One might assume, as I initially had, that turning 19 and moving half way across the world to a foreign land meant I had finally “grown up”. However, literally every conversation I have, every thing I try to do here, I am reminded how much of a baby I am. Instead of asking, “why the water is morado (purple)?”, I ask “why is the water is mohado (wet)?”. Instead of peeling the pot of potatoes I am given to help with dinner, I end up peeling my own fingers.
Like my baby sister, I came into this world only 2 months ago. Like my 2 year old brother, he and I often process our life events in the same way. Crying for no reason, struggling to communicate our simplest needs, and looking for the comfort of another’s hug. Often times I will think to myself how much my 2 year old brother drives me insane, only to realize that it is the exact same qualities I find frustrating in myself. However, I have come to realize that the only way I will ever leave this infantile-like state is to grow out of it. And the only way to grow, is to first learn the lessons this stage of life is trying to teach me.
And so I recount the lessons I have learned as a toddler here in Ecuador.
First and foremost, as a toddler you must embrace the embarrassing, or rather, embrace the fact that nothing is embarrassing. While trying to explain the “hueco” (hole) in my roof I accidentally say that there is a hueso (bone) in the roof. While trying to explain my hunger, “tengo hambre”, I say “tengo hombre” meaning, “I have a man”. While trying to explain the worm in the “ajo” (onion) I was chopping, I tell them I have a worm in my “ojo” (eye)!! As a rule of thumb, if people are laughing, even if most the time it is at you, it is a good thing. Toddlers love to see others smile.
Lesson two, eat what you’re given. In the world of a toddler virtually everything is new, and virtually everything is edible if you can fit it in your mouth. For example, yesterday I ate “Cuy” (guinea pig), twice! To the 19 year old Noa that arrived in Ecuador this might have been unbearable, flashbacks of her childhood pet “Furry Squeakers”, would have flashed through her mind, however, to the two year old Noa that exists now it was just another meal.
Lesson three, everyone is a friend until proven otherwise. I regret to say that as I have grown I have learned to judge. Often times without even realizing it I will make assumptions about people within the first 30 seconds of meeting them; good, bad, poor, rich, beautiful, not, happy, grumpy, threat or asset. We all do, most of the time unconsciously. However, one of the things I love most about children is their ability to see everyone as equal. If you want the same thing from life as they do, namely to play and enjoy the simple things around you, well that is reason enough to be friends. Here in Ecuador, I have been warned time and time again to be careful of people. Even though my language skills are limited I , like a child, have learned to rely on those non-verbal cues, to look curiously and carefully at the world around me and to trust my instincts. I have also learned, more often than not, that strangers are just friends waiting to happen.
Lesson four: accept life’s uncertainties. Coming to the country with literally 10 Spanish words in my vocabulary meant that for the first month or so, I literally had no idea what was going on, or where I was going. Suddenly we are in the back of a pick up truck driving to a volcano to bush-wack a new trail, next thing I know I am sitting in the living room of an 80 year old woman with Spanish “Simpsons” playing on the kitchen TV. Later on I’m walking for an hour through a volcanic ravine until we finally find a river at which point I realize we are there to collect that night’s dinner of “Bosero” (a tasty water plant). Those who don’t learn the lesson of “going with the flow “, early on, often find living abroad a challenging task. While it may be challenging I would argue it is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Knowing completely that you have know idea what will happen in the future, in the next hour or even the next minute forces you completely into the presence. This state of child-like presence is not often obtained when we are living at “home” where we are surrounded by the allusion that we can control everything that happens and will happen to us.
Lesson Five: Trust the World, Trust Yourself
As a two year old, this world can often seem overwhelming to me. Challenges present themselves on an hourly basis. Challenges I have never seen before, challenges I wonder if I have the strength/ability to overcome. It is through these challenges though that I have realized that sometimes you just need to trust the world, universe, god, and that things will work out. It is also through these challenges that I learned more than anything what is needed in these moments is to trust in yourself. A child trusts that what they are feeling is right, when they are sad they are sad, when they are happy they don’t question why. They trust that they have what it takes to climb up on the chair for the first time or carry out their dream of being a doctor. They don’t waste time on the “what ifs”, the “but ifs”, or the ” maybe I shouldn’ts”. No, they trust in the universe and themselves, that things will work out.
I must say that these lessons I’ve listed and others I’ve omitted have not come easily to me. That often there is an intense frustration that comes with regressing 17 years to the state of a two year old. Despite this frustration though I cannot help but be thankful that in this process I have been given the gift to start over again, to grow up not once but twice in this short but beautiful lifetime of mine.