6/17/96 Sam Laybourne
The few weeks that I spent preparing for Ecuador seemed like
eternity. Every day brought a new onslaught of doctor appointments,
long waits on sweltering subway platforms, and endless lines at the
passport office. My departure day finally rounded the corner and I
began spending sleepless nights forming fictitious agendas and complex
Spanish sentences in my mind. Rushing to pack my luggage and drag it
around the corner, I boarded a YMCA shuttle to LaGuardia Airport.
My trip to the airport was fairly uneventful, and before I knew it, I
was in Miami, hustling to catch the connecting flight to Quito. After
weeks of anticipation, all of a sudden I was sitting in a cramped
seat, unable to make a U-turn to NYC or simply say, "Let me off at the
corner--that's fine." Although the preparatory weeks had crawled by,
now the trip was frighteningly close. In three hours and forty-seven
minutes I would be immersed in a foreign culture, speaking a language
that I had only practiced in textbooks.
I touched down in a shimmering Quito a virtual sea of lights in the middle of the dark mountains. After meeting Augusto at the airport, I was taken to my homestay. My host Dona Fabiola Guerrero and her Grandson, Juan Carlos waited up to welcome me, and we sat in the living room as I struggled to make conversation. After a while, I admitted my fatigue, and went to my room to unpack and collapse on my single bed. The accommodations were perfect and I couldn't have been happier with my housemates (It didn't hurt that Juan Carlos speaks perfect English, having lived in the states for twelve years). I went to sleep excited, nervous, and eager for the sunrise.
In the morning, I opened my curtains to look out on a completely new setting. At eight o'clock, the streets were already teeming with people and brightly colored buses. The screech of air brakes and the yells of vendors rose from the streets, and I stuck my head out of the window like an eager dog. After an amazing breakfast, Juan Carlos took me to the mall. I felt a little strange visiting the most American location in Quito, but it was interesting to see how close the Ecuadorians had come to imitating mall culture. The quaffed NJ hairdos were nowhere to be found, however. Actually this mall was a cleaner version of those in the states. A pride seemed to come along with this modernization, and a dignity accompanied shop owners and their spotless stores.
We returned home for a gigantic meal (it is an Ecuadorian tradition to have large lunches with the entire family). After a three hour post-lunch siesta, I ventured out on my own for a little exploration. I walked down Rio de Amazones, a major street crammed with shops. This was the first time I realized the immensity of the experience that lay before me. I had to come to Ecuador in an attempt to understand a complex and contradictory country. The street was bewildering--a confusion of old and new, young and old. As I walked along, the importance of my being here sunk in. This was going to be more than a summer internship. This was going to be amazing.