Before Galapagos, There Was Guayaquil

Why do I keep coming back?

The patio of my school in Balerio Estacio, Guayaquil

Before starting my adventure in Galapagos, I came back to Guayaquil to visit my second family and the school where I volunteered two years ago.

It was one intense week and right now I am leaving this poor and dirty neighbourhood in a car with some Christian music on. It’s a song about heaven opening up. I cannot help but think that everything I see around me looks much closer to hell.

Why do I keep coming back then?

There are so many things missing here but maybe they have something that we have lost in the abundance of things in the first world. Maybe the most important things are not things at all.

I have never missed food, nor clothes, nor basic school equipment. They do. But maybe they have something else.

At first glance, it’s a terrible place. It’s too hot, too dirty, there’s too much trash everywhere, too many lost dogs, too many lost kids, too many lost people.

There are mosquitoes and cockroaches and you sweat and the streets are a muddy mess, and the trash lies everywhere and it smells bad and the heat is unbearable, and it’s dangerous to walk around alone. What do I do here?

When I say trash lies everywhere, I mean it

There is this almost absurd, surreal, unconditional love that I found during the first time I lived two months of my life within these surroundings. I came from the sweet & cosy Europe and the people here took care of me as if I was their own daughter. Not because they should, not because they were supposed to, not because they wanted something from me, just because this is the only way they know. Do we still know how to love this way, without expectations, in the first world or have we already forgotten? Did we lose it somewhere between shopping and jogging?

I cannot explain it too well, but I feel needed, loved, and taken care of in a way that’s simply overwhelming. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel loved in my normal life, of course I do, but it’s so different right there at the end of the world in a place that seems so forgotten by God and everyone else.

But this is where they were born, where they grow up, where they have their own kids and die. This is all there is. Ugly and hot, but all there is.

Of course, an experience like this one helps me to think that I don’t appreciate sufficiently the things that I have in Europe, the things that I take for granted. Like a house with a floor and roof and walls, like a warm shower, like a proper bed and safe home, like the breakfast I feel like having, and even like fresh coffee.

But there is more to this. I put things in perspective and I take distance to everything but there is even more than that. I search carefully within myself for the same love instinct that I find in them. I search for this innocent natural force that makes you take care of the weakest ones, share and give without expecting something in return. I search carefully within me for the pureness and warmth, even if you live in a dirty and cold world. I search for the capacity to create a space that is somehow safe and warm although everything around you trembles with terrible things and injustice.

I hug my kids and I am shaken every time they bury their heads in my chest because I know their lives by now, I know how they live the most of their time here. They have these small beautiful bodies, soft hair and innocent eyes, they deserve all the best and I know that adult people here do not want them and do not love them and they hurt them and abuse them and I cannot understand it.

How can we, big human beings, treat them that way? How can we hit them and touch them in a bad way and tell them so many horrible things? They grow up like this and then act badly as teenagers and how can you blame them, having this kind of childhood? Can you call it a childhood at all?

I don’t know how to save them, I suppose nobody can save them. I don’t know and so the only thing that is left is to hug them, as strong as I can, and let them bury their heads in my chest for as long as they want.

I am not trying to play the role of a white girl from the first world trying to save some poor kids from the third, I cannot save them. But I can go, and share, and give, and learn. They have taught me so much more than I could ever teach them.

The first time I came to this place I cried so much. I heard the stories, I listened to the kids, I saw what was happening all around me and I was coming home to cry. I never felt more powerless than back then. I saw it all and there was nothing I could do to change it. Absolutely nothing. And I talked so much with my second mum there and she told me that I was right, that there was nothing we could do, so I should just keep keeping on, make them feel loved for the instant that they have with me, make them believe there is still something to hope for. That’s what I did.

My neighbour and best friend here, Angie, went to university, she is the only girl from this slum that goes to university. But it’s still not easy for her, sometimes she cannot afford the bus tickets to go to class, something she is ashamed to tell her colleagues where she lives. Sometimes she does not do homework because she doesn’t have the paints and paper she needs. But she goes, and I tell her to go, and she begs me to take her with me to Spain and I want her to come but I cannot hide her in my suitcase. So I hug her, I tell her I love her and that we will sort things out, I tell her she is stronger than she thinks and I grab my stuff to leave. I hurt.

This part of Guayaquil is without any doubt a terrible place but there is something about it that makes me come back, again and again. They probably lack so many things that we do have in the first world but maybe we lack something else that they have here, something about being human, something we have lost in the abundance of stuff.

It’s hard to explain but the way they love each other, the way they love me, it’s so pure and unconditional, so absurd regarding their background, that it is just overwhelming for a girl that normally lives in the sweet & cosy first world where nothing comes for free.

And from here, I fly off to Galapagos.