24 June 2006

musings on museums

my time in lima is now just about over. tomorrow morning janae and i fly to cusco for hiking and blistered feet. i've really enjoyed being here, and had some fun and interesting experiences. yesterday was museum day, so i went to several (sorry jenna, but i did not make it to the pornographic pottery palace). i went to the history of peru museum, which has a bunch of artifacts from all (or many) of the pre-colombian groups that have lived around here. i always think those things are interesting--it's crazy to think about those people, and how much they had to discover just to survive, etc. it sort of makes you see yourself as part of a huge story, the continuing and slow development of a species from hole diggers to space explorers and on to wherever we'll get next.

i also went to the museum of gold, which was a much bigger deal until about 5 years ago when lots of the artifacts there were discovered to be fakes. the museum seems to have never recovered its self-esteem, and hasn't gone to the trouble to rearrange itself since they removed the fraudulent pieces so there's just a bunch of blank spaces in the cases, and it was sort of depressing. but they still have a ton of gold things there, and it was definitely interesting.

as per dan wink's recommendation, i went there to see the museum of weapons that is also included in admission to the museum of gold, and it was pretty cool. this place is a lot like your gun-crazy uncle's garage would have looked if he'd succeeded in accruing about about a million weapons and had been friends with leaders of nations and they all gave him pistols and swords as gifts. or if your uncle was ted nugent. they had these glass cabinets just stuffed full of weapons--rare, bizarre, or...nazi--without any apparent effort either at making it understandable or presentable or anything. mannequins who had no doubt hoped to one day be models for calvin klein or maybe even versacci looked a little broken and disappointed to be showing the 1960's styles of the nicaraguan army. it made me think of zoolander.

as much time as we as the human species have spent perfecting things like making ceramic pots (especially depicting sexual activities), irrigation, the creating and controlling of fire (thank you once again, tom hanks), we have spent probably a lot more time finding better or more interesting ways to kill each other. you can pretty much tell it's our favorite thing to do. i have no idea if putting the museum of gold and the museum of weapons on different floors of the same building (located in south america, no less) was intended as one of those sad but ironically funny gestures by the curator, but i guess i thought it was. sad and funny and ironic, i mean. maybe more sad. other chances for geography to be funny would be the chocolate museum with the historical society of fat people, or greenpeace's offices across the hall from texaco. or make up your own!

anyway. hooray for lima, hooray for peru. to infinity and beyond!

21 June 2006

the bus to lima

ok, so i´ve made it to peru! i took a 100% sleepless bus from quito to guayaquil and got there around 6am. my lonely planet guidebook (remember, the one that lies?) told me a bus would go from guayaquil to lima at 2pm, so i went into town to watch the ecuador gam and have a look around. (and get breakfast!) i did that, and was walking around the very hot and humid city when i decided (at 11:25) i should go check on that bus, since lonely planet is so often wrong. i grabbed a taxi and went to their terminal only to find that ACTUALLY buses leave at 11:30. the bus was completely loaded, but hadn´t left yet, so i ran like the dickens and just made it on.

the first movie they showed on the bus was crash, and from there they made the smooth thematical transition into sleepless in seattle. the next movie was green mile, which was when i realized they´d put in a pirated dvd of FOUR tom hanks movies. probably if you´re bad in this life you get put on a non-air conditioned overnight bus, sweating your precious body fluids into a fake leather chair (that your guidebook (lonely planet´s guide to the afterlife) said would fold into a bed, but it won´t) that plays only tom hanks movies all the time on the way to hell, and if you were really bad, instead of letting you off at hell they just keep driving forever.

but i wasn´t that bad, or at any rate i´m not dead yet, so i just ended up in lima. as a further sign of God´s grace the dvd stopped working after green mile, so i was left to wade in my own sweat and hope that the sleepless night to guayaquil would make me so tired that i´d fall asleep some that night. it kind of did.

lima is, from what i have seen so far, an incredible city, and i have really really loved being here so far. highly recommended. i think i might take a shower today. or i might go for a record, too. my skin´s too white, but i SMELL like a local!

19 June 2006

my home--on my back!

this is my last post from quito, so things are going to change around here. i'm heading off without my computer, so posts will be both not as common and probably not as picture-filled. i'll do my best to keep everyone updated on where i am and have been and am going and hopefully will occasionally find a way to put some pictures up along the way.

so in the spirit of making sure everyone knows where to look if i disappear (kidding, mom!), here's the plan for now. tonight i'm taking a night bus to guayaquil. i'll spend the day in guayaquil just looking around and then i'll take another bus that night to lima, which will probably be about a 24 hour ride. (hey, it's about $200 cheaper than flying!) that has me arriving in lima the night of the 21st or morning of the 22nd. the morning of the 25th janae flies through lima on her way to cuzco, so i'll jump on that plane with her. our machu picchu trek leaves cuzco the morning of the 27th, and we'll be back in cuzco from there on the 2nd. after a few days in cuzco, janae leaves (on the 5th of july) and i go to lake titicaca. that's as far into the future as my crystal ball can see. some sources indicate i'll go into bolivia first and then to chile, but i also get very strong sensations indicating that i won't bother with bolivia. so i guess i'll update this before then so everyone knows.

ok, wish me luck and send some prayers my way--the next adventure begins...now!

16 June 2006

the last day of work

as expected, i was unable to make it through the last day of work without crying. toward the end of the day, everyone ran off and hid in the women's dressing room (where all such parties have always happened) in a really funny semi-attempt to be secretive about it, and then they brought me in there. the lights were off, and when i got there they turned on the lights and some 20 of my co-workers (everyone working that shift plus a few others) began singing auld lang syne--in spanish! it turns out the words aren't any better known in this country, because the song fell apart just like it does in english, and then came back together for "auld lang syne". next, dra. kon the anesthesiologist made a speech, and then dr. corral the anesthesiologist made a speech, and then karen the head of nurses at the hospital spoke, and then ximena the boss of the OR spoke. throughout all of this i was doing a pretty good job of biting my lip and screwing my face up, but then they asked me to talk, and i got about two words out before i got all choked up. i did the best i could to put into words what the people i've seen every day the last 4 months or so have come to mean to me, but i don't think i did a very good job. i'm much calmer now, but i still can't. i probably won't ever be able to, really. if you've done anything like this, you might know. but they all ended up as more than friends, and more than colleagues, and even more than people who shared and helped make an incredible learning and growing experience for me. i don't know. i'm already pretty sad about leaving, and i can tell i don't really get that i won't see these people again after the weekend.

anyway, i'm going to miss these people. this was one of those experiences you can tell you're not going to remember everything you want to as it's happening. here's some pictures.

here's dra. kon (under 4, 5, and 6) speechifying.

ximena applauds a speech, and i stand with my arms crossed. this is what i look like when i'm trying to will myself out of showing a room full of people what a crybaby i am.

in my defense, i wasn't the only one who cried. these people were really hoping mexico would do better than a tie against angola today.

there were also gifts (including this t-shirt, a wool south america-style poncho, and a wallet (now ecuador and i are even on wallets)) and cake and snacks and food. ecuadoreans like to throw parties, and they always do it up right, even if it's not for a particularly meaningful event.

so that was my last day of work. tomorrow we play the médicos again (this time in the final round--we're in first place with two games to go!), and then sunday i hang out with missionary dan (remember him from my first post when i got here? daughter likes shania twain. that's a reference for the loyal readers). on monday i take a night bus to guayaquil, and from there the second phase of this adventure begins!

12 June 2006

la despedida

this sunday some of my friends at work threw me a going-away party at hilda's house, which is up in the mountains on a farm about an hour outside of quito. 10-15 of my coworkers were invited, and they brought their kids and stuff, too. it was fun--here's some pictures.

isn't this girl and her little chick just the cutest? this is marco's daughter, nicole.

the centerpiece of the party was the killing, preparing, and eating of a pig. this is a pretty rare and special thing here in ecuador, so i was very honored and pleased that they'd done it for me. here's a photo of the unhappy pig and some fun we had with it. (nicole kept trying to make maira touch the pig, which of course maira didn't want to do.) i think the pig would have minded the obvious slight, but, you know, it's a pig. and it was dead.
more evidence that i actually have done some work in ecuador. AND it's surgery! on a potato.

here are several of my friends crowded around the fritada (fried pork). they were pretty hungry. either that or they just like breathing smoke.

this is the finished product--here we have potatoes, fritada, tostada (roasted corn, and mote (sort of like...another kind of corn, steamed and stuff). it was very good. and there was a lot of it.

afterwards, they divided up the leftovers, which i'm guessing will last until next year or so. everyone's so happy. "yay! we will have food!"

the view was like this in pretty much all directions. just over my left shoulder is volcán pichincha, which unfortunately you can't really appreciate in this picture--it's really something and quite majestic. you should come sometime.

there was a lot more to the party, but i'm already sort of overstaying my welcome in pictures. there was also horse riding, cow-milking, corn picking, and several other activities. fun times were had by all. hurrah!

10 June 2006

la mundial

in order to do surgery you have to have sterile equipment. my hospital does that with big autoclaves. but in order to run those you need steam. on friday our steam was turned off for maintenance purposes, which would mean we'd have a hard time keeping up with lots of surgeries. fortunately for us there were only three scheduled. if you've got your calendar out and you noticed that the world cup started on friday as well AND that ecuador played their first game that day, you might be wondering if that was a coincidence. well, it wasn't.

as if intentionally not scheduling surgeries on the day (and scheduling maintenance to make lots of surgeries an impossibility) doesn't fully capture the extent of world cup fever in the rest of the world, let's cut to the picture above, which is operating room D converted into one of the TWO rooms that were showing the game in the OR. or cut with me in your minds to the day before, when i watched the three afternoon anesthesiologists write "no" on two pieces of paper and "sí" on one and then draw them out of an intern's hand to see who would be stuck with the afternoon turn the day of the game (which started at 2pm).

and as if those preparatory measures didn't demonstrate the enthusiasm and passion for the game, let me tell you that every time anything happened or even ALMOST happened in the game, the noise and echoes of people screaming in that tile-covered room was easily as loud as most rock shows i've ever been to. but more to the point, you should have seen the faces of these people when ecuador scored their first goal. they were frozen in ecstasy, their hands unconsciously covering their slightly gaped mouths, their eyes on the verge of tears. they looked for all the world like it was their son that had just scored the goal, or even like their son had just been born.

i've drafted and then trashed several attempts to explain to my american (non-soccer loving) blog readers the significance of the world cup. i have several times attempted to describe by way of analogy to US sports the hugeness of the event, but have ultimately decided that anything that starts with "it's kind of like..." is already wrong because it truly is not like anything else, in american or world sport.

soccer is, more than any other sport, the world's game. no other sport is played as widely or followed as intensely as each nation's beloved fútbol. this is important for one thing because that means when you say "world championship" you're talking about a competition that truly every country plays and tries to excel at (unlike, say, basketball, which until recently the US dominated simply because nobody cared about it as much as we do, and now only a small percentage of the world plays seriously). but more than the scope of the competition, the international popularity of soccer makes it one of the world's most international languages--i would go so far as to say right up there with music and the visual arts. that everyone knows and understands soccer means that it's an avenue of cultural expression and identity--thus, brazilians play in a manner that is distinctly brazilian: care-free, vibrant, flashy, always high on style and entertainment. the germans are historically a team known for their strict discipline, tenacious defense, and ultra (über)-pragmatic approach to the game. similar statements can be made about the dutch, english, and italian teams, and so on.

so if you're someone who's heard some report of soccer fanaticism and thought "all that for a SPORT? i'm glad i don't care about it at all!", it's not just a sport. when ecuador played poland on friday as clear underdogs and managed an upset (2-0), it wasn't just the team that had earned international respect and left the pitch enraptured--it was an entire nation. it was the doctors, nurses, maintenance people, and patients in the hospital that day, and the people on the street as i walked home--they all walked with their chests and heads in the manner of someone who had accomplished something great that day. ecuadoreans who don't care much about football were on the edge of their seats for the game, screaming their hearts out at the TV because it was ECUADOR playing. it was their country--it was them.

the world cup only comes around every four years, so even if you don't care about soccer at all, i highly recommend watching a game or two, if nothing else to see the world convening to peacefully celebrate sport, competition, and each other. there really is nothing else like it on earth.

08 June 2006

a good day in pictures.

i got the pictures of my greatest medical moment here in ecuador! they were taken on a cell phone (a razor!), so they quality's not all it could be. but you get the idea!

here's me and miguel (the intern who calls me jeremy spokin) closing the wound. we started on opposite ends and worked toward each other. isn't dr. ballesteros good at taking camera phone pictures?!?

here's another view of the action. look how happy i am! you can practically see my 200 watt smile from behind the mask!

here's me and several onlookers, who dr. ballesteros alternately referred to as my "barra" (cheering section) and "harem" (um...yeah). on the left is dra. kon, an anesthesiologist who i think is super top-notch. next to her is francisca espín, who is the anesthesiologist intern and is also a pretty cool person. next over is flor nuñez, a nurse. in the foreground is the scrub tech cecibel panchi.

i hope you all like the pictures--it was a great experience for me!

06 June 2006

i love the smell of irony in the morning!

when i first got to the hospital, i wanted to spend more time in or near the surgeries rather than in sterilization or whatever else. so i found jobs that didn't require as much specialization to do. one such job was as the circulante, who helps prepare the surgery, fills out surgery papers, and is the non-sterilized person who can go get more sutures or gloves and open them in a sterile way so they won't be contaminated for gloved people to handle.

one of the easiest parts of that job (which i therefore have done a lot of) is placing stickers on a piece of paper as you see in the photo. what's going on here is, nearly everything the hospital uses that's not renewable (gloves, gauze, the little plastic cup in which the sample goes to the lab, etc etc etc.) comes with a little sticker which you remove from the packaging onto a sheet like this, which is then used to charge the patient--basically all costs are effeciently and accurately passed to the patient in this way.

one day as i was playing stickers in the OR much like i did when i was 5 i reflected on what exactly i was doing. i, the citizen of the wealthy nation had come to ecuador, a country with 70% of its population below the poverty line, to help the people. ...or to help take money from the people! haha. it's kind of funny. if you look at it right. or wrong.

04 June 2006

notes for the road

lately i've been trying to prepare for my trip. it's had me thinking about it a lot, and honestly in some ways i'm not really looking forward to it. traveling is hard work, and sometimes sort of dangerous, and exhausting, and the solitude can be lonely, and to be honest it's been three months here and it'll be almost six by the time i get home, and i sometimes miss home and friends and family and food and, well, janae. so why, exactly, am i doing this in the first place?

i think the whole world is changing a lot, and a lot of things are being left behind to make room for internets and electricity and money. in that sense, this may be my last chance to see the world as it was, and definitely my only chance to see the world as it is. i want to see what it is and what it is not, by which i mean something other than running water, very clean and straight paved roads, good food or fast food or even just food, or money or enough money, or clocks and clothes and computers and cars. something other than my home, which in some way is who i am. it's not so much that i fear that i've grown to need these things to be happy or complete or even just a bit better. i worry that where home and humanity should be, these things are. or in other words that they're becoming me. by seeing what others do without here, i see what i could do without, too. these differences between ecuadoreans and chileans and peruvians and me are probably the only way for me, anyway, to see the similarities.

travel, then, is to do without, and in so doing to learn, to know, and to remember what it is to be human, to be part of the human race, to be one of them and one of us. so i'll hit the road alone (or mostly alone), and in being one i'll hopefully become one of the many. and in being so far away maybe i'll get closer. i'll get completely lost, and perhaps find something, too.

i'm not sure why i put all this here, but i think partly i feel so privileged to be here that my receiving and taking the blessing demands an explanation. and i think partly i want you all to understand what exactly you'll be asking when you see me later and say "how was your trip?" travel is just tourism like art is just entertainment.

02 June 2006


i was actually sort of kidding when i was talking about making a mix cd for the OR awhile back, but darn it all if those ecuadoreans don't really like 80's music. there's a group of trauma docs that i've become pretty good friends with who especially like it, and one guy in particular, dr. ballesteros, who knows more about american 80's pop than i do. "billy idol, no?" "thees ees the best song of cindy lauper" (he speaks a bit of english, too, no doubt from all the music and movies he's watched).

there are more surgeries in a day than they have 80's mixes to listen to, so i made my own contribution with songs they don't have that they tooootally need and brought it on friday. fortunately, there were several trauma surgeries that day, so we were all there: my favorite surgeries, my favorite doctors, and a whole cd of songs to listen to. dr. ballesteros joined the best doctors club by saying the magical "i won't need an assistant, jeremy can help" line, so i was pretty happy. things improved from there, though--as we washed up to enter, at the start of every song either he or this resident who calls me "jeremy spokin'" because of pearl jam would look at me and say "wake me up before you go, wham" or "modern english? no. modern english? i'll melt with you." or "devo!". it was great. we'd already started the surgery by the time we got to the clash's "should i stay or should i go now" (sorry chris, but it's EIGHTIES, and london calling doesn't make the cut), and they both stopped whatever part of the surgery they were doing to sing along to "esta indecisión me molesta" and all the other spanish echo parts. i've never really been especially fond of that song, but i'm pretty sure that memory will make me smile every time the clash sell another car on tv with that song.

what i'm trying to say is, it was pretty much a great day already when they handed me the tweezers and needle and let me do sutures, at which point it became a much better day. and so it was i made my first ever knots in somebody's skin to "hungry like the wolf".

(pictures to come when they get downloaded off the camera phone and sent to me. there will be no sparing anyone of blood and guts, though, so probably you should just never come back if you don't like that. you're warned!)