Welcome Back, Queso

Toluwani Roberts - Ecuador


February 15, 2018

My January and February have been bien full with travel. So far, I’ve adventured in Baños, Cuenca, Cañar, and recently, in Puyo, a community in the Amazon. There are so many stories to share; too many to fit into this post. Instead, I’ve decided to highlight a few moments.

Wed., Jan. 24 | Turucu

It had been 10 days, más o menos, since you’d been home. You spent the past 10 days in Cañar and Cuenca and Azogues. You hop off the bus into a sunny day. You have your bright, red hiking backpack on like a classic mochilera, except you’re done with travelling for the time being. You’re headed home. Finally. During the short 5 minute walk from the bus stop to your home, you become full with a feeling that’s both familiar and strange to you. You feel like… like it’s the beginning of summer, when everything’s a fresh type of warm and bright and you feel free. And there’s another feeling there, too. A feeling that reminds you of the first time you arrived to your host community back in September. What you feel is excitement and anticipation. Like the first time, you are filled with the possibilities of memories to create and love to share with your host family.

When you enter your home, you notice how green your backyard is. You can see the outline of every leaf on every bush and tree, every petal of every flower, and it all seems like the most beautiful little forest in the world. Your family’s faces, when you seem them a few minutes later, seem rounder, fresher, smoother. Coming back feels easy, like sliding right back into the place you had molded for yourself over the past few months. You feel so… present. You are home and you are happy to be there.

Wed., Feb. 6 | Finca la Argentina, Puyo

2pm

You step into the shower, a little thing by the kitchen. It’s hard to describe. It’s a stick structure with wide fanned leaves that attempt but don’t quite manage to cover your now naked body. “Naked and slightly afraid.” You turn on the shower head, step into the large bucket underneath it, and let the cold water refresh your sweat soaked body. As you scrub yourself, you hear the crunch of steps on fallen leaves. You turn your head and prepare to yell, “Ocupada!”, to whoever is about to see you in your most natural and vulnerable state. What you see is not a person, but a little hen, pecking at the ground and darting its head as it walks. And then you think to yourself, “That hen just saw me naked.” As you continue you shower, you take moments to stare out at the large and far expanse of trees to your right. To listen to the conversation of song between the birds. To admire the softness of the sky above you. To cluck along with the hen who is still pecking at bugs right outside your shower. Even as you mock her, as silly as she seems, her presence reminds you of the beauty of being vulnerable with and in nature.

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Mon., Feb. 4 | Finca la Argentina, Puyo

~ 7 pm

You walk into the kitchen with your towel, soap and loofah in hand and ask your veteran work away peeps if it’s okay to shower at this time of night. The pretty Italian dude takes the initiative to respond: “I don’t know, I’ve never showered at this time before. If I were you, I’d wait until it were light. During the day, the world is ours. At night, it’s theirs.” “Okay, thanks”, you respond. You walk back to your cabin room and take a few minutes to think on his words. You put on your headlamp, and walk back out. You decide to take a night wash anyway. You step inside the makeshift shower and strip. You begin to shiver as the night wind kisses your skin. You step into the bucket, turn on the shower, and let the cold run over you. BreatheOh wow, that actually feels nice. You make sure your headlamp doesn’t get wet as you rinse the soap off your face, neck, body. And then, you look up. The light of your headlamp catches the steam rising off of you. You watch the smoke dissipate as it reaches toward the broad array of stars scattered across the sky. You then turn off your headlamp to get a better look. Holy shit, you think. This is amazing. Naked and wet under the stars, in the open, you feel that the world is yours, right now, too.

Sat., Jan. 13 | Baños

2 pm

You sit in the back of the camioneta, legs crossed, back straight. It feels like you’re moving backwards. You’re coming back from Cascada El Diablo, after a 3 or 4 or 5 hour waterfall biking tour with Natalie, Danny, and Becca. The camioneta enters a tunnel, and all of a sudden all you can focus on is the light at the end of it. You’re moving away from it, and you can’t see when you will come out the other end. In that tunnel, you feel timeless. It seems as if the light you’re facing is another world, and you are in an in-between.

Th., Feb. 8 | Somewhere between Puyo and Quito

3 pm

You are staring out the window when the bus enters a tunnel. This tunnel is different from the other ones you remember passing through. It is a large semicircle. The walls of it are slightly wet and consist of large, smooth rocks. You feel tempted to stick your head out the window, so you do. Suddenly, your eye is attacked by a droplet of water falling from the ceiling of the tunnel. Ow, fuck. You jerk your head back in and squeeze your eye shut, waiting for the pain to pass. As your eye slowly returns to normal, you think about how this little act of adventure and curiosity just backfired. For the past month to now, from Baños to Cuenca to your Training Seminar with GCY in the beach town of Atacames, adventure and curiosity have been part of your daily. It had moved you to do great things, like mount a swing over the city of Cuenca as the sun set behind it, and to do dumb shit, like stick your head out of a fast moving bus. Or even, months before, jump off a cliff in Carpuela into a deep body of water knowing you can’t really swim. (As always, thank you, Jack). You tell yourself, “Girl, do better.”

4 pm

The bus passes by an expansive, beautiful stone compound. “Baños Spa…something”, it reads. It’s the same building you passed by during your biking adventure in Baños a few weeks earlier. The same building you passed in the camioneta ride back from that adventure. You turn to Natalie and say, “Look, we’re in Baños.” You begin to think back to the theme of eternal return that you had read in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being your senior year of high school. There are motifs, images, places, and people that will show up in your life over and over and over again, you remember. This big building may not necessarily be one of them, but it makes you realize that this country, not just your small community, has become oddly familiar.

Fri., Feb. 9 | Otavalo

6 am

You walk out of Natalie’s house, after spending the night because your bus from Quito made you miss your last bus from Otavalo to your home community. The air is fresh and cool. The sky lightens slowly. Orejas, the neighborhood dog, is by your side. He’s an easy companion, one that you’re grateful for during this morning’s walk to the terminal. With your big red mochila on your back, you tell yourself, “Try to look less like a tired teenager and more like a tired traveller.” You don’t know if it works, but it makes you feel safer and more confident. You say Buenos días to fellow pedestrians with an easy smile. The awakening morning reminds you of how much you love to watch the sky turn from night to day. The sun’s lazy haze lies over Mount Imbabura, the shadows around you dance, and you feel like the world is yours.

Tue., Feb. 6 | Finca la Argentina, Puyo

~ 9 pm

You, Maria, Natalie, Chris, and Henry sit around the open dining room table. You’re engrossed in your book, Zami by Audre Lorde. Someone, maybe Chris, asks about what you’re reading. You give a quick summary, gassing up Audre Lorde, per usual, and then open the book to one of your favorite sections to show your friends how beautiful her writing is. You read the whole paragraph, thrilled to share the words that move your soul so… profoundly.

Once home was a far way off, a place I had never been to but knew well out of my mother’s mouth. She breathed exuded hummed the fruit smell of Noel’s Hill morning fresh and noon hot, and I spun visions of sapadilla and mango as a net over my Harlem tenement cot in the snoring darkness rank with nightmare sweat. Made bearable because it was not all. This now, here, was a space, some temporary abode, never to be considered forever nor totally binding nor defining, no matter how much it commanded in energy and attention. For if we lived correctly and with frugality, looked both ways before crossing the street, then someday we would arrive back in the sweet place, back home.

You pass the book to Chris for him to read aloud. Then to Henry. Then to Natalie. As each of them reads, you rest your chin on your fists, close your eyes, and smile, letting the words of Audre Lorde, made alive by your friends’ voices, wash over you.

Wed., Jan. 24 | Turucu

You pull your eyes away from the little forest in your backyard and walk toward your room. Walking past you, toward the main house, is a large gray striped cat that you don’t recognize. He’s new. Queso?

Toluwani Roberts