My index finger subconsciously found contact with my lock button on my phone – 13:04 it read. The sun stitched my pores, permeating weights of exhaustion through my limbs all the while exuding a light caramel from my skin. No one ever uses sunscreen here or do they bother to check the time. The day moves slow but quicker for those who are productive. As I walk alongside something that’s more of a side of a road than a sidewalk, I would pass by Ecuadorian grandmothers with beady eyes, dressed in colorful embroidered skirts with panama top hats and long skinny pigtail braids that fall past their waist. Their tree trunk-like brown skin carried a sacredness to hours working under the sun and moments of laughter that was once there. As they glared intensely in my direction, I give a slight smile to prove some sort of affability to my foreignness. I wondered if they knew that their body was an encyclopedia to everything that was Ecuador.
To the left of me, I gazed at the dried grass mountains with farmhouses dressed on it’s lower ends and occasional white clouds. The view was to it’s greatest natural perfection, surreal and full of existence. It reminded me of a desktop wallpaper option or a postcard you would see at a souvenir store. I thought about where I was two hours ago in comparison to now.
It had been my first day teaching English alone to five different grades at the elementary school. The students constantly yelled, “Teacher! Teacher! Profe! No entiendo nada!” or would get out of their seats in the middle of the lesson and ask “¿puedo ir al baño?” (Can I go to the bathroom?) I permitted one student to go and within two minutes, ninety-five percent of the class was empty. By the time all of the students were back, the bell had rung which was my cue to leave. I left feeling a deep discouragement and failure in my ability to manage a classroom, but with a bit of hope that I had taught them something, whether it be how to pronounce the first letter in the English alphabet or my name.
I dragged my emotions along from the school to home, ready to rest those feelings aside by taking a nap. Entering two steps onto the dirt driveway of my newfound home, I was greeted by three of my host dogs barking and pawing my jeans. After all the barking, mi abuelita, Mami Rosa, came out of the pastel green, faded wooden door of the middle house that was constructed between my host aunt´s and the one I live in. Her hands hid behind her purple checkered apron and she stood there with a mother-like posture as if she had been anticipating for my arrival back. “¿Todo bien?” (Everything good?) she asked. Her voice had embraced me and I couldn’t get myself to complain about anything in that moment. “Si, estoy bien,” I responded with a grin.
The temperature changed drastically as I reached the top of the staircase that followed a hallway where my siblings´ and I rooms were. It was always cooler downstairs no matter the weather, but when the sun was out it absorbed through the roof like tinfoil and left heat there until nightfall. The humidity knocked me out on my bed until I was woken up by my host mother singing my name to come downstairs for dinner. “Celina! … Celina! … Celina! Venga a comer!” I opened my eyes and saw that my walls were now a light purple compared to a dirty pink the last time I was awake. It must be seven pm or so, I thought. Was I asleep for that long? Did I miss lunch? I got up from my bed feeling all different kinds of emptiness and just wanted to lay back down.
Five minutes passed from the time I was being called to come out of my room and I thought about what there was to eat. Chicken and rice probably, like always. I threw on my black H&M sweater and put on my Nike running shoes and went down the wooden stairs to go outside. Everyone always gathered at the middle house to eat with the exception of days when my host nephews and siblings have loads of homework to do. Turning the knob open, there’s a butchered open pig near the door entrance and my host siblings, nephews, parents and brother in-law at the dinner table. Chile, my thirteen year old host nephew, turns around with the brightest smile, the kind you would see on a little kid at an ice cream store. “Holis!” he greeted. “Bolis!” I called back. He would sometimes say it all together, but even so I’m not sure what they both mean. I then greeted everyone else saying ¡Hola! five times and found my seat at the farthest right end of the table. My host brother in-law made a comment about my sleeping habits and I typically tuned out. It was a redundant topic, but I always got through it with little eye contact and a smile. This time though, he added matter-of-factly that the fellow before me didn’t have the same kind of issues he thought I was having. I didn’t have the energy to object or justify that we’re different people, but I knew that he was entitled to his own opinion of my behaviors.
Mari, my host mother, came out of the kitchen and placed a plate of rice, eggs and tomatoes in front of me. My host family only uses a spoon or their hands to eat but I couldn’t get myself to do the same. Knowingly, my sister passed me a fork. I stared at the food with fork in hand and for some reason, I felt a growing frustration. I had a difficult time understanding why there were just eggs and rice for dinner, had I gotten so used to sides of meat and mounds of rice. I began to ponder on my challenges that morning in the classroom and of the comments my host brother in-law had been saying. The swelling irritation had me zoned out on the rapid conversations in Spanish and more focused on eating quicker to be alone in my room.
Finished with my dinner, I walked out the door and stood at the top of the steps for a few minutes. It was the first time I had seen the moon since I left Quito. It made me think about home in the states and whether someone I knew was looking at it, too. The whiteness beamed throughout the night sky and pulsed a laughter out of me and a recurring epitome: I’m in mother f-ing Ecuador.
I woke up the next morning realizing that wanting to stay in my room wasn’t helping solve the challenges and frustrations I was facing. And the moon the night before became a reminder that gratitude was my next door neighbor that I needed to get outside and visit more often.