Volunteering in Quito, Ecuador - My Family Travels

          It wasn’t really a door; it was an arch in the cement.  Inside, looking around the room, I waited for my eyes to adjust.  The objects began to take shape.  Gradually I realized that this “room” was in fact their entire house.  The floor and the walls were cement: no wallpaper, no ceramic tile, no draperies.  The cement held the dampness, and the floor was dirty because unsealed cement will not stay clean.  For a girl from a two-story suburban Miami home, this room was actually quite creepy, yet there waited a family of five beautiful girls with smiles on their faces.  There were very few furnishings.  Other features were emerging from the gloom: upturned, discolored white plastic pails, some scraps of clothing, and, oddly enough, a modern electric stove.  Glowing coals rested on the dirt at the bottom of the square hole in the center of the cement floor. Three thin iron rods served as the grate upon which rested a cast iron pot.  My nose told me, and my eyes confirmed that something was boiling in that pot.  The fire was not only their means of cooking food; it kept the chill out and provided maybe 25 watt lighting.  Later, looking at the photographs, I realized the only bright object in the room was my blonde hair. Although you couldn’t see into the corners of the room, what was radiant was their pride of ownership.  

            The family stood there waiting for my family to sit; but where? The grandmother gestured towards the up-ended buckets, which we now realized were the kitchen chairs.  Understanding that it was dinner time, and staring into the boiling pot, I began to worry.  A day earlier, at the Otavalo animal market, the most expensive protein available was a cuyes guinea pig, which resembled a fat rat.  That we might be offered this to eat was nauseating.
            My focus shifted back to the blue enameled stove.  Because it was at an angle with the wall, I could see the electric pigtail chord. It should have been connected to an outlet, yet there it was, lying on the floor because there was none.  Why did they waste so much space on this appliance, which frankly was quite useless?
             I realized that this family’s hope was to one day acquire electricity.  My hosts were to be admired.  They were generous, hospitable, and – as regards to the unusable stove – optimistic.  It would be altogether insensitive and patronizing to regard the stove as silly.  For me, it’s a matter of respecting the values. To serve someday as liaison with a culture that differs from our own, I will seek out the positive and work towards a society in which people are able to advance and have opportunities.  The six days spent in Quito, Ecuador truly made me realize what I want in life, to work hard and be able to help those less fortunate in any way possible. Making the most of these next few years is vital in progressing towards my goals and making a difference.  A college education is like the stove, you buy it on faith hoping someday to plug it in.

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