A Letter to Quito

Emily Hwang - Ecuador


September 17, 2012

Dearest Quito,

You are a noisy city.  Even in the second before I drift off into sleep or the second after I awake, even with my eyes closed and lights off and consciousness wavering, I could never pretend to be anywhere else.  You are too full and thick.  Your smells (both the yummy food ones and the not-so-yummy sewage ones), your insistent sirens and lively music, your street dogs, your endless cacophony of honks from afternoon traffic- they command my full attention, always.  This isn’t where I find you though, Quito — not in the clamor, in the movement or stimulation.  Instead, I discover you in moments of stillness.  They are few and far between, but magnificent.

I find you on my bus ride across town every morning, when strangers sit (or stand, rather) shoulder to shoulder in silence and daydream in different languages.

I find you in the lulls of conversation with my host family, when the inadequacy of my Spanish speaking skills forces me to swallow my natural impulse to entertain and instead, recline into an observant role.  As I listen and watch, I begin to notice the subtlest of nods, smiles, flinches, and eyebrow raises that become building blocks for genuinely understanding people, culture, and relationships.  It is also here that I realize the immense power of a receptive ear over any amount of small talk or leading questions in achieving understanding and connection.

I find you during solitary walks down busy streets, when I nonchalantly catch a glimpse of my reflection in the window of a local Panaderia and am startled by the disparity between the form and color of my own face and that of those I have been surrounded by and interacting with all day.  These moments ardently challenge and duly fortify my sense of identity, and are assisting me in constructing my own definition of true confidence.

Lastly, I find you in the quiet of my own room, when the excitement of the day subsides and I reluctantly move into my own loneliness every evening.  It is here that I realize with startling clarity that I am definitely not home and definitely not in my comfort zone.

But it is also in the beauty of this complete presence that I notice that something very peculiar is ensuing within me. I am no longer dwelling in the margins of my own limited sphere of knowledge.  Instead, I have shifted into a state of semi-permanent malleability and (hopefully) permanent openness and wonder.  And thus, everything is growing.  I am growing.

So, thank you, Quito- for your fullness.  But more than that, thank you for the gaps in your fullness- your stillness- for it is within that stillness that I am learning how to breath, reflect, and become more and a better version of who I am.

Love,

Em

Emily Hwang