I went to Loja recently with my family, where the houses are sporadic and pork is plentiful. Its actually the campo(country side) of Loja; the kind of more basic, of out in the middle of no where living that I had initially expected from my Global Citizen Year placement(since I’m living in a small city right now its a totally different experience). The bathrooms are outside and the kitchen floor is dirt. There are no interconnected hallways from room to room, you walk outside to the blistering heat, squinted eyes to the sun, and scurry back to shady safety. The country side of Loja is where a gringa like me is easily picked out and openly stared at, and the pastor at the local church wasted no time in calling out my precence ¬†when I attended a First Communion Mass with my family.

He had started off welcoming everyone to the mass that day, and then moved on to say “We even welcome a young lady from the United States”. Imagine then, the ruckus that sounded as every head in the packed, maximum 30 pew church careened to find the odd face out. The nun sitting next to me, my aunt, turned to me with wide eyes and laughed at all the attention I had just received.

The priest continued, the normal prayers . But he also alighted upon topics I had never heard before in church; the environment, our place in the world, and how we are inexorably linked between the two.

Everyone knows everyone in this community. It’s small, made up mostly of farmers and campasinos. Hence the reference to the land and its inhabitants being linked, since most people make their living off it. My host dad lives and works there as a veterinarian, and he likes to remind me by recounting how many cows he vaccinated that day as he makes a shooting motion with his pointer and thumb fingers.

In comparison, Azogues is large, like around 30,000 people large. Its hard to make such an immediate and widespread impression with the inhabitants as I had done in Loja. Also, strange to be relatively anonymous for so long in my host community and then to encounter the shock of a completely new small town environment.

I’ve made inroads, however small, in my own neighborhood. A clothes store owner who I always catch up with when Im shopping in the center, the guitar maker across the street, a tienda owner named Cleber(pronounced Clever), the scores of cousins aunts and uncles in my barrio and scattered across Azogues. Im almost surely known in the market below my house for frequent trips to buy pinchos(delicious meat skewers grilled and sauced in mayo).

Im a smaller fish in a bigger pond. More effort has to be made in making and keeping contacts for me to feel successfully integrated and a part of the city.

Its not like having the priest of the community church signal you out after mass, asking about life in Ecuador all the while¬†buoyantly shaking my hand. I can feel the eyes of onlookers as I part from the priest. I, along with my sister and mother, are handed a large fruit complementary of one of the churches neighbors. We all sit down and start talking, waiting for the rain to stop. I’m drawn to this warm openness. The life may be different here, but its a good one.