Thursday, July 7, 2011


April 4 is the date on the last post I wrote. Wow. Only 3 months have passed, but feels like a lifetime.

I'm back in Canada now, as anybody who knows me will know by now! And although I've been back for 2 months I'm feeling the need to do what should be (but might not be) a final installment on this blog, which was intended to be all about my life and ministry and adventures in the 3 years I spent in Ecuador. By rights this should have been written long before this, but.... well.... it wasn't. That last month there passed by in a blur of activity and heat and "lasts" (last time to do this or that, last time to go here or there) and goodbyes. And recovering from a crazy final couple of weeks of camp. My daughter Kathryn came down mid April to help me with the packing up of my life in Guayaquil and give me moral support as I said all those difficult goodbyes. And make sure I actually got on that plane! There were goodbye lunches, and get-togethers. I seemed to do much of my grieving over leaving in February for some reason, and by the time I got to the last weeks I had arrived at a very helpful anesthetized state, and tears were mostly left in storage until I got to the airport. The pace picked up dramatically in the last week before departure day, as I did the sorting and distributing of household stuff which was staying, and packing of stuff that was going. And just when it was all good and busy, first Janna, then Nikki came down with dengue fever. Really, I think it was a ploy to get me to stay - get sick and the nurse will change her mind about leaving. Just a theory. No, I'm kidding, of course, it was a fiendish little mosquito.
But somehow it all got done and on April 28 I boarded that plane and through tears said "goodbye for now" to the dirty hot crazy beloved city that was my home for 3 years.

And so back to Canada, to begin my "re-entry" to the North American way of life. Oh, but it was not to be. Within 24 hours of arriving I too got sick with dengue, and for the next 2 weeks was sicker than I've ever been in my life. If there's one way to avoid dealing with the adjustment, it's to retreat to the hospital in a morphine-induced fog! It's been a long gradual recovery, a lot of fatigue to deal with, but I think I'm finally over it, and in a way it's been good - it's been an enforced rest time, time to recover from the incredibly busy and stressful final weeks in Ecuador, and a chance to dwell in a little bubble of being neither here nor there. Also I've been able to spend wonderful time with my family, catching up on lost time. And especially precious times with my grandchildren, getting to know them in person. Grandma Ecuador is finally a person who can dispense hugs and kisses, instead of being a face on a computer screen.

However, this is definitely a strange time, between lives. I'm glad to be here, having a Canadian summer, seeing my family, catching up on crusty bread, and real cheese, and all kinds of other food that couldn't be found in Ecuador (well, I had to get weight back on me after being sick, you know!!). I'm loving the quiet, and safety, and the clean cool air. But I'm missing my life there, and my buddies and my community of Bastion Popular, and my grubby little cement house. (and my hammock!!) I go for walks here and there aren't any little kids to come running, hollering my name, to give and get big hugs. Nobody invites me in for large plates of rice and glasses of "cola". It's a funny place to be in, missing there when I'm here, missing here when I'm there. That's the problem with having one's heart divided between two lands.

I don't know what lies ahead, I don't have a job yet, and am not sure exactly what to pursue. There are days when I'm impatient to know what the next step is and to move forward, but the next step is not clear, and my sense is that God is telling me to wait. He will show me what direction to go in, in His time. And just as I know He led me to Ecuador, I know He led me back and has work for me to do here and will lead me forward when the time is right.

I truly feel that I was blessed to have been allowed this time in Ecuador, it was an incredible gift to me that I feel so privileged to have been given. It wasn't always easy, but it was a blessing. Every bit of it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wow, I just saw the date on the last post I did - 2 months ago. So much has gone on in those 2 months that it feels more like 6 months. So much that I hardly know where to begin. The big picture is that camp occupied much of those 2 months, the better part of 5 weeks over Feb and March. We had 1 camp for junior youth from Bastion and 1 for the youth from Arenal and Playas, our camp community. And 1 week each for children from both those places. Plus a retreat for senior youth and young leaders from Bastion. There were many memories created in each of those weeks, lots of happy times. I especially treasured those times this year as I was able to spend days with those I'll soon have to say goodbye to. That thought always lurking in the back of my head made the days somewhat bittersweet, but I'm so thankful for those weeks. So much has happened that I've had to go back over my (many) pictures to remind myself of some of the happy days.
One of the highlights for me was the 4 days we spent in Balsapamba, a little ways into the mountains, on the retreat for our older ones. It was a very different experience for me, my usual camp role was gone because we weren't in our own camp. No meals to help with, no dishwashing, minimal medical stuff. They even made me be on a team, although I was a somewhat halfhearted participant, not being much use with soccer or games that involve running or jumping, or much else really. But there I was, a member of the Azul team!
But what made this time so good for me was being there with so many who I have known since they were very young, they have grown up into young adults, many of whom are in leadership roles in the churches and camp. Those 4 days were an opportunity for them to relax, not have to be leaders, and hear some very valuable teaching on God's love, presented to them in a way they may not have heard before. And to laugh and have fun. Such fun, those adults all became kids again for those 4 days, and the simplest activity became a reason to laugh. It gave me such a charge to sit by and watch it all. Does anyone have a sense of humour like this bunch?? I doubt it. There was a pool there, and at first I thought - "A pool. Humph. We're used to the beach and the ocean, what fun is a little pool?" Well, I'm here to tell you that this gang had more fun in and around that pool that I ever dreamed possible. I sat on my perch on a rock beside that pool and laughed more than I have in a long time.
We went for a hike one afternoon, and ended up at the bottom of a waterfall. Well, what are you going to do? Go into that freezing water, of course. God provided it as a reason for more fun, so let's go!
So as I take this chance to look back beyond the events of the last few stressful weeks, and remember that 4 days, I'm very thankful I was able to be there for them.

The final 2 weeks of camp were for the children, and as always it gave me such joy to see those kids at camp, at the beach. There was a lot going on in those weeks, but that's another post! As I look back over these 2 months, I see how God blessed us and cared for us, in so many ways.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Christmas in Hope of Bastion school

I'm backtracking a bit, going back to Christmas, but I just wanted to share an aspect of the celebrations here that so many Canadians (and others) are a part of.
Every year, on the last day of school before Christmas, there is a party for everyone. And it is a party! It starts off with a program in the gym, where the kids all sit patiently, or not, waiting for the main event. Which is where they go to their classes and out comes the food - chicken,  rice, potatoes (as it's Christmas),  pop, cake. Yes, it's a little overbalanced by the carbohydrates, thus is life here. But of course, what they're really waiting for is Santa - "Papa Noel". And in due course, Felipe gets his gear on, and makes his way from class to class carrying his bag of presents. It's so much fun to watch the kids' faces as he appears and see the little ones inspecting him from various angles and deciding that it's Felipe. Really, the outfit, especially the beard, has seen better days and it doesn't require much investigating to figure it out! Then the kids are called up one by one and given their gift. The gifts are made possible by the sponsors, who send extra funds each year and Nikki goes out on a very big shopping trip! The presents are carefully chosen for each class, and may very well be the only gift that some kids receive at Christmas. Some kids don't have sponsors, but of course still get a gift.

But there is something that I've noticed and has really struck me. Almost better than the gift is the letter that comes from their sponsor (if they have one, and if the sponsor sends a letter). MANY of the kids will receive their bag and before even looking at the gift will pull out the envelope from the sponsor, and read the letter and look at any photos that may be enclosed. The photos will be passed around to their friends to see, and the letter painstakingly read. If they're not good readers yet, they'll ask me to read it to them. They'll spend ages looking at the photos that come, maybe of the sponsor, of the sponsor's family, of Canada.
Then it's all very carefully folded back up and put in the envelope to take home. This communication from their sponsor, who in most cases is someone they've never met and most likely never will, is SO important. I've been to homes where every letter and every photo that has ever come is carefully stashed, and they'll pull out the box or envelope or album and show them to me. They are treasured possessions, and will last long after the gift has been lost or broken or used up.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's been a weird week.
3 years ago, I bought my first ever one way ticket. Toronto to Guayaquil, Feb 6, 2008. (Although due to snowstorms and volcanos, I didn't actually set foot in Ecuador until Feb 8, but that story has already been told!) This week I bought another one way ticket, Guayaquil to Toronto, April 28, 2011. And although this has been talked about, prayed about, and been in my thoughts for many months, buying that ticket and booking that flight made it suddenly real. My time in Ecuador is coming to an end. And I can hardly believe it. Both that I've been here 3 years, and that it's over. When I came I was committed to no less than 1 year, but with no real idea as to how long I would be here. I always said that God would make it clear to me when it was time to return to Canada. And over the last year, that's what He has been doing - putting the idea in my head, giving me little nudges, and eventually making it clear. It's time to go back. 

I have very mixed feelings about it all, it's all rather bittersweet. I'm headed home to my family, including 2 precious grandchildren who mostly know me as a face on the computer screen. Home to the familiar, or at least what used to be familiar, after 3 years it all seems a lot less so. Home to what looks to me like a quiet, clean, orderly, and COOL world, where I don't have to struggle to understand and make myself understood. But I'll be leaving so much behind too. A lot of frustrations, life in South America seems to be full of them. The heat, the noise, the chaos, the dirt. And.... many wonderful friends, of all ages, who tell me that they're my family too. Established relationships that have deepened over the time I've been living here, and new ones with people I didn't know before I came to stay. People I've laughed with - so many good laughs! And cried with too. People I've talked to, and listened to. I've seen kids in our school growing up, kids change a lot in 3 years. And it's been such a privilege to be here to see the 2 kids I've sponsored since kindergarten growing up. Ronald, who graduated to high school 2 years ago, and Genesis who will graduate this week at the top of her class, and is becoming a fine young lady. And I'll be leaving behind the best huggers on the planet. When I get back to Burlington, who's going to come running as I walk through the streets - "Heather" ('Jeder' with the unique way of saying that!) and throw little arms around me?! And who is going to care for my patients? Well, the answer to that one is God, who loves those people better than I ever could, and will look after them in ways that I can't imagine.

I am headed back to a life filled with unknowns. A slightly scary prospect. But 3 years ago I arrived here to a life that was also filled with many many unknowns, at the direction of a God who I know loves me, and will never leave me, nor did He. And that same God is taking me back to this next phase of life, and I know I can trust Him.  And my prayer is that He will use me in a special way in the 3 months that I have left in this wonderful little country called Ecuador.      

Friday, November 26, 2010

pavement & needles

 In October I went home, to my other home, Canada, for 1 month. Just 1 month, only 4 weeks, not very long at all (sure went fast from my end!!). But when I came back to Guayaquil, and ventured forth across the dreaded highway to Bastion, I almost had to pinch myself and
double check where I was. Because this didn't look like the Bastion that
I've known for so many years, not at all. That Bastion had mud streets, lumpy, bumpy and pot-holed. Dry and dusty for half the year, and flowing with mud and giant bottomless
puddles in the rainy season. Always a challenge to negotiate my way about, never able to raise my eyes and look around me for more than a few seconds at a time, lest I fall over or into something, or step on any number of undesirables. But all has changed, or is still changing. Now the streets are being paved, and not just paved, but with sidewalks too!! I can hardly believe it, it looks so different now, all neat and tidy, nice smooth streets, much cleaner. As I walk around I keep losing my bearings, that's how much it's changed. And there are new sewer pipes installed. All going to make living in that community so much better for everyone. Now we're all saying - Bring on the winter, the rainy season!!! Oh, it's going to be so nice.

the street with the school
We've been travelling these new lovely streets recently, the kindergarten class has been doing its annual home visits. The entire class, along with the teacher and helpers, all go out and visit the home of each child in the class. We trundle along with the kids holding onto a rope and the adults herding them along and trying to keep them on course. And one by one we visit their homes. In we all go, and the child has to introduce the family members who are on hand, then they all tour the home, see the kitchen, where the child's eating habits are questioned and everyone applauds if we find out they eat vegetables, then to where they sleep, where we find out if the child keeps their bed and (few) toys tidy. Then most moms serve a snack to us all. Last week we visited 6 or 7 houses one morning, and got back to the school full of assorted crackers and cookies, jello, yogurt, pop and one clever mom served us all big wedges of papaya, a nice nutritious snack (but NOT my favourite tropical fruit). I don't think much lunch was eaten that day.
The living conditions differ a lot between the various houses. Some of the homes clearly  represent a huge struggle for survival, while others are in better condition and the families evidently are doing reasonably well. 

Yesterday when I arrived at the school, a Ministry of Health team was there, vaccinating some classes. I was so happy to see them and find out that they're doing this - not waiting for parents to bring kids to them for immunizations, but coming to where the kids are. It was strange for us Canadians to see, no consent forms, no info for the parents. It just gets done! I joined the fray when they were about to do the grade 1 class, and it was in an absolute uproar. A nurse and doctor were sitting at the desk calmly drawing up all the syringes, and the kids were sitting watching, a number of them wailing and sobbing, and I found 5 of them hiding under desks at the back of the class. So we got them all out in the hallway, and brought them in one by one, and I held the kids in good big "hugs" while the job was done. I confess it was just a little funny to watch the poor little things come in, some of them crying piteously "I don't want to, I don't want to", and others just swaggered in, no big deal at all. I happened to have a camera with me that day, so we got a few pictures. We felt as though we'd been on the battlefield by the time we were done. But I'm very happy to have these kids immunized.

( I have never had so much trouble laying out a page of this blog before! I'm not happy with the way it is, but I've spent too many frustrating hours on it, and this is the best I could do. They've changed something!!!)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

lives in Bastion

I'm just in from some visits around Bastion this morning. I've been doing quite a bit of visiting in the last few days, spending time with people before I head to Canada next week. And in these visits, sitting and talking, I've had it brought home to me all over again just how tough these peoples' lives are here. Home after home, friend after friend, story after story, each and every one pulling at my heart a little more. Life here in Bastion is not just not easy, it is so difficult, beyond difficult, for many it must feel completely impossible. And it didn't just get hard in the last week or month, a little problem that came along and pretty soon things will get better. These are lives that have been hard for years, and will stay that way, there is no corner to turn and find a marvellous easy life wating.

There are my friends in block 10. Invited me to lunch on Sunday, and pulled out all the stops and served me a wonderful meal, which I enjoyed, all the while feeling so guilty because I know there are days when they can't put 3 basic meals on the table for their family. He's been trying to earn a living collecting recyclables from the garbage that others put out. That involves pushing a big old heavy trike around the city picking through piles of garbage to find the stuff that he can sell for a pittance. Never a great way to try to feed your family. But now he's getting too, umm.....mature (I have to be careful here, he's younger than me and I'm not ready to call myself old!) to be out there doing that all day in the heat. He's been unwell for some months, and I finally got him to a good doctor who told him he just can't do that work anymore. Ok, fine. So now what? His wife is finishing her first year of university, studying to be a teacher, in the hopes of being able to get a job eventually. But that's going to take 4 more years. What happens in the meantime? They have kids in school, there are always costs involved. And how do they eat?

There's a family in block 6. There is no husband or father, hasn't been for many years. There isn't anyone earning any money in that house at all at the moment. 2 of the kids have have been through our Hope of Bastion school, now in high school, and one older daughter with a 2 year old. She sometimes gets work in a shrimp processing plant nearby, but gets laid off frequently. And when she is working she gets paid an absolutely ridiculous pittance for beheading and peeling a pound of shrimp. She could work all day doing that and earn $3 or $4.

Then there's my dear friend, her life has been a never-ending series of griefs. I stopped in there for a few minutes, but we began to talk and then the floodgates opened and she told me part, just part, of the last 10 years' worth. She is a single mother too, 5 kids at home. She has struggled away faithfully doing a fabulous job of rasing her kids alone, finding ways to make ends meet. She has a degenerative kidney disease that we are managing, her meds alone cost over $400 a month. Her latest disaster is that one corner of her bamboo house has rotted and is collapsing. Well, just fix it then. Even if there was lots of money, it's not that simple. There's more to the housing story, that's what came out today. She lives behind her sister's house, with her wall maybe 4 feet away from the back wall of the other house. And her sister has decided that she wants to enlarge her house, build onto the back of it. So, too bad about my friend, the only solution offered is to knock down the front of her place and live in the back part to make way for the addition. Which would reduce her living space by half for her family of 6, including 4 teenage boys. Oh, and the corner that is falling - you have to pass through it to get to the "bathroom". So the kids are skinny so they're doing that with great care. So I asked what my friend is doing about facilities. Oh she's going off up the road to someone's house. Oh, and.... you can hardly make your way along her street right now, it's all dug up, they're putting in sewers and finally fixing things up in Bastion, but at the moment that street is a disaster. As I left she hugged me and thanked me for listening, and apologized for serving me a delicious bowl of soup and rice.

And the red tape and paperwork and level of dificulty in every aspect of life here make for other problems. I was in another home this week (another meal served to me), seems like a nice stable little family. There is a father present, and he has a job. Sometimes. He works in construction which is quite different here to what it is in Canada. Here that usually means getting taken on for little jobs here and there. So he's often out of work. There's a 19 year old son, he's finished high school, but can't get a job because of some long involved delay with getting his papers from his school. And without those he can't work. 

I could go on. And on. I'm absolutely reeling today with it all. Why is it bothering me so much now all of a sudden? I think I must have got used to things to some degree and been floating above it, relatively unaffected. I don't want to think of myself as hardened. I guess so much time in the last few days spent listening and observing has re-opened my eyes. And now I'm getting ready to go home to Canada for a month. To a rather different world. The homes I've been in here are furnished with the most basic of items, sometimes not even those, and what they do have are things that by the standards of the world I'm going to are fit only for the dump. How can I ever reconcile what I will find there with the realities I know here?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Back in July (yes I've fallen a little behind on this blog), I was invited to go to a track and field event that a bunch of the kids in our Hope of Bastion school were a part of. I was asked to go just in case there were any accidents or injuries, being as how I'm the school nurse! So I packed a bag of first aid things that I really hoped would be unnecessary, and climbed on the bus with about 25 kids and some of their parents, and we spent 2 long mornings at the stadium here in Guayaquil, perched on cement bleachers, watching to see how our kids would do. And we saw! And were proud!
They were competing in various track and field events, long jump, a version of shot put, but mostly running. And can our kids run! They were up against other schools in the city, including some expensive private schools and our Hope of Bastion children held their own, and came home with their fair share of medals. It was interesting for me to sit and observe the differences in the kids of these schools, those from the obvious "poor" schools, and those from the wealthy ones. There is a definite and obvious class system here still, it was easy to distinguish between the rich and poor. The parents from the weathier schools were sitting around using Blackberries, and were dressed rather differently to our parents. The kids had spiffy uniforms and, this to me was the biggest deal - good running shoes. Our kids had their little school t-shirts the first day, and the second day wore Tim Horton's shirts that had come from someone in Canada. And shorts that had also been a donation from Canada. But didn't necessarily fit all that well! And their shoes - I felt badly when I saw what all but one were wearing for shoes. You can buy very cheap shoes here, we used to call them $3 shoes, they may have gone up to $4 by now. Canvas and a very thin slice of rubber for the soles, absolutely no support, or cushioning, or built in bounce. I saw huge holes in one little guy's, all kinds of toes poking out! But they took themselves, with their inadequate shoes, out onto the track and showed us all that they knew how to run! And they did so well, we came home with 7 medals in all, a pretty good showing for kids from a little school in a squatter area. I wonder what they could do with proper sports shoes!
And the other good news - my bag of supplies wasn't needed - there were no injuries.