Stretching, but not tearing

Henry Duerr - Ecuador


September 3, 2016

Here I am.

I have been in country for exactly a week now, and so much has already transpired.

Take for example, this morning:

Around 8 o’clock, there was a 4.4 magnitude earthquake. It took place no more than 100 kilometers from Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and the city in which I currently reside.

I slept through it.

I’m not even kidding. My first natural disaster, and I can’t even by bothered to get out of bed. While the city is undamaged, it was still an exciting start to the weekend. However, the metric of excitement here is very different from the one I grew up with. Every day, I witness, experience, and partake in events that I would never have even dreamed of had I remained in the U.S.

Each day, I awake around 6:30, and eat a bowl of fruit kindly placed out by my host father, Rafael. Rafael has a somewhat reserved manner, but once you get him going, he’s nothing but fun. Also, he can out eat me without even breaking a sweat, which is no mean feat. From our house, I walk a block or two to the bus stop.

This is the part where it all goes to hell.

Normally, I don’t do cities, and I certainly don’t do public transportation. Having to address more than a dozen individuals at any time is outside my comfort zone. But that’s what this year is all about, yeah? I have to do things that make me feel uncomfortable, even scared, to truly immerse myself in this culture and mature. That’s how we grow as people. So each day, I dive head first into adventure.

Turns out, adventure is a lot harder when you don’t speak the language. I get lost on almost a daily basis. To look at it in a glass-half-full kind of way, I get to see new and exciting parts of the city every day. To look at it the other way, I am a foolish gringo who can’t even use the bus correctly.

I’m ok with that. I have much to learn. I have learned much already, but there is so much more that escapes me. Sometimes, I don’t even know what I don’t know. At PDT, we referred to this as “unconscious incompetence”. This is bound to happen in any new situation.

After an hour of being crushed into sardine-can like conditions, I mange to arrive at EIL, the local school where I undergo 4 hours of rigorous Spanish lessons. Highly engaging, check. Super practical, also check. Tooth gnashingly difficult, double check. It is an extremely humbling experience to have less linguistic capability than the average 5 year old.

From the EIL, I head to the Parque de Carolina, where I convene with the rest of my GCY Ecuadorian cohort. It is from these people who I draw the majority of my strength. The creativity, humor, and humility that they approach our shared situation with is inspiring. As a cohort, we receive training on Ecuadorian culture, history, and society from our incredible and accommodating team leaders.

Give or take 2 hours for me to wander home, and thats nearly a wrap on my day. I eat dinner with my family: the aforementioned Rafael, my host sister, and her daughter, Selma. Selma is nearly 2 years old, so she’s a great partner to practice my Spanish with. More oft than not, she outpaces me in the conversation.

All of this, and so much more, is terrifyingly new. Yet somehow, strangely familiar. Looking back on the week, it feels as if I have been here for a month. The city is still holds a sense of hostility, but I am confident enough to go out and do my best to thrive.

A quick note on Quito: It is incredibly beautiful here. The people are wonderful and inviting, and there is no shortage of things to do. That being said, it is a large population center in Latin America. Sometimes at night, I hear gunfire spray across the city. Sometimes I have to run from packs of feral dogs. Sometimes, the very food I eat makes me ill. Yet more often than not, I hear bachata music drifting across the valley. More often than not, I make a new canine friend each day. More often than not, the street food I voraciously consume is a delicious and healthy window into Ecuadorian culture and cuisine.

Each day, this city takes my breath away. Part of that might have to do with the fact that I am nearly 2 miles above sea level, but I like to think of it differently.

In summary, I have been thrust out of my comfort zone, and into a strange and foreign world. Sometimes its hard. Yet each day is incredibly rewarding. This past week, I have grown more than I did in the past 6 months. Only by removing myself from comfort and routine was I able to undergo this explosive personal growth. Getting out of the stagnation that is my comfort zone has thrown me into my stretch zone. It calls for greater intelligence, strength, empathy, and spirit than anything else I have undergone. When I wake up, I don’t know what the future holds.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Henry Duerr