I was on a bus tour in Cuenca, Ecuador and I didn’t have my camera. Frustrated with my perpetual forgetfulness, I sat on the top level of the double decker bus, irritably watching the sun nestle into the mountains peppered with bright houses and twinkling street lights. Even as I experienced the inexplicable majesty of a sunset in an unfamiliar place, I could feel the memory slipping through my hands like hot water, burning my palms with its absence.
Capturing the beauty of the moment seemed out of my reach, until later that night when I started writing about everything instead. For the following two months, as I interned with a non-profit and traveled to different communities around Ecuador, I continued to write about my experiences both big and small. I wrote about the ride to Zamora through the pouring rain when I turned to see all of my teammates sound asleep on each others’ shoulders. I wrote about the walk through Cuatro Esquinas, where I watched the sun’s perfect rays fall unevenly upon the sweeping expanses of patchwork green mountains, lighting up some parts of the Earth’s surface brilliantly and leaving others in the shadows. Writing has kept me engaged in a way that snapping photos never did.
Thanks to my writing, I don’t need photographs to remember…
Eating sweet, melty coconut ice cream on a green cone in Nambacola after finishing the last of the eye exams of the day. The woman scooped my purchase from a tin bucket while I relished the sound of sugary cream against metal and handed her the best quarter I’ve ever spent.
Wandering into a backyard in San Pablo where a woman was hanging up laundry, and asking if she would like to complete a survey about her stove. She welcomed me and we chatted next to a tree with tin cups drying on the branches, chickens squawking at our feet, and her wood-burning stove crammed in between the fence and the latrine.
Walking for three hours round-trip in Riobamba to find a community we had pointed to from a hill. As we trampled through fields and cautiously navigated around cows, we relied solely upon the vague directions of people we happened to pass along the way. For the first time, I appreciated the peculiar peacefulness to be found in uncertainty.
My room in Timbara, where curtains served in the place of windows and a door, where I fell asleep every night to the calming sound of rain on the tin roof, and where crickets sprang over my sheets in perfect arches. Just outside, thick blankets of fog protected the mountains from the chilly rains and children shrieked with laughter while pushing each other on bicycles with collapsing tires.
Pulingui, the small community of my host family. I loved that I couldn’t walk down the street without stopping to let cows trundle past or without having a conversation with a perfect stranger. I loved holding my host-sister’s little hand as we walked back home, and how her four-year-old frame would bubble over with laughter as she stretched her wind-burned cheeks into a wide grin. I loved how my host-mom and I would crawl under the thick blankets on her bed and knit scarves side-by-side. But mostly, I loved that Pulingui was an incomprehensible tangle of contradictions. I viewed the magnificent Mt Chimborazo that towered over simple two-room cement houses, some bearing the forgotten, crumbling skeleton of a second floor. I experienced genuine warmth and hours of laughter with my host family in their ominously dark kitchen packed with the suffocating smoke from the wood stove. I felt energized and fresh every morning despite the absence of a shower. I watched the stray kitten that pranced around the kitchen table while I ate, and the flea bites sprinkled across my waist and ankles
In her memoir of her time in Africa, Jacqueline Novogratz captured my feelings perfectly: “I couldn’t recall ever feeling so fully alive getting ready for a day…There was a rawness and a beauty here that brought every emotion right to the surface, and I loved the feeling, loved being in this place where the best and worst of everything seemed to coexist.”
Emily Mahoney ‘15 plans to major in public health and minor in economics. She is currently completing an internship in Ecuador with Soluciones Comunitarias, a non-profit organization that empowers local entrepreneurs to sell products that improve the health of communities, such as glasses, water filters, and stoves. Additionally, Emily is a Fellow in the Sharpe Community Scholars program, a member of Medical Aid Nicaragua: Outreach Scholarship (MANOS), and a member of Reformed University Fellowship.