Where In The World Am I

Maddy Gibson - Ecuador


September 26, 2018

About a month ago, I moved half a world away. 1400(+) miles from everyone
and everything I know. The transition from life in McMinnville, Oregon to
life in Urcuqui, Imbabura has been challenging to navigate. Some moments, I
feel like I’m living in a dream state. That this world I’m living in is
nothing but a figment of my imagination and that the slightest disturbance
will send it all away. In other moments, this life of mine feels almost too
real. Over the last few weeks I have been having intense moments of
realization of my surroundings, my situation, and my experiences. Moments
where the only thing I seem to be able to think is:

“*Where in the world am I and what in the world is going on*.”

My first of these moments of realization happened a couple days after I
moved into my homestay. I was on the side of the house, standing in between
the many clotheslines that were covered in bright socks and blankets,
hand-washing my clothes. The sun was rising over the nearby volcanoes and
the 20+ neighborhood dogs were barking (as usual). There was a slight
breeze and I could just barely hear my host mom singing her baby to sleep.
I was hyperaware of everything that was happening around me, and at the
same time, seemed to be incredibly zoned out and focusing only on the
repetitive movements my hands were making as I washed my clothes. Soak,
scrub, rinse, ring. Soak, scrub, rinse, ring. Over and over again my hands
executed these motions. While in this trance, I started to wonder what my
friends were doing back in Oregon. Probably sleeping, first of all, and
definitely not hand-washing their clothes. In my head I went through the
list of each of my close friends, imagining what their days would look like
and how they each were doing. It was only then that I realized how far away
I really was. Similarly, I realized how much my life had changed in the
last couple of weeks. For the first time, it all really hit me. I’m in
Ecuador! I’m living in Ecuador. *This is real, this is my life. I’m here. *

The next time I had one of these “what in the world” moments was within the
first week of living in Urcuqui. I was getting on the bus for the first
time. Here in Ecuador, public transportation is the go-to. Most families
own no more than one car, often not even that. The bus system here in
Ecuador is very developed and very cheap, and it’s how a lot of people here
get around. So, naturally, it was one of the first things I had to learn to
use. It was early in the day and I was headed to the big city, Ibarra.
Luckily, I had another GCY fellow in my town and we planned to ride the bus
together. We were directed to a bus stop by a community member and were
given a whole ton of directions, most of which went over our heads. What we
did catch was the emphasis that we could not get off the bus until the last
stop. And so, the other fellow and I scrambled onto the first bus that came
down the road. We sat down, adrenaline rushing, hearts pounding, and
confusion masking our thoughts. We had no idea if we were on the right bus,
if the bus was going to Ibarra, how much the ride would cost, or how we
would know when we had reached the final stop. For all we knew, the bus
could be heading to the Columbian border. We were excited, curious,
slightly terrified, and standing out more than ever as the only two
foreigners on the packed bus. It wasn’t long before I realized that
whatever happened next was out of my control. And wow, that was an
exhilarating thought! I was on a bus, headed somewhere, and had to trust
that I would end up where I was supposed to. And, like every other
situation so far, it all worked out (and now I can navigate the public
transportation system with ease)!

One of my most intense moments of realization happened about a week ago. I
was with all of the other Northern Ecuador Fellows, we had met up for a
group dinner. Before we ate we played a big game of fútbol, as we often do.
This game was arguably less intense than others we have played. There were
25ish people on the field, it was dusk, and there were no real boundaries.
Everyone was shouting and laughing and people were running into each other
left and right. Above it all stood two mighty volcanoes, the beautiful
Imbabura and Cotacachi. We were nestled in a valley, between these two
incredible figures. Their dark silhouettes were outlined by the hot pink
sky, and in the distance, we could see a third, the snow-capped peak of
Cayambe. It was the most beautiful setting for a messy game of fútbol. A
couple other fellows and I seemed to realize the beauty of the place we
were in at the same time. We stopped, the beautiful madness of the “game”
taking place around us, and we stared up at the beautiful sky. In that
moment (and even still), I could not fully wrap my head around the reality
that was my life. There I was, in a valley between two beautiful, giant
volcanoes. A hot pink sky lay over the field where a group of incredible
people, from all over the world, ran frantically around. So much laughter,
curiosity, energy, and friendship was present that night. It continuously
astounds me that I am here, a part of this cohort of brilliant individuals,
spending my days in this gorgeous part of the world.

Most of the time, none of this feels real. I still cannot believe that I am
here, living life in the Ecuadorian highlands. It’s really easy to go
through an entire day without fully understanding and recognizing the
incredible opportunity that it is just to be here. It’s my “what in the
world” moments that ground me during this crazy transition and remind me to
be thankful for each and every moment, the incredible and the difficult!

(Here are some photos of Cotacachi and the stunning sky during that fútbol
game!)


Maddy Gibson