience I have proven to myself that I have the capability of true independence. Yes, I received so much love, support, and help along this journey. Which I’m beyond thankful for. But I also made the decision at 20 years old to pretty much spend everything I had ever saved, move to a country where I didn’t know a single person, where I could barely speak the language, and work in a whole new healthcare system I had never witnessed before. AND I totally made it out alive. Not just alive, but in my opinion, a better human being.
My experiences here were like non other. Experiences I will undoubtedly never have again. They made me excited, mad, emotional, overjoyed, devastated, and so much more. My experiences pushed me to be introspective and re-evaluate a lot of my own opinions, feelings, and beliefs. They pushed me so far out of my comfort zone that I can’t even remember where that line is anymore.
Although not what I expected, at all (and let’s get real, when is anything new what we expected?), I wouldn’t change this journey for the world. It did exactly what I had hoped it would do: change my life. It changed my perspective, my knowledge, my goals. It gave me a new sense of who I believe I am, and who I want to continue to strive to be.
I am forever indebted to this country and the people in it. Ecuador, my first taste of a completely new world. The first country I fell in love with and fought with at the same time. A place that made me appreciate my home, yet want to strive for more positive changes as well. A country filled with amazing people who had no reason to want to help me, yet I know they would do anything to make sure I am okay. A country full of unexpected friends, mentors, family, and loved ones.
Now that the time has come to say goodbye to this beautiful, at times heart breaking, eye opening, fantastic country, it’s a lot harder than I expected it would be. However, one thing I do know is that this isn’t goodbye forever, just “hasta luego.”
Thank you for the love and kindness you have showed me, the education you have given me, and the experiences that will stay in my heart forever.
Until next time, Ecuador. You will forever be my first international love.