There are certain moments and experiences in life that can really bring a person to life. That make a person feel truly raw and human in a most precious way. Some days here I feel re-born in a way. I feel vulnerable and curious in the world around me and each day brings a new excitement. Ecuador has been incredibly “life-giving” where I have discovered new meanings to life and have been given a new lens to see it all and understand it, even live it.
This world has so much to give. And I’ve found a wonderful piece of it right here in Monte Sinai that is beautifully different from where I’ve been before. Most of those pieces are simple moments. Usually shared with my family here, my neighbors as well as the women and children at work.
I’d like to share a night I really enjoyed that is a great example of what I’m talking about:
Last week was the birthday of Omar, who is both a wonderful neighbor and our guard. His wife Eli had us come to the house early before Omar’s shift ended to surprise him. She plans a little surprise for him every year with the volunteers. Their daughter, Amy, was very excited to have balloons all around and couldn’t wait for Omar to come home. She’s a daddy’s girl, I have no doubt about it. Eli was preparing dinner as we all waited, crouched down on the floor trying not to make too much noise. We’re not very good at that. There was a lot of held in laughter. You can’t not laugh when Amy is around!
When Omar finally came home, Amy ran outside despite our efforts to stop her and greeted her father. I couldn’t hear what she said but I don’t think she spoiled the surprise, though I’m sure he already knew about it since this happens each year. Anyway, he walked through the door and we all through balloons and yelled sorpresa! I accidentally through my balloon at Jesús, who is not a fan of balloons because he doesn’t like the pop noise when it goes and is always afraid they will pop. He forgave me and we laughed about my horrible aim. We helped set up the table for the meal and shared the same impatient excitement as we waited for Eli to serve the food. I didn’t know what we would be eating, but I didn’t have to. Eli is a really great cook and never disappoints. Some of the former volunteers called to wish Omar a happy birthday. After we all received our dish, Omar and Eli nominated Liz to say the prayer, who gave us a look as if to say, why me! But she did wonderfully…at least from the way it sounded to me, I really don’t actually know what she said since it was in Spanish and I probably wasn’t trying hard enough to understand as I should have (oops…sometimes I catch myself in those moments. I promise I don’t let it happen that often!) The first bites were followed by plenty of mmmss and yummss. Actually we made those sounds the whole time I’m pretty sure. We like to sound how we feel when we eat. We must all be pretty great cooks too because we do it a lot during our family dinners too! Eli made arroz con pollo with a salad on the side. Arroz con pollo is this really great rice dish with of course, chicken, but it’s made with soy sauce and a pepper, tomato, onion mixture, and includes peas and carrots. The sauces give the rice and chicken great flavors and has pretty much a 100% chance of being wonderfully delicious. I have this theory that the perfect dish would be seco de pollo de arroz con pollo. Seco de pollo is chicken prepared a certain way that I really love and is served with plain rice, which soaks up the juice of the chicken. The plain rice is great beside the seco de pollo, but imagine the seco de pollo next to arroz con pollo. Now that’s a great dish! Just my theory; some day I’ll make it!
Despite being super full from our first plates, Eli put the pot on the table with the leftover arroz con pollo which we all dug into in one way or another. You can’t help yourself with Eli’s arroz con pollo. Many of us wound up just having second helpings. I picked at it here and there and found some cocolone to munch on. If I haven’t talked about cocolone yet in my other blogs, I’ll explain now. Cocolone is the rice at the bottom of the pot that gets a little extra love with the heat and becomes crispy, and when made right, golden. The golden cocolone is, in my opinion, the best kind of cocolone. If the rice is left on for too long, it turns a dark golden and begins to brown a little. Left for too long and it will just burn and turn black. But the golden cocolone, it’s like treasure. My mom always tried not to burn the pilaf at the bottom of the pot but when it did get stuck to the bottom, she would say it’s no good and take it to the side. She’d say she shouldn’t eat it, but enjoys it sometimes, so she’d scrape a bit and munch on it. She made it seem like it wasn’t a good thing so I never bothered to try it. Now I know why. She was keeping it to herself! I’m kidding, knowing my mom, she really didn’t like to have rice stuck to the bottom of the pan and always tried not to let that happen. But now that I know the rice stuck to the bottom is cocolone, the next time I won’t let her have the pot all to herself. Pilaf made into cocolone I imagine being 10x better than regular cocolone. Pilaf is like the queen of rice in my opinion. You can’t go wrong with pilaf!
Anyway, after dinner was when the party started! Eli played music and we all left the table to dance! Eli is quite the dancer and showed off some great moves which took us all by surprise! I know she has plenty of tricks up her sleeve and Eli never ceases to amaze me by everything she does so I always look forward to when I’ll discover what she’ll reveal next.
I really admire her and can’t wait to know more Spanish so I can get to know her better. She’s a very strong willed woman, intelligent and genuine. She’ll tell you like it is. And when she feeds you, she feeds you very very well. She reminds me a lot of my own family in that way. Food is an important part of the way we take care of one another and I see that in her whenever she feeds us.
I’m not exactly sure how this happened, but somehow a game of musical chairs began. So far, I haven’t lost a game and was determined to keep my streak. Finally it was just Eli and I going for the final chair. When the music stopped, I went for the chair, but stupidly assumed it would be there. I should have known Eli would pull a stunt. She pulled the chair out, but thoughtfully caught me as I fell. She didn’t sit down though, so I recovered quickly and planted myself on the chair. We all laughed for a while and I was glad I still got the chair 😉 I’m pretty sure she let me have it, but it still counts since she cheated! But that’s how the game goes in Ecuador! Especially in Eli’s house. She makes all the rules!
We played another game and I wound up losing early on but didn’t feel bad about it since I kind of won against Eli. There was plenty of laughter and pictures being taken trying to capture the funny moments. Most were of Amy and Eli. After the games, we went back to dancing and Elias, Eli and Omar’s son, began showing off his moves! We all danced together and were being silly. When Eli was really moving her hips, the family told her I could do it too, so I put on some Armenian hits and we shook our hips! I played a Turkish song by Tarkan, Kiss Kiss, just for fun too, and I’m pretty sure she knew that one! She was singing along to it and soon we were all blowing kisses at each other each time it played in the song. After the dancing, it was time for dessert! Liz and Rachi made a chocolate cake topped with powdered sugar. Eli made queso de leche, kind of like a flan, which was deliciiouuss. Amy started getting cranky and it was definitely past her bed time. We chatted a little more and eventually said our goodbyes, wished Omar a happy birthday once again and went home.
It was a really great night full of laughter and stories (Eli is quite the story teller!) and pictures taken (Amy took over 50 photos I hear) and dancing and eating and full bellies and most of all love. A lot of love was shared that night. The kind of love that brings you to life.
We didn’t do anything out of the ordinary really, but we were together. We opened up our many doors and left them open, sharing whatever slipped out with all who were around. We were ourselves.
I often remind myself to leave my doors open. Some days it’s easier than others. The times I do, I’m always so glad I did, because when they are open for all that I am to come out, they are also open to receive all the things trying to come in.
That’s the part where I come to life.
It’s not particularly special for Ecuador though, I must say. I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep open my doors all my life. To be all I am and want to be without any fear or holding back. To have the courage to be vulnerable. What I’m saying is I’ve learned more about how I can do that since being here. But this is great news for you! How can you work towards leaving your doors open in your day to day life? When do you feel yourself closing them? What can you do for yourself that will help you keep them open? I pray you will have the courage to open them and re open them when necessary, despite any mountain you may be climbing.
You are not alone. I may be far away from you wherever you are, or I may be close by! Regardless, I too am learning how to keep open the many doors of my heart.
( I am borrowing the “(Ecua)door” term from a former volunteer, Brian Bayer-thanks!)