Galen Burns-Fulkerson - Ecuador

April 17, 2012

Two weeks ago, I cried as I took my daily multivitamin. I’m not the kind of person who has trouble taking pills, and despite the size of my vitamins, I can usually get them down pretty easily. The last time I can remember crying about taking pills was when I was three or four and wanted “big kid vitamins” instead of the baby chewables. So you may wonder, why is this 18 year-old crying about taking her vitamins? The thing is, I brought approximately one for each day of my trip. I brought them in a clear zip lock bag. I cried that morning because I realized that I only had five weeks of vitamins left. Subtract the days that I will spend in Quito and in California re-entry training, and that left me with less than four weeks of vitamins that I would take in Pimampiro.

Four weeks may seem like a long time, and I kept reminding myself that it was. Before moving to Ecuador, four weeks was the longest time I had ever spent away from home. A lot can happen in four weeks, and I promised that I would appreciate each day that I have left here. However, after coming to love a place over six months, one month to say goodbye just didn’t seem like enough.

As I sat alone in my room, crying and thinking about leaving the life that I have made in Pimampiro, I realized that even though they made me cry, vitamins are a perfectly symbolic way to measure my time in Ecuador. Just like my vitamins, I took my days one by one and made sure not one passed without noticing (although there may have been a few days when I forgot to take my vitamins). Just like my vitamins, each day made me a little stronger, regardless of how good or bad it was. Some days went down easy, like the day I did art projects with senior citizens, went on an exhilarating truck ride through the mountains, and fell asleep watching a movie with my family. Some days were harder to swallow, like the day I came home from a trip to Quito to learn that my friend’s little cousin had died from cancer, that one of my students was in the hospital with a broken leg after a 12 year-old lost control of his giant motorcycle, and that a tractor-trailer race gone bad had left one girl dead and seven other people in the hospital, all in one terrible weekend.

Coincidentally, that evening was the scheduled meeting with the board members, who had taken time out of their busy schedules to come and see the Fellows work firsthand. The dinner that we shared with them in Otavalo was awesome, and it was so exciting to meet successful people who were truly interested in our work. As usual, our fearless leader Abby Falik had some good advice for us Fellows. As we all expressed our concerns about the time that seemed to be quickly slipping away, she gave us some simple but very helpful words of wisdom: “Make it long.”

Now, two weeks later, I still can’t believe that my time here is coming to a (temporary) close. There are still so many things that I want to do and so many goodbyes that I have to say. However, as I’ve kept Abby’s advice in mind and done my best to keep myself from focusing on April 10th (my departure date from Pimampiro), the days and weeks have gone by a little slower. Abby’s advice came at the perfect time. If I hadn’t taken a few moments at the board meeting to remind myself to be completely present in the coming weeks, I would have missed so many things. If all I had spent time thinking about was leaving, I wouldn’t have fully enjoyed the afternoon that I went to visit the new baby of a friend and ended up talking to her husband for an hour and a half about everything from popular stuff in the US to politics, or the hilarity of the situation when my host dad was offering me a pear and I thought he was cursing at me (the words for pear and a curse differ by one letter).

So, thank you Abby for reminding me to be present and that time can pass by me as quickly or as slowly as I want it to. And thank you Pimampiro, for giving me plenty of great moments with which to fill my time and plenty of great reasons to make my time pass as slowly as possible.

Galen Burns-Fulkerson