For six months I have thought of the end as unreachable. It’s been a
fleeting glimpse in my imagination; a speculative date that always lay
months and months away. So many rice dinners, church services, Spanish
classes, and workdays always stood between where I was and the end of my
gap year. I was so blinded by the spectre of seven months that I did not
really realize that one day it would, in fact, come to pass.
In less than a month from today, I will be on a bus, leaving my life here
behind. In just 29 days my seven-month, seemingly-infinite time here will
actually be at an end. I have absolutely no idea how to feel. Of course I
see the warm and welcoming prospect of home closing in: my family and
friends, the old familiar and comfortable. There is also, however, the
wrenching and creeping feeling that I will quickly and indefinitely lose
another home in the process. A home full of scenes and people that, after
months and months of discomfort, I have finally become comfortable in. I
find myself wishing time and time again that it had been this way all
along. I wish that I could have enjoyed all of my time here with the
relationships and language confidence that I have now. However I know that
without the struggle, my life here may not have been what it is now.
If I had understood my host Mom’s directions better, I may not have taken
cold showers for the first month. If I had been brave enough to turn down
food, I may not have had so many guinea-pig-induced gastrointestinal
setbacks. If I wasn’t afraid of not ever being invited again, I may not
have played 1:00 o’clock a.m. soccer games on work nights. If I had been
comfortable and competent the entire time, I may have saved myself from a
lot of unhappy situations, but I also would never have built the
relationships that I have today.
If I had understood my host Mom better, we never would have been able to
laugh about me turning the cold water all the way on thinking that would
make the shower hotter. (Those who know electric showers know that this is
completely the opposite.) If I had turned down cuy (guinea pig) from the
get-go I would have missed out on an incredibly important cultural
experience and not have gained the respect from my family for being willing
to try anything. If I went to bed early and never went to play soccer, I
would never have become friends with my older cousins, who are now some of
my favorite people here. If I had been comfortable being and doing whatever
I thought was best for me in the beginning, it actually would have been
detrimental to my overall experience in the long run.
Now of course, almost seven months later, I take hot (ish) showers, I do
not always eat the cuy, and when I’m tired I go home, knowing that it won’t
be the last time that I am invited out. I have earned the respect and trust
of my family. I can be genuinely myself without worrying about the
repercussions because I have shown them that I care. That is what it is
really all about. Not about understanding everything, trying everything
given to you, or accepting every invitation. My family knows that I care
about each of them, their culture, and their lives — and I think that is
all any family can really hope for.
Yesterday my host Aunt asked me if I was ready to return to my family. I
told her that I was ready to go home but sad to leave this home behind. She
told me that it didn’t matter if I had to go now. “Siempre estarás con
nosotros” she said, “eres parte de esta familia.”
So I guess when faced with the end, I have decided that it is not the end.
A part of me is going back to the U.S. to be with my U.S. Family. A part of
me will be here forever, with my Ecuador Family. There can be no end to the
love, care, and bond of both of those families.