Heidi left on Monday. After weeks of denying that it was possible, of putting the thought out of my mind, I watched a heartbreaking goodbye with her host family and then we went to airport.
I was with Heidi for ten weeks. Only ten. It seems insane now that a friendship like ours could spring out of such a short time together. But it was an intense ten weeks. Five programs, ten trips to Quito, and lots of training. We spent hundreds of hours together, working, planning and talking about our lives. Heidi is a brave, strong woman, who taught me too much to include in this little blog post. But she has her own blog, so I´ll be creeping on that hoping it takes the edge off of missing her.
Suffice to say, Heidi leaving was a hard way to start the week. But it was my birthday Wednesday. Something I had also given little thought to. Until Tuesday night.
I got off the bus from Quito, alone for the first time. ¨My God,¨I thought to myself, ¨Tomorrow is my first birthday away.¨ I looked around the crowded terminal: women held on to screaming babies, men in panama hats joked with their friends, and for the first time in a while, everything felt very foreign.
I took myself to an internet cafe, where I called my parents, left voice messages for some of my friends, and cried in the corner. For anyone who has ever lived abroad for an extended period of time you understand that sometimes this just happens. Sometimes you cry in internet cafes. Sometimes, there is nothing more isolating than facebook, than skype, than that terrible reminder that it takes a large effort to contact the people you love.
Atfer a bit of this, I dragged myself to the bus stop. I stood on the crowded bus, holding on for dear life as we careened around corners, and then finally walked up the big hill to my house. It was getting dark, and I was feeling lonely.
But then I walked through the front door of my house. ¨Buenos Noches.¨I said, rather as a formality than anything.
¨Lizzie!¨Mateo yelled from the kitchen, ¨Ven aca!¨ I dropped my purse and walked to where he was sitting in the kitchen, he long hair falling in front of his face. ¨Lizzie!¨He said again. He jumped down from the chair and wrapped himself around my leg. Aurora was standing in the corner, stirring a pot of potatoes, and she smiled at me too. Then, with the sound of feet hitting the floor, Johnny and Nataly, two of my other host siblings, came running through the kitchen door. ¨Hola Lizzie!¨ They said. ¨What did you do today?
And without realizing it, I started to forget that I was so far away. I sat down at the table and talked with my family. Told them about saying goodbye to Heidi, brought out the cheap water color set I bought for them and watched as Mateo stained the kitchen table.
The next day, I taught two classes, ran, did a few errands for Tandana, and got online to talk to everyone at home. I was stunned, absolutely overwhelmed by all the love I recieved. Many of my friends took photos of themselves holding Happy Birthday signs, one -looking at you Jamie Bilderback- made a video of her singing me Happy Birthday, with a cat. While the night before I had been crying at the internet cafe, now tears of laughter were running down my face.
After that, I came home to my host family for dinner. I had borrowed Anna´s anaco, the traditional dress that most of the women in Panecillo wear. It´s a white blouse, with full sleeves and embroidered flowers, a long blue and white skirt, a long piece of fabric that acts as a belt, a gold necklace and two red bracelets. Its difficult to put on, so Aurora helped me, laughing as she wrapped the belt around my waist, her head not even coming up to my shoulders. The siblings got a kick out of it too, helping me adjust my necklace, braiding my hair, exclaiming I looked like, ¨Barbie in anaco.¨Then we went outside and had a photo session.
It is something, to make my family laugh. Especially Aurora, who lately has been smiling more, laughing more, at me, at Mateo. In the family pictures we took, her hand is gripped firmly around my waist. Nataly leans into me, Mateo grasps at my legs.
After the photo session, my host dad came home, and they presented me with my cake. We lit the candles -which Mateo promptly blew out- and then they sang to me. In English, then Spanish, than Kichwa. I followed the Ecuadorian tradition and took the first bite of my cake without my hands, and Mateo promptly joined in on that too. All eight of us laughed, cramped around our tiny kitchen table, and for the second time that day, I felt so very loved.