Before I came here, I thought that I was doing it alone, that I needed to be brave and that I would face many challenges. I'm sure there will be challenges. I'm sure I'll need to be brave. Even forming a sentence here can be brave. (Luckily, I don't really get embarrassed, and I learned from one of my best friends that you need to ask many questions and try and fail in order to learn.) But the thing I was wrong about is that I am alone. I have the CIMAS staff that wants to take care of us and make sure we have the best experience possible. I have my fellow students. But most of all, I have an AMAZING host family.
My mother's name is Monica and my father Patricio. They are grandparents to five grandchildren, but they do not have any children or pets living in the house. (Well, there was a cat hanging out here, but it was a stray that got in through the window and scared my mother half to death.) They have been a host family for almost twenty years and have had over thirty students. They know that we might have strange habits or difficulties, which is great, though I was prepared to adjust a lot. I have my own bedroom and bathroom, both of a good size. (Everything in the house is nice. My father is an economics professor, so I think that they come from a higher class than most in Quito. I am definitely not roughing it. Will write more on this later.) They are always asking me how I am, if I need something, and the hugs! Ecuadorians have it right. Humans need some caring touch every day to survive, and in Ecuador, there are always hugs and kisses on the cheek. I will never forget the moment when I met my host mom. She arrived late to the school because of a miscommunication and when I greeted her, she hugged me like she was seeing her own daughter after a long separation. It was a cliche movie moment. I ran across the room to her. And just like that, we were a family. Not the same as my family, but much more so than I would ever expect to be with a stranger.
We moved in with our families after our first full day of orientation. Mine feed me lots and give me lots of love. Sometimes I will look across the room and if I catch my father's eye he will smile or wink at me. I feel completely safe with them and like they genuinely care about me. It is a mix of daughter and honored guest. My mother loves when I make my bed and lets me help her with the dishes, but we were at the produce store and I started asking what certain fruits were- the ones we don't have in the U.S., and she bought some for me to try. It was super sweet.
Here, I am relearning the importance of kindness. Of little gestures that help people know you care about them- as friends or simply as human beings. This kindness extends far beyond the immense kindness of my host family.
Yesterday, we had an indigenous welcome ceremony at school. I wish I knew what group the man was a part of who came to perform it for us, but they only told us once. He taught us many things. About the seven worlds that his people believe in, about their relationship with la madre tierra or pachamama (Mother Earth), and about their relationship with each other. He explained the idea of Yanantin. You may find something different on the Internet, but the way he explained it is that everything is connected. People especially, it seemed. For an example, he told the girl standing in front of him, "I am a part of you and you are a part of me." We were instructed to take a fruit from the blanket in the center of our circle. We put it on our hearts. Since it nourishes us, it symbolized our lives. Then, he instructed us to give it to another person. This is the ceremony of Yanantin.
Neighbors ended up exchanging with one another. With our professor, we had an uneven number, and by accident (I don't think anybody hates me), I was the odd one out.... for about three seconds, until my neighbor Sam, who had just finished exchanging with Kathleen turned around and exchanged with me. At first I was not sure we were doing it correctly, but then I thought he had probably discovered the point of the whole exercise. We are all a part of each other. Our double trade is what Yanantin is all about. Not to mention, it was a super kind gesture.
Then, we were instructed to eat the fruit. Some of the students had fruit that they could not eat because it did not have a peel and was unwashed (or, in the case of Kelly, was a gigantic papaya). Sam gave a part of his/my/everybody's orange to one of these people and I was kind of moved. I hadn't even thought to do that. But it didn't take me long to take part of my banana across the circle to Kelly.
Although Yanantin is part of indigenous culture (and I had to keep reminding myself is not mine and that I will never understand it as they do. I so want it to be a part of me. It can be in some way, of course, just not the same way), there have been a lot of manifestations of this love and kindness in my first three days here similar to Yanantin. People share sunscreen, advice, worries, some food, and Sarah shared her water with me when I was not feeling well this morning. (Purifed water is a precious resource here for us because you can't just go to the tap anytime.) Everyone is pretty much willing to help out. And our families are sharing their homes, their lives, and their love with total strangers.
Not everything is perfect, but everything is wonderful, and I can already tell I am going to learn a lot here, not just about development or Spanish but about how to be a better human being.