When this journey first began, I had no idea what to expect. I couldn’t begin to imagine the kind of people I’d come to know, or experiences I’d have. Hesitant, but trying hard not to show it, I pushed all my doubts aside and took a leap of faith. Seven months away from my home, family, and friends was nothing less that daunting. I knew that going to a foreign country in which I didn’t speak the language or have much prior knowledge about would be a challenge. It would require me to be curious, embrace the abundance of awkward one-sided Spanish conversations, and be persistent. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
My experience thus far has been absolutely incredible. I’ve quickly fallen in love with Ecuador, my host family, and the people I encounter daily. It has been a learning experience of sorts that would be entirely different without the best host family I could have asked for.
First and foremost, I live in a small town called Paute in the province of Azuay, located in southern Ecuador. It’s a beautiful, quaint little town in the mountains that seems to have one general temperature: hot! My host family consists of a mom, grandma, twenty-one year old brother and fifteen year old sister. Both of my host siblings speak a little bit of English, so they help me out when everyone is laughing at a joke and I’m forced to sit there blank-faced and confused becuase my Spanish skills are lacking.They have without a doubt made adjusting easier in that regard. My host mom, Isabel, has been absolutely phenomenal and treats me just like one of her own. I’ve been welcomed with open arms. My favorite moments are when it’s just me and her, talking about the struggles of life in Ecuador and what it’s like growing up here and her desire to live the “American Dream” with her brother brother who was able to immigrate to New York. I heard a statistic that there are more Ecuadorians in Queens, New York than there are in the Ecuador’s third largest city, which is an hour away from my town. I was shocked by this, and as a New Yorker have been able to understand much more what it may be like to be separated from your family in search of a better life. She tells me about how she hopes that her children will be given the opportunity to go to the States for a better life. After these conversations, I’ve gained a new curiosity about what it was like for my own friends’ families back home who moved here from other countries, and what it means to be in the US. I’ve witnessed how important family time is here, and can only imagine all of the hardships that come with moving away from one’s support system.
Speaking of family time, we don’t do the typical watch TV, or play card games here… instead, we unbraid my hair! A few weeks ago, I was time to take out my super long braids; an act that I had planned on doing alone in my room, but it my pleasant surprise it turned into a family affair!
I never imagined that unbraiding hair could be such a bonding experience. My family was so interested in how these hair extensions worked, and asked 101 questions about it. I didn’t have the vocabulary to answer a majority of them, but I tried! After a back breaking two and a half hours, we had finally finished, and joy radiated off of their faces. Now it was time to decide what to do with the heaping pile of hair extensions. I told them it could just be thrown in the trash, and they replied, “nonsense!” They wanted to save the extensions to make costumes with for the town’s Christmas celebration, so they tied it into a neat bundle and put it in a plastic bag. I’m not quite sure where said bag of hair is kept, but I have a feeling it will be resurfacing in about a month! More details regarding this Christmas celebration to come! That experience really made me appreciate my host family’s genuine curiosity about me and my hair, as well as their willingness to give a helping hand, even if they’re not asked to. That night stands out to me as one of my most memorable experiences with my family, and I’m grateful to simply be in their company getting a taste of their lives.
I’m so inspired by how hard my host mom and grandma work to provide for their family. Waking up at five a.m. each morning, getting straight to work, and somehow never looking completely drained of energy by bedtime amazes me, and forced me to reflect on what my obligations are in a given down and the attitude that I have when it comes to fulfilling them. I’m surrounded by such positive energy, and can feel myself being reshaped for the better.
My host mom and grandma earn a living by selling bread, humitas (similar to cornbread), crocheted shirts, and the most interesting of all: chickens! We have a chicken coop in the backyard, and I’ve been privileged enough to see not one… not two… but fifteen chickens meet their fate. The first time I witnessed this, I was about to head to work. As I opened to door that leads from the kitchen into the work space where I usually exit, the limp, motionless bodies of five chickens lay in a bucket waiting to be dipped into boiling water and plucked of their feathers. I only experienced a dash of trauma that morning, and am still trying to muster up the courage to help out in this activity. I did manage to pluck an impressive three feathers once! It was quite the accomplishment. To my surprise, for lunch I was given soup with featuring the feet and head of a chicken for lunch that day, and about seven more times since then. I have yet to eat the feet and head, and I get teased for it as a result by my family and coworkers. I’m determined to try it some day, though. Baby steps.
These past two months have been more than I ever could have hoped for. I’ve been given ample time for reflection on my own life back home, including how I interact with the people and view the world. I’m left overjoyed by the growth I’m making as an individual, and am looking forward to the future. I can’t wait to share more of my experiences with you all!