What I didn’t realize in going to the beach last week was that I ventured south of the Equator, where it’s currently winter. But don’t worry – winter around here means clouds and occasional rain. People say it gets “col”, but believe me, it’s all relative. So my week on the coast wasn’t quite as hot and sunny as I imagined it would be, but it was still warm and sunny most days. In fact, the 5-star hotel where we stayed has a guarantee of sun – no sun during your entire stay, and you get your money back! Well, I’m happy to say we didn’t get our money back. It was a wonderful week and an incredible deal – around $400 for my own room with a king size bed, 3 amazing meals a day (some of the best seafood I’ve ever had), and 4 hours of one-on-one Spanish lessons a day (though we basically hung out with our teacher for more like 8 hours each day). For regular guests, this hotel costs $170 a night! So needless to say, we certainly got our money’s worth.
I appreciated a week filled with tranquility. I read a ton, swam, walked along the beach, napped, practiced singing out by the waves (where no one can hear you!), studied music and Spanish, and reflected on many things. I’m finding it hard to fully calm myself in anticipation of another year of school. I can de-stress my conscious mind and think logically about how to approach the busyness of life, but even during this most tranquil past week, my evenings filled with nightmares, some of which involved Maggie Brooks and war, though I don’t remember the exact details. Frightening, right? I have no control over my subconscious!
After a peaceful week, I’ve returned to Quito for my final hoorah! Back to summer and sun. Which is funny because my teacher Jenny told me today that most Ecuadorians hate the sun. It got me thinking about how much the seasons influence people that, well…have seasons. For example, I told Jenny, sun and summer remind me of no school, swimming, vacation, late nights with friends, and grilling out. But for Ecuadorians who only have two seasons (sun and rain) and whose sun rises and sets at the same time all year round, the sun is monotonous. It’s hot and it burns your skin quickly here. They don’t have the cold of winter to make them appreciate the warmth of summer. So I must say that as much as I love this weather, I’m thankful for the seasons.
My final week is rapidly coming to a close, and I can’t believe how quickly a month has passed. At the dinner table last night, we talked about how rich life becomes the more people you know. I am so blessed to have an American, French, Senegalese, and now Ecuadorian family! And in return, it has been quite obvious what wealth the host students here bring the the family. My host family is of little means, and with my host mom in poor health, every day is a struggle. In fact, yesterday was a particularly hard day. My host dad has been working as a taxi driver, but yesterday, he sold his car to pay for medical bills…which means he is now unemployed. There are four kids int he family, all bright and generous and outgoing. So much potential, but not enough money to send the kids to college. And without an education and a good job, it will be hard to lift this family from their downward spiral. It has been a challenge to be in the midst of this and unsure of if and how I could help. I’m thankful for my 64-year-old Canadian roommate Sylvia, with whom I process these feelings almost daily. The family gets paid to host us, so we are thankful to be a part of their income. But this weekend, we both return home. This is a real nightmare, far surpassing my visions of war and Maggie. And what’s worse is that it’s a living nightmare for a majority of the world.
On Saturday, I’ll make my way back to comfortable living, to a garden about to burst forth with tomatoes and a fully-paid Masters program at one of the best schools in the world. My complaints will not be about how to pay for the things I need, but rather, how stressed I am to prepare music for the 9-day paid masterclass I’m going to in Sweden in a week. Disgusting. How can my chance-inherited wealth serve others? And when will I learn that I don’t have to travel across hemispheres to find this kind of poverty? It’s rampant in my own backyard in New Haven! As always from my travels, I come home with more questions than answers. It’s a tough world out there. But even my host mother is able to preach to us with her whole being that life is beautiful, and in the end, what’s most important is love.