On January 6th of this year, I made a list of fourteen potential goals for Ecuador.
"Learn to trust others/ believe people are good." -- That was number three.
I came to the right place.
Ecuador is one big trust exercise, and it is no place for old anxieties. Living in a country where you know no one and cannot drive pretty much guarantees riding in the car with strangers, for example, and that involves a lot of trust. That they are safe drivers and that they are not going to kidnap you, for example. Oh, and backseat seatbelts aren't really a thing here. So almost constantly, I am riding in the car with strangers, often without a seatbelt. I have progressed from doing this nervously to just getting in the car- so here are some highlights of times I rode in the car with strangers, and how it has helped me learn to trust.
1) In the taxi on the way back from the airport. In every taxi actually, but this one is when I was sitting on a little jump seat in the middle of the taxi bus with my fellow program participants and I was intensely preoccupied over my seat belt. Like I really wanted one and I was terrified of what would happen without one. Oh how times have changed.
Public health/service announcement- you actually should worry about your seatbelt. Srsly. But like, sometimes there aren't any. And then you have to assume the Jesus on the dash is going to protect you from Quito traffic because there really ain't anything else you can do.
2) Being picked up from CIMAS by my host family- and riding home in the neighbor's car because of pico y placa.
3) Almost right away, I went to a birthday party. My host sister, who I just met that day, drove me. I distinctly remember thinking- "I am riding in the car with a stranger without a seat belt." In that moment, many weeks ago, this blog post was born. After that, my host niece and nephew sang "Libre Soy" Frozen a million times. Why worry? Libre soy!
4) Carnaval- from being driven to the coast by Katrina's family to that one time a dude who was a friend of the family friend we were staying with offered to take us to the discoteca and I rode in the bed of the pickup.
5) Waiting for the bus one day to work, probably my first week, two of my coworkers passed by, honked and told me to get in. I did.
6) A traveling musician who may or may not been friends with one of the auxiliary nurses (possibly a stranger to everyone in the car) brought us to a community celebration for work that he wasn't even heading to. Later, he saw me waiting for the bus and offered to take me to Otavalo, but I declined because I was alone and I'm not stupid.
7) During my weekend in Ibarra, the daughter of the coworker that invited me picked us up from the bus station- she looked about 16, but was actually 23 and a fine driver. Also in Ibarra- her uncle and father took turns driving this ridiculous basically bus-van filled with all the cousins in this family, once while literally drinking a beer (that they were sharing with the whole van). I was obviously freaked out by this, but I couldn't exactly jump ship from the people who had invited me over. Luckily, my coworker (the sister/ wife of this duo) told them to stop.
8) For Easter weekend, I met a doctor who just got back from vacation who lived in Quito. She was returning the same day I was and offered me a ride, so instead of taking the taxi or the bus, I took a one and a half hour drive with a stranger- for free. We didn't even run out of things to talk about, which, at this point in my Ecuador time, was my biggest worry.
9) In Quito, I went out with my cousin and I figured it would be safer to come back with him than to take a taxi. He wasn't exactly a stranger, but it was still an interesting ride- he got lost and of course I don't know where I am going... He also sat at every red with me as cars went around. I thought that was very nice of him, as traffic signals are really treated as more of a suggestion here, and I know he thinks so too.
10) The San Pablo police took us out to one of our rural communities one day so that we did not have to catch an infrequent bus and then walk a lot. I found myself in the bed of a pickup again, sitting on a thermos of anti-rabies vaccines and appreciating the mountains. Talk about strangers- I never even saw the faces of the people who drove me.
I'm sure in my last 2.5ish weeks here (AHHHHH I'm not leaving. No. I'm not.) I will continue to take risks, learn, possibly use the subjunctive correctly in conversation, and ride in the car with strangers. As for goal number three? I'm making it there, through little things every day.