"Melting away my fears with smiles and laughter" - by Zoe Witt
(Pachaysana Intern, summer 2015)
Driving along the dirt road flanked by sugarcane stalks amidst beautiful Amazonian rainforest, I couldn’t help but feel a sort of nervous excitement about returning to the Mariscal. I had first visited the community of Mariscal Sucre a few months prior as part of an Amazonian excursion through my BCA study abroad program. We were only there for four days but that was more than enough time to realize that there is something really special about this community. Not only are the people of the Mariscal so warm, welcoming, and hospitable, but they are also all so alive and filled with this love of life that was just so new and different and refreshing to be around. For me, one of the funnest things was being able to join in on the pickup soccer games every night. I just thought it was really cool that the community was so open, even encouraging, to us, complete strangers, joining in on their daily nighttime activities. I guess what I was feeling was what it is like to be a part of a community, a concept which seems so foreign in the suburbia lifestyle I grew up in.
Towards the end of my semester, I approached Daniel about wanting to spend the summer in Ecuador because I just was not quite ready to wake up from this magical study abroad dream I had been living for the last four months and come back to reality. Daniel offered me the opportunity to join my good friend, Kayleigh, in returning to the Mariscal, where we would work together in offering beginners English courses for the community for four weeks. It was perfect. Returning to the Mariscal would mean further immersing myself in this community, their culture, their way of life. It would mean continuing the friendships that were made during my first visit there and developing them into life-long friendships as we would continue to grow together and learn from one another, as well as making new ones, all the while living in the Amazon Rainforest. What better way to spend a summer? So just like that, two months later, I was on my way back to the Mariscal.
Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by excitement as we made our way back to the Mariscal. Yet despite all that excitement, there was also this really overwhelming sense of nervousness. Kayleigh and I are not teachers, nor are we studying to be teachers, nor had either of us taught a day in our lives. But here we were arriving at the community, with the expectation of somehow magically turning into English teachers. I was also really nervous about meeting our host family. I can be pretty shy when first meeting people, nor was I that confident with my Spanish-speaking abilities, so throughout my time in Ecuador, I had noticed that sometimes the language barrier plus my shyness made it a little difficult for me to connect with people. I quickly realized that I was freaking out for nothing because we had such a fun first night with our host family! I don’t even remember how it all happened but all of a sudden we were out in the kitchen singing reggaeton songs and dancing bachata with our little host brothers and sister as if we were in a discoteca in Quito’s La Plaza Foch, and just like that, any fear or nervousness I had about meeting our host family melted away amongst all the smiles and laughter. But there was still one more fear to overcome: English class. Kayleigh and I spent the whole next day nervously thinking about our first English class. I was freaking out about a whole smorgasbord of things: the language barrier, what if I’m not a good teacher, what if the students don’t like me, what if our lesson plan isn’t long enough and we run out of material to teach before time is up, etc. Well, our first class was a success! Our students welcomed us with open arms and everything went smoothly. The four weeks of classes flew by, and I believe that as teachers, we accomplished all that we set out to teach, which was basic conversational phrases as well as a variety of vocabulary that could be utilized by host families and tour guides, but more importantly, I believe that our students, the majority of whom had no prior experience with English, made huge improvements from the first week to the last week and so by the end had formed a pretty solid foundation of beginners English.
During our last week in the Mariscal, in addition to our English classes, we offered a summer camp for the kids. That summer camp definitely was the highlight of our time there for me. I’m pretty sure Kayleigh and I had just as much fun as the kids, if not more. Basically what we did for two hours every day was join the kids in playing a variety of games, the majority of which were tag games because the kids really enjoyed those, and ran around like chickens with our heads cut off, smiling and screaming and laughing uncontrollably. So when it came time for us to leave the Mariscal, I really felt like I was leaving something truly special—family, friendship, community. We became super close with our host family, our students, the kids, and a lot of other community members, so the Mariscal had begun to feel like a home to me. As we were saying our tearful and heartfelt goodbyes that morning before heading off to Quito to catch a plane back to our real homes, I felt this really crazy, bittersweet, and paradoxical feeling deep in my chest at the thought of leaving one home to return to another. And I also felt grateful, really really grateful—grateful for having met this community, grateful for this wonderful opportunity to return, grateful towards the community for welcoming us so warmly and making us feel at home, and grateful for all the beautiful and unforgettable memories I made there. Although it is nice to be home, I feel like part of my heart, part of myself, is still in the Mariscal. And it is even nicer to know that I can feel at home in a totally different part of the world.