Living in the Andean mountains within an indigenous Native American community: Check.

Tsion Horra - Ecuador

November 21, 2012

Lots of things have passed since the last time I wrote a blog: Fall Training at Stanford in August and in-country orientation in Quito from September and October. But by far the most interesting and challenging events happened to me in the last month and two weeks.

Waking up in a rural village to the crowing of a rooster is the first reminder that I am as far as I have been from my home. As I step out of my house and walk on the dirt road to the school where I teach English, I hear the sounds of a mindboggling language. My clumsy legs barely manage to avoid all the manure and rocks that are on the street. (In fact, I fell the first day I went for a walk with my mom). Everyone greets each other in Kitchwa, but I am way too embarrassed to try and imitate their distinct pronunciation of “Banchistaaaay” so I timidly squeak out a “Buenos Dias.” They respond and for some reason I feel lighter and I lift my head up.  I walk into my school and feel every kid’s and adult’s eyes on me. I feel the blood rushing to my face and put my face down and occasionally give an awkward smile.  I slowly creep back into my head and yearn for the comforts of home: of my family, of my friends.  These moments are vaguely and often painfully familiar. Pieces of memories flood back from my first months in the United States. I want to escape them and my arrival at my class couldn’t have been timelier.  I slowly open the door to the classroom and the kids all turn to stare at me: their eyes and whispers shock me back into the present.

I want to run away.  I see the expectation in their huge, curious eyes. Then the teacher tells me “ⁱSiga no mas!” and he leaves. I swallow hard and grab the text book to find the page to find the content they should be learning that day. Without really thinking about what to say, I begin teaching (guiding).  Then the 45 minutes are over before I know it. As I make my way out, the kids scream “chao senorita” “bye-bye” and sometimes even “good morning”.  It makes me smile and I wave to them.

Each night, at 7PM I walk through the pitch-black dirt road to meet with a group of people that work at the Nariz del Diablo tourist site. They asked me to teach them some English so their interactions with the tourists could be smoother. I have no idea what I should expect as I stumble my way through the road and I feel nervous and unprepared. I finally make it to the house where I’m supposed to meet them and I take my time climbing the uneven steps. I take a deep breath and walk in and they all greet me with “Buenas Noches” and I reply. I notice they are making some kind of dessert. They politely ask me about how I’m feeling and if I like Nizag. I answer their questions with hesitation because I feel especially insecure about my Spanish around adults. Then they go back to their conversation and jokes in Kitchwa. I feel hyperaware of my surroundings and it makes me feel uncomfortable. I wait for a break in the conversation and ask what they are making. Quimbolitos.  I nod like I know what they (quimbolitos) are…like I nod without understanding many things here.

In a few minutes they gather some chairs and make a rough circle. I’m glad I don’t have to stand in front of them.  Then they start asking questions and make it easier than I could have hoped for. I tell them what I know and they seem satisfied. I feel useful and good as we’re exchanging words and phrases in Kitchwa and Spanish. We laugh. It’s slowly becomes a relaxed environment and I find that I’m actually enjoying myself. Then come the quimbolitos. They are delicious; one of the best desserts I have had. After class they give me another one to take home which makes me happier then it should.

I make my way home in a sort of a daze. I keep replaying what happened in the past two hours: the conversations, the jokes, and my anxiety. The threatening growls of the neighborhood dogs (which are peaceful by day but for some reason turn into demonic beasts at night) are what shock me back to the present. With my heart beating as if to jump out of my chest, I pick up a rock and the dogs distance themselves. As I quickly open the door to my house and step in, I let a breath of relief escape my mouth: I’ve survived the day.

For the past month and a half I have been spending almost each day as I described above. And now I’m leaving this community that in this short time, has taught me a lot about myself: about what I can do and what I want for myself. It hasn’t been easy but I’m grateful and I know in the future, I will be able to appreciate this experience even more. I will never forget Nizag’s challenges, generous people, and natural beauty: they will always be with me.

Tsion Horra