I was wondering what to write about in these next few posts, but I figured writing about my possibles decisions could help me make a decision. So I will be the first person in my family to ever study abroad and I honestly know nothing about it. I do not know the process, I do not know what papers I need to get or how I am going to pay for any extra fees because I am paying my way through college. I am looking into either the University of Reading or Hertfordshire for my semester abroad. Both are super close to London — about a twenty minute train ride away — and I have always wanted to visit London so both are great choices. I know a few people that have studied in Hertfordshire, but there are more pre-equated classes in Reading. Both are wonderful choices — it honestly just depends on what the adviser tells me when I get back to university. At least I am beginning to narrow down my choices — this way I can start to focus on the smaller, more important things, like visas and accommodation fees. :/
This past weekend we finally did it: we finally hiked the glacier called Cayambe. Sitting at 5,790m at the peak, Cayambe had been our goal and our fear for the month and a half leading up to the actual summiting. It was me, three other Americans, a Brit, a French, and three guides – one of which spent a decent amount of time smoking at our base camp. We were crampon wearing adventurers with more layers of clothes than your average onion and visions of shooting stars falling like avalanches out of our eyes as we stood laughing into the foggy void the afternoon before the big hike.
Within an hour of arriving at the lake where we were camping, the sky opened up and so did my smile as ice began pouring from the sky and for the first time in my semester in Ecuador I began to feel that pale could too be beautiful. We rushed to set up our tent and I scooped handfuls of hail into my mouth, remembering what it was to be young and undamaged and content to shiver in a cave made of snow in the backyard. You do not have to be young to know that water tastes better frozen. As we piled into the tent, throwing sleeping bags and thermal rests all around, I realized that in less than a month, the people who make me laugh would be spread around the world and I will wonder if I made the right decision in choosing not to stay. Our jokes are inappropriate and immature but they are ours, and even if I am the butt of a lot of them, the people who make them make sure that they are the only ones who get to laugh at me. I think that looks a lot like love.
That night, as we lay in a row like sardines left in the freezer aisle, my friends on either sides of my wrapped their sleeping bag feet around mine and drifted into restless slumber. I, being me, found that the largeness of Cayambe and the insecurities of my heart did not permit me to sleep and I lay awake, my feet becoming numb but warm beneath the watchful gaze of my friends’, staring at the tent ceiling, wandering if any of the words I had prayed to that mountain earlier meant anything, wondering if these people I was with thought that I meant anything.
Eventually I rolled over and came face to face with Gabe and instead of hearing the babbling brook of his sleeping respiration that we all know so well, I heard him giggle and ask the question “Are you asleep?”
“No, you?” I replied.
“No.” He said.
We proceeded to fall into the kind of laughter and conversation that I thought died out in middle school when we all started trying to hide our weird and in that moment I was truly happy. We talked about the things we’ve climbed and the things we had to leave at the bottom to get to where we were. I told him about why I speak to the earth and he told me about why he wants to leave and neither of us felt ashamed for having fears. About an hour into our accidental slumber party, the earth beneath us cut our voices off as it groaned and shook itself awake. It was quick and it was subtle but it was seismic enough to make us stop and stare at one another, both wondering how fast it would take the glacier to break into pieces and preserve us in a tomb called earth forever. I was already shaking from fear of the hike but the fact that Cayambe might not want us there took it up a notch. Gabe has been around enough to know when my infrastructure is cracking so he pulled one hand out of his sleeping bag and gripped mine and I told him about what I had prayed to Cayambe that afternoon.
I have a habit, neither good nor bad, of believing that the spirits inside of this earth are not dormant or forgiving creatures. Before I hike or walk or swim, I make sure to reach out to whatever God had in mind when He placed each part of this sanctuary and speak to the skin of the earth that I stand upon. That afternoon, I went to go ask permission to summit Cayambe. It was slightly hailing and I sat on a rock ledge and closed my eyes and placed my hands on the ground. I whispered to both God and His creation in hopes that at least one or the other would hear me. I whispered to Cayambe and told him that I saw him and I respected him and I was a child of his maker. I told him that he was unconquerable and that everything we did was an attempt to witness the power of the mother earth, not to believe that we were greater than her and all her children. I told him that he was a king and that people find warmth in the freezing and that I understood what it meant for people to take weekend trips into my soul. I asked him for permission to summit, without any problems. I asked that he permit us to tread upon his body and that we make it out alive. And I asked him that if he didn’t want us there, that he would give us a sign before we even started so as not to risk injury. And I told God that His creation was beautiful and that I didn’t necessarily agree that creating man had been good and that I saw His fingerprints in the crags that we jumped across on our way up.
When that temblor rippled through our campsite, I thought it was Cayambe responding to my question. I thought it was him telling us to get out, to leave and never return, to let him grow beneath the subzero temperatures instead of shrinking beneath our harmful feet. I thought that this wrinkle on the skin of God’s weathered hands had had enough of our insatiable need to achieve new wonders, to demonstrate our dominion.
Eventually we fell asleep, probably sleeping less than two hours before Andy’s “midnight beach” alarm clock woke us up and we sat shivering with anticipation. And then we were off.
I do not know where I went to get myself up that mountain. I don’t remember what I was thinking. When I go back now, I have brief memories of songs cascading through my brain and words being repeated over and over and over. It was so much a mental battle as it was physical. It was crunchy step after crunchy step, forcibly lifting and planting our feet onto the sloping hills of frozen tears beneath us. I know that I focused on the pattern of my feet and ice axe for a very long time. Right, Axe…Left. Right, Axe…Left. Right, Axe…Left. My left foot dragged behind, my muscles begging me to sit down and stop. We had no time, we had no direction, our guides knew where we were going but us kids? It was all just a uniform shuffle into the eternity of the milky way, hoping that sooner or later we would see the sun. When we stopped, the cold began to eat at our bones, and though I shook like the rest of them, my eyes were glazed over as I thought of the self-created memories of my ancestors building homes out of the fjords of Norway. I want to believe that they would have been proud, that they wouldn’t have blacked me out of the family registry.
About 45 minutes from the top there came a fissure, a fissure not as wide as I remember but certainly the most looming part of the hike. My guide stood twenty feet in front of me with the rope pulled tight and I stood staring down the crack seeing tragic headlines from back home with my name and the words “crushed between glacier walls almost as cold as her dead, icy heart”. I realized then that the bad spirits I so often hike to leave behind, had been clawing at my ankles all the way up that mountain. My breath was stuck and tears welled and I pointed my headlight down as far as I could see knowing that if I jumped across this fissure, I would certainly die, dragging the rest of my team with me. I called out to my guide and he responded with “you have to keep moving” a phrase, had it come from Jakobo or Gabe would have gotten me across, but from this stranger seemed to paralyze me even more. I began counting down in my head from three, hoping that sooner or later, getting to one one would push me over instead of getting caught in my throat. And then I heard the sweet voice of Clementina from behind me calling “it’s okay, Hannah, you can do anything in the world” and I got to one and I jumped.
Okay I more of flopped.
I swung my axe out and into the ground as hard as possible and jammed my crampons into the ice. And I did not fall in the crack or down the mountain. When we reached a resting place completely exposed to the elements about twenty minutes after, we were almost to the top. I still had not found my breath but the near complete lack of oxygen made it so everyone else was also gasping and nobody had to know that there was a little blue monster with red wings and completely black eyes clinging onto my back with his hands around my neck. We sat and shivered for what seemed forever and Gabe told us he was going to take a nap. I thought that if I fell asleep right now, I would never wake up again.
They said we had to keep moving and left the answer to “or what else?” floating unspoken in the thin air between us. We were about 20 minutes from the top but the second I stood up I was taken back to the hospital two weeks earlier when the world had faded away from me and the floor had fallen out from under my feet. I gasped and I tried to move forward, my feet tripping over themselves and I told our guide that something was wrong. He said we were so close and Gabe told me we were so close and I kept moving even though I felt as if someone was pulling my own soul right out from between my frost bitten fingertips. I kept moving, so slowly, probably pissing of the fiercesome Clementina behind me, but I kept moving.
And then we made it to the top.
We were the tallest things we could see. There was nowhere else to go. As someone who has made herself smaller for years in order to accommodate for others’ comfort, I have never felt that big in my life and I wonder if I ever will again. I was so close to crying but I had to convince myself not to in order to not glue my own eyes shut. Gabe and his eyes that do not see himself grabbed me and kissed me on the forehead, a gesture filled with pride and protectiveness and understanding. Clementina and I high fived, knowing that we held the lead on the front for more than half the climb, knowing that the only difference between all girls teams and all boys teams is that the girls look better no matter what they do. Julia and I hugged, sharing a silent moment of “thought we would die but glad we didn’t”. Jakobo and I hugged and I felt the strength of his unbending positive spirit flood into mine and chase that blue skinned beast off my back. Andy and I hugged, tight, and I marveled at how he trusted my friendship enough to let himself be put in dangerous situation after dangerous situation and still come back at the end of the day. And when I saw the way their eyes refused to blink in case they missed it all, I forgot about every second of the hike up.
We took some photos and I stood gazing around and I knew that this was the only fix I would ever need. I would risk my life to court the spirit called Nature any day of my life.
Letting myself love these people will surely leave me flatlined on the bathroom floor when I return home. Letting myself love these people will surely leave me wanting. Letting myself love these people will surely leave me with regret and confusion and eyes that are looking continents away. These people I have fallen for will leave me.
I don’t know how I am to go home and peer outside and see the flat plains of the Midwest and convince myself that they were ever enough. I will not have Gabe’s hand to hold next time. I will not have Andy there to laugh at our inside jokes. I will not have Clementina to remind me it is good to be photographed. I will not have Jakobo to make sure I am in the right place at the right time with a smile on my face. I will not have Julia to gossip with of the throes of mankind.
Perhaps this loss will ricochet through my ribcage and stop my heart from beating, but chances are I will only feel as if it is but still will remain alive. Because loving these things – the stars, the mountains, the ice, the people, the laughter, the tears, the solidarity – in the end it will not kill us, it only leaves us wishing that it had.
(This post is unedited on purpose. Spelling and grammar errors are meant to show the distraction that I feel right now. I needed to write so I wrote and maybe it is not enough but it’s a start to keeping my breath steady and deep.)
I don’t know who reads these things, I don’t know where you’ve been, the things you’ve seen, the paths you’ve walked, the things you’ve lost along the way. But, if you have ever been mugged, I want you to know that we officially have one more thing to talk about over coffee.
That’s right, mugged.
Thankfully, I wasn’t beat up in a back alley or anything like that. I wasn’t physically harmed in any way. I like to think that was God’s doing. For all I know, the man who pulled a knife on me could have been looking for someone to harm but chose not to for no discernable reason.
It happened like this:
My friend and I had gone for a late picnic about a mile away from my house. As the sun was setting we packed up our stuff and went for a walk about the park. This park is quite large, several kilometers in circumference, and we walked nearly to the south end, watching the sunset and the food vendors and the yawning babies. We came to a stone staircase with seats at the top and we sat down and continued our conversations about the absurdity of studying abroad, the people we left behind, and things we want to see coming in the future. The sun had set and we stayed, just like everyone tells you not to, we stayed. Maybe it was the fact that we had survived 3 months without any incident, maybe it was that we do not have the time to not keep talking, but we stayed.
As soon as I saw him coming up the staircase, I knew. I knew he was going to assault us and I knew there was nothing we could do about it. The stranger approached us and spoke in (quite good) English “hello, how are you?” and then he pulled out a knife and pointed it at my chest. “Money, money, give me money” he said. I don’t know if we replied in Spanish or English but I tried to tell him I had money in my backpack, I reached for my backpack and he grabbed me and pushed the knife closer “Relax, money.” He moved his knife and held it to the neck of my friend and the fists my hands had been clenched in relaxed, I watched as he kept the knife at his neck, patted both of us down, grabbed our stuff, and sprinted away.
“Do we go after him?” I asked.
“No.” He replied.
And then I finally let go of my breath.
We were strangely calm as we stood up and walked away. When we reached light we both turned and hugged each other in a way that only those who share a traumatic experience can hug. The further we walked the more I had to fight to keep the bad spirits of anxiety away. We found some traffic cops and they called the police for us. We filed a report that we knew would do absolutely nothing and returned to my house where I all but begged my friend not to leave because I was afraid to be left alone.
But now I am alone and all I can do is think about that knife and all the things I have learned of fear and whether or not the man who robbed us has children. And I feel guilty. I feel guilty that I asked my friend to come to the park with me. I feel guilty that he will forever carry the knowledge that he was one swipe of a blade away from bleeding out in a foreign country. I feel guilty that I did not react as soon as I saw him coming. I feel guilty that I was careless. I feel guilty that I am privileged enough to carry around extra cash and an iPhone and do not have to steal from others to survive. I feel guilty that this happened a mile from my house and not during the time when I travelled alone and could have been the only person who had to bear the weight of the polarity of the world.
I am praying for that man and I am praying for myself, that I don’t have nightmares of this event, as my brain tends to do with trauma. I don’t know what I would do if I saw that man again, I don’t know if I would approach him or if I would run. I was going to give him every cent I had but that would not have been enough and that doesn’t make sense to me so I will sit in my room and shake and hope that someday the world is safe enough that humans are no longer categorized into Have’s and Have Not’s.
Please love those around you. Please hold hands with your friends and kiss your mothers on the cheek. And if someone looks like they need help, help them, because sooner or later they may reach a point where they have to help themselves in the only way they know how. Please pray for me and my fear and my heart. Please pray that I do not become even more hardened to the world but am broken even more every day in order to let some sort of truth seep into my cracks. I am afraid of a lot of things, but walking at night was not one of them, walking at night was a refuge, the stars and the streetlights are supposed to be my refuge and I do not want to lose that.
I began forgiving that man the second he pulled the knife out, but I have yet to forgive myself, a battle that is far more long and bloody than all the rest. I forgive that man, and I hope he knows it. I hope he feels it. I hope he lies awake at night knowing that God did not intend for him to live like this and that if he ever sees me he does not have to fall to my feet to find kindness. I do not know where to go from here.
I am confused, I am shaken, I am okay.
I want to talk about something that I have been really struggling with lately in my time abroad, it’s something that people typically don’t talk about, or at least get uncomfortable when it does get brought up. It’s something that countless of my young adult friends battle. It’s something that manifests itself differently for every person that suffers from it. It’s something we call Anxiety.
I had pretty amazing control of my anxiety over this past year, coming so far as to even stop taking psychoactive medication cold turkey against the advice of my doctor and turning out just fine, but in the spring, I found myself in a verbally/mentally abusive relationship that destroyed all the progress I had made in regards to my anxiety the few years prior. I began to have anxiety attacks again, invasive thoughts, repetitious behavior, nightmares, etc. All the symptoms were there. When I finally found the self-love to kick my abusive partner to the curb at the beginning of summer, I realized I didn’t really have the time or energy to go through all the motions I had gone through to ‘conquer’ my anxiety before I left for Ecuador. So I slept, I read, I watched Grey’s Anatomy, I went to church, I wrote a TON of music, and I figured that if my soul was strong enough to heal itself before I left for South America, it would.
Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
Studying abroad with anxiety is nothing like you’ve ever felt before. The thing about anxiety back home is that you know your safe spaces, you know where to go, who to call, what medication to take, when it’s a bad day, when it’s a good day; you know how to read everything. But when you are studying abroad, everything is new and changing and unfamiliar and you have no idea where you are or who you are or who you are supposed to be. It takes your anxiety, a fragile creature already, and drops it into a meat grinder that is plugged into the Energizer Bunny.
This is what studying abroad with anxiety looks like: it looks like knowing exactly where to buy headphones in case yours break or get lost and you need to minimize the time you are without access to the only music that can break through to you during an attack as much as possible, it looks like walking around campus and picking out safe zones where no one will see you relearning how to breathe, it looks like having a list of people that you associate with safety and the sunshine that you contact when you feel an attack coming/during recovery even though most of them don’t even know they are on the list, they just know that you ask them what they are doing or where they are at random points during any given day, it looks like enjoying taking the bus home because it’s the only guaranteed time you have where nobody asks personal questions, it looks like overthinking asking anybody to hang out and vowing to never ask them again even if they have a legitimate excuse not to, it looks like smiling and crying at the same time, it looks like needing to be hugged but being afraid to ask someone, it looks like people thinking you quiet or stuck up or apathetic or distanced, it looks like wanting to scream that you are just as alive as everyone else but knowing that no one would believe you so you just dance it out whenever possible instead, it looks like appreciating every single person that makes an effort to talk to you, it looks like Guns N’ Roses and Twenty Øne Piløts and The Wombats, it looks like dizziness and tunnel vision and hyperventilation and tears and numbness and the words “I’m just tired”, and it looks like growth.
It looks like growth because it is growth.
It’s terrifying, to not be able to control how I respond to stress here, and it’s even more terrifying to try and speak to someone in Spanish while having an anxiety attack. But there is growth and goodness and holiness being found in the struggle and that’s why I can write to you all about this, that’s why I can breathe knowing you are all reading my secrets. On the days when I wake up and there is fog outside and I put on a favorite sweater and I sing Hamilton while getting ready for school and the bus is on time and I don’t have to go early to print my homework and I already have dependable lunch plans and I have time to take a nap near la laguna, that is where the goodness is. The goodness is in the friends that don’t understand why you eat so many popsicles, but believe you anyways when you say it keeps away the bad spirits. The goodness is in the friend from back home who understands you when you say you’re dark and stormy today. The goodness is in waking up to an actual Mariachi Band inside your house and being mad because it’s early but not able to think of a better alarm clock. The goodness is in encouraging messages from home and late night conversations about blue fireflies and honest writing and similar tastes in music, it’s in climbing a route without stalling and it’s in the rainbows that fall out of your mouth and into the sky when you reach the top and it’s in the people who are waiting to hug you when you get there.
So yes, anxiety is ugly and messy, but the things that scare me most are so frequently the things that teach me how to love and how to grow and how to breathe the tears into the past that letting anxiety win is not an option for me. It can’t be. Anxiety is a battle I have to fight sometimes, but I have all the weapons and all the fellow comrades that I could possibly need, so I am not afraid to fight.
If you are battling anxiety, no matter what stage in your life, I hope you know that it’s OK. It’s absolutely OK. It’s OK to be afraid and it’s OK to be angry and it’s OK to need you’re an hour of time. Please know that you are not alone and that you will never be alone and you are not meant to be alone. We have you, I have you, God has you, the world has you. Your anxiety will not win, not in the end. You are strong and beautiful and the bad dreams will stop eventually, I promise. Do not give up. Do not give up. Do not give up.
It was a Saturday night and I sat at una fiesta, at a party, I sat separated from my friends with a strange man I had met that morning as part of our caravan from school. He was more drunk than I should have been comfortable being alone with and I had a little too much than I had planned as well. He sat in silence for a while before looking deep into my eyes with an expression of the clouds that never rain but look like they should, and while I unfortunately expected his hands to reach for my body, his
voice instead reached for my heart. He opened his mouth and said in beautiful drunken Spanish “don’t fall in love with anyone.” “Don’t fall in love with anyone,” he said, “because time will tear you two apart, you are beautiful and I am in love with a girl in France, I spent the whole summer holding her hands, but when time ran out I had to let go in more ways than one.”
“But you still love her,” I said more than I asked,
“Of course”, he said as if I should have known, “of course. But to allow her the time she is due I had to make the choice that made me sad and drunk here with you.”
He smiled painfully and took my hand in his, “it happened so softly, she was here, in a place I’ve been my whole life, and before I knew it she was more home than this place has ever been. It happened so softly”
He adamantly asked me again, he made me promise, he made me hook my pinkies with his and swear off ever becoming vulnerable, and while part of me gripped his pinky like iron, I knew this promise was more for him than for me. I knew he needed to know he was not alone in his loneliness. And he wasn’t.
Later that night after our fiesta got kicked out of the hostel we were staying in, we wandered the streets of Mindo, a rainy town hell bent on saving it’s paradise while still making money off of tourism. We stumbled upon a circle of humans who looked like they hadn’t showered in weeks and watched as their hands beat into drums the pattern of their desires. There were fifteen or so people playing the drums with small children scattered about hitting with sticks what they could reach. The whole group was led by a man with one arm, and the half of the drum beats that he couldn’t make with just one appendage, he filled in with his pungent voice, piercing the lowness of the drums with a call that could inspire even the deaf.
Most of my friends were stupid drunk and I was not but the way I danced to the music of those street people probably made them think I was the drunkest of all. One of my friends approached me and said “let’s go, this is boring, this music sounds too much like Africa” and it took all I had in me not to thunder back at him “don’t you know that Africa gave birth to music, don’t you know that entire continent was singing before the rest of the world even came out of the womb!” but I kept my mouth closed because Machismo is dangerous territory to play with when you are surrounded by intoxicated men in foreign streets.
My group left and went to a bar and I followed like a puppy searching for some sort of home, but I knew I would be forgotten and when I was, I snuck back to the music; I wanted to see through the end of this ritual. Even after all the spectators were gone, the drum circle kept on drumming and I sat on a bench in the dark and pretended that I could ever understand what it is to have my heart beat with 15 sets of hands unified as one. I was surrounded by walls of graffiti that begged things like “no se olvide de amar el volcán” (don’t forget to love the volcano) and “No se puede respirar el petroleo” (you can’t breathe oil), and wondered if the drummers were broken because the planet they loved was disintegrating in the hands of their own species. When they were done, they all stood and clasped hands and shouted in to the void of humidity words that my still gringa ears could not make out. But the look on their faces, the look on their faces made me know that even though their words came from their mouths; it was their hearts that were screaming. And then just like that, they dissipated, some holding hands, some holding babies, and one on a unicycle.
I returned to the new friends that try with me to believe we are family and began dancing to reggaeton with a stranger from Mindo. He was older, not old, but older and his hips reminded me of Patrick Swayze telling the whole world “Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”
The rest of the evening was long walks and laughter and whispers of mortality and when it came to the end for me, I lay awake beneath a canopy of mosquitos on the top bunk of a hostel room, listening to the sound of a color that I did not yet understand. I marveled at how every time I thought I had a good grasp on the spectrum of the world, some new place showed up and reminded me that I am just one girl who is searching for the truth in instability.
The next night, I sat curled in my bed reading about the structure of the atom when I felt the structure of the earth beneath me rip apart. It was brief and it was violent and it was my first semblance of an earthquake. I moved slowly until I heard the desperation in my host sister’s voice as she told me “venga ahora! Es necesario estar afuera de casa!” I followed the fear in her voice and as we stood outside in the rain nearly expecting the world to disappear she told me stories of the way God shakes His fist over Ecuador even though nobody knows for sure what sin was committed. And as my every word of reassurance did nothing to calm her down, I understood for the first time in my life what it meant to make a dormant landscape out to be The Deity, because on the one day he wakes up and exercises the power of that role, it is far better to have feared him for centuries and have faith he will save you, than fear him for just one day and end up as the sacrifice.I understood what it meant to always have one eye skeptically glued to the horizon.
When we finally went back inside, I thought of the people drumming the night before. I thought of how they wore dirt like a crown and how so much of the rest of the world wore crowns made of burning dollar bills. I thought of how I don’t even have a crown at all. I thought of how I have trouble loving those who haven’t
talked long and hard with death. I thought of the man with the one arm and how he beat just as strong as the next person. I thought of the waterfalls we had collapsed under earlier on Saturday and how hooking arms with someone else made the water less cold. I thought of the Ecuadorian Patrick Swayze and I thought of how good at dancing his father must have been. I thought about a lot of things, of God and how He is supposed to be unchanging and yet He let’s his world literally fall to pieces. I thought in Spanish and English and realized that I don’t know either language but that I do know how to make eye contact with someone who is lonely and tell them to not give up the fight.
Now, I sit in my bed feeling the gunfire I thought I had left behind in the hospital a week ago work it’s way back into my veins. Perhaps I too have a dormant volcano lying latent beneath my skin. I can feel the bacterial lava almost as strong as the angry lava of the Midwest reminding us that one more pipeline will be one too many pipelines, and I remember that there is smog here that my beloved home state has nightmares of and I realize that my body was not cut out to breathe air turned to ash by technological ‘advances’.
I am tired of thinking. I am tired of thinking but it’s all I can do here when I cannot speak. So I will continue thinking and praying and hopefully I will become like the volcano beneath the skin of Ecuador; something worth remembering even when I am dormant.
Good afternoon, my dears, I’m writing to you all from my room in Quito, Ecuador after my very first day of school at USFQ (Universidad de San Francisco de Quito). I’ve been in Quito for one week officially and can easily say that it has NOT been the best week of my life, but rather has been one of the more challenging weeks I’ve ever had
Now, while reading what I have to say from here on out, I need you to remember one thing: I AM NOT RYAN LOCHTE. I know y’all heard the story: super-duper American Olympian is allegedly held at gun-point in a foreign country and is all “I was like, ‘whatever’” and then gets all of Brasil mad at him for misrepresentation and also a large portion of the U.S.A. mad at him for proving that Americans really do have the potential to be privileged, dramatic jerks. So, I’m not Ryan Lochte, because everything that made this week not the best is because I’m the one that sucks, not Ecuador. Ecuador itself is AMAZING. The food is healthy and rich and filling, the people are kind despite the fact that I’m a gringa, and the country itself is saturated with diversity.
But me, well, I’m on the lower end of things here for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with Ecuador, and everything to do with me. I can’t run as far or as fast as I could in the United States because of altitude difference. Back home I was up to a little above an 8K on the regular, but here I can barely finish a 5K without begging the fast and muscular Ecuadorian men to just trample me and put me out of my misery. I can’t play fútbol (not the same as American football) well at all. I couldn’t play in the United States either, but here my lack of skill is emphasized. I really can’t speak Spanish. Even though I’ve had years of Spanish classes, my painfully high sense of self-awareness has really shown me that a lot of other exchange students are far above
my skill level. A lot are below me as well, but I’ve never been one to thrive on middle ground. And lastly, I really, really can’t make new friends. I’m not kidding. I know that must be shocking for all you, seeing as I’ve been a needy little pinto bean my whole life, making friends with anyone and everyone I possibly can. But, the lack of Spanish ability seems to become highlighted when I try to talk to anyone other than other gringos in Spanish. It’s like this: Spanish is the absent father of your childhood, the absent father who has recently walked into your life and is trying to make amends with you. And it’s really good, you guys are connecting and having father/daughter dates and whatnot and maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all. But then, it’s your thirteenth birthday and it’s your used to be estranged father’s job to pick up the birthday cake and you think “that’s not such a hard job, surely I can depend on him for that”, but then he shows up and he’s drunk and the cake is half eaten and all the other 13 year old girls call their moms to pick them up early and you realize even though you love him, you just can’t depend on him for anything. Well, Spanish is my drunk, cake eating, estranged father, and Ecuadorian young adults are the other 13 year olds, and I’m really starting to convince myself that it’s maybe best to just not even expose them to my crappy home life. Okay, I know, that was a pretty bad metaphor, but that just shows you how much I’ve been sucking lately. I’m like a teething child right now; all I can do is cry, poop, and chew on things.
Now, I know you’re all thinking “wow this girl is even more nuts than I thought she was, it’s normal to have a hard time adjusting to a new country”, but let me remind you that I have always been a glimmering, shining, iridescent constellation forever destined to shine bright against the night sky of mediocrity (sarcasm or no? you decide), and here, I am quite decidedly just a teeny, tiny, portion of that mediocre background, blending in with the rest of the dreary blackness of it all. Throughout the rest of my life, even when I have been lacking in skill, I could always make it up in charm, grace, and beauty. But here, I am literally unable to express the constant stream of wit and hilarity that is flowing through my head (maybe a good thing for those around me?), and being the palest thing most of these people have ever seen, I don’t have much going for me in the area of beauty pageants.
But, in spite of quoting Twenty One Pilot’s line from The Judge “Wow, I probably shoulda stayed inside my house,” about 8 times a day, I’m glad I haven’t. I’ve met amazing gringos from all over the world, I hiked a freaking mountain on my fourth day here with someone I know I’m already becoming very dear friends with, my host family is beautiful and kind and forgiving, my host dog is sleeping on my feet RIGHT NOW, I took the
40 minute bus ride to school all by myself and didn’t get lost (actually a miracle), I sang worship songs in Spanish, and so much more. All in the first week! So yeah, even though teething sucks, you have to grow your own molars if you ever want to take a bite of something substantial. My molars are coming (I know, another slightly off metaphor, but at this point are you even surprised?), maybe not quick, but they’re coming, and they’re going to be beautiful and straight and pearly white, and by the time they get here, I’ll have an appetite like nothing you’ve ever seen.