And Then… Guayaquil

Showing up in a strange city with my entire life in two backpacks, and no real plan, no job lined up, and a dwindling bank account balance was not the safest bet I’ve ever made, but I never like to do things the safe way. I had no work visa, no way to prove I had a BA (they only accept original or notarized copies of a diploma at most places), and even my official CELTA certificate wouldn’t be available for 3 months. Then there are all the challenges particular to Ecuador. My Spanish is elementary at best. The buses are practically unmarked and have no official routes posted anywhere. Hailing a cab on the street is gambling anything of value that you have on you. There aren’t any accurate maps of the city online, and all the streets have multiple and incomprehensible names. While I had company for the first couple of days here, I was soon on my own. The impending failure my adventure seemed more and more probable in my increasing stressed mind.

Guayaquil is a funny city. There is beauty and energy and a tantalizing foreignness, but it also puts a gritty tightness in your chest and an eye in the back of your head. I can’t get into a cab without the knowledge that my friends have been taken down back alleys and robbed. I can’t take a bus without the knowledge that on busy days, people will slice the side of you bag open with a box-cutter and slide away into the crowd with your laptop. I can’t walk alone at night without knowing that if anyone talks to me, the moment I open my mouth, my dark hair and eyes and deep coastal tan will be exposed as the flimsy disguises that they are, and a big gringa bulls-eye will be painted on my back. These things gnawed a hole in the back my sleep-deprived mind like a rodent.

At the same time as these dangers keep me on my toes and vigilant, every encounter that I have had with people here has made me more convinced that I am suppose to be here in this crazy place. The genuine kindness, and openness that I have found here is only rivaled in my experience with Tongans. Lost on the way to the grocery store the other day, I went into a little neighborhood tienda to ask for help. After a 20min chat with the older gentlemen and his wife about where I was from and what I was doing, the husband actually left the store so that he could drive me to the supermarket in his tiny little beat-up car. Sam, another English teacher that I have only a handful of conversations with previously, and his lovely Ecuadorian girlfriend Kathy, have taken me into their home, despite the fact that they have only $25 to their name, and no furniture. I’ve been feeding them in return, despite their protests.

It’s funny how things just come together. Like a staring through the lens of a camera that is attempting to focus. Things are blurry, dark, and slightly ominous, when suddenly like magic, edges start to form, the lighting changes, and the world appears before you, like you’re walking out of a fog. It’s strange that I seek out that discomfort, but it’s that discomfort that makes the achievement of beating the what-ifs snapping at your heels all the more exhilarating. Last night I lay with worries ebbing and flowing through my sleep like the ocean I miss so much. Today, the 3 straight days of emails, phone calls, attempts to travel, and cappuccinos finally paid off. I had the interview, I haggled over my wages, and my lack of a visa or paperwork has been deemed less important then what I can offer as an employee. I showed up with nothing, but I found a place to sleep, and a job, and a new city to love and make home. Suddenly I feel like I have conquered one more little piece of the world.

Original published February 23, 2011, on tumblr as “Un Día Nuevo”.

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