In my everyday life I’m a creature of habit. I don’t like every day to be the same, but I do find comfort in knowing that most sunrises will see me wake up, head to the gym, come home and work, spend time with my kids, and take care of whatever errands or activities we have lined up for that day. In the evenings we typically have a nice meal and then spend a quiet evening at home.
Yeah, I know, I’m a wild one.
Now I do love to have some interjections of non-typical happenings like when we travel. But, I always have the chance to plan that out a bit in advance and mentally prepare for a few days or weeks of controlled chaos.
So when we ended up with a short-notice houseguest last week whom I’d never before met, I was less than thrilled at the prospect. You see I’d just returned from a work trip to Ecuador’s Amazon region. I was gearing up for some long days of writing about that very trip. And my house was not in what I would consider “houseguest ready condition.”
But last year David had met a group of Colombians who were visiting Cotacachi. He spoke with several of them and remained in contact with a few via Facebook. One of these women, Magdalena, expressed interest a few months ago in coming to Cotacachi on a regular basis so she could practice her English with American expats. She’s a human rights lawyer who works with the U.N., so knowing English would be useful in her line of work.
So, anyhow I’d just returned from the jungle and David gets a message on Facebook from Magdalena saying she would like to come to Cotacachi two days later and stay for a few days. David is the only person she knows here, so she wants to know if she can stay with us.
Let me be honest. My mother taught me manners and how to be gracious. But simply acting like a decent person does not mean that the intentions are pure. So when I begrudgingly said yes, she could stay, it was only because that was the proper thing to do. It was NOT because I am by nature a wonderfully charitable person. In the recesses of my mind (where I’m thankful that no one can see) I was griping over the extra work that houseguests typically cause and the time I would need to spend entertaining her and helping her with her English. Not my finest moment, for sure.
When Magdalena arrived Wednesday afternoon it took about sixty seconds to realize that she was a far better person than me and that my concerns were for naught. She was friendly, very thankful for having a place to stay, great with our boys, and she even brought us treats from Colombia.
The following day Magdalena proposed that she and I read news articles together. I would read in Spanish, translate it into English and she would help me with the words I didn’t know. Then she would choose an article in English and do the same, but in reverse. It was slow going, but it definitely helped with my Spanish vocabulary and I’ll tell you it was a mental workout when her article included the words besieged, air strike, and save face, which I then had to try and explain in Spanish.
She washed dishes, helped fold laundry (and showed me how to fold a fitted sheet!), and was one of the best houseguests I’ve ever hosted! We had great conversations about world events, music, culture, and helping the poor.
One of the more popular ways for people to learn Spanish is to do a “homestay.” This is where a non-Spanish speaker would stay with a local family for a set amount of time. The idea being that you’ll pick up a lot more of the language when you are immersed in it. I considered doing one when we moved here, but ultimately decided against it because of several reasons. First, it is usually set up by a language school and it costs money. Secondly, it seemed ridiculous to leave my family, comfortable bed, and hot-water shower so that I could stay with strangers down the road. I would be constantly thinking of all the things I should be doing at home.
Having Magdalena here, gave me that experience, but in reverse. She had the benefit of staying with us and practicing English in our home, but she was very willing to help me with my Spanish in return.
I tell people that one of the reasons we moved to Ecuador was so our children could learn and grow from their time here. It never really occurred to me that maybe I needed the lessons just as much, or possibly more. This visit gave me a kick in the pants when I think about my initial reaction to Magdalena’s imminent arrival. I never imagined the rewards of simply letting someone stay in my house and to be honest it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had in Ecuador.
Magdalena intends to return for a week in September and while David and I had originally agreed that she would need to find somewhere else to stay for the next visit, we’ve scrapped that plan. In fact we didn’t try all that hard to find someone who would take her in. Because we loved having her here and want to keep her all for ourselves.
I think I may soon need a lesson on sharing…