“I’m A Baby”

Noah Hapke - Ecuador


October 27, 2015

Driving to Sayausi for the day, bus after bus, taxi after taxi, all I knew about the schedule was that we, Charlotte, Emery, Gabrielle, and I, were going somewhere to reforest something. This explanation basically sums up all things Ecuador, going somewhere unclear with little direction other than “vamos.” Sitting in the third and final bus, the four of us were in an escolar (school bus) filled with a large sum of Ecuadorians, all speaking English to each other, enjoying the time we had together for the day before returning to our solely Spanish-speaking households. In the front of the bus was another group of four gringos. How strange.

After a good forty minute drive, when the bus stopped on the side of the road, staring at tall mountains and trees, we looked at each other with a  “what are we doing” expression. Getting out of the bus, I noticed that everyone else had on their rainy-weather jeans and work boots – I was in my thin sweatpants and Nikes. As I walked, or rather followed the others who clearly had a much better understanding of what was going to happen today, my feet sank into mud holes, one after another, filling my beautiful grey and red-lined shoes with water and some sloshes of dirt. I was handed four baby plants, held together by a weak layer of thin plastic, and kept following the others. Stepping over water holes, jumping across the four-foot wide river that could easily make me a walking puddle, I made it across the field of grass and over to where all the other plants had been placed. I was encircled by grass and trees, and mountains that seemed to be never-ending as I twirled around and looked at the group of eight gringos and forty-something Ecuadorians.

“Hey!” an excited, obviously not Ecuadorian, voice said to me. I spun around and there was standing a tall (at least six-foot), slim, and much-better-dressed gringo next to our Global Citizen Year group. “Where you guys from?” he said. We all stared at each other, and giggled a little, and finally we, one by one, gave him a little background information. “So, you guys…why are you all here?” He chuckled himself. “We’re here as part of a bridge year program.” I said. Then Emery chimed in with “it’s called Global Citizen Year.” Chris, which was the man’s name, excitedly jumped “No way! You’re the baby Peace Corps guys!”

When I had first heard about Global Citizen Year, it was during my Peace Corps-craze, when all I wanted to do was finish college and become a Peace Corps volunteer. The initial reason I applied for Global Citizen Year was because I thought that this year would give me a one-up when applying to the Peace Corps. However, throughout the past few months in country, my desire to be a part of the Peace Corps had declined; from the language boundary blocking my ability to make more of a change, to missing more and more parts of my home in California, I had become more set that the Peace Corps maybe wasn’t, sadly, for me.

“You know about Global Citizen Year?” Emery asked back. As it was then explained, Global Citizen Year is apparently widely-known among the Peace Corps community as the “baby Peace Corps” which, obviously, made me feel much more confident in the program itself. We explained to Chris that our program trained us before arriving in country, matched us with two host families (one for in-country training and one for the next seven months in community), and gave us each a specific apprenticeship. “Wow, that’s exactly what we do, except longer of course.” Chris responded. Then, he asked, “Who’s your team leader?” “Steph Kasken” I said and his face lit up. “You guys have Mama Steph! Wow, you are so lucky!”

And I knew that I was lucky. For so many reasons.

With more and more conversation with Chris, I had learned that Abby Falik had created this program as a miniature Peace Corps. The schedule, the ideas, the work – everything matched exactly to the Peace Corps. Besides the fact that our year is nine-months and theirs is twenty-seven, the term “baby Peace Corps” fits perfectly.

“Man, I wish I had done something like that when I was your age!” I just stared at Chris, thinking how this amazing individual, who was spending so many months away from home after working and studying in university, idolized us. We spoke more about the Peace Corps application (which yet again matched exactly with our own application process), how we managed to get our parents to say yes to taking a bridge year, and where we will be going to college next year. “Wow, you guys are so awesome” was one of my favorite quotes from him.

The past month in country has, to say the least, been an endless W-curve of emotions. Everyday had it ups, and a few lows as well. Teaching in the class room, talking with my host family – everything had made me start to question doing the Peace Corps. Whether it was because I was realizing I was doing something so similar, or that I didn’t feel fit to do it anymore, all of my emotions that had been urging me to forget about the Peace Corps instantly were erased. I was speaking to a Peace Corps volunteer who, ironically, symbolized all of us Fellows. He didn’t know a single word of Spanish before coming to Ecuador, he joked about all the weird and quirky Ecuadorian cultures, and he expressed total and complete vulnerability about being in a new place, not knowing any background prior, but still doing his part in making the world a better place.

We then continued on placing the baby plants in holes that had been dug prior, covering them with more dirt and soil, and making our hands a beautiful color of brownish-black. The plants had already been blessed during the thirty-minute ritual that I can’t even go into explaining, and I had drank some river water that has yet to make me sick. The “PC+GCY gringo team” then walked to where we would be having lunch, a ten minute walk across the concrete road, and ate some nice bologna sandwiches. We talked more, and I was just thinking how lucky I was to be standing with these four amazing individuals who had only six months left in their service. When the music began, we formed a circle and step-touched to the rhythm of the Spanish flutes, laughing together as if we’d been friends for years.

Afterwards, Chris told us that he was going to climb the mountain that had been shadowing us all day. Lifting my head, staring at the giant rock, I jokingly shouted “SAY YES!” and, in a flash, that’s what we all were doing. When we reached the top, we lied down in the grass and just looked at the beautiful view. Thinking about these people I was sitting so close to. Appreciating everything I had been given, and how grateful I was to have taken this chance and take a bridge year.

The photo above is of the newly established PC+GCY team, which we joked about by saying we were all “baby them.” Yet, at the end of the day, Chris said he really enjoyed spending the day with more Peace Corps peeps, and motioned to us. I could honestly see it again. Me in the Peace Corps. After all, I was already a baby; all I had to do now was grow up a little more. And what a perfect time this is to do exactly that.

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Noah Hapke