I feel rituals coming on like a cold. When my lungs get heavy with exhaust walking down America ave. When I wake up and Patricia is in the kitchen with her back to me, singing to herself. When I coddle a cup of sweet black coffee at the table, watching Pichincha illuminate and its radio towers morsel the sky.
It’s a strange feeling. A week in and already, like memories, old rituals are replaced with new ones. They sing in the same key as their predecessors. I still press snooze three times. I still wake up when the house is silent and blue with new light. I still brush my teeth before breakfast.
Quito is a new city to me. It’s got worn pastel houses and florists and garage-sized store fronts. But I’m learning to move through it like home. I know which streets I like and which ones I want to explore. I watch the faces in the speeding busses like I used to in Oakland.
Before we arrived here we were prepared for culture shock. We were told we might see things we couldn’t or didn’t want to understand. We were told we might get homesick. But quick comfort stings too.
I didn’t think it would be easy to acclimate to the culture, to the altitude, to the language. I’m still getting used to it all. But I find myself on the computer, looking at the pictures and updates of near-strangers and friends and I think, “the world keeps spinning.” The one I built for myself in the United States already feels so far away.
I keep five photographs by my bed:
1. Breakfast at Caffe Mediterraneum.
2. An out of focus polaroid of my brother at 5, freckled with metallic bear stickers.
3. My aunt with her arm around me, 16 in a jean jacket, goatee and frizzy dreadlocks.
4. My mother in her late-twenties, smiling.
5. Me at 3, pidgeon-toed in a loose sweater and candy-colored shorts.
These photographs are not just nostalgia. They’re weights. They remind me that every new ritual is the product of a past one. Yes, the world keeps spinning but once I was from somewhere. Once, I learned to set an alarm, to drink coffee, to walk at this pace and to speak this way. Once, I learned them from my friends and parents. Once, I began a ritual. It changed but never stopped no matter where I went.
In two weeks I leave Quito. I will arrive in a new province, live with a new family. And, some morning, days or months later, I will press snooze three times, wake up in the cold blue light, and watch the world illuminate with those weights near my bed. There to remind me of the places I’ve left, the places I’m going, and the rituals I’m still learning.