Saturday, August 13, 2011

A wonderful look back

We have found our successor for writing this blog! Read the link below for a beautiful, insightful, thoughtful reflection about our team's service trip to Ecuador last month. Alex is truly a gifted writer!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Best for Last???

Our drive Friday night to Otavalo was smooth, fog-free (thank goodness!), and completed in under two hours. The innkeeper here greeted our bus as we pulled into the driveway and personally took us to our large, comfortable rooms. This hotel, we are convinced, was a former monastery; not that we have any proof of that, but the Spanish architecture and layout of the gardens reminded us of such surroundings.

We arrived after ten o'clock, but one of our main focuses throughout the trip has been making sure all of us have plenty of bottled drinking water and with all of the traveling in the past two days, we didn't have much time to find a small market to replenish our supply. Once we put our suitcases into our rooms and met as a team to make a shopping plan in the market for Saturday morning, eight of us went in search of a late night market to buy water and snacks. We found one several blocks away, made our vital purchases (which of course included the sugar waffle cookies we are all addicted to on this trip!), and head back to the hotel for a comfortable night's sleep.

Morning showers allowed all of us to discover that the hot and cold faucets were reversed in this hotel, but once we found the hot water, it was tough to get out of the warm shower; Otavalo at 10,000 feet above sea level was quite cool in the morning and as far as I could find, the room had no actual heater so it was a bit chilly for a while.

We all met for breakfast together in the dining room at 8:30 and it was the same standard meal we'd enjoyed all week--fresh tropical fruit, eggs cooked to our preference, bread, and juice and/or coffee with milk. Once we had checked out and stored our luggage in the bus, we walked to the HUGE market set up in the town, spread out for blocks. Hundreds and hundreds of vendors sold clothing, jewelry, food, spices, paintings, sculptures, you name it. I am sure we walked by only a fraction of the market in the two and a half hours we wandered and shopped. After finishing most of our shopping, we met in a pie shop that other volunteers at the clinic had raved about; most of us ordered their trademark blackberry pie with ice cream, but A.J. ordered apple and Alex ordered chocolate. Needless to say, most of us had to exchange bites! (And we wonder why germs flew through the team!!! Between that and sharing water bottles! I guess Grow will have to prohibit future teams from being so close and generous! LOL!)

Several wanted to buy soccer shirts as souvenirs, so on the way back to the hotel we all stopped at that booth and bartered until everyone was satisfied with the price. However, once we turned to continue our walk back and had gone about a block, we realized Adam and Olivia were not with us! After we checked at the hotel to make sure they weren't already there, we made a plan orchestrated by Alex, fanned out over several streets, and found them quickly!

The bus made short work of the drive back to Quito; I think we arrived at our hotel for the night (the same as our first night) in under two hours. We dropped off luggage, ordered a taxi to take us to Old Quito, and enjoyed a wonderful couple of hours with a personable driver who acted as tour guide rather than just drop us off and leave us to our own devices. He even took us to a gorgeous restaurant that overlooked much of Quito; it was a stunning view of the city that we just couldn't get enough of as we ordered and ate our dinner and celebrated an incredible week together.

Our final team meeting reinforced for all of us just how much a highlight this trip to Ecuador has been in each of our lives and how close we grew as a team. While meetings are definitely NOT a highlight for any of us in our working lives, in some ways these team meetings are as inspirational as the actual work we do during the week; I guess any kind of reflection can provide that kind of emotional support. But a very early (three a.m.!) wake-up call was in most of our futures (except maybe for some of the guys who can leap out of bed 10 minutes before leaving on the bus at 4 a.m.), so we retired early (well, by Grow standards, since everyone was in their rooms packing by 10:30). The flights home were comfortable, and the day was a long one, but we fit in more card games of Hearts, more heart-to-heart discussions, and a few last jokes at each others' expense. A final team dinner in Phoenix at Fajitas with our family members was just one more great time to add to our memory boxes.

Needless to say, we can't wait for the opportunity to contribute in some way again next summer!


And our adventures continue. Grow always builds in a day or two of R&R at the end of the week to help bridge the transition between the service we do and the cultural changes we experience and the fast pace of our normal routines. This week Dr. Zambrano, the leader of the project we worked with, built two full days into the schedule for us. For him, it made figuring out the logistics of transportation for two large teams easier. For us, it meant seeing more of one country than we've seen on any trip in the past-a fantastic benefit!

Friday morning we woke up to beautifully lush tropical surroundings-and the news that Thursday night had been Bob's turn with the bug plaguing our team this week and that Adam was not feeling 100% either. Bob needed the day to rest but Adam was determined to ignore it and hopefully feel better. So we began our day of nonstop adrenaline rushes.

A large taxi and tour guide came and gave us several choices on what we could do with our day in Mindo, a town in a cloud forest. We settled on going to a butterfly sanctuary first and loved it. Then the 10 of us all went ziplining, a first for many of us! It was exhilarating and utterly stunning views! The guides even taught us tricks like the superman and the butterfly across the lines! Pictures will be coming soon!

Next 8 of us-everyone but me and Olivia-decided to go rappelling down a waterfall! All of us hiked to a cable bridge and then the rest of them had a ridiculously difficult cling up to a waterfall while Olivia and I sat for an hour or so at the riverside and solved world problems (sadly, we couldn't see the waterfall from where we were at so we have no pictures). Definitely a scarier experience but some of them loved it while other said they were glad they did it but probably wouldn't do it again. All of these activities in about 5 hours of time. We know how to live!

The team was wet and sweaty after that and we needed to check out of our little paradise even though the kind innkeeper had extended our time to 3:30. So we drove back to the inn so people could shower and change, stored our luggage, then walked a half mile to the delicious cafe we had eaten in the night before. It was equally delightful the second time around! And while we were there, the innkeeper called the cafe to see if we were there (we had forgotten to tell her where we were going but there aren't too many places to eat in Mindo!) to tell us our taxi was coming in 20 minutes to get us to take us to the top of the hills to meet our bus. Dr. Z had arranged for the bus that was taking the doctors and dentists back to Quito to pick us up along the way. So our taxi took us up to the highway to meet the bus and we waited about 45 minutes along the side of the road at a bus stop for the big bus to pick us up. It arrived around 6 pm and we drove the next two hours in the dark and the fog along the windy roads until we reached the beautiful city of Quito. We dropped the medical team off at various points in the city, made a longer pit stop at Charity Anywhere's offices, and then began our two hour drive to the even higher city of Otavalo...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A crazy few days!

The past three days have been ACTION-PACKED. We have traveled from the coastline to the cloud forest to the Andes Highlands and back to the capital city of Quito in those three days, experiencing four very different environments. And we packed those days as full as possible! And we are tired but exhilarated!

Thursday morning saw us finishing our work in Esmeraldas-working in the clinic, painting, helping with dental education, and connecting with many local people. We played a terrific game of soccer with many of the people we've been privileged to work with, and Juana, our homeowner, and other family members fixed a delicious lunch for us all. Afterwards there was dancing and many thanks all around. It's always tough to say good-bye to new friends.

After we checked out of the hotel, we began the long, slow drive to Mindo. A two lane road and many trucks and buses and winding mountain roads turned a 2 and a half hour drive into a 4 and a half hour drive. So it was dark and foggy when we arrived at our home for the night. We quickly checked in, drove to a nearby cafe for dinner, and then called it a night. Everybody was tired from a packed day.

I don't mean to tease you with this glimpse, but as I type this, we face our drive to the airport in a little over 5 hours. So I am going to say good-night and continue this message at the airport sometime tomorrow. Buenos noches!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wednesday-the ugly, the bad, and the good!

A bit of a change In our normal routine today...mid-trip illness has made its nasty appearance. :((. As we all gathered for our usual delicious breakfast, A.J.arrived and told us Alex wasn't going with us; he was feeling pretty sick, but he would try to taxi out to Esmeraldas at noon. I went up to see if I could bring him anything-he had already started the precautionary antibiotics the night before-and it was clear he was pretty well out for the day. After I went to my room to get him some ibuprofen for the fever he had, A.J.came in with 2 of the doctors who heard he was sick and wanted to check on him. I guess the lesson here is always plan your service trips in tandem with a medical trip because when we all returned to the hotel this afternoon and went to check on Alex, he said his room had been visited all day-dentists who came back to the hotel at lunch stopped by his room to check on him and a couple doctors who got back to the hotel about an hour before us stopped in as well. It was pretty clear as the day went on that he's got a nasty flu bug, but with the round-the-clock medical house calls, we're hoping he's well enough to go with us tomorrow!

Meanwhile, Alexandria was also a bit under the weather but much more mild, fortunately! She was able to hang with us all day despite some stomach distress. Olivia, however, has had her turn with the medical team tonight. :((. She missed dinner and our team meeting after a rough afternoon, so we're hoping she's back to her smiley self again tomorrow morning too.

Fortunately, the day had many upsides! About half our team worked in the clinic all day with the dentists, doctors, and pharmacists. Bob and Todd wired our new house for electricity so Juana and her children could have lights and a refrigerator! Annie and I volunteered to go with 2 of the dentists to an elementary school to help teach oral hygiene and help give them all fluoride treatments-possibly the most fun we've had all week! While we were gone, Adam and Becca started painting the outside of the clinic, and I helped them with that when Annie and I returned while she went to help A.J.and Olivia sterilize the never-ending pile of dental instruments. So lots and lots of random things going on today!

Tomorrow we are working in the morning and afterwards we are playing soccer with members of the neighborhood. Then we are being treated to a thank you fiesta by our homeowner Juana and her extended family. Hospitality is a tremendous matter of pride and kindness here, so we know that will be a special event.

After we clean up, we are checking out of our lovely hotel here and Dr. Zambrano and his wife are driving us to Mindo, a lovely little town in a cloud forest between here and Quito to allow us to see this wonderful place and hopefully do some hiking. I have no idea what Internet will be available; if you don't hear from us for a couple days you'll know why. :). Send us good thoughts that all of us are healthy and ready to enjoy the sights of Ecuador the next couple of days!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Working hard in Esmeraldas!

Tuesday, we were all over the place! The organization we are working with is giving us so many opportunities. First, breakfast is always delicious-lots of fresh fruit, freshly squeezed tropical juices, eggs, and rolls with jelly. Then today, the big bus was here to drive us the 25 minutes to Esmeraldas since it arrived yesterday with the medical team- so no more cramming 13 bodies into a minivan and pickup truck as we've done for the past two days--including the loooooong drive from Quito to here. On the way to the job site, Kathryn entertained us with tales that exemplify her passion for all things Red Wings. I'm quite sure the medical team didn't know what to make of this rowdy group in the back of the bus!

Once we arrived at the house site, Kathryn went to work in the clinic while the rest of us went to begin building a house and made a wonderful discover: all 9 two feet deep holes for the beams that would hold up the house were dug by the men helping us yesterday!!! This is no small accomplishment since we had worked for at least an hour and a half at the end of the day with a chisel and hammer and an empty coconut shell to empty the dirt once the chisel did it's work-and got 2 holes dug! Needless to say, helpful big tools were scarce! But the men had some tall tool that they could use to knock the dirt right out, so they finished all the holes after we left.

The morning was filled with leveling the floor posts about 3 feet off the ground, adding some beams, and then hammering the floor boards into place. Before we went to lunch, we had the prefab walls in place and by the time we got back, the 3 neighbors had the roof started. Bob and Adam decided to build a staircase out of scrap wood to help the family get into their home, so after they did the math, the two of them and Becca and I all did an awful lot of sawing. All by hand-not a power tool in sight!

Meanwhile in the afternoon, Annie, Alexandria, A.J., and Alex all went to help at the clinic. Good thing ,too, because the dentist's office alone saw 150 patients-the doctor's office even more! Our Facebook page has a picture of them all in their scrubs! Kathryn helped fill prescriptions, a job that terrified her at first, but by lunch she was a pro, even though everything was in Spanish! Alex was an oral surgeon's assistant-really and truly! He held spit cups, rinsing tools, whatever she needed him to do while she filled cavities and pulled teeth! Pretty high level jobs they would never have been able to experience back home!

It was a long work day-we didn't get back to the hotel until nearly 6:30!! It had drizzled on and off all afternoon, but we easily finished the house (thanks to our neighborhood friends!) and gave a lot of help at the clinic!

We talked a lot about the sense of community and looking out for each other that we've observed here. I think that's one of the powerful reminders of what we could have if we slowed down our lives some that motivates me and Todd to plan these trips each year. We always see vividly how much more people matter than anything else we might want. Why else would family members and neighbors help to build a house that has plenty of volunteers to do it? Why else would doctors and dentists give up multiple weeks of vacation to provide free dental and medical care to the poor throughout the summer? I'm always humbled by how people in every nation show their love for each other.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Our 4th of July

We had a fantastic day today! Descriptions ranging from teamwork to productive to perfection were all words used by team members tonight to sum up the day. First, the weather was wonderful for working outside. Overcast nearly all day with a tiny sprinkle a couple of times and welcome ocean breezes at just the right time. We still sweat buckets, but the temperatures were balmy. Pray for that kind of weather every day! Next, we began our workday at the refinery to load trucks with medical supplies, dental chairs, and all kinds of equipment they were storing for the team of 30 doctors and dentists arriving today. We followed that with trips to a couple of stores to order the supplies for the house we're building. That driving around took a while, so then it was time for lunch.

After lunch was the best time of all. In less than 2 hours, our team, with the outstanding help of two neighbors, demolished the old, termite-ridden house standing on the site the new house will occupy. We enjoyed this crazy adventure very much despite close encounters with dangerous moments-like Annie's scratch from a nail (don't worry, Mom, she's completely fine, the handy-dandy antiseptic wipes, antibiotic cream, and bandaid were probably all overkill as far as she was concerned but I need to justify my huge first aid kit once in a while!)-- or the hammer that flew out of A.J.'s hands right into Alex's chest ( he's fine too once although a bruise may show up)--or the perfectly executed roll Adam did off the house's platform backwards to avoid falling badly as he pulled a section of the wall off to dispose of it. See, completely safe work we do! Once we racked and threw away the debris under the old house platform-and marveled at the size of the bugs we saw!-we began digging holes for the posts for the new house. Tomorrow we will finish that and begin building the house. Kathryn and Alexandria will put in some time in the clinic with the medical teams.

We returned to our hotel, had some beach time or pool time, showers, dinner, then had a meeting with the entire group of volunteers so we could all meet each other. We followed that with our regular daily team meeting, then walked to the store to buy more water and snacks. Finally we ended the evening with a rowdy card game of "31" with a couple of the doctors we've gotten to know. Thanks to Dr. Albeirto's suggestion, the loser of each hand had to sing and dance! The Hokey Pokey, Teapot Song, and YMCA were all featured tonight.

All in all, a pretty fabulous way to celebrate the 4th of July!