On Mastering the Art of Discomfort

Bella Bjornstad - Ecuador


September 24, 2014

The other day we were asked to describe a time when we felt our most healthy, in body and mind, and when we felt the most satisfied. I picked out several examples, but none felt as real as now. While I might have made a few too many stops at the panederia on my way home, I have never been so alive as I am right now. I wake up to the challenge of speaking a language I have not yet mastered, I am always aware of where my backpack is and who is looking at it, which is very new for a girl from a small town, and I eat dinner every night with my Ecuamom, who does not speak English.

The bus system here is equally challenging, they are less like buses and more like very large taxis, one must flap their hand around to hail them and, once aboard, fight their way to the back of the bus where the exit button is to ensure that the bus slows down in front of your stop. Often the bus will make a complete stop, but if the driver is feeling rushed, or you are at the back of a long line of passengers trying to get off, it is likely that you will make a James Bond-like hop off the moving bus. If I have made this country, especially this city, sound somewhat anarchical, I apologize, that is neither the case, nor my intention, in fact, I have witnessed more order than in the States. Everyone seems to have a purpose and know how to get to their destination; despite the wild roads, I have not seen an accident yet, and even the pedestrians, weaving their way between cars stopped at a light or stuck in heavy traffic, appear pretty safe. I have begun following their example and crossing the roads at even the slightest lull in oncoming traffic.

The people who I have encountered in my time here, are the nicest I have ever met, ranging from the stranger on the street who warned me about a dangerous neighborhood, to the family who has folded me into their lives and made me feel like one of them, I have yet to meet someone who wasn’t willing to go out of their way to help me. The generosity of the Ecuadorian people has taken down a wall that I have constructed throughout my life, I now feel no hesitation at asking for help because I do not fear any rejection. Being able to ask for help when I need it has opened so many doors! Getting around is not an issue, because if I’m lost I will just ask someone; speaking my choppy, barely comprehendible Spanish is no longer embarrassing because people don’t laugh, they just politely correct my errors and move on.

All of this brings me back to my original topic: Satisfaction. Happiness is often thought to be a product of satisfaction,which is usually thought to be getting something you want, but I have experienced so much happiness in the last three weeks, and most of it was because of undesirable situations. From the 20 bug bites on my face at Pre-Departure Training to the inevitable homesickness that pops up when I am feeling the worst, I have encountered my fair share of low moments, but they were at once the worst and best moments of my life. I would think to myself, “Bella, you are doing this!” That’s why this is such an incredible experience, because the moments that make me wish I was back home are the moments when I know that I am doing this, and wow, I am so much more capable than I ever knew!

Bella Bjornstad