Live From The Field

Callista Helms - Ecuador


September 11, 2017

And so the adventure begins.

The saying “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong” came to be very true throughout the start of my travels. It began after landing in San Francisco. I discovered that my suitcase wheel had broken, and there was no way I could carry two fifty pound bags when one of the wheels was missing. Next, I was welcomed by some of the Alumni and many new faces of other fellows. They could see that I was struggling and even though I had just met this entire group of new people, they didn't hesitate to help me.

The next mishap occurred the day before we were supposed to journey to Ecuador; our flight was canceled because of the storm in Houston. Being that it was also Memorial Day weekend, the closest flight we could get wasn't until Wednesday morning. As Saturday came around all the other cohorts left as scheduled to India, Senegal, and Brazil. All except for us. The Ecuador Cohort.

Many last minute changes were being made, and our 50 group of fellows were taken to stay at the YMCA in Berkley. My first impression of the new place we were all staying was not a pretty one. I was grossed out and refused to sleep under the covers. Staying at the YMCA turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Because our cohort is so big, everyone hadn't gotten the chance to interact with each other. Those next five days as a cohort we all got so much closer. I wouldn't have wanted the situation to turn out any different even with all the random bug bites (most likely bed bugs) and having to use a towel for a blanket.

A few hours before we departed to the airport early Wednesday morning, we learned that one of the fellows in the group was being taken out of the program. As painful as this situation was, this pushed the cohort even closer together. We learned to deal with the setbacks and to roll with the punches.

After twenty two hours of traveling, landing in Quito seemed surreal – we had actually arrived. We took a bus to San Patricio, where were stayed in Spirituality Center that looked like a vacant school. Excited and sleep deprived, all fifty of us rushed into our new rooms and chose our roommates. Spending the next few days in San Patricio created many memories and challenges. We learned that there was only hot water in the morning from 7-8 am. The next day I woke up at 9 and missed the deadline by an hour, so I decided to take a shower later that night. Back at home, I'm used to hot showers for as long as I want in my own bathroom. I quickly learned that it was a luxury I wouldn't have for the next seven months. It turned into the fastest shower I’ve ever taken. Another challenge we faced was staying away from the stray dogs. It was hard not to pet them, but we had to be careful because of the chance of getting rabies. One of the girls in my cohort Phuong got creative and put a plastic Ziploc baggie over her hand so she could pet them. Every night we all said we would go to bed at a decent hour, but never followed through. The next mornings were always filled with regrets about not getting enough sleep, but it was worth it to stay up and bond with all the amazing people in our cohort.

My time at San Patricio flew by and Sunday came so fast. It was the day we would find out who our temporary host families would be for our week in Quito. Nervously, everyone rushed to get the profiles of their new families. We all piled into the buses to go meet the people described in the one-page profiles that were given to us. We pulled up to a crowd of our soon to be host parents. I was greeted by my host mom Michaela and my seven-year-old host sister Rafaela. They helped me with my bags and we walked down to the main road to catch a taxi to my new home. Finally after 15 minutes of trying to wave down every taxi we saw, one finally stopped. We arrived at the house and as I walked in I met my host Abuela Matilde and her other daughter Flavia. Michaela told me that no English was spoken in their home, but that they would try to speak slowly so I could understand them. I was wrong in thinking I would be fine because I had some background in Spanish. My sister Rafaela talked at the speed of light and seemed to have endless amounts of energy. I could only pick out a few words when they were speaking and found it difficult to communicate with them.

Later on, Rafaela taught me how to wash clothes en “la piedra de lavar”. She took me outside to the small patio and taught me how to clean my clothes with soap and water on a stone sink. Just doing laundry made me aware of how different our cultures were. I had always grown up with a washing machine and a dryer. At home, it was hard enough for me to remember to even switch my clothes from the washer to the dryer. I felt like I had traveled a century back in time, and as she taught me I realized that it was the first real bonding experience that we had. Such a simple task had given me a better understanding of her culture and brought us closer together.  

Tomorrow we will find out what regions we will be placed in, who our permanent host family is, and what apprenticeships we will have. I'm eager to know where my placement and job will be for my seven months in Ecuador. As almost two weeks of my journey comes to an end, I know that I have lots to learn, but I'm excited to see what comes next.

Hasta la proxima vez,

Adiós!


Callista Helms