Right now I’m sitting at the mall in Riobamba, and I’m reading over the blogs that have accumulated over the past 7 months. We have roughly 1 week left in our sites before we are taken from the lives we have gotten to know and love – forever. So right now, I’m just sitting here pondering how much everything has changed… how much I have changed. I will be completely honest. When I first came to Ecuador, I didn’t believe that I was going to change as a person. I wanted to be the change. Change the world with what… I am not exactly sure, but I knew I wanted to change lives.
Now that I look back on it…nobody should ever have this outlook when they are going to live in a country they have never been to before. This is such an American attitude to have! We believe that with all of our fancy gadgets, our schooling, and the dollar bill signs in our pockets, we are automatically qualified to walk into any other culture and basically force our way on the people. This year has made this extremely clear to me. The “American Dream” is not everyone’s dream, and who are we to waltz in and try to erase the rich culture and ways of the indigenous people? It’s simple – our excuse is always to “make the world a better place.” But to try to do this in a short amount of time is impossible, and it is in my opinion something that all volunteers learn abroad. Change comes in baby steps. We are but helping to pave the road of the future, and we have to learn to accept we are not God.
Most of us feel we are self-sufficient and independent. In the US we move around confidently, fluent in the language, and we feel our knowledge is always superior to our neighbor. What a reality check I got upon my arrival in Ecuador. I began turning into a different girl the moment I stepped off the plane in Quito August 29th, 2012. Barely sufficient in Spanish, I realized I also had no clue how to navigate this monster city, how to act, or how life worked here in general. I had to rely on other people every day, and to me, this was a huge step in my character transition. I learned it’s okay not to know everything, to ask for help, and to not be ashamed when I didn’t automatically know an answer. I was “brought down a peg” as they say, while l got accustomed to taking life one day at a time. My life was drastically moving down a different path and at that moment in time, and I was still clueless to all the changes to take place yet.
The next step, the move to our host sites, was definitely when this all started occurring to me; especially the fact that I probably wasn’t going to change the world. Living in Napo showed me I definitely had a lot to learn about…well everything. The ways of life shocked me to my very core, and I didn’t know about the customs or dynamic of my host family. My job was confusing (A health position at a local clinic) and a whirlwind of Spanish that I wasn’t prepared for. Everyone seemed to expect me to know what to do immediately, and for my Spanish to be prefect considering I was born in Colombia. To say I was feeling stressed and lost was definitely an understatement. For the next couple days/weeks (the time blurs together), I felt like I was constantly in a haze of stupidity. I couldn’t seem to do anything right, and I felt like a disappointment to everyone around me. I had lost my happy ‘I can do anything’ outlook on life and instead had fallen into a reserved, I only spoke when spoken to attitude. But then, one day at work everything changed. So far, I had only been allowed to watch the procedures on patients, but nobody had actually bothered explaining what they were doing to me. This day though as I arrived for work, I noticed my supervisor and another doctor loading medicines along with other equipment in to her car. I hadn’t been anywhere with anyone from my subcentro and I was bored stiff, so I went out on a limb and asked if I could be included in what they were doing. The response: Por supuesto Meli!, ¿por qué no le preguntaste antes? (Of course Meli! Why didn’t you ask sooner?) We went to a colegio (high school) in a neighboring community to give the kids checkups and prescribe medications for parasites and ulcers. The doctors let me help them and patiently went over what I was supposed to do multiple times. I felt for the first time since coming to the Amazon that I was being useful in my apprenticeship, and it happened because I had made it happen. I had broken out of my shell I had myself in and opened my mind and heart to new experiences, and the acceptance that I needed these people to live happily here. I had finally found my place.
Unfortunately, when life seems to be going well something usually is wrong, or about to go very wrong. In late January, I delt with a very hard situation that is very personal to me and I do not feel like going into major details. But the ending result was that I was to be moved families, jobs, and provinces. My new home is a town named Guamote, in the province of Chimborazo about an hour away from the capital city of Riobamba. For those of you who don’t know, Chimborazo is a very cold region, with weather that uncannily mimics Wisconsin’s.
To say in the least, I am relatively happy here. I am still deeply saddened I was taken from the place I had finally been able to call home, but this is giving me experiences other fellows do not get to have. I have lived in and learned the ways of both the amazon and sierra regions, been a part of two regional teams, gotten a chance to form bonds with new Ecuadorians, and been made a stronger person.
But unfortunately, our time is just about up in the wonderful country, and this is my last blog post. My feelings at this moment in time are extremely mixed, and probably very unstable. My mind and heart are having conflicts on a daily basis, and I can never seem to come up with a compromise. I think about how my life has differed over these past 8 months from the friends I left behind in the states, and how my life could have been if I had not chosen to take a bridge year. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I am extremely glad I have these experiences tucked safely away in my heart, memories I will never forget. Ecuador has changed me as a person, and now it is my time to go share what I have learned; to play my part in unlocking a lifetime of potential for America’s future generations.