After a nice breakfast at the hotel, we headed to Jambi Mascaric in Cotacachi and met an organization of indigenous parteras. Carmita, our guide for the morning spent the first half of our time together explaining her role as a partera, what certain medicinal plants were used for, and her personal experiences. She explained that she had cured her own anemia and nervios (a culturally connotated illness somewhat similar to anxiety) with medicinal plants. She had even seen a psychologist about her nervios, as it lasted several years. However, the plants were what worked for her. She told her psychologist that they had worked for her and he wanted to know what they were, but she refused to tell him, deciding it was an ancestral secret. I think she must also have not had the best rapport with the psychologist, as she told us the name of the plant. This made me think about keeping culture a secret in order to preserve it (because heaven knows that the West has appropriated much traditional knowledge, corrupting it, gaining profit from it, and/or not giving credit to the source) versus sharing culture in order to preserve it. Many indigenous organizations dedicated to preserving culture and historical memory will share with whoever is willing to listen because they are afraid of having their knowledge forgotten. I wonder what the solution is, especially for groups that are not like the Kichwa in Ecuador, strong, large, with diminishing but sufficient youth interest in the culture, but rather are dying out.
Carmita also explained why she had become a partera. She said that when she got married she had no idea how pregnancy happened, nor did she have any knowledge about childbirth. She thought that the baby would just come out when it was ready. She was not assisted in her first labor. She experienced complications and the labor lasted two days until a family member was able to get her a partera that finally helped the baby come out. It had died in the process. She decided, then and there, that she had to gain knowledge, she had to know how to do this on her own and had to help her community. She studied under the partera that had attended her birth and is now the leader of the group. They are helping to integrate indigenous birthing practices into the medical system, to educate their community members, and to make sure women receive prenatal care and help with birth. They still face challenges, such as the fact that their work has not been officially recognized or paid and actually had to be done in secret to avoid liability as there is not exactly certification. However, Correa's government now recognizes parteras as legitimate care providers. They are still working on official pay, which I think means being a part of the insurance system.
For the second half of our morning together, Carmita and several other parteras demonstrated what prenatal care, traditional home birth, and postnatal care look like in a skit.
Prenatal care- checking the position of the baby
Keeping the mother in labor warm is a large part of the home birth. The whole household is usually involved in the birth. The woman hangs onto her husband as she finishes labor on her knees. Her mother or another household member may bring her food, herbs, water, whatever the partera determines is necessary or she desires.
Cutting the umbilical cord with a string.
Initial blessing of the baby. Who is always temporarily named Maria or Jose. Because Catholicism.
After visiting the parteras, we headed to lunch in Cotacachi, where we also got to spend some time checking out the leather work they are famous for. I, personally, spent nearly all my money in Otavalo, but it was still fun to look around. I also had become obsessed with finding a necklace that the indigenous women wear (many, many strings of small gold beads). Their necklaces, it turns out, run somewhere around $50, but there are replicas you can buy of lower quality that they also sometimes wear. Other girls really liked the traditional shoes, so we found a store outside of the market for ingenious women, not tourists. I liked the people that ran the store (they were selling blouses for $10, rather than the "you're gringa so $35) so I decided to buy my necklace from them. I am wearing it in the picture below, which is from a trip to a salsa place on Wednesday.
After that, we just had one more hospital to go before we headed back to Quito. This one was the Hospital Básico de Atuntaqui and I am kind of in love with the place. The first thing we saw as we walked in was a group of elderly people dancing- the diabetes/hypertension management group. Atuntaqui serves 17,120 people and they have primary care services, significant community involvement, as well as basic surgery, two psychologists, physical therapy, a nutritionist, a basic lab, an emergency room- tons of stuff, just on a very small scale. They have a relationship with parteras, but the emphasis on traditional birth is a lot less prevalent here. A couple of girls in my program are going to work with the adolescent group on sexual health and education, as well as other relevant issues. It looks like they are going to have a good time!