Our second full day in Ecuador was Sunday and would be our first opportunity to get to know the people of the church we would be working in. This would also be the day that most of us would leave the comfy confines of the Hosteria Nevada for the uncertain experience of living with complete strangers for a week. Complete strangers who don’t speak the same language and may enjoy eating something you enjoy as a housepet on a regular basis. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I was conflicted about the whole host family idea. On the one hand, one of the points of the trip was to stretch ourselves beyond what we were comfortable with and living with a local family would certainly be on that list for most of us. On the other hand, the hostal was starting to feel pretty nice. I am not an outgoing person by nature, I’m not an adventureous eater at all, and my Spanish is muy mal. So as we headed off to church, I’m sure I was not the only one feeling a slight twinge of apprehension.
Once we arrived at church however, there was far too much to enjoy to let the housing fears linger. The worship songs of the congregation drew us inside the sizeable brick structure. In my imagination, I had tried to envision what the church would look like. I had images of the church I’d visited in Mexico on a number occasions in my head. I was way off. The church in Mexico is much smaller and in a poorer area. The church in Pifo probably seats 400 or 500 reasonably comfortabley, the wooden benches not withstanding. It was much more than I expected. The people sang loudly, and were led by Pastor Ramiro backed by a talented quartet of keyboard, bass, drums, and guitar. All the music we heard and sang in Ecuador was amazing. This Sunday a special group was in town for an outreach ministry, I think with Franklin Graham’s orginization, they gave a concert at church, along with Elam, Pastor Ramiro’s son Betto’s band. Both groups played a very distinct genre of music common to the Andes Mountain area’s of South America: guitars and variations thereof, pan flutes, recorders, various percussion implements. It was really cool. Towards the end of the service some folks came out to do some traditional kind of dance number. Everyone was praising the Lord and having a really good time. You could feel the joy in the room. It was a stark contrast to what we had seen the day before at a Catholic cathedral we stopped to look at. Outside the cathedral, RJ-77 commented that it looked like the middle ages, with all the booths selling pictures of saints, rosary beads, and other such Catholic religious articles. Inside was dark and gloomy and there was no joy in the people who were there to light their candles and pray to Mary. It was quite a striking contrast.
After the service, we were to be doled out to our host families. Pastor Ramiro would read off the name or names of the SRBC people, us, and then the name of the family they would be staying with, who were there waiting to meet their American boarder. My understanding was that we would be paired up with someone from our group, and my further understanding was that I was going to be paired with Rhett. But when they called Rhett’s name, they only called Rhett’s name. And when they called my name, they only called my name. Great. Though I was nervous about the arrangements, I figured if I had at least one friend with me, it wouldn’t be so bad. Now I was slipping into a mild panic. Afer meeting my family, I was somewhat releaved that 1). they looked like friendly people (whatever that means) and 2). the older daughter spoke a little English. I was further releaved to learn that I would not be so alone afterall. My family was part of a larger family that all lived together in something like a small appartment complex and seven others from our group would be staying there as well. For future reference our group was as follows: Andy (me), J Crew (Josh), RJ-77 (Rhett), Anthony, Johnny, John, and George and Debbie. Rhett, John, Anthony, and myself were by ourselves with our hosts, while Josh and Johnny were together and George and Debbie are married so obviously were together.
That evening we all had dinner individually with our hosts. The family we were staying with was the Salazar’s, and the wife in my family was the Salazar, but the husband’s last name was Veloz. So I was staying with the Veloz family; Jaime and Faviola and there two daughters Vivi, 20, and Tati, 10. As we sat down to dinner, and I assured Faviola that I wasn’t a vegetarian, I was releaved to see that the food looked entirely normal: meatballs, carrots, green beans and ham, and rice. The only thing that concerned me was the beverage. It looked like very thick milk. Buttermilk?, I thought. I’ll just pretend I’m not thirsty. As we ate, I tried my hand at my Spanish and told them about my wife, what I did for a living, and that I don’t care for tomatos in any country (that became something of a running gag between Jaime and me). Between my bad Spanish and Vivi’s English we seemed to be getting along pretty well. Then Jaime asked me about the white beverage. Apparently they noticed that I hadn’t touched it. They explained to me that it was some kind of juice. Oh, what kind? He told me, and as I tried to repeat it back to him, the whole family erupted in laughter. What in the world did I just say. Faviola then explained to me that fruta means fruit, which I knew but must have tripped over my tongue, because I said bruta which apparently means fool or idiot. So I called my host an idiot. Did I mention it was his birthday? Well, it was his birthday. Fortunately I knew the most important words to know in any language, I’m sorry. I said my lo siento and wished him a cupleanos feliz and all was forgiven. Fortunately they had pity on this poor tongue-tied white boy and found the whole thing very amusing. Unfortunately however, the ordeal had not distracted them from getting me to try the white substance. As I raised the glass to my lips it was like they were all on the edge of their seats, just waiting for my reaction. I the glass came ever closer, I shot up a quick prayer, “Lord, please let this be at least tolerable, or scorch all my tastes buds before it goes in.” And…….it was actually very good.
The rest of the evening was spent playing hide-and-go-seek with some of the kids from the family complex and quizzing each other on what various objects were called in English and Spanish, before heading back to church. My fellow Americans were all quite tickled that I had made the biggest gaffe thus far.
The pictures of the house and the inside of the church were taken by Dr. George Schneider.
The Pilar de la Muerte and Other Back-Breaking Labor