When you last left your hero (me, of course) I was minus a camera, an ipod, a couple of cell phones, and more than a couple of quetzales, but plus seven magical weeks in Guatemala, glorying in the last few hours of my trip. Now, almost a month later, I am back to brighten your life with my sparkling charm, wit, and just over-all hilarity. I am loaded down with a new camera, ipod, cell phone (spoiled little gringo that I am), quite a few American dollars, some hindsight, and hopefully some foresight to begin my life in Ecuador.
Nine months has begun. When the wheels hit the runway in Quito last Sunday, it struck me as hard as my head on the window as I dosed on my fourth plane ride of the day that I am not going back to California for at least nine months. I'm not going back to my beloved Berkeley, sushi delivery, laundomats. I'm not going back to guilt-less English conversations and standardized health codes. I'm not going back to what I've known, what's been easy and really rather enjoyable for 20 years, for nine months.
So far, my journey has been marked by this shocking state of ease. Things have gone so smoothly. On my last trip, my never-dull days were action-packed from day one. But since wheels up early Sunday morning, everything has gone, dare I say it, right. I'm kind of perturbed. What is this sudden grace and ease with which I walk the sorted paths of South America? I'm holding my breath, waiting for the first blow. But so far, my electronics are still in my posession and everywhere takes both Visa and Mastercard. Though I can't say I don't miss the excitement of wondering how I'm going to deal with my next bout of money-less-ness.
I've started this annoying habit of comparing everything here in Guayaquil (gwhy-a-keel...with a very soft G sound) to past experiences. I am having trouble separating my feelings about my univeristy here, UEES, from my oh-so-mushy-gushy opinions of Berkeley. (And as a very tiny, very private, and very expensive university, there are a lot of comparisons to be made.) The people I meet all remind me of someone from back home or friends from my summer trip. My host family is seen in the light of Carmen and Pati (my summer host family). The city itself basks in the glow, for better or for worse, of Xela's memory. If I asked, someone would probably tell me that's normal, but it keeps skewing my impressions...these weird, first snap judgements that are sure to be reworked, but never forgotten, throughout the year.
Let me give you a quick sketch of where I've landed myself. Guayaquil is the biggest city in Ecuador...around 3 million people. I am living in a very urban, very city-feeling part of it, with a husband and wife and their 23 year old daughter who is studying to become a veterinarian. I take the private university bus about 35 minutes to campus, that is walled in on all sides and protected by passcode-controlled metal gates. My family, the Rubios, next to both Ecuadorian and US standards, are doing quite well. While the they don't quite have the white-picket fence (a white, double-reinforced metal fortress with two locks and a giant internal deadbolt is more the order of the day), they do have two cars and a dog, as well as a five-day-a-week maid. I have my own room and bathroom, and I'm currently writing to you on my laptop using the family's wi-fi. Not exactly a picture of the typical Ecuadorian family. They are, however, very nice, very accomodating, and very patient with my fledgling Spanish...which is very lovely.
So far, I've spent a good chunk of time with the 25 or so other international students studying at UEES. We had orienation (to our new school and the night-life scene) and a tour of the city, getting aquainted with all that is new, exciting, and in Spanish. This weekend, a disgustingly ostentacious gringo group of 16 of us extranjeros took a little trip to a beach town about 2 hours away called Salinas. Swimming, jet-skiing, eating, drinking...the bonding has begun. It's always interesting to watch group dynamics play out...watch cliques materialize, feel my own judgements and opinions take shape, and see multi-dimensional, full-bodied people appear out of what was only a few days ago a game of matching faces with names. I love to see how people open up, little by little. Who was at first the geeky quiet guy, I soon learned is a reformed alcoholic drug dealer turned spiritualist. The class clown is actually getting married in a few months and is the father of a two-year-old. The nice, soft-spoken German girl worked as a social worker in Guatemala for 6 months. The outgoing Canadian used to live on a mink farm in Holland, and her dad has a brain tumor. It's interesting to remember that I've known these people for only four days. Human relationships are fascinating, and I love having the opportunity to weedle my way into the lives of a whole new set of people.
So that's where I am, on my first day of classes and my new job (working with children...oh god). I'm adjusting well, pooping normally, and playing nice with others. It has begun.