Competency

Meg Crenshaw - Ecuador


December 4, 2012

I recently had a realization: While I was in the States, I was at least competent at the things I did in my daily life. Prepare breakfast? Check. Drive to school? Check. Lead a meeting? Check. Flush the toilet? Check.

It’s a humbling experience to suddenly not be competent at everyday things. Flushing the toilet, for example, does not involve physically pushing down the handle. If you don’t know how the gas tank works, it’s kinda hard to prepare any food. In my first few weeks here, I might as well have been a three-year-old. The constant learning was and still is simultaneously refreshing and taxing. What follows are just two of many stories in which I wasn’t exactly feeling competent.

Cutting yucca. The first time I tried to help in the kitchen, my sixteen-year-old sister handed me a knife and yucca. I stared back and forth from hand to hand, from knife to yucca and yucca to knife, trying to figure out what to do. My sister looked back from where she was cutting the onion and chuckled. “Like this,” she said, taking the knife and yucca from me and then skillfully (and a little bit scarily) throwing her knife into the yucca. She tilted the now inserted knife to prop the white part out. Then she handed me back the knife and gave me another piece of yucca. I tried to fling the knife as she did into the yucca, but the required force wasn’t there because I was terrified of missing the yucca completely and chopping off my arm. So I put the yucca on the table and pushed the knife in with all my (mighty) might. I finally got the knife in there and managed to remove some white stuff. Soon thereafter, my sister checked back in on me, saw my very slow progress, and, taking my knife, instructed me to rinse the rice.

Using the stove. For dinner one night, my brother instructed me to cook some scrambled eggs. Yes, I can do this! I thought. I found a properly-sized container to beat the eggs in and beat the eggs like a pro. I even scavenged out some cooking oil from another house since we were out. But then the time came to light the stove. First of all, lighting the match was slightly pathetic because it took me a few tries (I quickly realized the matches are slightly different, so my technique needed adjustment.).Then, bringing the lit match to the correct position on the stove also took more than one try because the darn flame kept going out (More tilt of the match and a guard by my other hand did the trick.). Anyway, I finally got the lit match to the right place on the stove and tried to turn on the gas, expecting the sudden burst of fire, only to sadly see yet another of my matches go out with no success. Eyeing the gas tank as the culprit, I went over to the tank and lifted it as I had seen others do. I didn’t quite know what I was doing, but the tank was kinda heavy, and I supposed that was a good sign. But I was at a loss about what to do next. Luckily, my brother came in the house and saw me struggling, walked over to the tank and did something, and magically the gas started working again. Do I know what he did? No. But at least the end result was some pretty good scrambled eggs.

It is sometimes incredibly frustrating to I feel how bad I am at some activities here. I still can’t cut yucca for the life of me, and that is a very common activity here. It would be like not being able to make cereal in the States. But at the same time, it can be fun to realize my lack of skill. I have connected with so many people because I am such a beginner. Sometimes we are all laughing at my stumbles. And it’s fun to realize that I really am, slowly but surely, gaining competency through those stumbles.

Meg Crenshaw