It was challenging but great! I lived with a lovely host family, had two host brothers and awesome host aunts, struggled at first with Spanish, worked in a school as a co-teacher, tutored kids in a women’s shelter, my closest Ecuadorian friends were probably the teachers, I loved the diversity of the country and got overfed…
...is what my standard answer has been for the past weeks to the question: “How was Ecuador?”. In reality it’s very difficult for me to answer this question because of three reasons mainly. The first one is that I have no answer yet. I just came back from Ecuador and eight months filled with experiences and emotions is a lot to digest and can’t be put into three sentences. I will need time to be clear myself and to then share my experience with others, though I know, that I will never be able to exactly convey to others how I really felt in Ecuador. The second reason is that many people in Europe don’t know much about Ecuador. Hence, they will perceive Ecuador through the information I give them, which puts a lot of pressure on me, as I don’t want to misrepresent Ecuador. The last reason is that some people expect me to either start talking about the poverty in Ecuador with a tear in my eyes or assume that I fell in love with Ecuador and think that I will speak about it as if it’s heaven on earth.
Since I got back I have been feeling guilty that I was not speaking about Ecuador with shining eyes and passion in my voice. Why can’t I just talk about all the things that I love about Ecuador and give people what they want to hear? Why do I often not feel like sharing information about my experience? What is going on?
Then last night it all got clearer. I wasn’t able to fall asleep. Therefore, for the first time since I had left my host community, I stopped thinking and managed to just feel. I finally allowed myself to feel what was deep inside me and this was when I realised that I felt upset. I couldn’t understand why. I was back with my family and friends, I was doing nice things, eating amazing food and was living a very privileged life style, why was I feeling so upset?
During all the busy activities from packing my things, saying bye to everyone and leaving Ecuador, finishing my experience with the program in the US, coming back to Brussels to see my family, friends and study for university exams, I thought that I was happy or at least content with what I was doing. But last night I realized that right now I am just not happy.
I tend to analyse my thoughts and feelings and be my own shrink, which is why I attempted to understand why I wasn’t happy in order to make myself happy again. So when I was wondering why I was feeling upset, suddenly my time in Ecuador popped up, and this was when tears started running down my face. All this time I thought that I had gotten over leaving Ecuador because I had learnt to always just move on. When something is over, move on. If this makes you upset, also move on to not be upset anymore. Sounds rational, right? In Europe we often get taught to plan for the next thing to happen and make sure to move on. Move on. Move on. Never stop, don’t even consider stopping, just move on! But yesterday evening, the pain in my heart made me realise that I have to stop for a moment, not think but be be still and feel and that it is okay to be sad. By leaving Ecuador I left part of my identity there, and I left my second home. So yesterday I was completely honest to myself, opened up my heart and let everything out:
I realized I deeply
… miss my host family;
… miss joking around with my students and secretly sharing gum with them;
… miss my host brothers screaming and jumping into my arms when I arrived at home;
… miss having bread and coffee with the teachers and laughing five minutes later than them because I finally got the joke;
… miss my eldest host aunt sharing the gossip of everyone in town and very personal stories about her with me, watching with her a law show, baking with her and her asking me about my love life;
… miss tamales, bolones, quimbolitos, empanadas, salchipapa, sopa (esp. quinoa soup!), almuerzos (2 course lunch with a juice for 2 dollars!), avocados (from my host cousin’s house!), having watermelon, strawberries, pineapple and papaya for breakfast… and sometimes I even miss Ecuadorians obsession to cuy (guinea pig!);
… miss stopping at my host aunts’ tienda (shop) before going home, to get an ice cream and have a chat with them;
… miss being challenged by people’s views, which are often so wildly different to mine;
… miss waking up and being surrounded by hills everywhere. The Andes mountain range is truly gorgeous!
…miss my host dad asking me the same questions and putting on a white shirt every day, because courtesy and appearance matter a lot to him;
… miss listening to my host mum’s stories about how it was for her to be a teacher in an Ecuadorian school and then sharing my stories with her, and us being able to connect on this level.
… miss listening to Esther and Martha, the two ladies that led the women’s shelter, because they feel so passionate about their work;
… miss hearing reggaeton everywhere.;
… miss being able to go hiking in beautiful areas and just having to pay 1-2 $ to get to lakes and waterfalls;
… miss chatting with Gabi, our Spanish teacher, about the crazy things that just happened to us and her giving us brilliant advice. She was our Spanish teacher and life coach at the same time;
… miss being able to consider if I want to take a night bus to wake up the next day at the beach or maybe in the Amazon rainforest;
… miss walking on Cuenca’s beautiful streets.
… miss hanging out with my Global Citizen Year friends because we could relate to each other on so many levels;
… miss this exciting feeling of standing out. It could be tiring but at the same time it allowed me to feel comfortable with not fitting in;
… miss dancing to Ecuadorian traditional music with my host dad and my host uncle and going to parties in my community, where we would walk in a circle and clap for 2 hours because that’s how some Ecuadorian communities like to dance;
… miss having pinadas at birthday parties;
…miss dancing with my students and feeling like a zumba teacher;
… miss the random breaks we would have at my school to watch a football game or just play bingo;
… miss seeing things from a new perspective, not always looking through the lense of a Westerner;
… and miss just being there. Just having this feeling of normality, in a place that a year ago I barely new anything about and is so different to back home.
This list could go on and on and what I realised last night, is that I don’t speak about Ecuador with shining eyes and passion in my voice because I would then realize that I am in a stage that I deeply miss it all. Having left this country makes me feel heartbroken because I will never be part of my community in Southern Ecuador like I used to be. And that hurts because it’s always going to be part of me. So when you ask me “How was Ecuador?”, I still struggle with what to answer for the reasons mentioned in the first paragraph, but even more importantly for the reason that I set out later: If I dare to open up and really tell you about my feelings, tears will run down my face. Ecuador means so much more to me than all the funny, serious and exciting stories that I could share with you. Ecuador means home to me. Indeed, a part of me is still in Ecuador. That is what I realised when I couldn’t sleep last night and let my feelings show. I will need some time to cope with this.
Thus, I do want to talk about Ecuador but don’t expect me to be able to give you in 5 minutes an accurate answer yet. And if you actually want to hear “How Ecuador was?”, hence if you are really interested in my experience, I would be more than happy to share it. But we should then sit down together and speak for a couple of hours. Any three sentence answer would always leave me with a feeling of frustration and it would not give you a true insight into my year abroad.