A year away from home: the big small context of “every penny”.

02-06-2015 16:33

Do you know that feeling: you go on a world trip and after the first two months in Ecuador, you’re one year delayed, and you feel like you should post a story with deep philosophical thoughts and reflections? No? Here’s an impression. :).

So I knew exactly what I wanted, I only needed a deep philosophical thought that could be the theme of my story. Usually such things automatically cross my mind when I’m in the shower, when I’m walking around, playing the guitar or having a coffee … or while doing anything else that doesn’t require too much of my brain’s attention. But after three days of long morning showers (read: seven minutes instead of five: hot water runs out), after ordering a second cup of black inspiration in every “real coffee” café I know (and I know a few!), and after walking around each urban park for about three times, I still hadn’t found a way to catch the whole years’ experience in one of Nelly’s Wisdoms. Maybe, I thought, my one-year-from-home blog shouldn’t be about life lessons in the Big Context of our Existence.

Maybe it should be about that time when the prison guards decided to strike, just like that, so all prisoners just walked out the front door next to “our” market on that sunny Saturday morning (I have to say: the guards made their point!), while we were just dragging Christmas presents and food packages along at the market with three gringa volunteers.

Maybe it should be…

- about that time when the prison guards decided to strike, just like that, so all prisoners just walked out the front door next to “our” market on that sunny Saturday morning (I have to say: the guards made their point!), while we were just dragging Christmas presents and food packages along at the market with three gringa volunteers

  • about the elderly couple on the sidewalk in my street with a mini BBQ, selling roasted bananas to complement their non-existent pension.

- about that moment your colleague came in and asked: “Nelly, do you want to do something for me? Do you want to be a witness at my brothers’ wedding?” – “Eh, sure! When?” – “Right now, but you’ll have to act as if you’re a good catholic. Vamos!”

  • about how you try all the buttons on the keyboard to get a question mark, a colon or an é (haha, you see?) before you decide to use “insert symbol” once again.

- about how Andres (5) stops terrorizing his surroundings when you give him a building bucket, until Jordi (4) destroys his tower because he wants blocks too, and they start terrorizing each other and their surroundings together.

  • about how a room with one poster on the wall, with a low energy lightbulb and “Isa te amo mucho” on the cupboard door became a kind of home.

- about how the level of anticipation in Ecuadorian traffic is best described by the fact that the braking path starts where one actually should have stood still already.

  • about the Big Question why people can’t just do their job (?)

about how you can get “4 for a dollar” instead of “3 for a dollar” by simply gesturing that you’re going to share with a friend. (Three divided by two? “Impossible” :P My kind of maths!)

  • about how a family of seven survives half a year with the money that an iPone costs.

- about that time you locked yourself out on a Sunday afternoon and you tried to get back in using a file and a stone on a string for two hours, and in the end someone with a grinder was needed to save your day (and night).

  • about how Eddy (5) stabbed his friend with a pen in the cheek and then started crying harder than his victim, because he was so startled.

- about that confusing moment that someone says that the motor accident wasn’t too serious, because “they wore a helmet.”

  • about that feeling, “that’s exactly what I mean”, when you ask a mother what she would like her kids to know about sexual education and she says: “About how to raise kids.”

- about the days you only eat crackers and bananas, you skip lunch, postpone your vacation or try to sleep through a house party because your Ecuadorian bacteria friends have declared your digestive system an independent colony again.

  • about the chaos on the toilet when two five year olds sneaked in to play with soap, water and toilet paper for half an hour.

- about comforting colleagues and volunteers crying on your shoulder, and about the days that you don’t know what to do anymore either.

  • about how websites of Ecuadorian bus companies show a phone number that you can call to ask about timetables.

- about how I was the only one in a group of thirty adults to raise my hand after the question who had never been beaten by their parents.

  • about how Andy (3) happily exclaims: “Señora guitarra!” when he sees you, and how his brother (5) who can’t talk but loves music, dances around playing air guitar, and looks at you with big questioning eyes.

- about the contributions that appear unexpectedly on your bank account with descriptions like “easter egg”, for a football camp, sports gear, a day out in the park, a Christmas party and arts and crafts materials.

  • about: “Chicken or meat?” – “Chicken, please.” – “We don’t have chicken.” And how you just shrud, not even surprised, and order meat instead.

- about how you can stay somewhere for a year by simply postponing your departure for two months. Six times. :P

  • about how I’m the computer expert of the organization because I know how to copy and paste in word.

- about the Ecuadorian men who have no idea that their “tsss, tsss, fuck you!” has a slightly different meaning than the indecent proposal that they had in mind.

  • about the nights that you go to bed at seven and watch a movie, comfortably under your quilt, because you have re-discovered the meaning of “being home before dark” as a twenty-eight year old.

- about how you decide to call home more often when you realize how strange your voice sounds in Dutch.

  • about how there’s a kind of “collective insurance” because people collect money (at work / in the neighborhood) when someone dies or needs an expensive treatment or operation.

- about how you always try to give more than you get, and that is how you always receive more than you give. 

And in all those apparently insignificant everyday details, I think I found the Big Context that I was looking for, and what it’s all about: the question if it was worth it. And it was, every penny, everything learnt. Although it wasn’t all “great and fantastic,” indeed.

Thanks to everyone who has shared (a part of) this experience with me.

„Everyone is trying to accomplish something big,

Not realizing that life is made up of little things.”