About three weeks ago, I made the long awaited transition to my new host family, who I will be living with for the next six months. I was overwhelmed by the suddenness of the transition that I had blown up to such large proportions in my mind ever since my acceptance to GCY. Minutes after my arrival, my two brothers whisked me off in the car to a Saturday morning fiesta at the local colegio with David Guetta’s “Memories” blasting full volume. My first experience in the town of Cayambe was loud, bustling, and crowded, but communal, rather different than the capital city of Quito.
Even more overwhelming were the holiday traditions. We fellows arrived at our new homes during an important Ecuadorian holiday week, for the Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead.) During this week, it is the custom to drink “colada morada,” a sort of fruity, syrupy hot cider to represent the blood of the dead. Along with this are the “guaguas de pan,” bread cooked in the shape of babies to represent the bodies. After all this, families traditionally visit their local cemetery to honor their dead relatives.
My family was no exception. The day before we went to the cemetery, we went to my aunt’s house to make bread with the entire extended family. Imagine about forty Ecuadorians chattering top speed in a Kichwa-Spanish blend, and one very confused gringa (person from the US), and you will begin to get a sense of the scene. Feeling very out of place, I silently kneaded infinite amounts of dough into the traditional guagua (child, in Kichwa) shapes. To my great embarrassment and relief, the ice finally broke after one such guagua emerged from the oven looking suspiciously like a potatoe, rather than the shape of a little girl I had intended.
For lunch I was served a mountain of rice, potatoes and “mote,” a sort of corn, the whole topped with a lid of barbecued pork. As I don’t eat the latter, I picked at my wide selection of starches, avoiding the pork, until one inquisitive family member asked why I wasn’t eating my “chancho” (pig.) When I explained that I was Jewish and didn’t eat pork (pork being the favorite meat here in Ecuador), I felt the whole party stop and look at me. Before I knew it, my plate was whisked away from me and replaced by a smaller plate, identical in all but size, with the ever-present pork sitting on top. So I ate it, not wanting to offend. Suffice to say it was delicious, and as an added bonus I wasn’t struck by lightning because of my grievous offense, giving me time to reflect on my experience.
The difference between my family and me is obvious on the surface, but we are similar underneath. Back at home, we also have large gatherings for the holidays, we all cook together and then sit down for a shared meal. It isn’t really so different here after all. Adjusting to my new situation was not easy, even very awkward at times as I strived to fit into a foreign culture. But my family accepted me with open arms into their racous lifestyle, tempered by mucho cariño, making this foreign country into a familiar one.