The Foreignness within the Normalcy, The Normalcy within the Foreignness

Emily Soule - Ecuador

November 21, 2012

I feel the stories I share should be filled with pithy anecdotes and cultural insights. Yet all I have to offer is normalcy. Life does not change from one hemisphere to the other. Relationships, societies, human beings – they mesh and flow in similar collisions, no matter the place. My life here in Ecuador feels…normal. That surprises me.

The day before I left Quito for my community of Santa Fe de Galan, I was a mess of panicky nerves. I did not know the nature of my apprenticeship nor did I have the confidence to live with “not knowing.” Although wary of having expectations about Ecuador, I had not considered my expectations for Global Citizen Year.  When reviewing the program timeline in August, I thought In-Country Orientation* would be a mere blip in my forthcoming adventures. It was not the “real reason” I had come to Ecuador. It was only a month – too short to have an impact on me.

This is where I erred. I had underestimated the overwhelming value of the so-called interim steps. While I prepared myself to make one home amidst this swirling diversity of land and life, I ended-up having to make two. Despite only lasting one month, Quito was its own adventure. I had a different host family, different challenges and a different, faster pace of life. I never expected to grow so accustomed to the place or have so many memories to leave behind. One day at a birthday party with my family, I remember thinking, “I could live here and be happy.” It is a thought which has yet to leave me.

My time in Quito and the past week and a half in Santa a Fe de Galan have been a continuous lesson in humanity’s amazing capacity for adaption.* Just as I settled into the capital, I can feel myself settling into this countryside community (despite my original “mess of panicky nerves*”). It struck me most the first time I went to Riobamba* for my weekly Spanish class – after only a week in the countryside, the buildings already seemed larger and the traffic more hectic. I do not mean to imply that adaptation means acceptance –I still feel the foreignness of my current life. However, amidst all my foreign surroundings, there is always something familiar. There is always something to remind a person of home.

Quito was a haze of public transit, sounds into the odd hours of the night, and a heightened sensitivity to the people bumping into you on the bus. I had never lived in a city before. Never had to commute with public transit or take precautions to walk the streets. But the stores stocked the same shampoo brands. The televisions played a translated The Big Bang Theory. My host family had a house with hallways, a gloriously warm shower and an oven. I would go out with friends, spend my daylight hours in Spanish school and have homework. There was a McDonald’s in the mall. There was a mall.

Santa Fe de Galan, however, reminds me of home in ways that the westernized Quito never could. I wake up to birdsong here and green grass. I fall asleep to the silence of the occasional dog rather than the swirl of sirens and music. My feet plod that archetypal route of walking to and from a school for my apprenticeship.* Instead of concrete streets and gated houses, here I have a yard. A dog. A defined, close-knit community which has the potential to know me, rather than just me knowing the community. Here in the countryside of Chimborazo, I cook my meals over a fire, use stumps as chairs, and lack both insulation and internet. I speak a different language with a different accent* and eat guinea pig. These aspects of my current life are all undoubtedly foreign to me; however I cannot forget that this strangeness exists alongside a certain type of normalcy. In Ecuador, I am living a strange, normal life because – it is still my life. I am still being Emily.

It’s all I have ever known.



*In-Country Orientation: Upon immediately arriving in country, we spent four weeks (interspersed with one week for a site visit to our permanent communities) living in the capital of Ecuador, Quito. While there we attended daily Spanish classes at the Experiment in International Living (EIL), had sector specific training for our apprenticeships, lived with host families, volunteered, and participated in lectures at a local university and the American Embassy to learn more in depth about the country.

* Thanks for all the prayers.

* Sorry, that sentence made me laugh. Talking about humans’ ability to adapt to changes in environment while living in the country that plays host to the Galapagos. Nerd joke. Just saying…

* Riobamba is the capital city of the province, Chimborazo and the closest city to my community, Santa Fe de Galan.

* I am working at the local school in my community to help augment English classes and teach Environmental Conservation classes to the students as well as students from other schools.

* The Spanish spoken in the countryside has a different accent from the Spanish spoken in the city. It also isn’t helpful that I was taught the dialect of Spanish spoken in Spain which has many variations from the Spanish used in my town.

The following pictures are from both Quito and Santa Fe.


Emily Soule