By Luke Petrosky
Coming from a small town in western Massachusetts and transitioning to the bustling city of Cuenca was overwhelming. Here I was—plunged into this foreign space in a new home, with people I had just met, speaking a language I was still learning.
Sitting down on my bed that first night, I felt entirely helpless and alone. Riding the bus for the first time, I panicked that I would wind up completely lost. Saying “no puedo entender” in seemingly every conversation I had, I worried about being able to communicate effectively. In this transitory period I felt lost. Luckily, as time went on, beautiful little moments began to shape my experience.
I remember first meeting two of my host siblings. They crashed into my life, and their light, laughter, and love collided violently with my sorry emotions. Graciously, they welcomed me in, asking question after question and, in turn, sharing stories of their own. Excitedly, they introduced me to the park in front of the house. Energetic, shouting “¡mira, Lucas, mira!” they demonstrated their parkour moves on the playground equipment, navigating each difficult task with ease. They encouraged me to try it out myself; so, clumsily, I attempted to mirror their movements. I soon learned that I was not able to contort my lanky limbs in the ways that their nine and ten year old bodies easily could. Later, they shared with me Pipas, sunflower seeds, sharp with lemon flavor. “Phew, phew, phew,” as they showed me the proper method for spitting out the shells.
I remember having spontaneous singing sessions—“Recuéardame” on repeat—with me chiming in every few words. When this got to be repetitive, we moved on to “Cuán Lejos Voy” from Moana and “Believer” by Imagine Dragons. After a while we hopped up, saying, “bailemos, saltemos,” our bodies wiggling in time with the music.
I remember boarding the bus, everyone squished together in one big jumble and witnessing the incomparable energy that emanates from the people, each with their own unique story. Indelible in my mind is the memory of that woman, face turned away from the man by her side, baby in her lap, with tears streaming down her face, her body rigid against the seat of the bus. What was her narrative?
I remember the pijamada we had, my four host siblings sprawled out on the couch in my room, their whispers piercing the nighttime silence every few seconds. The youngest, crying, pulled me out of bed and told me that she missed her mom, who is working in the United States. They asked for a song and, unknowing of any Spanish ones, I softly rendered a similar version to one that my parents sang to me as a kid.
I was slowly, reassuringly finding a rhythm. I realized that I had come into the experience with all of these expectations which were not being immediately met. I anticipated creating lasting bonds with my host family, navigating the city with ease, and becoming more comfortable with my Spanish skills. I came to understand that by focusing on these expectations, I was ignoring all of those little moments, each saturated with emotion and meaning, that were the stepping stones along the way.
All of these moments carry so much meaning. It is the unconditional love of my host mom, the light that streams through the curtain in the morning, the saludos that I share with my host siblings. It is cafecito and pan, joyful laughter and sudden tears, movies in Spanish and Bruja the lovable cat. It is all of this and so much more that create the beautiful jigsaw puzzle that defines my experience here.