Big Mama’s In Da House

Lydia Collins - Ecuador


March 27, 2013

Three weeks.  Three seven day spans before I leave Ibarra.  Before I leave my siblings, my students, the Andes, everything that was once new but is now familiar.

As this intense, raw, and wonderful experience wraps up I find myself spending a lot of time reflecting on the past eight months. In hindsight, I realize that my Global Citizen Year was split into two parts.

Part One was before our mom left for Quito and Part Two is after she left.

Mid-December my (single) host mom brought me and my siblings into her room and told us she had good news and bad news.  The good news: she was finally employed after three years of being unemployed.  She got a good job at a bank in Quito that would pay a salary that was finally sufficient to support her children.  The bad news: the job is in Quito.  She told us things would change.  My brother cried, I cried, my sister turned the other way and blocked out her emotion.

The next day my mother woke up at 4:00 AM to make it to Quito by 8:00 AM to start her job.  Suddenly our mom wasn’t there.  She called every night, but didn’t come home until four days later.  Suddenly I didn’t have my best Ecuadorian friend waiting for me after a long day at work in the market.  She wasn’t there to fry us an egg in the morning or send us to the tienda to buy milk. The house had a very different feeling with out her.  We hurt as we felt her absence.

My team leader, Maria Cristina, and I spent time thinking hard about switching families during this difficult time.   It seemed logical that I move to a family with a mother figure who would be there to support the fragile gringa.  According to the advice of friends, cousins, and women in my job, I needed to switch to a new house because I would have to take on the responsibility of being a mother figure during my gap year.  That’s not supposed to happen.  That isn’t in the rule book, in the glossy brochures.

Though cliché, I decided to follow my heart.  This year isn’t about following the norm.  It’s about experimenting and testing yourself.  I knew this was a challenge placed in front of me by some higher power to push me to grow in ways I never anticipated.  I knew I was capable of taking on this challenge.

Thus, I thank Global Citizen Year immensely for respecting my decision to stay with my family.  I am the first case they have come across where a fellow has stayed in a home without a parent.

My reasoning for doing something so crazy?  My siblings had become so important to me and my mom was someone I had come to love and respect with such deep feelings that I knew I couldn’t leave them.  I felt that my presence was finally needed. I felt refreshed by the fact that my mother would be helped significantly if I stayed with my siblings.

What cemented my decision to stay with my family was a talk I had with my fifteen-year-old sister.  A week after our mom left I told my sister that it was possible I would switch families.  A teenager who normally hides her feelings, she broke down.  She told me that she was afraid of being left alone.  She told me that she felt that she found in me a friend that she hadn’t found before.  She thought of me as a true sister and it would be very difficult if both her mother and sister left.  How could I abandon her?

Thus began Part Two of my Global Citizen Year.  I have taken on a lot of responsibility and have learned an immense amount about life and relationships.  We hired a woman to help us with cleaning and cooking in the morning.  But she leaves at 1:00 PM, which leaves us alone until 9:00 AM the next morning.  Throughout the change I tried not to complain.  I distribute the housework by making a dish washing schedule, telling my brother to feed the dog, or reminding my sister to fold the clothes.  Now I know how to pay an Ecuadorian electricity bill, be a parental guardian at a school meeting, and how to do Ecuadorian grocery shopping.

My mom told me that God sent me to her.  In a text one morning, she told me “thank you for being my angel.”  Never have I received a compliment so deeply gratifying.

Part One of this experience was difficult.  I leaned on my host mom a lot.  She helped me through my homesickness and indigestion.  She taught me how to speak Spanish, how to make potato tortillas, and how to laugh when the car breaks down in the middle of the highway.

Part Two of this experience is difficult, probably more so that Part One.  But I decided that it was my turn to help my mom.  If I could offer my help for three months, why would I dip out?  I feel so much love from my host family that I know it is worth it.  I know that my decision to stay with them has created such a strong, deep bond that I will always have a family in Ecuador.  My presence gave my mom the opportunity to take the job and create a better future for herself and her children.  Knowing that I have made that kind of difference in the lives of people in another hemisphere gives me a very fulfilling satisfaction.

So here I am, three weeks from the end.  Part Two will quickly come to an end.  I will say goodbye to my siblings, my mom, and the volcanoes that surround Ibarra.  I will take the invaluable life skills that I developed through this year into the next chapter of my life.

Let Part Three begin!

Lydia Collins