Saturday morning, 9 AM, I left my Quito homestay family, once again incredibly grateful for all they had done for me, especially my host mom Sandra, taking care of me when I was sick a few days before. I hopped into a taxi with my big red backpack, a little nervous about being that solo traveler with a big backpack, looking lost and confused at the multiple bus stations I would be traversing… Which of course happened, but it wasn’t nearly as scary as I imagined it. A life lesson that I never seem to learn.
On the bus to Ibarra, I sat by a very nice man, going to visit his family for Easter, who kept a conversation going for practically three hours of bus ride. It was great, a chance to practice my Spanish (as I feel that in Quito I spoke WAY too much English), and equally impressive that he never seemed to run out of things to say, or questions to ask me. We parted ways, wishing each other the best, and a happy Easter. The wonderful thing is that this one time conversation on the bus has not happened only one time, but happens often! People are very apt to start talking to me—once I’ve properly greeted them—and are very curious about who I am and what I’ve doing. I’ve gotten pretty good at explaining myself, and this somewhat confusing program, in Spanish. Especially here in Chota, where my blue eyes are the topic of many conversations, and if I wore sunglasses, I would stand out even more.
My arrival here was facilitated by my ISP advisor, Gualberto, who picked me up from the bus station in Ibarra and dropped me off at my next homestay family in the town of Chota, located in the Valle del Chota, made up of ~10 communities on the banks of the river Chota. Hilda, my host mom, greeted me at the door of their house, which sits up above the main street of the town, with a view of everything: the river, the Pan American highway, the church, the houses. I was promptly introduced to countless family members who were there for Semana Santa, Holy Week, many of whom live in Ibarra, children and grandchildren on my host parents.
As of now, and into the future I am sure, I have only the best to stay of the family Chalá Lara, their kindness, hospitality, wealth of knowledge, and excellent food. I may have eaten more vegetables in these last five days than in my entire time in Ecuador… OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get the sentiment! I am a happy lady! Today’s lunch: Potatoes, squash in a peanut sauce, rice (of course), some type of legume (guadulos), and tomato. Plus, a banana smoothie. I certainly am not lacking in the food department. Or the drinks—so much delicious fruit juice! Also, on Sunday I had “cerveza con huevo,” beer with egg, which was exactly what you might think it was. Beer blended with egg! It was also strangely sweet, so I’m thinking it had some sugar in it, too. As with most things here. At that point, I was pretty thirsty, but I can’t say I would bring the tradition home with me. And it was at 11 AM.
One of the first things I noticed upon arriving in Chota was the music… it never stopped! From one rooftop or another, and often multiple, there is music being blasted for the whole community, often into the night. Sometimes it is bomba, the music from the Valle del Chota, a mix of African rhythm and traditional Andean sounds. Or it’s reggaeton, bachatta, salsa, you name it! There truly is a soundtrack to living here, everything is done with music in the background, a little hip movement, a dance or two in all that one does.
Multiple people, in multiple contexts, have told me that “los negros llevan alegría en la sangre” — black people carry happiness in their blood. That is a poor translation, as alegría seems to be more than happiness, but a way of living, living “full”, as they also say here. And that’s why they are always dancing, as Hilda said.
As my directors told me before I came here, it certainly does feel like another country, except for the language, religion, and certain traditions with food that, to me, now seem intrinsically related to Ecuador, such a copious amounts of rice, drinking super sweet coffee at night, and soup a precursor to lunch.
But there are, of course, things that are distinctly different, such as women carrying basket on their heads, a custom from Africa that has not been forgotten.
The reality is that I still have so much to learn. This first week, I am attempting to prioritize forming good relationships, establishing myself here, so that in the next few weeks I really can learn from people. So far, it’s been easy, as people are open, friendly, willing to talk! As I’ve already said a million times!
This past week, I’ve been going to the high school in the morning, talking with the teacher of ethnoeducation and attending his classes, and hopefully figuring out a way to help in english classes, which I think will start on Friday. Everything moves pretty slowly, in terms of making things happen, and I’m having a take more initiative than I thought I would– which is OK, but when they asked me what exactly I wanted to study on Monday, I was left a little speechless! Before we left, we were told that we should keep our topics very open ended, and write about what people wanted to talk about. But, I guess I have to have my goals too!
Here’s to three more weeks of hard work, and a visit from mi mami also! I’m so excited to share this country with someone from home.
More updates soon, I hope. With some successful interviews under my belt, I’m also hoping!
The wonderful thing is that I’m speaking so much Spanish, that writing this in English is a little difficult… my brain is confused! I’ve noticed lately that when I have a minute to rest, my brain doesn’t really thing, it just rests. No thoughts in English, nor in Spanish, I’m stuck in between! But, making lots of progress. I suppose not thinking is a good thing in this case!
Much love to all, from this land so willing to love and share.
**Unfortunately, my internet connection is such that I cannot upload photos, but I swear I have an excellent view from my room!