Hola, Zuleta

Claire Wohlers - Ecuador


October 10, 2013

After a teary goodbye with my Quito host family about 2 weeks ago, I traveled to Imbabura with my cohort. I was met by my new family at the Ibarra Train Station, which, I was told was about 30 minutes from my house. I was greeted by my host mother, father, sister, cousin, supervisor, and brother. My mother is a beautiful indigenous woman, always dressed in her pleated skirts, white embroidered blouses, and neck-full of gold necklaces. She greeted me politely, with a smile, a hug, and a cheek-kiss, as did the rest of my family, except my father who’s smile took up his entire face and engulfed me into a hug. My team leader, Maria Cristina (MC), told me that that night there would be a party at my new home, and she would be joining me until 6. I was relieved. It meant that not only would my first evening be less awkward, but I would have someone to help me out, especially in the first few hours.

And all eight of us piled into a truck. Matias, my eight-year-old brother, quizzed me the entire car ride about my likes and dislikes and my English abilities. The car ride from Ibarra to Zuleta is about half an hour of pure gorgeousness  Mountains, trees, farmanimals, and cobblestone roads made our car ride full of new sights.

When we arrived, I was greeted by many cousins, a dead crop of corn, trash sprawled across a green lawn, a full clothes line, a two-story house accompanied by a cluster of smaller, less modern looking buildings, and a calf, which was tethered to a small metal stake in the ground. Needless to say, I was kind of overwhelmed. MC was there though, so I stuck to her side and faced my quick-speaking cousins with as much courage as I could. The Spanish of my family here is much harder to understand and they talk much faster. I still don’t know everyone’s names or how they are related.

Then, my host mom asked me if I was hungry. I told her that I was super hungry and she dished me up a bowl of soup with a black flaky substance and avocado  MC told me that this was a Locro made of intestines with a dried blood topping. I took a giant spoonful and swallowed without chewing the unfamiliar meat. “Okay,” I thought to myself. “I can do this”. I triumphantly finished my first Zuletan meal. Only to learn that there was more. I then struggled to eat as much of the next course as I could, which consisted of chicken, beef, potatoes  and lots of rice. I then, continued to join the party, hanging out on the lawn with my cousins. Then, MC told me she needed to leave to meet her brother. I glanced at my watch. 5:30? Wasn’t she leaving at 6? I felt my stomach rise into my chest and willed myself not to cry. This family is nice– why am I crying? STOP IT but at this point, tears had already started running down my cheek as I gave MC a hug.

I missed my family, both in Quito and at home in the United States. I missed the familiar comforts of being able to understand what my family was communicating. I also missed familiar food and a bathroom that was close to my house and had hot water. I missed the times when dust and dry grass were not constantly blowing into my eyes.
Not wanting to make my host mom feel bad, I told her, “I don’t know why I’m crying. I just am”. As I wept, my host mom put her arm around me and said, “You’re crying because of your family. But we’re going to take good care of you”.

Claire Wohlers