Student Blogger

Warm Welcomes, Shaken Tailfeathers – First Days in Ecuador

A group of HECUA students and their Ecuadorian host families gather for a group picture in a park.

Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Emily Bruell will be HECUA’s student blogger for the Community Internships in Latin America program this fall semester. Emily is a junior at Carleton College, majoring in English Literature and minoring in Spanish. Read on for Emily’s description of her welcome to Ecuador!

Rituals for the meeting of strangers and the formation of community are an integral part of myriad cultures. Māori communities in New Zealand traditionally engage visitors with a Pōwhiri, an elaborate ceremony of dance and exchanged song historically used to determine whether strangers came in war or peace. In England’s Victorian era, a new resident of a countryside mansion might throw a ball as an excuse to facilitate interactions with the other townspeople. In our second week in Quito, this ritual took the form of an all-host-family picnic, during which we partook in time-honored ceremonies such as the three-legged-race, duck duck goose, and a version of ‘The West Wind Blows’ featuring a unique punishment for the person in the middle.

I’d been prepared somewhat for the situation by HECUA student Shelby, who informed me that she and her host father had been practicing for the three-legged race and fully intended to sweep the competition. However, I was utterly unprepared for the moment (mid ‘West Wind Blows’) that I found myself, to my horror, in the middle of a circle of people chanting a song about a duck and waiting for me to wiggle my feet, ‘wings’, and ‘tail’ in succession.

In my home community, tail-wiggling is not a typical activity to partake in in front of a group of new acquaintances ranging from 6-77 years. It is, in fact, closer to a nightmare scenario. However, after fixing my eyes on the ground, performing requested wiggles, and running with relief back into the circle, I had to admit it wasn’t as bad as I would have imagined. As the game progressed, the stiff dancing style of us initial victims gave way to increasingly enthusiastic performances. Edgar, Shelby’s host father, threw in some accompanying dance moves of his own. Another girl’s host father cheerfully videotaped her dance to show to a younger brother.

The picnic proceeded; we raced, we played an adrenaline-filled game of duck duck goose, we gathered to listen to the talented Anna Bryant (another student on the program) play “Riptide” and “1,2,3” on ukelele, and we ate.

A group of HECUA Ecuador students and host family members gather around a student playing ukelele

Open air ukelele serenades.

This food! I could write an entire blog post on the papas fritas (fried potatoes with a creamy pesto sauce), the pay de calabacín (zucchini quiche), the spicy-sour aji salsa, and the zesty salad —  not to mention two (two!) fruit-filled cakes. It was a feast. It was glorious.

Standing around in our post-food daze, chatting about the relative merits of cake and icing, I was struck by the warmth of the scene, this absurd and delicious communal event that all our families put together for us. The time they spent planning. The time they spent cooking. The time they’d agreed to spend with us all semester before they’d even met us, perfect strangers from a foreign country. I was at that moment, and continue to be, so grateful to my host mom for welcoming me into her house and her life — and grateful to the community at large for doing the same.

And, make no mistake, we gringos require a lot of welcoming. The trips our host parents made, escorting us to and from HECUA’s institute every day until we learned the route; the tolerant smile of the elderly woman on the bus when, unaccustomed to the rapid acceleration, I pitched myself unintentionally into her lap; the patience of the customer service agent at the cell phone store as we stumbled linguistically through our pre-paid plan requests; the plate of avas (beans and corn) and salsa my coworkers assembled for me when I forgot my lunch at my internship. We came here — at least I did — with little to no ability to navigate a life here independently, and so many people have greeted us with good humor, good dance moves, good food, and good company, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

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