8/13/2016: To the 'Thank You's, 'Goodbye's, and 'Hello's

August 16, 2016

Spirit Cultural Exchange offers individuals the opportunity to help with a variety of volunteer projects in Ecuador while immersing themselves in the local culture. Volunteer projects are available throughout the year for a minimum of one week and are offered in many different fields. We hope you enjoy reading the blogs of our summer 2016 scholarship winner Mackenzie H!

(PS. Sorry for the lack of pictures these past two posts. Unfortunately the camera I used was on my phone)

Day 20:
Already a better start to my day than it has been the past couple of days. To play it on the safe side, today --for my last day of work-- I took a taxi to my work site. I arrived at work and started drawing blood right away. The nurses said it was my day because I drew every person's blood, except for maybe 4 people. Good practice, good conversations, and 'goodbyes' were said. Unfortunately the doctor who was my supervisor wasn't there when I left, so I wasn't able to say 'goodbye' to him. Again, I took a taxi home.

What a much better day I am having today. After work, I met up with the older couple from Australia and a couple others. We headed to a restaurant for lunch and great conversations. No offense to my generation, but I enjoy conversing and eating lunch with older folk. They know how to talk rather than sit on their phones the entire time checking social media. It was great being able to get to know this couple over the course of my time here. Such sweet, kind and gentle people they are. Towards the day's end, I rested and repacked, again, trying to fit everything into my suitcase and carry-ons. A good last day of work.
 
Day 21:
Today is my last full day here in Quito. August 10th is Independence Day for Ecuador, but because who wouldn't want a 3 day weekend, Ecuador celebrated their independence today. Because I didn't have work, I was able to sleep in and woke up at 6:30 instead of 6. It was a relaxed day with much walking around the city and exploring. The streets were very empty and silent because people were more than likely sleeping in longer than I! My friend from Minnesota, Emily, and I went walking towards the north to meet up with a woman who helps out at Casa Gabriel. Casa Gabriel is a house where they bring boys from the streets to help them back on the right track. This is a house where they are able to live, go to school, have tutors, and have people who care about them. The house currently has 6 boys living there. There is another house called Casa Adalia. This is a house for girls. They help get girls out of sex trafficking and prostitution. In Ecuador, prostitution is legal for women age 18+. We were told that the government helps underage girls get out, but the ones over 18 aren't helped. Casa Adalia provides a safe environment and home for these women. They even make their own jewelry to make a small income while at the house. These houses do not only provide shelters and love, but they also help bring Jesus Christ into the lives of the children. It's amazing.

It was such an eye opener to see the house. We weren't able to meet any of the children/teenagers that were at the house because they were out visiting museums for the day. Thanks to Dr. Bob for the connection because I am glad we were able to squeeze this visit in, even if it was last minute.

Here is a link to learn more about Casa Gabriel.

After visiting the house and learning about all they do, Emily and I headed back to our houses. I relaxed for a couple of hours, tried to get a little nap in (an hour), and ate my last meal with the family. I am going to miss this family. My host mom is a hoot and so very funny. I am very blessed to have had the living situation I did. I waited around, and waited, and watched more Netflix before I was picked up at 12:30am to head to the airport.

Day 22:
The flight home was exhausting to say the least. After checking in our luggage and going through security at 3am, I was able to meet up with another girl who I had met in Banos who was also headed to Minnesota. After waiting and waiting, we were finally able to board the plane after its 1 hour delay. This wasn't too horrible because thankfully the airport had wifi to watch Netflix. What made me worry was that the next flight originally had a 2 hour layover, which turned out to be a now 1 hour layover. Having to go receive our luggage, go through customs and immigrations, drop out luggage off again, and go through security once again, I was a little worried that one hour was not going to be enough time in order to make it to the next flight. The whole flight from Quito to Houston I was worrying and trying to think of what I would have to do if it didn't plan out as supposed to. 

When we landed in Houston, we sprinted --and I mean full on ran as fast as our backpacks would let us-- through the airport from each custom to checkpoint along the way. There was another man, who didn't speak any English, that followed us from the airplane to the next one as well. We lost him along the way because he wasn't a U.S. citizen and had to go through different customs. After running our way throughout the Houston terminal and taking the sky rail from terminal E to terminal B, we made it to our gate just as they started to board people. It took us just a little under an hour and a ton of sweat later. But, we made it! We were going to make it back to Minnesota at the estimated hour. Hello Minnesota! (We knew we had made it into Minnesota when we were flying over lake after lake after lake; I love that hometown feeling.)

**I still can't believe that those three weeks flew by just like that. On the car ride back to the airport, I vividly remembered the car ride in the opposite direction, just as if it had been yesterday. I'm am glad to be home, but I am also thankful for the experience I was able to endure. I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet so many wonderful friends and to be able to volunteer and learn at the same time. Through the good and the bad experiences, I definitely learned a whole lot about Ecuador, myself, and what it truly means to travel. Traveling and volunteering is, in my opinion, the best way to learn about the world and about ourselves. Thank you to Spirit Exchange for giving me this once in a lifetime opportunity. Thank you for following along throughout my time here in Ecuador.

With love from Ecuador, and Minnesota,
Mackenzie