On January 16th, I celebrated my one year anniversary living in Ecuador.  To mark this important occasion, I decided to give a little “State of My Own Union” Address, giving you a behind the scenes glimpse into the daily ups and downs of this crazy journey. 

You can never cross the ocean, if you’re too scared to leave the shore. 

– Miley Ponti

My State of Service

I spend my mornings from 7am – 1pm at my K-12 school, assisting teachers with their English classes.  Sometimes I lead a pronunciation activity, model a lesson, or teach the whole class.  Sometimes, I just help the students.  I teach mostly 2nd – 5th grades and Juniors and Seniors in High School, as well as a Friday afternoon English Club for the International Baccalaureate Students.  Through it all, I’ve discovered that I’m not a very good “English” teacher.  I depend upon the Internet a lot to help me understand modals, the perfect tenses and the reason why intransitive verbs can’t be used with the passive voice.  I don’t remember ever learning all of this grammar in my schooling days, so I often leave the grammar explanations to the teachers and just try to design the fun practice parts of the lesson.  The culture of Ecuadorian schools is really different than what we’re used to in the States.  Sometimes classes happen.  Sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes teachers work with me to plan an activity for their class, mostly they don’t.  Somedays I feel useful.  Somedays I don’t.  Sometimes, I find it all incredibly frustrating, and sometimes I can roll with it and laugh.  But I do walk across campus to hugs, waves and “Good Mornings” from students and teachers alike.  The kids and I have developed secret handshakes and we play frisbee or do the Hokey Pokey at recess.  In this culture of warm and welcoming greetings, I often feel a little famous.  It’s fun being one of only two Gringitas at the school. 

Sometimes, in the afternoons or evenings, I teach at the local university, which is really fun for me.  Once a week, I guest teach in a remedial English Class.  These are college students who are required to pass a basic English class before they can graduate in their own majors such as graphic design, nursing and agricultural engineering.  It’s fun to hang out with these students and sometimes we all go out for pizza after class.  I’ve also ingratiated myself with the University’s Teacher Training Program and have been teaching and coaching pre-service teachers in lesson planning and how to integrate more activities into their future classes.  Being a coach and a cheerleader for these young teachers has been incredibly rewarding for me.

The meaning of life is to find your gift.  The purpose of life is to give it away. 

– Pablo Picasso

My State of Being

It’s true, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you have a lot of time on your hands.  In typical Becky fashion, I always find something to keep me busy.  I’m using the time to learn new things, and grow as a person.  I study my Spanish, take a weekly Spanish Class from Leticia, who has become a dear friend, and spend time with another friend, Mery, who is wiling to exchange Spanish lessons for English.  I have also been taking weekly classes in Salsa Dancing, and Pottery.  I’m up by 5am most mornings for a little yoga and positive breathing.  If I have any free time, I go on an adventure, take long walks through town (sometimes listening to my Spanish Podcasts), explore the market, or sit in the beautiful plazas while studying and watching the world go by.  I try to get to know everyone I meet, and say “yes” to every event to which I’m invited.  I’m trying to experience it all.  Admittedly, this year has gone so fast, and my surroundings are so normal to me now, I can’t quite imagine anything different.

When you’re in a dark place, you sometimes tend to think you’ve been buried.  
Perhaps you’ve been planted.  


My State of Health
It’s been a tough year on my body: one broken rib, two sprained ankles, some skin fungus, an eye infection and a short mysterious episode of “the double dragon”, after eating something that didn’t agree with my stomach.  It’s becoming apparent that now that I live with kids, I’m going to get colds a lot more often too. 

At some point you just have to let go of what you thought should happen 
and live in what is happening.

My State of Family

Margarita, Jose, Alex and Pablito are definitely the best part of my service.  I love the easiness of their house, the joy in their days and the energy they have for life.  Most mornings, I help cook breakfast for them, before Jose drives us to school.  When I can,  I return to eat a hearty lunch with Margarita and the kids.  She’s inevitably got an amazing soup simmering on the stove, and a new way to fashion chicken and rice.  When we go to the market, she’s always picking up items and asking me if I have tried it.  When I say no, it’s invariably in our lunch the next week.  I’m learning so much from her and have started to write down her recipes, too.  In the afternoon, while Pablo does his homework, and Margarita is cleaning or sewing her crafts, I write, plan my classes or study.  You also may find me on the roof hanging or folding laundry in the sunshine, and marveling at the incredible view.  Then, late in the evening, we gather at the table to laugh and share a little dinner.  Sometimes its leftovers from lunch.  Sometimes I cook.  I’ve introduced them to tacos, quiche, pancakes, homemade pizza, and a host of other vegetables that you can just steam and eat.  They think that’s amazing and they’re always surprised how much they like them.  I also made a lasagna for Alex for his birthday and they all loved that!  On weekends, you’ll find us racing from football game, to football game, and grabbing a snack or ice cream in between.  Sometimes we work with the concrete block business, sometimes there’s other events to attend.  And if nothing is planned for the day, Margarita might pack a picnic lunch and we head to the mountains.  Although every day is different, they’re all a little wacky.  Here is an example of one Saturday: 

One afternoon I overheard Margarita talking on the phone.  I usually don’t understand much of what she says because she talks so fast, but on this day, I clearly heard “Becky is a good baker, she can make the cakes.”  Ummm… Margarita?  What am I going to do?  

After finishing her conversation, she explained that Jose’s Dad, Victor, is having a birthday this weekend and they needed some cakes for the celebration.  There was going to be about 26 people.  We agreed on a vanilla and an orange cake with white frostings.  I was honored to be tasked with this job.  I was told the party started at 5:30pm.   

On the following Saturday, I started baking early because I had understood that the oven needed to be used in the afternoon for cooking a turkey.  It ended up that I burnt one of the cakes, so I had to make three cakes- all before noon.  Then I waited to help prepare the rest of the meal.  No turkey.  Margarita did start the gas grill outside and cook some rice in a 20 gallon pot.  (They don’t mess around, they love their rice!)  When I asked about the turkey, she explained that she had given the turkey to someone else to cook in their oven, and all that we were responsible for was the cakes, the rice and the wine.  And we needed to leave at 5:00pm.  

Excellent.  I’m very excited that I fully understand the plan. 

At 4:00 Jose leaves with Pablo in the truck for a soccer game.  
At 5:00, Margarita says “Vamos!”  But we leave the cakes, the rice and the wine behind.   Where are we going, I ask? 
Margarita explains that we need to go the store to get some mushrooms.  
We need mushrooms for the sauce for the turkey.  
So, we’re going to a grocery store now?  Without the car?  That will take over an hour and a half by bus to get there and back.  Doesn’t the party start at 5:30?
Yes, she agreed, that was a problem.  But we need to get the mushrooms.  

So, Margarita and I and Alex walk out to the main road to catch the bus, but we get on a bus going the opposite direction from town.  Ok, now I’m really confused!  

Where are we going, now?  
She explains that we’re going to pick up Jose and Pablo at the soccer game so that we can have the truck. 

15 minutes later, we get to the soccer fields in the small pueblo of Esperanza.  We find Jose, who is just finishing his game, and the 5 of us pile in the truck.  
Before we get too far, I want to confirm our plans, so I say, Where are we going now? 
We have to go to a soccer game.  
Another soccer game? Really? 
Yes, we have to win a borega (a sheep)!  
What about the mushrooms? 
We can get the mushrooms later, Jose explained.  But if I play in this soccer game, and we win, we win a sheep!  
“Vamos”, I say.  “Let’s win a borega!”

So we drive way, way out into the deep foothills aglow in the setting sun, to watch another football game.  This day, January 6, also happened to be a holiday, the Festival of the Kings, and is celebrated as the last day of Navidad.  When we get to the soccer field, there is a huge stage, a very loud band and a large crowd of people ready to use the space as a dance floor.  But first, the match for the borega!  As the game went along, the cold and fog closed in on the players, and the band tuned their instruments.  It was a great game and the crowd really got into it.  It ended with a tie and kick off, which our team eventually lost.  

No borega for us?
No. Vamos.  
Where are we going now? 
To get the mushrooms, ofcourse!

So, we went to the store for the mushrooms, retrieved the cakes, the rice and the wine from the house, stopped by the neighbors to load the turkey and their family in the back of the truck, and then we drove to the party.  8:30pm.  

And we were the first people to arrive!

The turkey and the mushroom sauce was some of the best I’ve ever had.  They loved the cakes too.  As the night went on, all 26 of us were crowded in this concrete block kitchen, eating off our laps and trying to stay warm.  Then it was decided that a fire needed to be built.  So the chairs were pushed back, and some corn stalks and scrap wood were brought in.  Right in the middle of the concrete kitchen floor, they started a bonfire.  As we sat in the smoke, laughing, retelling the story about my confusion, and sipping on our Coke and Sprite, I reveled in the moment and gave thanks for being a part of this wonderfully crazy family. 
“Life and this world are so full of both beauty and pain, no matter where we are….  (the work is in) navigating that liminal space between the two, and allowing our hearts to break open to experience both grief and beauty.” 

– Lyssa Tall Anolik

My State of Mind

I still spend way too much brain energy in grief.  I love my adventures, and all that I’m learning, but the ever present grief oozes in through my pores.  It’s a constant.  I take pictures for my mom, and then remember I can’t send them to her.  I hear my dad’s voice in my head and I miss him terribly.  And I still analyze and reanalyze the details of the last years of my marriage.  The reality is that I lost my friend and I’m still deeply wounded by the manner of his departure.  And then I remind myself where I’m at, and with each day it’s becoming more clear that this adventure is much more fun without him. 

Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love.  
It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot.  
All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, 
the lump in your throat, 
and in the hollow part of your chest. 
Grief is just love with no place to go. 

But you can’t start the next chapter if you keep rereading the last 

My current thoughts have a lot to do with mattering.  I’ve come to realize that I ran away from Portland to escape the pain, but I ran towards Peace Corps in search for a life in which I matter.  I’ve travelled a lot in the world and I can check off hundreds of amazing places I’ve already seen.  But the more I have traveled in recent years, the more I started to feel that something was missing.  A deeper knowing.  An understanding.  A connection.  A connection to the people, their culture, their lives and their laughter.  For me, this is what really matters.  I gave so much to my marriage for a long time, and in the end my dreams and my opinions didn’t matter.  It’s also really hard to be the person left behind and still think that you matter.  I arrived in Ecuador needing to matter, but was assigned to live with two different families where, for the most part, I didn’t really matter.  Also, the work of a Peace Corps volunteer is filled with days where what you do doesn’t matter.  It can be very hard.  Then there are beautiful moments when you do matter.  Where everything matters.  It has become clear to me that my search for my current Ecuadorian family was a search to matter.  To connect.  To believe in love again.  To believe that I am worthy. 

When I returned from my two week holiday vacation with my friends, Jose was telling me about their family’s New Year’s festivities and he quietly said, “The only thing missing was our Gringita.”

I matter.

“You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  Generally, by the time you are Real, 
most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, 
except to people who don’t understand.  

– The Velveteen Rabbit

So, yeah.  The quiet moments are still hard.  I’m tired of sadness and grief.  In the past 2 years, I’ve had two parents, a brother, my beloved aunt and life as I know it die.  I’ve cleaned my memories from two houses, sold almost everything I own and now live on $17 a day in a country where I struggle to communicate and understand their culture.  Is it fun?  Yes.  Is it hard?  Always.  Am I happy?  I think so.  I’m trying.  

I’ve decided that I shouldn’t return to the states until I’ve learned to speak Spanish comfortably, until I have healed more, and I have a better idea of what I want for my life.  

I might be in Ecuador awhile. 

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break.  And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go.  Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

 – L.R. Knost

Photo by Gretchen Vos