As curvy as this year has been, as frustrating as the university, the banks, and the culture has been, I know there are many things that I will miss when I finally return home and continue on to Argentina. Because after all, that’s what makes a country unique, and there are many things that will be different between Cuenca and Buenos Aires.
I’m not a particularly special person, but here in Ecuador I’m kind of an interesting guy. Aside from being a gringo, I’m blond and blue eyed. That alone usually makes me stand out above everyone else. But I don’t sound like a gringo. I speak Spanish well, and my accent always has people saying, “You speak Spanish really well, where did you learn?” Then I go into my typical spiel about how I lived in Spain for a bit and my mom is from Argentina. And once I say that, their attitude usually changes into “You’re less of a gringo and more kind of like us” one. Even though I’m really not. But it’s always interesting.
At first I was pretty uncomfortable with everyone staring at me and the girls making whistles or cat calls. Over time I just got used to it and now barely notice. But that is not something that will happen ever again, unless I’m in another country like Ecuador where there are very few fair skinned people. Back home (and in Argentina as well) being blond is no big deal. I was never a big deal at home, and living here doesn’t quite elevate me to celebrity status, but it’s pretty close. I always found it funny when someone would tell me that their friend knew who I was, even though I had no idea who they were. Simply because they’d seen me around town.
The food here is nothing to be desired, but there are a few dishes that I really love, yet unfortunately don’t get much of. Ceviche and encebollado are coastal dishes, so I’ve only had them a few times, but they are truly delicious. Ceviche, a cold, raw fish dish is a favorite of mine. Encebollado, a warm dish similar to ceviche, is said to be a hangover cure, though I’ve never tested it for that purpose. These are dishes that I might be able to reproduce at home, or even find different versions of in other Latin American countries, but it will definitely not be the same.
As an American, I can’t help but be on time. Even when I leave my house late on purpose, I somehow get to where I’m going right on time. It’s a mystery to me. But on those few occasions when I am late, or when something doesn’t go as planned, we just go with the flow. In a way, Ecuadorians are kind of like Taoists. If you miss the bus, no big deal. There will be another one soon enough, or you’ll hitch a ride on a truck, or you’ll take a donkey. Whatever. That is a concept that I’ll try to continue back home, but I imagine that eventually I’ll lose sight of it.
Though I didn’t particularly like teaching, I know I’m going to miss the volunteer life of working 20 hours a week. The pay is pretty low and you have just enough to survive, but the free time is not something that can be replicated in another life, unless you’re lucky enough to have been born rich or choose to be a poor artist. A friend of mine who did the Peace Corps said that going back to normal work hours after volunteering is extremely difficult. My hope is to plug along as a writer so I don’t have to experience that kind of work day.
One thing I will not miss is the weather here in Cuenca. 4 seasons in a day and all that jazz is just not for me. This is a city where on one side of the street is sunlight, and you sweat. But when you cross the street into the shade you start to shiver. I’m a New England boy, and I need my seasons to dictate how I live. As much as I hate winter, I need it to tell me how to act, feel, and most importantly, dress. Not a day goes by here that I haven’t dressed appropriately, either because it’s suddenly too hot or a freak rain storm has come in from the west. I need solid seasons, not imaginary ones.
There’s a charm in walking through a small town where everyone says hello to you and after a few days, you feel like a local. Even if you’re just passing through. Though not as common in the bigger cities, such as Cuenca, in my own neighborhood there are the people I know. The fruit lady and her daughter, pot bellied and always running around on the sidewalk. The old guy in the caddy hat who always waves to me when I’m running. And the guys hanging outside the bar as I walk by, who I always need to stop and shake hands with and talk with for a few minutes. Live in a place long enough and you become that place.
I’m going to miss prices, which seem expensive at times because I’ve been here so long, yet in the back of my mind I know are a steal by American standards. The friends that I’ve made, both local and foreigners, might be the hardest to leave. When you find yourself in a difficult situation far away from home, you tend to bond much quicker and more strongly with others in your similar situation. You could have a best friend in 1 week if things go well. Experiencing the same things, you can laugh and yell about the same things. And you’ll always have that together.
I’m nearly done with my time here, and as I sit around waiting to leave, I find myself frustrated and bored. What to do, what to do? But at the end of the day, with all of the complaining aside, I will miss this place at some level. It’s a part of me now.
Above: Images from Cuenca