My town is the brick-making capital of Ecuador. Walking along the cobblestone and dirt roads, I’ll pass assembly-lines molding clay and cement into uniform rectangles, and giant ovens constantly billowing plumes of smoke that smell of fresh roads after rain, old schoolhouses, and other vaguely intangible sentiments. If you are anything like me, you probably had never considered the process of brick making before, or even that bricks were made at all.

When I arrived in my community in September, I came with the full intention of building up my experience and myself brick by brick. It did not take me long to realize that experiences aren’t something you can build, especially not on your own.

I was thrown into a messy, beautiful, torrential downpour of giant over-bearing families, exotic fruit, rabid dog-packs, Andean folk music, fourth-grade classes, beestings, and endless bus rides; and just as I’m catching my breath, it’s over.

So what did I build, exactly? Anything?

It takes patience and teamwork. Most people probably undervalue the quiet, forceful presence of one brick. But after months of being unintentionally patronized simply due to the fact that I am out of my element both culturally and linguistically; I’ve come to the conclusion that the value others put into you is not nearly as important as the value you put into yourself.

I can’t bring to mind a day when the brick makers haven’t been working. It has brought about the conundrum of why on earth a country so small would need such an ungodly number of bricks in the first place. It’s a process as constant as breathing, made endurable by an equally constant presence of positivity.

The most important attribute of a brick is that by itself, it cannot hope to accomplish much. I am stubbornly, brutally, independent; and it took me falling quite a few times to learn how to lean on others. I thought that I could do this year by myself, and looking back, I not only recognize that it would have been impossible, it is also absolutely undesirable. Somehow, I’ve managed to become a part of a family. It includes camioneta drivers and mountain climbers, beekeepers and kindergartners, and most importantly, the residents of a white farmhouse with a red tin roof that sits on the top of a spindly driveway between Chambo and Asactus.

The changes I’ve seen here, both in others, and myself, have been gradual. Yet I am proud of the quiet influence I’ve made on my surroundings.

Today, I made my baby niece Carmita smile; the same niece I met on an ultrasound machine six months ago.

The boy who used to fight and cry when he had to speak in front of his small class got up in front of the entire school for me. We love you Sarita