The Unwritten Ecuador Packing List

by Elizabeth Kenneally

  1. An unquenchable love for rice and reggaeton. You will eat rice at least twice a day and Mi Gente will be playing in the background. It’s inevitable. 
  1. Your favorite American food. Be it pancake mix, chocolate chips, or peanut butter, I guarantee that even if they have it here it will be different and very expensive. Not much here has made me cry but the birthday PB&J from Audrey definitely makes the list. But don’t worry – in moments of weakness, there are still places where you can order nutella waffles in English.
  1. Patience and flexibility. The need for these is indirectly linked to your Spanish level. The less Spanish you understand, the more you must be able to adapt to spontaneous trips to visit abuelos or amigos. No matter how fluent you think you are, you won’t know what is going on most of the time and that’s okay!
  1. A willingness to be laughed at and corrected by small children. Or children of any age. It may be humiliating and annoying, but they are the best teachers. My four year old host sister made me re-read a picture book to her until I pronounced everything right, and now I can accurately recount the name of any small insect under the sun. 
  1. Very strong chapstick. 8,200 feet is no joke.
  1. Very strong sunscreen. 8,200 feet is no joke. 
  1. A flexible definition of success. This experience has definitely taught me to appreciate the small victories: finding my bus stop without getting lost, Spanish conversations where the other person doesn’t immediately ask where I’m from, scheduling and leading a meeting at work, refilling my bus card, and catching on video the time my four year old host sister told me she loved me. 
  1. All of your loose change! You can get a whole lot of pan with just a few dollars in coins. 
  1. A large and indestructible journal. Mine is my most treasured possession because it contains almost all of my memories from my trip so far, but most of the pages have fallen out at some point or another. A good notebook is well worth the investment. 
  1. ¡Un mapa! I lost my iPhone, so my poor ripped and re-taped map is my lifeline and I literally don’t know where I would be without it. 
  1. An appreciation for both words and silence. Since living and working in a foreign language, I am constantly thinking about what to say. I conjugate verbs on the bus in anticipation of every possible interaction during the day, and I frequently write useful words and phrases on my hand to remember. Because of this, any opportunity for silence is incredibly welcome. I am typically chatty and prefer conversation to silence, but here, even casual dinnertime gossip takes enormous amounts of concentration. Moments of comfortable silence can offer a much needed respite that I don’t think I previously understood. 
  1. A sense of humor. You absolutely cannot take yourself too seriously in a country where you understand none of what is going on the majority of the time. As our beloved in-country staff would say, laugh so you don’t cry! 

The Healing Sickness

By Linnea Otto

Ever since graduation this spring, I have been struggling to accept that my childhood is over now. I am so lucky to have had such a positive life growing up, that I have been having a tough time letting it go. Diving headfirst into another country seemed like the most abrupt path into adulthood that I could imagine. I have to work like an adult, take care of myself, walk around the city by myself, go shopping by myself, etc. That really terrified me. However, as like most expectations, this has been (pleasantly) shot down. I’m not reliving my childhood, but I haven’t had to completely fend for myself in a forest of vicious adults by any means. 

Just when I was feeling lonely earlier this week, reassurance of the presence of helpful people in my life unexpectedly came in the form of a fever and a cold. I was feeling absolutely miserable because I didn’t know what to do and I just wanted my mom to sit by my bed and take care of me. Unfortunately, I’m a little too old for that kind of service, but I was surprised that everyone around me took care of me in their own ways. Our in-country staff member called and texted me to check up on me and took me to the clinic. She offered for me to sit down when there was only one chair and held my purse while the nurse did tests. After the clinic visit, we could have walked two blocks to get to a bigger street, but since I looked a little bit like I might crumble if the wind picked up, she hailed the taxi from right outside the clinic. When I got home, my host mom made me hot soup and made sure I took my medicine. The other fellows texted me to see how I was doing. My host sister (age 6) made sure that the fan was always pointed directly at me and even gave me a princess sticker. A few days later I felt better so I stopped by Brenna and Nadia’s houses, and both of their host families asked if I was feeling better. When I returned to Spanish class, the teacher gave me a recipe for a healing tea. Those gestures were nothing grand, but they were exactly what I needed. Nobody offered me a flippant “feel better!”- instead they did whatever they could to reassure me that I am not alone. Much to my pleasure, I wasn’t a solitary inhabitant of an island. Being sick wasn’t the most fun way to feel the strength of love around me, but it definitely was effective.

The Big “Cuyeast” and Soccer Challenge

By Max Goldfarb

It was like I was at home again. Today felt oddly similar to a laid-back Sunday with my American family. I relaxed in the morning, enjoyed a delicious barbecue lunch, and played some sports in the evening. This sense of familiarity made the day even better.

11:00 AM:
        After a nice breakfast of eggs and bread with my host brother, Jhonatan, I spent the rest of the morning in my room. I caught up a little bit on news from the U.S., wanting to do something both productive and comforting in my alone time. I needed that time away after a busy and tiring Saturday, which was spent with the other Ecuador fellows in our first AMIGOS (in-country organization) workshop.

3:00 PM:
        In the afternoon, I headed to Max Whaley’s (another fellow) host family’s house for some cuyes (guinea pigs). No, it was not to play around with them as if they were pets. Instead, they were the main part of our cookout. When Max’s host dad called us to the grill to cook, each of the three of us lingot a chance to spin the spit and then enjoy some cuyes. I felt really torn while I was churning the guinea pig in circles. Although the smell of it was really rich and savory, especially after Max’s host mom applied some special sauce, it looked as if I was roasting a rat. Then, my growling stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten in five hours, and I knew I had to keep spinning away. Even though I had already tasted it once before since I arrived in Ecuador, I was still a little hesitant to eat what is seemingly a pet to me. Pet or not, I was reminded again of why I should eat the cuy: I’m a big-time meat eater. Also, once I took my first bite, it didn’t matter to me that I might have been eating a pet. Most importantly, my teeth happily gnawed through some crispy and flavorful flesh. Despite my discomfort in situations like this, I enjoy these constant opportunities that push me out of my comfort zone and get me to try new things that I usually end up liking. Max’s host family generously offered me a country delicacy. The least I could do was accepted their cultural offering with an open mouth.

6:30 PM:
        As I have grown up with ice hockey and track as my main sports, I have never considered myself to be much of a soccer player. So, when I played with Henry and his host brother at a park called Plaza del Arte near their apartment, I had to do the best job of pretending I was. Without a lot of natural soccer talent, I used some of my hockey senses to make smart plays with the ball. Playing with them felt similar to my experience speaking Spanish during the bridge year so far. While my foot would roll off of the ball and my ankles would nearly break every time I touched the ball, the others dribbled, passed, and shot perfectly in whatever direction and speed without any problem. To make matters worse, the embarrassment I felt from my countless mistakes while we were playing made me just as embarrassed to try to explain myself in Spanish to my teammate. I got the baby treatment while I was playing with my teammate who kept giving me the softest, easiest to handle passes possible, which I desperately needed. I soon realized these kiddy passes are the only way I’m going to develop my soccer skills. Just like with Spanish, when someone speaks a little bit slower than normal to me, it lets me pick up words here and there and ultimately helps my Spanish skills improve.

While I am sure I will not be playing like Messi any time soon, I am glad I had some quality competition to force me to play my best. Also, with Henry saying he wants to play once every weekend, I will have plenty of opportunities to improve. My language skills are undergoing the same training except that it is daily, beginning once I step outside my room into the Spanish-speaking world.

Stories About My Time In Nicaragua: In 2 Parts

By Nadia Rosales

I have been having a hard time, lately, in deciphering how I feel, why I feel that way, and dealing with the inevitable aftermath. This experience has given as many valleys as it has mountains. I’ve teared up thinking about staying a whole other 8 months as much as I’ve teared up thinking about eventually having to leave. As a result, I have had to fall back on various coping methods I know well. Some have worked out fantastic, and some have not. Some cost money, and some are just better decisions than others. One of the methods I keep using without even really trying to do so is that of expressing myself through written word.

lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely,
sugar sweet soft skinny sickly suave
honey yielding tender flesh
baby doll glass-eyed twinkling
sparkle                *        !

are you busy? are you going?
can you answer?

girl come back
girl come
girl is you hungry
girl is you wanting
girl is you is you is you
will you will you will you
are you are you are you
smiling smile mine

touch
me, dream come true, sit awhile
i can show you God
Destroyer of Worlds, Sin Punisher
i can show you sharpened teeth

who will i who will i who will i
all the coins are silver
and in the broken mirror, shine
blood
the drip drip drips on my shoes
but you can spit shine those
you can be my payment
you can be my sugar, neighbor,
have you any sugar
for me

for me the law is resold
bought with empty pockets
show me your claws girl

girl don’t close your eyes

girl i want my pound of flesh
and this tongue is the scale

come a little closer
stay a little longer
walk a little slower
smile a little wider

Buenas is my middle name

estoy bien señor
sugar sweet sun-burnt sap
silence
silence
silence

g o n e

welcome home
alone                living?                here                viva jodido

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In Defense of Traveling Alone

by John Lazur

My day to day life isn’t a constant battle anymore: I’m officially one month into my bridge year. I’ve settled in with my host family, and I’ve started working full-time at my internship. It isn’t that my life comes easily at this point, but I have reached a point where I want to push myself a little bit further to see where it takes me. So, a couple weeks ago, I threw myself into an uncomfortable situation: traveling to Matagalpa alone.

The rest of the group planned to go up Thursday morning, but I opted to go a night early. Part of me didn’t want to wake up at 3:30 AM to catch the 4 o’clock bus, and another part of me looked forward to trying it alone. I wanted to show myself that I could manage a bus ride with my Spanish skills, and see what that experience would be like. People have always told me, “Growth happens when you’re uncomfortable,” what better opportunity than traveling alone?

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