Learning to Love

I’m learning to love 8:00 AM rotisserie chicken on market days. Coated with herbs and freshly cooked, it really does taste good. It also really does wake up my taste buds, smacking them with a burst of flavor in the morning that is becoming more familiar every week.

Saturday market days begin with the beeps of my alarm clock at 2:40 AM, yanking me out of my sleep —and my bed with four blankets— to the cold, dark morning. We board the truck at 3:00 AM, driving two hours through winding mountain roads to the organic farmer’s market in Cuenca. We quickly, but carefully, set our vegetables on our table, a beautiful display of radishes, carrots, zucchini, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, kale, celery, flowers, tree tomatoes — you name it, we have it! Then we head to the tented area for hot corn tortillas and coffee, a delicious combination that I didn’t have to learn to love; I simply loved it from the start. Customers begin arriving at 5:30 AM, and the next two hours are full of negotiations and sales. By 7:30 AM the packs of shoppers thin, leaving time to chat. And time to go get some chicken. I’m not accustomed to eating rotisserie chicken so early in the morning, but it is our tradition, and that I love. So I’m learning to love the taste, too.

I’m learning to love quemaditas, the games of tag I play with my siblings for hours in late afternoons and into the evenings after we finish chores on the farm. We sprint through grassy fields and dirt roads, darting past chickens and dogs and piglets as the setting sun paints the sky in shades of orange and purple. We laugh and scream and gasp for air. But most of all, we have pure fun. Together. So as tiring as endless games of tag can get, I’m learning to love them.

I’m learning to love being an English teacher at our local school. My students mean the world to me — for my birthday they inscribed cards with messages such as “I appreciate you” and “you are special to me” and “I hope this year is filled with joy and happy memories.” They threw me a surprise party and the recorder club serenaded me with their rendition of Happy Birthday. I’m greeted with smiles and hugs every day. I’ve never taught before, and it is hard. But the relationships with my students are irreplaceable, so I’m learning to love teaching.

I’m learning to love animals, a true indication that I am changing. When I read Tina Fey’s Bossypants last February, I particularly resonated with the following sentiment: “I have no affinity for animals. I don’t hate animals and I would never hurt an animal; I just don’t actively care about them.” Here, animals surround me. Pigs, dogs, cats, cows, horses, chickens, donkeys, ducks, sheep, guinea pigs… I think that covers just about all of them. They are essential to our lives, and each day I am more comfortable around them. So I am learning to love animals.

I’m learning to love my two-hour bus rides to Cuenca for Spanish class, and the two-hour rides back home. They are a total of four hours to chat with my seatmate, get lost in a book, or take some nice naps. These bus rides are an adventure in and of themselves — today the bus broke down mid-way and we walked for half an hour down the road until another bus drove by. So, while they used to only be a source of impatience, I’m learning to love long bus rides.

I’m learning to love running. I have always been an athlete, but never a runner. Here, I play the occasional game of soccer or volleyball. But every day, I go for a run through a mountain trail along which there are only cows, no dogs. The no dogs rule is essential — the first day I tried to run I was surrounded by angry dogs who had never seen a runner. People here do physical tasks all day long, leaving no time or energy for runs. My runs continue to spark conversation with community members as we laugh at how I, in fact, like to go for runs. I ran to train for my other sports at home in Lexington, and this familiarity acts as a source of comfort. And my runs always seem to relax and refresh me, making me feel grateful for my opportunities as I reflect on where I’ve been and what I’m doing. So I’m learning to love running.

But most of all, I’m learning to love the campo. The endless farmland, rolling mountains, hot days and cold nights — it’s becoming my true home. I talk to more people every day and hear tales that I cannot forget. The abuelo who is my neighbor told me that his grandson knows his father only by pictures because his father left for the States when he was six months old. A father down the road told me he aims to work on his land as much as possible because otherwise he’s at home mourning the recent passing of his thirteen-year-old son. I meet people and share laughs and smiles, too, as women invite me to learn to make sun hats out of straw and children ask to play. While living in only Spanish in a place completely unfamiliar to me can be challenging, I’m finding my place here. So I’m learning to love the campo.

As for the things I’m not yet learning to love, I’m learning to understand. And that’s the first step.