I officially have a few days left in this beautiful country and I do not know where the time flew off to. I mean it was just here like five months ago, but it has slipped away without my full awareness of it going. I have been in contact with my closest friends from home a lot lately and they are all counting down the days to when I come back to the States, reminding me just how close it is. I keep getting asked if I am ready to come back home and what I will be most excited to see or do and I am overwhelmed by these questions. Of course there are things I miss and am ready to get back to, but there are some things that I have grown very accustomed to in this country that will be really strange to leave and things that I have learned here that I want to impact my life and never forget.
To start with the little things: I will miss the cheap public transportation system of this country, the simplicity of making choices, and overall less consumption and wastefulness of the lifestyle. In general, you go into a restaurant and you can straight up tell the waitress that you want “almuerzo” (lunch) and they bring you a three course meal that is already pre-chosen for the day. We eat soup, seco (rice, salad, and some kind of protein), juice, and postre (dessert) of some various kinds. I like that I don’t have to mull over the options that a menu presents, but I can just go in and eat whatever is put perfectly portioned in front of me, all for about $2. Also, the majority of my showers in this country have been cold – evidence to me that electricity and much water has not been wasted on my bath. Rarely do you have carryout as an option in a restaurant, so I am not carrying out a bag full of plastic when I eat a meal outside of home. We don’t have dryers much in this country, so clothes are just hung outside to dry in the wind and sun. These are just little examples of things that I have come to really appreciate about this country that I’ll certainly miss when I return to the States where I tend to stress over the multitudes of decisions I have everyday and the amount of resources that are wasted because of my actions as well.
I have grown very close to my host family in Quito, who up to this point I haven’t talked much about. I lived with my family on the third floor of our apartment building in a neighborhood in a northeast sector of the city. My family consists of my 60-something year old host mom (never worked up the guts to ask just how old she is) and my 26 year-old host brother. Our apartment had three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room – just big enough for the three of us to live comfortably together.
My host mom is one of the sweetest and most generous women I know who made me feel right at home the moment I first stepped into her door. She is a very conservative Catholic woman who attends bible study and prayer circle every Tuesday and Thursday and mass on Sunday morning. She taught me how to pray in Spanish and she was always so patient with me as I sought to express myself more and more deeply in Spanish as the semester went on and as we got to know each other. She lost her husband 7 years ago to cancer and she talks about him everyday as if he were just gone on a long vacation and was just as present now as he always had been. She tends to her 82 year-old sister-in-law as she does her son – spending time with her everyday, having her over for every meal and escorting her on all of her errands. She is also the typical Latina who loves to try and fix me up with all of her son’s friends or any cute single young man that she happens to come across. She loves to watch the Bachelorette (in Spanish, of course), explaining everything as it happens with her own commentary. She is a fantastic cook and loves to serve her food to anyone who comes to the apartment in a second or third helping when they’ve wolfed down the first. I did not know it would be possible to feel so close to and at home with people so quickly in a foreign culture, but she did a fantastic job of making me feel like her own daughter. I’m going to miss hearing her sweet voice call me “mija” (“my child”) and passing long afternoons chit-chatting together.
My host brother, José, is a funny guy who I became pretty close with as well. He is an aspiring rapper who wants to move to Los Angeles one day to pursue fame and the American Dream. He and I loved to watch movies together, so many nights were spent going out to buy Ecuadorian junk food and coming back to the house to enjoy American classics voiced over in Spanish. He and I also had a routine of going out to the park beside our apartment building and sparring late at night. He is into mixed martial arts and I did a little karate in my day, so our matches made for pretty interesting fights that always ended up with us rolling on the ground laughing. On the weekends he would take me out with his friends to clubs for long nights of dancing, and I just felt like a part of the crew. His friends would take turns dancing with me, each teaching me some new step or trick to the different dances they do here. This was one of my absolute favorite parts of the semester because dance is such a distinctly cultural thing that I got a lot of experience in and with Ecuadorians who are pretty fantastic dancers. One of the most fun things for me this semester was riding around Quito on the back of José’s motorcycle as he showed me different parts of the city or as we ran errands. It was a thrill swerving in and out of traffic in the big city and being able to see the beautiful mountains on either side of the valley while wind was rushing in our faces.
When important seasons or experiences of my life are over, I like to do this little thing called “take aways.” One of my spiritual mentors, Wofford’s RUF Campus Minister, introduced me to this exercise and I have adopted it as a primary method for reflecting on and learning from my experiences. My Ecuador “take aways” are things that impacted me that I want to take back to the States and integrate into my life there. There are little things that José did that stand out to me as “take aways.” For one, he was always bringing me home little gifts of things that he knew I liked just for no reason. He would bring me home chocolate, burritos, or little trinkets that reminded him of jokes we had. These things made me feel so special because he would go out of his way to pick them up while he was thinking of me, and that is a way that I want to make other people feel. This is not only something that José did but many Ecuadorians that I became friends with along the way did as well. Generosity is a part of this culture and can generally be experienced by anyone who an Ecuadorian person interacts with. Another thing that José would do is challenge me to take advantage of the situation that I am in to grow as much as possible. Even though he speaks pretty good English, he always made me speak Spanish and watch movies in Spanish with him in order to get better. When we were in clubs dancing, he always made sure I was dancing in order that I was having a great time and learning how to dance their way. Each day that I had free time, he always wanted to take me to places around the city so that I could experience all that the city has to offer. These are just a few examples of one of the things that I appreciated most about him – that he always was pushing me to grow. I want to be that type of friend, parent, sister, daughter, classmate, etc. I want people to feel challenged by me to grow, to experience the richness of life and appreciate the uniqueness of each situation because it is such a short time we have in our different seasons of life to do so.
Another important “take away” from my Ecuador season is an appropriate pridefulness. I believe that I touched on this concept in my first and second posts but my thoughts on it have expanded over the last few months into an important “take away.” Ecuadorians have a pure desire for visitors to appreciate and love their country as much as they do and they have pride in their country because of its beauty and its people. They do not derive the value of their country by comparing it to other countries but rather, they see its unique and inherent worth. I believe that this is something that I can learn from as a US American. Because it is how I grew up thinking about the United States, I think that it is great because it is the best country in the world where we have the most freedom, the most diverse people, the most this, the greatest that. This is actually something that someone here in Ecuador pointed out to me and I was a bit ashamed. I should take a lesson from the Ecuadorians on the proper way to value my country – for its inherent good qualities and not for its greatness compared to other countries. Every country has things to be proud of, but I think it is wrong to be proud by comparison.
I think that I will continue to learn from this experience as time passes, especially after I return to the States. I never want to forget the inherent value of Ecuador and these important truths that I have come to understand. I want them to change my life starting with my perspective and worldview. I believe that this change is already well in the works but as with any important experience like this, I don’t want to limit its impact to only the Jillian that lives in Ecuador, in the experience. Let the “take aways” keep coming!