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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The Wonders of Walking by Yourself

By Stephanie Waugh

There is a bridge that I cross four times a day to go to work that always makes me smile when I walk over it. In front of me, I can see the city of Cuenca spanning in every direction, beautiful mountains lining the horizon in the distance, and a sky that seems so close to the ground that I can almost touch it. This sight is paired with the sounds of rushing water from the Tomebamba river flowing beneath my feet and of cars accelerating to catch the green light ahead of me. Even the smells of truck fumes that constantly fill my nose cannot detract from this walk.
         When my host mother first drove the route with me, I remember thinking, “well there goes 80 valuable minutes of my day wasted”. The walk seemed like an inconvenience to me, nothing more. Two months ago, little did I know that this walk, the introspective thinking time it gave me, the chances to experience the new sights, sounds, and smells of Cuenca, would almost always be the best part of my day.

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Simple Days

By Dominique Landinez

I was seduced by a heavenly concoction of light, warmth, and aroma in Anitápolis… I walked towards the fire slowly, the soft glow spooled over my skin. I took a deep breath. I stood at a distance, watching the fire climb. It moved quickly as it entranced me with its erratic dance. Every now and then it would shoot up flakes of light that would swirl up and mirror the cosmos in the dark sky. “There’s something so artistic about fire,” Tiago told me, “if you give it air, a reaction occurs, triggering a response that then results in a larger flame, but if you give it too much (air) the fire goes out.” I pondered this for a moment. Fire made the delicious soup that the community was enjoying inside. Fire brought these people together. Fire is a form of art. It can trigger change, it can trigger a response. It can also destroy. The branches leaned over and crashed—sending a stream of stars into the clean air.

I stood there, completely in love with fire. Completely in love with the moment.

Existing here, immersed in another environment, culture, and country allows you to see elements of life in a different light. There are days that we do extraordinary things that I would not be able to do back home but there are also days that are so simple. Days where I am riding the bus and notice how people interact around me, days where I feel the hot wind pick up right before a storm, days where I notice people speaking in English on the street but they slip away too fast before I have a chance to talk to them. These simple days are not insignificant, rather, they still change how I see the world. Simply living abroad has forced me to constantly keep an open mind. Activities so mundane seem to have a significant meaning, like looking at fire.

Consider the Chuchu

By Jonas Gerken

I think Americans take for granted the fact that all of their food share the same texture. Regardless of whether the food is whole or in pieces, cooked or raw, moist or dry, it all does the same thing in your mouth: it mushes. Now imagine eating a fruit with an identical appearance to a melon, and finding that after twenty seconds of vigorous chewing it has broken down into dozens of miniscule, dry pieces of fibre. This fruit–called chuchu–is native to Mexico and is included in everything from omelets to lasagne, despite it having no taste. The only reason brasilieros eat the fruit is because it contains minerals that benefit your immune system. Last Tuesday, chuchu found its way into my largest meal of the day: lunch.
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Audrey and her papas

By Audrey Carver

“You need to speak slowly to Audrey please, she is not stupid, only learning Spanish. We are very proud of her.” This note, scribbled in Spanish, was given to me by my host father after my first day of work. I had arrived to his house in tears, frustrated that I could not understand my boss. Milton Serrano had dropped everything to help me, writing a note for me to give to mi jefe. For the first time, I felt the ‘father’ part of my host family.

My dad is one of the most important people in my life. From him I get my height, my stubbornness, and my sweet tooth. He taught me how to ride a bike, cook creme brulee, and use a chainsaw by the time I was 9 years old. He has always given me rides home no matter how late. When I was young, he would play fairy tea party with me, braid my hair, pack my lunches, and he walked me home from school every day. Upon deciding to move to Ecuador and live with a host family, I knew that my host father would have big shoes to fill (size 13, in fact), and I was nervous that my standards would be too high. The idea of calling anyone else “papa” made me cringe, and I figured that an assigned father would pale in comparison to my real one.
However on the first day I was pleasantly surprised to find that, in room full of host mothers, Milton Serrano had come to pick me up. Standing just below my collarbone at 5’5, he insisted on riding the bus with me every day to school so that I would not get lost, and riding the bus to accompany me back. He explained to me, slowly and with the aid of a battered English dictionary, not to go home with strangers and not to cross the street when there is traffic. I later found out that he (a carpenter by trade) had hand-built my bed specifically to be long enough for me, something that my father (also a carpenter) had done for me at home. And when I stayed late at a concert, he was there to pick me up on the curb, my real father’s voice echoing “always call for a ride” in my head.

Nobody could ever replace my dad, but I am realizing that nobody has to. The families that I find in my life can have more than 4 people, all playing different roles. With the odd, adorable bonding of Milton Serrano, I am learning that nobody needs to “replace” anybody, that I only need to make room in my heart for more families. My host dad rushed to help me on my first day of work, wanting to solve my problems just as my real dad would. As their similarities pile up, I am accepting a new family, and all because of a short Ecuadorian man in a blue fleece onesie.