Notes from the Field: A Day in the Life

Over the past month, I’ve sat down to write this new blog post probably 7
times – and each time something has held me back. The moscas are swarming
and I can’t stand sitting, my little brother wants to play hide-and-seek,
or it’s time to make lunch with Carmita, mi Abuelita.

When I sit down, the idea of trying to fit everything I’ve experienced over
the last two months in to a single 1000 word piece of writing seems
impossible, unfathomable. Maybe even more crazy that the idea of coming to
Ecuador in the first place. But today, I can do it – I will try to do it,
or at least capture what a day in my life usually looks like. But, I will
not be able to capture anywhere close to every single moment of my life now
that makes it so unique, raw and real.

I won’t be able to describe the beautiful smiles of the children running to
hung me as I enter the school yard or the frustration I feel when people
doubt my intelligence simply because of my mediocre Spanish. There’s no way
to document on paper the intense feeling of loneliness, fear, awe and
gratitude I get every night, when I look up at the stars swimming around
behind the dark peaks of the Andes Mountains around my house. And most of
all, there is no way I could ever begin to explain the way that somehow,
despite all the sadness, confusion and isolation I’ve experienced
constantly since coming here, I have never felt quite as much at home as I
do right now.

I wake up every morning at 6:00 on the dot when the Ecuador sun peaks up
over the mountains, across the Chote Valley, and floods in to my bedroom.
Since Pimampiro is only a few coordinates North of the equator, the
everyday and night in the year is exactly 12 hours long. Some days, when my
soul isn’t feeling deflated or crushed, I’ll take a little run before my
family is awake – but most days, it’s enough of a challenge to get my body
out of bed for another day here.

I usually take a quick shower (in tune with the unpleasantly cold water and
broken shower head that falls on to your skull every 30 seconds), select an
outfit from my 8 shirt options and join my little brother for breakfast
(usually eggs, fresh fruit or bread and batidos). I pack my backpack full
of homemade flashcards, worksheets or graded tests for my students and tell
my family goodbye. I head off towards my school, the Unidad Educativa de
Pimampiro which is conveniently only two blocks from my house. I start
every morning off in the colegio, and work with the middle school aged kids
(11-14). Three times a week, later in the morning, I switch over to the
escuelita, the elementary school for kids ages 5-10.

I absolutely love my work here. I tend to frequently feel very isolated and
lonely with the language barrier and lack of friends, but the moment I walk
in to class and 40 huge smiles turn my way and shout “Elisa, Elisa,
Elisaaaaa!”, I feel whole again. When I’m teaching, the students help me
just as much as I help them. They’ll correct my pronunciation of words in
Spanish, or teach me new ones that I can use in class. Even after school,
the kids from my classes will run up to me and say hello and talk to me. I
love teaching because of the impact that I feel like I can have. As only a
high school graduate, I really can’t compete with professionals here in
terms of skill, but my English speaking abilities are unique. I am excited
to utilize this as much as possible to help the people around me who want
to learn English.

This does not mean teaching doesn’t come with quite a few challenges.

There’s nothing quite like being put in a class alone with 40 kids who
don’t speak a word of English to teach for 90 minutes in a language you can
barely communicate your needs in. Or the humiliation and lack of ability
you feel when a student or teacher talks to you for three minutes about
something they need help with and you can barely understand what’s going
on. It’s moments like these when I wonder why I’m here – why I’m even
trying to teach 40 ten year olds basic classroom commands in English when
all they want to do is go outside and play.

No matter the day though, I always survive, and I head home for Almuerzo at
my Abuelitos with my brother, Mom, and other 10 family members. The
afternoons here fly by. Lunch doesn’t end until 2 and after that I have
about an hour of free time to write (rarely), read, do art, walk, or rest.
Occasionally, I coerce Joseph in to painting with me for a few hours. On
weekdays, I either go tutor some of the neighbor kids in English or coach
the Pimampiro Youth Track team around 3 until 5. At this point in the day,
the weather is usually beautiful and I have eaten enough for 3 small
humans, so I try to go for a little run before it gets dark. (Pro tip if
you ever visit Pimampiro: there are some pretty nice trails through the
sugarcane fields in the valley that I would highly recommend checking out
for runs.) I come back drained and broken because of the thousands of hills
and attack dogs that I just fought off while running.

After that, my very favorite part of the day – Café a las Cuatro. It’s a
routine here to drink coffee and eat homemade bread every day at 4 pm (we
do it more at 7), so I readily partake seeing as there are few things I
love more than bread and coffee.

Depending on my schedule for tomorrow, I use my evenings to make lesson
plans for school, play with Joseph and the puppers, plan a hiking trips for
the weekends or help my Mom make dinner. She works long hours at the bank 6
days a week, so is usually grateful for some help. It’s also around this
time of day that I begin to crash. After 12 hours of speaking a language I
don’t know very well, constant catcalling or grunts from the men on the
corner, judging stares from people who don’t know me, exhausting runs up
from the valley, and a very constant feeling of isolation, my body shuts
down every night around 8 pm.

But everyday, I manage to make it through. And I go to bed in my little
room in my house on top of a mountain, listening to my brother yelling and
all 200 dogs in the town barking at the same time, knowing that no matter
what happened today, and no matter what happens tomorrow – everything is
going to be alright.