My Host Brother, the Metaphor

Lindsay Saligman - Ecuador


November 20, 2014

My youngest host brother is six years old. His name is Edy.

On September 20th, when I arrived in Napo, Edy came with my host parents to pick me up from Tena, the capital of Napo, and bring me to Santa Rita. While my host parents introduced themselves smiling, Edy clung to my host dad’s pants and refused to make eye contact.

During my first few days in Santa Rita, I diligently used every strategy babysitting in the United States had taught me to try to win Edy over: copying him and seeing if it makes him laugh, asking him questions, offering him candy… all these strategies were 100% unsuccessful. Every time I got close, Edy and his group of similarly aged cousins would point at me, shout viene la gringa (here comes the white girl) and then scream. I’ve got to hand it to him, Edy is better at the cold shoulder than any North American kid I’ve ever babysat.

After about a week in Santa Rita, I brought out my soccer ball, the only bonding trick I had left. I crossed my fingers and approached Edy bouncing it temptingly. “Do you want to play?”

Instead of saying yes, or even nodding, Edy planted himself on the ground in front of me. I decided to interpret this behavior as a, “Yes sister, yes I do want to play,” and so I sat across from him and tossed the ball.

To my surprise, he tossed it back. I smiled and as we began to play catch, the uncomfortableness that more often than not inhabited my chest during first weeks here, lifted. For the first time since I’d arrived in Santa Rita, I felt victorious.

Until I nailed Edy in the face on accident.

Even before he started to cry, I knew it was coming. There was a silence. He scrunched up his facial features. No. All I could think was, oh god no. And then he started screaming. My host mom swooped in and carried Edy away without acknowledging my presence or the incident. Honestly, I’d have preferred she tell me it’s okay, or at least yell at me, but confrontation is so not Kichwa style.

After the soccer ball incident, Edy didn’t speak to me for two weeks. He didn’t answer my questions and he didn’t look at me when I said his name. He didn’t even accept my offer to make him eggs (and he loves eggs).

On October 20th, at the one month mark in Santa Rita, I had all but given up on Edy. Rather than spend time and energy on bonding, I decided to invest myself in coming to terms with the fact that I’d never be close to him: Edy was the one kid that try as I might, I simply could not make like me.

Yesterday afternoon, I was wandering the village aimlessly, as I tend to do, and I ran into Edy just as the clouds of the daily post-lunch storm began to roll in.

“Luisa,” hearing his voice pronounce my name* literally made me jump. “Luisa, let’s go home, it’s going to rain hard.” As we walked, Edy began to tell me about the tractor he had seen earlier that morning. Too incredulous of the situation to respond to him, I just listened and nodded.

This morning my daily practice of mushing together my breakfast of tuna, rice, and lentils was interrupted by the sound of someone slamming playing cards down on the kitchen table. It was Edy. “Luisa, let’s play.” Needless to say, I dropped my spoon and picked up the deck.

I can only guess as to why Edy had a change of heart. Maybe my host mom told him he had to start speaking to me. Maybe he finally came to accept my presence in his home and decided he might as well take advantage of a potential playmate. Maybe, (this is what I hope) Edy was curious about me all along, and but he wanted to get to know me on his own terms rather than mine.

The thing I like about the Edy story, is that it is a metaphor for my experience up to this point.

There are plenty of things I’m not good at, but I do think I’m good with kids. Despite that, my strongest, most diligent efforts failed here.

Similarly, I consider myself to be good at cross cultural interaction. Despite that, my strongest most diligent efforts to be a part of the community of Santa Rita in the beginning failed nine times out of ten.

My experience in Ecuador up to this point has been a lot of failure and a few small victories. The good news is, they are victories from which I can learn.

My six year old host brother with a perpetual runny nose has taught me a valuable lesson: when it comes to adjusting to life, I need to accept that the tried and true methods from my past are not necessarily valid here. Instead of trying so hard, I need to just do my thing, and let Santa Rita warm up to my just like Edy: on it’s own terms and schedule.

*Since Lindsay is fairly unpronounceable to most native Spanish and Kichwa speakers, I decided to go by Luisa, the Spanish version of my middle name Louise, during my time here.

Lindsay Saligman