Hello to you,
One day at the beginning of the semester, I was late. I was supposed to meet a group to go on an adventure to Papallacta, a hot springs. My host mother did not give me breakfast until ten minutes before I was supposed to be there. I ended up simultaneously eating breakfast and talking on the phone to perturbed students asking me where I was while a taxi waited outside to pick me up. The taxi took me on a wild goose chase to catch up with them. Stopped in a traffic circle, I was pulled out of the cab by the chaperone and led across the street to the bus. I stepped up, said, “I’m sorry guys, I’m the worst person in the world,” and started to cry.
There was some half-hearted crooning and I crawled into a seat by myself. After a while I stopped crying enough to just look miserable, at which point the chaperone touched me on the shoulder and said, “Anna. Try to enjoy this day,” at which point I started sobbing, of course. The other chaperone, his wife, asked me if I needed a hug and I nodded, so she slid into the seat next to me and wrapped me up in her big soft mother’s warmth while I blatantly soaked her shoulder. She was confused. What happened? she asked. Did they rob you? I tried to explain. It’s just, I said, that every little thing I do goes wrong. I couldn’t say in Spanish, or really with any words, that I had to ask to have my laundry washed or get toilet paper and that I was always hungry or too full or sick or lost or late and that it was my best friend’s birthday and Trump had been inaugurated two days before, and that the only natural recourse was to cry openly on a bus in front of the people who were supposed to become your new friends.
The woman whispered impassioned things in my ear about maturing, and how if I opened my spirt that could happen here, I think. She told me I had to remind myself, “eres fuerte, eres hermosa, eres valiente.” I don’t do that, of course, because nobody does. But maybe we should.
Say it. Comment it below. Say, “soy fuerte, soy hermoso/a, soy valiente.”
That was the end of the first month in Ecuador. Now it’s the beginning of my last one. When I started this journey I thought that by the end of it I would be fluent in Spanish and know how to dance. I decided I would figure out what it means to open up your spirit and mature.
As it stands, I have three-fourths of a journal with rushed entries and a grand total of 7 blog posts. In each one I have tried to craft a message, to tie up my experience into a nice little thematic package about what I have learned. But the truth is that Ecuador has afforded me very little time for reflection. I am either in class or doing homework or speeding across the country in buses for weekend adventures, and in the time that is left to me I only want only to sleep.
This post aims to be some sort of closure, a recognition that this project is not what it could have been under different circumstances. I had planned to fill these pixels with stories of what I did, but as things start wrapping up I think more about what I haven’t done. I am not fluent in Spanish. I still cannot dance. I did not make friendships that will last the rest of my life, nor am I tearfully leaving behind any Ecuadorian loves. I certainly don’t feel any more mature, and I think my spirit is still the same little gift box it has always been. I have suffered countless petty illnesses, thrown up during the Ecuadorian election results, clung hysterically to the side of a volcano, and lost the photo evidence of it all when robbed on the beach at night. People think of study abroad as “life changing,” but it’s hard to get change even for a five dollar bill in this country.
So now I have to come to terms with having had an imperfect experience, not in that there were ups and downs, but in the failure for things to really take off running. And I am trying to believe my hunch that there is value, too, in imperfect experiences. I am trying to believe that some day soon I will be thankful for a few more high-altitude red blood cells, a few good empanadas and a few bad ones, and memories of mountains streaked with farmland and covered with fog.