My First Steps

Natalie Toops - Ecuador


March 11, 2019

As babies take their first steps, they fall, then get back up and try
again. That metaphor is applicable to almost everything in life, for me, I
was the baby falling and trying again my first week with my new family.

Driving up the hill I new I was close to my new family, I was calm and
collected thus far, however, looking at the faces of my friends for one
last moment made my heart skip a few beats. The taxi stopped moving and my
team leader let me know I was home. All I heard was the high pitched
barking of the family dog, Sassy. I saw my mother and my younger brother
hiding with a shy smile on his face. My friends helped me bring my
belongings up to my room, I gave them a hug goodbye, then I was alone. I
was alone with people I could not communicate well with and a family I new
I would be living with for seven months.

My mother told me “vamos” and I took my first steps with my new family. I
realized then that taking Spanish for four years in high school does not
help if you do not practice, and I never practiced. Down the hill, I saw a
food stand set up with a woman sitting there. It was my grandma who lives
with my family and sells food on the weekends with my mom and aunt. My five
year old brother, Mateo, proved not shy at all but a crazy ball of energy,
running all around and jumping in the streets. Loyally Sassy follows us and
barks at the stray dogs that try to get too close to us (there are many
stray dogs).

Surprisingly my first day in El Cabo was actually a celebration for the
town. That night my mom, dad, brother, and I met up with friends across the
street and we all walked down to the main stadium of the town for the
celebration. Knowing that all these eyes were on me, and words I couldn’t
understand were being spoken about me, I wanted to cry. To paint the
picture, El Cabo is a small town where I am the lightest toned skin, I have
lightest hair, and I am taller than 95% of the town, therefore I stand out
a lot. As the night went on I began to dance, and as I danced away my fears
I began to have fun. Now everyone was really staring at me because I know
how to dance like a “Latina” and not like a “white-girl.” I did not pay any
attention though because I was comfortable in the uncomfortable. Many
people came up to me asking me questions I could not understand but I tried
to talk with them anyways. I messed up my grammar like a four year old and
said many wrong words, but I kept trying. After dancing my family walked me
to our house and said “buenos noches,” again, I was alone. This time alone
in my new room, with my bed, dresser, and tv. I was lucky to be exhausted
because I just slept, otherwise I knew I would have cried myself to sleep.

The first night was the best and most significant to me, the rest of the
week I got to see the typical life of my family. My dad is a truck driver
and works all day sometimes I will see him for dinner if he is home by
then. My mom will clean and take care of their chickens and guinea pigs
(many families farm guinea pigs because it is a delicacy to eat here) and
works at the family food shack on the weekends. After the first day I met
my seventeen year old sister and her one year old daughter who is the
cutest baby and makes me smile when I am sad. My sister just takes care of
her baby since she finished her studies. Mateo goes to school from twelve
in the afternoon to six at night. My grandma goes off and takes care of her
farm land, and also works at the shack. I read a lot the first week, took
naps because the altitude makes me tired, listened to my families Spanish
and spoke to them as much as I could.

Many times the first week alone with my family was difficult. I had to
remind myself that my feelings of nostalgia, my poor Spanish, and
constantly having stomach aches all are impermanent. Which proved to be
true, all the hard times passed and were replaced with smiles and lots of
joy. Now as I begin my apprenticeship teaching English at a high school the
next town over I know I will fall many times but I have to continue to keep
walking on, otherwise growth and learning will not be achieved.

Natalie Toops