As some of you might have heard, as of last Sunday, I have been evacuated out of my town because of the nearby volcano Tungurahua, which has been erupting beautifully lately. I’m now staying at a hotel waiting for the “orange alert” to be taken down so that I can go back home to my town, my work, and my family. I recently just got off the phone with my host family, who is still in Penipe, and they are eager for me to come home. My host parents assured me that all was fine in the town and that I should just come on back; my host sisters expressed their anxiety wondering exactly where I was and exactly what I was doing; my host grandfather informed me of the current progress in the town election; and my host grandmother cried.
My grandmother’s name is Anita, but I call her Mama Anita. She’s 74 years old. She spends her days working around the house, maintaining our small farm with her husband, taking care of her mother-in-law, and gossiping with her sisters who live next door to us. Of all the people I’ve met in Ecuador, I’d say she is the one person I have bonded with most. She introduces me to people as her daughter, and takes great pride in the fact that I eat everything she cooks for me. She laughs more than anyone I’ve ever known, but she also cries more than anyone I’ve ever known.
I will never forget the first time I saw her cry when I left for my first training seminar after a week of living in my family. Or the time we were home alone when I was sick and she told me the entire story of how she met her husband and got married, plus the story of all three marriages of her sons. She brings me tea in bed and washes my socks when I’m not looking. Needless to say, I will miss her very much when I return home in two months (I’m tearing up writing about it). I’m very excited to introduce her to my own grandmother, who is coming with my family the 17th of February. I feel they have a lot in common, even if they can’t even communicate with each other.
I think it’s safe to say that I can attribute a large chunk of my spanish learning to Mama Anita. She was never afraid to tell me long complicated stories and she never used the slow, loud baby-talk spanish other members of my family often used with me. Listening to her was so very useful. In this way, I appreciate all my conversations with older members of my community. Often the emphasis is placed on finding a young spanish-speaking teen that I can hangout with and learn all the lingo from. While this isn’t bad, often overlooked are the conversations and relationships with elders that have proven to be so valuable to me.
For example, as I was sitting waiting for the bus out of Penipe Sunday, an old man wobbled up to the bench using two canes, sat down, and then proceeded to tell me the entire story of how he got to have such bad knees. It’s much better told in spanish, but basically when he was young, he was working on a truck with lots of other young men in the Amazon. The truck wrecked and the men were thrown from the truck “patos arriba” (feet up). He broke his knees and a part of his spine. Someone got him to the closest doctor, which happened to be in Penipe, and the doctor operated on him. He told me about how much pain he was in and how he had to hold in the pain and not tell the doctor because he didn’t want to be seen as a sissy. Then, we both laughed and gawked when he told me that the doctor had charged him 5 sucres (25,000 sucres = 1 USD).
Older people have so so many stories that they are just waiting to tell anyone willing to listen – this is true in Ecuador, the US, and all the world. They’re always up to give you advice and words of wisdom. Mama Anita tells me I got sick because I didn’t wear socks in the morning and mint tea will cure you of anything if you take it lying down. And the old man with bad knees also shared stories of the ghosts that lived in his house on the hill. Although, we sometimes see their ideals as outdated or inapplicable, I assure you that there’s usually always something to gain by just listening to what they have to tell you.