Posts Tagged With: ecuador

Day 248

I remember writing our Day 1 Post. I remember the awe and excitement and wonder, and nerves, at all we had just done and all the unknown that was ahead of us to do.  I remember saying that it was great. I remember that it was.

Beginnings get a lot of press. Like the first day of Spring, which we are experiencing in the Southern Hemisphere right now, beginnings are clean and open and green. They smell good. They are unmarred and easily celebrated. As they should be.

Endings though, rarely get the joy of that flip-sided coin. And that is a shame. Endings are beautiful. It is in the beginning that something becomes possible, it is in the ending that something becomes precious.

This was true of leaving Crested Butte last January. I had lunch with friends, took impromptu walks on trails I thought I knew, and initiated longer sidewalk conversations all on a moment’s notice, and devoid of the “busy” excuse I used to wear like a uniform. Anxious to get the time and love in before we left.

This was true of leaving Cotacachi, when suddenly all the oddness and quirks and messes that hours before drove us mad, took a drastic turn towards the endearing.

This was true of leaving Taganga, Buenos Aires, and even our one day in Colonia as well. Each place that we found new and exciting in the beginning really revealing their worth as we prepared our goodbyes.

Of the blogs I’ve read of other families that have done something like this, they unanimously report at the end of it that they wanted more time. It felt too short. They wish it could be longer. They were just getting the hang of things.  All of them say that – whether their stint was 3 months, 6 months, or over a year. Importantly, all of them say that in their last, or next to last, post.  We feel the same way. We want more, now that at the end of things we see without distraction the gift of what we have together.

These are the most fantastic people I hang out with. They are funny and brave. Cute and dashing. Kind and honest. They are my heroes. I knew these things about them before of course, but I know them differently now. I know them in the way I know my own skin or recognize my own voice. And I suspect that while we may feel like we are “just now getting the hang of it”, it would be truer to say that we are just now realizing how much we actually got the hang of  together and are justifiably in awe, with a splash of disbelief.

This has been amazing.

Amazing, Amazing,  Amazing.

Beauty and love and awareness and appreciation don’t always show up at first, but they unfailingly swell at the end. Daring you not to cry at the noticing.

And so through the tears and the reflection I can’t help but grin. I am so happy about this ending. I am so grateful for all the spotlight on the precious. I am so fortunate to have a lifetime experience that is wonderful enough to mourn its passing.

What happens for us after the end? After Day 248?

We wake up tomorrow in Colorado with yet another clean slate and a multitude of spring green options ahead.

We wake up on the next Day 1.  And all the joy and possibility beginnings always have.

So. Grateful.

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Proud Parents

Dear Vaughn and Luke,

You Did It!! We’re curious what you will remember from this time in your lives, curious if you’ll think this stint of school in Ecuador was worth it. As you look back on it, please take into consideration what your dad and I saw…

We saw our two precious boys, who have come along on this adventure without any idea what exactly it was, trust us enough to let us drop you into two different schools where you knew no one, understood nothing, and asked you to go back into that situation every day for months. And you did.  You went to school everyday not knowing what anyone was saying, trying so hard to keep up, to understand, to learn a new language, even just parts of a new language. You both made new friends and defended yourselves against bullies. You got back up and you got back up and you got back up and you got back up – and it worked! It mattered! You play together now in a mix of languages, one of which you didn’t even know existed just a few short months ago. You can’t walk down the streets here without one kid or another calling out your names and asking you to play. People who didn’t know what to make of you at the beginning now like you, love you, and try to seek you out. You’ve grown stronger and smarter, more kind and more brilliant in our eyes every moment of this process and we pray that you’ll come to see yourselves that way as well. We cannot imagine being more proud of any completed school year you will do, thank you for seeing it through to the end and giving it your all the whole time! You are the bravest people we know.

We love you Vaughn and Luke, de todos los tiempos y con todo nuestro corazón.

♥,

Mom and Dad

 

Vaughn’s first moments home from his last day- off went the uniform and on came a big smile and proud thumb’s up!

 

Vaughn’s first day of summer break, enjoying a neighboring school’s last day parade.

 

Luke’s Graduation Videos:

 

Categories: From Bo, From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Plans Change

One year ago life was pretty good.

It was early summer in Crested Butte. The boys were enjoying the long warm days and time with friends and family, Jamie was looking forward to her cousin’s wedding and to doing another show, I was getting in biking shape and work was as good as it had been in years. Things were all right and the plan was to keep building our lives more or less like we had been.

But, plans change.

Under the surface of our relatively steady lives, and maybe in part because of our relatively steady lives, there were the makings for some major change. In fact, within six months, we would announce that we were going to leave all that we knew: friends, family, home, work, toys, favorite activities and even our dog, to live a different life in a different land, at least for a while. There was a unique window of opportunity that might not come again to follow this dream and to be closer to each other in a new way.

We had thought hard about making this change and done what seemed like a lot of research on the logistics. The plan was to start in Ecuador, travel around, find a place we liked, live there for six months and then travel to other parts of South America for another 8-12 months. We looked at our finances and estimated that if we could live on a very lean budget (1/3 of our monthly budget in the US), that we could make our family sabbatical last for 18 months. After our “down time” in Ecuador, we hoped to visit and spend weeks and months in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. With that as the plan, we were off!

But, plans change.

In the ensuing weeks and months, we learned a few things. While Jamie and I are willing to put ourselves through some crazy stuff, we have limits when it comes to our boys. We now realize that although it’s possible to live on 1/3 of our previous US budget, it’s not preferable. We still like to eat good meat and sleep in quiet, “undank” rooms with a low chance of bug infestation. We’ve used many resources to aid us along, but there is no “Lonely Planet” type manuel of instructions that addresses our family-with-young-kids-on-a-prolonged-family-sabbatical demographic. We are writing our guidebook as we go. So yes, we have learned how to live with less, but we’ve also learned to appreciate who we are and what we want!

Usually, what we want when we are thousands of miles away from home with our young boys costs more money than we budgeted, sometimes by a lot.  In fact, on top of our newly defined culinary and lodging sensibilities, we have also determined that more than eight hours on a bus with our boys is a recipe for disaster; one of us is likely to crack, or at least throw up. Alas, the alternative of flying from country to country also turns out to be much more expensive than we’d read! The result of these lessons and other now better understood realities is that it is time to change our plans again.

We will be leaving Ecuador in a few weeks, which is about a month sooner than we’d thought, and heading to the Caribbean coast of Colombia for a few weeks. From there, we hope to make it down to Peru for some more time in the Andes and then onto Argentina for some trains, good steak and wine just as their spring arrives. It seems then that Bolivia, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay have been placed back into the some day maybe category again. After all this, roughly 6 months from now, we plan to be back in Crested Butte gearing up for a great and very snowy winter.

But, plans change.

And that’s okay with us. The point was never the plan, the point was, and remains, to follow this dream and grow closer to each other while we do. Which, as it turns out, makes for one really good plan; one that hasn’t changed.

Categories: From Bo | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

More than Language, Part 1: Quechua

June will begin our 5th month of the allotted 6 months our visa allows for us to be in Ecuador. We’ve used this time to rent an apartment, go to school, meet some locals and try to immerse ourselves in the local culture and language. What I’ve come to understand in a deeper way is that immersion in culture is not a separate undertaking from immersion in the language. You do not learn them in categories, separate from each other. Culture knowledge informs language learning and language learning illuminates culture. They are each other’s “in”. We didn’t know that part of our cultural immersion would include learning some (very) basic Quechua, but it’s been one of the best surprises we’ve had.

Quechua, some facts:

Quechua (sometimes, Kichwa), is the language spoken by the indigenous populations of South America’s Andes regions. That means it incorporates what is now Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, parts of Argentina, Northern Chile, and Southern Colombia. It was the official language of Tawantinsuyu, or as it’s called in your middle school social studies class: the Incan Empire. Given Quechua’s massive reach and extensive history, there are some large variations in pronunciation and spelling from one end of it’s territory to the other. For example, speakers in Northern Peru will understand the little differences of speakers in the neighboring provinces or two, but by the time you get to Southern Peru it’s almost a whole other language. One of the things I’ve learned is that given the variations it is called a “language family” as opposed to a “language” and, according to Wikipedia, “It is the most widely spoken language family of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total of probably some 8 to 10 million speakers.”

I’m going with the version we’ve learned from Elena. Elena is a beautiful indigenous woman who has served as friend and housekeeper to Bo and me, and whom my children love more than any other person they’ve met here. She loves them even more devotedly in return. In case it’s not clear: We Treasure Elena. 🙂

These are the phonetic spellings as I tried to stick strictly to Elena’s word usage and her Quechua is verbally learned, not something she’s ever seen in written form. When I asked her how to spell these words she did her mirthy laugh that shows her eyes and hides her teeth and gave me a look that says I’m so very odd, but in an endearing kind of way.

Quechua, our two favorite bits:

1) Ali punja, Ali Chishi, Ali Tuta

One of my favorite things about both Quechua and Spanish are that they are both the language of greeters. In Quechua these consist of: Ali Punja (Good Morning), Ali Chishi (Good Afternoon), or Ali Tuta (Good Evening). A revealing fact about the Quechua greetings is that they add a term naming the person to whom they speak as being family.  When Bo opens the door for Elena in the morning he’s greeted with an “Ali Punja Tio” and if I’m there as well I receive an, “Ali Punja Tia”.  Now, if one of the boys says it, Elena responds with a purred, “Ali punja, mijo” (Good morning, dear son) and then immediately folds them up into an embrace so tight their giggles are barely heard, being so completely muffled by fabric as they are. Despite being notably pale skinned in the land of copper and tan, we’ve been given the title of uncle or aunt, even son, in her greetings. This makes us extraordinarily happy. It also reflects one of the core beliefs of this indigenous population. Lighters in the air folks, here it is:

We are all part of the same family.

I know that’s bumper sticker gold, but it’s also…wonderful…to witness and be included in, firsthand.

As was the case last week; we passed an elderly woman in indigenous dress, head tilted to her shoulder while she was resting against a warm wall in the last rays of sun (what we consider evening, they don’t switch to “tuta” until 7:00pm), and I watched Luke do a full stop, bend his head to meet her eyes, and say,

“Ali chishi, Tia.”

She straightens. Smiles.

“Ali chishi, ñaño.”

Good Afternoon, little brother.

And then his blonde head skipped back up to where Vaughn and I were waiting.

Some moments mean more than others.

They just do.

——————

2) I got another laugh/look from my Quechua coach when I asked, “Como se dice ‘gracias’ in Quechua, Elena?”

I soon came to see that that laugh/look was due to the fact that I would undoubtedly have a hard time grasping this one. First of all it’s a whole phrase that they say as one word. Quickly and jumbled with intentional slurring together of syllables and sounds. Also, “thank you” in Quechua is different from Spanish and English in that there is no direct translation for the act of giving thanks. Okay, bear with me, this is as close as I can get to Elena’s word: “Díosonlopuí“. It doesn’t mean “thanks” as we know it, it means “God will pay you”.  This really puzzled me. An American mindset is trained to think that if I did something for you – you thank me, the one who did the work.  I’ve had my boys parroting thanks to every waiter and bus driver this side of the equator.

However, once you consider that if you are in a culture where it is held that everyone you meet is part of your extended family, and family simply helps each other out as a matter of fact (not choice), then to say “thanks” to someone for doing simply what they should — doesn’t make much sense. In that light, saying ‘God will pay you’ is a better way of showing gratitude. You’re acknowledging that they did something that took extra effort on their part and the Creator of the universe Himself honors that act. Suddenly this seems a much more true and powerful form of thanks to me.

And so,

Díosonlopuí, Tia...

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

We Love Trains!

A love that only grew into being because our eldest child LOVES trains. In fact, it is possible that the conversation [announcement] about picking up and moving to South America for a year may have involved some assurances [bribes] in the form of promised train rides. Now that we’ve finally kept good on that…um…promise, Bo and I are both wondering what took us so long. It was incredible. Stunning scenery, beautiful people, music, dancing, warm breezes and a heart-stoppingly pure smile on Vaughn’s face that followed him into his sleep.

We went to buy our tickets at an unusually beautiful depot in Ibarra just before 8am because we believed the train to be leaving at 8:30. Our info on that was wrong, which of course never happens to us here, and the train didn’t leave until 10:45*; and the tickets to the standard train were sold out already so we ended up buying seats on the “Truck-Train” instead. As far as I can tell that is just a single train car with a truck facade and it fortunately still met with Vaughn’s approval, thankfully then helping us to bring one of Luke’s big interests into the day as well!

We walked across the street to the several city blocks conglomeration of ramshackle tin-roofed booths that make up the Ibarra mercado in search of breakfast and distraction. Wow. That sensory experience alone could have been enough aventura for one day, but 10:30 found us back at the depot watching Vaughn bounce on his toes with excitement as the train backed into our track and began loading. The ride itself lasted about 2 hours and ended in the small rural town of Salinas which is a climate and culture so far removed from the Ecuador we know here in Cotacachi we felt we had to have traveled much farther than that amount of time could have allowed. That place is probably the poorest we have seen here in Ecuador, but the town is SPOTLESS and it’s people have a smile and dignity that we were so drawn to and humbled by.  Salinas means “Salt Land” and it’s occupants are Afro-Ecuadorians that have been salt and sugar-cane farmers for generations. We were greeted with performances of their traditional music and dance, taken on a tour of a salt-mine, given a demonstration of just how one gets table salt from dirt, shown to the town’s only restaurant for almuerzo, and then loaded back on to the train for a sunset ride home.

This is a post that really needs more pictures than words, so here ya go!

*For our Ecuadorian friends wanting to take this trip: Buy your tickets a day or two ahead of time if you want the standard train ride, either in person or you can try online here, the cost for either train is the same, $15.00 for adults and $7.50 for kids.

Categories: From Bo, From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Safety Schmafety

So…a couple days ago I was logging on to Facebook with my morning coffee in hand (c’mon, you do it too),  and the top two posts on my page were as follows:

Danger on the Playground: Riding the Slide with Your To…Yahoo!: When your toddler is clamoring to ride down the big-kid slide at the playground, most parents assume that the safes…

GoAbroad.com: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”- Helen Keller

And somewhere between snorting coffee out my nose and and shielding the computer from said snorting I had quite the realization.

But first, a confession:

I have always been a nervous mother. I wish that wasn’t the case.  To be clear, I’m also a loving, funny, tender, smart, creative, and dedicated mother. The nervousness though, it gets extreme and has long been one thing I wish I… wasn’t.  I know there is another way to be because I see it in my amazing girlfriends that, to my eyes, live their motherhood with the peacefulness that eludes me.

I can see danger lurking in everything, from sky to gravel, nothing escapes my wary eye.  For that to not seem quite so odd, you should know that part of my internal make-up was sculpted by having a brother that was killed in a awful collision between his bike and a reckless driver’s truck when he was 10 and I was days from that first teenage year. It was bad and I’m not going to go into it much here, but presumably my uber-nervousness has some roots in that experience.  For example, in the infinite wisdom only a newly 13 year-old can have, I soon adopted the mantra of making sure that all my energy and attention went into preventing bad things from ever happening again to the people I love.

‘Cause THAT’S a healthy goal.

It is now decades later and while my ability to find countless things to worry about can be burdensome to me, it has at least provided wonderful fodder for my husband over the years. Here is a photo that my amused spouse took of me as we left the hospital with our firstborn son in tow. Actively driving away from what to me was a wonderfully sterile environment stocked to the brim with trained professionals and high-tech machinery that buzzed and beeped signals of his health and steadiness for me round-the-clock:

That’s how you know you married the right man. He finds your neuroses funny instead of traumatizing. Provides perspective.

Fast forward to more recent history and let’s take this loving-and-obviously-completely-normal mother I’ve just described and drop her, with her young children, into the middle of a developing South American country for a decisively extended stay. Away from beautiful guiding girlfriends, any plastic resembling a BPA-free mold, and the familiar sterile environments stocked to the brim with trained professionals and high-tech machinery for those health traumas that require (for me) beeping reassurance.

If you are doing a white-knuckled grip on your chair right now, you are one of my kindred spirits.

If you are laughing at the foibles foreshadowed, you are one of my girlfriends.

If you are doing both, you’re my mother. Or a close relative. Hard to say.

Whoever you are, you probably already know that we have all had (and by “we” I mostly mean “Luke”) some serious scares here in our life along the equator. Horrible falls, monkey bites, malaria threats, parasites, painful and mysterious red welts, hyper-extended knees, theft, countless near-collisions on the roads, cuts, scrapes, sunburns –you name it. In fact, if it was something I feared before we came here, it’s happened.

Had Luke’s fall down the stairs in Ayampe occurred in the States, you couldn’t have gotten me to the emergency room fast enough.  Remote as we were though, a doctor, let alone an emergency room, wasn’t even an option. We just handled it as best we could and thankfully he healed. We then agreed to stop in towns only large enough for at least one medical clinic. In any case, somewhere along that list of maladies above I began to suspect one simple possibility:

It is absolutely, categorically, undeniably, IMPOSSIBLE for me to make all of South America perfectly safe.

Most of you were probably already aware of that, but I assure you, it was news to me.

I hadn’t realized how protected from ourselves we are in the United States (and how much that fed my compulsions) until we brought our family to live here. The playgrounds in Ecuador are, by American standards, shockingly unsafe. They are also, by anyone’s standards, vastly more fun. What’s not to love about thread-bare zip lines careening your child over the grazing body of an unattended and untethered stallion? In this life, seat-belts are as rare as unicorns and pedestrian crosswalks as adhered to as stop signs — which is to say not at all. It is not uncommon to see an infant in the lap of a driver passing a taxi that is loaded to the gills while another young child walks their goats home along the same road.

Suffice it to say, there is not time in my day for me to “find things to worry about”. This truth has forced me to force my children to become more aware for themselves. I cannot be their only eyes and ears and gauge, there are simply too many things coming from too many directions at too many speeds. I can’t pad every corner or plug every socket or geld every stallion. Ummm…okay, anyway…here’s the coffee snorting revelation:

Even if I could, I wouldn’t.

Yes, it was disconcerting for Luke to be bitten by a monkey in the Amazon Jungle. But he was warned not to stick his fingers at them like that, and he probably won’t make that mistake again. Plus, the scar and (slightly exaggerated) story will likely come in handy over his teenage years. He is now learning to control his body and take more responsibility for the consequences of throwing himself into the air above what is absolutely not the rubber-padded surface of his old American haunts. On the flip side, Vaughn’s slightly more timid nature is benefiting from the lack of people-afraid-of-getting-sued-saftey-codes as well. He is taking in his new environment with a keen eye and actively choosing to test his strength and endurance in ways and situations he would never have had to grow in back home. In short, they are thriving in the freedom they have here to flex both their muscles and their wits as they navigate this landscape. They are building strength in an oft-touted but rarely used muscle known as Common Sense. And they are having Amazing Adventures in the process. And I am letting them.

I am still a sometimes-nervous mother, but more days than not, I am a brave one as well.

That first ‘Don’t Slide with your Children or Risk Breaking their Legs’ story would have made me physically ill not 5 months ago. I’m not proud of that, but it’s absolutely true. Reading it now- it started the whole choking on my coffee episode and then elicited a puzzled shake of my head as to why it was even written. I much more related to the words that came next, “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” from Helen Keller. There are a lot of things I want for my sons, safety is one sure- but “nothing” doesn’t even make the list. So I entwine my fingers with my husbands steadier grip, try to match his smile out on the world, and let go.

I am a loving, funny, tender, smart, creative, brave, and dedicated mother who is much less nervous than I once was.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY 

P.S.

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

So…what is it you do with your time?

When I talk with friends and family back home, the most common question is: “So…what is it you do with your time?”  The short answer is that we spend most days working with injured jungle monkeys, writing poetry in the native Quechua language and breathing in the mist of waterfalls.  On good days we do all three at the same time.

Yea, right. The truth is the things of normal daily existence seem to take up a lot of our time. Just cooking, cleaning up, getting the boys to and from school, doing extra school lessons with the boys, grocery shopping, running errands, finding ways for the boys to burn energy and relaxing a bit can take up whole days. Some of these daily to-dos are made more challenging simply because they are done in a foreign language and culture.  For example, the idea of one-stop-shopping is so far-fetched as to be laughable. Just today I tried to buy superglue to repair one of Luke’s toys.  The quest for one simple items involved numerous half understood conversations, visiting four different stores and walking two or three miles all around town. When I reached the much discussed store, it was closed for some unknown reason.

Entertaining and educating the boys, it seems me, also takes more time than it did back home (I say it “seems to me” because I might just be realizing now how much work it took Jamie the past six years!). There is the extra time for the English and math lessons which we anticipated, but man do I miss sending them to the family room to play with their numerous toys or to the yard to run in the grass and dig in the dirt.  Here in our apartment the “family room” and “back yard” are the same thing, which is the space right next to our desk. It’s where I hooked up my Rip 60 exercise equipment so I could get…well ripped!.  Although I have only used it maybe four times in nearly two months, the boys spin and swing on it for hours on end.  Thank God for Rip 60. Here’s a short video of Luke building his core strength!

Even with these new challenges we do have more free time than we used to. A lot more. I’m not working and that frees up countless hours.  The boys are in school five mornings a week.  Also, we have a wonderful lady named Elena who comes to help around the house three mornings a week. We pay her twice the going rate, but I’m still amazed at how much we get for so little.  This extra time allows Jamie and me to split the family responsibilities and chores pretty equally.  We have settled into a nice routine where we have a date on Tuesday mornings, family adventures on Saturdays and where we take turns with the boys in the afternoon allowing focused attention on them from each parent and large chucks of open time for the other person.

With the extra time I am doing more yoga and trying to learn to meditate, but not trying too hard or that defeats the purpose…I think. I’ve taken up running, which is much less fun and more painful than biking. I read more than I used to and watch less TV.  The extent of our TV comes from the pirated $1 DVDs of recent American movies and TV shows sold out of ubiquitous little stores (which also somehow have selections of cheap Oakley sunglasses and Converse All Star shoes?). We go for long meandering walks through the countryside and these walks may be my favorite thing about where we live.

We study Spanish a lot; or maybe more accurately, I study some and then watch Jamie study Spanish more. Last, I’ve also found a surprising number of ways to stay busy without actually doing much which boils down to either spending hours on sites like reddit.com or taking naps bookended by games like tetris on my iPad.

So how do I feel about how I’m spending my time? Pretty good actually. The main reason is that I get a lot more time with Luke, Vaughn and Jamie. We’ve spent the last 88 days together. At first, it was a bit much for me to be around the boys almost all of the time, but after maybe week three or four it started to feel normal and a never-before-seen casual comfort set in. Daddy being around was no longer just for evenings and weekends.  Much of our time here is spent doing unspectacular things like riding a bus or eating a meal but what a blessing to be able to enjoy and just be in these moments with my family. Back home I was often too busy or preoccupied to simply enjoy just hanging out with my boys.

And that touches on the second reason why I’m okay with how our time is going: namely, it is a great chance to practice taking each moment as it comes. After settling into this sabbatical thing, I’m now a bit less focused than I was back home on making sure every moment is productive and aimed at some big goal. Paradoxically, when it is time for me to focus on something or respond to a surprise, I often have more energy to do it. When it is time to just chill out and have a beer at lunch I do that with a bit less guilt. Put differently, it seems I have slightly more patience with reality, whatever it happens to be, because I’m not trying to impose my will it with the same intensity.

Don’t get my wrong; I’m no zen master here (I don’t think they drink rum) and life is not a continual flow of pure bliss. This place often overwhelms me to the point that I just feel like hiding. I still want and even need a routine, to-do lists and goals to stay on track, but it is fun to see some changes showing up in how we spend our time and how we see the world. It makes me feel okay about putting my wife, children and self through all of this.

We are blessed to be able to have this unique time away to get closer to each other and practice living in the moment. Often I wonder what it will be like when we return to normal life. Then after wondering a bit, worry sneaks in as I contemplate the stress of moving back, jump-starting our careers and rebuilding our lives. But then I remind myself that those are challenges for another day, they are months and even years away, so for now I just need to figure out where to get some superglue. 

Categories: From Bo | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

¡Que Linda!

“I see her!!”

“There she is!”

“In a blue coat, see her?!”

“I do! I see her! I see her!”

And in the mass of arms and tears and glee and grandsons, just like that, YaYa came to Ecuador.

Not only was this visit the best heart-salve for all the homesickness lingering in our spirits, but it was also the first encounter we’ve had with someone from our “normal” life peeking in on us in our “sabbatical” life. That got interesting.

First, let me say that we had a blast and did and saw and toured and explored every hectare of our new home that we could squeeze into her 9 days. In addition to the daily adoration from the boys, morning coffee complete with volcano views and Bo and I showing her our favorite countryside walks, we also toured the surrounding villages with our friend Luis and saw the indigenous culture at work in heart-stoppingly amazing ways. We met an 85 year old man still making the straw mats he’s made since childhood with guinea pigs and kittens scampering around his dirt floor hut and feet that have spent the last eight decades bending to match said floor’s surface. Introduced next to a simply beautiful couple, also in their late 80’s, that still weave textiles together the way they have been since they were married. They stood on opposite sides of their wedding present, an 160 year old loom, smiled at us and each other, then with dexterity and sprite that defies their age, wove sheep’s wool into countless works of art.  We went as well to the topiary garden/cemetery of Tulcán, across the border to the stunning Colombian church at Las Lajas, and ended with the grand sights of Quito’s colonial old town. More adventures and stories than can be adequately summed up in a single post, and many that will hopefully have a post of their own later on, so for now I’ll put a slideshow of photos at the bottom for you all to see our highlight reel.

The work of this post, the sitting down to compose “My Mother’s Visit”, quickly became less about the adventures and more about the actual experience of having my mother here. In Ecuador. How she came farther away from home than she’s ever been and how her fresh eyes gave us new sight.

Previous visits to our home from my mother, or anyone, usually included coffee, wine, cards and conversations about how the boys are progressing in school, what’s new with Bo’s job, and any theatre projects I have in the works. There is a pattern that is known, a cultural road map, that guides our interactions via shared and understood mile-markers; clearly identified life signs telling you where you are in the “Grand Scheme of Things”.  Vaughn started kindergarten, Bo got a promotion, Jamie’s directing a play, Luke’s tying his shoes…all fairly standard and measurable steps of progression clearly letting us know that along the American cultural life map, YOU ARE HERE :

However, since jumping life tracks, and cultures, and professions, and schools, we’ve lost our mile markers. Shoot, they don’t even HAVE “miles” here. If we’d thought to make one, our route marker would probably look more like this:

-ish.

It would say, “You Are Here-ish”.

To be sure, our family sabbatical thus far has included joy and adventure and raucous shared laughter, but it has also included confusion, heartache, and a rather large portion of floundering.  Floundering around looking for progression points that we didn’t even realize we were looking for, until Mom came. Similar to how we know the boys have grown while we’ve been here, but mom, having not seen them for months REALLY saw the change – Bo and I knew we’d grown as a family and people as well, but couldn’t see or understand the full scope until placed in front of her qualifying gaze.

Vaughn did start kindergarten back in the states, but now he’s in a Spanish speaking school and has lost a lot of confidence in pronouncing his letters and will no longer even pretend to spell words he used to write for fun. Bo’s not working, I’m not directing, our accountants will have a no-brainer doing our income tax for this year, and no – Luke cannot tie his shoes.

The mile-markers of our native culture…don’t exist. Not only do they not exist in our life now, their opposite stance does! So, the usual catch-up conversations with my mother brought about more than a little bit of anxiety, for both of us.

But.

As my mother braved our new culture with us, her unusually green eyes and loving spirit picked up on what we’ve previously had and not really seen. Her being here showed us our new mile markers. We can now spot ourselves on this foreign map.

Mom found beautiful things at the Otavalo market at a great price, that I bargained down for her, in Spanish. Bo translated much of our guides’ information to her as well, enhancing what all of us learned through those jaunts. Her patience and attention and play time with Luke and Vaughn bolstered them from nervous about their original English skills to being proud of their new bilingual ones. She spent one-on-one time with both Bo and me, loving on us and talking with us, and telling us how proud she is of all we’ve done. And then listing off all we’ve done.

Mom ate fruit she’s never seen, trekked her blonde head through countryside that never sees blonde heads, hiked an active volcano crater, dodged feces on the sidewalks, was cheerfully mobbed by Ecuadorian children at the hot springs, yelled to be heard over the rain hitting our plastic roof, rode chicken buses over ridiculous terrain, clenched her seat and her teeth through each insane driving maneuver–and laughed with us at the errant livestock that sometimes pepper our street. Her joy in these discoveries was infectious. Her discomfort at times, relatable. Our ability to navigate her through Ecuador, illuminating.

At 3:30 am on April 21, mom quietly slipped into our Quito hotel room, kissed the boys while they slept, told Bo she couldn’t be prouder of him, hugged me with that fierce mother’s love, and left for the plane that would take her home. She left believing we had made a good choice in coming here and with such pride in us for doing something new and brave and bold. She left giving us the gift of believing the same thing.

Linda, in Spanish, means “lovely” and “elegant”.  We hear the male version, “¡Que Lindo!” at least 4 times a day as the local population walks by our startlingly beautiful boys. A descriptor of which I completely agree.

Linda also happens to be my mother’s name. Another descriptor of which, I completely agree.

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Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Semana Santa and Giant Smurfs

Years ago Bo and I were lucky enough to be in Granada, Spain on a Good Friday. It was an incredible spectacle for sure, with images that have stuck with us to this day. This year however has been our first experience living in a predominantly Catholic country and taking part in the whole of Semana Santa. Being that this holy week also coincided with the boys’ school vacation (lots of side trips all week), Vaughn’s first lost tooth (our own big event!), and our local town’s artisan expo (HUGE craft fair taking up several whole streets with tents)… the amount of sensory input in each moment was exponentially more than anything we have ever had before.

Sights, sounds, smells, noises, masses of people, colorful processions, loud food vendors, clanging cathedral bells, cloudburst rains, ricocheting thunder, and yes- even giant Smurf (and Barney) mascots selling various plastic toys and cups of bubble solution on the street. All of these things happening right on top of each other, no sequence or delineation between religious and commercial events…a whirlwind of culture served up inside of one special week.

LOTS of photos to share for this one. 🙂

Categories: From Jamie | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Off to Intag

With the boys getting a week off from school for Semana Santa and Jamie and I ready to explore the surrounding areas, we headed west to Intag.

It is a remote area on the other side of one of the two big mountains we’re in between. As the condor flies it is not far, but it takes three harrowing hours to get to by bus.  The bus starts in Otavalo and if you’re there early enough and have enough livestock crammed into old cardboard boxes, they will let you on the first bus.  If you don’t qualify by those standards, then you need to wait half a day for the next bus; either way you make it.

We did not qualify to make the early bus so we waited for five hours in Otavalo, which is not a bad place to be stuck.  Once we made it to Intag, we we’re in a new land of steep, green canyons, coffee beans shaded by banana trees and nothing around for miles including a good meal.  Here’s some photos of the “aventura”!

Categories: From Bo | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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