“You shouldn’t go,” they said. But, we went anyway.
“This is crazy, they pleaded”. But, we had heard that before.
“We will miss you,” they cried. And they do. We miss them, too.
It has been one year since we packed up our cozy life in wintry, Iowa to trade it in for something new. We chose the country of ultimate contrasts. The place that indecisively straddles the equator, bobbing between mountains, volcanoes, highlands and islands. One foot stuck in the mud in the south, and one hand waving goodbye- somersaulting into the north. A definitive location where one can stand in two places at once: the northern and southern hemispheres. We chose Ecuador.
We started our journey after landing in the bustling, high altitude city of Quito. A place where 1.6 million inhabitants happily breathe in the thin, mountain air. Diluted oxygen that effectively produces a brain fog; only highlighting the extremes of the city. Here, life collides in a happy mess of desolate and wealthy, filthy and pristine, antiquity and modernity.
For us, it was just a pausing place, as we gathered our wits together. My husband, born and raised in Quito, had not resided in the city for some 25 years. The kids and I, and our dogs too, had never so much as tiptoed through. This was the insane the part, the tiny detail that worried our friends so much. We had come to Ecuador, the 6 of us…only 2 parts being supposedly responsible adults. Our kids were just nearly 2 and barely 3 years old. Our dogs: two sixty-pounder fur babies.
Yeah, it was quite crazy. And spontaneous, too. We had only bought our tickets and informed our confidants a short four months before. The moments and months in between we had spent selling off every last imaginable item, then giving copious amounts away, and finally burning the last bits. We left Iowa with nothing more than 8 seriously stuffed duffel bags.
After a short time in the high altitude city, we high tailed it down the mountain in search of peace and serenity. We soaked up the sights of life as we wound down the highway between rainforests and farmlands, near deserts, and coastal cities. We found comfort in the humid, breezy air. We eventually settled into life on the sandy shores of a humble fishing village. We adore our life in a cozy, beach cottage in San Clemente, Manabi. A tiny, salty town of just 2,000 villagers on the central coast of Ecuador. A parish so small, it has not yet emerged on the maps.
In those first weeks and months, I contemplated on many occasions, my own childhood in small town, USA. I reconciled with memories I had long since forgotten. Of the faces of sixty some kids, all of which I went to preschool with and my last year of high school, too. Of riding atop a local fire truck in the town’s Fourth of July parades. Field trips to the lake: learning to fish and swim, and canoe in the perpetually murky waters. Camping trips with my Dad adjacent to dismissed railroad tresses. Candy and popcorn balls, and giant Snickers bars from the neighbors on Halloween. Climbing trees, scraping knees, coming home muddy from little league practice. These were the joys of my childhood, many of which still exist for kids living there today. Many of the reasons, we had chosen to start our family there. It haunted me to think we might be depriving them of the very things we had dreamed of.
In the beginning our children were startled by the centuries-deep sun-kissed faces and the coal colored eyes of Ecuadorians. They were awe-struck and frustrated by the gibberish that they spoke. But now, they don’t see colors and disparity. They see many beautiful shades of people who are all the same. They don’t hear languages; they hear voices singing different songs. They don’t see fear or hate or indifference, they only see kindness. To them, only kindness matters. Only kindness.
At first we were rendered hopeless, incapable of any culinary success beyond 10,000 fruits and 20 new varieties of cookies. I disliked most of the foods I tried, and the kids did, too. Spices, carbs, meats…all had different scents, textures, and tastes. Our go to staples for two toddlers: milk, ketchup, and cheese were an utter disaster. Milk comes in boxes, ketchup in bags, and cheese was left on the counter all day. It was tough and we caved on familiar fruits and chicken nuggets priced for millionaires. But, that was a year ago. And oh, how much a year can do. Now, we love the leche that arrives warm on the back of a motorcycle, the queso that comes from a neighbor down the street, and the tasty salsa de tomate made here in the Andes Mountains.
These days, we have gone back in time in many ways. We make mac-n-cheese, popcorn, and fish nuggets on the stove. All home-made, all natural, all local. The kids know who sells the cheese and where the corn grows. They even watch the very fish they eat come out of the sea. We bathe in buckets, hang our laundry on the line, wash dishes by hand, and take naps in hammocks. We go “out” for tripe (grilled cow intestines), fish soup, or batidos(3 ingredient milk shakes). We enjoy flavors like avocado, mame and guineo. These foods and many others are sold on food carts with no health regulations, by locals who kiss our dogs and pinch the cheeks of our kiddos.
We miss our friends and family dearly, those from “back home”. But, now we are also grateful to know beautiful souls from Canada, France, Spain, Scotland, Argentina, Germany, and Mexico. They have shown us what it means to have friendships beyond borders. We have learned that time and space mean nothing. That friendship lives in the heart.
Every American holiday has come and gone, sliding past us like a cat in the night. We have mentioned them, but not obsessed over them. We have been very busy celebrating all that is beautiful and new. Our kids have immersed in fishing holidays like the Sardine Festival and The Festival of the Copper Virgin. They have witnessed endless nights of prayer, drag queens in the streets, salsa dancing and burning midnight effigies. They have watched drunk cowboys on dancing horse in broad daylight. Kids playing in the streets long after the moon has risen. Soon, they will see what Carnaval means.
We have no regrets. Our children are not deprived of anything. They are gaining every possible benefit from living abroad. They understand love, culture, geography, equality. The appreciate music, art, and food. They remember their homeland, are proud of their heritage. They have embraced a new place, accepted versatility, even honored their blood line. They are Americans. They are Ecuadorians. Yet, they are so much more. They have become global citizens uninhibited by birth place or latitude lines. They have become children unimpressed by class, religion, color, or sex. In this we have gained the opportunity to erase mind and heart barriers that would surely inhibit their growth. We are proud to raise children with an improved sense of self and an improved sense of others.