Caterpillar Soup

Selena Harris - Ecuador


February 17, 2019

*Preface: Something a lot of people don’t know is that caterpillars
actually liquify in the cocoon before becoming a butterfly. Like, as a kid
I always pictured the little caterpillar just growin’ wings, takin’ a
snooze, and then poppin’ out 20 days later looking glorious as ever. In
reality, for 80% of that process that cocoon is literally just full of
caterpillar soup. I suppose it makes sense that I thought that though. I
mean, all we ever see is the caterpillar going in and coming out a
butterfly. What else would we assume?*

“Hey! I was just wondering what your experience has been and if you would
recommend GCY?”

All of the sudden I am no longer the one asking but the one trying to
answer. Friends, strangers on social media, people I went to school with,
all asking the same thing. And It’s a complicated question. I could tell
you all the beautiful things about my experience- from working in a school
on a volcano side, to getting lost on ancestral trails, to making friends I
know I will have for life. I could talk about how much I have learned, how
much I have grown, how I no longer fear being alone and being afraid but
instead I cherish it. And I feel like more often than not these are things
I tell people. Not only because I want them to have the same experience but
also because these are things I crave to believe have been the entirety of
my year. But the reality of life is that nothing is total peaches’n’cream.

I hope that nothing about this makes me seem anything less than 300%
grateful, but I sometimes struggle to recommend this year to people. By
putting yourself in a position where you have the opportunities to
experience such beautiful highs it is inevitable that you will experience
lows. In honor of full transparency, this has been my experience:

Upon arriving, I felt sadder than I had felt in a very long time. I had no
way of speaking to anyone, I was terrified. My family might as well had
been strangers because I couldn’t understand a word they said to me. People
laughed at me and harassed me in the streets because of the way I look.
Certain people assumed I was “easy” and unintelligent because I was blonde
and American. I was almost kidnapped. I was almost robbed. I was assaulted
and followed- twice. I was forced to leave a home I loved because of the
bad intentions of one man. I have felt the knives of pain that occur only
after eating the most delectable street food I have ever tasted. I have
felt homesickness that rocks my chest. I have felt 6 months of bed bug
bites that kept me up at night. I have felt the cold hellfire of taking a
freezing daily morning shower when its 40 degrees in the house. I have felt
the fear of walking alone during the day and during the night. I have felt
the whispers of people behind me on the bus that think I don’t understand
what they are saying about me. I have felt caterpillar soup.

These are the things I don’t tell people, and there are reasons for it.
There is so much danger in a single story. People tend to hear these lows
and tell me that they are “sorry”. But sorry for what? That Ecuador is
rough on me? Because it is not Ecuador. It is the phenomenon of life that
can happen to you anywhere. And this is what I’m afraid of. That if I say
one bad thing that it will grow into a festering blister on the reputation
of this country I have grown to love. Because in full transparency, this
has been my experience:

Upon arriving, I felt happier than I had felt in a very long time. I
finally felt free of all things that had ever weighed me down. I was
meeting people who had the same resilience for life that I did as well as
the same indecision. I saw landscapes that brought tears to my eyes. I met
locals who were interested in me, often asking me questions and seeking to
know more about me and the life I came from. I have 3 new sisters. I have 3
new brothers. I have 4 new parents and 2 new homes. I have been blessed by
a shaman and blessed by a waterfall. I have cooked food in the earth with
volcanic rocks and sung to our PachaMama. I have hiked a volcano in search
of healing herbs. I have taken 5 AM hikes to have traditional tea
ceremonies in the jungle. I have performed a benefit concert in my
community as well as learned a new traditional south american instrument. I
have been in 4 parades. I have felt the warm waves of the coast, the cool
breeze of the highlands, and the chilly rivers of the Amazon. I have seen
stars unlike anything I could imagine. I have felt the thrill of travelling
completely alone and being able to finally speak for myself in a new
language. I have felt the love of people I met only months ago. I have felt
humbled. I have felt freedom. I have felt what it will be like to be a
butterfly.

This is all I can tell you. This is the unweighted truth. I cannot tell you
to take a gap year. I can’t. Because it would be me pushing you into
oblivion with the chance of it hitting you like a brick the same way it did
me. All the same, I cannot tell you not to take a gap year. This would be
me pushing you away from all the inevitable good that will come from it.
It’s a decision you have to make alone. Because you won’t become a
butterfly unless you first become caterpillar soup. That’s that.

“Hey! I was just wondering what your experience has been and if you would
recommend GCY?”

All I can truly tell you is that as someone with only 1 month left, with
the good and bad, I would still do it all again.



Selena Harris