Paved roads turn into gravel roads and gravel roads turn into dirt roads; the pickup truck leaves pavement behind, entering an abyss of pebbles and mud and ditches. I hold onto the metal handle bars in the back of the truck, determined to keep my equilibrium as the wind pushes and smacks me from all angles. Brightly painted houses transform into deteriorated shacks, shacks held together by cracked wooden planks. As we stray away from modern civilization, a rickety sign tells us that we have reached our destination-Deleg, Cañar.
As we drive through this small town in Ecuador, my mind tells me that I am in a foreign place, but my heart tells me that this is where my family belongs. A wave of reassurance hits me as an abundance of stray cats and dogs welcome us with gentle meows and barks. My stomach twists and turns as we hit spontaneous bumps in the road. However, the car ride ends with a sudden halt at a gate that pinpoints abuelita’s humble abode.
Jumping off the back of the truck, my legs struggle to gain balance on solid ground. I look up and see an array of large, green trees, trees that surround me like the arms of my abuelita when she hugs me. Descending down a steep hill, the baa-aa-as of sheep and clucks of chickens entrance us. I open abuelita’s feeble door, overwhelmed by that familiar, yet unfamiliar smell of her skin and her clothes and her food. In a matter of seconds she sees me and I see her.
Wrinkles caress every inch of her face and hands, but the warmth of her body remains eternal as she embraces me and says, “mija, you didn’t forget about me.” With a cane in one hand and my hand in the other, abuelita directs me to the kitchen, where an aroma of chicken soup and mote diffuses through the air. We sit in front of the fire in the middle of the room, inhaling the essence of burnt wood and observing the orange, red, and yellow flames.
Leaving abuelita in the kitchen, my family and I step outside to take a breath of fresh air. The sound of mooing catches our attention as an elderly man walks his cows down the dirt road. Curious neighbors venture from their homes, anxious to meet “the foreigners.” Greeting us with gregarious smiles and enthusiastic hugs, abuelita’s neighbors join us for dinner.
Seated at the table, I observe new and old faces. Although each face is different, they all share the same grin as they reminisce about stories from the past. My aunt recollects her years of soccer training, while my mom recollects her years of catholic school. I look at abuelita and notice that she is captivated by these stories, stories that have a special place in her heart. As darkness approaches, the glint in abuelita’s smile illuminates brighter with each story.
We spend the next two weeks exactly like this. The day of our flight approaches and it is time to say goodbye, goodbye to a country that has offered me a home, goodbye to neighbors that have offered me their hospitality, and goodbye to an abuelita that has offered me her heart.
Droplets of water blur my vision as abuelita’s tears and kisses cover my face. Over and over and over again, she repeats, “don’t forget about me.” Gently, I press my saturated face into her shoulder and grab her wrinkled, but strong hands. Abuelita, we may be divided by borders, but we will always be united by blood.
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