Fear of the Faded Accent

Abigail Bethke - Ecuador


March 10, 2017

Written on March 9th, 2017. 

Tomorrow would be my dad’s 47th birthday. I just got off the phone with my grandma…after she sent me a text saying she felt sad but also grateful to have been so lucky. After getting over the grief that comes within the first two years, that is the ever lasting feeling. A void, a sadness, a little feeling of emptiness, but also happiness. Grateful to have had the 16 jam packed years. Of music, hugs, love, family, and friends. But regardless of the time that goes by, it is hard to accept the reality, or as my grandma said, even talk about him in a past tense. Her words tonight resonated with me on several frequencies. 

This was the first chance I had heard her voice since I had left…and the first time she heard mine. She told me she could tell I have been in a Spanish speaking country…the way I spoke, the order of my words, the inflection in my voice. I spoke English more like a Spanish speaker, ordering words differently, probably partially because everyday I teach English, so I have begun to speak and order words so my students understand. But I’m also slowing forgetting the nuances of my language as I speak in Spanish with everyone I know here (I’ve realized this with my gradually increasing spelling errors too–ayy). My grandma said I had an accent. Oh man, how I loved to hear that. I feel so proud to have grasped even the slightest accent. Cañareja. I remember my Quito host family told me when I visited them in January that I talked like a Cañareja. It is a memory from my time here, something I can carry with me back to the United States. I love it. But I also know that just after a few weeks of being back in my county, that accent will fade as I slip back into my daily routines, and I think that is what I am most afraid of. 
Losing an accent is just a larger metaphor of what it will be like to lose touch with the year I’ve experienced. To distance myself and transform from reality to memory. Right now, this is all real. This is my life. I live in Gallorumi. I work in Quilloac. I’m an English teacher. I love my students. I love my friends here. Some of the best friends I can honestly say I have ever had…that I can never imagine saying goodbye to and leaving behind. I feel like I should belong here in Cañar forever with them, be with my family, be one of the teachers in Quilloac…and yet I worry so much that this will all just fade away. 
I hear so much about fellows before me…practically all my friends here had contact with other fellows before, whether they were neighbors, students, supervisors, host families, or simply just their taxi driver (but you would be supervised just how close you can get to a taxi driver on those rides from Cañar to Gallorumi). They talk about these fellows with so much love. But at the same time, often they are talked about as memories. Like they now cease to exist…something that came then left. Happened then passed. Laughed then cried as they said their goodbyes. Once in a while they talk about a visit, but it doesn’t seem to feel the same. Not like when they were here. Right now, I am the one that’s here. This is reality…everything else a faded memory…and I am so afraid to become one of those.
I know that once I’m gone April 5th someone else will come. Someone else will have my job. Someone else may even live with my host family. The friends I made here will befriend the next fellow…just like they did with me. They’ll talk to the next fellow about me…they may even feel like they’re living in the footprints of my shoes for a while…walking down the road from Quilloac to Paseo de los Cañaris knowing that someone, very very similar to them, once walked this path after school. But after a while, they’ll gain their own rhythm and soon forget about the last fellow when they walk down the road. It will be their road. Their walk. Their life. And by that time, I become the memory as the next fellow becomes reality. And así the pattern continues. 
This may sound really sad right now, but this is where my head is at at the moment. Very similar to what my grandma told me about my dad tonight. Feeling sad but grateful to be so lucky. I faced the same fears about my dad. Worried that the memories I had would fade away as the years went on. That I would forget what his voice sounded like or what the hugs felt like or forget the important talks about life and humanity. To forget what it felt like for him to be proud of me. The big moments in my life continue without him. I was so scared of that. Still am a bit. I didn’t forget it was my dad’s birthday tomorrow, but I get easily caught up in my life here, and I can forget about what’s going on at home. Maybe it’s a nice distraction I suppose, to lift me out of the darkness. But when the important dates like these pass by every year, it’s impossible to not have those fears. 
I know that this feeling will pass…but I can’t deny the feelings I have right now either. Only having 27 days here and not knowing how to divide the time equally between work, friends, and family. This is the hardest time I’ve had trying to balance time. And on top of that is the pressure of trying to pack each day with memories. And knowing there are only so many weekends left and looking at the calendar and realizing there may not be enough time to do what you want to do. 
In many cases, I feel like I’m just starting to really start some of the greatest work, adventures, and friendships here, just in the last month. I just started to spend time with people who I realize are absolutely divine. People I would’ve loved to have known all year. I’m just starting an after school English workshop with my coworker with 8th-10th graders who are so eager to learn more. But it still amazes me how these new friends or advances in my work don’t stop just because I’m in my last month. In many cases, they just grow and get stronger. I’ve found that many people I know here aren’t shying away from the fact that I’m leaving, like I could very easily see myself slipping into. They’re inviting me to do more and more things, which is so wonderful. 
Within this last month, I’m already seeing the friendships and my work tightening and growing before my eyes. The bonds are getting deeper. Every day I feel more and more comfortable here…and know that if I was here longer I could do so so much more. 
But I also know that the fellow before me had to feel the same way. With just as much pain just as things were really starting to get good. But their farewell and absence gave me room to grow. And the same thing I will be doing in 27 days. I don’t really know how to cope with it all yet. But that was the same thing with dad, and here I am still standing, stronger than ever, I would say. I assume I will learn this over the next month. But in the meantime, I’m scared, scared of losing the accent that my grandma claims I’ve acquired, scared of becoming a memory. But despite the sadness, I can’t help but be grateful. Grateful that it even happened. And grateful that it is still happening. 

Abigail Bethke