Archive for May 2010

My last day in the U.S.A.

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I woke up this morning with the thought: Voy a Ecuador este día. It bodes well that I am already thinking in Spanish. It does not bode well that even in my mind, I stutter over the accent. The first thing I’ll be doing Monday morning (really, THE first thing– 8:30 a.m.) is head over to Spanish class with a professor who came highly recommended by a friend who lived and taught in Ecuador for five months. Wish me “buen suerte” or if you prefer, good luck.

How did this all get started? I can’t shake the feeling that finally, my life is starting to become the life I have envisioned since I was a little girl. I keep trying to retrace my steps, to some crucial moment in my life when I inadvertently rolled the dice that decided my fate. I walk backwards through time, looking for clues, and when I am just about to give up, I trip over a shampoo bottle.

There are a lot of things that have made me want to visit South America, dating back to childhood– a Choose Your Own Adventure book set on the Amazon River, the movie Ferngully, and stories culled all my life from South American friends and classmates. When I started working in Miami at the age of eighteen, I was exposed to cafe con leche and pastelitos; I bought homemade empanadas, still warm, from a woman who went door to door with her tote bag of treats; I learned to hug everyone I met and got used to kisses on the cheek from strangers; and I discovered that extra-strength cortaditos are not to be imbibed by one person alone, but instead are shared out in thimble-sized cups for a very good reason. In short, I fell in love with the warmth and generosity of Latin culture. When I got the chance in 2008 to go with one of my dearest friends, Mario, to visit his repatriated parents in Ecuador, I couldn’t get my passport soon enough. I was going to the place on the shampoo bottle.

When I was a little girl, I was sometimes able to con my parents into buying this shampoo for us. Some of the proceeds went to saving the rainforest, a notion I could get behind. But really, it was the bottle that drew me in. The colorful depiction of the rainforest creatures, combined with the scent of the shampoo (I imagined that the Amazon smelled exactly like it), left me imagining a vague and distant future when I would live in a clouded jungle, waking up to the sound of monkeys chattering in the trees.

Where I am going to work this summer is not in the Amazon rainforest, but it’s close. Turns out that romantic vision omitted the sticky heat and swarms of bugs, so I’ve chosen to settle instead in the Andes mountains. I’ve been to the rainforest in Ecuador, and believe me, it is glorious. There really are monkeys swinging from the trees– riding in a tiny, painted canoe with a motor strapped to the back down the Napo River (a tributary of the Amazon River), we watched them play like squirrels, and I had to pinch myself to believe I wasn’t just on a ride at Disney. Maybe I’ll get the chance to go there again this time, but if I don’t, it’s okay because I’ve already crossed that childhood dream off the list.

Now I am working on a more recent dream, one that has only recently coalesced from many smaller dreams. When I was looking for arts and literacy programs in Ecuador, I was immediately drawn to a phrase on the website of Fundacion Arte del Mundo (FAM) in Baños de Agua Santa. That phrase was: “To be human is to be imaginative and creative.” Hey, I believe that! I thought to myself. Looking at the photos of children smiling proudly, artworks held aloft, my eyes teared up and I knew it was the place for me.

I grew up with the good fortune of having parents who encouraged a love of art and literature. Our house was filled with books. Any time I was bored, all I had to do was pick one up. I never wanted for art supplies and many family outings were spent visiting art museums or art festivals. For the children of Baños, books are a luxury. Rarely does a family have books in the house and none of the primary school have a library. It’s hard for me to imagine, and it was hard for the founders of FAM to imagine, too. They started the library to give kids in Baños the chance to explore the world through reading.

Thanks to the generous support of my university, Florida State, I’ve been able to fill a suitcase with books and games to bring with me to FAM. Look at the beautiful illustrations in this one:

books

My feelings about this trip have been wildly oscillating over the past few days. The knot in my stomach keeps turning into butterflies, then back into a knot. I’ve seen most of the hometown friends that I wanted to see and have had a beautiful couple of days hanging out at the beach. Every now and then, I caught myself gazing southward down the coast, imagining the miles of ocean between me and Ecuador. It’s so close, I thought. It’s so soon. And now it’s here. I’ll be in Ecuador in time for dinner.

My sister and I on Hollywood Beach

Goodbye, Atlantic Ocean. Goodbye, Hollywood and goodbye, Florida. Goodbye to my beautiful friends, to the handsome and supportive Geoffrey, to my wonderful family, and goodbye to my noble hound, Red, who has perhaps already forgotten me. Goodbye, Estados Unidos. ¡Chao!

Written by Sam Kelly

May 22, 2010 at 9:49 am

Posted in Uncategorized