As we drew closer to the city, the strange dots of light drew my attention away from the Spanish-speaking movie. Below us, life buzzed in the downtown business capital of Ecuador. From the air, it was difficult to imagine that we would be living in poverty. The city of Guayaquil, Ecuador is surprisingly modern: studded with lights, movie theatres, and fancy murals. A boardwalk featured restaurants and family attractions, and large Cathedrals pierced the sky.
However, as we drove North from José Joaquín Airport toward Monte Sinaí, the drastic change between the two cities became apparent. Paved roads turned to dust and gravel. Contemporary buildings and shops went from cement to simple structures of cane. Children and stray animals wandered the garbage-strewn streets. Drinkable water and money for food were limited.
This world, strange and shocking to our sheltered American eyes, was the world in which we would be living. And what a world it turned out to be.
After two long plane rides and a nine-hour layover, the ten girls and three teachers from my high school were grateful to finally pull into the gates of Rostro de Cristo- the retreat house where we would be staying for the next eight days. Rostro de Cristo “Face of Christ” is a foundation that works to build relationships between the United States and Ecuadorian people while finding God in one another and working together to solve the many problems created by poverty. The thirteen of us came to immerse ourselves into the Ecuadorian people and culture.
The morning after our arrival, we piled into a van for our first neighborhood visit: the home of Luisana. It was our second encounter with Ecuadorian driving, and it was terrifying! No lanes, no speed limits, no turn signals, and lots of honking. Pulling up to Luisana’s gate, I immediately noticed the garbage cans filled with water and wondered: was it for drinking or bathing? Stepping out of the van, the stench of garbage burning in the streets filled my nose. As I neared the door I spotted her 8-month-old daughter playing inside on the dirt floor. As is Ecuadorian tradition, Luisana greeted us with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. Her modest house consisted of four tiny rooms separated by a small wall. Blankets hanging from the ceiling took the place of bedroom doors.
Despite the rudimentary condition of her home, she was surprisingly upbeat, happy, and fun to be around. Though we were strangers, she welcomed us as if we were old friends. We spent our time talking, laughing, and sharing stories. She expressed the difficulty of being an Ecuadorian mother in a society that favors men. With a raw honesty, she told us of her heartbreaks and struggles. We learned that during the rainy season her house floods, creating a perfect environment for bacteria and water snakes. Both of which made their way into Luisana’s home earlier this year. But she also shared with us the joys of being a mother and the reasons she loves Ecuador, including its mountainous terrain.
Being a young woman, I felt connected to all the Ecuadorian mothers I met over the week, despite our cultural differences. I saw in them immense strength, hope, and inspiration. They welcomed me into their hearts and homes with a graciousness and eagerness not often seen here in the United States. This openhearted attitude ran through everyone we encountered, from the neighbors- to the children- to the sick- and they shared with us a deep love that shattered differences between our cultures. I left Ecuador a changed woman.
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