When I arrived in Otavalo, almost eight weeks ago, I was scared. The town seemed to spread out before me in series of blocks that were indistinguishable from the rest. My host mother was a sad women who spoke in horror stories. The upcoming programs had names and dates, but nothing that I could relate to. Everything felt foreign, and I stuck to Heidi’s side as she translated my new life for me.
But now, after we’ve successfully navigated five different groups through volunteer vacations, and the photos are posted and new friends made, I have a moment to reflect on how my life has begun to feel like just that: my life.
At first glance at the picture above, you might think that it’s just a poorly framed photo of me: the line of kids, the photo cut so I’m barely in it. But you would be missing the point. This was taken our last day of the Health Care Volunteer Vacation, when we had stationed our doctors, our supplies and our volunteers in my community: Panecillo. We have limited spaces for patients, and I was determined to get my host mother seen. I had spent the morning running back and forth between the school and my house. Aurora, like many indigenous women, has an aversion to doctors. Racism is still prevalent in Ecuador, and especially in the medical field. Indigenous people are often treated like they are stupid and dirty and undeserving of medical attention. But, after five separate trips down to my house, I managed to get her and my three year old host brother, Mateo, to the clinic. All of the kids get a quick check up, parasite medication, and fluoride treatment. Mateo was scared. So to calm him down, I waited in line with him, his little hand in mine.
Later, I sat in the doctor’s office with Aurora. I worry so much about my skinny host mom, pregnant with baby number six, and I knew how scary it was going to be for her to talk to a doctor. So we sat there together. And I smiled, and held her hand. The Perugachi Imba Falconer Family.
It’s not just family life that seems to be falling into a nice, predictable pattern. I’m getting used to all sorts of other things that seemed outrageous when I first got here. It doesn’t surprise me to see a man walking down the street with a cow on leash, as common as if walking the dog. I don’t double take when I see a pig the size of a fat samoyed. I wear jeans every day and I don’t hate it. I know what time the bus comes and and I know where the mean dogs lurk. I can run my life in two languages.
It still gets difficult. Some days I wish I could be home for just a weekend. Hang out with friends. Drink a cup of Stumptown coffee, talk to someone without the internet cutting out. Sleep without fear of tarantulas. But every new day in Ecuador, things make a little more sense.