Obsessively, at times, I wonder about stories. The stories that a place can tell, if only we know how to listen. The stories that people will share, if only we know how to ask. So naturally, as we scurried onto a red-eye flight bound for Ecuador, I sank into my seat and began wondering. I counted the heads in front of me. The heads behind me, the ones to the left and to the right of me. In a state of sleepy curiosity, I tried estimating, to no avail, the number of tales these minds could tell. Mostly, I passed the time debating which question I would ask each of them, if I could ask only one.
Of course, no question would be answered by the strangers on the plane that night. But perhaps one could be by those we would meet along this trip? My strongest curiosity, as we flew towards the thrilling unknown, was ‘what makes a person connected to their community?’. Likely, this question was inspired by the state of our world these past two years, by the crushing impact of COVID on our sense of togetherness. How cool might it be, amidst a global pandemic bent on dividing us, to gather an international perspective on community and connection? At that moment, I was sure I would capitalize on every interaction to ask - and to answer - this question.
Then, something beautiful happened. We arrived after dark at Casa Comunal de Atandahua. Despite toppling out of la camioneta in a pile of bright backpacks and broken Spanish, our new neighbors greeted us like old friends. Joshua kindly gave us the tour late that evening and returned early the next morning, smiling. Tania, a lovely friend of El Terreno, marched up the hill to the property with us that first day. She plopped into the grass beside us to scrub the tiles that needed cleaning. With sparkling eyes, she sang songs, told stories, and promised to teach us a bit of Ecuadorian dance. Walter, the generous neighbor across the street, shared his strawberries and his impressive knowledge of local plants. Karina cooked delicious and traditional Ecuadorian meals. Hugo wandered over at sunset to sit on the stairs of Casa Comunal, chatting a lot and laughing only a little at our language barrier.
We learned the word la minga, which translates loosely to community labor. When a large project presents itself, the community comes together to make light of the work. Joshua explained how una minga took place to deconstruct his house on El Terreno. On a weekend trip to Salinas de Guaranda, we were invited to take part in one, carrying logs up the hillside to build a railing. At work that Monday, we joined locals in another, taking the roof off of the community church (and enjoying the shared pastries and lemonade as much as the new friendships!).
Over the days and weeks to come, Atandahua embraced us - literally and figuratively - with open arms. The sense of community here is so tangible that quickly I knew my question need not be asked; the answer could simply be felt.
Beyond Atandahua itself, this held true. Collaboration seemed to define all of Bolivar. It was felt in the heart of the local who gave us a ride to Salinas de Guaranda, driving out of his way to introduce us to his friend who owned the hostel we would stay in that night. It was in the hostel owner himself who took his morning off to show us all around town. It was in the spirited woman in Baños who led us down to a hidden waterfall, and in another who waited with us by the bus station when she heard we missed our ride.
Most powerfully, I felt the kinship of this community in the smile of every local who showed up to the Viva Atandahua event last night, cheering us on as we sang (imperfectly) the words to their special Carnaval de Guaranda song.
Each morning before work, Joshua encourages us to share our feelings, our needs, and a gratitude for the day. As we pack up to leave tomorrow, mi agradecimiento final es este: Atandahua, gracias por compartir con nosotros la fuerza, la belleza, y la conexión de tu comunidad. El sentimiento habla más fuerte que palabras jamás podrían.
Volunteer at El Terreno
Come and be apart of building a cultural exchange centre in the heart of the Ecuadorian Andes. You'll have the opportunity to get to know a unique culture, practice your Spanish with warm local people and get hands on a variety of interesting projects.