Three weeks ago, I received a piece of paper detailing my community placement in bullet points. From what I could glean, I was heading to a relatively small Ecuadorian community named Paragachi to live with a family of six and work for a local non-profit. Fast forward a week, and I entered a room where all of our families awaited to the poorly contained exclamations of my host mother. From that initial bear hug, I have been slowly adjusting to life in my home for the next six months. Any written description of my host family was destined to fall short, as even after two weeks immersed in it, I am still discerning details about who is related to who, who lives where, and where I fit in the complicated network. Family lines blur as girlfriends, friends, and neighbors stray in and out of the house as if it were their own. Yet, throughout this new group that I have found myself in, one thing is uniform: unconditional kindness. Despite the fact that I am a new addition who speaks in choppy Spanish and is relatively ignorant to how they function, everyone has welcomed me with open arms and gone out of their way to make me feel at home.
Just as with my host family, I could not have imagined what was in store at my apprenticeship. Called Vibrant Village, the organization I spend my weekdays at provides a variety of services to boost the general standard of living in Paragachi and surrounding communities. Its main undertaking, and the one that I am involved with, is implementing organic farming to combat issues such as malnutrition. From conducting interviews to identify community needs to cultivating new crops, Vibrant Village employees carry out a variety of tasks. After a week of accompanying my coworkers to the many gardens within Paragachi and beyond, I am amazed at the work that has been done and ecstatic to learn more as the year progresses.
Certainly, my expectation that this experience would be challenging has proven to be true. Everyday, I am pushed out of my comfort zone to try a new food (ex. raw pig skin, guinea pig heads), navigate in a foreign language, and understand how to act in a completely new home and work environment. To proclaim that I am having the most fun of my life would be a lie; there are certainly times when pure sensory overload threatens to overwhelm me and doubt begins to creep into my mind. Yet, ironically, moments like these reassure me that I am exactly where I should be. When I boarded the plane to come here, it was with an insatiable desire to be uncomfortable, to question everything I think I know, and to ultimately discover things I never could have at home.
I believe more than anything, these first few weeks have shown me how little I really know. Here, in a place where people have never heard of my state let alone my city, I am no one. I am not well known and widely liked, I am not a successful student, and I do not excel in a variety of activities. I am simply a sojourning gringo that stumbles over his words and struggles with the most basic tasks. Everyday, I realize more of what I do not comprehend, and for now I think that is the most important lesson to learn. Humbled and eager, I am looking forward to all the outlandish adventures, lonely times, new relationships, confusing conversations, and true learning to come.