The first words I heard used to describe my service town were hot and buggy. Upon hearing this I was a little apprehensive about what service would have in store for me and how my body would respond to the different climate. While I can confirm that over the past several weeks I have been faced with some extremely sticky heat and more bug bites than I can count, these are not the things from my experience that have stood out to me the most. My service town has a population of about 17 thousand people, all of whom seem to know each other. On my first day here, I went on a walk with my host mom, and every couple of minutes we stopped to talk to someone we had run into. I remarked, “Mamá eres famosa!” and she laughed. I have come to learn that it is not just my mother who seems to know everyone. This town is an incredibly close-knit community full of so many kind people.
I have spent most nights of service in the living room with my host mom having “craft and conversation time,” as I like to call it, during which my mom works on her crocheting while I cross stitch or make bracelets. On one of my first nights here, I showed her the cross stitch project I started working on in Quito and she immediately got out some of her crochet materials and said, “I have to start a new project!” Having a creative outlet that we have been able to share with each other has been conducive to many deep conversations and connections in a way that goes beyond words. While I can definitively say that my Spanish-speaking ability has grown since the beginning of SST, it has been so nice to have something I can do with my mom that does not always require words. We are just as comfortable sitting and working in silence together as we are having lively conversations, laughing until it is time to go to sleep. This time has taught me to value the process of what you are making and not just the end result. Usually, I rush to finish my projects and do not feel productive unless I make something quickly. Crafting with my mom has encouraged me to slow down and use this time to relax and reflect. She is an excellent conversationalist and asks me lots of questions about my day, teaching me new words and phrases along the way. “Craft and conversation” is something I will never forget about living with my host mom and the way it has brought us together.
Last week, I went with my family to go harvest cacao and it was quite an adventure. My mom and I woke up at 5 am and took the bus to a nearby town to go to the orchard, which is owned by her son. After eating breakfast, my mom, host brother, his wife, and I gathered our gear and headed to the cacao trees. All of us wore long sleeves, pants, and boots to avoid getting bug bites. With all the repellent we generously applied you could probably smell us coming from a mile away.
When we arrived at the orchard I was immediately struck by its beauty. I had never seen such lush plants and they stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see. The orchard exuded a rich, sweet scent from all of the fruit that grows there. I watched (a little nervously) as my family used carefully sharpened machetes to cut cacao from the trees, slice off the ends of the fruit, and split it in half, revealing the seeds inside which we were harvesting. We filled buckets of seeds and then transferred them to sacks to start to drain the fruit that encases the seeds. The fruit is incredibly sweet and I probably sucked on a hundred seeds that afternoon.
In addition to picking cacao, we picked two different kinds of oranges (naranja lima and naranja china), a variety of lime called limón sutil, achotillos, and madroños. After a long but very rewarding afternoon, we drove back to my host sister-in-law’s house for lunch and to lay out the cacao seeds to dry. It is still amazing to me that the fruit we picked is the key ingredient in making chocolate! This day was a reminder of the hard work that goes into bringing food from the garden to the table and how rewarding it is when you do so. Picking cacao with my family was such a memorable experience and on this day I felt so connected to and appreciative of my beautiful surroundings.