The first week of this year has been long and varied, but thrums with the theme of coming together. I am now in Amaguaña in Rafael’s simple house, crickets, perros, gallinas, cows lowing outside in the street. Amaguaña ‘tropical’ is in a valley east of Quito, flanked by the rugged outer rim of volcán Pasachoa, lush and laced with clouds. In this arrival, places and moments feel fractured each from the next and flights and flitting show me how much place is intentional construction, bodily dedication. In this year to come, my mother reminded me that while there is no one right place to put our bodies, it is our responsibility to say clearly why we choose to place our bodies where we do. This week has left my body speck-like, struggling against an earthly scale my mind so much more easily traverses. Our flight to Quito left from Dallas after a 27 hour-by-hour delay, 5 pilots, 2 mechanical faults, and 3 iterations of boarding the aircraft. The violence of placelessness and artifice was upon us, the terminal floor continuously rumbling, buzzing with disregard to hour. I was wrenched in two directions as my gut- doubt continued over my justification for adventure and learning at an uncertain time, when it feels like the splayedness of my country is closing in on itself. But I have been bolstered by the greater hopefulness of those around me, that this is still a time for ventures that bring me fear and greater boldness, that my mind is not as open as it might be. I repeated through the journey to arrival, ‘It’s only fear. It’s only fear.’
The extended placelessness of in-betweens, spent in modern spaces where time and specificity have been eradicated, has nonetheless indicated to me the placing power of people finding each other. Our hours of waiting were filled with laughter and comradery with Ecuadorians who were returning home after visiting children in the United States. With stories and suggestions, our new friends powerfully conjured the images of very particular places— the bizcocho (cake) shop across from the cemetery in Cayambe, the trailhead at Papallacta, the last volcanic ice merchant in the world in Ríobamba. From the hour’s cold wait for the last shuttle at midnight in Dallas, we served as translators and advocates for this pueblo of twelve. In communing with these new friends, we came together in creating place— social and imagined— and since their kinship buoyed me to take the flight at last— tangible. I have never before experienced this phenomenon; as we boarded the aircraft for the third time, each greeted another with jolly familiarity. What joy can be found in coming together when we need to.
We finally arrived in Quito at 3am a day after we expected, and have been continuously arriving ever since. The altitude (ten thousand feet) is a forceful reminder of how much our bodies emerge from place and what gentle patience it takes to settle again. The altitude brings lethargy, headache, dizziness, fevery chills and potent dreams— even in sleep, we’re tethered to airier spheres and wait for our bodies to settle as heavy again. Our first day was spent sleeping, waking to walk in the hot, close sun, and having blackberry juice and plátano.
The next day, Rafael, Dan’s Peace Corps host, met us in Quito with his cousin Edwin. We rambled from iglesia to iglesia in the old town, the streets closed from cars and filled with guitar bands, cyclists, church-goers, and salespeople selling everything from choclo (corn) to dog clothes. These churches were built with the same foundation stones as the sacked Incan temples that once stood in their place. They were signals of ‘quantum entanglement’, overlayings, depths, filled with geometric Arabic designs , Italian tile mosaics, ‘pan de oro’ mud reliefs crafted by native workers. Edwin’s tour was filled with vivid legends and proof of their truth— the one stone water spout outside Iglesia San Francisco that the devil laid late, saving the city of Quito, and the esquina where the cock fought the drunk to be memorialized on the weather vane of the national cathedral. On the drive down to Amaguaña Edwin plays his own music for us as the Valle de los Chillos opens below.
The twisting road turns to rock, lined with Eucalyptus trees and cows tethered by rope grazing on the banks of the street. For almuerzo we stop at the río San Pedro and catch trucha in a pool by the gushing river. We eat the fish fried, sitting by the dry heat of a eucalyptus fire in the chimenea as the afternoon rain falls.
My travels last year were an investigation of the enormity of the world, of how eminently possible it is to be hopelessly far away. This investigation is a contraction, a testament to interconnectedness and common livelihood. In Dallas, we visited the energy exhibit at the museum of science and nature, an extensive glorification of hydraulic fracking, an exposition for children of possible career paths. Mike the docent told us that he really enjoyed his time in Quito while drilling in the Amazon, he hoped we would enjoy it too. This is the very same world that I travel in, and it is only a matter of realization.
I am here. Traveling brings into relief the balance between disappearing into ‘I am HERE’ and the mutual creation of place with self, ‘I AM (the) here.’ I have no return ticket and each day unfolds as new, guided by questions of how people and places come together in living, feeding, learning.
On Being: john a. powell: Opening the question of race to the question of belonging ‘We are constantly making each other.’
A beautifully written and harrowing account of volunteering with No Mas Muertes (No More Deaths) providing humanitarian aid to migrants near the Arizona- Mexico border. ‘The border is everywhere but most people think they have never seen it.’
Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (2016)