This I Believe

Diane - South Orange, New Jersey
Entered on September 5, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

When I was eleven years old I traveled to Ecuador with my family. The seven-hour plane ride seemed to last for days. I sulked in my seat the entire time.

At Last, we arrived in Ecuador. For the first time in my life I was in another country and the only thing I could think about was leaving it. I did not feel safe. I had to hold someone’s hand at all times. Customs took forever. I was tired and cranky.

At my great uncle’s house I was forced to wake up early everyday and eat eggs and sweet bread. I hated eggs. My mother made me say “buenos dias” and “gracias” and other simple Spanish phrases to my family and I despised her for it. She knew I could not really speak Spanish well, nor was I ever really taught it.

We took a tour of the city one day. There were too many unstable houses, animals on the streets and poor children begging for money. My parents brought us swimming in the natural springs but the water looked dirty. We visited the equator on the weekend but it was sweltering out.

We spent our last afternoon in Ecuador climbing up a small mountain. It was freezing and I had never hiked before but I was actually excited to get to the top. As we were making our way up I came across very old statues. My dad explained to me the history of the Quitus tribe as well as the Incas who lived there before the Spaniards conquered the area in the 16th century. He told me that those were probably ruins that were left from that time period. I was amazed. We continued up the hill as I imagined the Indigenous people who once walked the same exact land. Finally, we made it to the top.

The sun was beginning to set and the sky had turned into an array of colors. As I turned around I felt that I could see all of Ecuador and the complaints that I had made all week seemed to disappear. I remained silent as I basked in the beauty of the land of my ancestors. I thought of my grandmothers who had passed away and how they would have given anything to visit their country and their family one more time. But they could not. They were too sick. And then it hit me. I had been a spoiled stubborn brat the entire time. In one week I was able to do things that many people could only dream of. I went to the middle of the world, saw exotic animals, and swam in the earth’s purest waters. But Ecuador was not just any country. It is who I am. It is where my family comes from. Where I acquire my tan skin and the color of my hair. The language, even though I cannot speak it very well, is warm and beautiful. It is because of my culture that we open presents on Christmas Eve at midnight and why we eat pork at Easter instead of ham. All the little things that set me apart from everybody else were lying beneath me in the streets. The sun had set and the moment had passed but it was in that moment that taught me to believe in embracing and celebrating my culture rather than being ashamed of it.