Lost in the Hea(r)t(h) of it all

There’s this warmth, burning in the hearth of the home. Shifting from an electric blue to a flickering red and burnt orange, it flares up, reaching the cold corners of the house. As the weeks have progressed, I’ve precariously stepped from the outskirts of the light toward this new energy. Not adjacent, but from a distance, basking in the radiating compassion and love my new family emanates.

To say I’ve lucked out with the selection host family would be an understatement.  My nuclear family consists of two wonderful parents, a brother (23) who lives at home and attends the local university thirty minutes away, and another brother (28) and sister (21) who return home from Quito for the weekends. Here, I have my own cozy room decked out in my sister’s childhood artifacts and a framed picture of The Lord and Savior watching over me at night. How sweet. I’ve become so accustomed to Catholicism in my life (I spent Erev Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Years, in a church standing out like a sore thumb) that I find it oddly comforting to see religious symbols around the house. However, I don’t join in on grace before meals, or cross myself during church services.

We live in a cute house, guarded by three ferociously-friendly dogs. They still view me with more suspicion than I would like, but I think time will heal that. There are three cats on the property, one in the house and two scratching at the door to get in: my allergies are off the charts. I will have to invest in some real medicine if I want to sleep through the night without blowing my nose every hour. Maybe I should have specified my allergy to cats on the survey, but I think it’s a bit too late now. We have a mini guinea pig farm (not for pets, to eat) and two mama pigs, one of who just gave birth to 10 piglets! Yes, I will attach a picture at the end of the blog.

At school, I am an assistant to the one English teacher. English in this primary school is just as important as music and PE. Subtext: not important at all. All three hundred plus students receive two hours of English class a week. I pretty much haul my gringo butt from classroom to classroom, repeating basic words and phrases, attempting not to make a fool of myself explaining the concepts in Spanish. I don’t wear the same uniform as the teachers, but I try to demand the same respect. I’m a novelty that will take some time to get used to. The last time I was such a minority was that hip-hop class Esther signed me up for in third grade. The blaring theme of this rant so far is pretty simple: I am enjoying myself, but not quite fitting in.

There is one anecdote that precisely exemplifies this idea. *

It’s a dark and stormy Friday night, the wind howls through the trees, eerily welcoming me into my first weekend.** My Quito based brother and his girlfriend, who may as well be another sister, engages me in forced conversation. My other brother saunters in from his room and declares there will be a pickup game of soccer in ten minutes. It seems like less of a suggestion and more of a command, but I’m thankful for the invitation to finally leave the house and put down Google translate for at a bit. Throwing on my shoes, I eagerly pile into the back of the pick-up truck. Meeting us there are a few friends of the family and cousins; more names I’m supposed to learn! Sooner or later, I’m told to head over to the far side of the field, and I timidly assume the position of defender. Flashbacks from my glory years with the Thunder Bunnies (Yes, that’s the name of my old rec soccer team) overwhelm me. I check my non-existent shin guards and pull up my Costco ankle socks: Bring it on. ***

In the first two minutes, I learned a few things about the course of this evening:

1)    My mad-crazy soccer skills from way back when seemed to be left on the field in California.

2)    There’s no such thing as a defender in these smaller pick up games. Where the ball goes, you go.

3)    I probably should have warmed up.

4)    Damn, this altitude leaves me out of breath. Or maybe it’s just the fact I’ve missed Zumba five weeks in a row now…

5)    Shorts would have been more appropriate than khaki pants.

To put it mildly, I sucked. My passes were poorly placed. My twelve-year-old cousin duked me out countless times. And apparently, you have to be in the goalie box to make a goal. I probably made about 3 goals on an open net– or should I say metal bar — from midfield only to be given sideways glances. I didn’t quite pick up this rule until halfway through the match. However, about when I understood the players’ aggressive pointing to the goalie box, I began picking up a rhythm. I scored a few legit goals, nailed a few passes, and even had my name called out by teammates when I was open. In reality, I received less passes than most, but it’s the thought that counts, right? I’m not sure if we won or not, but we all had fun!!!!!11!!1!!! ****

I’m closer than I expected. I didn’t think I would feel the love***** from my family so fast. However, be it the language barrier or cultural differences, there’s still something not completely clicking. Yet I’m closer than I expected. My soccer skills aren’t trash, and I can use this pastime as a bridge to connect with more and more people. I am making it in this new country.

Each day I strive to take one step, even if it’s a baby one, closer to the hearth of the family. So come April, the corner of my house will seem like a whole world away.

*Maybe you will find yourself in my Adidas.

**Ok, it may not have been stormy, but it was dark.

***Where all my loyal blog followers at?!

****This is the new sarcastic texting language used by passive aggressive teenagers: an obscene amount of exclamation points with the number 1 thrown in for good measure.

*****Tonight…. *cue the music*