I like to believe that things happen for a reason. There’s no mistaking that the unforeseen, unfortunate experience I had led to me this point—finding a loving family and a second home in Sinchal, Ecuador. In early November I needed to find another WorkAway (an opportunity to volunteer in exchange for room and board) fast. I reached out to the anonymous person on the Workaway website who was accepting last minute volunteers, later turning out to be Jennifer, who needed help homeschooling her 11-year-old daughter on the family’s finca (farm).
Since arriving on November 14, I’ve been helping to “homeschool” Hannah in a variety of subjects. I make sure she does math and language arts online, teach her as best I can about poetry and descriptive writing and (struggle to) get her to understand, practice and play music and her violin. (Who would have thought I’d partially fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a teacher in Ecuador!) There’s another volunteer here with me: Leti, who covers Spanish and P.E., and who I generally share the days with. Depending on what we’re feeling or the family’s schedule for the day, we split the day into mornings and afternoons. It’s a lenient, laid back approach to educating Ms. Hannah, but it’s so interesting to see how Jenn tackles the whole thing and certainly makes me consider what I’ll do for my children in the (far, far, distant) future.
Here’s a little insight into the family who’s so graciously taken me in and who I’ve fallen in love with over the past three weeks:
Bonnie: Oma is the matriarch of the house. She and her husband were the ones to make the move to Ecuador and the finca after living in Saudi Arabia, Texas, Oregon and Arizona. I’ve learned so much from this woman. For one, Bonnie is a healer. She believes everyone has a frequency, that our frequencies are connected, that we have the power to change things bigger than ourselves if people only shared the same thoughts and frequencies. She uses a dowsing tool to communicate between spirits and asks questions to get to the root of a problem or injury. She believes everyone has a reason to be here on this earth and that the universe works in incredible ways. A short and sweet explanation like this may make it sound hokey, especially if you’ve had no exposure to something similar, but once you hear her stories, explanations and details behind it—and experience the powers firsthand on some spider bites—you may rethink some things. Beside this extremely fascinating aspect, Bonnie has had to adjust to life in Ecuador in a number of ways. Alternative cooking methods and recipes and salvaging twist ties, ziplocs and glass jars are just a way of life here on the finca. She’s an alternative, resourceful woman who I will miss dearly.
Jennifer: Jenn moved down here with Hannah to find peace and escape the pressures, stresses and general livelihood involved with an American life. You can say we’ve found some similarities. She’s one strong momma and has done so much for her little girl. Not only does Jenn homeschool Hannah, but she’s starting a company, Made In Ecuador, to sell local handicrafts and natural artisanal products from the area. I’ve been helping her with the website and she’s bounced ideas off of me. She must find a balance between keeping Hannah educated and entertained, while maintaining the finca with Bonnie, staying sane and chasing after her own ambitions.
Jarrett: Jarrett, Jenn’s boyfriend and our official popcorn maker, owns his own business in Ecuador—an impressive feat in and of itself because of the numerous laws and obstacles he’s had to overcome along the way. Working six days a week, as most self-employed and business owners do, Jarrett runs heavy equipment and works on local construction projects along the coast and beyond. He’s well on his way to expand and build a brick and mortar office, buy some more equipment and hire more employees. Only in my last week did I learn he was 24 years old—mad props to him. He moved to Ecuador at age 18, finished his last year of high school online and hasn’t looked back. I asked if he ever feels stuck, feeling like he can’t leave because he’s still established. He says no. If he truly wanted to, he could sell everything, pick up and leave. But for now, this is where he wants to be.
Hannah: Oh, Hannah. This little ginger firecracker loves The Hunger Games, hates green smoothies and is deathly afraid of dogs. She loves people and instantly latched onto me when I walked in the door. She embellishes stories and loves to sing, as any 11-year-old girl does, and gets my attention at the dinner table via poking or petting. She’s gone through a lot in a short time, but approaches life with such excitement. Hann is one smart cookie, but given the flexibility of her schooling situation can avoid (and get away with) any true application and focus when it comes to class. This made it difficult when trying to find the mix between friend and teacher, but in the end (and given the short three week block of time) I channeled my inner-child and enjoyed the games, crafting and laughs while I could. I can’t wait to see how her path in life unfolds and how her experience in Ecuador shapes her.
Leticia (Leti): I’m so grateful I had a fellow backpacker in the house with me. While the experience would have been just as incredible, Leti, 26, helped me remember that this isn’t my last stop on my journey (AKA don’t get too comfortable). She lives in Cordoba, Argentina with her brother, but embarked on a year-ish (no one really knows how long they’ll be on the road) adventure after being overwhelmed and confused about where to head with school and life. Leti’s English is nearly perfect, so there was no communication barrier, which helped our friendship develop over the weeks. She had a brief stint in nearby Montanita, the hippie, backpacker well-known beach town, handing out flyers for a bar, and we spent one Saturday night there together. When she laughs, you can’t help but reciprocate the giggles, and we’ve certainly had conversations and comments that go way over Hannah’s head to have a little fun of our own. She’s leaving the family the same day as me and is renting a house and finding a more long-term job in Montanita for high season to garner enough for a trip to Colombia.