¡Feliz Día de Madre! And today was also the day our host families picked us up! The second Jayda and I got to breakfast, we realized how nervous we were; we had no idea what to expect. I could barely eat my omelette; las mariposas estaban volando rápidamente en el estómago (butterflies were flying around super fast in my stomach). After breakfast, we went back up to our room, grabbed our bags, and headed down to one of the rooms on the first floor of the hotel.
There, a bunch of round tables were set up for us to sit and wait for our families. Only four or five came in the first hour or so, but every time a family came, it was a really special moment for every0ne. Gabriel would call the name of the student, then we’d all clap and watch as the families would excitedly greet and embrace their host son or daughter. It was truly precious to watch.
Mi familia arrived around 10:30; I recognized them as soon as they appeared at the door, just as another family was on their way out. I knew Gabriel, mi hermano (my brother), because after emailing back and forth a couple of times in March and April, he added me on Facebook and we’d messaged a bit. I was so excited when I saw them. And then the other Gabriel must’ve seen me wave at them, because he asked the group if the next student recognized their host family. I raised my hand and everyone applauded as I went up to greet them. We greeted each other in the traditional fashion: a kiss on the right cheek. They must’ve been able to see how excited I was. I can’t even begin to describe to you what I felt; there was a mix of emotions, the strongest being utter joy and excitement, with a slight undertone of nervousness. They took our picture, like they’d done with the previous families, and I made sure I got one on this phone. I then grabbed my stuff, said goodbye to everyone, then left with Amparo and Gabriel.
We then drove off, and Amparo explained to me, all in Spanish of course, that it was tradition in her family for her children to organize a lunch for her for Mother’s Day. She explained that her other three children would be there, along with two of the spouses of the children, as well has her mother (Gabriel’s abuela) and a friend of the family.
We got to the restaurant first, and it took a while for the rest of the family to arrive. Conversing with them was pretty much effortless; I wouldn’t say my Spanish was perfect, but they told me repeatedly how good it was. Amparo and Gabriel are such kind people; at no point was I uncomfortable. I was only nervous and hesitant to begin eating, because the dish Gabriel suggested for me was quite large and had multiple parts, and when I’m nervous that I can be a clumsy eater. So I ate carefully and slowly, just to be sure. The restaurant’s TVs were also broadcasting soccer (fútbol), so Gabriel and I bonded over that; we discovered that we’ll be competing on May 28th. He’s a Man U fan, because Valencia is from Ecuador, while I’m for Barca, all the way.
The rest of the family soon arrived and I made sure I stood up to greet them properly; let’s just say I’m getting really good with the whole “Hola, me llamo Raya, mucho gusto”. They carried on their usual familial conversation, but they also made sure to include me when they could. Mónica, the wife of Gabriel’s oldest brother, was particularly interested in where I’m from, so she and I had good conversations throughout the meal. I had a huge chugchucara plate, which is basically fried pork chunks served with two empanadas de maíz, popcorn and toasted corn kernels again, mote (which is like giant boiled corn kernels, or hominy), and then chincharones (which may not be the correct word, but it’s basically deep fried pork fat pieces…fatty, but delicious). Oh and of course potatoes and fried plantains…one huge plate of fried deliciousness. Gabriel eligió bien para mí, como dijimos después (Gabriel chose well for me, as we said afterwards).
As a side note, if you can’t already tell, it’s getting weirder for me to write in English. Especially after a day of ONLY SPANISH after what, like 10:30 am? If only all y’all could read Spanish…just kidding!
Anyway, after the lunch, which Amparo graciously paid for, we were headed towards their home, but we stopped at the Parque Metropolitano, a huge park in some of the hills above Quito, full of trees and families and children playing fútbol. Today was the hottest day since we’ve been here, so Gabriel, Amparo, abuela and I walked around for an hour or so. I walked with Gabriel, because Amparo had to walk slower with her mother.
I can’t even express it, but it was so easy to talk to Gabriel. One thing I noticed about him and Amparo right away was how soft-spoken they were. Profe was right; Ecuadoreans and other Latin Americans are much quieter than gringos. At Todo Ecuador last night, it took us girls a while to realize how loud we were, carrying on normal conversation. Today at lunch, nobody ever raised their voice. I can’t explain it, but they all spoke in normal voices despite the hustle and bustle noise of the restaurant, and I even had trouble hearing them at times. But somehow over time it calmed me, and made me feel more comfortable with my familia ecuatoriana. Walking with Gabriel through the park was so much fun; so relaxing and laid back. He was so easy to talk to, but we didn’t even have to talk the whole times. We were both comfortable in each other’s presence. And when I was searching for the right words in Spanish he would help me, so I never felt embarrassed or uncomfortable.
He showed me one area of the park where you can see a beautiful view of one of the valleys just outside Quito. I brought my camera, and took a bunch of pictures.
After, we headed towards their home, which is a lot farther outside central Quito than I thought. But I was simply in awe of the landscape as we drove, just like I’d been in the park, strolling leisurely through the eucalyptus trees, listening to the wind and los pajaritos (birds; which I’d found out by asking Amparo were palomas, doves). Gabriel mentioned how he loved the park, and used to play there as a kid, having guerras de coquito with his friends (“wars” where he and his friends would chuck the little seeds from the trees at each other). He seemed to be just as much in awe as I was of the park; we both love being in nature. Cuando necesito pensar y relajarme, me voy al parque (when I need to think and relax, I come to the park).
And the awe continued as we drove. Again, I can’t explain it. I just love the feeling of being so open, so appreciative, so wholeheartedly ready to embrace my surroundings. That’s how I felt in the car, as we curved through the sprawling hills and mountains of the Andes, past square houses of all colors and sizes, crammed together on some of the slopes. I wish I could’ve filmed it. My words cannot convey how incredible this country is.
And the awe and complete speechless continued when we pulled up at their house. It’s just darling. I’m not sure if quaint is the right word, but it’s an older house with three floors and a balcony on top with a great view of the surrounding neighborhood, and apparently a view of the volcano Cotopaxi on most days, minus today with some clouds marring the view. Gabriel showed me the house and the backyard, where they have both a lemon and a lime tree! We picked the lemons right off and ate one; I was anticipating sourness, but it was actually a great refreshing snack. Again, another small moment that stuck with me. I am truly enjoying every minute here, and as I wrote in my little notebook in Spanish: I know that I’m where I’m supposed to be. That was just substantiated (I really did use that word a lot in my essays this year): Amparo just came to my door, where I’ve been relaxing typing this out, and addressed me as “mi hija”. My daughter. They have graciously taken me in for the next seventeen days, and they’re already treating me like I’m part of the family. I’m gonna go see if she needs my help in the kitchen. ¡Hasta luego!