Ecuador pops into my head every day. I think of the mountains, the soft skin of Alizee’s face, and how laundry day depended on the weather. My time there feels like it took place in another dimension. It happened somewhere else. Another world, another plane of existence. It happened.
When I got back to the US in April, little things kept surprising me. Everyone was so tall. It was weird to hear strangers speaking English. Cars actually stopped to let pedestrians cross. I kept a list on my phone to document these strucks as they occurred to me: my data in the Redwoods was faster than the wifi at my host family’s house, my dogs were bigger than I remembered, I could put ice cubes in my water. At the end of April, I took the commuter rail to Boston and watched a conductor get off the train and wait patiently as passengers boarded. I wondered why he wasn’t hurrying everyone on, then I remembered where I was.
The initial surprises have long since passed. Police cars are Fords, not Kias, and prices vary by gas station. I’m back in my original life in Massachusetts, finally getting ready to go to college.
I got my blood drawn yesterday, and it came up that I had spent seven months in Ecuador. The phlebotomist asked if I called my family often, and I said yes, especially in the beginning. “They don’t have wifi there,” she commented, and I told her that no, it was very developed. My host family, which was wealthier than most, had wifi and a big TV. Where I lived was probably 3.5 out of 4. I mentioned having to get a bunch of shots before leaving, and she understood, “Yeah, it’s a poor country, they have all those diseases.”
It felt like hearing someone insult a good friend. I didn’t know what to say. Yes, Ecuador has less money than the US, but “a poor country” limits it to a single dimension. Inside cinder block houses are people’s lives: their school projects, markers strewn across the floor; their water bills and rarely-used credit cards; the t-shirts they never wear but don’t want to get rid of. Of course, some people in Ecuador live in poverty, but that’s true everywhere. A year ago, I also pictured dirt roads and wondered about wifi, but I was fortunate enough to live there, and now I remember so much more. A year ago, I also thought of Ecuador as a poor country. Now I think of Ecuador as home in Quiroga, ice cream with Surabhee in Otavalo, and voice lessons in Cotacachi. The Laguna. My host sisters running out to greet their dad when he got home. Buying vegetables grown right down the street. And so much more.
I’m back, and in many ways it’s like I never left my home state. But I did. I got to know a place. I smiled, cried, and grew in Ecuador, and I formed memories more full than anything I was able to imagine.
There are split seconds, even now, when I have to decide whether to put my toilet paper in the trash can or in the toilet.