Despite the difference in our work focus, I have been able to connect with many individuals in this community in a unique way, from 3-year old boys to pre-teen girls to elderly couples. The fact that I stand out here because of my physical characteristics, accent, and style of dress has actually helped me build relationships with people I wouldn't have expected. People know me because I'm different, but they treat me as part of their family. I can't count the times that my neighbors have stopped me in the street to catch up, or invited me into their homes for a cup of tea. I am eternally grateful for this spirit of hospitality and unity that exists here in Romerillos.
I remember when I first arrived in this town. I felt lost and insecure, not understanding the culture or traditions. Now I know the slang, where to tell the bus driver I'm getting off, and how to eat chicken soup (the right way). I'm even picking up some of the customs like drinking tea with bread for an evening snack, washing my clothes in the morning so they can dry in the afternoon sun, and wearing a shawl over my coat in the night cold. There will always be some things I still do my way, but I can at least usually understand the other point of view.
I have internally charted my time here by the way I answer people in passing, when they ask me, "how long have you been here now?" and "how much longer will you be here for?". Before, the latter answer was longer than the former, but now it's the opposite. I have to tell people, I've been here for a year now, which usually impresses or surprises them, but then I have to say, But I'll be leaving in two months. Most of time the response is, Oh, why don't you stay longer? Find yourself an Ecuadorian man and settle down. or So soon? We thought you'd be here indefinitely. These responses always make me sad because I realize how much of an impact on my heart this community has had.
I don't know if I will return here one day, but I know that I will never forget these loving people. They have truly emanated to me what the words of Peter in 1 Peter 4:8-9: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling." My community in Romerillos will always be remembered with fondness as my Ecuadorian family.