"Poco a Poco"

Maya Foster - Ecuador


October 2, 2018

Poco a poco, little by little, bit by bit.

“Poco a poco” has been my favorite phrase recently. It is so simple in both
English and Spanish, but I find that is the answer to most of the questions
I’m asked right now: *How are you adjusting? How’s the language acquisition
been? Do you feel comfortable in your new environment yet? Does it feel
like home?* The answer:“poco a poco” and a smile.

Poco a poco, I’m getting used to this new way of life. I am adapting to my
new mornings — the way the light pours through the thin curtains on my
wall and sets my yellow walls aglow, the way the roosters and cows outside
my window often wake me up before my alarm, and the way that Spanish pop
music floods into my room at 6:30 am (my host mom says it makes the
chickens happier).
I am learning that you can eat anything with a spoon, provided that the
spoon is sharp enough. The skillful balance between spoon and fingers can
be more effective than other utensils. Forks are for Gringas.
I am studying how the roads seem to work differently here. How there seems
to be a secret code for which stop signs are mandatory (hint: possibly
none), which are mere suggestions, and which we collectively choose to
ignore completely.
I am building new tolerances — early mornings, coffee in the afternoons,
and the lullaby of the stray dogs barking.

Poco a poco, I’m leaning into not knowing. Accepting the expected challenge
of not always knowing the words spoken to me. But also accepting the
unexpected challenge of understanding the words, but not their meaning.
Leaning into contentment during these moments because I am hopeful that
they bring growth.
I am getting into the car without knowing where we’re going. I am walking
into weddings severely underdressed because the destination was unknown to
me. I am laughing these things off because, well, how was I supposed to
know any better?
I am becoming so comfortable with the little failures that part of every
day. With the loving teasing from mi hermana about my incorrect verb
choice. With having to apologize to tías and neighbors for accidentally
using the informal tú verb conjugation instead of the formal usted. With
putting non-edible items into my mouth (which happens far more than I’d
like to admit).

Poco a poco, I’m becoming a new person. Global Launch changed the way I
think about the world, and these first few weeks in Ecuador have changed
the way I move through the world. I am not unrecognizable from the person
who left for Stanford just four weeks ago, but I am also not the same.
There are the small things. Short and freezing showers. All the downtime a
concept that became foreign over the last four years. The reading, writing,
painting, and playing instruments I do to save me from ennui. How I’m
becoming ok with spiders being my roommates — something I never thought I
would be able to say. The inability to make self-deprecating jokes in
Spanish (yet) robbing me of my primary source of humor.
There are also big things. Things like perspective and empathy, both of
which I can feel expanding. Like finding my identity within a language I
cannot really speak. Like kindness. I have not mastered these concepts, but
they are constantly on my mind in ways they never have been before.
I feel more acutely attuned to the complexities of the human experience
than ever. This awareness is, in part, caused by my escape from my bubble.
I now live in a rural community that isn’t on any maps. In fact, if you
look at the Google Maps location for my town, it’s quite literally a large
grey area. It appears empty. But, in fact, this town is full. No, it
doesn’t have a hospital or a police station, but is has neighbors who give
each other rides up the hill, a concrete soccer field outside the church
with stands for spectators, and schools for kids from kindergarten through
high school. It brims with life. It is the home to people and their
families, chickens, cows, cats, sheep, and so many dogs.

Poco a poco, I’m finding the strength brought by struggle. None of this is
easy, which is why it has value. I am the foreigner; the one who asks for
directions to the bus stop in broken Spanish and constantly looks a bit
like a deer caught in headlights. The kindness that everyone has shown me,
both people who I live/work with and complete strangers, has reminded me of
the power of a smile. A laugh, even one that says “help me, I have no idea
what I’m doing” is universal. Being here has emphasized the importance of
leading with compassion, not because I have done it more than usual, but
because it is done to me so often. I am learning that strength comes in
many forms, vulnerability,

A month ago I would have assumed a place like this wasn’t special. It
wasn’t the birthplace of the Black Panther party, it doesn’t have a pride
parade or First Fridays, and it hasn’t been in a single movie. But, unlike
my hometown, it has a distinct singular sense of community. There is a
pride to being from Oakland, an instant bond formed with anyone else from
the Bay Area. But, here, everyone knows each other’s names. They ask about
my siblings. They ask how I’m adjusting to life here, even though they know
nothing of my life in California. I’m getting used to being here and my
neighbors are getting used to having me here.

Poco a poco, this is becoming *my* neighborhood, my family, and my home.
And, for that, I could not be more grateful.

Besos y abrazos,

Maya

Maya Foster