On Authenticity

Put twenty girls in a youth hostel and illness is bound to go around. There I was, sitting in a chapel in Quito listening to directions on how to operate my Ecua phone, hard to believe that 53 eighteen year olds need to be taught how to use old school internet-less phones, right? However, in that moment I was more fixated on the dire need for a tissue. It was our first day at the hostel so I began wandering around to find a bathroom and followed a middle aged Ecuadorian towards the nearest one. There are some things that are noticeably different than things in the United States. For example, the average height tends to be around 5’4’’ and two way streets barely accommodate one car. But the one I am going to focus on is the toilet paper situation.

Toilet paper is always thrown in a waste bin, never flushed and sometimes it is located outside of the stall. As I lingered a few steps behind the Ecuadorian woman I noticed that in this particular bathroom the toilet dispenser was located outside of the stall. As she began to shut the stall door we made direct eye contact and I held it, wanting to inform her but having no idea how. So I just continued to stare until she realized I had something to say. I simply uttered, “Mi espanol es mas o menos pero…” (My Spanish is so so but…) and I pointed to the dispenser. She chuckled and responded, “Gracias, gracias!” She began speaking to me in Spanish muy rapido (very fast). I had no clue what she was saying so I just said, “Yo soy de los Estados Unidos. Ocho meses.” Simultaneously I held up eight fingers, not quite sure I was actually making any sense. She then said, “Que linda. Muy linda.” I stared at her blankly. “Gracias!” When I returned to my seat I asked another fellow what que linda meant. How pretty or wonderful. I sat in the chapel and basked, holding onto this joyful moment.

For the woman this encounter was probably simply a passing moment in her day, but it reenergized me. It reminded me why I was here: to absorb everything, to extend myself, and to be present. One of the main focuses at Pre-Departure Training in California was the concept of authenticity. I struggled with this throughout the days there. I was lost – here I was, here I am, trying to gather a better sense of myself over this year and I was being told to be authentic, but to who? I am still in the process of figuring that out.

That miniscule moment with the Ecuadorian women in the bathroom was reassurance for me. Moments can be authentic; you can find sincerity in people you barely know; being grateful is genuine. I could not have had a more humbling first interaction with the people of Ecuador. It reminded me to be kind and pause, to reach out, because el mundo espera (the world waits).