Coming home and leaving home

In my life I have called 3 places home.  The first was and is wherever my family has lived.  This is where I’m taken care of and treated as a daughter and a sister.  This is the place that I can lay in bed sick and not feel like an inconvenience when I ask for a cup of hot tea to be delivered to my bedside.  The second place thus far is my college campus.  Dorm life has allowed me to get close to other girls and guys…because we’re forced to live together.  I’ve created a support system and a ‘family’ of friends.  

The third place I’ve called home is Quito.  I spent the least amount of time there, but it made its mark on me nonetheless.  I made my own space there and formed another ‘family’ of friends.  So now that I’m home with my nuclear family, the phrase ‘hey guys I’m home!’ seems slightly incorrect.  I left one home to come to another.  That’s a more accurate statement.  So essentially, I left my home abroad to come home to my parents and soon i’ll be going home to my W&J family.  Home is a word that comes in many forms, and sometimes they’re all happening and being true at the same time.

Thoughts on being ‘sicky’

I have a lot of thoughts at this moment, but it’s a little difficult to coagulate them nicely.  because i’m sick with a fever and aches.  Today I realized that I notice the nice things people do and the awesome things of the world on a regular basis, but it isn’t until i’m in a bad state of mind or physicality that  I truly appreciate them.  

Example.  When people tell you ‘oh sleep well’ it usually sounds empty and just a generic goodbye, but when i’m sick and I tell someone that I feel horrid, they say something like ‘ok, well… rest and study, you can do this’ and it sounds so much more infused with sincerity! 

I’m happy that I grew up with parents who have taught me to listen to my body and read the signs it’s giving.  Oh, your glands in your neck are up? you should take it easy.  

Today I went to eat a bagel in a coffee shop.  and the man behind the counter asked how I was.  I told him that I had a fever and was sick and had to take an exam soon.  When he asked if I wanted anything to drink I just said hot water.  Instead he told me he would give me hot lemonade (which is a well known remedy here for colds), but when he rang me up, he only charged me for a bagel.  This little act of kindness gave me a boost and helped me get through my test.

I’m also grateful for showers.  earlier today I was frigid cold, so I went in and turned on the shower and let it steam the room up.  This warmed my body, and helped clear my breathing airways.  I know I have a fever, even if I don’t have a thermometer, but I also know it’s not very high and I don’t need to be worried.

And today I feel a deep thankfulness for the friends I have made.  Yes there are friends that  I hang out with and have fun, but there are a select few that I feel have enriched my experience here and it seems surreal to be leaving them.

I’m having trouble gathering my thoughts at the moment due to my current circumstances, but i’ll end with this:  Today I felt yucky, but I am really happy that it waited until the end of my trip, when i am basically done with things that i need and want to do.  

Eye contact

I’ve found that if I make eye contact with men, they take that as an invitation to look at me as though I’m a piece of fruit, or to say something unwelcome (not necessarily gross, but just unnecessary) such as ‘hola guapa’ or ‘you’re the little gringa i’ve been waiting for’ (but in spanish).  

I didn’t notice how often people in the U.S. make eye contact, and then just look away, as though there was no interaction.  I’m used to looking at someone in order to observe my situation and judge how safe I am, but looking someone in the eyes back home does not invite any sort of interaction other than just looking at someone and then leaving them alone.  Here, I’ve tried to avoid unwanted encounters, so I have learned to take in my surroundings and know where people are around me but without looking at (actually actively avoiding) their eyes.  It doesn’t matter so much for when I pass by women, because either they are looking down  to avoid eyes just like i am, or we glance at each other, maybe even exchange a smile, and then pass by.  

I started to look at the ground a lot, and not engage my surroundings, even if I was aware of them.  And I didnt like this.  It felt like I was passive… or maybe like i felt as though I didnt deserve to be there.  Not sure. but either way the men’s cat calls became part of my daily routine and I found that observing, and keeping my head up (because I’m happy to be here, taking up space and living in this world) without making eye contact is the best way to be evade most uncomfortable situations.

also, if a man says ‘buenas tardes’ and comes really close, he’s not ok. but if he says this and keeps a reasonable distance, I look at him and greet him too, because he’s not trying to be a creep, he’s being a gentleman.  Gentlemen are nice to talk to :)

Mama Negra

A while ago, I went to a place called Latacunga.  There isn’t much reason to go to Latacunga unless it’s during a festival called Mama Negra.  I didn’t expect to go; this was one of those trips that was decided a day or two before (which is something that happens a lot in Ecuador, and if you’re too rigid about plans you’ll miss out). Needless to say, i’m learning to be more flexible about planning things, and not getting disappointed when things change unexpectedly.  

Anyway. back to latacunga.  So, my friend’s parents flew to Ecuador to explore and see their son.  They told him that he could invite some friends to the hostel and stay with them during the weekend.  After a few people cancelled and plans changed about 3 times (surprise…) my friends and I ended up going to meet him and his parents.  

The ecovia ride there was unexpectedly long, hot, and i was hungry.  Fortunately I made conversation with someone who ended up showing us where to get tickets for our next bus.  This is important because the station was huge and neither my friend nor i had ever been there.  (Lauren, this station is called Quitumbe.  You can go anywhere from there ;)  ).  We finally found the right bus after people who had seen our ticket yelled over to us and said ‘chicas, acá!’ 

I sat next to a guy who had obvious mental differences than the rest of the people on the bus.  He would not stop waving.  for the first 30 minutes of this bus ride he just WAVED to NO ONE.  I finally made eye contact with his dad to make sure all was well.  then there was silence for about 5 minutes.  the man next to me then broke the silence by telling me his life story, and asking me if i would marry him.  after the first 2 interactions, i stopped responding.  but he continued.  for an hour.  his father then handed us a piece of paper with a prayer on it, and their address in quito.  He told us to come and spend time with his son.  My friend and I decided to get off the bus early, at a random corner, in the rain, because this was too much and we felt ridiculously uncomfortable at this point.  

So we run across the street to a stand selling some sort of food.  and the ladies there help us get a truck-taxi to the hostel where our friend and his parents are.  We arrive safely, and change into dry clothes.  then something amazing happened— they gave us tea.  it was warm and delicious and calming :)

we hung out that night in the hostel, just relaxing and enjoying being away from pollution and noise.  I should mention that this hostel was an hacienda at one point and it was absolutely gorgeous.  old style everything.  I felt like i was in a fairy tale.  

The mama negra festival… we waited for a long time for it to start.  there were a lot of expected festivities.  people were willingly sharing beverages and happy and welcoming in general.  the men in the parade were dressed in drag and handing out candy (i think they’re supposed to be viudas or widows).  the parade was colorful, and had lots of pigs carcasses and music.  it was overall just a lot of stimulus, but i really still don’t know what the significance of the mama negra festival is…i’ll find out one day.

The main take away that I got from this experience was not seeing a traditional parade, but it was continuing to take in and be a part of Ecuadorian culture.  While i’ve been here i’ve been consistently trying to be a sponge, noticing everything I can and just enjoying it for what it is.  This weekend was not full of extreme sports, or outlandish animals, or a lot of self discovery; but it was a well needed break from the go-go-go mentality of school and exploring.  It was a detox weekend, and I got to spend it with some of my favorite people that I’ve met in Ecuador.

The bus ride home

On the bus ride home today, there were some jovenes (people my age) from the university that I didn’t know.  We didn’t talk, but still we managed to joke around with each other.  When the bus went on a sharp curve the guys were trying to hang on and on accidentally kinda half tripped.  He turned and saw that  I saw and then we just laughed.  In a crowded bus it’s nice to break the tension and smile at someone when you’re hanging on to the hand rail as hard as you can, this lets the other person know ‘yeah, I feel ya bro’.  

Another guy opened the emergency exit on the roof to get some fresh air, and we exchanged a look of ‘thank goodness, i was going to suffocate in here’.  Then, when someone vacated a seat, I didn’t notice, but he stood by the seat until i turned around and then gestured that I could sit down.  and the woman in the seat beside me said something to the effect of ‘that’s right youngin’ you let the pretty girl in the dress have the seat’ and i just smiled at her and said thanks.  finally, when i had to leave, i just made eye contact with the guy who had offered me the seat (who was blocking my way out) and we both nodded and proceeded to the door.  turns out we use the same bus stop.

Once off of the bus, I saw someone who I thought was gringa, so i asked her where she was from.  She is from Quito, and not gringa.  we had a nice little chat until we parted ways.

I love how nonverbal communication can be just as fulfilling as talking.  I smiled and laughed with people on the bus, and when someone lost their balance, I helped, and was helped.  If I am open to it, people are going to be open (mostly) to talking or interacting too. 


(and on my walk to school, i met an older man who just decided to start talking to me with ‘vamos mija’ as we were crossing the street.   I don’t know what his accent was, i’ve never heard/noticed ones like it before, but it was quite interesting to talk to him and feel accepted in this city.)


Galapagos

How do I start this one… there’s so much that I squished into the week that  I went to the Galapagos.  For starters, it was really cool to be with a group of students who organized this themselves.  We discussed, got an agency, paid, and did it.  At the airport I didn’t know everybody in the group, but it was really easy to get to know people with activities like a 16 km hike to a volcano, downtime at the airport, and hanging out at night when there were no scheduled excursions.

2 islands. 8 days. 1 book bag. several new friends. 

The climate and terrain variation on these islands was astounding.  desert type place to beach to rainforest all in a day and all on one island.

We visited a place where they display animals, especially turtles and put it in the perspective of Darwin’s studies.  Lonely George, turns out wasn’t that lonely, because he had two females with him.  But they were of a different species and therefore when George died, the species ended.  

We went to the beach.  I swam in the Galapagos, and the water was gentle and warm.  it was so peaceful.  On the day before we left we had no schedule to which we had to adhere, and so a lot of us went to the beach.  I spent all day there, feeling peaceful and rested.  I played in the sand like a little kid.  When I was little, my uncle used to make sand castles that looked really drippy, and I tried to do that too.

hike to a mountain.

snorkling.

karaoke.

more snorkling.

6 mile bike ride.

I was so nervous when it was time to go snorkeling, because … having a breathing thing in your mouth is weird and took a bit to get used to.  I feel that trips that  I take shouldn’t just be fun, but I want them to push my limits.  This trip was unforgettable because I learned that I can do so much more than I thought.  I can snorkel with giant tortoises and fishes and sea lions, I can hike ridiculous amounts on uneven terrain, and I can sing alone in front of people.  

Anecdote:  on the return portion of our hike I overheated and my head felt so pressurized (similar to when you’re descending in an airplane).  So I sat down, and someone poured a huge bottle of water on me to cool me off.  I was unexpectedly grateful for the surprise shower.  I liked knowing that I had friends on this trip that would look out for me, and I would look out for them.  I like being reassured that people are good and willing to lend a hand.  

On this hike I walked in silence the same amount as I conversed.  Both felt natural and welcomed.  It’s cool to observe group dynamics and social norms/trends on these sorts of adventures.

At one point, our group passed by a sea lion one a dock who had had its back fins chopped off.  The guide said that by the looks of the cuts it looked man-done.  I was one of the last people off the boat, and while I waited for my friend to finish with the bathroom, I sat beside the sea lion.  We sat there together for a good amount of time, and I felt horrible because there was nothing I could give it except my presence, and a song.  So that’s what I did.  I sang the injured creature a soothing song and when I finished we just sat there together in silence.  My friend came out and we had to leave.  When the group came back to the boat across the same dock, the animal was gone.  I don’t know what happened to it.  I remember its eyes and how helpless it looked, and I’m saddened, to say the least.  

Although this trip was physically demanding ( I feel so healthy now) and had unfortunate parts (the sea lion, and people getting sick) it was an amazingly phenomenal trip that I am glad I did not miss out on.  I learned a lot about myself, and about the islands of Santa Cruz and Isabela, as well as about my companions.

2 thumbs up.

Mindo

A few weeks back my ecua-buddy invited me to his hacienda along with a group of his friends.  An hacienda is the equivalent of a country house.  Because of having to take care of some friend the evening before, I had only gotten 2 hours sleep the night before.  As  I walked to the meeting place in the morning, I was irritable and tired, and I overshot my friends house and had to double back.  As soon as I saw him, though, I asked for a hug.  Hugs have a special healing power :)

The road to Mindo was wind-ey and filled with almost nonstop conversation. Mindo itself had a nice ‘small-town’ feel to it, which was a nice change from the city.  The fresh air was also a lovely change.  

On my friend’s property there are two cascadas (waterfalls) and we made the track to one of them before the Ecuador futbol (soccer) game came on . Guess who swam in and then went under the frigid waterfall???? me! Loved it.  so intense.  I didn’t pay attention to the actual game much and actually left to take a nap.  Let’s be honest.  you know me.  I was tired and if there’s a choice between watching sports and sleep, i’m obviously choosing sleep.  But I watched enough of the game to get a taste of it before leaving.  When  I emerged from my nap 2 hours later, everyone was in high spirits.  I ATE MY FIRST HAMBURGER, and learned a new card game called cuarenta.  

The next day we went to the second cascada, which was devastatingly beautiful.  I was tired and there were wet rocks… but luckily i made a friend with a dog on the farm and he followed me wherever i went.  and when i hesitated he went in front of me and showed me where to walk on the slippy (yes, I said slippy) rocks.  

AND I PET A HORSE! 

Before we left we went to this chocolate place where I invested in some goodies.  I had a cool weekend with some new people and was able to practice my spanish and learn about ecuador from a different vantage point.

moon cycles

I have always liked the phrase ‘bleeding with the moon’ to describe my period.  Sometimes I think, if this is what makes me a woman, I dont want it.  Mother nature can take her gift back.  Then I think of those who choose to transform themselves into being women and I try to understand why.  They are choosing to be the ones who are yelled at on the street, harassed everywhere they go… why choose that life?  Obviously there’s more to being a woman than just boobs and a period.  Sometimes I get really down on my gender, thinking only negative thoughts, and then  I remind myself that without the label of ‘female’ I’m a human being.  I’m a human being who’s exploring my personality and my abilities; and that right there, being alive, existing in this world, that’s some pretty cool stuff :)

The many uses of Vinegar

Since I’ve been here, I’ve found that vinegar is one of those multi-useful and cheap things.  Here are the uses that  I have found thus far for the liquid:

1) I walked into a small tienda (store) and asked if they had talc powder, because… Let’s be honest, after a day of hiking and sweating, my feet smell, and I want to fix it.  They didn’t have talc.  BUT the woman pulled out an old medicine book and informed me that a water-vinegar mixture a few times a week would alleviate the issue.  This is now my go-to store for when I need anything from snacks to sanitary pads.  The lady now knows me by name and where I’m from and asks how my classes were that day.

2)When I went to Tiputini in the Amazon, I swam in this amazing river.  The water was so cool and the current was gentle.  I even got out to pee on the side becuause the guide scarily told us “no haces pee en el agua!!!” because there’s this thing in the water that will crawl up and shoot out jaggers and has to be surgically removed from your urethra.  I was not having that happen, so I gladly climbed up to the sand/mud, (subsequently sank knee deep in the mud) and avoided the prospect of painful surgery… the point is, that after that swim, my bathing suit smelled because the river smelled.  So what did I do?  When I got home  I filled the sink with water and poured some vinegar in, let my suit soak for 10 minutes, and poof!  Good as new.

3) Lastly, a diluted water-vinegar mix is a cheap and healthy alternative to conditioner.  The first day I was in a jam and had to buy regular conditioner, but now that  I am running out, I plan to use vinegar instead.  I used this method during the summer before I came here and my hair and scalp felt much healthier without the gunk of the conditioner residue.

4) And I forgot one!
When I got salt stains on my black suede boots, I gently scrubbed them with vinegar to remove the white streaks.  Spick and span :)