So, there's this program at Duke called DukeEngage and it funds students to travel abroad (or domestically) for either pre-determined group projects or student-proposed individual projects. I am doing the latter. As a mechanical engineer I really wanted to bust out of the 9-5 desk internship that I'd already experienced and get hands-on and interactive with other people. After a little research, I thought prosthetics might be a good fit. I followed some leads at Duke and ended up connecting with David Krupa, an American prosthetist who moved down to Quito, Ecuador to start both a private practice and a non-profit. So I proposed a 2 month long project to DukeEngage where I'd station in Quito and volunteer with David to make prosthetics.
It's day two and a little bit here in Quito, but I wanted to go back to the beginning to talk about my first few hours and first day here. Day one began in typical Brucato fashion, hectic and dramatic. Literally as I was walking out the door to go to the airport at 3 am, my grandpa had a tumble down the stairs; it was a furious race between the two Brucato cars to see who could reach their destination first - the airport and the hospital. Luckily, Papa Pete - hearty old guy - was totally fine... just a few bumps and bruises.
The rest of the trip was much less eventful. I had smooth flights from Albany --> DC --> Miami --> Quito. My thoughts before and during the trip were all over the place. For one, I didn't feel prepared because I hadn't really packed that much, and didn't have a great idea of what I would need. Or rather, I knew what David had told me to bring and it wasn't too much. The other major concern on my mind was safety. I had heard varying reports about Quito being a dangerous city, and I sort of psyched myself out the night before by reading up on some of the crime there. I debated how much I would write about the dangers of being here in this blog, but I have decided to be open about it because it is an important part of the experience. Anyway, the night before leaving I was trying to figure out exactly how to get from the airport to the city center, about 45 minutes away. My homestay host, a young woman named Janne, said I could take a bus from the new airport to the old airport and then a taxi from the new airport to my homestay. But David had offered to give me a ride, so I was trying to nail that down instead.
View of Andes Mtns from the plane
So, here's the deal with safety. Quito is certainly not the safest city in the world. It is much more dangerous than my hometown. Of special concern are taxis -- if you take an unofficial taxi there is a possibility that you could get held up or robbed. Women should not walk alone at night, etc. As I said, I spent some of the night reading these stories to understand the situation in which I would find myself... which I do not regret, but it definitely freaked me out to say the least. I was SO relieved when David said he could pick me up from the airport. As we drove to the city center, he echoed what others had said - always take an official taxi marked by orange license plates and other identifiers. And I will not stray from that. That being said, Janne takes a taxi every morning and night to school and has lived in Quito for 13 years and has never had a problem. So the key is follow people's advice, be smart, and pay attention to your gut. On top of that I am in good contact with everyone I know here in Quito and my parents/DukeEngage at home.
That all being said, I had the day off on Monday and David suggested walking around, exploring, and maybe doing a hop on hop off bus tour. Truth be told, I was rather terrified to go outside. I had built up an image in my mind that I would be jumped as soon as I left the confines of my home. I finally forced myself to venture out, and walk to the nearby mall. The sun was shining brightly and there were many people, and especially many women alone, walking around. I immediately felt better. I walked fast and with purpose to the mall, and then walked around to look at all the shops. The mall was nicer than the one close to me at home. The locals did look at me a bit funny - a blue eyed gringo girl walking around Quito - but not in a threatening way. I bought some staples at the local Supermaxi (grocery store) and carried them home. Excursion 1 = successful. Hilariously, because of the altitude (~9300 ft), carrying the few groceries back was a workout!
I went out again a bit later to walk around the park - a nice place. Guys ride around on these ice cream carts and you can buy various yummies from them. Later at night, Janne and I went back to the mall to get some dinner. My initial reaction was ruh roh because I had convinced myself that going out at night was idiotic, but Janne says it's very safe around our area. I felt totally fine with her -- it was nice to be with someone who really knows the place. We ate in sort of the food court area of the mall; I got "pollo negro" (black chicken) for 3.25.
Things that are cheap here:
-coke (as cheap as water)
At night we posted up like an old married couple and watched a Spanish soap opera (Amores Verdidades). I'm guessing soaps must be the biggest consumers of waterproof mascara... too many tears (by about 100 litres) for me. Janne's ADORABLE dog Lucky watched with us. Today I checked my camera and 5 of my 6 total photos of Quito so far are of Lucky. On the camera topic, I decided not to bring my nice Cannon because I thought it might get stolen... but I'm sort of regretting that. I can use my iphone, yes, but I won't be able to zoom very well. I might just buy a little disposable camera and have some fun developing all those random photos in the future.
Lucky, who's actually ghostwriting my blog
Well, that's all for now. I'll try to be less verbose, but I like giving details so no guarantees :)