Who Am I?

with 3 comments

Last week in La Bib, I helped solve a mystery for the volunteers, and perhaps halted an identity crisis for this young man.

Who am I???...Christian!!!

I first met this little guy when he approached me in the children’s library with a huge grin and a counting book on ladybugs. I was immediately enamored with his raspy voice and his silliness. Every few sentences, he stopped me reading to point at something on the page. He started to tell me something in Spanish but soon dissolved into a fit of joyful giggles. I have no idea what he said, but just his laughter cracked me up, and we barely finished the book.

I started hanging out with him a lot in La Bib. He’s the type of child who lets out long, shrill sounds of glee– and I am the type of adult who does the same. We read books together and I tried, with the other kids, to teach him how to play Uno, a hilarious farce that annoyed the other kids but only made me love the little guy more for his joyful disregard for rules. “That guy is like, my new best friend,” I told the other volunteers. Who? They’d ask. “Uhhh… well… I don’t know his name…”

When a kid enters La Bib, they have to grab their name tag from a hook by the door and pin it to their shirt. Most kids do okay at this; once in a while, someone fails to recognize his or her name, and we have to get it for them. The little guy never came to us with such a problem, oh no. Unable to read his name, he simply plucked whichever one he saw first and wore it as his own. That’s how it came to be that for the first day I knew him, I called him David.

The following week, I was reading to a little boy named Carlos when I noticed how much he resembled David. He had shorter hair, but the resemblance was uncanny. “Do you have a brother?” I asked. He told me he had like, seven or eight of them, but they were all older. “When did you get your hair cut?” This weekend, he said. “Hmm,” I said. I went on reading, until little “Carlos” stopped for an all-too-familiar giggle fit.

¨What´s your name?¨ I asked, slowly closing the book and looking suspiciously at the little guy. ¨What´s your real name?¨ He sunk down into the seat, laughing hysterically. Then he got up and ran away to play a game of Sorry!, undoubtedly by his own rules.

The next day, I stopped my young friend, who today was under the guise of Alex R., and told him I needed to make him his own nametag, with his own name. He smiled and let out a big sigh, his shoulders sagging in defeat. ¨So what´s your name?¨ I asked. He made a raspy little mouse sound that I couldn´t understand. ¨What was that?¨ I asked again. ¨CHRISTIAN!¨ he roared. Christian! His true name (I think)! I drew his name in big happy block letters and asked him what his favorite thing in the world is. ¨Perritos!¨ he cried, so I drew little dogs next to his name. We colored it in together, making sure that it would stand out. I told him that even if some days he can´t remember how to read his name, he can remember the little dogs, and know that this tag is his.

The next day, I was walking around La Bib when I saw Christian sitting with his back to me. I tapped him on the shoulder, spun him around, and there it was– HIS name! I squealed in delight (something I thought he could appreciate) and congratulated him for remembering. He rolled his eyes like, ¨Come on, it´s not THAT big of a deal!¨ and then he burst into that raspy laugh I love so much.

Since coming to Ecuador, I feel like I´ve asked myself the question a lot: ¨Who am I?¨ The answer, like the weather in Baños, changes from minute to minute. This is something I talk about often with Pete, another volunteer whose wife, Dalene, returned early to Canada and is adjusting to life in the homeland after almost a year away. There is, I have to say, precious little that I miss about life in the United States. I don´t miss the traffic, the hectic schedules, or laboring in Protestant work conditions where ¨If ya got time to lean, ya got time to clean¨– here, people work hard, too, much harder than people in the U.S. and it´s alright to sit down at work if you´ve got nothing to do. I don´t miss being bombarded with advertisements everywhere I look, or inane conversations about TV shows that I don´t watch, or passing ten different fast food restaurants on my way to school, not to mention the fast food chains within my campus. I don´t miss ¨la hora gringa¨– that is, showing up right on the dot, as opposed to Ecuadorian time, a clock that runs on circumstance rather than obligation. I don´t miss driving to the grocery store and lamenting the fresh fruits and veggies that I can´t buy because they´re too expensive– here, I walk to the market to get fresh produce for the week and I rarely walk out of there spending more than three bucks.

I miss a few things, like fast internet and my friends. I miss almond milk and sushi. I miss my dog. I miss easy access to books in English. I miss… uhh… that´s about it.

Yes, it is challenging to live in a place where no one is speaking your language and where half the time I communicate in grunts and facial expressions. I´ve been the butt of many a Spanish joke that I didn´t understand. Sometimes, my friendly ¨Buenos Dias¨ goes unreturned. But for the most part, I feel at home here, and that is one thing that I think has changed in me the most: my adaptability has increased tenfold.

Back home, I get frustrated over the littlest things– let´s say, for instance, if my can opener stopped working. Back home, I´d probably release a storm of cuss words before throwing the thing across the room and giving up. Here, I grab a knife and calmly stab the top of the can until the hole is big enough for my lentil soup to trickle through. Plans change here, often and without warning. I´m working on my ability to ¨go with the flow,¨ relinquishing the control I feel is so necessary for life in the U.S. and letting things happen as they may.

I also expected a lot more homesickness– I´ve left Tallahassee for long weekends and felt homesick. I expected to be haunting Skype, waiting for a friendly face to log on so I wouldn´t feel so alone. That never happened. I´ve been too busy, too happy, to feel homesick. Like I said, this has started to feel like home. There was one night when I was out with the fellow volunteers and some other friends of ours, a group of girls who volunteer at an organic farm in Baños. Everyone was talking, laughing, rehashing inside jokes and I thought, with no small amount of wonder: ¨These are my friends.¨

BFF

It´s amazing how an experience like this one can unite people from unlikely backgrounds. These people aren´t just some folks I was thrown into a program with, forced to make strained small talk with over drinks. They are people I look forward to spending time with, people I can talk to openly and honestly, people who can make me laugh, people who I admire. I never feel lonely.

I´ve always admired people like my fellow volunteer Amy, a Brit who one day bought a one-way ticket to Spain, unable to speak Spanish and uncertain as to whether she´d be able to land a job teaching English. A few days later, she did, and now she is not only a great Spanish speaker, but a great English teacher as well. I´ve admired those people but I always thought, I could never do that. I´d be lonely. I wouldn´t make friends. I need my books around me, I need to be comfortable, I need to have enough grasp of the local language to make people laugh. None of that is true for me anymore. I now feel that I can finally make my dream of teaching English overseas come true. I knew I would love teaching English– and I do. I know that one day I will become a good teacher, and that´s what makes all the blank stares and days when I end class feeling like a failure bearable. I´m going to take the TEFL certification at Florida State University this fall, and by this time next year, I hope to be on my way to Turkey with a job all set. I can say that now without the fear that I´ll get scared and chicken out. All the comfort in the world can´t replace the excitement of an unexplored street, a long chat with a new friend, or moments of profund confusion that dissolve into laughter.

Tiny wonders are tucked into every day here; I simply pull them out, like loose threads from a shirt. Yesterday, walking back from a spectacular waterfall, down a little road lined with modest homes, Pete and I stopped in our tracks as the sound of a synthesizer came straining from a straw hut. ¨Is that– is that Devo?¨ Pete asked, incredulous. ¨Yes, it is,¨ I said, dazed. ¨It´s ´Time Out for Fun.´¨ A fitting anthem, I think, for life in Baños, and a philosophy I hope to carry back with me into my often stressful, serious life back home. Take a little time for some fun, y´all.

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We walked back, glancing behind us every few steps at the spectacular view of Mama Tungurahua that the clear and sunny day afforded us. We reminisced about how, just a little over a month ago, we were afraid that she would blow up. I almost left Baños because of my fear. So many terrors– thundering terrors, terrors that shake your windows and keep you up at night– you can rest assured, will never erupt. I am slowly learning how to battle my fears and live for the beautiful day in front of me. I think it works like this: if you can live through your terror, one sunny day in the future, long after the terror has passed, you get to look back over your shoulder at it and say, breathless,

¨Isn´t it beautiful

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P.S.
The story with Christian isn´t over. Yesterday he told me, with regret, that he´d lost his name tag. Someone made him a new one, his name written plainly in black marker. There´s no way he´ll remember it. I suspect he´ll be someone else today. I wonder who he´ll be?

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Written by Sam Kelly

July 20, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. I love your blog! I too completed the CIES-TEFL course with Ramin in January of this year. I loved it and learned alot. I can definitely relate to your feelings! I am Volunteer teaching in Liberia, Costa Rica and I absolutely love it! The everyday lingo I here, the laid-back look at time, the lack of the hurry hurry busy-busy lifestyle of America, the simplicity of life, and the new amazing people I meet. I teach adults, but I still get that wonderful feeling when my students understand and that awful feeling of failure when I leave some classes. But after each lesson the students say “Thank you teacher!” they are ever greatful for whatever effort!

    I love the pictures you post as well, it’s amazing to see mountains and gorgeous landscapes whenever I ride my bike around the barrio and to class. I can also relate to the lack of home sickness, I do miss my friends and some aspects of life but here its like I can go to a small bakery on the corner and spend the equivalent of 50 cents for the best fruit pastry you’ve ever had and at home its like starbucks will charge you 3.49 for the same thing…I am in awe of the cost difference for simple things.

    My time here in Costa Rica is almost to an end but I do plan to go to Spain in October to live the European life for 9 months teaching English. Though I know will miss the laid-back nature of my new host family, my students, and my new friends. Good luck with everything!

    Dwinetta Rozier

    July 21, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    • Hi Dwinetta!

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m glad you like the pictures… you should come see Ecuador in real life sometime 🙂 It’s good to hear another FSU student say they liked the class. Do you already have a job in Spain? I’d LOVE to teach there! Has the career center been of help finding jobs for you? Costa Rica sounds amazing… the local lingo is my favorite thing to learn, ha. I can barely conjugate a verb, but I know all the words for “cool”!

      Good luck and happy teaching!
      🙂 Sam

      Sam Kelly

      July 21, 2010 at 7:25 pm

      • Hey again!

        I haven’t really been to the Career Center for help. I went a year ago for Resume guidance but that’s about it. I found out about the opportunity in Spain through Ramin actually, the program is a grant that allows you to teach for 700 euros a month. So it should be pretty cool. Yeah I want to eventually visit more countries in Central and South America but I’m taking baby steps! Happy Teaching to you too!

        Dwinetta Rozier

        July 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm


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