Two hours into my seven-month homestay, the three-year-old told me she
loved me.

“¿Tan pronto?” I responded. “So soon?”

I’m living in Quiroga, a suburb in northern Ecuador, with my host mom, host
dad, and their three girls, who are three, eleven, and thirteen. My host
mom, Paola, introduces me to friends as her daughter. Every morning, I come
downstairs to a bowl of chopped fruit. As my body adjusted to the different
bacteria in the fruits and veggies here, Paola checked in on me to see how
my tummy was holding up. Last week, I came home from seeing friends in
Otavalo to find a vegan cake baking in the oven—my host parents had made it
just because.

When we walk around outside, eleven-year-old Allison holds my hand. We sit
next to each other at the dining room table and pick out the crunchiest
French fries. My host dad, Carlos, led me on a running route through a dirt
road that loops back to the house. When a stray dog approached us, he
showed me to pretend to throw an imaginary stone, which sent the dog
running. My first night here, my host family brought me to dinner at an
aunt’s house. Throughout the week, they were eager to walk me through town
to get me comfortable with my surroundings. I spent a lot of time hanging
out at the house, but I also went to Cotacachi and Otavalo a few times.

At Stanford, I couldn’t talk about my mom—my real mom, as we make the
distinction—without crying. Now, when she comes to mind, I feel myself
tearing up, but I can tone it down. The hardest part is knowing that I
won’t be home until April. I always count back in time to see how long
seven months is… that’s February. Seven months ago, it was February.
That’s a long time to go without watching whatever Netflix show my mom has
gotten me into and snuggling with Tootsie. But I know that come April, I’ll
cry when I have to leave this place.

There’s no winning.

On Saturday, just as I was beginning to get over my homesickness, my phones
were stolen at the Otavalo market. I was rocking the backpack-on-front
look, and I thought my stuff was safe. The streets were insanely crowded,
and a group of three or four people trapped me beside a stall. I thought
they were just trying to get to that vendor, and after pushing my way
through, I chalked the discomfort up to a difference in the concept of
personal space. It turned out that they’d unzipped my jacket pockets and
stolen a phone from each.

All my data was backed up—that’s safe. But I can’t use my free
international data plan (shoutout to Sprint, for once) on an Ecuadorian
SIM. The phone situation makes me miss my mom, who always finds a way to
work things out. It’s hurt my pride, too, because I’ve never broken or lost
a phone before. And as much as I’ve tried to brush it aside, the phone
theft has put a damper on my first couple weeks here.

Phones aside, though, it’s been good. I don’t doubt that my new family
loves me like their own, but it will take time for me to reciprocate the
feeling. I appreciate them, I enjoy their company, and I feel pretty safe
here, but those don’t add up to love—not yet, at least.

On our first regional retreat, my cohort went out to dinner in Cotacachi,
and I recognized where we were in the city. I’m familiar with a few blocks
around the bus terminal in Otavalo. The food market on Sundays is insane;
I’ve never seen so much fresh produce. As long as I can grab a seat, even
the bus rides are enjoyable.

In time, as I get more comfortable here, I think I can love this place back.

Me and the girls (minus the youngest)

Alison and Bruce (yes, that’s after Bruce Lee)

Fruits and vegetables galore!


Beside the park in Quiroga

A roadside cake adventure

I brought some New England maple syrup to share. We soaked up those vegan

In which Bruce learns to… walk?

We took a short hike around Laguna de Cuicocha. We’re doing the full thing
this weekend!

Our cohort visited an artisan wood studio.

The whole Northern Hub got together for dinner