Hunter Davis:  Public Health Intern

I’m here in Ecuador to work with both the Runa Foundation and Water Ecuador on a research project in the Napo Province of Ecuador. We are testing large 20 liter reusable water bottles for contamination in continuation of Water Ecuador project which began in Muisne, Ecuador. These jugs are used commonly for drinking and food preparation in households throughout Ecuador and elsewhere, however our studies are finding that many are contaminated with coliforms as well as the bacteria E.Coli. Through this work in Tena and Archidona we hope to further quantify the extent of contamination and indicate where in the treatment process this contamination is occurring. This will help with the second phase of the project- solving the problem!

I chose to come to Ecuador mostly because I was excited to learn about a completely new culture in a context which I really enjoy – public health.  The fact that I already knew some Spanish doesn’t hurt! I’ve decided to put my first blog post to good use and make a list of five things you might not know about life in Ecuador, the “Ecua Life.” I’m sure readers of this blog have interest in Ecuador or the work of Water Ecuador, and I’d imagine that many of you know a great deal of what I’m about to say already. If you’re one of those people, feel free to continue reading and reminisce about these shared experiences. Or, if you just want to learn more about the country and this region, here goes!

1.   As a gringa you can make Ecua friends really fast. I mean it, real Ecuadorian people actually WANT to be your friend. They are friendly and hospitable.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had Runa staff members who work here year round introduce us to lots of amazing Ecuadorian people. But I’m telling you, they are actually interested in you. They aren’t just asking you questions to bother you or bore you or hit on you (although some always are.. ¡ten cuidado!). They want to know your story. They want to know what brought you to Ecuador. Why did you decide to travel so far/ pay so much to come down here? Why do you even want to talk to people in Ecuador? Why is your project important for us? Why is everything so different in the United States? What is Frisbee? Why is your name so weird? These are all questions I have gladly answered. The key is to ask in return. Don’t let it be a one sided conversation. Find out everything about the people that you can because so many of them are incredible people. I have been lucky enough to meet upwards of 10 incredible Ecuadorians. They are now my friends. We taught them what Frisbee is. Today we spent over an hour playing ultimate on a muddy, smelly, dirt and trash filled stadium and it was one of my favorite hours of my entire life. We spend time together where we try to speak Spanish and they try to understand our English and be patient with us and somehow it all just works. I don’t really get it, but it does. For this, I am immensely grateful.

2.     Ecuadorians have tons of words that you’ve never heard before even if you’ve been studying Spanish your entire life.

I believe this is due to the region I am located in having been historically influenced by many indigenous cultures and languages such as Kichwa (the Ecuadorian/Columbian derivative of the Quechuan language, that is still spoken today by over 1 million people). Today I learned a new word for construction work. It’s classic I forgot it, but I had never heard it before. Literally. I googled it and nothing came up. This happens almost daily. Take another easy and not entirely frustrating example. The word that we typically learn for basketball is “balencesto.” But here it’s just “basket” (heck! That’s fine by me, it makes things much easier). It’s the little words like this that make Spanish here intriguing but also difficult. Last night my friends (a mix of Ecuadorian and American students) had a nice charla about the words: limon y lima. Limon is lime and lima is lemon. Wait, what??? I know. In English it’s lemon and lime but they’re flipped here. I haven’t known which delicious citrus I was ordering all summer. You live and you learn!

3.     When it rains, it pours. Literally and figuratively.

Okay duh I’m in the rainforest. Obviously it rains a lot. But these are rainstorms I have never experienced before in my life – and I even live in a hurricane-prone state of Florida in the US. Here in the rainforest, one minute it is the most beautiful day, and three seconds later the heavens have opened up. You have no rain jacket. You’re wearing your favorite pair of shoes. There are no awnings on the streets.

And here comes the figuratively. For some reason here, when one bad thing happens it seems as though they just pile on top of each other. First we can’t find a bottling company’s location. Then we hire a cab to take us to it and he overcharges us. Next we get to the location and they tell us they closed 15 minutes ago. Then we decide to take the bus home and there are no seats. Then it starts pouring, and you’re without a rain jacket and still need to walk 15 minutes home. Days like this happens AT LEAST 2 times a week. Life here in Ecuador.

4.     Despite these rainy days, there is ALWAYS some sunshine.

The sun here is super hot. Like I never get burned at home and it happens almost every day here. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this, I just wasn’t expecting it. And even though days may seem to just be piles of horrible things happening, there are always amazing days when the sun comes out and everything goes right. One day my coworker and I went to try to find a map of Archidona in order to learn more about the barrios we needed to visit for our household surveys at the municipio (we are surveying households on their water use habits and perceptions, to find out just how important these reusable 20L jugs are!). We expected it to be a “pouring day” having been told by many that there are no maps of Archidona and that the Foundation had even needed to make one themselves.. Instead, we got pure sunshine, in every sense of the word. We walked in hoping for at least the major road names in a list, and instead, the cartographer of the city (didn’t even know a city that small would have one) printed out a map for us of the entire city with color-coded barrios. Can you say score?!? It was the most amazing moment of our lives. Okay at least my time here. A wise woman told us after we relayed this story that we should remember those sunny days to keep us going during the rainy ones. Boy was she right. Those sunny days are what help you push through. The memories of success, of friends, of the river, of sunshine, all cancel out the rain. All in all life here is just a blur of amazing sunny days.

5.     This country is the most unique and incredible place I have ever been.

I honestly can’t even expand upon this point. The people, the landscapes, the tranquilidad, the way I’m utterly exhausted at the end of every day, the music, the laughter, and the long nights with friends- all will forever be engrained in my memory. I’ve been here four weeks now and have about the same amount of time left (pause while I cry). If I’ve learned nothing else in my time here, I know that this place will stay in my heart forever. These are the things that are impossible to explain. The only way to truly understand is to experience it yourself.

I hope you have read this and thought wow that girl is super sarcastic, funny, and witty, but also that that Ecuador place seems pretty freaking amazing. It is. This is my Ecua life.

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