A few weeks ago I read a book called Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. It's a heart-warming, funny, yet thought-provoking novel about a Chinese boy from the city who is sent to a small village to receive his "re-education" during China's Cultural Revolution, a period of mandated change ordered by leader Mao Zedong. As I finished the novel, I began to compare my experience living in a quaint mountain village in Ecuador, which was extremely different than my life up to that point, to the narrator's story.
Before living in Romerillos, Ecuador, I had really only been resident of three places: Aurora, Indiana, where I grew up and went to high school; Holland, Michigan, where I spent four lovely years completing my bachelor's degree; and San Jose, Costa Rica, where although I was never an official resident, I served as a missionary through YWAM for eight months. Now none of these towns (even San Jose, which is a city of about half a million people) felt enormous to me, and they were definitely nothing compared to large cities like Chicago or New York City. But all three of those locations seemed infinitely bigger than the tiny Ecuadorian town of 500.
It's funny looking back now. I never thought of living in a city as attractive. Life in an urban setting sounded so busy and chaotic, with so many people, traffic, and little time or space to just breathe. I thoroughly enjoyed living in the places I did, especially Holland, which despite its size had a lot to offer as far as cultural activities, tourism, and cures for the typical bored college student. So I was mostly content to be sent to a small town in Ecuador. Little did I know just how small it would be until I arrived.
Living in Romerillos changed me in more ways than I could have imagined. I witnessed firsthand the intense, backbreaking work that it is to live in the country, with agricultural produce being a family's main source of income. The majority of children and families that I worked with in Romerillos owned a small piece of land and worked on it from dawn to dusk to provide for their families. I learned to give thanks to God for blessings such as having a dry home on a rainy day, and for friendship on a lonely evening.
I learned about finding satisfaction in life, that's it's more than just having a prestigious job or expensive things. It's about taking in the beautiful mountain view from outside my window, hearing the sounds of children's laughter as their feet pounded the stairs to my apartment. About prioritizing relationships over time, taking a few extra minutes of my morning to chat with neighbors before heading off to teach. About sharing a joke with someone in another language, feeling like part of the family.
These are just a few of the many lessons I received in Romerillos. Above all, I learned to live in a way that I had never done before, with people who were very different than myself, but also very similar. Now, looking back, my Ecuadorian re-education was challenging in many ways, but most definitely rewarding. And just as the narrator in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress looks back on his time in the village with nostalgia but also deep appreciation, I can remember my time in Romerillos and know that I have been forever changed.