It is with mixed feelings I approach the last few days of my time in Ecuador … as well as the end of a three week volunteering odyssey in Calderon.
I left the comforts of home and stepped into the unknown yet again on May 20, not always clear where my journey in Ecuador would take me. I made a conscious decision three years ago when I embarked on my first Global Volunteer post, that I would ‘wing things’ more in life … plot, plan and even research less, linger longer, embrace surprises, allow a new country to reveal itself at a more leisurely pace …. at times this philosophy has landed me in hot water and I have had to tread quickly to beat the heat …. fortunately, not too often 🙂 In fact, for the most part, the only portions of my travels I prebook anymore, are the Global Volunteer postings!
My explorations took me from the stunning surreal landscape and wildlife of the enchanted Galápagos Islands to 17th century churches, monasteries, restored mansions, haciendas, photogenic plazas, architectural colonial treasures, cobbly streets of Quito, Cuenca (both Unesco World Heritage Sites), to the small pastoral village of Zuleta, and on to the lively leather capital of Ecuador .. Cotacachi where by chance, I was able to participate (well, jostled by the mob is more like it!:) in a yearly Indigenous Heritage Festival that went on non stop for three days …. a bizarre parade of hundreds of male Indigenous Otavalenos dressed in cowboyish costumes, marching and chanting for hours and hours at a time, every day of the three days! The women and children followed on the sidelines, passing water or juice or worse … the local corn hooch, to their men.
Onwards to Calderon … an adventure of a different ilk … service.
Working with the ladies of FUNDAC, Elvita, Pilar, Marguerite, our host Maggie, my fellow tias Ruby, Karina, Norma, Gaby, Alexandra, Diana and Roxana has been a pleasure and I shall surely miss them when I am back in Canada. We have grown into friendship despite a huge language barrier.
….. and the children …. oh my ….. no surprise they have woven themselves into the fabric of my heart. I never quite get used to saying goodbye to the little ones on these missions.
Last year in Romania, it was particularly difficult to hug and kiss the kids when it came time to leave … little orphans, all of them, who face the bleakness of two converted rooms in a hospital wing and staff far too burdened with work to have much energy or time to tend to them in the evenings after dinner …. no siblings, parents or friends … just a cold crib and silent cries finish their days, every day. The Global hosts do their best but desperately need a steady stream of volunteers to help provide love and care for these children
The scenario and circumstances for the children of Calderon could not be more different … poverty and its limitations is a huge issue here certainly, and that is why we are here helping out …. but the children all have mothers at home, and some fathers as well, who love them dearly … this is very apparent as I observe when children are picked up every afternoon. They all appear well cared for and loved …. this makes all the difference in the world when it comes time to say goodbye tomorrow …
We are a small team, Suzanne, Neal, Tom, Katie and I and work well together, finding our rhythm as the days passed. This morning as we drove to work, Neal, ever the entertainer, entertained us with his newest musical instrument, the Peruvian charango, as we practiced our ‘Barney Song’ for tomorrow’s goodbye festivities to honour the staff of Fundac, all the Tias and children. Neal is also a bit of a ham as it turns out, albeit a musically and otherwise very talented ham! He had me in stitches this morning with his Elvis renditions!
Thursday held its own special poignancy …. Suzanne, Katie and I handled the day to day care of the children as usual. Tom was completing his various carpentry work on shelving with Oscar, a local volunteer … Neal, enjoying his time in the kitchen with Olga, Marisol and Elisa. There was a special kind of gentleness in the air as I went about my daily duties of play, puzzle time, feeding the babies lunch, washing a million hands, combing hair, tieing endless shoelaces and oh yes, wiping noses! I know the children sensed something, having undoubtedly gone through this many times with the coming and going of volunteers, so those little hands lingered longer, holding mine, just a little tighter.
Neal, our group ‘professor’, and I, his humble assistant, finished off our final English class for the tias. They improved immeasurably since our first class together … my Spanish improved in the process!
The drive home ….. (yes, cozy Sol de Quito has started to feel like home and indeed was one, not too long ago …. seems like everywhere I hang my hat in Ecuador, was once someone’s home, now converted into small hotels!!) ….. provided opportunity for another rehearsal for our planned performance tomorrow at the farewell celebration …. as Neal played, the rest of us sang (in Spanish and English) and laughed our way home, amusing Pilar who was driving and Maggie no end! We enjoyed a delicioso dinner at the hotel, sharing travel and life stories … funny how bonding sometimes just sneaks up on you, unawares and one day, you realize you have become friends. Perhaps time to let go of reflections and head to bed … an emotional day beckons tomorrow.