Disconnecting in order to connect

Hey guys, it’s been a while


I haven’t written a blog in nearly three months, and I have some reasons to account for that: I was busy travelling around the country, I had a lot on my hands with my apprenticeship change (which ended up being a perpetual one), the holidays with my host family were quite intense, carnaval brought an intense three-day-water-and-paint fight inside and outside the house, and my computer also mysteriously died (and that complicated things quite a bit).


But that still doesn’t does explain why I haven’t shared my experience for three months.


The truth is that I wanted to disconnect. Having this constant link to information, seeing what everyone of my friends back home or abroad was doing, having the temptation to disappear in my phone or computer, somehow needing to synthesize what I went through constantly: all of this was preventing me from fully immersing. However, this is how I was raised and educated: to constantly keep myself occupied, informed, ready, active. I feel satisfied when I accomplish many of my objectives in a day, content when my schedule is perfectly filled, stressed when I have too much free time and anxious when things do not go according to plan. These habits were deeply ingrained within me when I arrived, but went against the rhythm of life of my new environment. Things usually just happen around here, instead of being planned. People are incredibly spontaneous, which can turn a free day into a very action-packed one, the opposite also being true. To truly immerse, I had to go beyond just learning the local dialect of spanish: I needed to slow down. However, it was necessary for me to abandon the way I used to organize my life to truly grasp the reality of the people I was living with, to share and be on the same level as them.


This sounds might sound very superficial, taking from the traditional narrative of “disconnecting to reconnect with the real world”, but being in Ecuador made it take a whole new dimension, and this is what I learned from it.


I had problems connecting with my host family at first. I felt uninvited, as if I was a burden for them, and I had trouble navigating my community because I had to do alone. However, paying closer attention to their daily routine by taking part in it (that is, by myself being very spontaneous and dropping the notion of a schedule) and by worrying a little less about mine, I noticed how hard-working my host parents were, and how much they cared for my host siblings and I. Once I learned how to pay attention, I noticed all the little things they did to make me feel at home, and how much they wished they had the time to show me around.


I decided to join the local football team, which is the best in the region (and the region supplies players to the national team). Once I got the hang of guessing where practices were going to take place (hitchhiking was part of that process), I got to connect with the players, and even more with the coaches. Well aware of the importance of football in the community, they use the sport to teach important life lessons to the youth of Juncal, and I was greatly inspired by their work.


I wanted to take part in activities outside my apprenticeship, and I decided to reach out to my supervisors, Javier Mendez and Olga Palacios. They were hard to reach most the time, but once I decided to meet them halfway, I had the chance of playing saxophone and percussions in the local bomba band with Javier, as well as working in his field picking hot peppers a couple of days a week. I had the most amazing conversations with Olga about the difficulties related to adapting to an environment such as el Valle del Chota (her husband is Italian) and about the history of the region.


I then took interest in the history of the struggle of afroecuadorians, and I put together a project where I interviewed the elders with whom I was working about their lives, significant events they remembered, important elements of the local culture and their opinion about a number of different topics. It took time to convince them, to talk them into participating, but when I finally convinced them, they opened up to me and I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to listen to their amazing personal stories.


But the person I cherish the most, the connection I will be forever grateful for is the one I have built with my host mother. She works all the time in the local church (funding it entirely), and this complicated the process of getting to know each other quite a bit, but as soon as I decided to help with her passion, amazing things happened. We had incredibly rich conversations, laugh out loud together, grew close to one another and she told me about her life. She told how she raised her younger siblings with less than 20$ a week. She told me how she taught herself how to sow to increase her income, but never gave up on school. She told how she would take in and raise the neglected children from the neighborhood alongside my seven host brothers. She told me things she never mentioned to anyone else, and I am humbled by the fact that she thought I was worth her trust. I will always see her as my second mother, wherever I go.

Never would I have immersed so much nor gotten so much out of this experience if I hadn’t disconnected, put my old habits on the side and gone with the flow. However, the biggest lesson for me was realizing that I was more of a human doing before coming here, but to communicate and share across cultural differences, one must become a human being.