Sunday, February 21, 2010

Colombia Map Update

In this post you get even more than a map of our Colombian adventures. Hard to imagine anything better, I know.

For the recent February celebration we went to a volcanic mudpit. A unique experience--the first "touristy" tour we've gone on and the first time we've immersed ourselves in mud. The incredible buoyant feeling left us giddily suspended in the viscous liquid. I, Joe, struggled mightily to move. Juleen did too, but less than I. But then again Juleen is better than me at all things done in water.

Picture above of us with our CouchSurfing friends--Tonio (French) and Sophie (British). Notice in the background the stairs up the hill that lead to the mudpit. We're in that very mudpit in the picture to the right.

But, back to the present...

In two hours we board a border-bound bus. We're taking the 7:30pm Transipiales bus the ten to eleven hours to the border town of Ipiales. You've heard great things about the company, right? Yeah, me too, like they have bathrooms on their buses.

Once there, in Ipiales, we take a taxi a few kilometers to the actual border, hopefully with the sun illuminating our way. Cross. Take an Ecuadorian taxi a few kilometers, then board an Ecuadorian bus to Quito. Were the trip to Quito another ten hours, I'd think this adventure almost a palindrome, with the border crossing in the middle. Luckily it's a cool five hours.

Plan is to stay with my family's former Ecuadorian exchange-student, Eleana, in Quito. My mom gets in for a week of Latin America on the 24th. No plans concerning Ecuador after that.

Colombian map below. Description of each site coming soon...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Living the OT dream!

For four great weeks, I led the occupational therapy dream! I was given the opportunity to rotate through several different settings, providing occupational therapy services and stumbling through Spanish. Here are highlights:

A couple mornings a week I went with a health clinic team to visit individuals with disabilities in the mountain-side communities. Seeing their living conditions and experiencing the adversity they deal with was a humbling, to say the least. The house pictured is where a young man of 26 years lives with his mom. He was the victim of a gun shot wound, years ago. Expanding my skill-set, I made him custom wrist supports to increase the function in his hands. This was a new experience for me as the splints were made out of plaster material. I must admit, I was proud of the product (see picture). While he was unsure of their benefits, we agreed that he’d give them a try for a while.

I also helped a new occupational therapist at a community program for kids who are deaf. A primary role at the center was speech therapy; however, many kids who are deaf or hard of hearing need assistance in regulating their sensations (which is where OT comes in). Since she was a new therapist, I provided more consultative services, making cheat sheets about treatment ideas for kids displaying different characteristics. See picture of the new therapist treating an 8 month old.

Another program took place once a week. A bus load of older adults (from the mountain-side communities) have a day of free services at the organization. Services I saw included: medical attention (including free meds), dental care, hair cuts, free food!, social activities (such as Bingo), respiratory therapy, physical therapy, and, while I was there, OT! I must admit, I loved helping with Bingo, but I was able to provide some one-on-one advice too. My highlight was working with wound care. A man (see photo) had a lower-leg burn that has been healing for 13 years. I’ve seen therapists complete wound care, but it was my first experience leading such an effort.
Alright, I’m writing too much. I also worked in two schools. Some OT was provided in groups and some individually.

In all, it was an incredible month for me.

I want to return.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Busting Our Butts in Bogota

A month ago we promised that all, with the start of our volunteering, would no longer be fun and games in Bogota. Admittedly, we had lived it up up to that point—partaking in the Colombian all-night party, i.e. rumba, albeit a version that ended at 12:30 instead of 6:30am; being tourists; getting whipped in tennis (it was my first time on a clay court!); enjoying microbrews at the Bogota Beer Company; and, generally, letting ourselves be spoiled by Juliana and Diego and their two maids. Though we have found time for a bit of fun and a few games (of futbol) since, the past few weeks have corroborated our claim. But, if it hasn’t been all leisure, what have we been up to?

Among the two of us, Joe has had less on his plate, except at lunch, so we’ll start with him. He…okay, I’m switching to “I”; the third person feels funny. My primary responsibility has been to take over various teachers’ classes, presenting lessons on environmental topics. I spent most of the time discussing climate change—what it is, what it’s caused by, and what are some things we can do to limit our “carbon footprint”. Interestingly, I’ve had the opportunity to have this discussion with a wide range of age groups. In the end, though I felt like an actor in front of them, I enjoyed the third-graders most. The oldest girls were fun, too, but for a different reason, and the middle school-aged girls were, well, interesting. And, yes, I meant to put “girls” back there. Santa Pachas is an all-girls school, pre-kindergarten through high school. When it comes to single-sex education, I concede, I was biased to begin with, having gone to the all-male Wabash College. I am now further convinced that single-sex education can be a great thing, and perhaps an even better thing in primary and secondary schooling.

In addition to the teaching, I led discussions of environmental topics within a conservation club on Fridays, and I worked with the woman in charge of professional development at CASFA, the younger, less successful version of our main workplace, Santa Pachas. A better introduction to this school, reminiscent of my former teaching grounds in Chicago, is in order.

CASFA serves a different class of student than Santa Pachas, and I mean class in the socioeconomic sense. Located farther up the mountain, part of the poorer, northward urban sprawl of Bogota, CASFA’s loud, painfully urban environs provide quite the contrast to the lush, tranquil campus of Santa Pachas. And it’s not just a difference of setting; the resources of the average CASFA student pale in comparison to the relatively affluent Pacha chica. Sadly, as is too often the case, the quality of the instruction within the two schools is, at least for the moment, directly correlated with the financial resources of the institution and its clientele. (Pachas does nobly provide financial support to its younger sibling, CASFA, to help curb the gap.)

Juleen and I spent our Thursday’s at CASFA, struggling with the disparity. Those Thursdays provided a few headaches, and they provided substance for the recommendations I ultimately gave to the school´s professional development coordinator. Impressively, she received all of my ideas graciously and encouraged me to provide more.

That´s what I have been up to. While not leisurely, it’s been great (most days) to have something to do and to feel productive again. It had been a while.

And Juleen has been even busier than I. Her story and relevant pictures are on their way. Right, come back soon.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We discovered El Dorado!

We have uncovered the Legend of El Dorado (meaning “the guilded one”) in Bogota, Colombia! Once a bird told the Spanish Conquistadors, that the indigenous threw an abundance of gold into a lake as offering to mother earth… the legend began. Was it a lost city? What kind of gems existed? Where was the gold? The legend taunted “gringos”.

Expeditions by Europeans led them through the Amazon and parts of South America in search of El Dorado throughout the 1500s. In 1638, the truth came out. Turns out, the El Dorado myth originated with an indigenous chief who covered himself in honey, then gold dust! He was then rowed out of the middle of Lake Guatavita, just outside of Bogota, Colombia, and jumped into the lake. In addition, gold figures were thrown into the lake as offerings.

Knowing the truth, our search for El Dorado was easy. First, we took a day trip out to Lake Guatavita. We did a group hike up to the lake! Yes, all 40 of us were hiking up the skinny trail in a single-file line. Along the hike we heard the not too surprising story of different groups of Europeans trying to drain the lake to get the goods for years. Formerly, the water level was up to the rim (where we were standing). Now, however, the water level is significantly lower. Despite these drastic efforts, they never got down to the gold and never found the El Dorado...

We did!

A weekend later, we visited the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) downtown Bogota. The gold was impressively on display for all to enjoy. If only the Spanish Conquistadors could have seen the display of gold. It was incredible.