Life is like a fresh glass of milk. Squeezed directly from the utters of a gentle mother cow, it fills you with feelings of warmth. It brings, from the throbbing ache in your hands, a sense that your accomplishments are due to your work and your work alone. Sliding down your throat and into your stomach, it tastes, sometimes, like sweet victory. And then, when you least expect it, that fresh glass of milk takes you down with a vengeance. Leaving nothing in its wake, it consumes you, destroys you, and makes you wish you had never been born to drink it.
I cannot accurately depict my time here in Ecuador without noting the sweet victories I have had, and also the complete failures. I think there is a misconception about living abroad, one that I have had before, that every moment will be amazing, every hour there will be a new adventure, and every day will go down in your memory as one of the best days of your life. Simply put, that is never the case. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, there will always be something waiting to trip you up.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as roads paved with gold. There are rocky dirt roads with potholes the size of horses, dust so thick it threatens to consume you, and dogs just waiting to chase you off your path. For my first few weeks in Ecuador, this frightened me. I wanted to hit the ground running, free of doubts or fears. I, like most people, don’t like to let on that I am not immediately good at everything. I thought that admitting that I was struggling would mean that I would have to give up and go home. I had to open up to the idea that struggling does not indicate failure. After a month in Ecuador, and a fair amount of stumbling, I have begun to understand that it is not how well you begin a journey that matters, but how well you adjust to the obstacles along the way.
This being said, I don’t bask in the glory of my many failures. It is so difficult to see them all as learning opportunities as they are happening. It is hard, it is lonely, and it is sometimes impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But it is also worth it. If I had known that I would get a horrible infection in my intestines from a glass of freshly boiled chocolate milk, I might not have decided to drink it in the first place, but I would have been missing out. If I had known how difficult adjusting to life here would be, I might have decided to go straight to college, but I would have missed out on some of the most poignant and crucial lessons of my life thus far (such as don’t EVER drink unpasteurized milk).
I am trying my best to embrace that, with joy, will often come pain and, with pain, will often come joy. I am learning, through trial and error, that life is not only enjoying the milk, but also dealing with the horrible infection it brings you a few days later.