I’ve been home from Ecuador for a week and the time has come to write some sort of summary of The Trip. Despite my best efforts to hold on to every moment of it, to keep it alive in the present, I can feel it all slowly slipping into that hazy, fuzzy place where all wholly consuming and intense past experiences go. It is becoming a memory, whether I want it to or not.
And it was indeed wholly consuming and intense. Our first hours in Quito were abuzz with the excitement of actually being there, coupled with the realities of altitude and life in the Big City. Travel was marked by anxious hellos and melancholy goodbyes. Days and nights in Baños were full of emotional highs and lows, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, side-splitting laughter and heart-wrenching tears. We felt it. All of it.
There are, of course, enough stories to fill a book. There was that time on Sunday when we totally blew our big chance to make a first impression with Yadira and the Esperanza para todos staff by having a communication breakdown, but were nevertheless treated to a singular experience at that famed swing I said I wouldn’t ever go on. Or the 9 different stories you’d get if you asked about how the first day went (not so hot, if you ask me). And then there are all of the stories that led to pure elation as we rode home on Tuesday, having hit the sweet spot and feeling the indescribable feeling that only comes when you are doing exactly what you were put on this Earth to do.
Wednesday’s stories would all be about The Worst Bike Ride of All Time and hypothermia, and developing materials and last-minute presentations in our little rooms, some of us snuggled under the covers of our beds. There would be stories of settling into a groove and routine on Thursday, of deep relationships and trust slowly being built, of having a tiny glimpse at how we fit into the much bigger picture of furthering the position of people with disabilities in the country at large.
And then there would be Friday, which would surely fill a volume unto itself, with tales of connecting with students and parents and staff and community members in a way that all at once filled our hearts to the point of bursting and broke them into a thousand little pieces at the necessity of saying goodbye. Oh, we have stories to tell, all right.
It is the telling of the stories that keeps the experience alive, and helps us know that it really did all happen, and that it was all worth something. That it mattered. So, if you see one of us around, be brave and ask us about what life is like in Ecuador for the kids with disabilities we had the great privilege of meeting and working with. Ask us about about the bright and talented and infinitely resourceful staff and their unquenchable thirst for knowledge and training on how to make life better for those kids. Ask us what we want to do to continue to help our new Ecuadorian friends, and then ask what you can do to help.
And if you’re daring enough to talk to me about it all, I’ll probably also tell you about the profound gratitude I (and the rest of the team) feel for every person involved in making this trip happen.
. . . Every spouse or partner, every child, every parent, everyONE who thought a good thought for us and believed in our work.
. . . The Hello Foundation for making this trip possible and for dreaming the biggest dreams for kids around the world.
. . . Our colleagues at the Fundacíon, Yadira, Darwin, Dora, Tania, Wilsin, Kleber, Belgie, and Anita for opening your doors and arms to us, for always feeding us, for all of your questions and your patience with us, and for sharing your beautiful students and city with us.
. . . Los Chicos, Marcelo, Paúl, and Leo for diving fearlessly into the unknown with us, for being our much-needed bridge to understanding your culture and your country, and for inspiring us with your willingness to learn and your natural talents.
. . . The THF Team, Jenny, Sarah, David, Nina, Lori, Heidi, Debbie, and Sparrow, for whom there are no words. The depth and breadth of your skill and passion for kids with disabilities is only surpassed by your courage and fearlessness in the face of the great unknown. Te amo mucho, amigos.
After a week home, I’m still not fully settled back into this life (maybe putting away my suitcase would help?). But as the days pass and the haze between Ecuador and I slowly thickens, I know it is only a matter of time before I’m once again marching only to the daily rhythms of my plain ol’ life. As it should be, of course. When I returned from Bosnia, the thickening of the haze made me feel panicked and I grasped at how to hold on, scared that if I let it go I would lose it forever. I now know that fear was unfounded. Experiences like this . . . I don’t need to tightly clutch them to my chest to make them stay. Ecuador is now a part of me. I couldn’t let go if I tried.
This post is part of our series documenting our international service trip to Baños, Ecuador. You can read our other entries here, and be sure to check back often for future updates.