I walked down that long dirt road for the last time, on my way to the Community Development Committee meeting in town. Like so many times before, me and a local friend Juan Carlos casually strolled along the dark back streets of Data de Villamil, using my headlamp to reveal our path. As we walked, a well known dog came bolting out of his home barking and charging us from behind, demonstrating his fierceness. It is a game I have come to learn with the dogs. I’ll continue walking and they’ll charge my legs from behind with the intention of snapping at me, and when they get really close I bend down and pretend to pick up a rock to throw, which of course sends them running. I turn around and continue walking and the game repeats itself over again.
We continued our walk deep in talk, philosophizing about life, reflecting on my experience here in Ecuador. We approached the highway and a group of tiny green growing lights could be seen flickering in the shine of my headlamp. We came closer and the glowing lights slowly faded into the eyes of a flock of goats which parted as we passed by, grunting disapproval at being disturbed.
We sauntered on through the centre of town, Juan Carlos stopped for a cerveza; it was my final night after all. Several members were already waiting in the park as we arrived and they smiled at me brightly as I approached – those genuine smiles on their sun-darkened faces that reveal a unique sort of kindness particular to the folk of small town Ecuador. I thanked them for everything, and they each took the time to thank me. I left that meeting sad and proud, knowing that I was saying goodbye, knowing that they would move forward as a community.
Now I’m sitting in an airport in Houston connected to Wi-Fi internet, sipping on a coffee, waiting for my flight to Canada. Just twenty four hours ago was strolling for the last time through Guayaquil, pushing my way through the crowds in the Bahía, joking around with the incessant venders determined to sell me some cheap underwear. Just a couple of days ago I was paddling around in the Pacific Ocean, riding powerful waves with joy, strolling on white sand beaches. I am so far removed from that life now, so suddenly, like waking from a dream. I wonder what my friends from the small communities in Ecuador would think if they were to see me now, in this different world here in North America.
I often write about goodbyes, if only because they are so frequent in my life. I’ve never been a very emotional person, but saying good bye to Ecuador and to the people I’ve been working with here has been difficult. My degree of involvement in the lives of many people here has left me feeling committed and accomplished, but at the same time sorrowful and regretful. I feel as though I am abandoning the communities after becoming so close to them, even though I know that they will move forward whether I am there or not. Six months is a difficult amount of time to live somewhere. It is just long enough to build deep and meaningful relationships with people, but not quite long enough to grow any roots. I suppose this is the nature of my line of work, and something I need to get used to.
We left for the airport at 4am this morning, and over the last two nights I’ve slept for maybe five hours. I feel exhausted and down right now, as I often do in airports, but this low is well worth the long and meaningful goodbye that I experienced in Ecuador.
I said goodbye to all of the community members with strong embraces and words of kindness; to the Pacific Ocean with one of the most memorable surf sessions I’ve experienced in my life thus far. I said farewell to the different friends and acquaintances that I met along the way; to the owner of my favorite little restaurant in Guayaquil; to the security guard that smiles at me kindly every time I walk by. I parted ways with my work associates at the University and with the other people I worked with here in Ecuador; with my project supervisor that inspired me and taught me so much. Last night all of the interns went out for a final beer at a local bar that we often visit, I left early in order to pack and get some sleep. After dozing off for about an hour I was awoken by the door at around 1am, it was some of the local guys that we know, come to say goodbye and share a drink. And so it was that I spent my last hours in Ecuador sipping red wine beside the Río Guayas in the cool Guayaquil night, sharing memories of the last six months, discussing our hopes for the future.