Cultures Sauvages (Raw Cultures) is a radio show on Radio Eponyme, a local radio of Mulhouse. The show was created in 2017 and talks about culture and especially music and littérature. Since October 2019, I’m doing a chronicle every month about my travels and I decided to draw something to illustrate my adventures!
The October 2 show was about the start of the school year –“la rentrée” in French- and you can listen to it -in French- right here:
LEARNING SPANISH IN AN ECUADORIAN FARM
Aaah, the start of the school year again, the new satchels, the smell of white-out, the boring teachers, and homework… Once you’re an adult, you put all this back-to-school feeling behind, except if you start having kids or worse! If you decide to be a teacher. Well, that was what I thought until I realize that even when you’re an adult you still crave to learn new things, and sometimes you even go back to school, follow courses and have homework to do!
The last time I decided to put myself through the joy of having homework was a bit more than a year ago when I freshly arrived in Ecuador without knowing a single word of Spanish. I became aware quite fast that Duolingo was cool enough to have conversations about a cat drinking milk – el gato bebe leche-, but it wouldn’t help me that much to ask for directions, and even start more intimate conversations with locals.
So I decided to learn Spanish. I volunteered in a farm close to Baños, about a hundred kilometres south of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The farm was located in a tiny little village in the mountains, in fact, when it was sunny, we could see the Tunguraruoa volcano and its snowy summit from afar.
In this farm lives Monica, a charming young woman who’s teaching English to the village kids. She was also my Spanish teacher. There’s also her husband, Holger, who’s a market gardener and a mountain trek guide, Emilie, their 4-year-old little girl who likes to draw and eat crêpes, and Monica’s parents, Wilo el abuelo and Alba la abuela. In this Ecuadorian family, only Monica speaks English, even though Emilie can count to 100 in English and to 10 in French. This little girl was so gifted with languages! I was also sharing my room with other volunteers from the USA, UK, Netherlands, France, Austria, … A true Spanish Inn!
Life was not so easy at the farm. There was no heating system, and the nights could be so cold I was sleeping with my clothes on in my sleeping bag with a mountain of blankets on top. The work was physical, we had to pick up tomatoes and weed the plantations of babaco, this big green and yellow fruit which tastes like Champagne. The plantations were scattered on mountainsides, we were sometimes working on slopes and we had to walk half an hour to get there. But on our way back we often found raspberries and blackberries to munch before lunch.
We always shared our meals together, and I loved to help cooking. The family was vegetarian so I could finally eat some Ecuadorian food without chicken! My favourite delicacy was without any doubt the colada morada, a hot and thick deep purple drink made with babaco, cinnamon and black corn flour. This treat was sweet and comforting, like a glass of glühwein after a long day at work.
My afternoons were dedicated to my Spanish lessons with Monica. At last I was starting to seize the present (tense), as well as the future, even though I was still struggling with the past (Rafiki in The Lion King was damn right, the past can actually hurt!) Step by step, as Spanish was coming together on my tongue, I could feel some freedom taking over me. The power of words. Poco a poco, little by little, I could tell my own story, what was hustling in my heart, in my guts. We had long conversations about our lives, in Ecuador and France. We talked a lot about love, books, politics, and ecology as well. Finally, we could have real conversations – even though they were full of mistakes and clumsiness.
I only planned to stay a week at the farm. I ended up staying three weeks, almost until the end of my trip to Ecuador: that’s always how it goes. The people, their smiles, their benevolence make me stay. We clean some tears with the back of our hands when it’s time to leave, like a piece of heart was ripped off. I left a piece of mine for sure in the living room’s wall, hung to my paper cranes. I don’t know if this family still thinks about me. I will for sure always remember my evenings drawing and learning new words thanks to playdough with Emilie. I won’t forget about the muddy paths, the alpacas, the taste of toasted corn.
Nowadays I’m struggling with my Spanish. Nothing compares to the life I had at the farm. Nothing compares to those flashlights of understanding, this feeling of ecstasy when I was understood by the bus driver or when I was able to order my hot chocolate properly. Nothing compares to living a language, instead of just learning it.
I’m wishing you all a study experience as stimulating and fulfilling as my few weeks in the Ecuadorian mountains. May you have a successful start of the school year, and don’t forget to take a walk on your wild side!