Friday, February 28, 2014

Un Viaje- Monday

It has been a while since I have checked in, but I promise I have been up to awesomeness- also essays.  How did I pick a study abroad program with at least as many essays as I write at Mac?  Aren't I supposed to be messing around or something?  I just keep reminding myself that this is exactly what I wanted.  AND trips like the ones we took Monday through Wednesday make it seriously worth it.

We have now separated into our tracks.  I am studying Public Health.  While classes are a bit underwhelming if you have already taken Intro to International Public Health with Christy Hanson, I'm really happy to be spending every day studying something I'm passionate about.  The tracks separated at the beginning of this week for trips specific to them, and I'll give you the rundown of what happened on mine!  (A lot of this is for my memory/ family, so permission to skim granted!)

We left bright and early to head to Otavalo, a larger, highly indigenous city north of Quito.  Otavalo is famous for the Plaza de los Ponchos, where they sell every kind of artisinal item you could ever want, but we weren't there to see that... at least not yet.

Our first stop was Jambi Huasi, a private primary care hospital that specializes in indigenous medicine.  They not only boast a "conventional" medical team, but also offer special massage, diagnostics involving the passing of an egg or guinea pig over the person, the services of a yachak, an indigenous traditional healer, culturally specific adolescent sex ed, a medical doctor that speaks Kichwa, and services of indigenous parteras (midwives).  It was here that Chelsea received the barerra del huevo (which was some intense rubbing of a whole egg across her body) from the Yachak Mama/ partera.  The yolk broke when the egg was cracked, which signifies bad energy.  Devon was a trooper and volunteered for the barrera del cuy.  The barrera del cuy is a practice where a live guinea pig is rubbed on the patient's body until it dies.  It is then skinned and cut open.  The characteristics of the cuy's autopsy reveals what is wrong with the patient.  Devon had parasites and back pain, which was almost entirely accurate.  I, and the rest of the group, struggled with this diagnostic technique, especially solely for the purposes of demonstration, as a life is taken away in the process.  This is especially tough if your Western brain keeps saying things like, the cuy has absolutely nothing to do with the health of the patient.  My anthropology brain is upset that I think this way, but the best I have been able to say is that only people truly invested in the diagnostics that the cuy might give them should undergo this process.  Of course we don't blame Devon for taking one for the team, and it was a learning experience, but learning, in my mind, is not enough to justify the taking away of life.  We had one more procedure at Jambi Hausi, but we actually had to come back in the afternoon because the Yachak was busy all morning.  He demonstrated a change of energy/spiritual cleansing on Kelly with many essential oils.  It looked like an awesome process, even if she did come out a bit doused in the end.  This yachak had the most Catholic religious symbols in his office I have ever seen in one place outside of a church.  I wanted to ask him more about his beliefs and how Catholicism plays a role in the practice of his work, which is highly connected to Kichwa spirituality, but he was a yachak de fuego, which means he focused on the candle in his workspace and said not a word to any of us.

Yachak de fuego

Our next stop was Hospital San Luis de Otavalo.  Here, they focused on teaching us about their unique partnership with indigenous parteras and the ability of a woman to choose how they give birth in the hospital.  Indigenous women give birth vertically and often avoided going to the hospital to give birth or for prenatal care because their language and customs were not understood or respected.  Since eight years ago, the hospital has worked to become completely integrated with parteras and women give birth in the traditional way, but with emergency care available if need be.  They also have an area with free lodging for families that come from far away so that a mother about to give birth can travel before the birth actually happens and not while in labor.  Many babies are born en route to the hospitals and if there are any complications, the mother or child die.  We witnessed both the room for giving birth and the room for prenatal care.  The partera giving prenatal care had patients while we were there, two young women, both in a sweatshirt and leggings, while the partera wore traditional indigenous dress. We felt uncomfortable because we were not sure the patients wanted us to watch them.  We were also asked to feel a woman's stomach for the baby's head, as the partera had just helped it turn around from sitting upright.  The question of consent was a big deal here, and I'm sure it will be again and again in our internships.
Women who come to this hospital to give birth can do it sitting, standing, or kneeling.  


Everyone was friendly and answered our questions.  Many of the places we visited on this viaje thanked US for being there.  Of course, it was them to thank, sharing valuable time and knowledge with us.  I always wonder about my role in this country and if my presence is sometimes deemed important just because I have light skin and I am from the United States.  I can only promise to go forward in my life using the knowledge that I have gained, for whatever reason, to fight for social justice.

After that, we got my favorite things- lunch and free time!  We spent our free time in the plaza de los ponchos and I went shopping and spent way too much money.  I kept telling myself to cool it- I'm going to live there, but there were so many cool things, most of them created by hand, and once you start bargaining, you are basically done- that item is going to be yours.  Talk about high pressure shopping!  But everything is much cheaper than in the United States, and I'm a fan of supporting the local economy.  Also earrings.  I am a fan of earrings.
I bought earrings from this super cool dude in Otavalo.  He handmade them, and he also carves out coins with a hand saw to create jewelry.  Sarah got a pic with him first, but my experience was a bit different than hers.  This was just after he whispered in my ear "You are very beautiful."  Lol thanks, Pluma! (He claims his name is Feather.)

We next visited a yachak in a cultural center- with a fire in the middle of the floor! He spent time sharing songs and stories with us, communicating with the spirits, and also performed a cleansing to get rid of bad energy. This was a great opportunity to get to know more about Kichwa beliefs and spiritual customs- and the music that went with it.  While I don't remember details and I don't have my note sheet, the things that stood out to me about him were charisma, patience, harmony with nature, willingness to engage with his former doubts about the beliefs of his people, and allowing his daughter to help with the ceremony when she emerged instead of shooing her away.  My favorite part of the day was asking him where I could purchase an indigenous flute (I play the metal kind).  He said that they weren't available in the markets, but he sold me one of his, a mucu, which is key in communicating with the corn for times of harvest.  I'm thrilled and it sounds beautiful.  A teacher in our program plays many indigenous instruments, and I hope he can teach me.

Mi mucu


We stayed the night in a gorgeous hotel and I finally got the rest I have been missing to go on to day two!

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