Souveniring the Scene

Riobamba is like a surrealist painting. Dogs on roofs. Half-built, quarter-built structures, like big gray dollhouses. Farm animals along empty train tracks. Little boys in baseball caps playing in a dusty lot. Nameless streets.

Especially when the neighborhood is empty, cold and blue, I remember that I will remember this. I try to take the little details with me.

Then I try to forget them. It takes effort not to romanticize the world I live in now. It’s not a work of art for Magdalena, my host mom, or Pedro, my host dad, or Paul, my host brother. Sure, it’s beautiful sometimes because life can be like that. But it’s also the house they come home to every day after work and school. It’s the kitchen where they peel potatoes even when they’re tired. It’s the line and tub where they spend hours scouring and hanging clothes.

I have the luxury of seeing this city like art because I am temporary. I get to choose the details I see, which stories I tell, which beautiful images or sounds I souvenir. For my family this city is home, not a postcard or pretty letter. The baby crying at the end of the hall isn’t a funny story, isn’t a punchline. The potato soup for breakfast and dinner isn’t a cute detail. It’s life.

For every scene I have to step back and remember who was here first and who will be here last. This is not only my experience, to trinket and trade.

This is not my world. I’m just a part of it.