Poco a Poco

Hello, friends.

I am still in Ecuador, still alive, still doing well. Still living with the family I wrote about in my most recent blog, four months ago. Many of the component pieces of what I described in that blog are still in my life, but not in the way I expected them to be when I wrote it. I still go to the market to sell cheese weekend mornings, but now I often go alone, to a different market than my host parents. I still play Frisbee with my host brother and other kids, but more frequently I get my sport fix playing pickup soccer with the grown-ups (shout out to the Tumbleweeds, Brian, and Grimes, I’m putting those skillz to good use). I don’t try to eat cheese anymore, but I make it most days. The animals still make lots of noise, but now I interact with them – bringing the sheep out to graze, milking the cows, collecting chicken eggs. I’m not as cold, and I don’t take showers (bucket or otherwise) very frequently.

It’s taken many failures and frustrations, but I can finally say this: I am able to competently live my life here.

I now know that when someone asks me, “cómo están los quesos?” they’re asking for the price. So I shouldn’t reply, “Um, good?” like I did at my first market, when I thought they had asked me “How’re the cheeses?”

I now know that “mio” in Spanish means “mine,” which sounds remarkably like my name, and I should just make a joke about it before someone else does it in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

I now know that when I go to the little school in my community to give my weekly English class I could be there for fifteen minutes or two hours, and it’s best to just roll with whatever happens. I may end up having a snack, translating the English alarm system manual for the teacher, singing songs, or, occasionally, actually teach some English.

My very first night with my host family, my host mom, Carmen, asked me if I knew how to cook Ecuadorean food. I, eager to begin building a relationship, said, “No, but I love cooking and really want to learn how.” This did not lead to her calling me over to the stove and us having a moment that would immediately break the ice and make us stop feeling like strangers, thus beginning a beautiful host mom-hosted daughter relationship. Instead she chuckled a little and told me “poco a poco, compañera, poco a poco.” Little by little, compañera, little by little. Mildly crushing as that was, “poco a poco” turned out to be some pretty solid advice. You could even say it was prophetic. Because it’s been four months of missed buses, of barely fending off dogs, of raw hands. But each time I miss the bus I get a little bit savvier. Each time I run up that hill I get a little more acclimated. Each time I make a mistake in Spanish, or go work in the field, or reach under a hen to get an egg, I get little more competent. Little by little, I’ve made a life here.

I have two months left in Ecuador. Sometimes that seems like a lot, but it usually seems like no time at all. Either way, I’m going to share as many stories from this life I’ve made as I can before I head back home. Stay tuned – I got a stories about Carnaval and teaching English in the works.