Las Familias Mías

By Victoria Zhao

In a blink of an eye, more than half of my time in Ecuador has already passed. It only feels like yesterday that I touched down in the humid Guayaquil airport, with no idea of what to expect, but soon we will be leaving this beautiful country to return to home.

With field work in different regions and projects with different community groups, no day is ever quite the same. But at the end of an exhausting day, I return home — home to a wonderful homestay family.

Because of the nature of our program, the eight weeks are split into three separate experiences with three different families. Four of the eight weeks will be spent in Cuenca, with two more in the North and two in the South. Although a part of me wishes that all the time could be spent with one family, I know that such would be impossible. Luckily, since Ecuador’s unique nature lends itself to different cultures in each part of the country, I have been extremely fortunate to experience completely different personalities in getting to know each family.

My host brother in Pulinguí is a new Maryland fan!

My host brother in Pulinguí is a new Maryland fan!

Up North in Pulinguí (about forty-five minutes north of Riobamba by bus), I was welcomed into a large family of five: Luis, a construction worker studying part-time to become a teacher; Teresa, an ama de casa, literally “lover of the house,” or housewife; and their three children Veronica (14), Michelle (11), and Luis Jr. (10).

The first morning in Pulinguí, I accompanied my host mom to take care of the animals. First we visited her mother in the nearby village, who only speaks the indigenous Kichwa language. We then walked up the mountains for about an hour, following the cows, a donkey, and an adorable piglet, until we reached her family’s plot of land, and started to cut grass to feed them. At midday, we returned to the house to prepare lunch for the children as they returned from school. The following days, as I joined the other interns to work in communities around the area, my mother would wake up around three or four every morning to pack me a lunch for the day.

Sometimes, it was tiring to return after a long day. All I want to do is go to bed to prepare for the next morning, yet I stay up with the family, speaking barely intelligible Spanish and making conversation. However, I cannot imagine how different my experience would have been if all the interns merely lived together, with limited immersion with the culture and the people. My siblings would clamor at my iPhone every evening, scrolling through all my photos and asking me detailed questions about my life in America. Michelle and Luis would turn on the radio to dance and sing to bachata for hours.

My family in Pulinguí may not have hot water, or wi-fi, or any of the luxuries that we have at home. Days are long, and life is hard. Yet, they all welcomed me into their home and into their lives, and allowed me to experience their day to day experiences. When we left Pulinguí, my dad reminded me that I was welcome to return any time.

I may not know when the next time that I will be in Ecuador may be, but my lovely homestay families will forever be in my heart.

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