Equanimity

Alexandra Lines - Ecuador


September 18, 2013

I sit here at the Office of Immigration early in the morning, surrounded by people with blue envelopes filled with their legal documents. I am waiting for a man named Carlos. I barely know him, but he is carrying around my passport and other legal identification. He told me to meet him here at 7 am. It’s 7:07. I begin to doubt myself: Maybe I heard him wrong. Maybe he meant the Office of Migration. I know that this is not the case and I am in the right place. The guard opens the door and a man runs in to make sure that he is first in line. Everyone else follows him, but I walk the other way and take a look around for Carlos. I don’t see him, so I walk inside even though I have none of my papers and can’t get my student visa without him. So I sit down and wait, expectantly looking up at the door every few minutes. The uncertainty of a few moments ago remains. It’s the kind of uncertainty that one comes to know well when living abroad and speaking a language that is not their own. The kind of uncertainty that makes you doubt yourself and your knowledge, and one I have been living in for a couple of weeks now. I try to keep myself from making crazy excuses for Carlos’s absence, and I tell myself that this morning will go more smoothly than yesterday morning.

Yesterday I was sitting in this same building with my fellow Fellows, our papers and passports in our hands. Carlos was telling us what do to in Spanish. My friends that were ahead of me in line went up to the windows, showed a worker their papers, got them stamped and then left to go to school. When it came to be my turn, the man at the window looked suspiciously at my passport picture in a joking manner, and then told me I looked different without my glasses. I smiled and laughed, and waited for him to do whatever he needed to do. He picked up my passport, looked at the visa page and saw the stamp I had received when I went through customs at the airport. He muttered “trece” (13) and then showed it to Carlos and said “tu sabes que tienes que hacer,” (you know what you have to do). He handed me back my papers and Carlos pointed me to a chair and asked me to please wait for him while he helped the other fellows. I sat down, wondering what was going on. After a while, Carlos led me outside and asked me to wait for him there as he ran back inside to talk to someone. After 10 minutes of waiting, I sat down. A guard came over and told me I couldn’t sit there, and seconds later another came over and told me I couldn’t wait outside. I told her that someone was helping me with my visa and he had asked me to wait there, but she directed me back inside into the crowd of people. I waited until I saw Carlos leaving, and then ran outside to catch up with him. He put me in a cab with a woman I didn’t know. I sat in the cab with my backpack and papers on my lap. I didn’t know what was wrong with my passport, or where I was going and the uncertainty of the situation made me want to cry. The taxi driver asked me to buckle my seat belt. I did so, and I took a deep breath. I told myself that instead of thinking about all of the reasons this situation wasn’t comfortable or pleasant for me, I could look at it as a learning opportunity. In fall training, the fellows chose words that they would like to embody on their journeys. I chose ‘equanimity.’ I thought about my word choice, and realized that despite the fact that I did not know what was going on, I would be ok, and I was grateful that I was learning about the true meaning of this word in the surreal situation I had been thrust into.

The taxi pulled up to the Office of Migration, and the unknown woman and I got out. Carlos was waiting there for us, and we all went inside. We took a number, and sat down to wait for it to be called. I asked the woman what the problem was with my passport, and she told me she didn’t know and she was there for her own visa. After 30 minutes of waiting and occasionally switching seats so Carlos to talk to people he recognized, my number was called. Carlos led me to a desk with a woman in a blue skirt and jacket, and began to explain that the customs worker at the ariport had used the incorrect stamp on my visa page and that it needed to be changed. She printed off a piece of paper and handed it to me, and I hoped that we were done. But Carlos sat down and I followed him. We waited for another 30 minutes, until were called to talk to another woman in a different part of the building. She stamped my passport, and Carlos and I left the building. He put my passport in his backpack, told me he would see me at 7 the next morning, and rode off on his motorcycle. I began to walk to school in a daze. A woman asked me for the time, and the day went on.

It is now 7:20 am, and Carlos has come in and sat down next to me. He hands me my papers, and tells me today will be easier than yesterday. We talk for the next hour while we wait. I tell him that I am moving to Riobamba on Saturday, and he smiles and tells me that’s where he grew up. He tells me that his parents own a farm there, and he recounts the story of the first time he killed and ate a cuy. We exchange stories, and for the moment I know what is going on. For the moment, I am sure of myself. It is pleasant to sit here and chat with Carlos in Spanish. But I know that the next moment of doubt and uncertainty is just around the corner. And I know that when it presents itself, the only correct response will be to lean into it, ready to learn and be changed. Ready to embody equanimity.

Alexandra Lines