Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Christmas In Ecuador

Here in Ecuador Christmas and New Years were enjoyable and interesting events.  Christmas had a nine-day procession in the streets with the children dressed up as either Joseph with painted on beards or Maria with a doll in a shawl on her back.  Christmas Day Mass included ten baptisms. 

The priest had a special prayer for the mothers (ten women) and then for the fathers (three men).  This is very typical here that there are many single mothers struggling to raise their children.  Many teen pregnancies also.  I was thinking that these women asking to baptize their children on Christmas could easily relate to Mary´s societal disgrace at being pregnant and criticized.

Another tradition here is huge, very elaborate manger scenes.  I have even seen some that have three figures of the baby Jesus.  All have many animals (pigs, geese, lions, horses, sheep, giraffes, ect…) and many extra people figures too.  Mary and Joseph are moved daily a little closer to the stable and the Magi are also slowly brought up.  The photo below is of one such manger scene in the convent of the Sisters here in Guadalupe with the children of a medical volunteer working here.
New Years celebrations are very different here.  The custom is to make a scarecrow type figure that they then dance with.  The group of dancers are dressed as:  devils, men dressed as women, women dressed as old men, traditional Indian figures, etc….  Then the scarecrows are put in a pile to set on fire and the kids try to jump over them to bring good luck for the year. 

Then fireworks and dancing till dawn.  As I was sick and running a fever I only stayed out about an hour and watched the fireworks from the comfort  of my room.  The following photo is of the group of dancers.

Due to family needs I have decided to return to the USA in February to help out for awhile.  I am so very thankful for the support (financial and personal) I have received from LMH.  The support allowed me to continue working here in Ecuador.  Thank you to all of the benefactors who have been supporting my misiĆ³n work. It has been a blessing to have been able to work here.  I will miss Ecuador, the people and the work here in the clinic.  It has been a great 17 years.  I pray for all the people and benefactors who allow the mission work of LMH to continue.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Feast of All Souls

Here in Ecuador there is a blending of church, tradition and culture.  All of the religious holidays have a strong cultural component.

The Feast of All Souls Day that we celebrated this month is a good example.  There is a Mass, and reading out of the names of all the dead one wishes to be prayed for in the cemetary.  Then individual tombs are blessed. 

The thing that makes this feast unique for a lot of South and Central America is the great devotion to loved ones who have passed.  There are four-hour lines in the bus terminals to get a bus on All Souls Day as everyone travels to be with family.  Sometimes no transportation is posible as all the buses are full to capacity.  Everyone visits the cemetary where family members are buried.  The families clean the grave site the week before and then all the family spends the day around the graves of their loved ones.  There is food and drink (a dark purple fruit juice is typical only this day) available to all.  There is occasionally music as well.  The cemetery is so full that you have a long wait just to be able to get to the cemetery chaple to pray.

Typically the people in Ecuador pray at the house of the deceased for eight days after a death, have a monthly mass and family get together, and give out bread to all at the one year anniversary of the death.  Some families will not have the money for a stone so save up money and years after the death of a loved one they put up the tombstone. 

I believe this tradition is a reflection of the great devotion that the people have to family here.  Parents with large families sacrifice everything to give their children the best they are able to.

The devotion to family here is an example of hard work and sacrifice to help others that I am trying to learn to imitate.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Holy Week Inspiriting Me

This Holy Week I went to a town about 2 hours away to lead the services.  I ended up being inspired by the people I met.

We visited a 97 year old woman who was so gracefull and kind. Another older man struggled to his feet to give me a parting blessing.   An older woman who has been deaf for many years somehow was able to hear the guitar music of the other missioner and started singing along.  Her daughter was so moved; she was astounded and explained that that song was her mother’s favorite and she had not sung in years.

A woman spent the whole day taking me house to house visiting the sick and elderly and bringing them communion.  At the end of the trip this poor woman, who had no husband or land,  brought me two baby ducks as she had seen how much I like animals.

Almost the whole town turned out in the pouring rain to walk the way of the cross in the streets.  During the reinactment of removing the body of Christ from the cross a  teenager was so moved by the image that she cried when the woman portraying Mary held the dead Christ in her lap.

The people in the community decided to have an all night vigil for Holy Thursday.  Every family took an hour and the church was never vacant.  At 4 am only one woman from her family came but she and I prayed together until the next family group arrived.

The people invited me into their homes for meals.  It was such a nice experience to spend time with people.

The whole week the community supported all my activities and were so generous to me.

It is a week I will always remember.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

Life here in Ecuador is to be enjoyed each day.  That is what I have learned from my experience here this last month.

In church I sat next to a woman and her 18 month old son during one of the nine nights of prayers before the town fiesta.  The service finished at 9:00 and I heard the next morning that the child had died later that evening.  He choked on a piece of hard candy.  The mother has been widowed twice already and the child who died was born within weeks of the death of her second husband in a mining accident.

The same week a 14 year old girl was laughing with her friends at school, went home, took the food out to the pigs, and then hung herself from the roof of the pig pen. 

The following week was the funeral of an elderly neighbor and the one month memorial mass for my friend and neighbor’s mother. 

The town only has 500 families so this is a lot of tragedy for one month.  Nothing in life is for sure or guaranteed. Living here has taught me that every day should be lived to the fullest and one should do all one can each day to serve others.  Today could be your last opportunity.

We are in the middle of changing the clinic to a new status.  Thus soon more people working here, more services offered, surgery offered again so things will be different.  We may have a laboratory or maybe not.  We may turn into a specialty clinic or a day hospital. We may have a new nurse and lab worker.  We have started the reconstruction, which is hard to see the nice exam rooms divided into small cubicles asked for by the health department.  By April we should know which of these changes will be coming about. We should confirm plans following the health department inspections.  Thus lots of changes, but lots of hope too, to be able to help more people with added services.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hope For What Is Possible

Remaining positive and cheerful when so many things are uncertain and not going well is very difficult. 

·         Carmen has had three months since her accident without regaining movement in her legs and only movement in two fingers and upper arms. She is resistant to working toward being in a wheelchair and losing hope to be able to walk again one day.

·         The clinic I have worked at for 15 years is getting less and less patients and the future is not clear.  Surgery has been prohibited here by the health department
·         The people in the parish are planning to protest and get the new priest removed.

·         Lots of people are resistant to new changes in the parish and causing conflicts and division.

Guadalupe has been such a great place to live and work.  The priest, religious sisters and the medical volunteers and I have formed a united team.  Everyone was supportive and kind to each other.  Not any more.

So many people were atended to in the clinic and so many eye surgeries helped people to see again or the ENT surgeries to help people hear again or breathe easier.  The work I enjoyed was 16 hour days with hundreds of people coming daily.  Now there are about 10 people a day.

Everyday I need to see and experience all that brings joy.  The children that come to the clinic,  the school children who are so polite to always greet me on their way to school, the beauty of the river and mountains, the patients so gratefull for the medical and dental care they receive, etc.  These are what I need to concentrate on.  

Whenever the future is uncertain hope for what is possible and working to make a better situation is what I have learned.  A good friend once told me to not accept circumstances but to make bad situations better.  A priest in my youth told me that God does indeed open a window when the door has been closed was shown to be the truth.  Thus I am taking a day at a time and know that things will work out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Overwhelming Generosity

I want to share an experience of a very sad accident but the overwhelming generosity of people.  Carmen the 30 year-old cook for the volunteers and Sisters for the past 6 years fell at night last week into an uncovered drainage ditch and partially severed her spinal cord.  She was completely paralyzed for a week until surgery and now can feel painful stimuli to her feet.  We have hope she will recover some movement in her legs. 

She was transferred to a local hospital for rehab but returned to the distant hospital due to pneumonia.  She is still numb from the chest down and fighting the pneumonia at the writing of this blog.  She is the single mother of two children. She is a very nice woman and a good mother.  Almost daily she would “sneak” me leftover food from lunch so I would not have to cook my own dinner. We are all so shocked that this could happen.

She had health insurance only until the end of the month as she lost her job last month.  The mission has less income and half the employees were let go last month.  She was transferred to a private hospital so she could have the operation she needed.  The expenses were supposed to be paid for by the health insurance she has until the 30th of this month but they only paid some of the cost.  She had a $600 bill after a week (nothing by US standards of health costs but a lot to people who earn $300 a month if they have work).  She had also co- signed a loan for a friend who did not pay back the loan so Carmen lost all of her severance pay to pay the bank loan.  Thus, she is without work, has no money, no health insurance soon and rent and food to buy for her children as well as a very long, expensive rehabilitation time.

This is where the incredible generosity of the town of Guadalupe comes in.  The people made photos of Carmen with her neck brace in the hospital bed that I am including in this blog.   
They put the photo on cardboard boxes and walked the streets in the nearby larger town.  They collected $834 in coins in one day which is pretty incredible for a small group of neighbors and kids.  The mother of one of the Sisters Carmen cooked for lent her the total amount to pay the hospital bill.  Also, one of the husbands of a friend of Carmen, who has a job has offered to pay the first month to continue her health insurance.  There is a box for donations here in the Clinic and money is put in everyday.  The volunteers have also been extremely generous. Carmen has never lacked for someone to stay with her in the hospital.  The whole town is pulling for her.

Time and time again in mission I see the overwhelming generosity of materially poor people but people so rich in: concern for others, willingness to give the little they have and so giving of their time to help others.