Eight months has now come down to eight days.
It’s a point that at times I never thought I would get to, a time that I never thought would come. When you have eight months ahead of you, it’s easy to say “oh yeah, I have time to visit this place” or “there’s so much time left, I’ll see her next week,” but now in those slots of time, I am wishing I had visited that place or seen that friend at the time I wanted to. Now I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day, like I won’t have enough time with my family, and I find myself squeezing in as much as I possibly can into each day until I fall into bed at night.
Eight months ago, I was saying my last goodbyes to a life I thought I never wanted to let go of. I had everything I could have ever wanted; I was fresh out of high school and I felt like I could do anything, like now I knew who I wanted to be. My summer had been filled with vacations at the beach, working at an ice cream store, spending every evening under the stars with friends and family, and I prepared myself for the coming year. As the end of the summer crept closer I arranged goodbye lunches with friends, spent final days with my family, and really pondered why I had put myself such a stressful situation. Thinking about coming to Ecuador made me anxious – it was a country I’d never been to, a small cut out square on maps I’d seen. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I didn’t even speak one word of the language, and I only trusted that things would be okay.
Things turned out to be more than okay.
This year has taught me so many things that I could have never anticipated learning. It’s shown me sides of myself that I never knew I had in me. It’s an interesting feeling because Spanish isn’t my language, yet I find myself being able to speak clearer and more directly here, expressing myself honestly; this family isn’t my blood-related family, yet sometimes I forget that I’m not a Chachalo Aguilar (my family’s names) like my host siblings; this house isn’t my house to call home, yet when I’m away from it I find myself wanting to be back and calling it home; I’m the whitest of the white, the tallest of the tall, and sometimes it takes looking down at my blindingly white hands or standing next to my no-more-than five foot tall sister to realize that hey, I’m not from here.
Now at the end of my eight-month adventure, I find myself comparing my final days in Raleigh back in August to my final days now in Zuleta. The comparison? There isn’t one but rather it’s almost the same.
At home I found myself clinging to my friends and family up through the last minute. I didn’t want to let go of my mom or dad in the airport, I didn’t want to say goodbye to my best friends who were going to college, and I felt like I was suddenly unprepared to go to Ecuador. Here it’s almost exactly the same. My final days have been filled with spending time with each of my family members whether it be walking to the store together, laying in bed listening to music, or sitting outside on our front stoop just talking. I don’t want to travel anywhere that will take me away from my home for more than a few hours. I spend every spare minute that I have with friends I’ve made here, even if it means standing outside in the cold at night because that was the only time we could meet. I feel like I’m unprepared to go back to the United States now, like there is where I’ll be out of my comfort zone. There suddenly aren’t enough hours in the day, I’m becoming more unorganized and forgetful (something that always happens when I’ve got a lot on my mind), and I find myself falling into bed at night unable to keep my eyes open for more than ten minutes.
So why isn’t there a comparison to leaving the United States and to leaving Ecuador? I’ve thought about it a lot – my two lives are, in countless ways, polar opposites. There I speak English, here I speak Spanish. There I do my homework at night, here I bring in the cow every evening at 6 pm with my host mom. There I go out to lunch with friends, here I peel potatoes with my host cousin and we make French fries for lunch. There I hop in my car and drive to where I need to be, here I bring a book to the bus stop and wait for the bus to come bumping around the corner.
I realize now though that it’s not about those kinds of comparisons. Of course those things are going to be different when you find yourself living in a developing country, but at the root of it, my lives are the same in the US and in Ecuador. Why? I’m surrounded by people who love me, who truly care about me and my well-being, and in turn I feel the same love toward them. My family in the United States is my core and my friends are the ones to whom I turn to no matter what and here I find it being the same. I don’t know if I would still be in Ecuador if it weren’t for my host mom. There were so many opportunities for her to ditch me, to let my feel sorry for myself in those beginning weeks, to leave me alone and not invite me places with her, but never once did she leave my side. In those hard times she was right there next to me crying and hugging me telling me it would be okay. When she has to go somewhere, even if it’s to work, she invites me and we make a day out of it. Thursday nights when I come home late from Spanish class and after everyone’s eaten she sits down with me while I drink my coffee and sip my soup, sometimes even eating a little bit more just so I don’t feel alone. At nights when we’re all cold she scoots over in the bed and opens the heavy blankets for me to crawl in and snuggle next to her, conversing and laughing until we can’t keep our eyes open anymore. I even find some of my Ecuadorian friends similar (okay, sometimes really similar) to certain friends I have in the States. I share laughs with them, sometimes the kinds of laughs where you laugh so hard you begin to cry. I talk about things that bother me with them as they do with me and we offer each other advice or suggestions. We go out or meet up at the common house in my community when we have free afternoons. Even if it means sitting in my front lawn catching the rays of the sun while picking grass and talking, we find excuses to hang out because we know that my time here isn’t forever.
I realized that I feel so comfortable here because this is life now. I’ve learned how to live here and it’s not hard at all because at the base of it all I have people I can turn to, a support system to lean on, and people to catch me when I fall. In a way, it’s comforting. If I’m feeling the way I felt before leaving the United States, sad and anxious, and I feel this way right now then it shows me that no matter what, things will be okay. Yeah at the beginning things were hard, and this year is quite possibly one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced, but now I am fine; I didn’t lose anything this year but rather gained in ways I could have never predicted. When we return to America, it’s going to be bumpy; it’s going to be hard and I can tell you right now I will be wishing I was back in this bed rather than the one I have, but it’s all fine. I know I will be back one day and I have my real family waiting for me back home which is something I’m so fortunate for. With time, I’ll adapt again. I’ve learned how to be flexible and despite how much I don’t want to leave, I know deep down that I can get through it.
At this point as I finish this blog, I have three full days left in Zuleta. Instead of dwelling on the fact that there are 72 hours that stand between me and the day someone comes to load my things into the back of a truck, I’m going to go put water on our stove to drink for coffee. Today my neighbor has invited me over to make lunch with her, tomorrow I’m going to the market in Otavalo with my mom, and Sunday we have a goodbye lunch. Monday I have decided to spend it with my friends while my mom and siblings are working or at school, and I already know I will not be sleeping Monday night.
What felt like an eternity has now turned into three days and I’m ready to make the best of them.