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Stress and Simplicity

By Solomon

If there is one thing that I value above all else in my life, it’s simplicity. I have found that the more I can strip away from the extra, unnecessary complications of life, the happier I become. This is apparent to me when I embark on activities such as spending weeks camping in Isle Royale National Park or canoeing through the backwaters of the Quetico, wholly removed from the obligations that I have everywhere else. During these times, all I have to worry about is getting to the next campsite before dark and not lighting my tarp on fire while cooking dinner. This, to me, is the most relaxing, freeing experience I can have, and I greatly value it when it happens.

Coming to Ecuador, I was not without these stresses that I so detest. After all, I was in a new country, on a new continent, surrounded by people with not only a different culture but a different language altogether. How would I manage this? Would I be able to have a good time despite these obstacles? Could I possibly learn this foreign language and express myself to the people with whom I would be living for the next several months?

All of these questions weighed heavily on my mind, and it seemed to me that I would simply have to accept that there was no way I could achieve the peaceful feeling of simplicity I desired while on this gap program.

It took only one week with my host family to be proven wrong.

I woke early one Sunday morning, my first with my host family, as had become my habit during my time in Ecuador.

Descending the stairs, I ate breakfast, trying my best to understand and participate in the conversations of my family, though, my lack of knowledge betraying me, often failing to do so. It was a very average day, up until my host mother brought me next door to the house of her aunt and uncle. Immediately upon opening the door, I was blasted with the sound of music and laughter and the smell of something incredible emanating from the kitchen. A seat was given to me, and without ceremony or warning, I was immediately pulled into a family gathering the likes of which I had never seen.

It’s difficult to describe what happened, but sitting at that overcrowded dining-room table, I found myself the most comfortable I had been since arriving in Ecuador. I remember marveling at how I was able to understand what was being said around me. The sense of togetherness was unlike anything I had ever experienced – and I was included in it. Suddenly, my inability to use finer grammatical skills was funny, not a hurdle.

My rambling, often convoluted sentences, as I tried to get my point across, weren’t a problem. I realized that the people around me saw me as a part of their family, and my broken Spanish was simply accepted as a quirk of one of their relatives. When the food came out, the feeling was multiplied tenfold. There’s something about good food that is universal, and it’s something that I understand very well.

Bonding over the shared sense of togetherness and enjoyment of the meal wasn’t just easy, it was instinctive. I didn’t need to think about it at all. It wasn’t until later, returning to my house, full and still smiling, that I realized for the past several hours, I had felt no stress at all. Every worry that had been chained to my back was broken and tossed to the side by the openness and acceptance of my host family, and they haven’t troubled me since.

Here in Ecuador, surrounded by easily the nicest people I have ever met, I’ve discovered that there is no reason to stress over something as trivial as a language barrier. All of the doubts that had been mountains in my head just a few days prior shrank to speedbumps I could casually step over without fear of falling. And, with all my stresses and fears stripped away, I truly believe I can be the happiest I have ever been.