I get hit on by creepy men. I’m always late to Spanish class. I gain weight from the obscene amounts of rice I eat. I’m perpetually sunburned. I suffer through failed lesson plans in my classes. I have innumerable amounts of mysterious cuts and scrapes on my hands. I shower under a cold trickle. I get laughed at because of my accent. I get laughed at because of my gringa backpack. I get laughed at for trying to dance. I get laughed at for most things I do.
As you can see, there are a lot of little things here that can easily get me down. But just as such, there are tons of little things that have a way of making up for the not-so-glamorous instances. Below is a list composed of just a few of the day-to-day occurrences that make my life here so special. These people and things have touched my life in ways I never previously thought possible, and make me extremely grateful to be where I am.
DON LIBORIO AND DANCEY NANCY
Two of my favorite adultos mayores. At 75 years old, Don Liborio is fully mobile and has more than his wits about him. Every Wednesday when I walk in precisely at 10:15, he’s the first to hop out of his seat and give me his hearty handshake and hug. He always insists on eating lunch with me instead of the rest of the seniors, and is constantly making suggestions and helping me wrangle some of the less-aware participants. We’ve had many enriching conversations, ranging from me intricately explaining the beliefs and holidays of Judaism, to nodding and smiling when he’s gone off on another tangent about politics or his lazy grandkids.
Then there’s Dancey Nancy. It’s a shame no one else here understands English to realize how fitting a nickname this is for her. Whenever I see her, she without fail has a broad, cheek-splitting grin on her face, showing off her glistening gums and lack of teeth to the world. Many of the activities I do with my seniors involve dancing, and you can bet Nancy will be leading the pack in whatever we do. Though she grunts more than talks, her happy feet are constantly gliding across the floor, and her hips swinging in a fashion you’d think impossible for a 70-year-old. Whenever I as much as mention the word bailar, her hand is the first to shoot up, eager to demonstrate her impressive salsa moves.
My host family thought I was crazy when I told them I actually enjoy the hour-long bus ride into Ibarra. Bus-time is me-time. I stare out the window, assuming I secure a good enough seat, and ponder the world. I enjoy the expansive view, and take the time to truly space out. It’s not uncommon that I’ll end up dozing, and wake up to an agitated tap on the shoulder from the guy waiting to collect my bus fare. Not only is the bus great for sleeping and not thinking, but I’ve also met some incredibly interesting characters on my many bus rides: a man from Florida who has lived alone in the Ecuadorean wilderness for the past three years, an elderly indigenous woman who sat down next to me and immediately started chatting my ear off in Kichwa, groups of young boys who stared at me intently from two feet away when they heard me speak English, and a man from my town who insisted that though I’m the only gringa in the area, I’m definitely the prettiest one he’s ever met.
LUNA – THE HAPPIEST DOG IN THE WORLD
Our puppy is left outside, sometimes goes unfed, and never receives an ounce of love from the family. But despite all this, she’s still the most excited little devil I’ve ever seen. She follows me every morning to work, and sometimes surprises me by scampering in and wreaking havoc on a class I’m teaching. People here find it extremely odd when I pet her, or any other dog, but I can’t resist her earnest little face when she jumps up onto me wanting to play. When I opt to go for a run on the soccer field in the morning, Luna trots by my side lap by lap, continuously glancing up at me wondering where we’re going. She can’t stand to be left home alone, and will even follow us into church to diligently gnaw on the pews during the service. Brown-eared and growing bigger each day, her constant upbeat mood reminds me that I can’t take life too seriously, and that sometimes humans aren’t as smart as they think they are.
Every woman in my family has her own unique and contagious laugh. My host mom’s laugh is high-pitched, genuine, and has a way of filling up the entire house. She’s always cracking up at my blunders and making me realize it’s okay that I broke another mug. My aunt Emilia’s laugh sounds like a shotgun firing, and can go on for minutes at a time. She has a way of finding the humor in just about anything, and loves to chuckle to herself at others’ expense. Then there’s my cousin Evelin’s laugh, deep and throaty, to go along with her ever-present smirk. I could go on for ages about Aunt Tanya, cousin Endri, Grandma Fredi, and all the other Palacios ladies’ laughs. Even though most the time I have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, I can’t help but join the cacophony when they all erupt into fits of laughter together.
THE OLD MAN I ALWAYS PASS
I don’t know his name, but he probably makes me happier than anyone else in Juncal. He lives about five minutes walking up the road from me, and spends his days sitting outside his house watching the world go by. His laugh lines and wrinkles around his eyes flex when he grins big, something I get to enjoy every time I see him. I talk to him at least once a week, which I look forward to every Wednesday when I know I’ll walk past his house on my way home. Every time I go by his esteemed post I see his face light up at me, and hear him exclaim, Mi amiga! Siempre nos topamos! (My friend! We always run into each other!) as he furiously shakes my hand and asks me how I’ve been. He tells me about his family, how his visit at the hospital for his leg went, and makes sure I am enjoying life in Juncal. His few-toothed grin always leaves me feeling giddy and looking forward to the next time we’ll “run into each other”.
THE WAY PEOPLE SAY MY NAME
I’ve realized that kids don’t actually say hi to me, but rather shout out my name as I walk by. In the first couple weeks after I arrived it was only my cousins and the other few kids I’d met, but now it seem that every being under the age of twelve knows me. I literally feel famous as I walk the streets of Juncal, as kids stop what they’re doing to scream my name and give me huge hugs. I’ve embraced my Ecuadorean alter ego, Libi (pronounce Leebee), since “Libby” does not exist in the vocabulary here. I actually have a slew of names people enjoy calling me, none quite hitting the nail on the head. Don Segundo, the keeper of the cultural center, is convinced my name is Bibi. My great aunt Ismeria calls me “Ibbys”. My little cousin Debbie Su thinks it’s hilarious to call me “Gwibby”. The students in my English class asked me how my name is pronounced in English, and now love calling me “LUHBAYYYY.” I think that’s the closest we’ll get.
MISSPELLED AEROPOSTALE SHIRTS/EVERYONE IN ECUADOR IS A BULLS FAN
Hollister, Abercrombie, and Aeropostale are all the rage here. However, I’d dare to say that Holyastere, Ambercrumby, and Airbostal are actually more commonly displayed on t-shirts and bags than the actual logos. I’ve made a sport of finding the most horridly spelled/worded English phrases on apparel, such as “what is the love there,” or “HOW MANY FLAPPER MOVE ON YOUR HEART SILENTLY”. I’ve also found myself explaining on more than one occasion that the Chicago Bulls are actually a basketball team from where I’m from in the U.S., not a clothing line.
You know that fake, forced smile you do when passing someone you sort of know in the hall, or when you accidentally make eye contact with someone on the street? That doesn’t exist here. Every smile is real, genuine, and people actually care about your well being. I love simply walking around here, since I find greeting people so fun. It is considered extremely rude to not greet everyone you pass on the street, so I’ve become a professional at flashing my biggest smile and asking how you’re doing. It brightens my day when I have a spontaneous conversation with a stranger that stemmed from a simple “buenas trades”. Old people especially love talking to me, which makes me so happy. They usually assume I’m my Italian host dad’s sister, and are extremely intrigued when I tell them that we both just by coincidence happen to be white, and that I’m actually from the mysterious United States. I’ve gotten many invitations to homes for food, questions about what I think of life here, and requests to stop by some time soon to visit.
I’m pretty sure I’ve alluded to him in a previous post, but I simply can’t get over my favorite kid. Unlike many other boys, he doesn’t think he’s too cool to run up to me and embrace me as hard as he can. He comes pretty frequently to my after school homework program, even if he doesn’t actually have any homework. His big, brown eyes and little scar on his nose are his trademarks, something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. No matter what time of day it is, 7 in the morning or 9 at night, he always asks me Ahora Libby? Vamos a hacer los deberes ahora? (Now Libby? Are we going to do homework now?), aching to spend more time with me. When he does get the time right and comes for homework help, he loves teasing me and getting me to sing songs in English for him. I have his artwork proudly displayed on my wall at home, and he hung up a little American flag I drew for him above his bed, proclaiming it’s so he’ll never forget me. Does it get any cuter than that?
These are just a few of the things that are capable of truly making my day, no matter what the circumstances. It’s so important to enjoy these little things in life, and not get caught up in the hardships. I know my old friend is just a five minute walk away, that Ariel’s smiling face will be waiting for me outside the cultural center, and that I can laugh anything off with the incredible women in my family.