There is something magical about riding in the back of a pick up truck. Wherever you are in the world. It's the combination of risky behavior with an odd sense of freedom. The wind that wrestles with your eyelids and tangles your hair also blocks out all other sound. The winds triumph over all other noises forces one to be inside ones head, while the views from the back of the truck are incredible, even through blinking dust threatened eyes. Here I am inside my own head. Happily relaxed with places to be but no schedule. My boarder-line crazy Italian friend drives like a mad man along the Ruta del Sol, his pregnant questionably too young for him wife sits next to him in the cab. They seem happy each fighting with a smile for a word in their hand waving conversation (he is Italian you see). I sit alone in the back with some papayas bigger than 2 year olds, groceries and the wind. As huge dump trucks fly by heading north, my heart skips, it's all part of the unique freedom in the back of a pick up on a windy road in an underdeveloped land.
We pass so much beauty and destruction. The shrimp ponds that destroyed the mangroves, boosted the economy, gave poor people jobs and hope and then swiftly threw everyone rock bottom. We pass dried hills and valleys giving one the sense that a lion, elephant or giraffe should appear in the Ecuadorian desert. Our province, Manabi has the highest deforestation rate in Ecuador due to cattle. Ecuador has the highest deforestation rate in the world. Granted, statistics can be twisted but, the truth keeps rushing by me. The only sign of beauty in these deserted hills are the ceibo trees that curl high above the pasture. The Mayans believed the ceibos were our connection to the spiritual world, still today they are left standing in open pastures. As a science lover I am amazed by their green bark that is capable of doing photosynthesis in the dry season when the ceibo loses its leaves. As a New Englander I am happy to live in a deciduous forest, even if the temperature hardly varies between the wet and dry season. We pass amazing equatorial jungle, huge palms, vines and mystery. We pass poor villages and men selling huge prawns on the side of the road. I embrace this opportunity, to be forced by the wind to observe and ponder.
Because I am still in my head, and not someone else's, my gratefulness of opportunity immediately makes me feel a little guilty. I live in a place of beauty and poverty and the hardest thing for me are the lack of opportunities for women and even the men. But, because I can't help myself and believe that women are the key to development, I focus on the women. Sure a woman here can ride in the back of a truck and feel the wind in her hair, but, she'll never drive one. She can wonder and ponder things in the world, but, the chances are she can't write it down or read another's words. She can walk in the deep jungle gathering wild coffee, vegetable ivory seeds and palm seeds, but, chances are, she'll never own the land. Then, this gets me thinking of how lucky I am to have meet so many different strong women in my lives. If I could just show the young girls in Tabuga that there are women out there like these women... maybe they'd have a little bit of hope. Learn to say no, finish school and not be pregnant at age 14.
I think back to my elementary school teachers and how they tell us in America that we can be whatever we want to be – and we believe them. I think about all my childhood girlfriends and how they are living their dreams... even if those dreams are different that what they'd planned. I think about going to NARAL meetings as a 9 year old, enthralled by the conversations, words like contraception and all of the women there. I think of hearing Hilary Clinton talk in NH when I was about 12. I think of my lacrosse coach at Duke who taught me about commitment and determination while she also raised a family, and all my teammates who showed up everyday and balanced the Duke workload with good good times. I think of my advisor at Duke who was a tiny lady but incredibly intimidating and bright and I can only imagine the things that she has thought of by now. Or the head of the Environmental Science department who smoked cigarettes during our outdoors labs and encouraged me to go to medical school. I think back to my summer at Godard and how I was blessed to work with Ann and Susan, my two female mentors who taught me about science and showed me that you can be a successful scientist, intelligent and still be athletic and raise a family. I think of my female cousins who are both mom's and have been through times that could break someone but they continue to fight for what they want with the love and support of my Aunt. My sister who has taught me that being true to yourself is the most important thing in the world even if it means you might be sad for a bit. The two female US Ambassadors to Ecuador who I have had the pleasure of meeting during my time here who have big hearts even has big serious diplomats. My Peace Corps country director who just arrived here but has worked all over the world in huge leadership positions. The vice-country director who has climbed most ever mountain in Ecuador, continues to move up the ladder and still dresses great. Julieta, the highest ranking female officer EVER in the Ecuadorian national police who protects all of us little Peace Corps kids. All the Ecuadorian women in that office who I have had the pleasure of working with these two years who are working mom's. Sometimes, I can't believe that they grew up in the same country as Tabuga. I think of Geomaira, my best friend in Tabuga who is a young mom, studying in the university, learning English and dreams of opportunities. And, most importantly, my mom. Who is a rock, a constant support to me, my siblings and all the kids who she works with. Her story could bring most to tears while at the same time making them laugh and giving them hope. And finally, all of the men who have supported these kinds of women. Men who believe that women can be smart and men can be idiots. Men that believe in opportunities and respect these women as coworkers, friends and family.
I get to Tabuga and sit down in my little house. If I had more time I am sure this list would go on forever. But, the ride from Pedernales, crossing the equator to Tabuga is only 25 minutes. My 'cousin' comes over as soon as I get home and stands over me as I type. Amazed at the quickness of my fingers and asks me what I am writing. I tell her I am writing about women and how they are the key to a better world (this isn't just me talking either... read about international development and you'll see). My cousin is 18, has two kids, can't read or write and doesn't know the alphabet. She comes over everyday as if I am a soap opera. Her kid has peed on my floor a few times and once the 2 year old cried so hard she threw up on the floor (AJ's presence scared her that bad). When I hang out with Prima, I know that staying here for another year isn't just about me and living in my happy little bamboo hut. It's about the people. The women and children that think I am crazy but look to me for advice, knowledge and support. I hope to be for these women and children what all of the women in my life have been to me.