A "cultural experience"

Trip Start Apr 21, 2013
Trip End Jun 30, 2013

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Wednesday, June 5, 2013

There seemed to be some confusion this morning, as no one called me for breakfast until 8.30am and then I got told off for making them wait for me. Even though every other morning they have come to my room to tell me that breakfast was ready.  These things would probably be ironed out easily if I knew how to politely ask what the hell they expected from me but instead I will try to dance around their changing expectations and just smile lots.  If in doubt, just smile sweetly and look apologetic, that is my new strategy! Again I was to work with Miriam for the day, which I am happy about, because I like her and I am learning lots with her.  I can't help but wonder what on earth the parteras actually do each day though.  I had a good chat with Miriam about it today, and she said that there hasn't been a birth in the center for two months.  She said she didn't know why this was, but it was unfortunate that lots of women developed complications during their pregnancies and so it wasn't advisable for them to birth in the center.  She said that it was common for them to have 3 births per month but previously they would have a ward of 10 beds and they would all be full with women who had just birthed.  She said she had no idea why this had happened but I have heard on the grape vine that a couple of women died in childbirth and now the local women don't trust the parteras.  It all seems like such a shame.  If they need more training they should be able to get it, because at the moment they seem to have nothing to do.  Who knows how they make a living because they are only paid for the births.  They don't receive any funding from the government, or financial assistance from the local authorities.  This is what Miriam told me anyway, and she also suggested that the members of the community help the parteras out with meals, because they are well like.  They also used to have lots of volunteers working with them, and they would divide up the money that the volunteers paid between themselves.  Now they haven't had a volunteer for two years and they don't understand why they aren't coming anymore.  It seems difficult for them and I don't know what they are doing about it.  Firstly they need to sort out the birthing situation and then the volunteers, because there is little point volunteers coming to a place with no births.  They know that I would really like to see a birth though, and they say they are hopeful that I will be able to attend the birth of one of the parteras daughters.  We shall see.

The day went similarly to the previous days, with me working alongside Miriam.  I feel like my Spanish is improving or else I am just getting more used to the things that she says and the reasons for the women attending the clinic.  We saw the young girl again, who just found out she is pregnant, at the age of 15.  Miriam was quite matter of fact about everything that she needed to do and take, but I just wanted to give her a hug.  She was clearly depressed today but Miriam just told her that she had responsibilities now and that it would be ok.  No one came with her to the clinic and I wondered if she had managed to tell her family or her boyfriend yet.  I guess I am sheltered from this in my job, and by the time they see the midwife the news has sunk in a bit, and they have gotten used to the idea.  They also have more options in the places that I have worked in and they don't always seem so backed into a corner.  Throughout the day we saw numerous patients and I was relieved to hear that although they are indigenous and speak Kichwa, they can also speak Spanish.  Miriam only speaks Spanish, which was great for me, as I would have absolutely no idea what was going on otherwise.  Again, most of the girls who came into the clinic were aged between 15 and 25, and all had tiny frames.  I was surprised to see that lots of them already had a couple of kids, and at the age of 20 or so, they had decided that they needed some contraception.  It seems to be a relatively new option here, because many of the girls have 7-10 siblings and Miriam tells me that there are high incidences of complications here, because so many women were having so many children.  They all laugh when I saw that I am one child of 4, and chuckle that we like to have such small families.  I try to explain that actually in western countries having 4 children is seen as a larger family.

In the mid afternoon I was shuffled down the corridor and everyone who works in the hospital were celebrating the birthday of the pharmacist.  He had turned 24 and everyone was making a big deal about it.  I was quite shocked to see them open a crate of 12 big bottles of beer (twice the size of normal bottles that you would find in the UK/Canada) and a huge cake.  They were ready to celebrate!  They gave everyone a glass and basically walked around the circle continuously telling everyone to drink the beer and then they refilled the glass.  For me, it was madness, because we were drinking in the clinic and we were drinking at the speed that 15 year olds drink at.  Two hours later we were starting our third crate, and I had to be the party pooper and opt out because otherwise I would never make it to work the next day.  I also needed more than just a slice of cake to soak up some of the alcohol.  Everyone else though seemed to think it was perfectly normal and the party was only just beginning with lots of music and dancing.  There were only 6 women and the pharmacist, but they put away enough beer for a rugby team, and I was being told to drink more in three different languages.  I just couldn't do it though, it was too strange and I really didn't want to be hungover in three different languages the following day.  By all accounts it seemed like it was a normal Ecuadorian thing to do though.  I also wondered what would happen if a woman arrived in labour, as all of the midwives were at least somewhat drunk, but thankfully I didn't have to find out.  The whole time I was thinking that this was a genuinely surreal experience and one that I would not forget.  As they showed me videos of previous parties on their phones I realised that for them it was just a normal "office" party.
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Doreen and Dave on

Good to read your interesting volunteer experiences. You and they seem to be getting used to each other! Any thoughts on what you will do next? Enjoy all of your time there and keep well. You may have already been told but Karenza has had a boy they are calling Oliver. All well we think. xx

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