Something From Nothing

Ecuador made world news last week.

Subsidies on gasoline were eliminated nationwide in efforts to liberalize the fuel market and strike a deal with the International Monetary Fund. Gas prices abruptly increased. Transportation strikes broke out across the country, impacting communities and interrupting systems across the board. As a result, I have been in a stand fast since last Thursday. 

Almost nothing about what I am doing with my life right now feels normal. It feels right, but far from normal. While my friends at home navigate weekend parties and the closest whole foods market, I am learning to navigate the bus from Cuenca to Bella Union. When my friends are studying in the library on Sunday mornings, I am most likely milking cows and chasing calves across a hidden field in Ecuador. But I like it this way. I was finally beginning to figure it out– when the buses run to Santa Ana, where to buy the best bread, how to exist here. Something about my life was starting to resemble a new type of normal, one that combined old comforts with the new way of living that I am adopting. Just as I started to fall into a routine, I fell unexpectedly out of it. 

Right now, the green buses– our primary source of transportation– do not run through my community. Roads are frequently blocked off in both directions. The large collectives of kids who regularly come sprinting from every direction to catch the bus for school have no reason to because classes have been canceled nationwide since last Thursday. Shops have been closed, streets quieter than usual, and a soft but constant tension wavers in my house from the breakfast table to dinnertime. In a more serious context and consequential way, it feels like I am experiencing a week's worth of snow days. I have nowhere to be, no means of leaving my community, an abundance of time and no defined schedule. 

So what do you do? You get used to doing a whole lot of nothing. 

You do your laundry. You pick up a journal or curl up with a book. You indulge in knockoff Nutella and rice cakes while working on Debrief Circle prep from your newly-discovered balcony. You sit at the same wooden table outside of the restaurant for hours, and hours, and hours. You peel potatoes and take long walks through the countryside. You sit at the restaurant a little (a lot) more and check WhatsApp a little too often. 

Then, something strange and unexpected happens. You start to find enjoyment in the rhythmic peeling of buckets of potatoes. You savor the occasional ray of warm sunlight while hanging your clothes to dry on the terrace. You are carried away by the breathtaking view that you didn't even know existed until your walk in a new direction. From all of this time at home, surrounded by the same company all day, you learn more about your family– slowly, subtle shades of character that only reveal themselves through integration begin to emerge. Somehow, all of this time spent doing nothing starts to become something. 

I am realizing that my family is familiar with making something out of nearly nothing, as well. When the doors of the panaderia next door were closed last Thursday afternoon, the locale tabletops transformed into an empanada laboratory. Eight-year-old Camila danced around the kitchen while gathering ingredients from the cabinets. Mariela, my older sister, stirred the contents into a plastic bowl with vigor until a beautiful ball formed. We spent the afternoon wrapping homemade cheese into pockets of dough and frying them on the stovetop. Or when the buses stopped running and camionetas nowhere in sight, my sister did not complain once of having to walk to milk the cows instead of hitching a ride into the valley. I followed along with Jessica and her husband on a lengthy trek down the mountain and marveled as they carried five-gallon jugs of milk on their backs all the way home. In spite of the current wave of turbulence in Ecuador, my family finds a way to make life go on. 

I understand that musing about the small, personal moments of my life during a national crisis is indicative of clear privilege, to which I am aware of and fully accept. I read about the manifestations occurring in other communities and the big cities. I feel for the significant portion of the population who are disproportionately affected by the drastic hike in prices. I try my best to follow the conversations at the dinner table and better understand what is happening. However, my immediate perspective is principally limited to the little community of which I am a part, and my experience is but one of millions that are playing out during this complex conflict. I want to see the light at the end of the tunnel because, at times, it feels like it will never emerge. 

In the meantime, aside from working to become a more understanding person and educate myself on the social and political issues at play, I'll be finding flow while peeling potatoes and looking forward to morning walks. I am learning how to make something out of a whole lot of time spent doing nothing, and I'm just a little bit better because of it.