“Dios le pague,” I say as I’m handed a steaming plate of rice and pig skin. This roughly translates to “God pays you,” and is a less cold-hearted version of “gracias.” Had I known this sooner, I would never have said “gracias” so often. Whoops. But I’m learning. I started here as an infant, barely able to speak or take the bus on my own, but each day I have learned something new.
I have learned to speak a bit of Kichwa*. Some of my favorite phrases and words:
Ñunca shuti mi can… = My name is…
huiksa = stomach. This has come in handy after having two stomach infections.
ashcu = dog. Mine is named Otis, and is finally learning not to bark at me!
allilla = good
… and my favorite: lulu = egg
*Kichwa is the indigenous language that everyone in my town speaks. It is absolutely nothing like Spanish, as demonstrated above.
I have learned to cut a sheep’s toenails.
Step 1) Corner your sheep, and grab a leg.
Step 2) Hold on tight no matter how hard it tries to kick you off.
Step 3) Make the sheep fall, and then leap on top.
Step 4) Finally, lay on your sheep and saw off the black part of the hoof with a knife!
I have learned to put on my anaco (the outfit that the indigenous women wear every day) by myself.
I am a baby in everything here, but I felt especially young when my host mom had to dress me in my skirt, blouse, and shawl. Now, I’m a five year-old, shakily holding up my cloth skirt with one hand and wrapping my belt around with the other.
I have learned not to say “O.K.” while I teach English.
Otherwise, it will be followed by a chorus of laughing students saying, “owk, owk, owk.”
I have learned that dancing is unacceptable.
I live in a strictly Evangelical community, and in the school I am helping with a theater and dance club. However, I was firmly told by a girl at the first meeting that, “Christians don’t dance.” Feeling rebellious that day I retorted, “Evangelicals don’t dance, other Christians dance.” Later when I asked my host mom about the same topic, she agreed with the girl. “You can’t just go to church one day and then dance the next,” she replied. This time, I held my tongue.
I have learned to take a camioneta and not get lost.
To get home from the city, I take a bus to a smaller town, and then hop in the back of a truck that will take me another thirty minutes, uphill to my community. This is not as easy as it sounds when you’re a gringa (foreigner) with a strange accent. Sometimes when I ask to ride they say they aren’t going there, and then I see them pass by later. Other times there aren’t any cars. The most frustrating is when people simply block the seats with their hands. But hey, I’ve always made it home.
I’ve learned to accept being laughed at, because a lot of times I probably look or sound ridiculous. I mean I wear PANTS, and have RED HAIR, and don’t know how to properly eat a chicken foot. How much stranger could you get?
When I got here I was a baby. Now that I’m able to dress myself properly I’m five. Maybe when it’s time to leave in April I’ll feel like I’m actually 19. One step at a time.