Dear Ecuador Fellows

By Audrey Carver

Dear Ecuador fellows,

During last week’s trip to Manta, in the 15 hours crammed into a busetta, I had lots of time to think about you all. We slept, sang, and ate ridiculous amounts of animal crackers. We talked about the moral obligations of warfare and social hierarchy, and somehow devolved into deliriously playing the triangle game in a guayacil mall.
The day ended hugging at the top of a mountain, watching the most beautiful sunset that I have ever seen. Sad music gave soundtrack to the clouds lapping at the foothills, the orange-streaked sky, and the endless horizon. We stood there looking into a bigger moment, of feeling alone and connected and sad and happy, experiencing a simple moment of beauty and youth, far from home, together.
When I decided to come to Ecuador, I was most scared of being alone. I had known my friends at home longer than my own sister, lived at their houses, and called their parents ‘mom and dad’. The idea of meeting new people, being given a new set of people to spend time with, terrified me. Coming from such a small and isolated town, I had never had to be myself in front of someone new. It was one of the hardest things that I have ever done.
Three months in, though, I have been met with only love and kindness, and I am writing this to repay with some love of my own.

I love that Kelsey will walk to my house with pan or manicho or matching tears when she hears that I am having a bad day
I love that Henry always has the right music, and will play it loudly.
I love that on Wednesdays, Maxwell and I meet in Amauta and discuss our non-existent love lives
I love that Chastity doesn’t complain that I ask her to translate literally everything, and that we bonded over the 27 bus the first week here
I love that Jen always has it together when nobody else does
I love that Stephanie always makes plans so that I do not have to, always picks up her ecuaphone when nobody else does, and always has a terrible chick-flick recommendation
I love that Elizabeth embodies “laugh so that you do not cry”, and will meet me at the river at lunch to do just that
I love that Maxine pretends to hate us, but that we catch him laughing along
I love that Maxito uses the sus kind of California slang, and is hella good at dancing.

I love our Sunday movies, our half-hearted Halloween celebrations, and how it takes an hour of wandering to figure out what we are going to do. I love that we always listen to early 2000s emo music together, and sing every word. I love that you will help keep men from shamelessly harassing me on the street, and that we can laugh instead of cry. I love that I can wear my glasses without feeling self-conscious.

I love having a community to count on, because my biggest fear in coming here turned out to be one of the best parts.

Thank you for taking such good care of me,
Audrey

Motherland

By Chastidy Vasconez

When I first met my host mom, I was surprised to learn that her husband has been living in the United States for over 15 years. He left about a year after their daughter was born to work in the U.S. so he could earn an income to support them on. One day, while we were sharing a cup of coffee, she recounted a dream she had shortly after her husband left. In her dream she stepped off a small wooden boat, her hand entwined with her husband’s. They arrived on a shore where the surrounding water was crystal clear with an abundance of fish swimming between their legs. She looked up and straight ahead was a bustling city with shiny towering buildings. I was hearing the story from the other end.

My own parents had immigrated to the United States in their 20s. I’ve only really known about my parent’s lives after moving to the United States. My parents don’t share much about their childhoods growing up, and before this gap year I never put too much thought about the families they left behind. A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit some of my father’s actual family members, who live about an eight hour bus ride away from Cuenca. Meeting some of my family members was strange – it was our first time meeting and they knew all about me from years of long distance phone calls with my aunt in the United States. My tía in Ecuador was incredibly welcoming as she was eager to make me feel at home. She served delicious plates of fritada de chancho with mote and yuca frita, while sharing stories of growing up with my father. It was around Día de los Difuntos in Ecuador, and we visited my great grandmother’s tomb, beautifully adorned with lit candles and colorful flowers. These were moments I never imagined I’d be apart of. Being surrounded by the culture and language in my father’s motherland has been such a special opportunity and I’ve appreciated being able to delve into my roots.

Musicians of Cuenca

By Jennifer Frye

I’m amazed by how friendly and helpful the music community is in Cuenca. The musicians I’ve met accept me and are genuinely interested in connecting with me. When I walk down the street carrying my cello I’m constantly stopped by strangers, inquisitive and gregarious. I feel like I’ve found another family, people who understand me and who I understand in return. People who have helped me pursue my passion thousands of miles from home. Here are my impressions of the musicians of Cuenca. 

Raquel is intense and direct, with perpetual red lipstick, and seems taller than she really is through sheer force of personality. I was brave enough to approach her after a symphony concert, nervously rehearsing lines in my head. I hesitantly asked where I could find a cello to rent. With her support and advocacy, I found a cello and joined the local university orchestra. I have the opportunity to take lessons, teach cello to youth symphony students, and even perform a concerto.

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Ducha Gratis

By Henry Baer-Benson

Every day at 1, we go home for a 2 hour lunch break. Yesterday was my laundry day and as I walked the block back from the lavandería with my bag of clean clothes I noticed it was sprinkling. I wasn’t too worried. They don’t have real rain here, I thought to myself. All of the rain I’d experienced in Cuenca had amounted to no more than a drizzle. My host mom had even told me that it rained durísimo during the parade, which I had comfortably endured without a rain jacket. I wasn’t worried.

When I got back to the house I threw my bag of clothes on the floor and decided I had time to watch one YouTube video before leaving for work. About halfway through the video, however, Neil deGrasse Tyson was interrupted by a deafening crack of thunder. I pulled my earbuds out of my ears and immediately noticed that the drizzle from earlier was now roaring against the sides of our house. That’s odd, I thought as I popped my earbuds back in and finished the video. Then I threw on my rain jacket, switched my suede for my tennis shoes and made my way to the front door.

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My 1+4 Story: Henry Baer-Benson

By Henry Baer-Benson

“I love the weather Cuenca. It’s sunny in the morning, rainy in the afternoon and cloudy in the evening. My only qualm, as a Minnesotan, is that it seldom dips below 55 degrees. Winter is my favorite season and the thought of going an entire year without touching snow is not a happy one. However, several weeks ago, I was in Quito with Stephanie and Maxito and we decided to climb one of the surrounding mountains. As we neared the summit, we came across a bluff that cast a small patch of shadow on the ground below and at its base was the largest snow bank I’ve seen all year.”