Food Poisoning, Revelations, and a Little Bit of T-Swift

Lily Shaffer - Ecuador


November 15, 2010

At 12:13 on Thursday, I should be delving into the first day of my apprenticeship at Pastoral Migratoria de Ibarra.  I should be jabbering away with Mariela, my advisor, soaking in all that is political advocacy for the Human Rights of immigrants, anxiously planning tomorrow’s trip to Quito where I will be introduced to one of the projects I’ll be working on for the next six months. But I’m actually (shamelessly) downloading the new Taylor Swift album, lying in bed feeling sorry for myself because I have food poisoning.  I spent last night throwing off covers, sweating, bathing in chills and nightmares about Ecuador and Reading colliding into one world.

I’m feeling a little sorry for myself because, unlike in Quito where I got healthy doses of fruits and vegetables, where, after mi Mamá had to teach me how to suck the cartilage off a chicken bone and I explained I had been a vegetarian before Ecuador so she stopped serving me meat, here in Ibarra all I’ve eaten since I arrived Saturday is rice, potatoes, and chicken.  I’m feeling sorry because, not only did I have English speakers in Quito, I could also converse easily and understand nearly everything, while, here in Ibarra, words stick together in strange patterns.  Double l’s make a “jay” sound, and I have no reason to practice my newly conquered rr’s, because rolled r’s aren’t a part of the dialect.  I’m feeling sorry because this is the first time I’ve ever been this sick away from home.  I really just want my mom and miso soup, Grey’s Anatomy and the rhythm of crisp, colorful leaves in the chill November, Boston wind outside my window.

After two months, I’ve found myself surprisingly detached from life at home.  This is the longest I’ve been away from my family and friends. But I don’t miss anyone or anything.  At times I’ve felt quite guilty to hear other fellows talking about longing for a best friend, or a fellow in Senegal, or anything that isn’t here and now.  Even when my mom called to tell me my grandma died, I was obviously sad, but the tug from home was remarkably weak.  I guess I miss my dog a little bit.  But really, this is the first time I’ve actually not wanted to be where I am right now.

Yet out of all this self-pity, I’m having a revelation.

I’m not a little kid anymore.  GCY’s told us from the start that they expect us to act like adults, and will be treating us like adults.

Being sick away from home, I’m starting to feel like a real person; maybe not quite an adult, but definitely a real person. I’m choosing to live a life abroad and to work for human rights, to learn other languages; to not only ask “why?” to those difficult questions, but to try to answer them; to stare directly at inequality instead of turning a blind eye. It’s going to be awkward, lonely, scary, infinitely long and short at the same time.  But it’s also going to be incredibly joyous and exciting, rewarding, empowering, humbling, and spectacular.

So as I lie here sipping oregano tea from Mamá and listening to Tay Tay (I don’t care what you say, this CD is bombdotcom), I’m realizing that as much as food poisoning sucks, in the long term, wide-framed perspective, it’s kind of awesome.  I mean, my other mom (the third!) is taking care of me like she would her biological daughter.  There are roosters squawking outside my window and I’m gazing up at Volcano Imbabura.  As soon as I’m better, I get to spend six months intently studying and living what I’ve considered dedicating my life to before I go get a degree in it.  I’ll admit, the rice, potatoes, and chicken are delicious, I’ll go home in six months bilingual, and We No Speak Americano plays on the bus at least once a day. Oh, and did I forget to mention that I’m in freakin’ ECUADOR?

I’ll totally take food poisoning below the equator over college any day.

Lily Shaffer