Home for the Holidays

The other day I was sitting in my family’s tienda (a little corner store that sells food and random necessities like shampoo) eating pancakes and eggs that I had cooked with Mamita and Vecina (the family friend that lives with us – “vecina” means neighbor). I like to cook for my Mamita, especially when she’s working in the tienda, because I feel like I’m being helpful, plus I get to eat some of the American food I miss so dearly. Anyway, we were eating and talking about the diversity in both Ecuador and the United States when there was a lull in the conversation. Then Veci said that my face looked different. Puzzled, I asked her how, and she replied, “pareces feliz ahora,” or “you look happy now.” It took me back for a moment, because I hadn’t realized that my family had noticed how homesick I was that first month (I thought I hid it well, but apparently not). But Veci is right. My face has changed. I am happy now. The first month was really rough, but once I started to become more involved with my family, I became a member. The Sunday night bingo games, working with Mamita in the tienda, planting corn in abuelita’s field, hanging out with my nieces and nephews – these have all been awesome bonding experiences that have brought me closer to my family. So when Thanksgiving came, I knew leaving them for a week would be hard, but I was looking forward to celebrating with my friends.

Thanksgiving was incredible – I got to spend the week at the beach with thirty other fellows. Just being together with all of my friends (because that’s what they are now) would have been enough, but we were also staying at a beautiful hosteria and got to be in the ocean on the beach for several hours each day (I got a little bit of a tan too)! On Thanksgiving Eve we went out for pizza and salsa dancing, and during dinner my team leader, Stephanie, told me we would be having chocolate chip cookies AND brownies the next night, so of course I shed some tears of joy and she snapped a picture. There’s a saying that it’s not about where you are, it’s who you’re with, but for this holiday I was beyond thankful for the location, company, and food. I did not want to say goodbye to the beach or my friends, but I was excited to go home.

Location, location, location. I am perfectly located in a semi-rural town called Ciudadela Jaime Roldos that is a 20 minute bus ride and 40 walk (I have done both) into the “Centro Historico” of Cuenca. At first I was disappointed that I lived so close to the city, mostly because I did not have any cows to milk. But I have come to realize the opportunities it has brought me, like being an angel in a parade through the city, or like stumbling onto Cafe ÌÔuca Llacta, which has become my “third place” (home and work being first and second). Or finding an art group that led to a rad Halloween party and yoga classes once a week. I have had so many amazing experiences in Cuenca, and I am looking forward to more, like watching the huge parade on Christmas Eve called “Pase del Ni̱o” then going to my abuelitos’ house with over thirty members of my family to eat, sing, dance, and play Secret Santa.

Last Christmas, I never would have imagined that I would be almost 3,000 miles from Alabama in Cuenca, Ecuador, about to celebrate Christmas with another family. I also would never have thought that I would consider this new family and new house as my home, but now I do. And I couldn’t be happier that I’m home for the holidays.