Every Sunday morning during most of my time in my town of Bella Union, I would walk a small 50 foot stretch from my house to enter a bakery. There I’d find my host uncle, David, rolling out dough and covered in flour while a playlist of Spanish love ballads, Backstreet Boys and soccer highlight videos softly played in the corner.
Fueled by my boredom and my desire to learn something new, I had asked my 22-year-old host uncle if I could assist him in his bakery. With no previous cooking or baking experience, I was initially a burden. For most of my time the first few weeks, I was resigned to cleaning trays and weighing ingredients for dough while being frustrated with my inability to help. Even when I had moved on to the most basic of bread types, countless times I would notice David behind me, sneakily reshaping empanadas I had just made before putting them into the oven. But eventually, he trusted me enough to make a variety of bread without supervision, and this allowed him to focus on the more complicated and time-consuming types.
Although learning this new skill was gratifying, what was most rewarding for me and what I came to enjoy the most was the conversation. Technically of a different generation within my family, and with a wife, child and successful business, David didn’t seem like someone I could relate to, especially while speaking another language. However, our discussions touched on a variety of issues, from music to politics to the differences between my Jewish upbringing and his Evangelical. David was one of the first and only Ecuadorians I met to share his honest opinions, treat me as more than a clueless gringo, and be vulnerable with me. As our friendship became closer, our talks delved deeper, and I started spending more time in the bakery. It was my go-to hangout spot for watching Ecuadorian soccer games on TV, eating delicious homemade donuts, and great conversation.
My time with David was the most perfect intercambio cultural (cultural exchange) I could have asked for. Our relationship was built on the mutual understanding that we could never truly relate to each other’s experiences in life, but that we would try our best to anyway.
During the last month of bread-baking, I started taking small snippets of video, and I’ve compiled all the footage to make a Panadería highlight reel, which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9CKMM0B96C0&feature=youtu.be. Enjoy!
While I have now completed my Global Citizen Year and have returned home to Chapel Hill, I miss my carefree time spent in the bakery. You may not catch me every Sunday putting some pancitos in the oven, but I’ll always cherish the memories we made and value the lessons I learned with David.
PS: I’d like to take this time to apologize for the lack of blog posts throughout my experience in Ecuador. To attempt to make it up for you, this blog post is the first of a few I’ll be publishing within the next few weeks. Stay tuned.