Today is exactly one year to the day that we arrived back in Ecuador for the final move. Previously we had spent 6 months touring the country before deciding to call the Santa Elena Province home. (La Libertad specifically). This morning, my coffee is strong and hot, the sound of the surf and the birds in the background and life is good and I do not regret the decision to come here one tiny bit. (and Randy will be home today as well so doubly good day!)
I wanted to pass on two important words to people that are new to the area or thinking of making the move:
'INTEGRATION & ASSIMILATION'
I know it is difficult, but learn the language; practice each and every day. Take a course, speak Spanish daily to your spouse and friends and most of all talk to the locals. REALLY talk to the locals. Ask them about their family, their thoughts on the president, what they do for a living, the weather. The locals will speak with you (sometimes with amusement on their face). They actually enjoy it and they love to talk about their country. Tell them how awesome you think Ecuador is and they beam with absolute pride!
I know it is scary, but make at least one friend that is a local Ecuadorian. Invite them to dinner, learn about their families and eventually you will come to know the family, meet with them, be invited to their homes for celebrations; it is an amazing experience. They are a wealth of real information on the do's and don'ts in their society.
In this past year I have fostered two local friendships where our conversations have expanded to include receiving and giving advice on life, on relationships. Sharing in triumphs and tribulations, fears and hopes for the future, just as friends do. Invitations to graduations, birthday parties, mother's day with their family and even to funerals.
When we had the tsunami warning; it was these people that called me to warn me where to go, how to get there and when it was safe to return.
Creating a new social circle in a foreign country 'at our age' is not easy. We tend to gravitate towards the gringos because communication is easier. Familiarity creates a sense of comfort. BUT in my experience over the past year any really bad experience I have had has been with 'Gringos with an Agenda'.
When we grew up our social circle was by default, they included the neighborhood kids/families, the church group, school, work, sports team. Now that we are here, we can pick and choose our circle and how often we interact within that circle.
Challenge yourself this week:
If you go to church, then find a local church and attend. Get to know a new group of people with the same beliefs. Get involved, they will welcome you.
Memorize and learn some numbers and names of fruits & vegetables and go shop like a local. If nothing else, but for the Spanish practice and to learn to socialize with the local working people.
Talk to your cab driver today, and ask him his name, if he has kids, how old they are.
Invite the Ecuadorian you have come to know to have lunch; let them choose the location. You will likely find another good restaurant you passed by daily and never thought to try; I have found a number of them this way!
Invite an Ecuadorian to attend your own function; a dinner party perhaps. They love trying new foods, but try and ensure at least person there knows enough Spanish to make the person feel welcome and part of the group.
Most of all enjoy the ride and remember: A government issued Cedula gives us legal residency, but Integration & assimilation gives us a rewarding and enriched life in Ecuador.