Ecuador

a mellow return

Its been unseasonably lovely in the Valley these past few days: bright sun and warm, dry air that is uncharacteristic of the rainy season. Today in an attempt to break up the monotony of working on a presentation I’ll be giving on Tuesday morning I laid in the sunlight that was bathing the porch and bleaching the clothes on the line. Just when I thought I had gotten used to the rhythm of the rainy season–the mild, grey mornings and the 2 pm downpours–Ecuador decides to try something different for a change.

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Its a little paradoxical to be back here after 3 weeks in the States…a mixture of culture shock and  feeling home all at once in a way that I didn’t really think was possible. Early Monday morning after a late arrival the night before, José and I walked around the historic district in Quito, and I was really thrown off guard by how Ecuador everything was; in 3 weeks a part of me had forgotten what it’s like here. What it’s like to be entirely bathed in Spanish [including José’s breathlessly quick Cuban accent], to pay twelve cents for a roll for breakfast, to walk through the bustling streets framed by brightly-colored Spanish colonial buildings. I asked him to speak a little more slowly for me, and with a few less cubanismos, and we found some quiet church steps to rest on while my brain recalibrated to its Ecuador setting. When I got back to the Manna house in the Valley we tried to figure out if this feeling is reverse culture shock, or reverse reverse culture shock, as if putting a name on it makes it easier to shuttle quickly between different worlds.

For as long as I was gone and for as shocking as it was in the first few moments I was back, coming back to Ecuador feels like coming home. I even called it home–that emotional and semi-sacred label–few times without thinking while I was back in the States, referring to this crazy house on the corner of Francisco Clerk and Dario Figueroa and to this amazing life I’m building here. I am settling back in here well; it feels as if I’ve returned back to my Ecuadorian normal without missing a beat.

On Wednesday night José and I thought we were going to church, but instead found ourselves at a church member’s housewarming party across the Valley. Nearly the whole congregation was packed into their new living room, couches and coffee tables pushed aside and guests overflowing into the kitchen. As I looked around at the sea of faces of people that I am getting to know well, I was at first filled with that sense of fear and lack of belonging that cultural barriers dig into us; “how could I ever get to know these people or consider them my church family, I am an outsider here and always will be,” I heard Fear whispering in my ear. It wasn’t until the end of the night, when we were piling into the back of the pastor’s pickup truck that I was able to fully shake that feeling. As six of us squeezed into the truck bed, the rest of our new friends gathered around us as we waited to take off, talking and laughing under the street lights and the full moon. As we pulled out of the driveway, the family waved goodbye and reminded that we are always welcome back–that the doors will always be open to us. As we headed home we glided down the dark streets of Sangolqui past spots I know well, and memories of the past five months melded with hopes and dreams for the next seven. The night air was chilly, and José put his arm around me and held my hand for the first time in front of our church friends; like a good amigo Javier started giving him shit about it and didn’t quit until I started poking fun back at him. In the face of Fear, in the face of cultural pushback, I am reminded of a beautiful Truth– that I have felt at home here and over the next seven months [or more…] I will feel even more at home every day.

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