Full Circle (Week 19)

This is my last full week in Ecuador and while it feels weird, it also feels right.  It’s been the most incredible semester of my life, but I am now excited to go home to Michigan Summers (aka my favorite thing ever).  Ready to ride bikes in Detroit, eat the best ice cream, drink lemonade on the porch, play Ultimate, spend days on the lake, head Up North, and hang with all the people I miss!

The end of the semester is strange, because everything starts coming full circle.  Suitcases that I haven’t even glanced at in 4.5 months have been pulled out of random corners of my room and just like in January, I’ve started loading them with my things.  I look at the people I’ve met here, who were strangers on a Facebook page just a few months ago, but who have turned into some of the most interesting, fun, awesome friends I’ve had in my life.  We’ve shared more adventures and misadventures in 4.5 months than some friendships do in a lifetime, which is so crazy to me.

So what does the last week of study abroad look like?  It looks like a mix of school and last hurrahs.  Everyone who has doubted whether or not I’ve done school work this semester, I’d just like to let you know that the last week and a half of study abroad is filled with papers and presentations and exams.  I have exams up until 24 hours before I leave (which I think is unfair, but whatevs).

Goodbyes are becoming real and will continue to become more real in the next few days.  As a social work student, I’ve learned that healthy termination is important in any experience, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that as great as study abroad has been, it must come to an end.  My host sister and her boyfriend bought pizza for dinner the other night as a “Despedida” gift for me.  My host mom and I have had multiple good conversations about my experience and how I will always have a family and a place here in Ecuador.

The fact that I live in a Third World Country still confronts me in shocking ways sometimes.  Becca and I were eating lunch at a restaurant the other day when the littlest boy, probably 3 or 4 years old, came in and asked for money.  This isn’t a new situation, kids are allowed in almost any restaurant to beg, but this little niño looked pretty bad- such tired eyes that were so sad and out of it.  Then the owner came to our table, where the little guy was still standing.  The owner motioned to outside the window, where an 8 year old was standing with the hardest, most ferocious look I’ve ever seen in the eyes of a child.  The man told us that this boy is the little one’s brother and that he drugs his little brother constantly so that he will obey and go into different restaurants to beg for money.  He also told us that if the little brother doesn’t get any money, the older brother will hurt him physically.

I think my heart broke in this situation.  A little child, 3 or 4 years old, being drugged daily and forced to work and beaten by his own brother, who is also a child.  In that instance, it would’ve been easy to hate the older brother.  But I have to remind myself that abusers have usually been abused.  A child of 8 years old does not randomly come up with the idea to drug his brother and make him beg- he probably did the exact same thing at that age.  Maybe he was forced to work by a parent or cousin or older sibling.  Regardless, both boys are a in a terrible situation.  Between school and adventures, it’s easy to forget that these kinds of things happen in the city I live in, but they do.  And although it breaks my heart, these things need to be seen, because this is the world.

On a lighter note, had a fun hang out with some amigas on Friday night- we went to a little cafe for dinner that had beautiful views of the entire city and spent the evening drinking lemonade and laughing.  Then we visited my friend Lara’s house- I love getting to visit the homes of the other people in my program because it provides such an interesting look into different families!

For the last installment of the “full circle” mentality of the week, the crew returned to Mindo for a short getaway on Saturday and Sunday.  We visited Mindo our second full weekend in Ecuador and absolutely loved it.  Mindo was great for it’s chill vibes, amazing brownies, and because of the fact that this is the place where a lot of my friendships began to take form.  We all look back on our first Mindo trip with a lot of fondness and wanted to end our semester where we began it.

For the second time, Mindo did not disappoint.  We revisited some of our favorite restaurants, hiked to a really beautiful waterfall, ate our fill of world-class Mindo brownies, rode around on Mindo taxis (aka standing in the back of a pickup truck), and had some great chats.

We stayed in a cabana style “resort” that was beautiful.  Lots of covered areas to hang out, play ping pong, and hammock.  We got to utilize the outdoor jacuzzi, which was awesome.  A highlight was bringing blankets out to the hammock patio and reminiscing on all of the funny moments of the semester.  It’s always great to take a moment of gratitude and look back on life.  Becca and I ended up falling asleep in the hammocks outside for half of the night.  Sleeping on the patio surrounded by the noises of the river and forest was beautiful.  So glad I got a chance to return to Lindo Mindo one more time.

Sunday was Dia de la Madre, and it was fun to see how it’s celebrated here (although I missed my mom and my own family’s traditions!).  We went to lunch at my Ecuadorian tia, Verito’s, house.  All three of my host aunts, three host cousins, host uncle, and host grandpa were all there along with Katty and Dianita (my host mom and sister).  It was honestly so fun- we ate an absolutely delicious lunch with SO much food.  Hearing the family talk and laugh together reminded me of my own extended family and how excited I am to see them!  After lunch we had postre and sat around the table and hung out for awhile.

It is also so fun to see how the street was set up for Mother’s Day- all of the bakeries and supermarkets had balloons and loudspeakers on my street.  A small open air Mother’s Day market was set up down the street from my apartment, complete with flowers, gifts, and desserts.  My host sister and I went to the bakery at 7pm and there were about 10 Ecuadorian men there, all buying “Feliz Dia de la Mama” cakes.  (How last minute is that? I was dying haha).  All in all, a fun day.

I have 3 days left here in Ecuador.  On Wednesday night I’ll fly out of Quito and get to Detroit on Thursday around noon.  It’s bittersweet as everything comes in a full circle, but I am absolutely filled with gratitude for this semester and all it has taught me.  Stay tuned amigos, you’ll get one more post from me on this experience next week  : )

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