i just got back from a medical missions trip in Ecuador. the following is a letter to a friend that had asked me to tell him all about it. i figure it sums up my trip pretty well so i just did the ol' copy n paste, and added a couple photos for effect.
yeah, shits crazy down there. it was a very surreal trip, an amazing experience. many moments i'll keep with me forever. it was hot and sticky, torrential downpour about every other night, blazing sun every day. the city, guayaquil, is a pretty big one, the biggest in the country but not the capitol (and also not very touristed). just a big polluted grimy mess basically. lots of poverty everywhere, chaotic traffic (whats a lane?) (4 guys on a pile of plantains in the back of a jerry-rigged pick up with a rope tailgate and one odd tire), basically straight up 3rd world shit. the first weekend we were there fell on the presidential elections, so shit was extra crazy. (also included a liquor ban which we worked around). i only exaggerate slightly when i say it felt like martial law. lots and lots of army guys with their m-16s posted everywhere, and throngs of people at demonstrations and polling places. and beyond the election madness, there were security and military people posted up outside of shops and places everywhere, with the flack jackets ammo belts and massive assault rifles or stockless shotguns.
so thats the vibe. and what made it surreal is that we were staying at a 5 star hotel and eating at fancy restaurants every night. bourgeois living while we are surrounded by all this poverty and social messiness. oh also i was hanging out with mel gibson's son... kind of a mind fuck.
not to mention the actual mission we were on, giving heart surgery to little kids. we (they) did 20 open heart surgeries and as many cath procedures (where they go into the heart with a device through an artery and are able to fix certian types of holes). i was able to sit in on a couple open heart surgeries. THAT was a trip. way more intense and fascinating than i expected. a little 6 year old girl, you see her ribcage sawed through and ripped open, and they use whats basically a soldering iron to do most of the cutting. it instantly cauterizes it so it doesnt bleed, but it also smokes and smells of burning human flesh. ...didnt expect that... then they get to the actual heart, thump thump thumping away. you can see all the way inside this child, and then (after putting the blood through an oxygenating machine and a million other steps), they stop the heart by literally spooning ice onto it, then they take the heart apart and tinker with it. they cut off a membrane from the outside and treat it with a chemical and use it to make a patch to repair a hole inside the heart.
on and on. a million steps that i only understand half of them. crazy shit. then you see this child a little while later in the ICU semi concious, you see her eyes and her face and just 40 minutes ago you were looking at the inside of her heart. mind fuck.
another moment was being able to tag along while we dropped this kid off. he lives in the slums. i seriously saw the kind of crooked ass shanty shit that i draw all the time. dirt roads, shacks made of warped planks and corrugated rust, the whole nine. no cars either. but the whole hood came out and greeted little miguel, checked out his scars, there were a ton of kids and by the end of the hour or so we were there they were crawling all over me. not sharing a language but laughing and playing anyway. the vibe was super laid back and happy there. no possessions, no worries. the kid to adult ratio was a little out of hand, which makes you think a little. its the same trend here of the poor/ uneducated breeding at 5 times the rate as the people that can actually afford to raise a kid, but amplified a lot. lots of things on the trip made me think along those lines.
some of our people got robbed at gunpoint in a cab one night, it was a crazy dramatic ordeal that involved one girl biting this fuckers face off. they fought the robbers off (but still had everything taken) but were separated from each other and stranded way outside of where the hotel was, in a dark deserted industrial neighborhood in the pouring rain with no money. everybody eventually made it back but for a long time we didnt know where 3 of the 5 were. thats the very abbreviated story of a very dramatic evening for everybody. scary shit.