We were about to leave the hostel, to cross the street and meet our Quito host families. I hoisted my backpack onto my back, grabbed my small duffel bag and reached for my rolling duffel. Balancing everything, I took a deep breath and prepared myself to exit the hostel. Looking down at my rolling duffel, I noticed that, though it was zipped tightly shut, the straps were not yet snapped together. I had to stop; I urgently needed to secure the bag completely. It wasn’t because I was nervous my clothing would fall out—the bag was all zipped up. But I needed that extra sense of security, to feel like I had control.
Flashback to Pre-Departure training…One evening we watched the documentary Waste Land. In it, Artist Vik Muniz returns to his native country of Brazil and visits the largest landfill in the world, Jardim Gramacho. There, Muniz meets and befriends those who pick the recyclable material for a living. Through his unique style of photography, Muniz inspires members of the community. He shoots portraits of the catadores (pickers) and projects them onto the floor of a large warehouse, then works with the catadores to fill in the photographs with garbage from the landfill before taking another picture of the final work. The photographs are then auctioned off in London and all of the proceeds are returned to the community. The documentary was inspiring and thought-provoking as it showed, above all, the way deep relationships positively affect people.
Back to that first day out of the hostel…Standing in the park slurping granadilla, a delicious and slimy Ecuadorian fruit, I learned that my host family was the first to arrive. I quickly disposed of my messy fruit peels, gathered my bags and walked over to them. Met with hugs, kisses and requests for photographs, I instantly felt better. We drove to our apartment, had lunch and made the best conversation I could muster in Spanish. A couple of hours later, my host parents, sister and I went to el Centro de Arte Contemporaneo. Lo and behold, Vik Muniz was the featured artist; the entire gallery was an exhibit of his work. I could not believe that I was seeing the photographs about which I had just learned. Of all the places we could possibly go in Quito, we went here. Incredible. Even better, my knowledge of the work gave me something to talk about with my family, sparking welcome conversation.
When we returned home, I went straight to my room. Making a beeline for my suitcase, I thrust open the snapped straps and ripped open the zipper. I don’t need my bag to feel secure. And more than that, I am ready to be totally and completely open.