Friday, June 10, 2011

Up In the Air

Boston Logan --> Dallas --> Quito, Ecuador

I’m not one to talk to strangers, and definitely not one to have lengthy conversations with them. That’s not to say that’s a characteristic I want to have, it’s just simply how my life has panned out thus far. And it’s something I’m working to change. Change came easy on my first connecting flight from Boston Logan to Houston, Texas. I was more than ready to hunker down in my seat after bordering, armed with my Lonely Planet Ecuador and Barron’s Complete Medical Spanish book (complements of Tri) when I was interrupted by this mid generation hippie looking guy sitting next to me. He turned out to be quite personable, and I set myself a challenge to work on my stranger conversational skills that I would probably need later. Our conversation spanned many topics in that four hour flight, and I can now claim to be a pseudo expert on environmental engineering (his career), cloth diapers, bee keeping, Portuguese, and how his first child was born via midwife.

The next flight proved to be exciting, there was another older gentleman on business sitting next to me who chatted me up about different parts of Latin America, the oil wells in Texas, his upbringing in Wisconsin (do these men ever stop?). Yet still, remembering my goal for this journey I obliged in conversation. Turns out, as he translated, there was a tour group of 20 Ecuadorians who were coming from a trip to China, that understood no Chinese. Which is funny because I’m a Chinese American going to Ecuador who knows no Spanish. I fell asleep for some time, and when I woke up we were beginning our ear popping descent to Quito.

I think this is when I first started feeling butterflies. Thoughts raced through my head, what if my host family doesn’t like me? What if I don’t know enough Spanish? What if this was a mistake and I should have just gone to China instead? I sat, glued to my window. Soon the clouds transitioned into fuzzy lights, which became streets lights, cars, and houses. After the touch down and all that security business, I finally arrived at the welcoming gate. Somewhere along the ride one of my contacts had fallen out, leaving me with a weird half clear vision. So it took me some time to find two women standing beneath a sign reading Elaine Chian written out in colorful curlicue handwriting. The ride home was a blur, the two women (one who had introduced herself as Suzy, one whose name didn’t catch) chatted away in Spanish. We arrived shortly at Calle de San Cristobal, where I was shown to my room (more like mini apartment). However, my happiest surprise was that Alissa and Carlos would be staying with me! We had originally thought we would be in separate host families, but discovered that not only did they put us in the same household but we were staying with the parents of Dr. Espinel, the guy who is coordinating our projects. I was introduced to his mother, Ana, and later his father, Luis (who are probably the best host grandparents ever, but more on that later). They live with their daughter Suzy and her son Marcelo, and their dog Minino. Their son lives with his family in an adjacent complex. By the time I had arrived it was already midnight, so not much else happened that day.

The next day I was awakened for breakfast and greeted with the most amazing fruit juice. The name of the fruit escapes me but it was some Amazonian fruit you can’t find in the United States. Carlos, Alissa and I spent the rest of the day with Luis (abuelo), getting to know San Francisco University (where our project coordinator is) and some of Quito.

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