The "3 H's". Hazy, hot and humid. That really is the only way to describe what life is like down on the Equator. You're essentially sweating from the time you get out of bed in the morning until you fall asleep, and even then you usually wake up in a puddle.
"Comfortable" is something you never feel down there.
The reason I say all of this is because the heat and humidity are really the least of the worries the people of Duran face on a daily basis. They lack good shelter [cane homes, leaky roofs and swamp-like conditions]. They have no running water [water gets delivered each day by truck, but you can't even think about drinking it]. They lack reliable electricity [ it goes out all the time, and most people pirate the juice from neighboring wires since the power company won't come and hook it up for them. not safe]. A good education is very hard to come by [teachers are poorly paid and the schools lack basic books and supplies].
Yet with all these things we consider "negatives", the people of Duran always have a smile on their face. No matter what.
We spent much of our time visiting with the people and learning first hand the problems and issues they face each and every day. We were invited into their homes to meet with their families and talk one on one with them [well through a translator most of the time]. But still, we got to hear about what was truly important to them. Family and Faith. They were honest with us and we all really appreciated that. They are a very simple people, but also a very proud people. They work hard and pray even harder.
We tried to live simply while we were there too, only eating about $2.00 of food per person, per day. That meant that we got 2 pieces of bread for breakfast, 2 for lunch, and then a more filling meal at dinner that usually consisted of rice, beans, plantains and even some eggs one night. We made daily runs for bread and went to the market in downtown Duran several times during the week to get veggies, rice and things like that. Also, it's Navy showers the whole time. Get in, turn the water on for about 10 seconds to get wet, then shut it down and soap up. Turn it back on for another minute or so to rinse off and you're done. No water wasting whatsoever down there. It really is a precious commodity for them.
For our entire visit we were lead by Chris, one of the full time volunteers in the Rostro de Christo program. She's a recent grad from Notre Dame and knows the village and people of Arbolito well. She is a great friend to most of the folks so they are then willing to share their stories with us. She really made the trip for our group all that much better!
Some of the other highlights of the trip included visiting the after-school programs that Rostro runs each weekday in a few locations throughout Duran. They give the kids a place to go and be off the streets and not getting into trouble. We got to play soccer with them, capture the flag, and even some bizarre jumping game!
We also visited a Hanson's Disease hospital in the city that provides free care to men and women with the disease. A very powerful experience for all of us and the people were just so nice and caring. We got to visit there twice and even got a chance to buy some of the jewelry and hammocks that the people make in their free time.
We visited a school called Nuevo Mundo that has wealthy students come in the morning, who pay full tuition, and then in the afternoon they bring in kids from the poor neighborhoods and are able to give them a free education. It's a model that is working extremely well. Infact, we had a girl from our neighborhood, Aida, who helped us out a lot with dinners in the evening, who was valedictorian of her class last year!
On our last full day in Ecuador we went into Guayaquil for the afternoon to see a few parks and walk along the river front. It's called the Malecon and they've put a ton of money into the area since my last visit. After that we walked up this huge hill to the light house and small chapel you see in the photo above.
All that being said, it does feel good to be back, but the memories I have and the lessons learned from this past week will not be soon forgotten. And thankfully I don't have to do any more 14 person head counts to make sure all the boys are present and accounted for. Whoever thought up that "buddy system" is a true genius!
While we weren't able to have a camera with us a most times on the trip just because of safety and security reasons, we were still able to snap about 900+ photos. I went ahead and created an album HERE with about 300 of those photos for you to check out. And most of the guys from the trip will be coming here to view them too. And to be frank, which I always am here at kn.com, taking the photos of the iguanas in downtown Guayaquil on our last day freaked the hell out of me. They're everywhere and you have to watch your back! Enjoy the photos and let me know what you think. They really do tell the story of our trip, and much better than I ever could.