I’m Not in Texas Anymore

By Stephanie Waugh

I have had more adventures in the last few weeks in Ecuador than in the last few years of my life. I have been to the mountains, the beach, and the rain forest. I have driven across water, over mountains, and on highways with nothing between me and the horizon. Waterfalls as tall as skyscrapers rain down on trails that I have hiked. And cities bigger than my hometown have spanned in front of me. Sometimes the sky is bright blue, other times it is gray and storming. At dusk, the sun paints rainbows in the sky using every color imaginable. During the night, millions of stars light up the black nothingness. But, without a doubt, the most amazing sight I have seen is the Andes mountain range. Continue reading

Tough Love

By Elizabeth Kenneally

Rafaela, my host sister, is four years old, blind and a drama queen. In the beginning, I assumed that she would be the most difficult to bond with because much of my early integration involved me silently listening to conversations and simply being present. Since she couldn’t see me sitting there, none of this meant much to her. But we have managed to connect in other arguably more important ways. Her world revolves around sound and touch, so the color of my hair and the brand name on my clothes means much less to her than it does to the rest of Ecuador. In Rafaela’s world, I am just a nebulous physical presence with a foreign sounding voice that sometimes makes weird smelling food. But for some reason, we get along.

If it’s been more than an hour since I’ve talked to her, she will repeatedly shout my name at the top of her lungs. If I don’t answer, she will ask the nearest person where I am and what I’m doing with slowly increasing volume until someone inevitably breaks down and responds. Sometimes, she tells me that she is “in love with the sound of my voice.” Other times, she tells me that I talk like a gringa and should learn Spanish already. Multiple times she has asked me why I’m from the United States and not from Ecuador. My follow-up question of why she’s from Ecuador and not the United States caused her somewhat of an existential crisis resulting in an extended period of silence, but I think that is when I truly earned her respect. Continue reading

Patience, Persistence, and Maní

By Chastidy Vasconez

Last week I asked my host mom and her cuñado how to say peanut in Spanish. Not knowing very much English, they tilted their heads in confusion. Attempting to get my questions across, I grabbed a piece of paper and pen. “Color café.. con líneas,” I said as I drew out a peanut. I then motioned my hands as if I was breaking a peanut open repeatedly. Finally, my mom’s cuñado said, “Ahhh, un almendra!” No, not an almond. I then resorted to just googling a picture of a peanut, which I probably should’ve just done in the beginning.

For a brief moment I was reminded of home. Holding conversations with my own parents often looked like a game of charades, with puzzled faces and fleeting moments where we thought we were on the same page. Growing up with deaf parents was trying at times because my fluency in American Sign Language wasn’t the best. However, in moments of frustration and confusion, I learned to navigate around not knowing specific words, figuring out different ways to get my message across. Now, being thousands of miles away from home in a country with a different language, I’m noticing the patience and persistence I developed from my home life, an experience that at times felt isolating from that of my peers. I think about my parents everyday, and I am ultimately extremely grateful. What seemed to be a struggle growing up has helped me tackle on this new journey, and figure out the word for peanut – maní.

The Fight for Cajas

By Jennifer Frye

Recently, my host family and I visited Cajas National Park, about an hour outside of Cuenca. As I stepped out of our car, relieved to finally stretch my cramping limbs, I was swept away by the view. Rugged hills dappled deep blue and muddy green by low lying clouds stretched to the horizon. Driven by an urge to lose myself in endless sky, I began walking. From time to time, I climbed rocky outcroppings and gazed into the distance, leaving my worries far below.

The fields were so dense with tufts of native flowers it was hard not to step on them. The wildflowers were brilliant spots of color on a dull canvas, hidden behind rocks and between thickets of grass, peering out at me as I passed. They fascinated me, and I carefully stooped to examine crimson spikes, golden buds, and violet petals.

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