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Here I am, trying to bottle the big wave of facts and emotions overwhelming me during this first month. Everything happened very fast, my graduation in foreign languages, the openness to new. I want to get to know me, to recognize me, to get to know the world, to explore, to share.

I am one of those “multipotentialite” people, fond of many things among which I can’t choose, or probably I just don’t want to, because maybe the solution is to embrace and combine them all, in order to reach the fulfillment as a human being.

The project I have joined mixes all the things I like: travelling, dicovering new cultures, teaching, children, nature, photography. And South America, calling me out loud.

I arrived in Ecuador on May 1st  and I am staying here until September 30th ,taking part to an EVS in a larger project of Global Recognition, with Erasmus+.

The association Arajuno Road Project (http://arajunoroadproject.org/), for which I volunteer, deals with eco-sustainability and education in the Oriente province of Pastaza, realm of indigenous communities and biodiversity to safeguard. I am in charge of the non formal education and the community center; Ana Luisa, from Portugal, of the part of eco-agriculture. We met in Quito and we got together to the destination, where our general coordinator Indre, from Lithuania, was waiting for us.

 We live together and work in a rural community located half-hour far from El Puyo, state capital of the province. The name means “cloudy” in Kichwa. Heavy tropical rains fall every single day, but the weather changes very fast. Inhabitants never use umbrellas, except for the strong sun.

In front of our dormitory, decorated with bamboo stalks and paintings, there is a big open space with football goals, sometimes used as clothes dryers.

Kitchen and bathroom are some metres away from the bedrooms. Our neighbours are kind and smiling; chickens, ducks and cats walk in freedom. There are also a pig and some dogs, in quite degrading conditions: sometimes we feed them, tempted by their gazes.

The sun goes down at 6 pm and rises twelve hours later, when the rooster starts to sing. This is how we wake up every morning. It is so true when you stay in nature, your biorythm gets balanced.
So far we have had close encounters with colorful bugs, frogs, tarantulas… Let’s just hope we’ll never have some with snakes or pumas.

We often go to Puyo to go shopping, do the laundry or simply have a change of scenery, since our place is very isolated. At first glance I was curious about the numerous people selling morocho and grilled bananas  in the streets, loud music coming out of the shops, old women selling vegetables sitting in the corners of the sidewalks, the absence of bus stops and the consequent running after the means of transport.

During the first week we went sightseeing the city. We visited the etnobotanical garden Omaere, where we were told about some of the seven indigenous nationalities living in the province and where a boy from Achuar community showed us native medicinal plants and painted my face with a fruit; we went shopping in the colorful central market, full of many types of fruit and roots I still have to learn to distinguish, such as granadilla, guayaba, guanaba, pitaya, yucca, guayusa and a lot of kinds of bananas; we also went to the “Escobar”, the café-restaurant promoting the local products, where we tasted artisan beers. Near Paseo Turistico and Barrio Obrero we ate the ceviche volquetero, the traditional dish of the city.

Other typical dishes I have known are the maito, fish or meat wrapped in a grilled banana leaf, and some variations of  the platano, like bolones rellenos de queso and chifles.

Differences are detectable. Here there isn’t the culture of the value of time and everything happens according to the placid rythms of the South. This lets you train your patience and adaptability, but also notice the calm in every gesture and savor everything with all your senses, appreciate life unhurriedly.

I chose this chance also to further experience challenges. Staying away from home and everything dear to me, testing myself in a new job, living the basic needs without the ease I am used to. Life conditions (and hygienic) are pretty tough, but I am sure not despite, but thanks to this, I will be able to discern new perspectives and cues.

Accidents don’t delay. Once left, my backpack wasn’t sent so I haven’t had it for more than a week, the means of transport are often full so I have travelled standing for big distances.

Life doesn’t follow prearranged plans and living such intense experiences, where everything is condensed and similarly dilated, time and emotions, forces you to look at the situation from another point of view; enthusiasm is so strong you can’t do anything but living the moment, without worrying for the future or neither regretting the past; that is pretty close to the concept of happiness, I believe.

I am seeing amazing places, where eagles fly high. Mountains, waterfalls, volcanos. Some places are uncontaminated, open, calm. At night, if you look up you can feel mesmerized by the starry sky, from which you can distinguish the shapes of the huge trees.

In this harmonious environment I am carrying out tasks I am passionate about. I give English lessons and I take care of the library in the community center; while I was watching a football match in the school, the director and the teachers noticed my attitude with children, so I take care of the classes, too. I am helping the students with the preparation of their exams and the children with a dance show.

The project is open to proposals and this gives me the opportunity to let ideas and flairs run wild.

Once a week there is the minga, the communitary work. Everybody takes part in it, helping in the vegetable garden or hoeing the ground to set the compost. We also attended an interesting permaculture workshop. It is restoring to be in contact with a culture who believes in the vital importance of taking care of the Pacha Mama, the Mother Earth.

Neighbours are nice and discreet, although we don’t interact very much. On my arrival, I was welcomed by looks of suspicion mixed with curiosity. However the children, so marvelously spontaneous, threw towards me, without any barriers. After few ball games, we became friends.

When I left, I wondered about the question of the sort of continuation of colonialism in international volunteering projects, which concerns me much. We are analysing the theme with the education coordinator, by talking about integration, globalization, identity.

I overcame my comfort zone and I am happy. I want my life to be useful, I don’t want to be a victim of the world, but an active and authentic subject. I am learning very much and I feel so curious to know what I can give and receive. Life is sharing.

Article and pictures by Giulia Baldini

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