My first daily challenge in Ecuador and the highlights of my normal day in Ecuador occur consecutively right after each other. Reminiscing back to filling out the living preferences before coming to Ecuador, I knew living in the Amazon or in the coastal regions was out of the question for me because I was already exhausted with the dry heat that had hit Atlanta, Georgia that summer. When I read the third option of living in the cool Andean region of Ecuador I was certain this was the place for me. Determined to escape the heat, little did I think about the effects of high altitude on my lungs but more obviously the hills I would have to climb up and down almost every day. So, out here in the Andes one of the biggest challenges of my day happens first thing in the morning: I have to climb up one of the biggest hills in my community to get to the other side of the mountain where my apprenticeship is. It literally takes me ten minutes to get up the hill and then another twenty five minutes to go around the mountain and arrive at work.
Although I hate climbing up the hills of the Sierra region of Ecuador, I cannot deny how beautifully they are decorated with different shades of green and purple of the quinoa, abas, and corn farms that cover the rolling hills like a quilt flying in the air. The moment I get up the hill is one of the biggest highlights of my day. Not only do I feel like I am standing on that flying quilt but I get to see the rest of the widespread quilt that surrounds me covered by more corn, avena, and machika; some of the things I have grown to love eating here in Ecuador. Sometimes I just sit there and stare at the beauty around me and I swear it is the best place to meditate.
However, the view from up the hill is not the only reason that getting up there is the highlight of my day. It is once I get up the hill that I encounter members of my community doing work on their farms and taking their cows, sheep, and donkeys to the grazing fields. As I walk to work, I am greeted by these welcoming and open hearted indigenous men and women’s “buenas dias” and “alli puncha” meaning good morning in Spanish and Quichwa. If they are walking in the same direction, they always invite me to walk with them asking me questions about what I am doing there and emphasizing the fact that I need to learn Quichwa before I leave. One of my favorite encounters is when I bump into an elderly woman taking her cows to the grazing fields. Whenever she spots me, she calls out “Amiga, alli puncha!” As we walk down together sometimes she asks me to keep her cows together so that they don’t wander away from her. And that—besides just being a companion for her way to work makes me feel special and useful to her.
I remember my last night home before I left for San Francisco as I broke down crying because it finally became real to me that I was not going to be home for the next eight months. Since then, I have had my fair share of homesickness. Missing important family events like my sister’s college graduation and my little sister’s birthday did not help either. But as I think about the fact that this is not really home and that I will eventually have to leave, the same emotions from the night before I left my home five months ago flush through my head. The connections I have made here with my family and my community members have made Ecuador another home for me. If everyone made the effort to travel, to make human connections across borders and cultures, get to know the world around them; I wonder what kind of world we would be living in today.