One year ago, after endless SAT prep classes, practice tests, the actual exam, APs, college orientation meetings, and virtually living on commonapp.org, i.e. the whole shebang, I finally was accepted into college. Honestly, I thought it would never happen, but it finally did. Similarly, I also never thought I would be sitting here in Cayambe, Ecuador, rose capital of Latin America, home of local specialty “bizcochos” and dulce de leche. But just this morning I spent two hours in the back of a camioneta (pickup truck) driving up the snow-capped Mount Cayambe on a muddy, pothole-filled road to a school located in the absolute remotest place possible. If you had asked me last year, I would have said that right now I would be hanging out with friends in my dorm, in the midsts of semester number two of college, starting a week of shopping for classes after Spring Break. Well, hey, I’m not. I know this for certain because as I am writing this, my host brother is screaming at me in (very loud) Spanish to get a move on to the soccer stadium.
And it’s been a long six months. This sounds cheesy, but we really have been through so much together. I remember the first weekend I was living with the Pazmin᷉o-Orbes, they took me to a family gathering for the “Dia de los Difuntos.” I don’t remember much about that particular fiesta, but I’m certain of one thing; it was extremely uncomfortable. I’ve come so far since that awkward beginning: the lack of Spanish, the ignorance of a foreign culture, the uncertainty of living with a new family… Nowadays, I eat guinea pig without a second thought, truly enjoy Ecuadorian reality TV (previously detestable), and even ask for the blessing from my host-father at night, just like my siblings do. A few momentous things I’ve experienced with my host-family:
– Burning the “old year” away in the form of a life-sized doll on New Year’s Eve;
– Driving across the country at 2am on a religious pilgrimage, in order to make the 6am mass;
– Attending the baptism of my niece and nephew;
– The intense water and foam battle that ensued during Carnaval;
– Bringing my biological family to Cayambe;
– And the list goes on…
And now that the experience is finally coming to a close, my host-mother has taken to talking about “when you leave…” For so long, it’s been some vague future moment, but it’s increasingly becoming a reality that I will have to face. Not “eventually,” but “soon.” Four days, to be precise. So answer me this: how are you supposed to say goodbye to a family that opened their doors and their hearts to you, some foreign gringa, for six months?
Do you buy a gift, write a card, throw a party? I mean seriously, what on earth truly translates what they’ve done for me? I’m having a lot of trouble communicating how much they mean to me. My mom was my best friend here in Ecuador, and the times spent laughing around the dinner table with Xavi and Tebin are countless. I honestly am still pretty unsure about how to go about doing it, but I hope that when it comes to it, my family will understand what they mean to me and how thankful I am for this year.