Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Family Reunion in Riobamba

As Roel mentioned in his previous post, this isn't my first time in Ecuador. So this entire country has felt like taking a walk down memory lane.
So excited to be here again after all these years!
 When I was in high school in Vermont, I was very fortunate to have an excellent Spanish teacher who was passionate not only about her job, but the future of her students. In lieu of her lesson plan one day, Mrs. Brodie welcomed people from an organization called "The Experiment in International Living" (a branch of the School for International Training) to speak with her class about summer programs they offered for 15 and 16 year olds to go abroad for 4-5 weeks. They also spoke with us about scholarship opportunities, recognizing that they were not in a high-income district.
I was a straight-A student, captain of the soccer team, class president... but I worked harder to earn one of a dozen spots available for the trip to Ecuador than I had ever worked before. And 6 months later I stepped onto a plane that brought me to Quito, Ecuador. 3 of the 5 weeks of my program was spent with a host family in a small city called Riobamba.

The Naveda-Davila family welcomed me warmly and gently guided me through my full Spanish immersion in their home. We took family outings to bull-fights. My host siblings brought me to salsa clubs and house parties where my Spanish undoubtedly improved as they asked me to translate the English songs they listened to on repeat. And they made sure I tasted EVERY Ecuadorian delicacy BUT cuy. It was only three weeks, but we all had tears in our eyes as I left to return to the US. They had opened their home to me, but more than that, they had opened my eyes to how incredible it is to actually spend time living in another culture. My time with the Naveda-Davila family helped me to realize my passion for international travel and for expanding my horizons.
I returned home to the US, kept in touch with my host siblings via e-mail for a while, and then I went on to college to study cultural anthropology and then travel around the world. So coming back to Riobamba now, 17 years later really felt like a homecoming for me. And of course, I wanted to reconnect with the family who had such a huge part in shaping who I've become.
I reached out to the Experiment and asked if they could find a way to help me get in touch with my host family. The in-country contact, Carola, remembered me (likely in part due to my mugging in Quito which she had the misfortune to handle the aftermath of), and she dug out my host mother's contact information. 

My two host sisters and 2 of Maria Elena's daughters.
My host sister, Maria Elena picked us up at the hostel we had found to camp at in the center of Riobamba and took us out for dinner with her three young daughters. Aside from her mini-me's, she hadn't changed a bit.

The next day we wandered around Riobamba, caught up with a fellow rider from Quito and enjoyed the folk parade that closed down all of the major city streets.

One of many very busy and colorful markets in Riobamaba.
Roel always ends up loosing me when we get to the meat section. But then it is slightly different from going to your local butcher...
One of many troops making up the folk parade.
Forget the parade! I want to ride a bike! Look mommy, I can almost touch the ground and handlebars!
My host mother, father and brother returned from vacation the next day and we headed to their home to visit them. I remembered taking the bus out of town and then walking up their long driveway to where the dogs would inevitably be jumping around. We rode into the yard and before we could get our helmets off, the entire family was coming out to welcome us with big hugs. We spent the afternoon reminiscing, getting route advice and taking turns sitting on my bike for pictures. They invited us to stay for the night and the next morning my host mother and father insisted upon leading us to the exit of town and paying for our gas before we rode off.

My host brother, Diego Renato, and his baby boy.
It was amazing to see everyone again!

Who doesn't want to ride a Transalp? ;)
For me, our weekend in Riobamba felt like the closing of a circle. And I think for my host family, the feeling was mutual: they'd never had a kid they hosted (and they've hosted several over the years) return as an adult. It was really special to see how their lives have changed and also how so much has remained the same.
As we rode away, I was overwhelmed with emotion and had tears in my eyes. 17 years later, I still have family in Ecuador.

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