Today, I’m spending my first Thanksgiving away from my family, ever. It’s a strange feeling to be abroad during an exclusively American holiday: I’m sitting at a cafe in central Quito, overlooking the busy streets. The people walking by are just having a normal day, grabbing a quick lunch during their break from work, selling loose cigarettes on the street corner, and running errands for their families. But Americanization is everywhere. The Snapchat filter displays a festive Thanksgiving scene of pumpkins and falling leaves alongside messages like “Jueves”, “Downtown Quito” and even “Sun’s Out, Buns Out”. But I’m with a good friend, my “site mate” – even though he lives three hours from me – and we’re able to spend the time sharing favorite logic puzzles from childhood and discussing our role as volunteers here in Ecuador, how we hope to make a difference in our communities and the lasting impacts we may unintentionally make on the people we work with.
I was nervous that I would be really sad today, that it would be hard to spend the holidays so far away from home. I still miss my family and friends back home – I felt a sad tug in my heart when my mom sent a cute picture of my father and grandfather getting up bright and early to prepare turkey – but I have been pleasantly surprised by how at home I feel here. I groggily woke up this morning at the apartment of a new friend, an English teacher for Fulbright, and we slowly spent the morning preparing coffee, relaxing in her apartment and playing with her two friendly cats. Eventually, they headed off to their respective Thanksgiving dinners: Mikayla to a feast at the house of the deputy United States Ambassador to Ecuador, Lara to a luncheon with all the Fulbright scholars, teachers, and employees at a local hotel. Not having a Thanksgiving dinner invite of my own, I headed here to Juan Valdez cafe with Daniel.
I’ve been in Quito for the past week and a half with the rest of my Omnibus for our Reconnect training. We learned how to conduct self-esteem, sexual health, and HIV/AIDS activities in our community and presented the diagnostics we created of health and social issues in our community. For mine, I created a video showcasing the beauty my site offers with community members sharing their personal opinions on the biggest problem they would like addressed in their hometown. You can watch it here! You can also read through the presentation if you’d like, it delves into the different social and health issues I discovered while learning about my community. Warning: it’s all completely in Spanish. When I first got here, I could barely ask someone how their weekend went in Spanish, so I’m really proud of myself and how I’ve learned enough to create and share entire presentations like this now.
The last day of our conference was yesterday, the day before Thanksgiving. The volunteers worked together to create a potluck Thanksgiving feast, complete with four roasted turkeys, sweet potato casserole, and a huge salad made from vegetables we picked from the garden the Community Health volunteers planted during training in August. Many of the dishes were brand-new for our Ecuadorian counterparts, and they all loved the food.
I’m looking forward to heading back to my site next week because I miss my kitten and my friends back in El Chaco a lot. That Friday, we’ll be holding a repeat Thanksgiving (it’ll be my third – I’ll be attending a second one that a English teacher volunteer is hosting in Imbabura on Saturday) with friends and colleagues, and once all of them are done I’m sure I’ll be sick to death of American food, and ready to go back to Ecuadorian plantains, exotic fruits and Chimborazos de arroz (i.e. huge mountains of rice).
Next week marks exactly six months that I’ve been away from home, and I’m shocked at how quickly the time has passed. Two years suddenly doesn’t feel like a very long time. But this Thanksgiving, I want to reflect on how thankful I am to have this experience here. I know that I’m learning and receiving far more than I can hope to share with my community, Here, I have learned Spanish, how to properly eat guinea pig, and how to flip over a kayak while sitting upside down in the water in a local pool in order to – hopefully – learn how to kayak on the white waters of our local branch of the Amazon River, el Rio Quijos. And I have made friends with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and other volunteers from all over the world – everyone from a English teacher that took swim lessons as a child at the community pool half a block away from my house to the South Korean physical therapist I work with each day. So thank you, everyone who has been a part of my journey here in Ecuador so far.