About thirty minutes before we were all about to meet our Quiteño host families I decided I needed to call home, which I hadn’t done since we arrived in Quito four days before. This was not, per se, the best thing I could have done in that moment because as soon as I heard my mom’s voice through that tinny payphone in the hostel lobby I began to lose it. The relative composure I felt proud to have maintained for the last 72 hours was slipping away as I morphed into unmanageable emotional goo. I was suddenly being poked at by homesickness, and flooded by worries about the awkward situation that I would be walking into in t-minus 25 minutes. Right then I needed to pull myself together or else risk meeting my host family with puffy eyes and a runny nose.
My question is; what do you say to this person? A person who isn’t sure what to expect next. A person who will soon be alone with strangers whom she doesn’t understand. A person with a whole list of issues more pressing than whether those are just nerves or if she is about to seriously regret last night’s street food. Well, I have nothing eloquent or clever to say to that person but here’s what I said to myself: “It’s going to be fine. You can do this.”
“It’s going to be fine.” Is this a prediction? Is it a promise? A lie? A truth? Is telling myself I can do this anything more than four words strung together to ease my uncertain and anxious mind? Honestly, I still don’t know if I can say that these two statements constitute facts simply because I can’t see into my future, but since that stepping-off point I have learned a few things about the act of “stepping off” itself.
One thing I’ve learned is that faking it until you make it and having blind faith are the same thing, and neither of those things is bad. Before leaving Salt Lake I didn’t have any evidence to support the idea that I was as resilient, patient, and bold, as Global Citizen Year said I would need to be in the next few months. I had never left the country, never been away from my family for more than a couple weeks, and never been tested by circumstances that I couldn’t change or escape. But when those very thoughts crept into my head I would combat them with the repetition of my new mantra: “It’s going to be fine. You can do this.” It didn’t matter if I believed myself. As long as I pretended I knew what I was doing I figured I would get it right eventually.
In Quito I managed to get around most daily obstacles with a little bit of weak Spanish and a lot of blind faith. In the mornings I would get on the bus that felt like the right one. In the afternoons I would clumsily try to explain to fast-talking taxi drivers the location of my apartment and nervously look out the window trying to tell if he was going the right way. And in the evenings I would try to express to my host mom as politely as possible that I can’t eat an entire box of Mac n’ Cheese for lunch, maybe just half and hope that she wouldn’t be offended. Each task would either result in an uncomfortable failure or smile in disbelief and satisfaction at my own success.
Now, in Alausí the Andean town where I’ll be living for the next six months, it feels like I’m growing up a second time. At first, just a toddler, I could barely speak and get around. Now, as I walk around the town by myself, running errands (namely trying to find a way to print, sign, and scan my absentee ballot) and making small talk with curious strangers, I’m realizing my own independence all over again. I may not quite be there yet but I feel confident that it won’t be long before I catch my stride and the feelings of being terribly out of context all the time will fade away.
So while it may not be eloquent or particularly clever, and at first it may not even sound true, if a nervous Fellow about to embark on their journey called me on a tinny payphone a year from now I would say to them “It’s going to be fine. You can do this.”
I would also tell them to hold off on the street food.