Before I Said Goodbye

Thursday, April 25 2019.

Every once and awhile I wish more than anything that I could go back to
those days before I said goodbye to Ecuador.

Those days where I woke up to my natural alarm clock of the sun and the
songs of the gas truck making it’s rounds past my house at 6:00 am. To
those nights, driving back to the city in the dark in the bed of the truck,
playing the game where we guess whether the lights in the sky were stars or
just evidence of homes on the mountain across the valley.

I want to remember again what it felt like to feel the sun, that was so
strong it forced you to stay inside sometimes, beating in the windows of my
fifth grade classroom during the last hour of the school day. How happy and
proud I felt after an activity that actually engaged the kids. I don’t even
want to forget the endless whines of my name, tugs on my clothes from
behind, and yelling from the kids who happened to be fighting on the floor
in the corner that served as a constant reminder that I really had no idea
how to be a teacher.

To sit again at the table in my parent’s kitchen. Surrounded by 20 other
members of the family, shouting in Spanish and drinking coffee together. To
stand for hours, rolling and folding empanadas, hands covered in oil and
flour, fighting with my host mom about how we should branch out of the
social norms and make blackberry and pineapple filled ones.

How the weekdays seemed to drag on with exhausting classes and hard runs in
the evening – but were always greeted by a weekend. Packed full of cooking
or guava-picking at my aunt’s house on the hill, cramming 15 people in to
our family car for a random excursion that would last a minimum of 8 hours
regardless of how far we were traveling, or a weekend hiking trip with
friends to the volcanoes near Quito or one of the random waterfalls that
hang out in the mountains behind Pimampiro.

1 pm on a school day – leaving town early and falling out of buses
jam-packed with every student that you’ve ever taught. Hitchhiking back
from Carchi, the next province over, laying in the bed of a truck with a
few random other Ecuadorians who needed rides, full of laughter, watching
the sun set behind the glacier of Cayambe, wondering how on earth you can
see the snow-capped peak from 3 valleys over. Taking those deep breaths of
the freshest air you will ever taste as you stop to get photo documentation
at the top of the mountain you ran to just before the sunshine turns to

The joy you feel when the farmer of the fields you run through everyday
becomes your friend based solely off that daily 5 second interaction you
have. The dog that lives at the construction site in the town over, who you
have learned to love because he runs next to you everyday you trudge up the
mountain. A smile that can change your entire day, received from the woman
in the corner store with the really good bread and the warmth that crawls
in to your heart every time you walk through the kitchen door to be greeted
with the excitement of three little boys, 2 cats, and 5 dogs, all ready to

I want to go back to those afternoons spent at the river across the bridge
from Carpuela –accompanied by off-brand Nutella, a few avocados, bread, and
enough flies to feed a million lizards. Or to all those nights that never
ended, sleeping on roofs in the valley, glacier climbing from 12 am to
sunrise when your world becomes not much more than the small streak of
light given by your headlamp, or camping out in the fields on nothing but a
bamboo mat and a blanket – all of them illuminated by the endless splatter
of stars across the expansive darkness.

To those other nights, laying on my 6-year-old brother’s bed – exhausted,
but staying awake to play pillow fight until his dad came home. Seeing his
huge grin, missing more than fifty-percent of his teeth, laughing and
hitting me over and over again with pillows. Or laughing by shock and
confusion, watching YouTube, as we both have our first experience with
Michael Jackson music videos. Those last few months, when the shy and quiet
6-year-old I had been living with since August, finally became my best

To hear the pure joy that exploded out of my family in laughter after
Gabriel would tell a joke or Brian would playfully attack his mother with
cold hands after washing to dishes. To sit in the park with the puppies and
listen to Carmita slyly recount to me the gossip of every person who walked
by. To go back to another one of the random parties that happened in the
park, dancing behind Inesita, my host sister, and watching her laugh and
become more carefree than ever, solely from the joy of dancing with this

Of course, I want to go back to those days before I said goodbye. To be
with the people who filled my heart for the last 8 months. My friends and
my family. To be with the mountains so tall sometimes you can’t see where
the end. But that’s not my reality anymore.

I am home now. At first, I was sad. It felt like that life I lived
shouldn’t be ending. It was ending right as I had become an integral part
of the school system that I worked in and had made friendships I never
thought were destined, right as I started to feel like I belonged. But as I
said goodbye to my friends, the people who had become my lifelines and best
friends over the last 8 months, and boarded the plane back to Blacksburg,
Virginia, I knew that saying goodbye was necessary and needed.

I allow myself to miss those days and miss the people I left behind, but
now I understand that we have to say goodbye to grow, to leave our comfort
zones. If I hadn’t said goodbye in August to start my journey to Ecuador, I
cannot imagine where I would be today, without my home in Pimampiro and
without all of the incredible people I met this year. I learned that the
people and the places that you say goodbye to will always be in your heart,
and maybe one day you will find yourself back with them, but that in order
to be yourself, to grow and find your light and purpose in life, you have
to learn how to say goodbye.