Focus

Once again, I have waited until the last possible day to publish my monthly post. Perhaps with good reason–October has been a unique month of my Watson year. Between protests, solo travels, and meeting with my family, the time has passed in a completely different way. Instead of hands-on work, October has been more of a month of reflection and, admittedly, distraction.

My work at Hospice San Camilo was cut short due to national level protests against the President’s decision to cut gasoline subsidies. Transportation services in Quito and the rest of the country were paralyzed for nearly two weeks. As my daily trip to work relied on a 40-minute bus ride, my project was also suspended. Not only was I unable to get to work, I was unable to travel outside of Quito. I canceled my plans to visit the Amazonian jungle and I nervously counted the days as my flight to Peru on October 15th loomed closer and closer: would the protests settle in time? Would the airport be open? Would I even be able to get to the airport? In the meantime, there wasn’t much to do in Quito either. Restaurants and bars were closed, some areas were dangerous to walk through, and there was worry the grocery stores would run out of food. I passed most of my days basically trapped inside my house, where I spent most of my time inside my bedroom. Gratefully, some of my friends lived close enough to my house that I was still able to pass some time socializing. I’m not sure how I would have managed without those necessary reprieves and visits to the outside world. Not to say that the time inside the house was bad, just boring. By the end of the second week of protests, however, even the house became a more social space. The two Belgian girls living in the house and I would all play games with Yadi’s daughter, cook waffles for us all to eat together, or just spend time discussing the current political situations in Ecuador and in our respective countries.

A puppet show we performed for Yadi’s daughter and niece during the protests.

Truthfully, I spent a lot of those two weeks feeling sorry for myself. I was so disappointed that I was not going to be able to travel to the jungle, and I hated feeling stuck inside the house. Additionally, my time at Hospice San Camilo had grown to be quite boring. I had forgotten how dull only shadowing can be at times. The first day of the protests I had actually felt relieved that I hadn’t had to go sit at work that day. I found myself at home with ample free time, but little passion for my project. I blamed Quito for my lack of stimulation and engagement. Instead of using my free time to journal and reflect on my time in Quito, as well as mentally prepare to leave my first home of my Watson year, I let the boredom consume me, passing my days watching Netflix and halfheartedly completing my translation project for the hospice. When the day of my departure finally arrived, I could not have felt readier to leave Quito. It was an unemotional goodbye.

Two days later I began my hike to Machu Picchu. I hoped it would be the perfect reset, five days walking through the mountains and jungles of Peru. Spending five days with other travelers, however, proved to be more challenging than I thought. I felt like everyone in my group was travelling for several months with no agenda other than to explore South America. They all traded stories of their times in Colombia, then Peru, then Bolivia, then Brazil and Argentina, their lists went on and on. Then it was my turn. My answers felt so dull compared to everyone else’s adventures. I became jealous of their unhinged travel, and felt stupid for not planning to spend longer in South America. What about sandboarding in Huachachincha? The Bolivian salt flats? The beaches in Colombia? I began thinking about when I could come back, maybe in the month before returning to the United States at the end of my Watson. In the meantime, I found myself justifying my travels to the others in my group.

“Yea, I just enjoy spending time in one place, it’s a different way to travel that offers different advantages.”

I fought with myself a lot during those days. Why was I seeking validation from these people I had just met? Who cares if they find my travels interesting or not? As for my grand adventures throughout South America, of course I had not allotted more time to visit other countries. The purpose of my Watson is not only to travel to cool places, although admittedly this is what people want to hear the most about. I am trying to learn about end-of-life care, and I think the duration of time at Hospice San Camilo, although boring at times, was valuable.

Learning how to talk to people and explain my Watson was a big part of my five days in the mountains. I eventually started to share the purpose of my project with others, but still never dared to tell them I had won a scholarship allowing the opportunity to travel and study for a year. I only tell people when they ask how I manage to pay for my travels. When I tell people, “I was working in Quito for almost three months,” however, I choose the word working carefully. I am fully aware it implies I am getting paid, but it avoids follow up questions. Once again, I only provide more information when asked. On my bus ride home from Machu Picchu, the Dutch man I was sitting next to was very chatty.

“Ah cool, so Ecuador, then Peru, where to next for you?”

“Oh, I’m just going home next. Back to work.”

He nodded and moved on to talking about something else.

After the Salkantay trek, I spent two more days in Cusco before my flight to Barcelona. I was traveling to India next, but being that it was such a long journey, I had planned to take a few days in Europe somewhere to rest and explore. Barcelona happened to be the cheapest flight I could get, and luckily enough, my parents and sister were also able to get cheap flights to Barcelona. We met for several days, enjoying the city, a lavish hotel, and really delicious food. And then it was time to say goodbye again. This goodbye was a tad more emotional, although once again I did not allow myself to think about it too much.

It was not until my arrival in India that I realized it had been almost a month since working on my project. I still re-read my journal some, read some of a book written by one of my contacts in India, continued sending emails to contacts in other countries, and finished translating some items for the hospice, but it had been nearly 30 days since I last participated in a clinical setting. I almost could not believe I had let so much time slip by. Although the protests were out of my control, I could not help but feeling guilty–there were ways I could have used that time better. How did I let myself get so distracted?

Acknowledging my distraction and avoidance has allowed me to feel newly excited about my project once more. I do not know what my experiences in India will hold for me, but I am eager to be in a new setting. This blog post, unlike my others, does not have as grand of an overarching theme. I do hope, however, by documenting my project avoidance, it may help me be more aware of how I am spending my time in the future. I am ready to focus again.   

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *