I left Quito Monday morning at 6:35 am. While waiting for take-off, I noticed that the sun reached the top of the mountain at 6:15 am, the way I know in the tropical lowlands where I spent the last three months, the sun goes down behind the mountain peak at 5:30pm. As the plane rose I got a last look at the city that sprawls at the base of volcanoes as if the houses themselves are solidified lava. I realized that even though the flight attendants were speaking to me in English, I was responding in Spanish. I began reading an article in the National Geographic español edition. I realized I understood 85% of the article, which was about the increase in natural disasters in the U.S. I recalled how just the day before I felt an earthquake tremor for the very first time. I remembered many of the other firsts I experienced during my stay in Ecuador–drinking guayusa, making chicha, riding on a motorcycle, white-water rafting, looking up to a starry sky and not finding Orion there, feeling completely unable to express myself through words, being taught simple survival skills by children, being a foreigner, being proposed to by a complete stranger (I didn’t accept), being offered children by complete strangers (I took the offer but I guess they changed their minds); hearing Illuku, a nocturnal bird, sing to the moon, eating live ants, watching a papaya tree fall to the ground on a completely calm and sunny day, making my own charcoal, planting trees, harvesting my own dinner, being cleansed by a Shaman, and being an expert on something for the first time in my life: the English language.
For a while I felt like I had nothing to offer, but I realized that for a community trying to develop sustainable income through tourism, English is very valuable. I realized that the English professors in the high school are often college students still learning English themselves, so the more I helped the college students, the more I was also helping the high school students. When I visited the high school classes I got oohs and ahhs over the way I pronounced words in English. I tried not to laugh too much at this because I could feel the breaths being held in the room because the students were listening and watching me so attentively, and taking their English class very seriously. They asked me in English where I was from, how old I was. One boy asked me why I had green eyes. I told him it was because my father has green eyes.
In this final blog I want to encourage people to number one, visit Ecuador, and number two, to try not to feel impatient with anyone when faced with language barriers. Number three, if you are wondering why I haven’t felt like blogging in the three days since I have returned–never eat airplane food no matter how hungry you are.
I’m leaving with a poem written by Francisco Amighetti, who was a Costa Rican artist and writer. Translated by yours truly.
Already I am saying goodbye to everyone
since it takes so much time.
I don’t want to draw in these green earths,
I want to see unknown and indigenous faces,
to hear other songs, to cry the same sorrow.
New humiliations, new successes,
that my heart returns to sound
another time in other streets,
where architecture tells me secrets
of an evocative life and torn history–
Oh phantom of stone! the antique silence.