Blog

Henry Duerr - Ecuador


October 28, 2016

There are many things I wish I could tell my younger self. The mistakes I could save him from, the triumphs I could coach him to. The wisdom I could impart to him could fill a book. It has.

But I’m not sure he would recognize me. I never anticipated becoming the person I am today, and the Henry of the present is only connected to the Henry of the past by the tenuous thread of biology.

Be that as it may, I am no stranger to myself. This place has changed me so much already.

And what a place it is. Santa Teresita, the rural neighborhood I live in, is painfully beautiful. Clouds populate the thin air, low and fast moving. The valley in which I live is long and winding, about a mile wide. Mountains (I, coming from the northeast, consider them hills) gently enclose the pasture that occupies much of the area, benevolently watching over the dairy cows that softly bellow at one another. The Pan American highway bisects a few of these lush sentinels, forming the road into Tarqui. A small population center, Tarqui celebrated its 101st year of formal township.

Following the road further, another 15 miles or so, and it spills out into Cuenca. Cuenca is one of the largest cities in southern Ecuador, by far the largest in the province of Azuay. The city deserves its own blog post, so it shall receive one in due time.

Back on the home front, things are simple. Things are good. Every morning, my loving host mother, Rosa, drags me out of bed at 5:30. Oh, the humanity. Donning rain boots, I trudge behind her, yawning under the gunmetal sky. The location sometimes changes, but the destination is always the same: our cows. Tending to them can be a bit of a chore, but every time I do I am rewarded with the sight of sunrise bleeding across the valley. Since I have arrived, two calves have been born. I went to the pasture one morning, and they were just there.

Ta-da.

Life, I have come to learn, likes to do the most important things quietly.

From the meadow, we head back to our hillside domicile, laden with buckets of milk. Dairy this fresh is an incredible thing, once you get used to the taste of unpasteurized milk. At this point, I prefer it.

On our property we have two pigs, three dogs, four cats, about eight nesting hens, eleven chickens, roughly forty guinea pigs, and two extremely stubborn sheep whom I have come to loathe with an animosity I didn’t know I could hold against any farm animal.

In a series of ruffled feathers, delighted squealing, terrified squeaks, impatient pawing, and seemingly derisive bleats from the sheep, everyone is feed.

Then it’s my turn for breakfast, which usually consists of an egg, rice, pan con queso, and a lot of fruit. I can say with certainty that about 60% of my food comes from within a 20 mile radius of my house, and 30% is a product of our own labor.

After my morning repast, I have a few hours before my job starts. I usually try to fill this time with something productive. Writing, running, reading, Spanish studies, and sitting in my hammock (got it for $15 in Quito- score) overlooking the valley kills the remaining time.

I ride my bike into town down a dirt road, soaking in the morning scenery as best I can. Arriving at la Escuela Basica de Alfonso Moreno, I teach English to children of varying ages. The school serves as the regional elementary school for the township, so children from as many as 13 neighborhoods study there. Thus, whenever I go for a walk around the valley, or travel with my cousin, Christian (whom I consider a brother), I am invariably greeted by a high pitched yelp of delight, and the ever present “Hola, Meester Henry!” (I was introduced as Mr. Henry to the children).

A little after noon, I head home for lunch. Almost some form of meat with rice. Very filling, very delicious. This is usually the point at which I do whatever personal chores I have assigned myself. Most often the task is laundry, which neccesitates scrubbing it out by hand against a stone slab. Monotonous, but satisfying.

Next I head back in to town, where I work at the library for the rest of the afternoon. Somedays I teach adult language classes, other days I putter around and solve puzzles with toddlers.

After a few hours, my work is done, and I head back to home, where I can finally relax, sit on the couch, and slip on my Crocs. Yes, I wear Crocs now. No, I am not ashamed of it. Of course, I look good in them.

Dinner is served around 7 or so, and that concludes my day, more or less. At 10 I head to bed to start it all over again.

But I never get bored with it. There is plenty of serendipity and challenge in my daily life. And at least once a week, I head to some event with my family. Be it an indigenous dance recital, a local fiesta, an informal firework exhibition (which are as fun and dangerous as they sound), or any other number of uniquely Ecuadorian happenings.

It’s fun. I’m happy.

It bears mentioning, though, that for every day I have spent in bliss and breathless laughter, there has been a day where I was so sick I wasn’t able to leave my bed. There has been a day where I have missed my family and friends so much that it brought me physical pain, a dull ache in the chest. There has been a day where I have been too frustrated and despondent to do anything other than wallow in self pity and the rabbit hole that is the Internet.

But everyone has good days and bad days. Mine just tend to be a bit more volatile in nature.

I never thought I would be here. People rarely can gaze into the future, much less their own, with certainty.

There’s a lot I could tell Henry of the past. Yet I can’t say I would tell him anything. It was my mistakes and failures that got me here as much as my as my achievements and strengths.

So here I am, lumps and all.

Henry Duerr