Culture Shock Got My Tongue

I’m usually someone who is comfortable with silence. Awkward, comfortable, days’ worth or simply minutes, I usually need some sort of silence to function and feel at peace. I can go hours ambling around my apartment (when I had one) with enough chatter in my head to never notice the gorgeous silence surrounding me.

Five weeks ago, I left Ecuador with fat sobs of tears running down my face and a family bidding me adios in the darkness of that Monday night with their own damp faces and aching hearts. It is only now after so much time, as I sit in southern Spain, that I can begin to put into words my departure and re-entry back into “my” culture.

At this point my host mom and I are bawling our eyes out and my father had tears in his eyes.

Even now, recounting that night and the days piling up to my despedida provokes a cutting level of emotion that takes some vigilance of heart. My mind wants to block it out and remember the happy moments, kind of like after you break up with someone and doubt your choice and reasoning. So for the last 37 days, my voice silent and searching, wriggled and stalled as it tried to find itself among the detritus of a melancholy heart.

Numb might be the singular word to describe my state for my first three weeks home. Every moment and interaction felt coated in a veneer so thick no sensation of reality could penetrate. My focus refused to linger and exhaustion consumed me. The luxuries of hot water, indoor carpeting, driving, and endless access to nutritious food, technology, and the internet bordered on gluttonous with a disconcerting sense of easiness. I found my body and mind understood the familiarity of my home, but only out of muscle memory. I seemed to be living and moving about in imitation or a constant state of déjà vu.

With no home (unless you count my CR-V), I wandered about for several days until I could begin the blessed opportunity to apartment and cat sit for a week. I found the silence and ability to be and do as I pleased a relief. I created some routine in yoga classes, running, and naps, indulging in the foods I longed for the last nine months. Soymilk, whole grains, salads, protein, ice, and the ability to cook appeared more glorious than ever only topped by the marvelous lack of potatoes in my diet. (I did finally allow some tubers back into my diet when I arrived in Spain.)

I can also say that my beloved friends who accept me exactly as I am provided immense amount of comfort and support. The best of them are comfortable in my silence and patient if I babble on. Many know the experience of traveling internationally and of my profuse amount of tears, those of happy or sad, even when not understood.

Calling my Ecuadorian family grounds and reminds me I am still connected and a part of the world there. The last call had me laughing hysterically as my sister-in-law tried to convince me my 14-year old sister accepted a request for marriage. I couldn’t believe that would really happen, as Mayra is an education-minded girl with an ironic sense of humor and no ganas to be a housewife. Despite my disbelief, the whole family roared in laughter as they revealed the joke. This levity aided the bitter sweetness of hearing my five-year-old nephew, Dilan, tell me he misses me and had a picture he drew ready for Lizzie to pick up, scan, and email to me. After my calls, I am simultaneously joyous and relieved I could still speak Spanish, as they start with absolute nervousness at the thought of speaking.

View of our village and if you look closely our current apartment.

Now I am in Spain, nearly a completely different culture and language. I constantly confuse the locals with my distorted Ecuadorian accent and sayings, and feel stupendously awkward making my “s”, c”, and “z” sound like a “th”. But speaking Spanish daily pleases me greatly. My days are filled at a pace more similar to South America, which is easier to adjust to than the zoom of the United States. More or less, I have a consistent place to sit still, sleep, think way too much for my own good, and work on my graduate studies while processing the wild ride of the last year I have to fortune to call my life.


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