The short answer: yes and no.
Every time I introduce myself to someone new, I explain that I’m here until April, living with a host family in Quiroga and interning at Radio Pública Cotacachi. Usually, the stranger asks, “¿Te gustas el Ecuador?” Sometimes, I just answer, “sí.” Other times, I’m more honest: “Hay cosas que me gustan y cosas que no me gustan.”
There are things I like and don’t like about the U.S., and the same is true of Ecuador. I don’t like the puffs of diesel fumes that follow trucks, but it’s magical to watch clouds descend in front of volcanoes.
Taken on my running route
If I can’t smell diesel, I can probably smell fresh bread wafting from bakeries on every corner. But there’s only ever one vegan option, and it also happens to be the only whole-wheat option. It’s yummy, but seriously, one? On our almost nightly walks to the bakery, one host sister gets a giant piece of three-layer cake; another, a cookie the size of her face. Free hot coffee is served in plastic cups. (Hot beverages! In plastic cups!)
I don’t like hiding my phone in my money belt beneath my shirt when I run. Pretending to throw rocks to scare off street dogs hasn’t made me any faster. I miss walking around Framingham and Boston and not worrying about getting mugged. I wish I didn’t have to use a spoonful of palm—always palm—oil for every pancake because the pan is the opposite of non-stick; it’s hella-stick.
One of GCY’s favorite sayings is “curiosity before judgement.” I’m afraid the best I’ve been able to accomplish is curiosity along with judgement.
That said, there are things I like that I never expected: the light switches have little orange lights so you can find them in the dark, and I’ve formed a secret bond with our outdoor cat because I never shoo her back outside. (She reminds me of my cat at home, whose name is Randy but we all just call “the cat.” This cat has a name, so I’ve heard, but we just say “el gato.”) The view from my giant bedroom window never gets old. This has been a sort of sabbatical for me, given that I’ve spent more time reading and writing than I ever did in high school (it’s still weird to refer to high school in the past tense). It’s fun to play Lori McKenna and Sean McConnell on 93.5 fm for all of Imbabura to hear, especially since the radio has no way of telling how many people are tuning in. Someone called in a request during Monday’s show, which made my day. I like the colors of the buildings and sidewalks in Cotacachi, and Pandala, the vegan bakery/cafe where I’ve started helping out on Tuesdays. Heck, I could ride these buses back and forth for hours—with bathroom breaks, of course.
Some fellows stopped by when Surabhee and I were working at Pandala. I don’t know who’s more beautiful—Avry or the blueberry pancakes I made.
If culture shock is getting irrationally frustrated at the little things—Why say “ya viene” when that could mean ten minutes or three hours? Why is my host mom pointing out that an indigenous family is putting food on a grave when I have two perfectly good eyes? Why am I the only one eating vegetables at lunch?—then consider me officially culture-shook. Why is ketchup sold in gallon jugs while milk is sold in bags? Why are there no bath mats? Why are my host parents always telling the three-year-old to eat faster, eat nicely, when we’re in no hurry? (Besides, how is she supposed to eat nicely with a spoon the size of her fist?) On a walk yesterday, I reminded myself to take a deep breath; it was nothing. But then a truck drove by and I got a good whiff of diesel.
At the cemetery for Día de los Difuntos
t’s disconcerting that I’m not attached yet. Previous fellows’ final blogs talk of leaving their hearts behind, promising to return to the home they made in the mountains. By the time I go home, I want to feel like I’m leaving a piece of my heart in Ecuador. But if I were to pick up and leave tomorrow, I wouldn’t have any trouble cutting ties. I’m left wondering if and when I’ll get attached. I like my host family, but will I ever truly love them? Will I look forward to going to the radio? In the spring, will I regret having spent so much time alone, writing?
Maybe I need to forget my ideas of how this year would go. Maybe I won’t get attached, and maybe that’s okay.
Having said all of this, I am content. There are moments when I’m irritated, moments when I miss my mom, moments when I want to stuff my face with Oreos (which are widely available here, thankfully). Sometimes, walking through Cotacachi on my way to work, I feel like I’m here with a purpose.
Given the chance, I wouldn’t go home early or undo my decision to come. I didn’t come because it would be easy; I came to do something different, to get out of Massachusetts for a bit. That said, at our last retreat, we were tasked with writing vision statements. I realized that I have all my reasons for coming in the first place: to live abroad, to practice my Spanish, to get a greater sense of the world. But I never thought about my reasons for staying. At this point, I’m staying to finish what I started. Because going home would mean working retail, and because I’m not a quitter. Because I’ll never get this opportunity again. After all, I used to get really excited before every school break, and when I got home, I wondered what exactly I had been looking forward to.
We spent three days on a retreat in the Tropical Andes
Last Thursday afternoon, when I got home from our retreat in Intag, my host mom and I told each other about our weeks: what we did, the weather. I opened the cabinet to grab a snack, and she’d bought me bread from Pandala and a pack of Oreos.
A report took me three hours into the mountains to the community of Piñán.
I’ve been cooking every now and then. I had the crazy idea of baking empanadas because, shocker, not everything has to be fried. My host aunt asked if these were raw. So… yeah.
Moments before Bruce somehow flicked the beetle 10 feet away and proceeded to sniff around, confused
A bagel place in Ibarra! The owner lived in NY for a bit, so these are actual bagels. (Notice the ¿Qué es un bagel? sign.)