My First 74 Days in Country

Jadn Soper - Ecuador


November 8, 2016

Here are some Virginia Woolf/ Zadie Smith style stream of consciousness thoughts on my first 74 days in Ecuador.

 

28 August 2016

Slept in a convent with some nuns who are the nicest and smallest women I have ever met. They are now taking us in a giant bus to drop us off with our Quito host families. Why are we backing into this weird alley? There are probably 70 people packing around this bus eagerly waiting for us to get off. I don’t want to get off the bus. This is getting way to real. I’m given my bags and eventually a man claims me and takes me to his car with the rest of his family. This is whom I will be spending the next three weeks with. The daughters speak a little English. THANK THE POWERS THAT BE. I can actually have a fairly decent conversation with my family. Feeling secure in my Spanish abilities. My room is amazing. First night with my family, I didn’t cry or get sick. *Self high five*

 

4 September 2016

My family takes me to an Incan Temple that was turned into a museum.  It’s so beautiful. The indigenous woman who is guiding us preforms this ritual that showcases the balancing qualities of jade. My mom buys me a small jade pendent. For some reason it makes me feel more secure. We go get seafood for lunch, didn’t get sick. *Self high five* Later that night, five minutes after I got out of the shower, we had a 4.6 earthquake. The only casualty was my mom’s baby Jesus in her maternity scene.

 

8 September 2016

I find out my site placement. I’m working at a zoo! I struggle to contain my excitement as others are less enthused with their placements. When I get home I Google my city. Too small for Google. Well I’m sure it will be great.

 

11 September 2016

I completed a 15k. Thought I was going to puke. Didn’t. *Self high five* Spent the rest of the day in bed watching Netflix and feeling like I accomplished something I would never even try in the US. The phrase ‘If I can do this, I can do anything’ runs through my mind all day.

 

13 September 2016

Sophia and I find a coffee shop that sells real cappuccinos. No instant coffee here. We sit there and nearly cry because how good it is, and laugh at ourselves that we nearly cried. Then continue to talk about all the small trivial things we miss, like good coffee.

 

16 September 2016

It’s my last night in Quito. My family takes me out to dinner, and I go dancing with my sister and her friends later that night. I didn’t really realize how much I had grown to love my Quito family in such a short period of time. I start to get anxious about going to my permanent host community.

 

17 September 2016

My Quito host mom cried when she dropped me off for the bus. I struggle to keep it together. 12-hour bus ride later, I feel queasy. We get to Cuenca. Finally! We get off the bus and are told we have to walk three blocks with all of our bags, in the rain, to get to our new Spanish school where all our new families are waiting. Great start. We walk in the building; everyone is excited and holding signs for their fellows. I don’t see my name. My team leader tells me my mom is on the way. They finally get there. None of them really talk to me. We go to their house. I can’t eat because I feel like I’m going to throw up. It’s so different from my Quito family. Oh no, they talk so fast. I can barely understand their accent. They try the American way of learning a language and just repeat the same phrase over and over, not understanding how I don’t comprehend what they are saying. I ask if there is Wi-Fi, there isn’t. I say goodnight and go to my room. I fall asleep clutching my teddy bear, crying, wanting to talk to my parents in the US, and wondering what the hell I got myself into.

 

18 September 2016

Woke up not wanting to leave my room. Eventually went down stairs to my aunts cooking breakfast. They didn’t understand that I didn’t feel well, and gave me a giant breakfast. I’m only able to eat a small amount, and give the rest back. They seemed offended. My sister takes me outside to play soccer with her and her brothers. This is the first time I feel normal. Thank the powers that be for small kids. My host brother asks if I want to watch them kill, and prepare the guinea pig we are going to eat for lunch. No joke. I politely decline and continue playing with my other siblings. Lunch is ready. Not eating for a while leaves me starving. Everything is so good. I try the Coy (guinea pig). Tastes like really strong deer. They ask me if I like it. I lie.

 

19 September 2016

First day at the zoo. This is amazing. Everyone is really nice. Hey! One person knows English. The animals are so exotic. An ostrich bit me while feeding him. I am freezing, clearly need to bring warmer clothes tomorrow. I am going to love it here, I’m so excited.

 

20 September 2016

Why the hell am I chopping carrots for four hours. I hate this. Okay Jadn, pull your head out of your (insert word here). They legitimately need someone chopping carrots for four hours. You just got here. There is absolutely no reason why you are more deserving of cool jobs than the people who have been here for years. Do what you gotta do and do it well. *Chops carrots with better attitude*

 

23 September 2016

Monkey got loose at the zoo. Everyone told me to be extremely careful because they are extremely dangerous. She gets extremely aggressive with my coworker. She follows me around like a puppy dog all day. Even going so far as to sit outside the bathroom door and wait for me, while I pee. This is a sign. For some unknown reason this animal, which tries to kill everyone else, is hanging on to your leg whenever she get’s scared. I was put here for a reason.

 

25 September 2016

Sat for six hours doing absolutely nothing at a community soccer game, after I agreed to help my mom with the cooking food for the players. She doesn’t want me to help. Doesn’t even really talk to me. After a painful amount of time, my sister comes, and we start playing soccer. I’m finally having fun. A 25+ year old women’s soccer team notices and asks if I want to practice with them. After realizing I can’t really play, they ask me to be goalie. They constantly yell “Gringita Coja!” Eventually leave with my sister, proud that I blocked 4/7 goals.

 

26 September 2016

Go to the Regional Training Seminar in Yungilla, with the rest of the Southern cohort. Am extraordinarily thankful to be around people speaking English who can understand everything I say. We stay at a hostel attached to a Mexican Restaurant. Oh god I miss Mexican Food. Ecuadorian food is not spicy. In the slightest. I put so much spicy salsa on my food I start crying, both because of the spice, and joy.

 

29 September 2016

Leave to go back to my host community. I have 12 mosquito bites on my face. They won’t end up going away for another week and a half. My family is much more friendly and actively trying to talk with me. I feel hopeful of the future.

 

2 October 2016

Picked flowers with my sister and my cousin for a few hours. They got really excited when they found out I was going to press them in my journal. They took me to this giant sandy hill and we proceeded to slide down for the next half hour. It was probably the most fun I’ve had since I got here. After that we herded some sheep, and then went back to my grandma’s house to make bread. I make a snowman out of the bread, since my sister was fascinated by the fact that we have snow in the US.

 

5 October 2016

First Spanish class in Cuenca. Excited that my class is mostly focused on conversation, not grammar. I become obsessed with the Cuencan accent. It’s so clear and annunciated. I can nearly understand everything she says. After class, I spend way too much money on used books, art supplies, and tacos. End up missing my bus and have to take a truck home.  Only to find that my family installed Wi-Fi. I am so grateful. I Skype my mom.

 

9 October 2016

I agree to go to church with my family. I can’t understand a lot of the sermon, except for a few key parts. Like how all the people who were divorced, did drugs, or had sex outside of marriage were lepers. I start to think of excuses on why I can’t come with them in the future. After church we go to my dad’s parents. It is a painfully boring 5 hours. No one is talking to me. We eat Coy (guinea pig). I pretend I’m full. They ask me if I like it. I lie again.

 

10 October 2016

My coworkers give me a ride to my house after they see me walking to my bus stop. One of them is holding a Peregrine Falcon. We end up getting into a conversation about my background working with the World Center for Birds of Prey. When they drop me off, he puts the glove on my hand (with the bird) and takes my picture. Before they leave they tell me I will start working with the peregrine the next week. I can barely contain my excitement. My family decorates the house for Christmas, yep in October.

 

15 October 2016

Go to work to help my boss with a group of Americans that are coming in. They are all very nice. I help with the live bird show. My co-worker lets me show the Peregrine, and I get instructions for the rest of the week. I was really questioning whether or not I can do this, and be here for 6 more months, all that dissipates when I’m with her (the Peregrine).

 

16 October 2016

My family asks me if I want to go to a parade, I say yes. Oh god. We’re not watching the parade, we’re in it. Great. I should have brought a hat. Cool, my family is having fun. That means all of them are together talking and buying food, and I am alone with no one talking to me. I have a headache from the sun. This has been going on for two and a half hours. No one is talking to me. We finish the parade and I am so excited to go home. My parents tell me we are going to church now. I can’t back out. My legs hurt from the parade, and now I get to stand for a 2-hour sermon where he says people who aren’t Catholic are going to hell. Cool. We finally get in a truck to go home. We stop at my dad’s cousin’s house. There is a lot of family there. No one gives me any warning. I walk into the house, and see a dead woman on the floor. They are breaking her fingers to position them right for the funeral. My headache gets to the point where I want to throw up. I tell my dad that I am walking home, my sister comes with me. I find out later that apparently one of my dad’s distant aunts died and they were preparing the house for the funeral. I spend the rest of the day in bed, and fall asleep before 7pm.

 

18 October 2016

Went on an hour long bumpy car ride to the city with the falcon on my arm to take her to the vet. Every time I’m around her I feel like I can do this. If she was shot with buckshot less than a month ago, and can still be this amazing, I can handle 6 more months in Ecuador.

 

23 October 2016

Meet with my friends in the city. We go to a market, and buy ridiculous amounts of fruit to take on a hike. We get on a bus to my friend’s city, meet her family, and head out for our hike. Why the hell am I wearing a skirt? This isn’t that bad actually. We get to the top of the mountain. Damn these grapes are good. Okay guys, if I don’t leave right now, I can’t get home, lets wrap this up. Ana and I get on a bus back to the city. After talking with 10 different people, and the bus driver, we finally figure out a way to get to the bus stop just barely before the last bus leaves.

 

24 October 2016

The guy who usually kills the birds I feed the falcon is gone today. I have to kill it. I pace in a circle for 30 minutes before I can bring myself to do it. The falcon appreciates it. When I leave I think of how grateful I am to be working with her, and how happy she makes me. I take one of her feathers that are on the ground to put in my diary. A few hours later, my co-worker texts me that she is missing, and that if she doesn’t come back she will die. I cry myself to sleep thinking I didn’t tie the knot tight enough, and that she escaped and could die because of me.

 

25 October 2016

My boss tells me that it wasn’t my fault, and that actually someone snuck in and stole her. I’m relieved that its not my fault, but still devastated that someone has her who doesn’t know she needs medical treatment to survive. My boss can see I am upset, and asks if I could help him in the city. ‘Help’ apparently means 2 other guys and I lifting 350 4x4s into a truck. Because I am a girl I am not allowed to lift more than 2 at a time. I rebel and lift 5. It’s not heavy, but hurts my shoulder. They don’t let me do it again. I’m still upset, but take comfort in the fact that I got to bond with my co-workers a little more, and they won’t just stare and not talk to me anymore. A large bruise forms on my shoulder, and it is extremely painful when something touches it.

 

27 October 2016

Our regional reconnect is today. I am so happy to see my friends, and be able to have a conversation where I can say everything I want to say, and that everyone will understand me. The hike is beautiful. The lodge where we eat lunch has a puppy. He is rowdy and has no manners. I love him. When we get ready to leave, he is 3 inches away getting hit by a car, I scream and try not to cry. My friends and I get ice cream afterwards. First time I feel okay after the falcon.

 

29 October 2016

When I get off work, I’m told to walk over to my grandma’s house because they are having a family gathering. I get told to sit outside in the cold while everyone sits around the fire roasting guinea pigs. I’m okay, because I’m left outside surrounded by dogs, which I love, but then I get slightly insulted because I remember their views on dogs, and realize they left me outside with the vermin. Cool. I realize the only Ecuadorians I have made a connection with are animals. Yep, I’m that lame. Or cool? Let’s go with cool.

 

31 October 2016

IT’S HALLOWEEN!! I am so pumped. I put on dark lipstick and everything. I go to the city to hang out with my friends. No one remembers its Halloween besides me. We all sit in the park and listen to the people who brought their guitars. It’s relaxing, and makes me realize how much I miss these guys. I go home and sit in my room alone eating candy that I had saved for this moment, and watch Hocus Pocus.

 

2 November 2016

It’s Dia de los Difuntos in Ecuador! I get excited because I have all these expectations of Dia de los Muertos in my head of great food, and colorful costumes, and giant parties to celebrate their loved ones. It’s just a 2 hour-long sermon in a graveyard and then we leave. Okay.

 

4 November 2016

My boss asks if I can help his kids with English. I agree. I soon realize that I have no clue how to teach English. They keep on asking me about the conjugations of past progressive verbs. I don’t even know what that is. What is the difference between saying, “have done” and “had done”? I don’t know there just is a difference. I can’t teach English; apparently I can just speak it. Looks like I need to not only review Spanish grammar, but I get to add English grammar on too. Yippee.

 

7 November 2016

I get a text when I wake up that one of the fellows that I have gotten really close with, is going home. Shit. I miss the bus to work. I get there in a car. I leave early to go to the city and say goodbye to my friend before she leaves. I miss the bus to the city. I walk for 30 minutes to the next station. I get to the city, to see everyone in our lovingly coined “gringo café” laughing and eating together. It makes me forget about all my troubles to see everyone this happy. We all eat, and then go get ice cream. Afterwards, me manage to have a tear-free goodbye, and some friends and I get dinner. I ride home thinking about how difficult these next few months are going to be, and how close I am to all these people I have barely known for 2 months. I realize that there is very little that could make me go home, it’s just not my personality to quit things. My personality is to just sit and be uncomfortable or unhappy everyday, and tell myself that this is life and I have to suck it up. Doesn’t that just sound like so much fun? When I get home, I write on one of my wish papers that I hope I start to gain a sense of community, and that this place and these people start to feel like home. I light in on fire, and watch it fly into the air, and float back down as ashes. Same.

 

 

Jadn Soper