Ground Control to Major Tom

Raymund Lee - Ecuador


September 14, 2019

Today (9/14/2019) marks exactly one week with my host family, and it’s fair to say I feel like quite the space oddity in rural Ecuador. 


What are some dead giveaways I’m a foreigner? For starters, I bump into almost any doorframe or object that’s around a foot above the average Ecuadorian male, whose height is a healthy 5’ 4”. What else? Well, it’s not exactly common for Asian-Americans to decide to move to the rural areas of northern Ecuador for a nice seven month stay. BUT, despite these glaring differences, my community has accepted me with open arms, warmth, and incredible candor.

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To some degree, it does feel like I possess some sort of sorcery or magic that will bring this community good fortune. So many families are excited at the prospect of me being able to teach their children English, and have personally come up to me to welcome me to their community and invite me to hang around in their homes. In reality, I have zero superpowers (other than being able to consume a quarter of a watermelon in under two minutes), so being treated like Asian Jesus is a bit odd. But I’m going to try my best to bring some of los niños to a respectable level of English comprehension.

It’s also probably pertinent to mention that I have absolutely no background in Spanish other than picking some up on the fly back home in the US. So besides knowing the main chorus of Latin music hits like Despacito and Enrique Iglesias’s Bailando, saying anything is pretty much an accomplishment. But now that a week has passed, I think I can hold my own in terms of maintaining a basic conversation.

But let’s talk first impressions: after all, how many of us really get the chance to ever travel to the outskirts of small cities in South America?

Before I outline the events of my first week, I’d like to put a disclaimer here that so far I have done many things I would most likely never find myself doing in the big US of A. For example, on day two I took part in the mysterious exchange of my family’s sheep for a bag of abas, or these legumes that are a substantial portion of my family’s diet. Where did this take place exactly? Not sure, but it was at the small house of an elderly woman, not far from the peak of Taita Imbabura, one of the many skyscraping volcanoes here in Ecuador. 


Other events worthy of note include the baptism party I attended with my host mother on day one, which is one of the largest familial celebrations here in Ecuador, and a funeral, an evening that proved to be poignant and a wonderful portrayal of Ecuadorian culture. On the day of the funeral, my host mother and I attended a brief service at the town church before purchasing a large set of flavored sodas, tostadas (pan fried corn that gets crunchy), rice, potatoes, and chochos (you’re going to have to Google this one). After burying the coffin in the depths of the cemetery, the whole community gathered in celebration of the life of their loved one, passing around food and drink for all to enjoy.

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Life in Ecuador is obviously very different from that of my home – a contrast that is highlighted by the chickens, pigs, puppies, and cows who roam around the backyard, and the lack of roads and other proper infrastructure I am blessed with having in the US.

There is so much more to explore here in my community, and so much more I would like to share, but to be honest, I’d like to save some of my stories so that you can see for yourself what it's like to be really out there.

Have you ever broken down an abandoned house, help cut down a small tree, and make a speed bump in the street out of mud? I’m willing to bet you have not. And this is not as a brag, but I’ve done all of those things in my very limited time here, which begs the question: what’s in store for the next seven months?

Honestly, I’m not quite sure. But I am here to find out, and I am here for the long haul.

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Viva la Ecuador – chao

Note: Extra points if you got the David Bowie reference.

*In memory of the innocent lives lost on September 11th, 2001. We will never forget. <3*

Raymund Lee