And what a weekend it has been, bookmarked by birthday parties.
I can’t say I was expecting this much celebration, but I also can’t say that I completely understood it was happening until a cake was presented with candles– and then I finally got the message that I was at a birthday party, my host dad’s, to be exact. The first of many things lost in translation. That was Friday night, my introduction to Ecuadorian familial life: the kids, grandparents, grandchildren, the neighbors, friends, and their dogs, too, of course. Needless to say, it was overwhelming, crazy, emotional, touching, and so much more… especially when the cake was served around midnight, and then my host dad, Fabian Sr., accidentally spilled his cake all over me. Then, all the emotions and exhaustion came together as one, and I started crying as much as I was laughing. Eventually, I pulled myself together and cleaned up my pants (with so much help from everyone else), ate my cake, and made it successfully to bed. In a way, it was exactly how I imagined my first day– emotional, draining, transitional, and with a great big family all around me. In another state of mind, I was hoping I wouldn’t cry on my first day, but I should have realized who I was talking to…
Of course, that was just one introduction to my new life with my host family. The other was absolutely wonderful in its own way, with everyone so kind, open, and willing to help me transition to a new kind of life. My host mom, Gladys, is always taking me under her wing, making sure I am happy, fed and watered. Fabian, my older brother, is the same, but in a more older brother-y kind of way– as in, ya jugamos carnaval, we already ‘played carnaval’ with his friends. This involved getting sprayed with cans of foam, and then water balloons, the hose, etc. I did successfully avoid the mud, at least. Fabian Sr. similarly falls into the wonderful category, and I could say the same for all the family members (muchisimos!) I have met.
Two things I already feel that I am getting good at: throwing my toilet paper into the trash can (that came back like a reflex I never forgot!), and cheek kissing– is there a better verb for that? I suppose that there is, to greet, because in Ecuador, to greet is to kiss someone on the cheek. It’s a get a little more complicated for men (as they have to shake hands and kiss on the cheek depending on whether it’s a man, woman, family, friend or acquaintance), but as a woman, I have it pretty simple. For example, last night we went into Quito to celebrate a grandson’s 15th birthday. To be more exact, he had already celebrated his birthday, with a big party and all his friends, but this was more of an excuse for all the families to get together, and tomar un cafecito, which I am beginning to understand means ‘dinner’ in American speak, but literally translate to drinking a little coffee. In fact, you drink coffee, or tea, and eat just a little bit, so it’s not really like dinner at all. In fact, Gladys told me that’s where America’s obesity problem comes from. Eating too much at night, not enough in the middle of that day. And I believe it! Most people are pretty trim around here– and my household is especially focused on health. On the first day I was assured that they are casi vegetarianos, but I have had meat at least once per day, which could of course be almost vegetarian down here! I did here that most of my fellow students are having ham and cheese sandwiches for breakfast, so I’m thankful for my fruit, bread, and jam. 🙂
Anyways, back to the cheek kissing example. When we entered the apartment, each one of us goes around the big circle or people and greets each person individually, and this continues as more and more people come in, until every person has greeted every person in the room. And, when it’s time to leave, the same thing occurs, accompanied by a ciao ciao. As evinced, greeting is a very important cultural event, and one that I am growing very fond of! It is so interesting to find myself being confronted with my own notion of personal space, and how people move in different relational realms here. From being crammed on a bus and noticing how someone’s leg is touching yours, to cheek kissing (greeting), my own cultural perceptions come to light, as I at first shy away, and then come to accept it. Or, as last night when we were riding back in the car from Quito, Gladys exclaimed that I was sitting so far away from her and to come closer! So, I scooted a little bit away from abuelita, and much closer to Gladys.
A note– my house, in the El Valle de Los Chillos, is around 40 minutes away from Quito with medium traffic, and and can be considerably more or less. I live within a small gated community– which is pretty much all that there is in this area. There are small towns with a few poorer families, but otherwise there is one gated community after the next, mostly upper middle class, I am guessing. I have a very nice, simple, comfortable room that gets lots of light and not too cold at night. The only bothersome thing is el gallo loco that has no sense of time and cock-a-doodle-doos all throughout the night, right behind our house. Maybe I will get used to him soon, but as of today I am still having some violent tendencies towards the rooster as he keeps me up at all hours of the night…
Overall, I’m so happy to be a part of this family for the month, and I’m sure there will be some more stories to tell. I’ve already heard that there is a big, crazy dance party this weekend at a neighbor’s house… The other good news is that I can understand almost everything that is said to me, and even listen in on others’ conversations! I’m excited to get more confident in my Spanish, and express what I really want to say, not just a simplified version. How do I say, I swear I am more articulate and intelligent in English, and know more adjectives than interesante? In fact, our 5 hour Spanish classes began this morning at 8, and that was one thing we were told we were going to focus on, adjectives. I must go buy a thesaurus! I think the class is going to be very successful, as there are only 5 students and one professor, and focuses on many different aspects of language learning: grammar, context, culture, music, etc. My assignment tonight: preterite vs. imperfect! Back to sophomore year! But truly, I do need to review.
Tomorrow, we have our first field study seminar class, so it’s going to be a long day of learning, from 8 – 4:30! Luckily, they do give us snack breaks, so I happily had some banans and tea to keep me going. Ecuador is a country that certainly knows how to feed its lucky guests.
Hasta pronto! Besitos!