A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ecuador Part V: Night in Quito

Diana and Betsy could only stay a few days because they have real structured jobs and lives in the States. We tried to fit as much in as possible while they were here. Our last night together was spent in Old Town Quito. This is where the giant cathedral is, old Spanish-influenced buildings and lots of people out and about late into the night. I felt like I was in Spain.

We stopped for yet another organic brownie then set off to watch a cultural performance. Performers of all ages danced traditional Ecuadorian dances for us and a band played their music on wooden flutes, guitars and drums. I noticed this in Uganda too, most cultures don't have a million different cultural dances, they usually have 2 or 3 and just change the music, age of participants or costume. This was true of Ecuador too. Ecuadorians dance fast and do a lot of turns. It was beautiful and fun to watch. One particular dance that held us in awe was a dance using ribbons attached to a May pole. In the beginning they danced around the pole and wound the ribbons tightly around the pole. Then they unwound them in-step with the dance the whole time! It was fascinating and I spend more time watching the ribbons on the pole than the actual dancing.

We finished the night at a lovely roof-top restaurant for dinner. We looked out over the city and enjoyed a traditional hot wine, which I was pretty skeptical of (sorry Jen) that was delicious. I had another trout dinner while everyone else had some sizzling steak. We were all happy with our meals, the ambiance, the view and the live music. It was a great time of fellowship and a wonderful ending to a great week of adventure in Ecuador.

Ecuador Part IV: Orphans and Orphanages

While there is suffering in the world there will always be those who are marginalized and live a disadvantaged life. The need for orphanages has been around for a long time. They can be refuges for children who have been abused, neglected and abandoned. They can be the first home some children have ever understood and the first forms of love they have ever been extended. Many countries around the world have both government and private orphanages and they differ greatly in their services and comfort. I have visited a few orphanages in different countries and have mostly been impressed with the facilities, care provided and dedication displayed by the staffs. They have been well organized and efficiently run. I love orphanages. Every child deserves a place to call home and people who care about them.

Yet, I'm not sure how I feel about international adoption. For instance, is taking a child with special needs outside all they have every known (language, foods, culture) and expecting them to do well in another country the best thing for that child? Especially when many of these orphanages are already offering them one-on-one attention, physical and occupational therapy and peers who are just like them? Can they do that much better in a "developed" country with a foreign family? I wonder if the stress and trauma of change is necessary when they are being cared for and provided for in an orphanage. And what about older children who have already been through several formative development stages? Their ability to adapt and succeed is questionable. Why do we take them from their own concept of home? Why can't we entrust the orphanages and the country to provide training and resources so that when they are old enough to leave the orphanage they can be successful in their own culture?

My own sister was adopted internationally and I wouldn't trade her or our experience with her. But I have seen the struggle she's had with culture, attachment, and cognitive development among other things. I know she belongs with our family. But there are instances where I wonder if it is best for these children to be taken out of their country.

The orphanage Jen works at does half Ecuadorian adoptions and half international adoptions. The light skinned children without disabilities are usually adopted by Ecuadorian families while those with darker tones and/or disabilities are commonly adopted by families from the US, Canada, Sweden and Italy. I really like that Ecuadorians are adopting their own children. I think there needs to be a bigger push for this to happen with other countries and their orphaned children.

We went to one orphanage that has done a great job of being as self-sufficient as possible. Not only do they grown their own crops to be used as food for the orphanage but they also have several IGA (income generating activities) in operation. We got to see the guinea pig building. It was crawling with guinea pigs everywhere! Guinea pig is the national dish in Ecuador and it is eaten for special occasions. One guinea pig meal goes for around $20! This is a great IGA. I was very impressed.

And so, I continue to be shaped and challenged by the experiences I encounter. My world view is always expanding and my understandings and beliefs warp more and more. But really, the bottom line is that I must love all those I meet and hope I love them in the best ways possible.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ecuador Part III: Mindo

Ecuador has a variety of landscapes and environments. We decided to leave the hussle and bussle of the capital city and head further West to Mindo, a more jungley area. We took the bus and after several switch-backs, my stomach wasn't feeling so settled. It was a great relief to stop in Mindo, a quaint little town with cobbled streets surrounded by a green jungle. This is one of Jen's favorite places in Ecuador. She took us to a hostal where we stayed in a place that resembled a tree house! I got my own little room at the very top that had windows on all sides. A little stream ran below the tree house and brought calming sounds as we slept peacefully. My personal favorite part was that each bed had a mosquito net! This brought many comforting memories back and made me feel safe and protected in my sleep once again. As the expert mosquito netter, I helped everyone set up their net for the night and then tucked them in. In the morning all agreed it was a great night because of the protection offered by those mosquito nets!

Tree house hostel, my room at the top

Betsy under her mosquito net

The next morning we climbed in the back of a pick-up and bumped along a dirt road going up to the canopy of the forest. Once at the top we stepped into harnesses, placed helmets on our heads and put our hands into heavy-duty work gloves and climbed up to a plateform where we were strapped to a cable. With slight trepidation (lots of trepidation for Betsy), we jumped off and flew over the canopy zip-lining over breathtaking views. It was truly a memorable experience. We flew over deep valleys and small streams. We flew in the clouds at times and brushed tree limbs and leaves at other times. It was a wonderful way to see an Ecuadorian forest/jungle.

With any travels, food can be an important aspect. When traveling with Jen, food is a very important aspect, especially any sweet foods! Ecuador is one of ten countries that pass through the equator and with its strategic location an abundance of food can be grown year-round. We have been busy drinking fresh juice, eating traditional Ecuadorian meals (potato soup, fish, plantains), stopping at every brownie shop along the way and trying ice-cream made from copper bowls.

Jen sent us an itinerary before coming to Ecuador and on this well planned itinerary, several brownie stops were timed in. Not just any brownie though - organic brownies! When I read this part to family members and friends, there was great concern over what "organic" meant. Well, I have tried all these organic brownies and there haven't been any strange feelings after eating them so rest assured, organic doesn't mean any illegal substance.

Fresh trout, plantains and salad Jen and I eating organic brownies
Smashed and fried plantains - reminded me a little of matoke, just a little bit
At a juice bar - made fresh with the ingrediants before us

As with all adventures in the jungle, they must come to an end. After our fun flying over the canopy, eating declicious foods and sleeping peacefully in our tree house beneith mosquito nets, we sat back down on the bus and switch-backed our way back to Quito for the next adventure.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ecuador Part II: The First Day in Ecuador

It was in the Houston airport I met up with my good friend Diana from college and her friend Betsy. Diana and I shared long hugs and big smiles as we reunited for the first time in more than 3 years. It seemed fitting to have that reunion at an airport in Texas because the last time I had seen Diana was when I dropped her off at an airport in Texas. It seems we'd come full circle.

We were going to Ecuador to spend time with our friend Jen who works (practically runs) an orphanage in Quito. Do you know those friends who always push you into wild adventures? Who support all the crazy ideas you come up with? Who make you laugh so hard you almost pee your pants? Who have such kind hearts they inspire you to be a better person? That is Jen and Diana to me. With this transitional and unknown current phase of life I am in, the idea of spending time in another country with these two incredible friends has brought me such comfort, excitement and peace.

So here we are in Ecuador, at one of the best run orphanages I have ever seen, thoroughly enjoying life as we love on other people and explore a new place and culture together. Jen has been a knowledgeable guide as she prepped us on cultural importance's (greetings, kissing the cheek) and the running of the orphanage. She has kept us busy this first day. We've been feeding babies, Diana and Betsy swam in the therapy pool with some of the kids, we ate Ecuadorian food, navigated the city buses, visited the equator and had a cooking class with the toddlers.

Jen had seen my pictures of the equator in Uganda and had commented on how small and insignificant it was. I couldn't imagine there being much more to an equator than the sign we have in Uganda so didn't understand her scorn. Well, let me tell you, Ecuador has got some major tourism going on with their equator! They have two equator designations, one pre-GPS and one post-GPS. They are only 200 meters apart which is pretty impressive if you ask me. The pre-GPS designated equator has a giant monument with the world at the top.

Another interesting thing was The post-GPS had different science stations showing the effects of the equator. It was fascinating! They showed us how water going down a drain doesn't swirl on the equator but if you drain it a little bit South or North it will swirl, either clockwise or counterclockwise. Another interesting thing was balancing an egg on a nail. Because of the pull of gravity, the yoke sits at the bottom of the egg. It took some concentration but I managed to get it to balance.

In the evening we did a cooking class with the toddlers making waffles. Of course to make it more fun, Jen had them add blue food coloring. This was probably one of my favorite memories from the day. Watching Jen be completely in action was awe inspiring. Her love for these kids is evident and her dedication to fostering their development is admirable. Jen has an extremely jubilant personality and all those around are infected with this spirit. She makes life fun.

Our adventures in Ecuador are off to a fantastic start!

Feeding the babies
Betsy with Mateo in the therapy pool
Me, Betsy and Diana at the real equator
Friends at the equator! (only 200 m from the exact equator)

Jen in her element cooking with the toddlers

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sunday, April 24, 2011


The dictionary defines family as, "A group of people who generally share common attitudes, interests, or goals and, frequently, live together." I have the blessing of having so many families. For the last 2 years I had a special family in Uganda of nuns, neighbors and co-workers. While I desperately love this family, I did miss my birth family and I am loving being back with them. There is something about the relationship between sisters that cannot be replicated. We share a love for the performing arts, we attempt to be Bach and play duets together and we laugh about shared experiences growing up in the same house.

Another family I am honored to have is with the William's family. Their parents are friends with my parents and they also have 4 children who are the same ages as my sisters and me. We have spent many dinners, vacations and every-day life times together. I love our meshed family too!

Trista, Me, Melissa and JaNahn
Family is a beautiful concept. It is always evolving - growing and changing in ways that can't always be predicted. I have many families throughout the world! My relationships in them play different parts. Even tomorrow I head off to spend time with another family of mine: 2 members of my college family. Diana and I will explore a little of the world Jen has been living in Ecuador. I am so excited to reconnect with these best friends and bond over our shared histories, common interests and goals for our lives.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Words to Describe Sisters

There are many words that jump to mind when someone says the word, "sisters." "Pest," is one that comes to mind the fastest for me. While all my sisters have ways of pestering me, this sister, Ashley, has been the biggest pest lately. Last weekend we went to visit my cousin who just had a baby. Ash practically ran to the bathroom to wash her hands first and then used my face to dry them. She just had to be the first to hold baby Eva. Then, last night, we were out for dinner and she insisted on not taking a serious picture. A pest! I am telling you. But I love her anyways.

Another word I can use with sisters is, "proud." I am very proud of my sisters. Most of the time they work hard and do their best to contribute well to society. They think through their actions. They love other people. And they take time to have fun. I don't always agree with their choices as I'm sure they don't always agree with mine. But I am proud of who they are.

My sister Malou graduated from Medical Assistant school last night. It was the most culturally diverse graduation I have ever attended. Out of about 300 students, there were only a few names that resembled the traditional Scandinavian names I know and grew up with. These students are African-American, Hmong, Somolian, Filipino and so many other ethnicity's. I was very impressed with the support the graduates had from their HUGE ethnic families and friends.

One of the graduates spoke on overcoming difficulties in their lives to make it to graduation day. He spoke of students who had babies during the coarse but finished anyways. Other students who had families at home. Students who were unable to pay their bills. Students who ended their marriages and others who started marriages. This school and program worked with a very different clientele than the population I usually attended schools with. Malou had her fair share of troubles too and I am so proud of her for finishing!

I was very encouraged to see the level of support these students had from their families and friends. Maybe it is a different kind of support than I have had but if the mass number in attendance is any indication, despite the social and economic backgrounds of these students, they are loved and people are proud of them just like I love and am proud of my sister Malou.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring in Minnesota

It is April 20th today. April. A popular saying I remember from elementary school says, "April showers bring May flowers." Everyone in Minnesota has been complaining that spring has been late in coming. While we had a glorious weekend in the high 70's, lately the temperatures have dropped and the skies have been cloudy. Where are the showers to bring the flowers? This morning, I woke to the sounds of birds chirping and flying around. I smiled liking the sounds of spring. But when I opened my eyes and looked out the window I was unprepared for the sight that greeted me - falling snow! Let's just say I am NOT happy! Good thing I'm off for South America next week!