First Rule of Connection? Disconnect

It’s been a while since I wrote.

I haven’t written a blog in nearly three months, and I have some reasons to account for that: I was busy traveling around the country, I had a lot on my hands with my apprenticeship change (which ended up being a perpetual one), the holidays with my host family were quite intense, Carnaval brought an extreme three-day-water-and-paint fight inside and outside the house, and my computer also mysteriously died (and that complicated things quite a bit).

But that still doesn’t does explain why I haven’t shared my experience for three months.

The truth is that I wanted to disconnect. Having this constant link to information, seeing what everyone of my friends back home or abroad was doing, having the temptation to disappear into my phone or computer, somehow needing to synthesize what I went through constantly: all of this was preventing me from fully immersing. However, this is how I was raised and educated: to constantly keep myself occupied, informed, ready, active. I feel satisfied when I accomplish many of my objectives in a day, content when my schedule is perfectly filled, stressed when I have too much free time and anxious when things do not go according to plan. These habits were deeply ingrained within me when I arrived in Ecuador, but went against the rhythm of life in my new environment. Things usually just happen around here, instead of being planned. People are incredibly spontaneous, which can turn a free day into a very action-packed one, the opposite also being true. To truly immerse, I had to go beyond just learning the local dialect of Spanish: I needed to slow down. However, it was necessary for me to abandon the way I used to organize my life to truly connect with the reality of the people I was living with, to share and be on the same level as them.

This whole concept may sound very superficial, drawing from the traditional narrative of “disconnecting to reconnect with the real world,” but being in Ecuador made it take on a whole new dimension, and this is what I learned from it.

I had problems connecting with my host family at first. I felt uninvited, as if I was a burden for them, and I had trouble navigating my community because I had to do alone. However, by simply paying closer attention to their daily routine by taking part in it (that is, making myself behave in a very spontaneous manner, and drop the notion of a schedule) and by worrying a little less about mine, I noticed how hard-working my host parents were, and how much they cared for me and my host siblings. Once I learned how to pay attention, I noticed all the little things they did to make me feel at home, and how much they wished they had the time to show me around.

Benoit in Ecuador, disconnecting to connect.I decided to join the local football team, which is the best in the region (and the region supplies players to the national team). Once I got the hang of guessing where practices were going to take place (hitchhiking was part of that process), I got to connect with the players, and even more with the coaches. Well aware of the importance of football in the community, they use the sport to teach important life lessons to the youth of Juncal, and I was greatly inspired by their work.

Benoit in Ecuador, disconnecting to connect.I wanted to take part in activities outside my apprenticeship, so I decided to connect with my supervisors, Javier Mendez and Olga Palacios. They were hard to reach most the time, but once I decided to meet them halfway, I had the chance of playing saxophone and percussions in the local bomba band with Javier, as well as working in his field picking hot peppers a couple of days a week. I had the most amazing conversations with Olga about the difficulties related to adapting to an environment such as el Valle del Chota (her husband is Italian) and about the history of the region.

I then took interest in the history of the struggle of Afro-Ecuadorians, and I put together a project where I interviewed the elders with whom I was working about their lives, significant events they remembered, important elements of the local culture, and their opinion about a number of different topics. It took time to convince them, to talk them into participating, but when I was finally successful in convincing them, they opened up to me in a big way. I consider myself lucky to have had the chance to listen to their amazing personal stories.

But the person I cherish the most, the connection I will be forever grateful for is the one I have built with my host mother. She works all the time in the local church (funding it entirely), and this complicated the process of getting to know each other quite a bit, but as soon as I decided to help with her passion, amazing things happened. We had incredibly rich conversations, laughed out loud together, grew close to one another, and she told me about her life. She told me how she raised her younger siblings on less than $20 a week. She told me how she taught herself how to sew to increase her income, but never gave up on school. She told how she would take in and raise neglected children from the neighborhood, alongside my seven host brothers. She told me things she never mentioned to anyone else, and I am humbled by the fact that she thought I was worth her trust. I will always see her as my second mother, no matter where I go.

Never would I have immersed so much, nor gotten so much out of this experience, if I hadn’t disconnected, put my old habits on the side, and gone with the flow.

However, the biggest lesson for me was realizing that, before arriving in Ecuador, I was more of a human doing, but to communicate, connect, and share across cultural differences, one must become a human being.

Benoit in Ecuador, Disconnecting to Connect.

Benoit Dupras is a Global Citizen Year Fellow spending his bridge year living and learning in Ecuador. He is passionate about music, water sports, and outdoor adventures. He is involved in environmental activism, local volunteering initiatives, and community team sports. His goals for the year are to learn Spanish fluently to the same level of proficiency as English and French, to explore the natural wonders of Ecuador, and to learn about the reality of local communities. Check out Benoit’s blog for more stories from his Global Citizen Year.

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