“Will I enjoy it? Am I ready to leave my friends and family? Will I find spicy food in Ecuador?” These are some of the insecurities that ran through my mind as I sat in a waiting area in Miami Airport, anxiously awaiting to board the plane to Ecuador. I was going to be a Peace Corps volunteer and yet at that time I had only an abstract idea about what it meant to be a volunteer. Sure I had read and heard about it before but I was never fully swayed by the idea that people were leaving behind everything to “save the world” and help others. In my mind these thoughts were convenient ways to mask the true intent, traveling or rather being paid to travel by the U.S. government. For me the chance to do Peace Corps had a moderately more grounded purpose, for one I would be able to show others that the United States isn’t just composed of people with blonde hair and blue eyes, nor are they all of European decent. To show that there are millions of Latin Americans in the U.S. and to be able to share some of my Mexican heritage with students, teachers and host families was a chance to clear up some of the inconsistencies and uncertainties that the media presents.
Arriving in Quito was something out of a dream, as us volunteers left the terminal we were greeted by Peace Corps Ecuador staff’s warm welcome just outside. From there we were bused to Quito proper, on the way passing several small villages enveloped in the heavy night fog that is characteristic of the sierra during winter. The cold and rainy days that ensued throughout training were welcome, helping to deal with the extreme brightness of the sun due to high altitude right on the equator. The sierra, I hoped would be where I would be placed for my site but alas despite my calm demeanor, love of the cold, enjoyment of hiking and disdain for heat and humidity I ended up on the Ecuadorian coast; more specifically in the biggest city in the country: Guayaquil.
“Will I enjoy it?” My past experience during Peace Corps training was that no, I would not like Guayaquil because it was humid, sticky, I was constantly sweating, the streets were dirty and I could hardly understand the accent. Yet after a year, after learning to avoid the random trash piles, meeting new people, getting accustomed to the rhythm of life and my role as a TEFL volunteer I came to enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe I’d have been happier in the mountains but I have in large part come to terms with my site. I still think it could be a lot cleaner and now that the rainy season is starting again, I dread the humidity and mosquitoes that it will bring. Still the rain is a nice refreshing change from the blistering heat that permeates across the entire city every single day, ultimately making me forget what month it is because the temperature is constantly the same; sometimes it is hotter, sometimes not so much but the promise of sweat is always fulfilled.
After a year in Ecuador, a year of traveling to beaches, hiking volcanoes, going to see whales, celebrating holidays and birthdays, learning local lingo, getting lost but finding my way again, and meeting new friends from all walks of life I have come to understand the beauty of Peace Corps. In this country of gorgeous clear water beaches, towering Andean peaks, large swaths of tree covered Amazon and so much more eventually my service will end but I know that I will have learned so much from this experience because even in one year I have learned a lot. Unfortunately despite the small size of this county, I will never be able to see or experience everything but I will make my time here count, in the process hopefully I leave something good behind.
Still haven’t found spicy food though.