Month 1- Getting Grounded

Ian Herel - Ecuador


October 4, 2016

The beginning of October has brought with it a major milestone in my journey here in Ecuador: the end of In-Country Orientation, the end of consistently seeing my fellow fellows, and most importantly the true beginning of my homestay and apprenticeship here in San Roque, Ecuador. Over the month of September, I developed a foundation for the truly transformative experiences I am sure to have in the coming months.

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Back in Pre-departure training we were introduced the concept of ‘getting grounded’ in our new, radically different environments. While in Quito, getting grounded was often as simple as getting used to speaking Spanish everyday. Moreover, I got to know Quito by experiencing the city on foot, whether it was to and from daily Spanish classes, around town looking for lunch, or home from a salsa club one night (only to find myself horribly lost).

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However, these experiences in Quito hardly prepared me for what my reality was to be when I moved to my permanent host family in San Roque: a small, mostly indigenous town with a hell of a view, located on the base of Volcano Imbabura. From the first time I stepped into my new concrete home I realized that here is where my experience would really begin. In a way Quito’s modern feel really played me, giving me a false sense of confidence that I could easily handle anything Ecuador could throw at me.

 

In a few days though, my shock of this seemingly alien place subsided and I began to see my new family as simply a group of close-knit loving people. Getting grounded here was more difficult as I had to get used to the differences in how people interact: for example, the exceedingly friendly, yet not-so-sanitary custom of shaking every person’s hand when entering a room. It has also consisted of learning to toss out the appropriate salutation in Kichwa, guaranteed to a get resounding approval from the room.

 

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During my first week here in San Roque, my initial frustration melted away as I learned the absolute basics in my new home. After literally avoiding showers for my first week, imagine my joy when I discovered how to work the hot water (a luxury not all fellows are as fortunate to have). Or when I could actually go to the bathroom when I needed because I found where my family keeps the toilet paper. And of course, when I was given the 2-hour tutorial on how to wash my clothes, involving dancing in a bucket (as pictured), a lot of aggression on my clothes and concrete, and a small, lively crowd gathered to watch the Gringo wash his clothes. As I have learned more about my house, family, and community I have slowly- very slowly- but surely become accustomed to my new life here.

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Further helping my transition here is the presence of the cat, appropriately named ‘Gato’. I had nearly forgotten that I had written my Global Citizen Year application essay on how I wanted a cat and what luck, I happened upon one only 2900 miles away! Of the many things my host family finds strange about me, my relationship with the cat stands out, as they believe cats, on the animal scale, are only slightly above dogs, which are miles below the animals of value; cows, pigs and chickens.

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During my time here I have also been exposed to a new way of embracing religion. While the Christian church here in San Roque is likely very similar to my hometown church, St. Elizabeth’s, on paper (save the Spanish and Kichwa), the feel, the energy, and the way it is carried out are incredibly different.

 


If church was like this back in the states, who knows? I might actually have gone.

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Getting grounded was also about coming together with my regional cohort. During our four days of debrief; we shared our experiences, good and bad, talked about ways to approach challenges, learned how to plant corn (as pictured), and most importantly learned about each other. Through dealing with the withdrawals of a member and our beloved team leader, this group has already become a close-knit family and promises to make this adventure a little less daunting.

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Before I end this month’s installment I want to leave you folks with a little story about cross-lingual communication. It starts with me sitting in our lovely courtyard, enjoying a cup of tea and taking in the tranquil environment. The tranquility was broken when something was broken, and the dog, “Naru” (named after Naruto) came scrambling out into the courtyard. I walked into the kitchen, saw a pile of broken glass on the ground, and called to my host mom that we needed a broom (the word for broom, ‘escoba’, I knew by heart thanks to my hours of reading Spanish Harry Potter at my apprenticeship- and that’s about all you need to know about the first week of my apprenticeship). As my host mom and I broomed(?) the broken glass I explained to her how the dog was likely the culprit, a reasonable assumption based on the information I had, not to mention a jab at Naru is usually appreciated for he is incredibly disliked in the household (like I said dogs are very far down the animal scale). Well, this turned out to be a mistake, for it would have been remarkable for Naru to break a light bulb suspended well above his barely foot-tall stature. Once my host dad arrived in the kitchen, my story was re-told in Kichwa and just like that it was out of my hands. One by one the kids arrived home for dinner to hear “Ian claims Naru flew and broke the light bulb”. I tried to explain myself in the best Spanish I could muster but I’m sure they liked the original story better. A little later on, I was asked by my host family to speak some English, which I took up with a purpose. Finally in a language I had confidence, I explained in passionate detail what had I transpired and how I really don’t know what happened to the damn light bulb. After I had acquitted myself, my family nodded with smiles and told me, “English is a very pretty language, we didn’t understand a word though.”


I don’t know if they think I actually broke the light bulb and tried to blame it on the dog, but it I don’t think it really matters. They really are family now and families don’t hold grudges against breaking light bulbs, even though I didn’t. I swear I didn’t.

 

Thanks for reading; hopefully I only have a little bit of time left settling in and my next installments will be full of adventures and more interesting stories!

 


Until next time…chao!

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Ian Herel