Foreign and Familiar

My kids and I are in Ecuador for the month visiting our exchange student.  I don’t believe I have written about Beth’s stay in earlier writings.  She stayed with us for the last year to help me with my children while studying English and taking a couple classes at the university.  Beth has been an instrumental part of my healing.  Not only an extra pair of hands to help me with two energetic toddlers, but also another loving heart to share in our lives.

With her year commitment coming to an end, Beth’s family invited us to visit and learn about their culture.  I felt it would be a beneficial trip to focus on my writing and spend concentrated time with my children.

We arrived in Ecuador safely after a long day of travel, a nine hour flight and many extra hours divided amongst waiting time, eating time, and customs time.  With all the challenges of traveling, my children did exceptionally well with the changes.  On the plane we sat next to an FBI agent who willingly helped me balance my kids between bathroom breaks and dinnertime.  He showed us his hands that were marred from stop sticks which he didn’t let go of in time.  I saw his hands and immediately thought, I hate stop sticks. 

Looking out the window Jordan told me, “Mom, we’re up in heaven!  I can see my dad!”  Maddi looks at me with eyes that glisten.  When she smiles her eyes sparkle like they are showered in glitter.  Maybe she sees her dad, too.

Within the first couple days of our arrival I noticed the culture shock.  Because I have traveled so much in the past, I wasn’t expecting to be surprised by anything.  Because I have traveled so much in the past, I should have known better.  Even though I have experienced cultural differences in past travels, these current changes still altered my spirit as a clear message that we were no longer home. 

The list is long.  Including cold showers, no bathtubs to bathe kids, strange foods, water that needs to be purified, dirty streets, dusty homes, barking dogs, chickens roaming around the big city, roosters that sing all night long especially at 4AM!  And stray dogs that can’t be petted by eager little hands who think all puppies are “so cute!”

There is also the philosophy to hurry up and wait.  Time is slower.  Sidewalks are dangerous.  Look down when you walk.  Toilet paper is thrown in the wastepaper basket and hand sanitzer becomes one´s new best friend. 

We are staying in a very nice, safe area.  I am not nervous about our security.  It is simply different from what I know back home.

The houses here are surrounded by brick walls lined with broken bottles to keep strangers out.  Driving is reliant on honking the horn as no one stays in their designated lane.  We are surrounded by a language different from our own.  My son introduces himself to everyone with, “I’m Jordan.  I speak English.”  Maddi is adapting well saying “Hola” to anyone and everyone. 

The house we are staying in is constructed of cement walls.  Even though the temperature is warm and lovely outside, the bedrooms hold a chill at night.  We have bunk beds and my kids are afraid of the top one, so we try to crowd three tired bodies into a twin bed and that is certainly a foreign concept. 

Because of the tile floors we are supposed to keep our shoes on.  My kids keep taking theirs off by the front door and Beth’s grandma rages in Spanish that my children will surely catch a cold!  My kids think they are being polite.  I am now re-training them that in some places, like this one called Ecuador, we leave shoes on even in the house.  They look at me like I am strange. 

Overall my kids seem to adjust quicker than me.  Their spirits adapt to the surroundings and they simply blend in.  I think this is because they don’t have preconceived ideas about how our world should work.

For breakfast we eat fruit we can’t pronounce and for dinner we eat soup made with beans and corn.  There is a lady who comes to do our laundry and Jordan thinks it is very silly that they wash their clothes outside.  The neighbor boy wants to play soccer.  Jordan shows little interest.  Maddi lays lazily on the ball teetering with her feet in the air.  The little boy starts to cry saying, “That is not how you play soccer!  You can’t use your hands!”  Maddi can’t understand his Spanish and throws him the ball.  This makes him cry harder. 

Initial culture shock is similar to sudden loss.  It is strange, foreign and very different.  It is unfamiliar.  That is the greatest thing.  We crave what is familiar.  We are comfortable with what we know.  We are uncomfortable in change. 

How do I adjust?  I tell myself this is temporary.  Only a few weeks.  Then we will be home.  We are in a temporary situation.  This makes me feel better.  And so it is with grief, I believe.  A temporary situation.  Not my permanent destination.  There will be a time to go home.  And similarily this makes me feel better.  This is how I adjust.

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