The focus of the group is to pursue several of charitable activities. I will be translating for some orthopedic surgeons from Edmonton, Canada, who travel to Quito yearly to perform operations. I will have to brush up on my medical Spanish (I know absolutely NO medical Spanish) and help both patients and doctors communicate. I wonder if I will know any of the physicians, since I went to medical school at the University of Alberta, albeit over thirty years ago!
I have also volunteered Maya to perform in a nursing home for the elderly. The Canadian women provided pyjamas for the residents at Christmas, and the ambassador's wife was touched by the appreciation of the elderly patients, and suggested we provide an afternoon of music and tea for them in March. Maya is working on her Mozart concerto and it will be ready by then. She may also perform a duet with a flautist.
There was much discussion about how to help the children at a public school in San Juan (in Cumbaya), where the women had distributed gifts in December. Many were distressed about the conditions of the preschoolers, who did not have diapers and were often wet throughout the day without a change of clothes. Therese had returned from her visit to Canada with newly bought clothes for the little ones and Ximena had a suitcasefull from Chile. Would the children wear the clothes we give to them? Or would the parents sell them to provide food for their families? Would the children wear diapers or pullups if we provided them? For the poor, diapers are not an option and children pee and poop on the floor or in their clothes and are potty trained at one year. Would the school accept the clothes? Would they distribute them to the children as intended? In the end, the simple wish to help these small children became far more complicated and raised more questions than answers.
Being with the group of Canadian women is satisfying for all sorts of reasons, but I sometimes feel a little awkward because although I am Canadian by birth, I have not lived in Canada for over twenty years and question my Canadian credentials. However, our group is diverse, with a Chilean, Peruvian, Columbian, and Ecuadorian woman each married to a Canadian, Canadian women married to Ecuadorians, as well as Canadians in Ecuador with their husbands. Each woman feels Canadian, which I suppose is appropriate, since being Canadian can mean all sorts of things. The group has a common purpose, which is to contribute to those in need, and that is what these meetings are about.
As a working mother for more than twenty years, I have never had the time to participate in community volunteer activities. Devoting time and energy to charitable pursuits is a new experience. It feels right, especially when there is so much need and deprivation, although I m sure there is an equal amount of need in Baltimore.
When contemplating our move to Ecuador, one of my concerns was how I would adjust to losing my identity as a physician. I have been 'Dr. Richter' since 1982, and much of my sense of self has been tied up in being a doctor. What a surprise it has been to discover that I am still myself and no better or worse or more or less significant when no longer a practicing psychiatrist. Perhaps the volunteer activities help me feel useful; it feels right to be contributing to the lives of others in a meaningful way, but volunteering is a choice and not a need.
I wonder who I am now, in this life that is so dramatically different from the past. I am not sure I have changed all that much; I am as intense about living as ever, always doing too much, never sleeping enough because there is too much to do in a day, loving those whom I love and irritating them about as much as ever, landing on my feet after jumping off of my world to another strange and exotic one.