Soccer games with the family, an example of so many things I’ve experienced and learned throughout only six short weeks in Ecuador. Every Sunday except those during which we were out of town visiting Mindo or Tena, my host dad Oswaldo, host mom Mary, sister Megan and I would make our way down the steep, winding one-way road that separated our house and neighborhood from Simon Bolivar Avenue, a four-lane highway which runs along the Eastern outskirts of Quito. When it wasn’t cloudy or hazy you could witness one of the many great views around Quito, not of the city but of the Cumbaya valley, a flat area of towns that stretched for miles until they reached another range of light green and tan mountains far in the distance.
After completing the descent to Simon Bolivar, we would wait on the side of the road for a bus that would take us south towards the soccer fields. With a short ride and a little walk, we would come upon the fields, beautiful enclosed turf that sat on the edge of a cliff overlooking that same but closer view of Cumbaya valley.
As we approached, our team could not be missed, pink jerseys within a clump of twenty to thirty people seated near the field. Getting closer, you could already hear the talking and laughing circulating from every corner of the group as the players got ready for the game, including my older brothers Josué and Bryan who had arrived earlier. The fervor with which words were flung around, jokes made, and laughs and smiles appeared was an unbelievable thing to see and hear. Moms, dads, young children, grown-up children, relatives, friends, all engaged in one of the ten conversations going on at once, of which I could barely understand a word. It was at these soccer gatherings as well as many other places that I was continually confronted with my lack of real Spanish knowledge, not an uncommon experience for SST students in Latin America. I was of course ready and prepared for this reality, but it is always different to sit there and experience it for real.
Through the weeks of experiencing this everyday, it is crucial to learn when to exert yourself in translating and engaging in conversation, and when to sit back calmly, observe, and enjoy the company and interaction of those around you. A balance of these two is a continuous struggle to realize, but I found it was so important given my language skills to be able to experience and appreciate the people I was with. With that realization, these soccer games exemplified so many things that I experienced with Ecuadorian culture:
The extreme love for family and friends, which I continually saw whenever Megan would plead to Mary for her dad at the dinner table when she knew he was working the night shift for the week, or when the extended family went around the room each giving a deep and heartfelt toast of congratulations during Bryan’s graduation party, or when I saw the laughing, hugging, and smiling between family and friends at the soccer games that had me questioning who were just friends and if everyone wasn’t related. The laid-back and easy going attitude, which always permeated from the dinner table at night when my brothers and mom would joke around or my sister would make everyone laugh at her antics, or when they would poke fun at me for anything I said in a weird way, or when we would scream and cheer over-the-top fanatically for my uncle Juan Carlos when he went in the game to hustle around on defense for the last ten minutes when we were leading 6-2.
The value of family I saw when sons and dads played with each other side by side on the same pitch and when I saw how happy Megan would be to see and say hi to Juan Carlos when he dropped me off at the home in the afternoon.
It is these types of moments that I have experienced so far that have been so enriching. Through all the difficulties and hardship of communicating across languages and cultures, kindness and love seem to leap across these barriers. In that way, SST has been a learning experience like no other, as it impels you to find and cultivate your own way of interacting authentically and holistically with others different from yourself, inevitably stretching and widening your world in the process.