As the end of my time in Ecuador approaches, I have found myself reflecting on my best memories of the time in this country. I strongly believe that the moments that stick with a person in this manner help show what s/he has seen and demonstrate the unique experience of being abroad. There are monuments or places that everyone can see, but no one will have the same experience. Each paragraph below will tell one of my stories from my time in Ecuador. Enjoy!
During my first semester in Ecuador, I had the opportunity to visit a rural community. I learned about the setup of the community, the ways they make money, how they survive, and where they grow their crops. Those were interesting facts, but they did not define my experience there. One moment occurred when we were looking at the guinea pigs. Guinea pigs are used in healing rituals in indigenous communities in Ecuador, as it is believed that the guinea pig draws out the problem from the person and absorbs it into its own body. But, Don Jorge, the leader of the community picked up one of the guinea pigs and put it into the sweatshirt pocket of one of the girls in my group. The guinea pig was very content to stay there and stuck its little head out so we could see it. Don Jorge had a way of making us all smile, since he knows how much people love baby animals. Later in the afternoon, before lunch and after our planned activities, the children in the community were playing soccer. Naturally, some of us joined in. It was very fun to play, but even more fun to see how happy the kids were to be playing and meet new people.
One morning on my way to volunteer at the preschool I stopped to buy some fruit. I decided on a banana. Ecuadorians are known for not having change for larger bills, so when I went to pay with a $1 coin. The señora who was tending the store shook her head at me and motioned me to leave. I told her that I was sorry, but I didn’t have change. Instead of rolling her eyes at me, as I had expected, she handed me another banana and said “vaya antes de que venga la Señora” which means “go before the owner gets back” and shooed me out of the store.
The second time I visited Salasaca with my program, I got to see Tunguragua erupting. We first saw it smoking and heard the rumbling of the volcano. We stopped and watched the smoke billow out for a little while, and occasionally when the smoke cleared a little bit, we got the chance to see the volcano itself. Since we had to get to Salasaca, we left. But, then down the road, we stopped for almost an hour and watched the volcano erupt at night. I cannot explain how beautiful it was to see the lava explode and be able to see the contrast against the night air.
My host dad sold his car during the time I was in Ecuador in order to buy a smaller, less expensive car. Instead, he ended up buying a 1986 Volkswagen Westfalia, which is his dream car. Since I did not have classes, I got to go with him to pick it up. I will never forget how excited he was looking at the car. It was very well kept and had all original parts inside (except for a new radio), including the upholstery. We couldn’t get the gas cap off with the key, so we had to stop to ask someone to help us get it off so we could buy gas. He continually told me on the drive that he couldn’t believe that he had bought the car.
I spent a lot of time my second semester volunteering at a preschool called Integral Kids. I had the opportunity to teach a lesson every day that I was there and work with the kids from all three age brackets. We went on a field trip to visit a farm to complement one of our units. Although it was scary having six adults and thirty children packed in a thirteen-person van, once we got there we had so much fun! We got to do a scavenger hunt and visit a variety of animals. Also, the children got to ride a donkey! The children were so happy to play and enjoy being outdoors. After a day full of adventure, the majority of the kids fell asleep on the bus ride home.
I will never forget the first time that my host dad referred to me as his daughter. He took me to the quinceñera (coming of age birthday party for girls who turn fifteen) of one of his cousins. As he was introducing me to some of his family who were sitting at the table with us, he said “Ella es mi hija Nea” meaning “This is my daughter Nea”. That was one of the moments that helped to show me that I was with the right family and that I was going to be okay during my time in Ecuador.
I define my time in Ecuador not by all of the places I went, but by the experiences that I had and the memories I made. As the well-known quote goes, “life is not measured by the number of breaths that we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”