October is cruising to a close, and having lived in Ecuador for over a month now, I can confidently say that each day has come with its own unexpected package of lessons, hardships, smiles, and mysteries; but more importantly, each day I’m starting to feel more and more at home.
I currently reside in the way back of a minuscule town called Ambuqui, which lies just off of the Pan American Highwa in Northern Ecuador. I live with my mother, and younger brothers Ronald, who’s 17, and Danielito, who’s about to turn 7! Just a couple of steps from my side door live my Aunt, Cousin, Grandma, Grandpa, and Great Grandpa, who’s a whopping 96 years young. We share a beautiful backyard (partially dipicted in photo above) with trees of all sorts: mangos, guavas, guanábanas, avocados, papayas, plátanos, mandarins, and also sugar cane. We also own around thirty cuy (Guinea Pigs), more than a dozen chickens, a pig, a family of cats (with 4 new kittens born yesterday), and of course, two guard dogs.
At the beginning, this was an unfamiliar place littered with foreign faces that lugged around names, but no meaning. Now I realize that this sliver of land nourishes lives through both drought and darkness regardless, and these faces carry souls with baggage I could only dream to understand. See, what’s shocked me most about my time here, in Ecuador, so far hasn’t been eating guinea pigs and chicken feet; it hasn’t been being chased by a pack of viscously hungry black dogs; it’s actually been observing the rate at which humans can turn strangers into family.
It seems to me that we all have the ability to connect quite deeply with one another — regardless of our differences — and this process doesn’t even require an immense amount of time, it just requires a certain mindset. That is to say, if we want to.
My life for the past month has been filled to the brim with laughter and questions to break the barriers that we all build to ensure self-safety. Brick by brick, smashing my wall of security to bits has allowed my family to see the human side in me, to see that no matter where you come from, there’s always something to bond over. But again, this process doesn’t just happen. It requires an intentional effort almost all the time. To bust past language barriers. To laugh when you want to cry. To abandon comfort for perspective. To employ curiosity before judgement, especially when fighting against the tide of cultural difference. And of course, to remember to be open and love yourself, so that you have the motivation to love others and subsequently everything that may appear — at first glance — unloveable.
I’ll hit y’all with a few examples. My feet haven’t been clean in weeks, why? Because the one bathroom my whole family shares is outside, so when my freezing shower ends, it’s only a matter of moments before they are, again, worthy of the label dirty. But who cares, asi es la vida (that’s life). Also inside that one outdoor bathroom resides our only toilet, except it’s missing a toilet seat. My choices are clear, either get intimate with generations of germs or work my hamstrings whenever I’ve got a deuce to drop by holding a steady squat (I choose the ladder, every time). There’s no sink in my house, I rarely eat vegetables or take showers, and I sleep with bugs every night (including the occasional scorpion); but I’ve really come to love these things. Not only have they given me immense gratitude for what I used to have, but there’s a certain peace that comes with accepting (and eventually loving) what is.
I like to remember that every thought or feeling I’ve ever had and ever will have is bound to pass, just as the day will soon see night. Coming to terms with the inevitability of time changing, has allowed me to lounge like an ancient Roman in the present. Appreciating the wonderful luck and beauty that floats my way, no matter how small, and taking the undesirable in stride. I mean, why fight against the tide of life when you’ll go much further if you just swim with it. See, for me life’s about the journey and to quote the great J. R. R. Tolkien, “… not all those who wander are lost.” Wandering is a wonderful thing, and if you happen to get lost every once in a while, well, asi es la vida.
In the end, being lost ain’t all that bad; in fact, I actually enjoy it — both physically and mentally — which has proven to be a blessing because it happens quite frequently down here. Truly bursting my bubble of subjectivity, or at least trying to, has forced me to investigate my beliefs and subsequently the skewed lens I view the world through. This process urges me to employ self-awareness on the daily, to shatter the shades I use to color the world with judgement. Only then, with all my shards of perspective scattered across the floor, just as lost as a dinosaur in Time Square, do I feel myself making honest progress. Recognizing that sometimes it’s gotta get messier before it can get cleaner, I’ve come to value getting lost as a part of the process.
I also hate dwelling on the little things. How can such trivial aspects of life keep me down when I awake, every day, to a family that never ceases to wow me with their level of hospitality; to children at school who yell my name with grins that engulf their tiny faces; to a world as beautiful and bountiful as this one. Every once in a while I like to think about the sheer luck I have to simply have a beating heart.
About a week before I left the US, my mother recommended the book, “A Brief History About Everything” to me (which I definitely pass along to all of you), and early on I read a passage that has completely changed the way I carry myself day to day.
Bryson writes, “Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely- make that miraculously- fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, everyone of your forbears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from it’s life quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result – eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly- in you.”
So with that, I’m going to get back to living. My brother’s birthday is tomorrow and we’ve got a lot to set up!
To all sides of the globe — wherever you find yourself reading this — I’m sending you my love.
Keep on cruisin’ 🤙🏼