Monday, May 2, 2016

Now, I"ll try to get these photos posted.

This shows two things.   Hundreds of mattresses were delivered to the NGO, PLAN, in Quito and this is a line of college students who were transferring the mattresses from the warehouse to the waiting trucks which would then deliver them to the earthquake region.   The piles of white bags were filled with non perishable food which would also be delivered to the coast.

Above are several pictures I took of another food collection effort that was being held in the old airport terminal building.  This one seemed to be run by the city or national government since a lot of the workers were municipal employees and the trucks we were filling were dump trucks with the Quito city symbol on the doors.  Lots of citizens volunteers were working but there were lots of police and other govt. employees leading the effort. 

These two photos are sort of out of order.  I took them at a market not too far from the Peace Corps office.  I am just amazed at how beautiful the fruits and vegetables are.  

This is a whole aisle at the market for potatoes..   They grow a lot of potatoes north of Quito in the Ambatu province.   We are in the mountains, after all.

These show some of the murals they paint on their walls along the streets.  Really pretty stuff and it cuts down on the graffitti.

These are two shots of the Plaza del Toros.  Can you imagine...up until three years ago, bull fighting was legal here.  President Correa outlawed, thank god.  Now they use the venue for concerts.

This is a funny story.  I have seen this structure several times when I was downtown in the commercial center.  The Hilton is a block away, the Sheraton nearby.  I thought how wonderful that they preserved this ancient Incan structure right in the middle of this commercial center  Well, I learned last week that the building is called "The Caracol" which means the snail in Spanish and the building is a circular retail space with a spiral ramp up through it with little storefronts all along the ramp...nothing Incan ( or honorable) about it. 
Not Incan

Pretty dog patrolling the shopping center.  The top of his right ear is off...don't know the story. 

This is a water filter that is made by the Nikken of those pyramid companies that sells magnet mattresses etc. , lots of things based on magnet power.      But, they tell me these magnet filters work.  Interesting. 

 This is a link to an article I found on Huff Post.  There is also a good collection of photos at the end of the article.

We are all still in the Hostel in Quito and each of us is doing different things to stay busy.  Some have gone home for a few days but most of us are putting in  few hours a day at non-profits that are putting together packages of food and clothes to send to the coast.

A few of us have been told where they will be assigned.  No one knows when they are leaving for their new sites and most of us still don't know where we are going.

I have some photos below that will show a few of the places I have volunteered.  I went to a preschool yesterday morning just for fun.  It was hard work.

Since I started this blog entry, I have started working with another volunteer in her school located in the north part of Quito.  She teaches English to 10th graders...the classes are large and its the afternoon schedule..from 1 pm to 6 pm, so everyone is tired, but she does a good job and I am very happy to be able to spend this time productively.

I have posted a few more pictures of the relief effort but there is really no way to see it short of being there.  I do try to read a newspaper most days and recently I have learned about a lab that died of dehydration/heart failure after locating 7 people who were rescued alive.  Its hard for me to believe that she was being well cared for by her handlers if she got so dehydrated.  But, I guess I should not second guess people who are working under those circumstances.

The other good news is that a man was rescued two full weeks after the quake.  About 200 people have been rescued , over  600 have died and about 20,000 are homeless, living in camps and shelters.  Its also their rainy season on the coast so that makes a bad situation even worse.  Ecuador was struggling economically before this happened due to the low price of oil which Ecuador had based a lot of its spending on.  It was now relying on tourism to help the economy and now this quake has horribly affected that industry...the coast that has been so devastated was the center of the beach tourism industry.  The Galapagos were not affected and the jungle was not harmed.

 The quake was 7.8 and lasted almost a minute ( usually they last 10 seconds) and had its epicenter on the coast, about 200 miles from Quito.  Quito is high in the Andes, about 5000 meters high and far from the coast but the tremor was felt strongly here.  Today the other volunteer with whom I am working right now, told me that one of their computer labs in the school is not operational because it is on the third floor of the building and one of the walls was cracked during the quake and some cables that were running through it was cut.  Just something I would never thought of.

Because of some technology issues which I don't understand and cannot surmount, I am going to put all the photos on a separte blog post which will follow immediately.

Friday, April 22, 2016

THis is just a random sign on the door of a taxi here in Quito.    Notice how they depict the pregnant woman.....with a little baby in her abdomen....cute.

We are all safe in Quito in a hostel near the office.  Daily meetings and lots of  busy work, preparing goods to be delivered to the folks on the coast.  There is a group of three previous Ecuador PC vols. who are driving back and forth to our communities with things we put together for them here.  We current vols. are not permitted to do that, but the previous ones are free to do whatever they want.  They are escorted by police or military forces and are bringing people( damnificados - Spanish for victims)  back this way if they have family to stay with in the Quito area.

  I also worked at the Lions Club one evening helping them assemble materials to take to the coast. Their organization was very efficient and it was great to see a bunch of people who could have passed for Lions Club members from any city.

You can go to the " Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Ecuador Earthquake Relief"  facebook page to see how to make  Paypal contributions to the Returned Peace Corps volunteer group. They are posting video updates and photos.   They are in touch with people in the communities who they actually know from when they were active volunteers and are taking things that the people actually need.  They are assessing which communities are not getting support from other donors and focusing on them.  So, I think your monetary contributions will be well spent..nothing skimmed off for administration..only to pay for the gas for their vehicles and probably a little food for the workers...but, I guarantee there is not much out there to buy, even if you have the money.

Here are a few photos of my experience.  They are not too graphic.   I was evacuated before they started looking for people under the rubble, thank god !!!  These are just some buildings we saw as we drove into Portoviejo to pick up some people.

There have been aftershocks in the past few days and more buildings are collapsing, daily.  There is an article in the paper today that there was a 6.3 temblor last evening here in Quito.  I did not feel it.  I was sitting on my bed, blogging, I guess.
This is Claudia and Barbie.  Claudia is 11, daughter of the folks who took us in for two days after the quake.  She is a very sweet girl, a dancer, singer, plays guitar and violin....or at least has an interest in learning.

This was a little activity that kept us busy for about an hour.  We were shelling beans, habichuelas....string beans...but they let them mature and then shell them...they look like lima beans and were delicious.  The little dark skinned girls is the daughter of a young woman from Cuba who you'll see in a later photo.  The little boy is Andres, little brother of Claudia and very sweet too.....but, very active.

This is Claudia and her mother, Maria Fernandez.   MF is a medico..not sure if she is a doctor or a paramedic or some other type of medical person but she was not called in as an emergency medic..but very generous with her home.

This is the grandmother of Claudia who seems to live there and do all the cooking.  We had no lights, so I whipped out my headlamp and she loved it.  All the light in the photo comes from the flash on the was really pitch dark except right in front of her face.  I wanted to give it to her but I am still not sure where I'll be next and I might need it.   Andres wore it around after dinner for a couple hours.

This is a morning scene...the two women sitting on the couch are visiting in Ecuador from Cuba...they are visiting professors of music.  They had come to Maria Fernandez's home for dinner on Saturday and the quake hit around 6:45 so they were stuck there.  They were very happy to be there as their apts. were in center of Portoviejo and are likely damaged or destroyed and of course, along with the apts., all their personal things.     Maria Fernandez, the mom is on the mattress and  has her arm over her kids.

A sleeping scene. Thre were three women on the back mattress.  I spent two nights in a chair, but it was a lounge chair and actually pretty comfortable.  During the first night, we ran outside twice when we were awakened by replicas, aftershocks.  They brought the TV down on Tuesday when we got electricity.

Claudia and Andres....waking up. One of the Cuban women in the background doing her daughter's hair for the day. 

This is the corner across from my host family's house in Portoviejo.  This was the result of an did not fall during the original quake.  It was likely damaged and then the aftershock finished it off. While I was packing my stuff, a truck went by and touched the wires ( which I had been told were not dangerous since there was no electricity) and set off a bunch of sparks and noise.  People from the nearby houses were sitting in the streets, saw the truck and the sparks, and ran after the truck shouting and throwing rocks.  Thanks god, the truck kept going and did not stop to argue...I fear something

horrible might have ensued. 
This is my host mother outside her door with the electric cables draped across the house.  Sad sight.  She did get electricity and water back a couple days later but I feel sure she is still staying out with her niece, Maria Fernandez.  I was on the second floor of the house when the original earthquake hit and somehow made it down the stairs and outside through that door.  We then sat on plastic chairs in the doorway for a couple hours in the dark.  I did have my headlamp for some light which was helpful.  

I took this in front of the hotel we stayed in the first night after we were evacuated from Portoviejo.  The dog team is from Spain.  It was there on Monday, the quake happened Saturday night.  Fast
A "bombero" from Peru...firefighter/rescue
Just a view in front of our hotel.  Lots of press stayed here along with a lot of the rescue teams and the vice president of the country.  Its a 5 star hotel...very nice.  We had some damage but they assured us the place was telling what would have happened  if another "replica" had hit. 
These are two nurses who were with the dog team from Spain. We had a nice chat...
Another view of the staging of the rescue teams on Tuesday morning.
Another staging photo
Loading the dogs and gear to go to the sites.
Just a shot of one of the Spanish team's crates.
Self explanatory........

Two other evacuated volunteers and I helped the Lions make little bags of toiletries to take to the coast...they were getting one roll of toilet paper, a toothbrush, a cup, a bar of soap and toothpaste.  Think how good it would feel to brush your teeth .......    

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

When we were in the hotel in Manta, Manabi, awaiting our transportation to Guayaquil, I talked to a lot of people.   I talked to some medics who were there from Cuenca, another town about 8 hours away by land but they must have flown in.  The highways are ripped up and there are no buses as far as I know, at this time.

Anyway, they told me that there is a parking lot down the beach a way, where the bodies are lying awaiting families to claim them.  She said there were a lot of "extranjeros" without documentation...could not be identified.  They said the smell and insects were horrible there. 

Manta is a very successful beach town so there were lots of people in the hotels.

There are lots of rescue teams from other South American countries.  I see and hear about them on the news. 

We are all at breakfast, preparing to leave here to Quito and learned there was another 6.0 temblor/earthquake in a town not far from Pedernales which was the epicenter of the last one.  So sad....more chaos and sadness.  The TV is full of pictures as they get farther and farther into the suburbs and find little towns leveled.    The death toll is not 525 according to the TV. 

Damnificado....spanish for victim...interesting....

As I sit and watch TV, I see some rescues...they make it better....poor rescuers...what sad sad work that must be.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Scroll down to the last picture and the blog about the earthquake starts there.
Well, we have all left the comforts of Nayon, our training town ( which we did not appreciate until now) and arrived in our sites where we will toil away for the next two years.  Many of us came to the "coastal" region,  fewer stayed in the Sierra ( Andean) region and two of us went to the Orient ( the east) which is really the Amazonian region.....its eastern Ecuador.  I want to take a guided tour there before too long...guided for sure.  According to what I have is still pretty undeveloped.  There are a few roads and of course Mobil and Exxon have made their indelible marks                           ( desafortunadamente)  that means unfortunately in Spanish.  Try practicing that in syllables---there are 8 of them.

Three of us traveled together from Quito to Portoviejo.  It was a longer trip than usual because the bus had to take roads that were not closed....there have been heavy rains in our region and some of the main roads ( there are not that many roads to start with) had been closed due to landslides .   But, a complication for us was an accident that appeared to involve at least two trucks and a couple cars.  Some ambulances came thru but I don't know who was transported.   We started to worry when tow trucks kept coming.  We were sitting in a bus, which thankfully had A/c but still......11 hours...ack !!  We got here about 10:45 pm  ( had left at 11 am)  and the next day we had to attend some teacher trainings ( just to sit there...we did not have to do anything other than stay awake and look interested).

 The teachers here have not been paid for at least a month.....Ecuador has fallen on some difficult economic times...its economy was supported by the petroleum it exported which is now at a very low price.  They are trying to make up for the lack of income by raising a lot of other taxes and that is making it hard on a lot of people.  A can of L'Oreal hairspray was offered to me at  $29.00...I declined, to say the least.

But the seminars were for English teachers so they were presented in English which is nice.  I"ll be speaking English all day which will be a lot easier than what I was trying to do in Nicaragua.  But, I do want to keep working my Spanish..I"ll just have to work harder at it.

One of  the presenters has Serbian heritage and had spent 4 monts there before she came into the Peace Corps.  I told her about my Bulgarian experience so we exchanged a few phrases.  The Serbs use the Cyrillic alphabet like the Bulgarians- i just love peace corps at times like this.

The teachers are great..just like ours in the US...some very outspoken and fearless and others did not say a word.  But,very collegial, all.  They have between 40 and 50 students in their classes...not easy.

Now, I am trying to find a gym with a rowing should hear me asking people about that.  Remar...that's the Spanish word for row...Macina de remar.....thats what I"ve been saying.  Getting lots of smiles.  This afternoon I ordered a small order of papas fritas y "coke zero."  The kid behind the counter got the cutest look on his face when I was talking...but the cashier defended me....bastante, she said.. That means....enough, enough in, " you speak well enough."  

I have texted with my counterpart and he and I are going to get started with some stuff at the University next week.  Not sure what that will be but......gotta stay loose.  School ,  they call high school, "colegio" here,   for the students does not start until May 4.  I'll go in to at least meet the teachers and become familiar with the school but they don't have their schedules yet so we can't really figure out my schedule until they have theirs.  Also, I am supposed to work with at least 3 teachers and they have to be willing to work with me will take some time to figure out who wants to put in the extra time it takes to have a new person with you.   I can add a lot but I know its easier to just do stuff yourself.

One thing that keeps these teachers on their toes and also pretty nervous, is that they all have to take an English test and get a certain score to keep their jobs.  In the past, it has been the TOEFL which is the test high school kids have to take in order to come to a US university ...their English has to be good enough to take their classes in its a high bar.  Most, waaaay most, of the Ecuadoran English teachers did not pass it when it was given a few years ago, so now they are under the gun.   Some rumors are that they will be suspended with out pay until they can pass the test.  So, one of the things I'll be doing is teaching test taking strategies and giving them lots of practice tests...timed like the real one.

Peace  Corps' goals for us are three fold...improve the students' English, improve the teacher's english and teaching strategies and thirdly, develop activities for the "community" of English teachers and students.  That is pretty broad, and I have to do a survey to see what they want, but I can develop the survey so I am going to list the things I want to do and have them rank order them.  Of course, ...blah, blah, blah,  ....I'll leave some space for them to add their iideas but.......

I have to work on those goals at least 25 hours a week so i'll have plenty of time to look around this country too.  I want to save some vacation time to go back to Nicaragua to some of the sweet people.

 I am hoping some family will come down to go to the Galapagos Islands and I want to at least visit some of the other famous places.  I really really want those grandgirls to come visit me, and sweet Liza has shown some interest, so we'll see. Katy has shown some interest in Peace Corps so I am  hoping I can get her here in May, 2017 at our Mid Service meeting so she can meet some of the young people in my group and hear their stories after they have been here a full year.

  I am just an hour from Manta which is on the Pacific and supposedly a great beach town, and other less developed beach towns with good snorkeling are near by.   I' ve been told tons of whales swim by here in July and put on quite a show so i want someone to come here to watch that with me. My niece Hanna has shown an interest in marie biology so I hope she comes for a visit.  Anyhow... I am planning to have a little place with an extra bedroom , or two, after 4 months in my current location ( photos below) so I'll have room for long as they are not too picky.   I also know that there are a lot of really inexpensive hostals around soooo......we should be able to accommodate almost everyone !!!!.

 Here are a few photos.....
This is my host family in Nayon, with Natasha.  She lived upstairs with another host family and my family was intrigued by her ethnicity....they could not get over the fact that she could speak English so well...they called her the Hindi...which she is but..she is also from San Francisco.  Funny.   I had invited her down to learn to make those little brown things on the table.  Garapinadas..sugar coated peanuts...yummm.  They have another thing that looks like this which they call, caca de perros, dog poop, but it is sugar coated toasted corn..also good I've been told tho I have not tried it.

We had our swearing in ceremony on April 12th.  It was held in the driveway of the Ambassador's residence.  He is not living has been determined to be non earthquake proof so he is living somewhere else.  He showed up in that hat and kept it on the whole time.  I think its about a half size too small.  He is sort of a nerd but seemingly a very nice nerd.  He gave a very nice speech.

These two pictures are just some of the young people who went thru training with me.  in the lower picture:  the girl in the black is from New Mexico in the middle is from NY city and Madison has been livingin Hawaii for many years.

Thisi s the "chiva."  Its literally a party bus.  Our group, sin yo, went out on it the night of swearing in.  They had done it once before for some birthdays and its great fun.  Wonder if it would fly in the US.....or would it be considered  too dangerous.  The back is just a railing, there are benches for seats along the sides, there are "poles" in the middle...everyone brings their own booze...a booze cruise...updated !!!!

Natasha again with Rachael...from Atlanta, the day of the swearing in.

THis is Robert, a volunteer,from South Bend, who presented.   He got himself assigned to a community onn the beach and he could not be happier...hes a surfer.

This is my room, bed with mosquito net, clothes hanging in the window because there is no screen or curtain on this window.   On the other window, there is a screen but at night, the street light is positioned just exactly so that it lights up my face when I lie in bed so I've hung a blouse to stop the light.  The other is the view from my taxpayers don't have to worry that my life is too soft right now....I'm suffering plenty !!!!

Zack, the volunteer who put the conference together...working with  the Ministry of Ed., of course.  Can't remember where he is from either but another good guy. And so dedicated...its great to see.

This is Tamara,  the gal who speaks some Serbian.  She is doing Peace Corps mid going back to finish here graduate degree in she can be a Physcial Therapist.  I told her my story about how much I appreciate a good PT now that I have had my hip experience.

This is Allison, another presenter - she is from San Diego but had been working three years in development...we chatted about poor ole Freddy Gray...she wants to return to Baltimore and continue working ...she loves it.

Margaret, a great gal, in my class.  She is assigned not too far away.  She was working in Wisconsin when she joined...Her family is from Mexico so her Spanish is perfect.

A view at  the swearing in ceremony.  Marvin in front and Brooke right behind him are in Porto viejo

THis is the moment the earthquake hit.  I was sitting on my bed, writing this blog post, under the mosquito net, it was dark outside the net, the only light coming from my laptop.   All of a sudden, my mosquito net started swinging wildly from side to side.  I thought someone was playing with it, I could not see beyong the edge of my bed, then my bed started bouncing  and I  still thought some was playing with me, then my laptop bounced about a foot into the air, I looked over at some clothes I had hanging in the window ( my curtains) and saw them swinging wildly, all the street lights went out, ti was dark, dark dark and then I knew ....this was something serious.  I got out from under the net and apparently instinctively felt I had to get downstairs and outside.  I somehow ( and truly don't know how I did it under the conditions) went down two flights of stairs barefoot,  bracing myself on walls that were swaying , got to the door to get outside and my host mother had other ideas,,,,she wanted to stay inside, said the electric poles would fall on us, and she pulled my hand away from the door.  I recall giving her a good shove and getting out into the middle of our dirt road...The houses around us were no more than two levels os that is where we my humble opinion.  Anyway, the major shaking stopped, we stood in the doorway watching to see what would happen next, finally pulled up our plastic chairs and sat there for a while.   We finally went inside and figured out how to sleep downstairs so we could run out if tremors started again.  Her neice called came to get us and we went out to the campo ( country) to stay with them...we ended up out there for a couple days.

I have some terrific pictures but can't find the cable I need to connect my phone to my computer.  I had to pack in 20 minutes after Peace Corps told us to evacuate and when my ride out of there came for me.  I left a lot of stuff behind but Peace Corps will get it for me in a week or so.  I must have left the cable there.....I know I had it out in the campo so it might be there too.  Will get another asap. 

I'll try to get to a mall tomorrow and get a cable...the pictures are great..some of the rescue dogs and teams, some nurses and medic, some great photos.

We were in XXXXXX, Manabi last night, tonight we are in XXXXXX, Guays and tomorrow morning we fly to Quito where we'll be staying for at least another week.  The bottom line is taht it is not safe for us to return to our sites in the province of Manabi so they are looking for other sites for us.  Not sure how that is going to go but we have to wait and see.

We just learned tonight that the training center in Nayon, where we were for 2.5 months , suffered some damage in the quake and we can't use it until the architects check it out.  .  The fear is that  altho the damage is minor at this point, if a "replica" hits, it will collapse.  

The hotel we stayed in last night was the hotel used by the navy, police, rescuers from other countries, people from Spain, Mexico, Peru...all we felt we were as safe as posible altho the hotel had sustained damage in the quake.  Manta suffered a lot of damage but most of it was to the older structures.  The newer hotels and buildings seemed to suffer cracks and loss of windows but did not collapse.  Our hotel tonight seems to be in perfect shape althought this city did suffer some damage...a major bridge collapsed.

The really sad part is the families we left behind.  I have one picture of my host mother, standing in her door way with an electrical cable draped over the roof of her house.  While she and I were there, right after the first tremor , the poles and the cables were fine  ( no electricity, but they had not fallen down).  When she and I returned to her house , to pack my things to evacuate,  we found a pole on her corner had fallen and had taken the cables with it...they were draped across the houses and lying in the streets, apparently from an aftershock, a replica.    She assured me they were not dangerous because there was no electricity.

I went upstairs to pack and a truck came by, apparently unaware of the wires that were down, and somehow touched some of them and electric sparks flew everywhere.  Neighbors who were sitting outside of their houses, saw and heard the sparks,, ran to the truck and as it pulled away, chased it, shouting and throwing large rocks they found in the street.  It occured to me that I was witnessing the "civil unrest" that Peace Corps had warned us about in emergency situations.  I packed as fast as I could and got downstairs and out as fast as I could.

For now, I am safe and I have talked with the folks in Portoviejo..they have electricity and water in the pipes ( tho it is not potable) so they are not miserable.  They still have a lot of falled buildings around them, many dead who have not been recovered, lots and lots to do.  We will not likely be going back anytime soon.

I'll post pictures tomorrow......

I am exhausted and have the flight tomorrow..its short...and then checking into another hotel.  Not all bad...especially considering what the Ecuadoria folks are facing.  More tomorrow.

Love and thanks for paying your taxes,
Love, me