How do I come home?

Elizabeth Ollila - Ecuador


February 27, 2018

Why am I here? Why did I voluntarily put myself in the most uncomfortable situation I have ever been in? Why did I decide to make my biggest fear of college—homesickness—even bigger by going further and for longer? Why did I decide to take a year that depended on my worst subject in school—Spanish? Why did I leave if I was not running from anything?

I’m sure you are expecting an answer, but those are entirely rhetorical, and not for effect—only because I don’t have an answer. I could tell you my different theories; one includes me daring myself, one includes the bubbles in my life, and the other escaping myself (though I’m pretty sure this experience is the opposite of that). However, here I am with just a little over a month left, and I’ve realized that whatever convinced me to be uncomfortable, lonely, and feel entirely stupid 99% of the time doesn't really matter. Instead, now the question has become, “How do I come home?”

How do I explain the immense loneliness that I have experienced this year, or the way I have become used to the constant cat calling from men who know three words in English? How do I explain becoming used to not being able to express my feelings or thoughts or how the highlight of my week is class on Thursdays that requires more travel time than class time. But, also, how do I explain to you that I have a new family–people who matter to me more than most people in this world–and I have 5 weeks left with them and no one at home will ever know them like I do. How do I explain that when I leave I know that two of my three siblings won’t remember me because they are so young, and I have no clue when I will get to see them next? How do I explain the fear of losing my Spanish or losing the person that I have become this year? How do I explain to you the pain that I physically feel when thinking about saying goodbye to my friends here? How do I explain to you my fear of leaving?

But I am going to try.

Leaving means goodbyes, and goodbyes are hard. Period. And I am reeeaaalllyy tired of goodbyes. But even more than that, leaving means coming home, and I really have no idea what that means. I know it means seeing people that I have known my whole life, but these people have lived very different lives than I have this year. They, too, have changed but in ways so different than me. Instead of being in college and doing whatever I choose, I have been reporting to a family with rules different and stricter than I’ve ever known. Instead of learning chem and calc I’ve been struggling just to communicate. Instead of partying and homework, I’ve been working with kids from all backgrounds that have tougher lives than any of us could imagine ahead of them because of the disabilities they have. Instead of eating dining hall food I’ve been eating rice. and potatoes. and more rice. Instead of rushing or pledging I’ve been sitting on the outskirts of yet another Ecuadorian party not quite fitting in. Instead of being stressed about a mid term or a final, I’ve been stressed that my next “no” to a creepy man would be ignored or that my bus would get robbed. Instead of coming home for fall break, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas, I’ve been here.

I chose this, and I have never once regretted it, but how do I come home when no one understands it? How do I sum my incredibly complex and hard and amazing year into one word or sentence or story when you ask me “How was Ecuador?”

I’m ready to come home, but I wish that the Ecuador Elizabeth and all of the people and places that she loves could come too. I wish that it was not one or the other, and I wish that I could fully show you all this incredible experience, the incredible people, and the immense pain because it and they have taught me so much. Part of my heart will always be in this country, and for that I am nothing but lucky.

Con amor,

Elizabeth

P.S. I’m sorry for the lack of blogging recently–the inspiration just wasn’t there, and also I have been occupied with visitors and trips:). My beautiful family came and visited, and it was incredible. It was better than I could have ever imagined. I cannot explain the feeling of my two families meeting, my host mom teaching them to make empanadas (and David Ollila-who is good at EVERYTHING (it is kind of annoying)–being the worst at the special fold the empanadas require:) ), and hearing my little Francine talk to my other little sister (and brothers and parents) in Spanish. I am so thankful that I got to show them my life here. I also went on a week beach vacation with my friends, and it was a much needed break; I loved getting to see another part of Ecuador and just enjoy life with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. And here are some pictures!!


An ugly view with some terrible people:) The fam together again


..and in Cuenca…


My Ollila gang meeting my Ecuador gang


My families together


Edwin, Pedro, and I…Pedro really didn’t want to take pictures


Southern Ecuador gang in route to Vilcabamaba


Marli, Alex, and me in Vilcabamba for our last retreat before we leave


Carnaval (similar to Mardi Gras, but mainly dedicated to water/shaving cream fights, eating, and dancing)


Us in Salinas (the beach trip) a little burned and a lotta happy — Me, Leandra, Gijs, Alex, Marli


Elizabeth Ollila