I take a deep breath, putting one foot in front of the other I open my mouth only to exploit the mild embarrassment my friend has over her plans to attend Yale next year. I look around and to my right see this mist covering a dense jungle, to my left, Lake Cuicocha, a volcanic lake nestled beneath the peak of the Cotacachi Volcano. Tucked in the middle are two islands rumored to hold wild cuy (Guinea Pigs), though most of the time traveling to the islands isn’t permitted. The hike around the rim would take us 4.5 hours and while everyone told us it was easy after the initial accent (see the right side of the photo), the hike around the rim would take us on an arduous climb up and down the valleys between Cotacachi and the lake. I’m thankful for my friends, we pushed each other and it worked out. At the end, I felt tired but content and the hike was fantastic. The picture below depicts Cuicocha from three hours in (snowy peak on the left is Cotacachi, the other volcano in the back is Imbabura, we started at the boathouse on the right side, beginning with a 2,000 ft ascent).
Sometimes immersion makes me feel like that kid sticking a cylinder into a square hole. As I’ve settled into this experience and begun to encounter the questions that will drive me through the next phase my life; I’ve come to a kinda a funny conclusion. This is messy.
I started to write this blog on a crowded bus back home from Ibarra (my hub city) about two weeks ago. The bus was running chronically late, as I had been that entire day, and I was trying to call my host parents to see if they could pick me up in Otavalo; but they were visiting some family in a small village without cell reception. That entire day hadn’t quite come together, between getting lost in Ibarra to letting my friend use my phone (I have two don’t worry) because his didn’t work I felt as stressed as I had ever felt in the US. But in that moment of insanity when all the parts weren’t quite fitting together, I realized that isn’t supposed to be simple, straightforward, or clear. This experience is messy, off-putting, and it isn’t always fun. It takes vision, drive, and will. If the past three months are at all indicative of the next four the road ahead is arduous but I still hold the strong conviction I made the right choice. I know deep down that this is work worth doing, and the little victories sprinkled in the sprawling daily failures remind me why I’m here, and I think they remind every fellow why we made this choice. But often times when this experience sucks there’s a net to catch us; first its' our fellow fellows, but then it's our team leaders, and I would like to take this moment to thank mine for a minute before she departs.
Carolina Salazar is one of those people who works too much for her own good. Quite frankly, I think we get along because we both love to work. But when you listen to her talk about something she’s working on and you think to yourself, damn that's a lot on top of GCY; that’s usually just one piece of a massive puzzle. She’s driven, solution-based, and a really inspiring leader. She knew how to hold us accountable when need be, let us fail a little, and provide both inspiration and the motivation to keep us on track. I want to thank her for everything she’s done for me, and everything she’s done for mis cumpaneros. Entonces, Caro, no hay las palabras suficientes a expresar mi profunda gratitud a usted, por su ayuda cuando era enfermo en Quito (antes de yo era tu fellito) y por su ayuda con mi vida en general, estoy emocionado de ver a la próxima parte de su vida; que lo paseas bien, no lo olvides que por trabajo no vivimos y deseo más que suerte.
*Photo from one of the retreats close to Cotacachi
In other news, life is good. Teaching English has been a really wild ride so far, though I’ve also been teaching math (if you know me you know how ironic it is). I generally teach students from 4th to 8th grade and I rotate co-teachers every day. I spend some afternoons in Otavalo and I’m currently working on starting a second apprenticeship with the Red Cross. My host family is doing well, we’ve gone on some road trips and we celebrated Ecuadorian Day of the Dead together by making Colada Morada (my favorite Ecuadorian drink) and cooking bread for quite literally 7 1/2 hours. My family told me this, but I didn’t believe them at first, and that was well… a mistake. After celebrating with their food we went on to celebrate mine. I invited some of my closest friends over to make American-style hamburgers and they didn’t turn out half bad. Skillet-cooked unfortunately but the meat was fresh and we grilled some onions to add on. The photo below was taken before we took some of my friends home, but from left to right, Dale, Maria, Olivia, and Henry.
The last thing I want to add is that if you’ve made it this far there’s a reward! I’m starting to put some of the photos I’ve taken here on my website (when the wifi works well enough to upload them (not often)), I’ll leave the link below but please feel free to share it! I’ll post it to other forms of social media and make a formal link soon but I thought I’d give you guys first peak. It only has one story and a couple photos on it right now but that’ll change as time goes on. I've left below the link some of the photos I hope to add in the future.
*My morning walk to work
*My Dog Oso (Short for Jealous in Spanish) or Gordo (Fat in Spanish) depending on who you ask; lying in my family's cornfield one morning while we plow the soil.
*My Host Parents (Fausto y Celeste) on Dia de Los Difuntos walking to the grave of my host Great Grandfather, he was buried in the "Saint's Graveyard" for having been a powerful community leader.
I love and miss you all. I’m sad to be missing Thanksgiving with my family, but we’re (the fellows) all getting together next week to cook some Thanksgiving dinner for ourselves. It feels weird to not be with my family though, and now as holidays are passing I’m becoming more acutely aware of the distance between me and home; but I think this is just part of growing up, making a new family to celebrate and give thanks with. I’m grateful to everyone who has gotten me to this point in my life, it seems like you’ve done a decent job, I haven’t killed anybody; and I’m thankful to my fellow fellows, without you guys I wouldn’t be here. As I said above this experience sometimes isn’t fun, but you’re always there to uplift and inspire me, I hope I do the same, so thank you guys for everything.
Talk to you soon,
Joseph Cole Hansen