Coming back from Ecuador, I’ve been asked countless times, “How was it? What’s Ecuador like? Your experience?” If you’re one of these people, I’ve probably failed to answer your question. I probably answered with something along the lines of, “Umm… great! *awkward laugh*” I hope you didn’t take this as, “I don’t have much to say. Don’t ask.” In reality, I have far too much to say. I have stories. Happy stories, sad stories, embarrassing stories, and funny stories. I have thoughts. All the new things I saw and experienced, all the new people I got to know, the broken down stereotypes and ones that aren’t all that false, the moments of confusion and helplessness and the moments of pure awe — they make you think. Truth is, choosing to go to Ecuador was probably the greatest decision I ever made. Living there was a time in my life full of confusion, discomfort, challenges, frustration, and tears, but even more, unparalleled amounts of happiness, joy, growth, love, simplicity, laughter, and peace.
I have so much love for Ecuador. From the infectiously uncomplicated way of life, to its prideful culture, to the unapologetic concern and regard for others, apparent wherever you go, Ecuador will always have a special place in my heart. For me, it’s one of those places you know you’ll come back to. It’s not something that’s of the past, one year of my life when I was 18, and definitely not a “trip.” Ecuador was my home for 7 months and it will hold a special place in my heart.
If you were one of those people I failed to answer, we just haven’t gotten to see each other yet, or you didn’t know what to ask, I’d love to share this video with you. It’s only a quick glimpse of my life in Ecuador, but I hope this shows you the beauty of the country and the people who were there to make it so wonderful. I wish it showcased more of daily life or included my most exciting times, but those were the moments where I was too busy, caught up in the moment, to pull out my camera… this will have to suffice.
However, it’s been two months since I got left my host community in Ecuador. Two months since saying goodbye to everything I grew to love so dearly. In no specific order,
I’m missing in the middle of a random night two months after leaving Ecuador:
- I miss my view of the Imbabura volcano. The way the top looks a little broken from the Panamericana passing by my barrio, but still radiates strength and tenacity
- I miss walking down Simón Bolívar trying to find a spot of shade in the unforgiving Ecuadorian sun as my Don Lucho cone of maracuyá ice cream drips onto the sidewalk
- I miss walking into El Quinde and being welcomed with warm and familiar hellos, and a “¡Tus amigas están arriba!” (Your friends are upstairs!)
- I miss how my dog—with whom I have a love-hate relationship—would proudly walk me to my bus stop, barking at and attacking every other dog who who even dared look at me, and wait with me until my bus arrived. (I’ll try to forget how he’d always try to pee on my while doing so. At least that means he’s trying to mark his territory.
- I miss my host sister sneaking through my little window with her pink backpack and notebooks, asking, “Can I do my homework here?” then really sitting in my room as we watch Netflix and she gets Nutella all over my be
- I miss my host mom telling me to wash my socks “on the stone,” even though we had a washing machine, so that they’d be perfectly white. Something I always hated, especially since I never remembered to put shoes on before walking around the backyard and my socks were very much not white
- I miss dropping my host sister off for school, and hearing her go, “Una bendicion, Mamí. Una bendición Papí. Chao, Layla!” and my host parents giggling at it every tim
- I miss texting with my fake Nokia on its T9 keyboard, trying to mix English and Spanish for the most efficient text message possible. 2 wanna go a ibarra?
I miss getting out of bed at 11pm to hear the faint sound of a telenovela still playing in my parents’ bedroom and going to the kitchen and making myself a midnight pancito con mantequilla
- I miss the smell of cedrón tea boiling in the pot. My favorite tea when I was there, but now a sentimental scent that always preceded a nice evening conversation with the family
- I miss asking my host mom if I could shower, since the only shower was in her bedroom, and her getting annoyed that I bothered being polite
- I miss strangers on the bus asking me where I’m from and telling me their life stories and dreams. As well as telling me I spoke Spanish well, lie or not
miss my host dad handing me my own bottle of Tapatío or Cholula at every meal saying, “Put some on! Try it! It’ll be good!” no matter what food it was. From potatoes, to pasta, to watermelon—anything
- I miss late night conversations with my host mom about life, politics, religion, the future, whatever it was, it didn’t matter, they always made my day
- I miss my youngest students yelling my name across campus, with hand hearts in the air, yelling, “¡Venga, Layla! ¡Venga!” even though I didn’t have class with them that day
- I miss filling out my “Momentitos” calendar with each day’s best moment, each day a little overwhelmed with what deserved the spot and having a few too many options
- I miss saying things incorrecting in English like, “I’m going to shower myself,” “I know [country],” and “ya” for “already” because I think in Spanish and translate to English so often
- I miss my host mom calling me, “horrible,” “fea,” and “just too much,” knowing it was her way of showing affection
- I miss my bus ride that passed Yahuarcocha Lake and Imbabura Volcano, scenic views I never grew tired of and didn’t go a day without reveling in awe
- I miss Spanish. I miss that challenge, I miss the linguistic revelations, I miss being so conscious of my words, I miss listening so closely, I miss being so excited about learning every day, I miss struggling with a grammar concept and then finally grasping it and using it, I miss how it made me more open to vulnerability, honestly, and expression. I miss how it connected me to my host-family. I miss how it connected me to Ecuador. I miss the person who came out when speaking Spanish: someone who carefully chose between usted and tú (the respectful, formal vs casual version of “you,” someone who responded, “¡Que linda!” (How lovely!) so easily and genuinely to cheesy things, someone who listened so well, someone who didn’t get embarrassed of calling fathers “potatoes” and saying, “What do you want to do to me?” “¿Qué me quiere hacer?” instead of, “What do you want me to do?” “¿Qué quiere que haga yo?” I miss the world that Spanish offered me.
It’s been two months since I left Ecuador, but I still feel like most of me is still there. And it’s hard. Every single day, I find myself wanting to be back. I’ve found myself with much more reverse culture shock towards the U.S. that I expected, and much worse that I hoped. In Ecuador, I used to be intrigued by the idea of having culture shock upon returning home. I wanted to look at the place I grew up in with new eyes and from an outside perspective. Now I am, and realize that I didn’t know how exhausting and disheartening it could be. I used to love the place I lived. I felt so grateful for being able to live where I do. I used to adore so much about it. While I’m not less grateful, I’m starting to realize that this isn’t the best fit for me. It’s a great place, for someone else. These feelings are running through me almost every hour of the day—this craving to explore more, to find places like Ecuador that bring out the best of me, and encourage intentional growth.
If I had to choose one word to somehow communicate what my time in Ecuador was, it’d be unconditionality. Unconditional love and loyalty. I saw unconditional love every day. In my own home, from myself, and in others. Limitlessness towards possibilities and learning. This was a time to learn not as a scholar, but just as one person surrounded by people plentiful of thoughts and experiences foreign to oneself. Wholehearted dedication. No matter how difficult things sometimes were sometimes, I was dedicated to something. Pre-Ecuador Layla who said she could do this? My family in the States who gave so much for me to come to Ecuador? My host-family who’s taken me in as truly part of the family? Compassion. No matter how different someone was from me, I met them with more compassion than judgment. Unrestricted curiosity. Unquestioning openness to newness. Open-mindedness was automatic there. Anomalies and ambiguities? Not so many. In Ecuador, there are less social rules. There’s no personal space. People don’t treat you like a stranger. Everyone smiles at each other. Moms will let their child put their legs on you on the bus. Someone you’ve never met will great you with a kiss on the cheek and a warm hello. I’m getting lost writing this now, but it’s because I have yet to understand so much of this. But I say unconditionality because someone will help any person without giving it a second a thought, take them in like family without hesitation, and treat each like the next. It’s all unconditional.
One of the hardest parts of the transition back home is being honest. I don’t know how to have conversations about anything, really. I feel guilty for talking with so much zeal about a place that the person I’m talking to cares nothing about. But on the other hand, when I try to keep myself from doing that, I bring up negative things about my time in Ecuador or the country itself and I’m hit with guilt for not having shown Ecuador in the light it deserves. I miss the people there more than anything. From my family, to my friends, to actual the people of Ecuador, but I feel guilty telling everyone here in the U.S. how much I miss my people in there. Then there’s the times when someone asks me the classic, “So, how was Ecuador?” and I try to prevent all the aforementioned situations and awkwardly respond, “Umm, great! Haha?” Even this Capstone Video is a little hard to share. It only captures about half a percent of what I want people to understand. My favorite moments aren’t on video. My everyday moments aren’t on video. There’s a clip of Imbabura, but you don’t see the serenity and joy that fills me every time I pass it. To you, it’s just a simple landscape. The video is nearly 9 minutes, too long for most of you to watch the whole thing, but I simply couldn’t cut anything out. To me, it already feels like not enough to tell the story, so how could I make it shorter simply to make viewing more convenient?
It’s all kind of like Taita Imbabura, actually. Imbabura is the name of the volcano that my province was named after. Credits to Danny’s end-of-the-year speech, Imbabura is distinctly detailed and uniquely formed. Everyone in my cohort lived somewhere not too far off the Panamericana—the main highway, that also tiptoes around the western side of Imbabura—so we all had a view of Imbabura from our communities. However, every single one of us had a different one. Mine was from Priorato, where it looked like it had a piece missing. I’d dwell in its beauty as at least two times of the day. One, driving down from Las Cuatro Esquinas to the center of Priorato. Here, I had a picturesque view of the Yahaurcocha Lake and Imbabura at the same time. Imbabura was nurturing and calm, looking over Ibarra amongst the white clouds and blue sky. Two, from the Panamericana as we entered Aduana. Here, it was tall, mighty, and protective. These are my two images of Imbabura, and I know everyone else has another one. To someone who’s merely given it a quick glance, maybe it’s a mediocre volcano. It might not look like what they had hoped. Maybe it’s pretty, but they don’t understand why I talk about it the way I do.
At the end of the day, I don’t think I’ll ever really find a way to talk about Ecuador in a way that does it justice. It takes hours and hours of conversation for you to even begin to understand what Ecuador really is for me. I’ve fallen in love with a country in a way I didn’t know was possible, and it’s even hard for me to understand that I actually barely know it and that it’s so much more to so many people. I guess that’s why in Spanish they don’t say, “Have you been to [location]?” They ask if you “know” it. Because when you travel, there’s a whole world to uncover. People to befriend. Culture to immerse in. Places to make home. That’s why, “Yeah, I know Ecuador!” sounds better to me than, “I lived,” “I’ve been,” or anything else. I know Ecuador like an old friend, and that’s why my next plane ticket is to see mi querido Ecuador.
Ecuador, my host family, Ibarra, my friends, Imbabura, and everything and everyone in between: I love you and I miss you. Even though we’re apart, I keep you in my heart always. See you soon,
Ecuador, mi familia anfitriona, Ibarra, mis amigos, Imbabura, y todo en el medio: te quiero y te extraño. Aunque no estamos juntos, te mantengo en mi corazón siempre. Nos vemos pronto.
La chinita de California, Layla