It’s Sunday (Domingo), which means that I’ve been in Ecuador for five full days. I can’t even begin to describe how differently time moves here. In Kansas, I would start most days by making a to-do list, get to work, take too many breaks, and before I knew it, it was dinner time and I had no idea where the day had gone. But here, it’s like the minute hand only moves every two minutes. It feels like I have been here for at least a week.
I think the slowness stems from how passive I feel right now. When in the US, I’m pretty in control of my day. I am fluent in the language that is needed to accomplish tasks around town, understand others, and communicate effectively. I do what I want to do when I want to do it. I know my way around Topeka. I know what is expected of me in my workplace and feel competent in my ability to complete daily tasks. It’s not like I’m in control of everything, but I’m able to get around, communicate, understand what’s happening around me. Here in Ecuador, I am confused on a daily, nay- hourly, basis. I’ve been abroad before, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt this foreign.
I’ll begin with the most perplexing to me right now: the language! I can tell that by April 25th, when I head home for good (and by that, I guess I just mean the summer), I will speak Spanish much more proficiently than I speak now. Already, all that Spanish that receded into the dark corners of my brain over the last few years is surfacing. I’m bombarded by new vocabulary and grammatical truths each day. Some make it into the part of my brain that remembers, some go into my little self-made dictionary where I write notes, but many of them do not fit into my over-satiated brain. There are only so many new things one can learn each day, you know? When I’m in a group of people who are laughing at their Spanish jokes, or I’m trying to understand what my host mother is saying to me, or I’m trying to not be super awkward and silent around somebody I’ve just met, I am reminded of this foreign kid who came to Med-o-Lark (the camp I worked at last summer). I’m going to call him Bevel. It was his first time in the US and he knew very little English. Trying to communicate with him was PAINFUL because you could never understand what he was saying to you (his English vocabulary was very small and he spoke rather… mumbly), when you tried explaining something to him he just stared blankly, and he was so persistent that both parties understood one another. I often feel like Bevel. I’m the person that people don’t want to try and converse with because it will usually result in a blank stare, a fake nod, or having to explain in very basic words and gestures. I hate being slow here! It’s weird to feel stupid and incapable of speaking. All this is giving me great sympathy for people who immigrate to the US and feel instantly illiterate, mute, and deaf to the world around them.
Other areas of confusion include:
- My job (I’ve never taught English to a class of Spanish-speaking students- I just want to do a good job! I meet some of my students tomorrow, which will be good)
- This city (I’d like to be able to walk from place to place, not take a taxi, but first I need to become oriented here)
- How to be a good guest in my host mother’s house (she’s great, but pretty quirky!)
- How to do things that were once simple: Bathe. The only time I’ve showered at my house, I checked the water to see if it was working (there is often no running water…), but it was cold. I boiled water in the electric kettle and filled a bucket with half boiling water and half tap water then bathed using probably one gallon of water. When I asked Lisa, my German host sister about showering today, she said that what I did is not what they normally do and that she’ll show me later. Going to the bathroom! Yes, even this is different. Here, you are not able to flush anything but excrement down the toilet, so all toilet paper and sanitary products go in a cute (not) little bin next to the toilet. I can’t tell you how many times muscle memory has let me down and forced me to reach into the bowl and remove my toilet paper, lest I be the reason for a clogged toilet. Ew. Greeting people. One kiss or two? Should my lips actually touch their cheek? Oy.
The good thing is this: authentic learning cannot occur without confusion. You have to go through the pain of wanting to understand, but not being able to before you can truly comprehend something.
There is one thing that I know for sure; no confusion about it. Ecuador is such a beautiful, unique country!!
I really am enjoying it here. It´s just not the easiest thing in the world, being transposed into another culture. By the way, the title of this post- these are three words I learned in one day. Chola is a delicious roll filled with sweet cream found in the village of Guano in the Chimborazo province (15 minutes from Riobamba). Cholo is a term I would not use to denote someone with Amerindian heritage (the term means different things in different Latin American countries). Chalo is a word I saw on a building when my host mother was driving. I asked her what that word meant, curious, since I had learned chalo and chola earlier that day. She hadn’t seen the word. When I asked her, she seemed confused, repeated the word, and after a bit of thinking, said it was an Israeli greeting… I still don’t know what chalo really means.