Quito is no longer new. I’ve been here almost a month and a half, and I am beginning to feel like life here is my new normal. Our training with WorldTeach ended, and along with it the camp-y feeling of spending all my time with 24 other volunteers, visiting tourist spots in the city on the weekends, and going out two or three times per week. Now, I am working, teaching English classes in the afternoons. I wake up at 7, shower, eat breakfast, plan my lessons for the day, browse around online for a bit, eat lunch, and head to work. I get home around 7, take a few minutes to myself, eat dinner with my host family, help my host brother with English, spend a bit more time relaxing, and get to bed by 10. I have a routine. It’s exhausting right now, but it feels…normal.
I don’t gawk anymore at the people juggling fire torches casually in busy intersections. I put in my headphones when someone gets on the bus attempting to sell riders candies. I am no longer very hungry at dinner; a big almuerzo does wonders and has helped me adjust to different eating schedules. The fact that I can’t flush my toilet paper down the toilet no longer phases me. In fact, I haven’t accidentally done it in a good two weeks. Hearing bachata almost daily on the bus doesn’t make me smile anymore. Instead, I wonder if it’s the Romeo concert happening in November causing this craze or if it’s just that bus drivers love Romeo and Aventura so much that it’s all they play. I know that taxi drivers will forever try to rip me off because I’m clearly foreign, and I
have been trying my best to accept this, though I am still vigilant and always ask drivers to please turn on the meter or ask for an estimate and bargain before leaving wherever I am located. I’m not scared to walk down my street from the bus stop when it’s dark anymore, but I would still never bring my laptop out of my house. I know that no one will ever have sueltos in tiendas; I’ve learned to hoard small change like treasure pieces. I don’t bother checking the weather. I just always shove a sweater and a rain jacket in my backpack even if it’s blazingly sunny when I leave the house, because in the sierra, you really never know. When I want to leave Quito, I don’t bemoan the fact that you can’t buy bus tickets online–I figure out when I can make the 2-3 hour roundtrip trip to the Quitumbe bus terminal and take care of it. When I meet new people, I don’t hesitate to go in for the air-cheek kiss. Ecuadorian words like guagua, chuchaqui, and esféro have incorporated themselves into my normal vocabulary. I’m beginning to learn street names and orient myself in this massive city.
Before coming to Ecuador, I’d never “lived” out of the country for more than the few weeks I spent in Spain in the summer of 2014. I was never in one country long enough to truly miss anything. During my study abroad summer, I was constantly racing around touring new places in Spain and across Western Europe. In Quito, I can’t travel every weekend. It is neither sustainable on a volunteer stipend nor possible given long hours needed to get around on (relatively) poor roads. I haven’t left the city for the past two weekends–the first, because I was exhausted and had to prepare for classes, and this past weekend because I was dreadfully ill. But even if I hadn’t been tired or sick, the reality of living abroad isn’t just the photos of the super cool weekend trips we take. That’s a small part of it. An amazing and wonderful and essential part, but small.
Living abroad is different from traveling abroad or studying abroad. Living abroad is cleaning your room, sweeping your floors, and putting up photos on your walls because you’re going to be here for a while. It’s coming home and correcting homework assignments at night sometimes instead of going out to a new discoteca. It’s knowing where the post office is, which hospital to go to in case of an emergency, how to get ahold of some English books if the need arises, where to get toiletries and certain snacks that you miss, and how to get around using the bus “system”. It’s getting to know locals and learning about the differences between American culture and Ecuadorian culture–both surface level differences and the more profound ones. It’s going to the same coffee shop so many times that the barista already knows what you will order (a latte, because you can’t just get drip coffee with cream and sugar). It’s knowing how much certain items should cost so you can tell if you’re getting a good deal or a bad one. It’s seeing photos of your friends or family hanging out together and feeling a twinge knowing you’re missing out on a whole year of their lives. It’s coming back from an outing to your apartment and realizing for the first time that it actually feels like home. It’s getting sick and wishing your mom was there to take care of you while you attempted to keep down “apple”-flavored hydration salts, but knowing she can’t, and knowing this won’t be the last time you’ll feel so crappy and alone.
I’m an independent individual. I’ve never really been homesick. But I think I’m starting to miss things. Last Thursday while walking home from work, I found myself listening to the Dixie Chicks and Suzy Bogguss–music I haven’t listened to (intentionally, at least) for years. The music of my childhood reminds me of car rides with my parents and Saturdays spent lounging at home. I’m not sure if it was just needing to take a break from the endless bachata and salsa on the bus or if it was something more profound. Maybe a little of both.
It comes in bits and pieces, and sometimes it happens before I can even recognize it. Last Friday I had pizza for the third time since I’ve been here, and not even then, at the supposedly best pizza place in Quito, did it taste like the pizza I know and love. I remember Friday nights watching Netflix with Lori and Jon, ordering crappy Papa John’s pizza, and I find myself wishing for pizza even that bad. Sometimes I think it’s just a food craving, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a longing for the familiar. Yesterday I saw this group of 6 students, all around my age, hop on the bus. They were chatting and joking amongst themselves the entire ride. It was clear they had been friends for a long time by the way they were interacting. In that moment, I felt a sharp pang and had to look away. I was remembering all the times spent on Bart taking trips to Dolores Park or Union Square with my closest friends, and dearly wished that I could teleport them to that bus. Making new friends is always exciting, but new friends can’t fill the spaces left by old friends. They simply don’t know you as deeply or in the same capacity. Loneliness is taking on a whole new meaning here.
Living abroad is so many things. It’s thrilling and invigorating. It is scary and lonely. It’s fun and a complete adventure. It is mind-blowing and soul-searching. It is sickness and boredom and everything else quotidian that happened in your life before you moved abroad. It is challenging and makes you grow. It isn’t easy, but I wouldn’t want it to be.