I´m in Ecuador. How on earth did i get here?
Two days ago i came to this cyber cafe (internet access for 50c/hr), did the email thing for an hour, and decided it was time to head home (just 2 blocks away) to start preparing dinner. I left the cyber realizing that this was the first time i was outside of the gates of our Rostro de Cristo home alone - big deal! I´m officially one of those frighteningly cool international volunteers that knows her way around a remote, unheard-of impoverished city. As i walked down the road i saw Gabriel ahead--one of our neighbors, a 70something man who makes gorgeous leather products in his cement home and loves talking to volunteers and retreatants about international news and the dynamics of love. He spotted me too and shouted ¨¡hola chica! ¿como estas?¨ I stopped, did the kiss on the cheek thing, and chatted with him for a moment (yes, in Spanish!). He was on his way to do some shopping (presumably buying just enough food for dinner at the store on the corner) and commented on the beautiful weather. We said ciao and I continued down the road thinking ¨wow, i´m in Ecuador, outside the gates by myself, and i walk down the road and i know someone...and we stopped to chat... damn...thats pretty cool...¨
Then i see a group of kids ahead, some sitting on the sidewalk and others playing soccer in the middle of the road, as all Ecuakids do, and they saw me and started shouting ¨¡Elisa! ¡Elisa!¨ I went over and did the kiss on the cheek thing again and said hello to all of them, patted them on the head, got in the way of the soccer game, and continued on my way, again thinking ¨wow, not only do I know an old man walking down the street in Ecuador, a group of kids eagerly shouts my name and wants to say hi...thats really cool...¨
I turn the corner and arrive back at the house and the guard Omar opens the gate for me and asks if i was at the cyber, and i said yes, writing to my parents and my friends. I had it in my mind that i was going to go upstairs and see what was up for dinner and veg out, but i realized no, here in Ecuador you obviously stop and converse frequently with neighbors, as i just learned. He asked me what i studied in school, so after warning Omar that i studied French for 10 years and my Spanish is no good, we spent like 15 minutes talking about how interesting it is that Ecuadorians follow many religions (relatively speaking. the country is about 85% Roman Catholic by name, the rest is mosly Evangelical), but in Pakistan, everyone follows Islam! Omar thinks this is fascinating. From here the conversation turned to issues of women in Islam, headcoverings, etc. I think he finds it oppressive but in my extremely limited Spanish i said something like ´but also some women choose because for security and faith and prayer´. Who wouldda thought that i´d be referencing my Islam in America class in the urban slums of Ecuador. I obviously couldn´t do justice to my thoughts about the subject in Spanish, but I tried. We also talked about peace and meditation in Buddhism, and finally Omar´s favorite celebrity biographies. This was my very first successful conversation in Spanish. How unsurprising that it was about world religions. I was elated.
I´m in Ecuador. I know a leatherworker walking down the road on his way to do some shopping. I know children who attend the neighborhood after-school program called Valdivia. They shout my name and want me to play with them. I talk to the guard about my passions.
As a community bonding activity last week, the 12 volunteers made each other name tags for our bedroom doors. Amy made mine, and on it she drew a litte hill with a seed planted and a flower growing up from it. I decided that i´m going to keep it growing. Every time I feel that i had a significant growth moment or experience, i´ll draw a little more of the plant growing up from the seed. I wonder how big it will get. This day was the first new growth on the plant.
I start work Monday. We finally chose our work sites yesterday. In the mornings i´ll be a tutor / teacher´s assistant in a program called Centro de Solidaridad de Santiago Apostol. It gives an education streetkids who are seriously behind in their schooling because they dropped out to work to help their families. Founded by the Christian Life Movement (mainly in Latin America but also present in the US) , it takes a Catholic and holistic approach to ending child labor. The school even makes Mass and Reconciliation available in the building regularly. Love it. I´ll be working in the girls program. Who would have ever thought i´d end up here? Me? In an educational setting? No way. I have no idea what i´m getting into, i have no idea why i think i´ll be of any good service here, i have no idea what skills and talents lay buried inside me that might be of use to these kids, i have no idea what i´m doing. But i´m thrilled and excited and trusting.
In the afternoons i´ll be co-running an after-school program called Manos Abiertas (Open Hands) with two other RdC volunteers. It´s in a section of the city called 28 de Agosto, and its a ¨former¨ trash dump (many people/companies still dump there). People are living in cane houses along dirt roads with no running water and extremely difficult access to healthcare. Out of all three after-school programs run by RdC, these kids have the most discipline challenges, least formal education, and generally the shittiest situations overall. But they´re beautiful and energetic and i´ll be blessed to work with them. Once i start working i´ll have more to share about this. Again, i have no idea why anyone would think i´ll be any good at this, but i´m thrilled.
I´m in Ecuador. And i love it.