The Power of Chocolate

 Ever since I was little, chocolate has been an integral part of my diet.
I’m up to eat chocolate at any time, any day, whether it be chocolate
cake for breakfast, ice cream for an afternoon snack, or chocolate
pudding cake instead of lunch. In the winter, I almost always drink a
cup of hot cocoa when I get home from school; my sister Allison and I
would drop our backpacks in the front hall and walk straight to the
milk frother where we concocted the foamiest, chocolatiest, most
delicious cup of hot cocoa imaginable before beginning our homework.


This past Saturday, I stood outside of my Spanish class’s building,
waiting for my host parents to arrive and take me to my new home. All
of the other fellows had already left with their parents, and mine
were an hour late. With all of this extra time to think by myself, my
mind ran through every possible host-family-gone-wrong scenario, and
I became outrageously nervous about my new living situation.


When my host dad finally arrived, I was slightly relieved. For the rest of
the afternoon, I organized my new closet, sat in my room, and read a
bit. I talked to my host parents with timid Spanish, but I can’t
remember the specifics—living in a new home, where everyone speaks
a foreign language, with parents who treat you like the daughter
they’ve always wanted and shower you with attention and affectionate
phrases that you only partially understand is overwhelming…wonderful and comforting,

but still overwhelming. I was wound up, super nervous, and on the verge of a breakdown.


Then, when it was time for dinner, my host mom gave me a cup of steaming
hot milk and a croissant. She poured two heaping spoonfuls of
chocolate powder and two of brown sugar into the mug, and handed me
the spoon, gesturing for me to stir. With the first sip of chocolate,
my shoulders relaxed and I finally felt like I could breathe, despite the altitude. As I sipped
my drink and ate my bread, I didn’t feel as overwhelmed and worried
that I could only understand every third word as my host mom and her
friend chatted.


For the following days, I followed a busy schedule of Spanish classes,
Global Citizen Year classes, and zumba (My host mom loves going to
the gym, and after classes I meet her there and we do zumba together.
It’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds—me, a six foot tall gringa,
trying to salsa/merengue/twerk to Rhianna with fourty other five
foot tall ecuadorian moms.), but I always ended my day with a warm
cup of chocolate.

Every time I sit at the kitchen counter with my host mom as we watch
Combate! (basically American Ninja Warrior with Ecuadorian celebrities) and drink
chocolate, I think of how my grandmother in the USA drinks a mug of hot cocoa at night
during the winter, and how Allison and I always drink one with her
when we visit. Or how it feels to be sitting on the couch with my
family, drinking hot cocoa on a snow day.


Recently, I’ve been branching out from drinking hot chocolate every night (I
eat so much dairy in one day it’s unreal). My host mom makes me a
cup of guayusa, which is a tea that’s common only in El oriente, where
she grew up. This tea is delicious, and it has a calming effect on me—afterwards, I feel
más tranquilla and am able to focus better.


Now, on days when embracing the Quiteño lifestyle comes easily, I sip guayusa and chat
eagerly with my host parents about politics, the economy, or
religion. I am grateful that my host mom has shared this rich drink
with me, and it has become my favorite Ecuadorian treat. But on days
when everything about living here in Ecuador is difficult, I ask my
host mom to heat up some milk and I drink a steaming mug of
chocolate, savoring every sip.