Gratitude

Quito, Ecuador

 

Since the start of my senior year of college, I have become more and more grateful for my semester in Ecuador. It’s still surreal that I lived there for four months, fumbled through another language with my host family, learned to navigate public transportation, and drank papaya juice every morning. I owe so much to the Global Engagement Fellowship Program for giving me this opportunity.

Una carta sobre mis sentimientos

Para mí, es un placer conocer a tantos estudiantes de intercambio aquí en el Ecuador. Mis compañeros de la USFQ son de muchos estados diferentes, y todos tienen perspectivas y experiencias intrigantes. Son interesantes, amables, y aventureros, y por eso me importa un bledo que no estén aquí mis amigos de Oklahoma. He conocido mucha gente linda en este país, y estoy muy contenta.

El único problema que tengo en este sentido de los amigos gringos de intercambio es el concerniente a mis habilidades en español con respecto al tiempo que paso con ellos. Llegué aquí con la meta de aprender muy bien el español. Deseaba hablar con fluidez, entender todo lo que escuchara, y utilizar mis nuevas habilidades en el futuro. Pero la verdad es que aprender un idioma de adulta es muy difícil, y hacerlo requiere que hable con los estudiantes ecuatorianos la mayor parte del tiempo. Para mí, esto es difícil porque no puedo seguir una conversación muy compleja.

Les puedo preguntar a los ecuatorianos cosas que les gustan y cosas que no, dónde viven, sus pasatiempos, y cosas así; pero estos temas no son suficientes, y siempre me siento como si fuera una niña sin la capacidad de pensar profundamente. Por eso, hablo con los gringos y paso casi todo el tiempo con ellos. Aunque tengo mucha pasión por el español, he aceptado la realidad de mi situación. A pesar de esto, me gusta este país, la genta nativa, y la gente extranjera. El Ecuador es hermoso, y me da mucha satisfacción haber elegido este país para estudiar.

Un recuerdo

Cuando pienso en Ecuador, pienso en mi rutina diaria. Me despertaba cada mañana con un plato de pan y frutas que fueron cortadas con mucho cariño. Mi madre anfitriona normalmente me preguntaba sobre mi día, pero no me gustaba hablar, así que mis respuestas eran breves.

Entonces comenzaba a caminar hasta la parada de autobús, escuchando música a lo largo de todo el camino mientras inhalaba gruesas bocanadas de escape del coche y el olor de los plátanos a la parrilla.

Llegaba a la parada de autobús, apretándome con fuerza entre personas de todos los tamaños, olores, y sueños. A menudo me preguntaba qué estaban pensando. ¿Odiaban la congestión y el calor tanto como yo? ¿Era esto un gran sinsabor para ellos también?

Cuando llegaba a la escuela, nunca hablaba con muchos estudiantes ecuatorianos. Pensé que se convertirían fácilmente en mis amigos, pero la diferencia en nuestras culturas y mi falta de voluntad para adaptarme a la diferencia impidieron muchas amistades posibles. Por lo tanto, perdí muchas oportunidades que en este momento me dejan con pena.

Sin embargo, encontré a otros amigos, viajé a lugares que nunca olvidaré, y probé unas comidas cuyos sabores aún me persisten en la lengua. Junto con todos los desafíos que me presentó Ecuador, me mostró algo increíble. Estoy agradecida de tener ahora una comprensión íntima del país y siempre lo recordaré hasta que regrese de nuevo.

La muerte inesperada

Salgo de la casa sin ropa ni dignidad

Camino por la calle con mucha intensidad

 

Todos mis vecinos han desaparecido

En este momentito, quiero un burrito.

 

El apocalipsis ha llegado, casi destruyendo todo

Me caigo en basura y ahora hay caca en mi codo.

 

Lejos en la distancia, veo sangre en una planta

De repente me siento vomito en mi garganta.

 

Sigo adelante, hacía el olor

Y entonces comienza un tipo de dolor

 

Tengo un ataque en mi débil corazón

Por todo el helado que comía sin razón

 

Con respecto a mis entrañas, pierdo el control

Comienzo haciendo caca mientras hablo español.

 

Antes de morir, respiro lentamente

¿Por qué yo no tenía una vida diferente?

 

No puedo sentir mi cuerpo, estoy paralizada

Mi piel está marrón, como una empanada

 

Empiezo a morir, mis ojos han cerrado

Y en mi mente sueño con vasos de helado

 

Esto es el fin, digo adiós a mi vida

Por todo que he hecho, estoy muy agradecida.

El helado

Bajo del bus después de un día muy largo. Mis piernas me duelen, y aunque tengo un cono grande de helado en mi mano, estoy triste. Veo a alguien con volantes, y él me ofrece uno. Lo tomo sin sonreír, y sigo caminando por dos minutos más. De repente, empiezo a sentirme mal, y me caigo en la calle mientras todo se pone oscuro. Cuando me despierto tres días después, no tengo ninguna memoria de lo que pasó. Veo edificios extraños alrededor de mí, y todavía estoy en la calle, sin zapatos ni dignidad. Me levanto y me toco la cara suavemente para chequear la condición de mi cuerpo. Todo parece bien y suspiro con alivio. Pero cuando me miro la mano derecha, el color se va de mi cara: el secuestrador se había comido todo mi helado.

I’ll tell you of Ecuador

I’ll tell you of Ecuador, and all of its splendor

With passion my memories race

In the sunshine, the mountains, my heart, it grew tender

When I unpacked my little suitcase

 

My arrival was quick; ’twas late in the night

And I watched the bright lights so intently

At two in the morning, awaiting daylight,

I drifted to sleep oh so gently

 

Weeks passed as I learned to write and to speak

And to navigate all on my own

I greeted new friends with a kiss on the cheek

And submerged myself in the unknown

 

I visited cities with lights of warm gold

And beaches with waves of cold vigor

My eyes, they saw creatures, so loud and so bold

Would I ever find anything bigger?

 

Like a flash of bright light, four months had gone by

A plane swept me up and away

And an emptiness held me, its embrace a bit shy

So I smiled and told it to stay

 

It’s a feeling that lingers, just under my chin

A warmth and a chill mixed together

And I begin to remember the sun on my skin

The vendors, the mountains, the weather

 

And I can’t help but miss the places I saw

and the wonderful people I met

So I lower my head and begin to withdraw

But remember there’s no need to fret

 

I’ll tell you of Ecuador, and all of its splendor

For I have begun to agree

In the sunshine, the mountains, my heart, it grew tender

When Ecuador opened to me

Leaping off the Bus

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 – 9:18 A.M.

I went to Colombia.

In order to save money (plane tickets would have been $450+) my two friends and I bussed all the way to the coast of Colombia, to a city called Cartagena. But let me rewind to the beginning. The three of us were planning a very on-a-whim trip and had not considered anything but buying a bus ticket for a 30-hour bus ride to Santiago de Cali, Colombia. The day before, we ran into another of our friends at the Rio Coca bus station and found that he was also planning to go and actually had a solid plan, as his host father was Colombian and had written out a thorough itinerary. Naturally, we latched onto him.

That evening, we bought $70 plane tickets for a small part of the trip (between Colombian cities), and planned to meet at the Carcelén bus station at 3:00 in the morning. Yes, 3:00 A.M. I remember waking up at 2:00 A.M. after having gone to sleep at midnight, and I thought to myself, What the hell am I doing?

But I quickly packed my backpack full of clothes, toiletries, and several hundred dollars, and met one of my travel companions outside of my host family’s apartment, where he had arrived in a taxi. From there, we went to Carcelén and boarded our bus at about 4:00 A.M. That ride lasted approximately five hours, and I chuckle now because at the time I had no idea how horrible I was going to feel.

The ride was freezing cold, as the temperature dips very quickly at night in the mountainous areas of South America. I was shivering and uncomfortable the entire time, but after a few hours, the sun rose and warmed me a little. The unfortunate part of this ride in particular was that the bus stopped frequently to allow more passengers to board. I only hated this because all the lights were turned on, and we had to stop, sometimes for several minutes, and all I wanted to do was get off the bus.

From there, we arrived at a sort of truck stop where there were lots of vendors selling anything from fried bananas with cheese in the middle to plastic cups of chopped fruit (watermelon, mango, papaya, pineapple, etc.). We got a taxi and went to Ecuador’s emigration building, where we waited in line for about half an hour to get a “salida” stamp in our passports. Right after that, we went to Colombia’s immigration building to get an “entrada” stamp. We exited that building and were met with a small group of men with thick wads of U.S. dollars and Colombian pesos. We exchanged our money (and later found out that we’d been stiffed about $30 each – lesson learned) and then took another taxi to the next bus station.

I’ll summarize this since I could go on forever. This bus ride lasted at least twelve hours, and then we had two more 12-hour rides after that, at night. David scheduled them this way so that we didn’t have to pay for a hostel, and at first I thought the idea was ingenious, but that was before I realized that I could not sleep on a bus. Especially a bus traveling through the sharply winding, bumpy roads of Colombia. I didn’t sleep at all, and this persisted through every ride until I became hopelessly nauseous. I tried several times to close my eyes, to change positions, to listen to music, to turn my music off, to eat junk food, to chug water, to think of a pleasant situation. Nothing worked.

By the time we’d visited Ipiales, Popayán, and Medellín (the cities we went through to get to Cartagena), I was nauseous and exhausted to the point of tears. I didn’t cry, as I was actually too exhausted to even do that, but I felt like death. During the bus rides, I always had pretty healthy snacks: Doritos, Snickers bars, Sprite, chocolate wafers, so there’s no way that my diet contributed to my brief illness. But on the final bus ride (the one that took us to Cartagena, the coast), I was so close to crying. I was beyond frustrated with my exhaustion, migraine, nausea, and most of all, the helplessness that I felt. There was literally nothing that I could have done short of leaping off the bus, so I did my best to discipline myself and calm down.

When we arrived in Cartagena, the first thing that I remember noticing was the overwhelming intensity of the heat. I felt like I had stepped into an oven, and it did nothing to help my nausea. We got a taxi that took us to our hotel, and it took a good ten minutes to sign paperwork and show our passports before we were led into our room. To my delight, the air conditioner was not functioning, so the room was almost as hot as it was outside.

We were exhausted, so we lied on our beds and took a nap for a few hours. When I awoke, my entire body was wet and sticky and hot, my head was throbbing, and I actually thought that I was on the verge of fainting. We went and spoke to the owner, and she made a phone call to get someone in to fix our air conditioner.

With little to do, we decided to explore the city. We ate lunch, explored markets and stores, and enjoyed being in a new country before returning to our hotel. The air conditioner had been fixed! I collapsed onto my bed, took a shower, and slept.

Overall, the trip consisted of nauseating bus rides, exploring different cities, eating lots of food (junk food galore), and enjoying a week away from school. I bought three cool shot glasses and a knitted bag for my friends back home, and when I finally arrived back home in Quito, I was absolutely relieved.

Overall, I had a fun time and thoroughly enjoyed getting to see another South American country.

Midway Through

Saturday, October 8, 2016 – 5:24 P.M.

I haven’t journaled in a while because I’ve been traveling every weekend (the beach, Cuenca), so I have some more to say.

Basically I’m in a state of limbo right now with my life. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m doing, what I want, how I can make a positive impact on the world, and it’s all overwhelming – pathetically so, because my problems could be so much worse. I acknowledge this wholeheartedly.

It’s just that I want to do something that is useful and that I enjoy while also having a fun life with fun people, but it’s not easy. If I had to choose my absolute favorite things to do, in this moment in time, it would be to write, to weightlift, and to explore forests. I’m not necessarily in love with my chosen area of study, but it’s definitely too late to go back now. I’m not sure what I want to do after graduation, even though I have unofficially attached myself to the idea of law school, simply because I enjoy critical thinking, and I think I’d thrive in that environment.

I’ve also seriously considered going to officer candidate school and then joining the Air Force or Coast Guard, as I love physical activity, being outside, and having to adapt and exert myself physically. When it comes to brains vs. brawn, I used to think that my preferences tipped toward the brains side, but I have now realized that they do not. I love playing sports and lifting weights and hiking and kayaking and doing things that require physical stamina. I thrive on these things. In contrast, I often get bored in school and wish that I could be running or deadlifting or trekking through the rainforest or chopping down a tree. I don’t know. I just think that my physical and mental toughness are better suited for the military or something like that, and I hate letting this part of me go to waste because I’m pursuing a different lifestyle.

Aside from this, I’ve completely adapted to Ecuador, and I’m a bit bored. I get up early every day for a sweaty, 80-minute bus ride, I go to school, I eat lunch, I spend another 80 minutes on the bus to get home, I work out, I do homework, I eat dinner, and I go to bed. My group of friends and I travel on weekends, and I have thoroughly enjoyed that, but I’m not sure what I’m doing here. I don’t know why. I expected to thrive, and I was very happy at first, but now I feel as though I’m just going through the motions each day with no real end goal.

The worst part of this is that I don’t want to go home. When I’m home in Oklahoma, I often feel disinterested and disconnected. This hasn’t happened to such a degree in Ecuador, and I’m grateful for the reprieve, however temporary.

The Day of Arrival

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 – 1:10 A.M.

Right now, at this very moment, I am sitting in pure silence (save for the padded clicks of my keyboard) in my new bedroom. I am in Ecuador. I am finally here.

The plane ride from Houston to Quito was very uneventful. I listened to the same twenty or so songs over and over again (thanks, Apple, for making it impossible to sync your iPhone with a new computer without losing all of your music. Okay, this is actually my fault, but still) and stared out the window, leaning my head against the hard plastic frame as I watched the billowy clouds and the navy blue expanse of ocean below.

I felt so tranquil the entire time, which surprised me and still surprises me as I sit here typing, still calm and rational. Several times, I caught myself smiling at the window and breathing deeply and letting the reality of this adventure sink in. It is so surreal. To those of you (Global Fellows, in particular) who are planning a semester or year abroad, you must accept the fact that you can never prepare yourself for how you are going to feel when you step off the plane in your new country. You cannot prepare for the way your stomach will feel a little tight as you collect your luggage from the baggage claim or how you’ll catch your breath when you see your host family waiting for you or even the way your body will finally relax when you’re in your bedroom after hours and hours of traveling.

Obviously, I am no pro at this. I’ve only just begun, and as I sit here at my little desk in my bedroom in Ecuador, I feel so fulfilled. I– I just can’t properly articulate how I feel. I’ve only met two members of my family thus far, as I arrived when the others had gone to sleep, and I spoke Spanish with them. Again, I am no pro at this. I tried my best, and they were so kind as to use gestures and emote to extremes to help me understand. But it is so incredible that this is finally happening.

It’s just past 2:00 in the morning, so I’m going to fall asleep now. Until later!