Friends in Quito, The In´s and Outs of Living Abroad…
Living abroad is a different kettle of fish compared to Life in the States.. I remember hitting the ground in Quito walking around trying to figure out which way was up. The language barrier, the complete lack of any sense of what was coming at me and the immersion into a world filled with gringos trying to fit in with Ecuadorians..
The first few months presented funny challenges that couldn´t be anticipated.. It was like waiting tables in Chicago where there was a line at the door and nothing was working the way it should.. You just hung on and tried the best you could..
A great friend of mine who used to live here always said that your friends are like your family when living abroad.. As I have spent every holiday, birthday and frustrating and happy moment a like with my friends and the expat community here, I tend to agree..
During the first few months I depended heavily on friends from the hostel where I was working but more on the expats that had befriended me at the bar where I worked. My boss and now one of my best friends took it upon herself to look out for me. I remember long nights at the bar listening to explanations about how things in Ecuador worked. I also remember getting schooled more than a few times before I started paying attention!
At the bar, I wasn´t the only one.. One after one, the traveller, expats and those who just moved here wandered through the door, had a seat at the bar and started asking questions to myself or my new friend/guardian, Ursula..
As it happens, these individuals who were teachers, guides, Peace Corps people, Oil guys and fellow restaurant workers and owners bonded over a pint of the national beer. Holidays went by, sports seasons kicked off and couples emerged.
This group in turn became an entity. Collective judgements were decided, fun nights of mayhem popped up and both the tragic and the ecstatic were equally mourned and celebrated.
In Spanish there is a word for your peeps, friends and hommies called familia.. In this translation it´s slightly a kin to kindred.. For me, the first group of expat friends here became just that.. The kindred spirits who I could complain to, ask for help or just have a ridiculously fun night because the day was insane.
What they don´t tell you about living abroad in the guides, the expat forums (not that I checked one before I left home) and the websites telling you that Vilcabamba is the perfect retirement spot is that Expats move around a lot.. And when they do, they go in packs!
I first learned this a few years back when about ten of my close friends left within a few months of each other. My boss and friend moved to Peru, two of my best friends decided they had had enough and went back home to find good jobs. A really good mate who was good at what he did and could have signed onto any number of fun gigs, decided one Christmas that there was more at home than he thought and was gone within a month.. This is how things work living abroad..
At first it came as a shock and I stopped attending going away parties.. This was partly because working at the expat bar, there is a birthday or leaving party every other day, but it also was for my emotional state.. I needed to find the people who were staying instead of feeling the impact of something missing after my friends had left.
After going through this about four times, I have developed and stay or leave philosophy to life.. Those who are here, are here and those who aren´t, aren´t.. I am lucky to have a small group of expats friends who have been here the duration of my three-year stay. When things get funny or people start to leave in droves, they are the ones who provide stability.
One of these long-term expats once told me that no one takes you seriously until you´ve been here two years. In part it´s true because if you figure out enough about living here that you can make it two years, you are probably good.. Another could be that with all the people coming and going, it´s wise to invest your time with someone who is going to stick around.
It´s hard not to look back on all the friends I have had here who have left. I remember the people who made my first weeks here a great time, those who got me straight when times were tough and those whose wise consul at four o´clock in the morning and made me see something in a better way.
While I miss these people and do my best to keep in touch, life goes on and there is a constant struggle to find new friends with the same attitude towards life here. Just as many things feel when experiencing something new, I think back a lot on the first group of expat friends I made here. Phrases like, ¨back in the day¨ and ¨when it was going on¨ creep up a lot. Now at times I am awkwardly presented with situations where I am telling someone whose lived here far a year or too about the old bar, or when so and so or whosywhatits was around.
But for the most part, the spirit that spurned us on then is very much alive now. People are still helping each other, we all get together and have funny, fun days and nights, and we still bitch about the same stuff when things go awry. It´s good to have good people and good craic when you need them. Sometimes it´s takes a reminder that your part of something bigger to bring yourself out of the past and back to the present.