Although I am now back in the United States, I haven’t forgotten Ecuador. When I dream, I’m still back in Ecuador, among the plantains and cacao, working with the women of Sinchi Warmi. All these memories that come back to me at unexpected moments led me to think back to a little piece of writing that I wrote many months ago, about halfway through my time in Ecuador. It reminds me of my second home, and I thought it might be worth sharing with all of you. I hope you enjoy it.
I was given a task: Find the oldest memory you can.
The first image that flashed into my head was 3 year old me walking down the street to preschool with my babysitter Robin. But at 18 years old, I can have no possible claim to “the oldest memory.” So I went looking for the oldest memory of my adoptive community, San Pedro de Auca Parte. I began by asking my host brother Miguel.
Miguel,15, remembered when there was no bridge crossing the river (nor a paved road leading to the provincial capital beyond), and the children would ride to the school in Misahualli in Uncle Fabio’s canoe. My oldest brother Johnny (pronounced YOH-ni), 20, remembered when the family had no table, and he and his parents would eat off of a banana leaf placed in the center of the kitchen floor. My hostmother Bety, 39, remembered a time when the river still held snakes and her father saved her from a boa, just off the beach where she now washes clothes and bathes safely. My host father Jaime, 43(?) remembered the time that a hurricane felled their house and the community held a minga, a community work day, to build them a new one. My great aunt Aida, 56, remembered a time when the current patriarchs and matriarchs of the three local villages, San Pedro, San Victor, and Shiripuno, all lived under one roof. Yesterday, Jaime took me to visit my rukuyayas, my great-grandfather and great-grandmother. They speak little Spanish, so my father often had to translate from their Kichwa for me. Pedro Pablo, my rukuyaya, age unknown, remembers coming to this land when he was young and it was the domain of the Huaorani, an indigenous Amazonian people who are now famous for the way that they walk nearly naked in the rainforest like their ancestors did, living off the fruits of the jungle and the animals that they hunt. He remembers building his house where the River Napo and the River Misahualli meet. He remembers seeing his children and their children and now their children spread across this side of the river. He remembers the Huaorani leaving for land farther down the river as more and more people came to live here. He remembers his old home, many miles down the river.
My youngest brother, Michael, 2, has probably not formed what will be his oldest memory yet. He will hear these stories as he grows and asks questions. In remembering these stories, will they become his memories too? Or does a memory forever belong to the rememberer?
I have no answer to give.