I Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye

Elizabeth Ollila - Ecuador


April 3, 2018

And now I’m here–in a place I have only dreamed of often wondered if it would actually arrive. I have 1 day left with my host family. After 193 days with these incredible people, and after making the town of Girón my home, it will all come to an end. When I first sat down to write this blog post I decided I would share lots of stories of the ridiculous things that my family and I have done together here, but as I wrote it I realized it is nearly impossible to put the stories into words because they include feelings, and past stories, and inside jokes, and visuals–things I cannot properly put on paper.

The 6 of us have been through every emotion together. You can’t live with someone without seeing them at their best and worst. You are bound to get sick, to get angry, to do something stupid, to be incredibly happy, and to be incredibly sad. “I am going home” now means going to Girón. It means telling Ruth about my day, it means being annoyed by Mateo (or annoying Mateo–depends on the day), it means some odd conversation with Edwin while Sofia and Pedro cry or scream or laugh or talk in “English” while running around. They are my home, and I don’t know how to say goodbye.

I do want to share with you all one story; a story that started on our family vacation up north. We decided to go to the Amazon for a day trip to explore some caves. I had been reminded many times that we would get wet, but my idiot self chose to believe it would just be my feet (I choose to blame it on the language barrier…). Anyway, we set off on a 30 minute drive that soon turned into a 3 hour drive (for some reason that happens a lot here). When we finally got there we put on our boots and waded out entire bodies through water deep in caves and saw some incredible things. However, 2 minutes into the adventure I was very aware that I had really messed up not bringing a change of clothing. When we were done everyone started changing, and I had to fess up to my mistake. (I didn’t really have a choice seeing as how everyone was changing and I was just standing in the sun like an idiot hoping it would completely dry me in the 3 minutes I had). Ruth likes cleanliness and to be prepared, and me not bringing clothes really messed with both of those. It was probably the most disappointed in me she has ever been. However, after a few minutes we could all laugh it off and I ended up driving the 3 hours back (and going to lunch) completely naked under a wool blanket with Mateos shower shoes on while all (and I mean ALL) of my clothing hung out of the window.

I share this story because it is one of the (many) times I have really felt like family. I was vulnerable and stupid with no wifi and stuck in a car, so the only people I had were my Ecuador family, and I had to be completely honest with them. They were a little mad and laughing at me, and a situation that could be really uncomfortable (being naked under a blanket with your three siblings sitting next to/on you) became a joke and one of my favorite memories with them. There are dozens of more stories that I could share with you and each one shows the love that we have for each other and the way that we have truly become family. I am so dang thankful for these people and the millions of things that they have done for me.

I like to have a plan, but for this goodbye I don't even know where to start. It is impossible for me to ever tell them how much they mean to me, and it is impossible to soak up everything before I leave. So, Ruth, Edwin, Mateo, Sofia, and Pedro, if you are listening, know that I love you with my whole heart and you all have given me an incredible year. I cannot imagine not waking up on Saturday mornings to Sofia and Pedro screaming, or being cured from a cold by getting my hair pulled and eating dog lard. I can’t imagine not waving to my grandma on my walk home or not eating rice. So soon I will be back in Chapel Hill, but I will never be the same because of you all, and for that I am so thankful. Come visit soon; I already miss you like crazy and I haven’t even left.


Con amor,

Elizabeth

My super cute siblings dressed up for a parade

Sofia being Sofia eating my favorite fruit in the world

Mateo being Mateo (he would kill me if he knew I took this picture)

The fam (Ruth, Mateo, and then some of my closest friends–Leandra, Marli, and Alex)

A squad picture with Alex’s family at another goodbye party

All of my extended family on both sides for a surprise goodbye party and early birthday party for me this weekend


My students at school in front of a mural that we made together (they each designed a tile and then I painted around it with the school saying– “Fighting to be a part of a world that is also ours”)

Elizabeth Ollila