After spending 15 hours in the Panama City airport attempting to sleep and almost missing our flight in the morning, we touched base in Guayaquil! We were then greeted by the ecstatic faces of Dr. Alexandra’s son, Angel, and her cousin, Lionel. Dressed for the tundra of the Northeast, we took one step out of the airport and were nearly knocked out by the heat. With all four of us jammed into the backseat, it gave us a great opportunity to start some literal bonding – it was quite a bumpy ride getting out of Guayaquil. Once we got to the freeway, the AC finally kicked in, just as we got accustomed to the 100˚ weather. The rest of the ride was filled with beautiful landscapes and a taste of Ecuadorian culture via Lionel’s numerous stories; he even stopped and picked up a bag of ripe, fresh mangoes for us. We were starved and wanted to eat them right then but couldn’t figure out how to cut into them.
Upon arriving in La Libertad, we stopped to meet Dr. Alexandra at her temporary gig at a local court house and picked up the keys to the house that she so graciously offered to rent to us. Due to some miscommunication, Lionel ended up dropping us off at her mom’s house instead, which Dr. Alexandra moved in to and where we were stranded for the next few hours. Fortunately, we met Armando, a Peace Corps volunteer, who lives with Dr. Alexandra. We were comforted by finally hearing some English.
Armando took us to the shopping center where we met Dr. Alexandra, another CEPAIPA director, Jefferson, and a group of CEPAIPA kids. They were so excited to see us, but we were equally overwhelmed and thrilled to meet them. After 2 years of planning, we were finally here! After a lot of chatter and buzz, we all calmed down and introduced ourselves. Having Armando and Steve as translators was extremely useful. Running through our itinerary for the week, we then split up to later meet at the “malecon,” the boardwalk by the beach in La Libertad, for some community building activities with CEPAIPA. These included, but were not limited to: some theatrics by the CEPAIPA crew, the “Hokey Pokey” led by our very own Nicole G, and a rough interpretation of the “Gangnam Style” dance by Steve. Despite the language barrier, we were able to bond and laugh with the students.
By the end of the night, we returned to our crowded spots in the back of Dr. Alexandra’s car and went out for some late night empanadas. We discussed our interests and career/life ambitions, at which point Dr. Alexandra talked about how she loved what she did. One especially memorable statement by her was how she specifically wanted to enter the field of public health due to her belief that it would afford her the opportunity to interact with and impact the greatest number of people possible.
Afterwards, Dr. A brought us to the house to check in on us and introduced us to Jose, the small, frail, and adorable neighborhood “security guard”. She assured us that if we were ever concerned, all we needed to do was go outside and scream “JOSEEEEEEEEE”, and all 90 pounds of him would come sprinting down the road to our rescue a la Liam Neeson in “Taken”. Now fully confident in our safety, we settled into our home for the next 9 days… still uncertain of all that we were about to learn and do.