It’s the way I’m living

It’s the freeing moment of slipping into my jacket and stepping foot
outdoors, determination in my wandering footsteps and pressure against my
chest as I struggle to breathe in the 10,400 ft altitude.

It’s the way the clouds surround the rooftops and nestle themselves into
the mountains, like a dress fitting around a woman’s curves, so that as I
look out my window it is as if I am in the sky, and the extensive
neighborhood of Cañar has been swallowed away.

It’s the ease in which I maneuver around the odd shapes of the street dogs,
with body types I can’t distinguish due to interbreeding and their heads
slung low as their noses desperately sniff for food.

It’s the independence of hopping on buses and getting off wherever I like,
because though each street mimics the last, I am still able to find my way

It’s the explosion of whistles that, like a swarm of bees, cling to my back
and sting me over and over and over again, simply because I exposed myself
to the world.

It’s the honks from trucks that cause my head to snap up, thinking there
was perhaps an accident, only to quickly whip my head back down so as not
to give the driver the satisfaction of grasping my attention.

It’s the delight in walking myself home, with the dim street lights and the
open sky and the pressurized air that makes me feel like I can fully
breathe while my lungs ache to catch a breath…

and the panic that settles in when I cross paths with a man, forcing myself
to look straight ahead while the goosebumps on my skin react to his intent

It’s the children running into the classroom and straight for my legs as
they yell “Good Morning, Teacher!”, and their curious and excited eyes as I
begin my lesson, pronouncing sounds that taste like giggles to their ears.

It’s the bubbling frustration that comes from looking into the few pairs of
eyes that whisper to me “I want to learn”, while the rest of the classroom
screams and punches for the sole reason of hearing their projections get
lost in the waves of every other child’s unnecessary interruptions.

It’s the explosion of hurt when I put my foot down and tell them enough is
enough, to either be quiet or leave, and the faces of awe and relief from
the children who had been begging for a chance to learn, and the faces of
awe and annoyance from the children who had never been criticized for their

It’s the bubbling pride that swells when one by one the children yell “ya
comprendo, profe!” with their hands waving in the air as they beg to
participate, to show off what they’ve learned, the confidence in which they
spill out those foreign sounds smelling like sweet candy on their tongues
and dripping satisfaction like caramel into their minds.

It’s the disgust when a symphony of whistles slither out from behind
scarves that cover mouths when I’m left alone with a classroom for less
than a minute. It’s the shock in hearing teachers excuse the whistles by
saying “oh well, what do you expect? You’re a pretty girl and the boys
don’t know how to contain themselves.”

It’s the power that surges through my veins when my spanish unleashes the
demand for respect. The absolute refusal to receive such commentary, and,
again, the faces of awe from the boys who never expected their expression
of pleasure and power, the source of so much fear and anguish within women,
to be spat back into their faces from the lips of una gringa.

It’s the sadness when the teachers come to me before class and beg for a
quick lesson in what it is they are supposed to teach, as they themselves
are learning English alongside the students.

It’s the wholesome satisfaction of explaining tricks and rules to students
while the teachers watch interestedly, painting a grin of productiveness
and comprehension on the student’s faces.

It’s the mixture of black uniform skirts swinging next to the few colorful
fabrics of the traditional clothing. It’s the disappointment that though
85% of the students are Indigenous, the majority of them choose to wear the
Mestizo uniform instead of identify as Indigenous.

It’s the comfort of my thoughts on my walk back home, as the rainy season
begins and a drizzle of rain sprinkles my face. It’s the waving from a
group of girls who hold their backpacks over their head and squeal in the
back of a truck, whizzing by in an attempt to race the raindrops.

It’s the clutching of the door handle as a bus that carries living and
breathing bodies tries to pass a car while going around a curve in the
mountain, only to be confronted by a an oncoming bus that, of course, did
not expect us to be in its way. It’s the blaring of horns as the vehicles
throw their fists and impatiently squeeze past each other.

It’s the sweat that streaks down my neck as my body falls into the rhythm
of baileterapía. My heart and sides stinging and pinching at first, but
towards the end rocking into a systematic pattern that stems from the rush
of adrenaline, so that by the time we finish, a high sears through my body
and makes it crave for round two.

It’s the tightness of my throat as I realize that dinner is the same as
lunch was, which is the same as what dinner and lunch have both been every
single day since I first got here– rice.

It’s the feeling of dry tears in my core when I sit in my host dad’s bus as
he drives me to work every morning, because sitting in a car with my host
dad is too familiar to the car rides my dad and I always took together,
where instead of a radio station playing, we used our voices to converse.

It’s the stone in my chest that smiles dearly at all my cousins as they
create experiments and games together, making me feel so at ease and happy
to be a part of them, and at the same time so not a part of anything at
all, like my true body hovers over the present one and tugs at my arm,
telling me to return home.

It’s the gentleness in which my host siblings ask about my day and wrap
their arms around me, completely willing to open their hearts and accept me
into their family.

It’s the quietness I have gained while my family members talk about the
happenings of the world through their faith in the Lord, and the questions
that scream from within about how they can be okay with putting so much
into the hands of God, when it is already sitting in their own palms.

It’s the familiarity of my host mom’s Peluquería as it comes into view,
stuffed with her happiness as she is surrounded by her sisters and nieces
and nephews and children, unified by the mist of the motherly care she
squirts out of her hairspray bottle.

It’s the adventurous spirit that carries me through each day, accepting of
the moments of loneliness, and embracing the journies my friends and I
shape together, not willing to settle into a routine without discovering
and experiencing and living, first.

It’s when I find myself looking for ways to continue certain activities and
passions I carry from home, surprising myself because they remain so strong
within me, even when I was certain I would leave them behind.

It’s the Latin music that projects out of the kitchen radio and the sounds
of the always present family members, waking me up at 7am and remaining
until 11pm, when the house finally falls asleep and the lullabies are the
barks and howls of the dogs in the street.

It’s the constant feeling of hesitation and uncertainty in my environment–
when I go to take a shower and someone else’s clothes are in a pile on the
floor, or when I try to find a snack and I can’t figure out where the foods
are hidden, or when I step out of my room and want to crawl back to bed,
where at least the air and the thoughts that occupy it are recognizable and
my own.

It’s the knowledge that an entire section of the town of Cañar is occupied
by family members, and that each house is willing to welcome me in at any
time, como familia.

It’s the cradled history of the Inca and Cañaris people, whose language has
been drained into the Spanish of the Mestizos, who’s leftover homes and
structures are delicately preserved, and who are still are not considered
to be good enough.

It’s the way of life that feels so separate from me, and yet already so
easy and so real. The stable mindset that keeps me searching for more and
the emotional state that gifts me the ability to laugh and find pleasures
in this confusing and yet simple lifestyle.

It’s the way I choose to live.

That’s the way life is supposed to be.