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By ELIZABETH WARREN
Who can believe that it has already been eights months since I left my small town in Florida and came to live and volunteer in Ibarra, Ecuador. Only 18 years old and just out of high school, I was entering a whole other world and life than what I was used to.
My first month Quito was good, I was only homesick once but I was really liking it there, then came the time to spend a week in our home stays, where we would be living for the next seven months and visiting our jobs. I remember being really nervous to be meeting my new family, but I figured I would be fine. I remember being so shy when I first met them at the terminal where they were picking us up, because along with my mom, sister and brother, it was also my cousins and aunts, we all hugged said hi and then left. I got to my new house and settled in with my belongings, after awhile I started just getting sad because I wouldn’t be going to class and seeing everyone I knew the next day, that is when I felt super alone. I just wanted to cry, a lot and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and when I had to go to work that week, it wasn’t any better.
When I met my apprenticeship supervisor, I learned her name was the same as my mom’s name, which just reminded me of my homesickness. After about three days of being there, I walked to an internet and video place, called my mom just in tears, I kept asking what was I doing here? Why did I do this? She talked to me and made me feel better, she reminded me that I was here for a reason and that 1) I was given a great opportunity, and 2) that this year was something that I could get through. I felt better after talking to my mom; that night I talked to another Fellow, which also really helped, and I started feeling better.
When we went back to Quito and I heard everyone else’s stories, I realized I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time their first week. When the time came to go back to Ibarra, I was actually excited to go back to my family, who I would be living with the next seven months. I felt comfortable going back and being with my Ibarra family.
One thing I was still frustrated with at the time was my job. It was nothing like I thought it was going to be, so I just wasn’t very interested. Then, after a few months in my apprenticeship, I started liking the job more and learning about what it was that they did because I was working at a small microfinance office.
Yet, by December, I started working at a school once a week. At the beginning of this experience, I thought, me ... teaching? Teaching was one job I said I would never do. Who would have thought I would actually love teaching? I was the Physical Education and English teacher at the Benjamin Carrion school and through “Buscando Un Amigo,” the microfinance office, I got to help teach afternoon and Saturdays English at a school/high school.
Seven months ago, I would have never pictured myself teaching or helping teach. By working in the schools and helping the teachers, it gave me a new perspective on teaching. I went from being the shy, quiet American in my house to my crazy, talkative self. Also I went from feeling negative with my apprenticeship to loving all the jobs I ended up doing. If Ecuador taught me anything, it really taught me patience and that things do get better in time.
In any country you go into you are more than likely going to run into problems, some may be bad or just plain funny. I have my share of problems here in Ecuador, which I like to call Ecuaproblems! First, one of the problems I struggled with when I first got to Ecuador was the buses, because here you take public buses or taxis for your main way of travel. I am from a small town, we don’t have public buses or taxis; the first time I used either a bus or a taxi was in Ecuador.
My first bad bus experience was in Quito when I got on a bus that usually goes by my street, I guess it took a different route to some place that I didn’t know at all, then the bus driver stops the bus, turns it off and pretty much tells me to get off, such a nice guy.
Well, I had brought enough money for two more buses and I didn’t have money for a cab, plus I knew barely any Spanish. I call my friend to have her help me and I managed to find another bus that went right by my house and about an hour or so later I made it home.
My next story also happened in Quito, I believe my second week there after class, another Fellow and I decided to hike, it was really sunny out, so we thought, “no problem.” We got to the mountain and there in the middle of the woods, it started storming, so we tried to wait under a tree. Well… instead of getting better, the rain got worse, so we decided to just run to the little closest town.
As we were running, it started to seriously hail. There we were, soaking wet walking back down to the city while everyone was staring and laughing at us. Finally, we got a cab but it wouldn’t take me to my house, so I have to get out and wait for guess what?….a bus!
One thing you have to get used to here is being cat-called by men of all ages, I like to call it dog-calling because it sounds like they are calling a dog. You’ll just be walking down the street and men are just whistling calling you, “muy linda,” (very pretty), or “hola mami.” Once, I have had two different guys lean over and blow kisses at me and even calling me “mi amor” (my love) or “mi vida,” (my life). So ladies be prepared to be cat-called aka “dog-called.”
Another problem I have run into here is this complexity of going to the doctor, at least, this is how it worked for me when I had to go the doctor. First, I waited until a nurse came and did the usual little tests, then back to wait to see the doctor. Next, I finally talked to the doctor, who decides whether you need to get any tests done, and if he does you have to go to a pharmacy, buy the sample materials and do them at home. Once, you have the samples, you take them back to the laboratory and about four hours later, you get the results to once more talk to the doctor the next day possibly, so it usually takes about two days, depending on what you have, to complete one doctor visit.
Going back to September, during my first week here in Ibarra, I remember that my host mom bought me some street food, well… I didn’t want to be mean, so I accepted and it was actually good, meat pieces and vegetables in a little plastic bag. Then, in December while I was having my meeting with MC (my team leader), who had met with my host mom earlier that day, I found out that what I ate during that first week was cow intestines that my host mom gave me to make my stomach stronger (which didn’t work).
My shower consists of boiling water in a huge bucket and then mixing it with the cold water, I can say I do miss real showers. Another problem I had was lighting the matches to light the gas stove, it wasn’t me, it was the matches! The matches we get are really small and the stick part is made of plastic, so they bend very easy and I could never light the stove, so when I wanted to shower I had to wait for someone to get home to light the stove. Additionally to the lighting matches lack of skill, another not so wonderful situation which happens is when you come home and want to take a shower, but there is no water or just the whole country is having a gas shortage (gas needed to cook and boil your shower water).
To conclude, along with an Ecualife comes Ecuaproblems, whether it’d be trying to figure out the buses or just the simplest things in your house, hardly a day goes by without something interesting happening.
Elizabeth Warren is spending a year between high school and college doing community work in Ecuador as part of the Global Citizen Year program. He blog can be found at this link: globalcitizenyear.org/author/elizabeth-warren/.