I’ve put off writing this post because I haven’t had anything to say about Ecuador. I haven’t even wanted to think about it much less ruminate on our two years there, trying to conjure up some nuggets of wisdom. If I were going to summarize our experience in Ecuador in a single word, it would be HARD. Just HARD. I wish this were a post about embracing the situation you’re in or how a gratitude journal saved my life, but it’s not.
As I (jubilantly) awaited our final flight out of the Quito airport on June 25, I posted a stream of consciousness highlights reel on facebook:
“Goodbye, Ecuador! We loved Galapagos, the jungle, Baños, El Monte, Narciza, beautiful scenery, pineapple and avocados on demand, favorite produce all year round, World Cup qualifying games, meeting the child we sponsor, drinks on the lanai, Parque Metropolitano, our bronco, our families visiting, and our neighbors!”
There were moments of inspiration, but the other side of the beautifully instagrammed and facebooked photos was the most difficult two years I’ve experienced for no reason at all. And before I go any further, here’s my disclaimer: We are tremendously blessed. I know that so many people experience things incredibly difficult, far more difficult than what I’m describing. Things like cancer. Heartache. Poverty. Loss. I get that. Our situation was nothing in comparison, but it was difficult for us. And at the risk of sounding whiny, I want to document it.
On paper, Ecuador seemed as though it would be “easier” than Egypt- greener, cleaner, quieter, with less pronounced gender, religious, language and, perhaps, cultural differences. After Egypt, I was ready for easier. The reality of Ecuador couldn’t have been more different. It’s almost laughable now to recount our first moments in Ecuador, but they were a foretaste of our entire two years. We went apartment hunting for over two weeks, toured 33 apartments, and our only real option was still significantly out of our price range. We spent over $12k on necessities: basic appliances (everything from a washing machine to a range and oven) and the most basic of furnishings almost as soon as we stepped off of the plane. The only thing kept us afloat was the generous wedding gifts from our friends and family. Upon arrival, the government canceled most of our school holidays, including Christmas. It took three months to open a bank account, eight months to buy a car, yet our electricity was cut off within 24 hours of non-payment for a bill we never received.
We found our place of employment to be nothing as advertised. We were lied to and bitter about it. I hated my job. I felt purposeless at work. We worked more and accomplished less than anywhere else I had taught. I lost my “voice”. As a result I burned with anger, feeling as though I was stuck in a “box” that other people had created for me.
I was altitude-sick for two years. My body hurt all the time. I didn’t sleep well, waking several times per night, and never having REM cycles. Getting up each morning felt as insurmountable as completing an Ironman triathlon. I was physically exhausted. We struggled through our first year of marriage. Fuses were short; misunderstandings were common; feelings were hurt, DAILY. The usual first year of marriage adjustments were compounded by a situation we both didn’t like. I entered counseling. I wanted to cry, but had no tears. People who knew me in Ecuador only knew a certain version of me, a version I didn’t even like.
Thankfully, I didn’t come away from Ecuador empty handed. As reluctant as I have been to admit it, there were some valuable lessons learned:
1. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. Not every time, place, job, situation, relationship, country, culture is for everyone. It takes courage to realize a situation is not for you and to find something different. (Obviously, I’m not talking about my marriage here
2. Taking care of yourself is paramount. Rest is incredibly important. And nothing is good without it. When I’m well rested, I take care of myself better in other areas too. These days, I’m sleeping long, eating well, exercising my body, and setting aside time to cultivate my mind and my interests.
3. Find inspiration around you. Ecuador helped me learn that my soul needs a creative outlet. I sought refuge in hobbies. I learned how to knit, started my first quilt, and dabbled in home decorating. I’ve become intentional about finding the beauty around me and am inspired by it. These days, I am resurrecting my blog, recuperating my piano skills, and starting a side business that excites me. I challenge myself through the things that interest me and say no to things I don’t want to do.
4. You don’t have to be stuck in a job you don’t like. Life is too short to be miserable in a profession that you find wholly unfulfilling. It is possible to make a career that you enjoy. I’m inspired each day by people who pursue their dreams and passions and I believe it now. I’m not there yet, but I’m working toward it.
5. A difficult season makes the next season stand out with even more brilliance. Everything now seems bright, sunny, positive, and incredibly easy in comparison. I’m able to cherish each moment of our return to Egypt and fully live in the present because it’s just so wonderfully different. It’s not easy, but it’s not the past two years.
I’m thankful for these lessons learned. But I’m also thankful for the transience of our international lifestyle. There is great freedom in leaving hurts and disappointment all behind and starting afresh. So, here’s to a clean slate!