Ecuatime

Charlie Dickerson - Ecuador


October 10, 2019

This post is long overdue; I'm actually going to fill you in on a noteworthy day a couple of weeks ago. Before I begin, I would like to define the title of this post. Ecuatime is a way of life. Down here, people move at a different pace. That means that, if you are invited to a lunch at 1:00, you don't show up until 2:30, at the earliest. It also means that there is never a set plan for the day. You take things as they come, and you go along with it. If it weren't for earbuds and good music, this transition would be a whole lot more difficult.

This story starts on a Monday night. I had just finished up my first day of teaching English classes at the local community center. I co-teach with a girl named Lotta, who is here from Germany with a different gap year program. When three girls, maybe 8-10 years old, showed up for our first class, I was very grateful that I was not the only teacher. I definitely have a better understanding of and respect for what my mom does on a daily basis with her kindergarteners. The second class was more my speed; I taught the members of the tourism organization I work for, and that was a blast. It was a nice role reversal – I was used to being the baby, asking the adults to talk slowly, but now I was the almighty teacher with the whiteboard marker.
That class finished up around 8:30 PM. When I got home, I collapsed on my bed and was soothed to sleep by the rain tapping on my roof. I was out by 9:45, which was the earliest I had been to bed since middle school. 30 minutes in, unbeknownst to me, I received a WhatsApp message from my supervisor, asking me to come to work an hour early the next morning.
So, when I woke up at 7:30, I had 30 minutes to get ready and make the 15-minute trek to work. I didn't get a chance to eat. I didn't get a chance to shower. I knew I'd be working on a farm that day (I'm sure you all are confused about what I do for work by now – don't fret; I am too), so I put on my boots, got my camera stuff together, packed my backpack, and walked out the door at 8:05.
To get to work, I hike along the river that runs behind my house, cross a bridge, then walk down the hill just past downtown Sayausí. I was running late, so I decided to take a shortcut. Instead of walking the extra 30 seconds to the bridge, I would cross the river using three large rocks – a feat I had tackled a handful of times prior. You all are observant fellows, so I'm sure you're thinking, "Charlie, didn't it rain the night before? Aren't the rocks slippery and the river higher?" Yes, and yes. You guessed it. I extended my left foot to the flat rock on the far side of the river, and it just kept sliding. If I were flexible, I suppose I could have caught myself in the splits as my foot slid forward, which would have been badass. But we all know that my hamstrings are tighter than the cables on the suspension bridge I should have crossed. There I sat, waist-deep in the icy river. My first thought was, "Hey, at least I have an excuse to be late to work now." I made my way to my feet, and, for some reason, I then decided to continue to the other side of the river so that I could walk down to the bridge and cross back over to the side I came from. Good thing I'm not in college right now; critical thinking is not on my side. Growth mindset, am I right?
Anyway, I sloshed back home, changed my clothes, and set the wet ones out to dry. I finally made it to work, stopping to grab some bread on my way. Guess who wasn't there yet! My supervisor. Ecuatime.
However, there was an older woman and a toddler. She asked me, "Eres Carlitos?" (Are you Charlie?), to which I responded yes, soy Carlitos. She motioned for me to follow her, and I hesitated for a brief second… before remembering I was three feet taller than the two of them combined and could take them to town if things got hairy. I followed her up the street to her house and sat down on the couch. I remained there for an hour and a half, at which point my supervisor, Johnny, showed up, and I realized this lady was Johnny's mother. They invited me over to the table to drink coffee and have bread, which I gladly accepted.
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For the next five hours, I plowed the heck out of a field, dug holes, and planted corn, beans, and cabbage. I enjoyed every minute of it, but all that time spend bent over and whacking the ground made my back pretty tired. I also wondered why I was working on Johnny's family farm if I work for a tourism organization. We finished up around 2:00, when it started dumping rain. Just in time to make it home for lunch, I thought. Instead, however, Johnny, his sister, and his mother insisted that I join them for lunch as a thanks for helping. Of course, I went and enjoyed the lunch, but the whole time I fantasized about how great it was going to feel to go home and lay down.
As lunch finished up, I tried to get one step closer to leaving by asking Johnny if we had anything else left to do, expecting him to say I could head out. "Ah, we'll see later," he said. Before I could express my confusion, Johnny's mom asked if I was tired. Again, trying to make a hint at leaving, I said I was very tired. "Aww why don't you lay down! Johnny, set up a spot for him on the couch."
I spent the next 30 minutes sleeping, then, the following hour and a half, wondering where everyone was. Nobody was to be found. I was so confused. I took a moment to think about what I was actually doing, sitting on a couch in this Ecuadorian family's home, not even knowing if they were around. Good stuff.
After that hour and a half, Johnny finally came downstairs, looking as though he had just woken up. "Follow me," he said. I followed him. I then realized my next hour would be spent sorting through his family's recyclables. Good stuff.
The next 30 minutes were spent having coffee with Johnny's dad and another old, hilarious, Ecuadorian man. Good stuff.
I sloshed home at 5:45 – this time wet from the rain.
I've thought a lot about this day and what it means. First, it represents something that has continued: they're kind of just using me as an extra set of hands for manual labor. I'm working on changing that. Second, it shows me the power of one's mindset. That whole day, every time something came up that my first instinct was to be pissed off at – falling in the river, having to wait for Johnny, being used for manual labor, not going home when I was tired, etc. – I told myself that being pissed off only hurts me. Negative thoughts don't change reality. I decided to change my mindset to make fun of the situation, to laugh at the absurdities, and I ended up going to bed with a smile on my face. Even writing this I can feel how cheesy and cliché it is, but hey, it worked for me.

Charlie Dickerson