La Última Semana

Alright, so I know I am now hopelessly late on this last post, but I have to finish it out sometime, to bring a sense of conclusion to the trip, so: better late than never, right?

Here is the photo link:

Unlike how my first week in Ecuador felt like an eternity, the last one I was to spend in the country was so crammed full of studying, essay writing, doing some things I kept meaning to do before I left, but still hadn't yet, and nostalgically doing things I had done everyday for the suddenly sentimental and significant last time. I ended up mentally planning out every instant of free time, in order to be able to fit all that in, such that by Monday, I felt like I had already lived the whole week, because of how much I had thought about it all!

Monday brought the first crop of lasts: aerial silks. I had really grown fond of the activity, part sport, part art, over the months. Especially as either I had gotten fitter, or the trainer had taken mercy on me and the workouts had become less brutal, and I got to do more cool stuff. I decided to stuff my phone into my bra as I climbed up for one of the last times, to photograph the scene from above. (Minori also got a few shots of me from a few weeks ago) I said my final goodbye at 2:00, and then set out to accomplish one onf the "had always meant to but never actually did" things: eating a poliburger. Now, this needs some explanation, first of all, the name comes from the fact that this burger stand is on the block between PUCE (my school, pronounced "poo-say," in case you have been wondering all this time) and Universidad Politecnica Salesiana (UPS-such great acronyms…) The next issue you might be wondering about is why Kate (yes, I am still vegetarian) is going to eat a burger? The thing is these are kinda "everything but the kitchen sink" burgers, so I was actually able to get the full burger without the burger or the ham, and still be stuffed. A full burger, to give you an idea, includes: double decker bun, a fried egg, cheese, French fries, cabbage salad, and lettuce, not to mention the burger itself, as well as an extra layer of ham! So even minus the meat, I had plenty to fill me up. Also, they serve it to you in a bag-such an Ecuador thing, it seems to me. While attempting to digest my giant lunch, I had a final meeting to finish up my gender class investigation plan, which was our final.

Tuesday was a day of furious essay writing and studying for the written Spanish final, and re-copying of 15 pages of art notes by hand in an attempt to study for the exam that was to take place on Wednesday.

Wednesday, then, I took my Spanish final (really not too bad) and went to the pizza and ice cream goodbye social for the international students (we Earlhamites realized we actually hadn't bonded much at all with most of the other students, so it wasn't actually that sad to say goodbye to most of them…but ice cream…) I then went home to finish the rest of my 2000 word analysis of a painting that I had to turn in when I took the art final at 6 that evening. I somehow managed to delete half of it when I had just finished and was attempting to save it to a flash drive to print off. Entering into a frustrated panic, I emailed my profesora, who was thankfully merciful enough to let me email it to her before the next day. I thus rushed to class, and took the exam (which really didn't require all that info I had meticulous cramped my hand writing out the day before, but better safe than sorry I guess…) Then I met up with the waiting Earlham crew so that we could head over to Tac & Roll for our farewell dinner (my mother had a point, when she expressed confusion as to why it made sense to have our farewell dinner on the Ecuador program at a Mexican restaurant…but to us it made perfect sense) James' friend Max from another exchange program came with us, and we met Rodolfo an his wife and daughter who had recently flown down to meet him.

I had solidly mediocre enchiladas and a surprisingly vile naranjilla michelada to drink, but despite that, I also had a fabulous time-receiving a beautiful salmon colored scarf as a goodbye present from Veronica, and a classy white polo that said "PUCE" on one lapel, and "Earlham College" on the other, as well as "Ecuador 2015" on the sleeve. We laughed as much as we always seemed to as I made everyone try my horrible drink, since we shared everything else (their disgusted faces were pretty priceless) After the food, Veronica's very kind mother came and brought us all home in her car, and I set to work furiously re-writing the deleted second half of my art final paper.

Thursday was a rather anti-climactic day, I took my super easy Spanish oral exam at 11 in the morning, then came home and read (and read and read, for hours) the rest of the novel that Rodolfo had assigned for the last class on Friday. We had planned to go out to a club on Thursday, but that reading took me longer than expected, so Sarah and Tyler both fell asleep waiting for me, so we called it off (probably not a bad idea anyway, as it turned out)

On Friday we only went into Spanish class to go over our final exams and eat some cake and drink champagne, and say goodbye to our fellow classmates and profesora (who was retiring-we were her last class) Sarah and I then went to the library to finish up the last of our work while we waited for the other Spanish classes to be out. Tyler Minori and I then found Michelle on our way to get chinese food for the last Friday lunch (we thus arrived to class late, as per usual. We had overshot our abilities to walk there and order before the lunch rush made it impossible to get our food in a timely manner) Nevertheless, we did eventually arrive to class, where we had a very lively discussion of the themes of the book: racism, culture shock, homophobia, prejudice in general, the classism of academia, the cultural perspective on reality versus fiction, the different narrative styles and traditions between the occidental world and the indigenous Otavalo culture (written versus oral) as well as the story's similarity to our own experiences in Ecuador. To give you some much needed context, the assigned reading was a short novel about an Otavaleño musician who got a Fulbright scholarship to come to Colombia University in NYC to study indigenous literature. The book deals eloquently with his experience of culture shock. All in all I found it a highly engaging story and heated discussion to finish off our class with.

After class I rushed home to begin furiously packing up my room, as the time until I left changed from days to hours away. My bed (and pretty much every other horizontal surface in my room) was coated in clothing and souvenirs and books when Sarah, Tyler and Veronica showed up to my house, all casual like-pretending to Gustavo (the birthday boy) that they were just hanging out, and not preparing to go to a Chiva to celebrate his birthday. I cleared a space for them all to sit down somehow, and continued fluttering about the room attempting to organize all my worldly possessions into a gigantic green suitcase (under 23 Kg) and a reasonably weighted carry-on (which always nseem to end up being well over 23Kg.) They amused themselves by ordering me to try on various ridiculous combinations of garments as I rolled them up into neat bundles, as all good packers must, and stowed them away in my various bags. I was under halfway done with this long process when it was 8:30, and Gustavo was "surprised" that we were going on the Chiva (I am pretty sure the people who kept showing up, and the fact that it was his birthday miiiight have tipped him off…) We then went up the street to board the waiting chiva. Several minutes later, after being joined by many new friends (several of Alisa's friends from her program, and several compañeros de clase from nivel 5) but James and the 10 other friends he had promised to bring were late. After a little more waiting, we decided we had to get moving, so we set off. It took several phone calls and texts on borrowed phones (we had had to turn ours in to Rodolfo that day) to communicate where we were, where we were going, and where we would stop for them to meet us (all screaming and leaning out as far as possible to be heard or hear anything over the blasting music) All our efforts paid off though, when various gangs of amigos found us and eventually joined the party as well. This chiva was a bigger space than the last one had been, which was good because it was also much more well attended. There was no canelazo included in this chiva, but Ximena being the superstar she is, had made a big batch, and I lurched around the excessively jerky bus delivering steaming hot cups of the nearly boiling drink.

I had a wonderful time dancing and nearly falling over-soaking in my last gulps of the Quito night air, and feeling the regeaton beats and seeing the lights flash around the faces of this collection of people I had grown to love in these last four and a half months. After being deposited in various plazas around the city to dance and be merry (Gustavo spinning me around so fast in one instance I was sure I would land in the nearby fountain…) we were eventually dropped off near la Foch, the clubbing district, to continue la fiesta. There was the inevitable period of indecision as we attempted to reconcile the plans of Alisa's group of friends, with the Earlham crew's plus James' gang of amigos (I was afraid we would waste hours once again as we failed to decide on any one course of action, as we had the weekend before.) In fact we did eventually settle on a nice club I had never been to, and proceeded to bombard it with our mass presence (there were probably about 20 of us.)

The highlights of the night were many. Shortly after we got there, a couple guys (I guess they must have been friend's friend's friends, because I didn't recognize them, but they were more or less in the group) anyway, these guys barged into the middle of our growing dance circle and decided to show off with a couple back flips. Now, I will admit that after feeling surprised at their sudden entrance into the center, I was impressed with their skill. However, that soon turned to annoyance and even anger at their cocky and thoughtless actions. As cool as the backflips were, they should have realized that there just wasn't enough room in the ever more crowded club for acrobatics. Thus, when one of them flipped, he hit Nailah's glass, which spilled and broke all over the floor, and then hit her mouth. When I found out about it and went to find my Spanish classmate in the bathroom, she had a huge crescent moon chipped out of her two front teeth. Not that cool anymore, guys. We eventually decided that her US dentist would just have to do his best when she got home, and for the moment, all that remained was to keep dancing and enjoy the rest of the night. The group thought they had lost Michelle and I at one point, but we had just gone to the bar to split a beer. As we sat at one of the few corner tables, passing our drink back and forth between sips, we soon gave up on conversation, since even yelling we couldn't really hear anything, and instead just grinned at each other periodically, both soaking in the scene together, without any need for words. As we had almost finished, and were preparing to return to the dance floor, the DJ's friend bought us each another…when we had had as much as we wanted of that bottle, we went to dance. Obviously this guy thought I should dance with him as payment for the drink. I had refused a couple times (I really didn't want to spend my last night with my Ecuador friends, dancing with some stranger) and when I was finally about to dance with him, in the (probably vain) hope that he would leave us alone after that, Michelle just looked at him and yelled over the music "She doesn't want to!" then firmly grabbed my arm and pulled me into the center of the dance floor. Thanks Michelle.

The rest of the night passed without incident, we successfully fended off the herd of guys lurking on the sidelines looking for a partner, so that we could really soak in the last moments in Ecuador. The night ended with a round of tight hugs and promises to stay in touch, as I taxied back to my house for my last night in my Ecuadorian bed. First, though, I had to finish clearing allll my stuff off of it, and even after I was all packed I still had to attempt to put into semi-eloquent words (in Spanish) in a letter to my host family how utterly amazing they are and thus, how wonderful my time with them had been. Suffice it to say, I didn't actually sleep that much on my last night in the country.

I woke up to the noises of German pancakes being made in the kitchen (Kaiserschmarrn, I believe they were called-I curiously never had them in Germany, even though Alisa and her friend swear they are super common…) They were delicious, and augmented by the wonderful egg concoction that Ximena had made. After some final weighing of bags and rearranging of important objects, I left the wine and chocolate and thank you letter on the counter, and received a card (which I decided to read later, to postpone the inevitable flood of tears) and a fabulously printed Ecuadorian rainforest-patterned shirt. We then packed all my stuff into the car and set out for the airport, for the last time.

We dropped Alisa and her friend off at the bus station on the way. We also bought some juice mangos (smaller and more yellow, and fibrous, and yes: juicier) on the way. Mango season was just beginning, and thus the highway was lined with juice mango stands every 20 feet or so. Ximena loves them, and bought a box of 25 for $12. We guzzled and slurped mango all the way to the airport, only squirting a little onto my shirt, and making it necessary to transfer my dental floss from my checked bag to my carry on. There were most certainly some teary eyes and clenching hugs as I rolled my overstuffed bags away from those two people who had become like another set of parents for me.

The two plan rides were blessedly uneventful, and I even managed some decent sleep on the first plane, since I had three seats all to myself (score!) And very soon I landed in O'hare once again to my waiting United Statsian family (my upsettingly tall and grown-up looking 15.5 year old brother, and my reassuringly same-looking parents)

Since then, I have re-integrated mostly successfully into my United States life: sometimes still speaking unintelligible Spanglish, and forgetting that you can throw your used toilet paper directly into the toilet in this country, having burning urges to eat fresh mango, and almost having a heart attack at the insane food prices here…But honestly it hasn't been too bad, in some ways it feels like I never left, but then there will be a moment, some little thing, that makes me feel like I've been gone for years. The words from an annoyingly catchy and even more annoyingly accurate pop song by Jason Mraz have been tumbling around in my head "…Lucky to have been where I have been/Lucky to be coming home again…" I am so happy and blessed to have had the amazing opportunity to travel for a full, enriching semester to a new continent, country and culture. I am also very content and thankful to be able to come home at the end of the semester to a loving, goofy, huge extended family and solid groups of friends in this country.