Surviving to Thriving

With my eyes closed, I allow the smells, touch and sound of the experience
to fill my senses and dominate my thoughts. The smoke in the room is thick,
almost suffocating, overwhelming my nose with an earthy, floral fragrance
that seems to travel throughout my entire body with each inhale. I focus on
the sensation of the leaves, flowers and stems brushing across my skin. I
stifle an inevitable giggle and grin when the bouquet tickles across my
underarm, but it quickly disappears when the motion changes and I feel
instead a sharp sting as the plants suddenly slap across my back and
Vicenta’s soft murmur transforms into a powerful chant.

The force of the words is nearly tangible, and I imagine a crackling energy
originating in the air around me before reverberating through my body. The
sounds, along with the movements, are strong enough to leave the sensation
that something within is being pushed back out into the world. The result
is not an emptiness as I might have expected; instead it is a lightness, a
newfound freedom of the soul.

It takes a few moments to regain the consciousness needed to reconnect my
body with my mind, and it is with mild embarrassment that I realize it is
now silent, and Vicenta is patiently waiting for me to open my eyes. She
gently splays my fingers and places a small pile of herbs and leaves in my
hand. Her warm, wise voice tells me to share *mis deseos, mis sueños, mis
metas*. She briefly leaves the room as I, admittedly, push aside my
skepticism and begin to think about which of my desires, dreams and goals
to reveal to the unassuming dried plants in my palm.

I immediately surprise myself with what tumbles into my head. It is in this
moment that I realize that throughout these past few weeks I have been
censoring my own true thoughts and feelings in order to protect myself from
accepting my reality in Ecuador, thousands of miles from home and honestly
… struggling. I finally let myself focus on the questions that have
subconsciously been weighing me down. Could I really do this? Could I stay
in Ecuador for the next five months and find fulfillment? What if I
couldn’t overcome the challenges this year had already, and would continue
to, bring? Should I just have gone to college?

The brutal honesty of the thoughts passing through my mind is overwhelming,
and I know that I have to quickly reel in my brain before I spiral down
into a puddle of doubt, regret and discouragement. Instead, gaze fixed on
my open palm, I spin what I can of my sudden negativity into motivation and
say, “I want to thrive this year.”

Yes. Not survive, but thrive. While I was currently making it through each
day of my life here, it was never free from inner emotional turmoil that
was inhibiting my ability to fully enjoy and appreciate each day as a
learning and growing opportunity. After two rough months here, I had begun
to doubt that I would ever adjust to life in Ecuador and if it was worth
it. My first apprenticeship had been an unsuccessful match, and the search
for a new one had so far been unpromising, I felt isolated from the other
Fellows and people my age in a rural community, communicating with my
Spanish skills was still incredibly difficult, and I was skeptical of my
ability to stay and make this year productive and meaningful.

The sadness, frustration and my first real bout of homesickness had
culminated in a self-confidence crisis. What had* I *been doing wrong? *I
was in Ecuador!* I had always dreamed of having an opportunity like this,
and now I couldn’t even live in the moment because I was counting down the
days. Why were some of my peers seemingly doing just fine? In the depths of
my self-doubt, the only explanation I could muster was that I must not
possess the strength needed to make the most of this experience.

My head is still swimming when Vicenta, the medicine woman, re-enters the
room to finish my first ever* limpia*, or energy cleaning. She quickly
prepares a small fire in a bowl and directs me to toss in the dried herbs
and leaves that now harbor my all-encompassing dream for this year. We
stand together for a few seconds, transfixed by the flames before she
begins to walk around in a circle, blowing the embers so that the smoke
engulfs me. When it clears, Vicenta explains that she will use the ashes of
the fire to read my energy. I watch nervously as she carefully observes
before sharing her findings.

“Estas preocupada. Tienes miedo.” I swallow the burn of tears in my throat.
All I can do is nod. I *am* worried. I *am* afraid. I have no idea what my
future here in Ecuador holds. She gazes into the ashes for a few more
moments before continuing. She tells me in more detail that while I am
worried about accomplishing my goals, she can see that they will come to
fruition. She senses the strong family support in my life, from both back
home and here in Ecuador with my host family, and my heart swells.

She mentions that I specifically have a sister looking out for me, and I
immediately draw a connection to the words that my grandma has been telling
me for years when I need guidance and strength: “Your spirit sister is with

At this I realize tears have quietly slipped from the corners of my eyes,
and I wipe them away quickly, embarrassed by my vulnerability with a woman
I have only known for a few hours. But Vicenta’s eyes are kind and knowing,
and I let the next tears fall freely, bringing an immense sense of relief.

She doesn’t rush me as I gather myself and my things, and we make the short
walk from her room of beautiful alters to her office. Vicenta gestures for
me to sit in a chair across from her, and my mind is reeling, struggling to
find a logical explanation for this spiritual experience. She begins
rubbing an egg, still in its shell, over my face and arms before cracking
it into a glass of water. She lets the egg settle before analyzing the
shape of the yolk.

For the next half hour she precedes to reveal things about me with
astounding accuracy. She tells me things that I can barely admit to myself,
from my struggles to my flaws to my fears. It is unlike anything I have
ever experienced, and I end up astounded that someone whom I had told so
little about me could know so much.

Her feedback left me feeling more self-aware and empowered, and I reveled
in the waves of peace and contentment washing over me as I said goodbye to
Vicenta and began my trek to the bus stop. I realized in the days following
my *limpia* that I had more zeal for my life in Ecuador. And I couldn’t
wait to return to Vicenta’s house to learn about Andean natural medicine.

We had agreed that during my free time every Friday I would go to her house
as her intern and help her care for any patients as well as work in her
garden in order to learn more about the healing power of plants. It was the
perfect opportunity to supplement my next apprenticeship, and I found
solace in knowing that I would have time every week with this wonderfully
intuitive woman who I had a feeling would not only teach me about natural
medicine and Cañari culture, but also have plenty of advice and guidance to
offer as I continued navigating the difficulties of immersing myself in
Ecuador for the remainder of my gap year.

I write about this experience now because I know it was a turning point in
my attitude toward myself and my bridge year in Ecuador. I have regained
confidence and self-awareness, which allows me to understand myself better,
as well as grant myself forgiveness and compassion when I mess up, feel
lost, or simply hit rock bottom. I am slowly reconnecting with my original
excitement and purpose of *why* I decided to be a Global Citizen Year
Fellow, and I have begun to rebuild my faith in my own strength to carry me
throughout the remaining five months. It is a difficult process but I am
proud to say that every single day I am transitioning little by little from
surviving to thriving in Ecuador.

Thank you everyone for your love and support.❤️

Here are some pictures of just a few of the plants Vicenta and I have begun
to work with and her incredible garden:

I will send out another update on my life in Ecuador soon!

Meanwhile, enjoy these videos from my first two months here!




Also, I am still working on reaching my $2,500 fundraising goal for the
Global Citizen Year Scholarship Fund so that other students like me can
have the opportunity to afford a bridge year before college! I would
greatly appreciate any donation you are able to make! 🙂

*To donate click here: *

Con amor❤️,