I survived my first week of classes.
Survived is a good word I think.
Not because of any real threat to my life. Rather, seemingly every possible annoying mundanity conspired against me this week.
To tell it all would be impossible and probably not very interesting to you, so instead, I have divided it up into several Misfortune Categories:
- Cold: As in always. I am always cold. In case you didn’t know, Quito’s elevation is around 9,000 feet, which is something in kilometers I should probably know but don’t. Because of this and probably other factors I also should know (but don’t), the high temperature most days is in the low twenties centigrade or below, which is something I should probably know in Fahrenheit but don’t because I changed my phone to centigrade. In other words, everyone who told me not to pack too many clothes can shush. Usually, there are a few hours in the late morning that are hot and humid enough to make you smell bad, and by the afternoon it has started raining. I don’t think there has been a day so far that it has not rained considerably. Can someone remind me what color the sky is? My room is very drafty because the windows, conveniently, are designed not to close all the way, so I spend most of my time wearing a blanket like a cape and blasting the tiny space heater my host mother lent me. The floor is cold, the surface of my compute is cold, the clothes in my closet are cold, and when I get into bed at night the sheets are cold too. In case you didn’t know I do not handle cold well. The cold makes me angry. When I told a friend that she said with confusion, “It just makes me cold.” That does make more sense.
- Shower: Subsection of cold. My host family told me to tell them if my shower isn’t hot. So I told them. Of course when they looked at it was the one time it was scalding hot. I would have forgiven it’s games if it had stayed hot, but it did not. They told me the upstairs shower would surely be hot so I could try that one if I liked. I’m not sure if I have a different idea of hot or if Ecuadorian showers just have a cruel sense of humor, because I ended up standing under lukewarm water and crying.
- Food: Don’t get me wrong: Ecuadorian cuisine is, for all I know from barely leaving my house, perfectly good. My experiences in Mexico led me to believe that I would be overeating continuously for five months. On the contrary. My schedule is such that in the mornings, (every morning in fact) I eat fruit with yoghurt and bread with cream cheese, and I either bring a little food with me to eat between classes or I do not eat at all. Dinner here is the smallest meal, and not eaten until around 8:00 at night. I had counted on using this weekend to fatten up, but it has turned out otherwise (see “Stomach”).
- Stomach: Starting yesterday I lost my appetite, and by nighttime the darn thing had begun to ache. Luckily nothing horrific has happened, to the description of the stomach afflictions every tourist in a foreign country is warned about. Of course it makes sense that my body is angry about the change in altitude, climate, food, water, and the almost constant stress. My host family says it might in part be the cold. I am willing to believe that. I am willing to believe anything that corroborates that the cold is evil and deserving of my hatred.
- Buses: I take the bus to school. I catch the first bus a block away from my house, and it goes to a station two stops away where I catch the second bus to Cumbayá, the suburb where the University San Fransisco de Quito is located. Most of the time, people on one or both of the segments are, as they say, packed in like sardines, and I wear my backpack on my front like a fool so that no one robs the Clueless United States Tourist. The bus pause at the stops for such a short time that sometimes the bus starts moving again before even a single person has made it completely inside. I took advantage of my host sisters’ offers to accompany me for a few days, and by the third day, I decided I was ready to go home by myself. It turns out I am not that competent. You see, in the United States, we are programmed to understand that when you are getting on a bus or a train, you wait for the people getting off first. That is the rule here too. The difference is that here, people do not care. My first time riding the bus by myself, I hesitated getting off for a split second to make sure I was at the right stop, and in that split second, approximately five hundred people had forced their way onto the bus and it had started moving again. I made some unintelligible sounds and swore openly in English. Now every time the bus slows down and people start crowding the doors, I chant silently, Fight! Fight! Fight! Part 2: The next morning I left good and early to take the bus to school. Nice and easy, I got on the first bus I could. We passed two stops and I thought, Maybe it’s three stops. We passed three stops and I thought, maybe yesterday I took the express line. I asked a woman if we were going to the station. “Station [insert name of station here]?” she asked. I realized I didn’t know the name of the station, so I said yes, because logic. Finally I got off the bus and called every member of my host family until someone picked up. It turns out I had taken the bus going in the opposite direction.
- Classes: On Tuesday I arrived for the first time in the class Lengua y Traducción (Language and Translation). The profesor is an old, round, bald man whose ears stick out and whose mouth is always open. We spent a while introducing ourselves, and once we were starting to get to know each other, he said, in effect, “You should be at a native-speaker’s level in Spanish to take this class. Here’s a three-hundred-word article to translate. Slip it under my door, and at 4:00 tomorrow I’ll post a list of who can take the class.” Then he closed up his briefcase and left. The fire alarm started going off. Then it stopped. Then it started again. We said, This must just be some big test. Leave a bunch of foreigners alone in a room and see what they do. At any rate, I am already overwhelmed with readings that would be hard in English, and I can’t decide which class to drop if any, so I thought, Great! That’ll make the decision for me! Until I GOT INTO THE CLASS. I am also taking a class called El “Boom” Latinoamericano about a certain period in Latin American literature. The professor is what you might call scary. Sometimes I try to make comments in class, in the most horrifically broken Spanish imaginable. In a perfect movie moment, every head in the class snaps to look at me, and the professor gives me a look that makes my blood run cold. Can you guess which class I was fifteen minutes late to when I took the wrong bus? Bonus story: I managed to end up writing a very personal and probably grammatically-incorrect autobiography for my creative writing class and then reading it in front of the entire class.
I will stop myself before I go on any longer, but this should be convince you that I have scarcely encountered a stress-free moment. I’m sure things will get better, as things do. But for now, I look at the Facebook posts of other exchange students, full of pictures and emojis and comments from their extended family that say, Oh, what a wonderful adventure you’re having. And I think, How are you so happy?
To make me feel better, comment your favorite goodbad joke below.
More to follow. With much really anxious love,