South America, Travel Stories

Leaving Ecuador

     `The doors of Ecuador are always open to you,` I`m told by a young man sitting next to me on one of my last bus rides. Somehow the people are starting to seem warmer, more talkative, friendlier. Or maybe it`s me. As my time in Ecuador comes to an end I find it necessary to process what the last two months have meant to me. What were my expectations? My disappointments? What surprised me, what were the moments that caught me off-guard, the unexpected lessons? My head spins and my dreams reflect thoughts of home as I begin to mentally prepare for another ending and more transition.
     I`ll be honest, my time here hasn’t been easy. I keep feeling as if there is something I have yet to learn, to do, that I`m lacking something to make my experience complete, something I`m unable to put my finger on. When I arrived in Shell I met a pre-med student who was a month ahead of me in his time here. The first few weeks I watched enviously as he seemed to interact with the staff and missionaries with ease, calling the nurses `mami` and `papi.` He went out for dinner with the interns, played ultimate Frisbee with the MK`s, soccer with the local Ecuadorians, and watched the neighbor`s dog. He seemed to assimilate at a pace I could only dream of and I felt left behind in his shadow. The more I compared our experiences the more insecure and jealous I felt. Maybe I should’ve spent more effort forming deeper connections, spent less time traveling, gone to Bible study, volunteered at the orphanage more often, or invited myself over for dinner. 
     The truth is, I haven`t fallen in love here. In some ways I think I was expecting to fall head over heels with Ecuador with the same passion and excitement I felt in Mexico. As often as I shrugged my shoulders when people asked detailed questions about what my experience would be like, despite my best intentions, my imagination had still gotten away from me when I pictured this adventure. And, even though I know better, I still found myself comparing Ecuador to Mexico. Even though it`s a different continent, situation, and culture. Even though I`m different.
     I haven`t been underwhelmed by Ecuador by any means. I`ve developed a deep respect for the people here. They are hardworking, honest, kind, and truly special. Whatever variety the food may be lacking is more than made up for by the rich cultural and geographical diversity. I have barely scratched the surface of what this country has to offer, and I`ve come to realize that I may have been expecting a lot from a mere eight weeks here. Relationships take time and consistency. They take devotion and endurance. Assimilating is not something that happens overnight, nor should it for it requires patience and humility.
      Last night, I was humbled by a surprise pizza dinner in my honor. It was a small gathering of three of the nurses I had worked alongside but as we gathered around a table they each took a turn saying goodbye, reflecting on our time, and wishing me well. The most gracious words were voiced by a nurse I had spent the least amount of time with. He said, `We don`t always get along with everyone, in fact it`s something special when we go out with a visitor, we don`t do this for just any one.` I had been frustrated and feeling down about this `something` that was lacking, my inability to connect, to feel as if I had made an impact. I was worried I would leave with a bad taste in my mouth, with the sense that I had left something unaccomplished. Yet, listening to their blessings I felt a sense of peace. I realized with gratitude that some things were out of my control and despite my inefficiencies and weaknesses, I had made new friends. It was the best going away present I could ask for.

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