Welcome to Tres Juanes!

Bella Bjornstad - Ecuador


November 21, 2014

The barrio I live in is called Tres Juanes because three Juans live here, but Tres Juanes is in the paroquia of Picahiua, named so because if you pick (pica) at the ground enough, you will reach the best water (agua) in the province (Tungurahua). All of the roads are either dirt or cobbled, and there is a house down the road with a little store that sells cookies and deodorant in a glass case. And if you ask for one, a lady will go behind the house and pluck a chicken for you to bring home for soup; I know this because I did it the other day. I also did the dishes while my host mom looked on, making sure I was doing it right, but now I am allowed to do the the dishes alone, which I like. The sink is a big cement basin full of water with two slanted cement sinks on either side.

Since the sink isn’t inside, all the dishes are stacked in a bucket, and to do the dishes, you take all of them out of the bucket, and wash it, then you dip a little plastic bowl into the basin of water and get a pat of soap on the dish rag. The plates are washed first, then bowls, cups, and spoons. I love washing the dishes. The sink faces Vulcán Chimborazo and the southern end of Ambato. There are fields covering all of the hills around the city and under the mountain, so it looks like a giant, green quilt rippling in the wind, and if I’m washing dishes in the late afternoon, the sun makes everything this beautiful glowy color that reminds me of home.

My favorite part of washing dishes, however, is that I get to help; when I’m doing the dishes I feel like I am part of the family, working alongside them, instead of just watching.

I watched for the first couple of weeks I was here, but I desperately wanted to help, I think my family noticed this, because they let me carry some of the loads of grass. The bales, which are almost as big as I am, are tied around the middle with rope, and women, (who look to be in their 70’s) can be seen carrying them in every community in Ecuador. To carry the grass, you hoist the load onto your back, and wrap the ends of the rope around your shoulders. I am also allowed to cut the grass now. One of the best moments of my whole experience so far was when my sister-in-law knocked on my door and told me we were going to cut grass, just the two of us, and she had two knives! I was so happy!

I put on my rubber boots and my hat, and we walked down the hill to a patch of alfalfa. The knives are serrated sickles with short handles; to cut, you bend over, grab a handful of plants, and whack it with the sickle. After you clear the patch, you pile it all on top of the zoga (the rope) and wrap it up.

I’m not sure what I expected when I decided to take a year to live in Ecuador, but it wasn’t this. Not because I had an artificial idea of what my time would be, but because it is impossible to understand day to day life without experiencing it.

When I first arrived, I was overwhelmed by how foreign it all felt, I spent my days counting the things that were different from my life in the United States. But now, just a month into my time in Tres Juanes, I cannot pick out a truly meaningful item of contrast. I’m not the Buddha and I’m not especially talented when it comes to adaption, but anyone would feel the same way when connecting with people on a level as wholesome as the one I am currently sharing with my family.

Humans are comprised, fundamentally, of such similar materials, emotionally, in this case, that I have come to believe I could make an honest bond with anyone who crossed my path. Even the obnoxious dogs who used to only chase after me when I walked by with my family have begun wagging their tails when we pass. I think I can finally call Tres Juanes home!

Bella Bjornstad