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Planting trees and remembering dreams in Sayausi

Noah Hapke

Driving to Sayausi for the day, bus after bus, taxi after taxi, all I knew about the schedule was that we, Charlotte, Emery, Gabrielle, and I, were going somewhere to reforest something. This explanation accurately sums up all things Ecuador, as far as I knew - going somewhere unclear with little direction other than “vamos.”

Sitting in the third and final bus, the four of us were in an escolar (school bus) filled with many Ecuadorians and four other “gringos” in front of the bus.

After a good forty minute drive, the bus stopped on the side of the road. We stared at tall mountains and trees, looking at each other with a ”what are we doing here expression?”.

Getting out of the bus, I noticed that everyone else had on their rainy-weather jeans and work boots – I was in my thin sweatpants and Nikes. As I walked, or rather followed the others who clearly had a much better understanding of what was going to happen, my feet sank into mud holes, one after the other, filling my beautiful grey and red-lined shoes with water and sloshes of dirt.

I was handed four baby plants, held together by a thin layer of plastic, and continued to follow the others. Stepping over water holes, jumping across the four-foot wide river, I made it across the field of grass and over to where all the other plants had been placed. I was surrounded by grass, trees, and numerous mountains as I twirled around and looked at the group of eight gringos and forty-something Ecuadorians.

“Hey!” an excited, obviously not Ecuadorian, voice said to me. “Where you guys from?” he asked. I explained that we’re here through a bridge year program called Global Citizen Year and was surprised when he replied, “No way! You’re the baby Peace Corps guys?!”

When I had first heard about Global Citizen Year, it was during my Peace Corps-craze. But throughout the past few months in Ecuador, my desire to be a part of the Peace Corps had waned. From the language boundary blocking to homesickness, I had become convinced that the Peace Corps maybe wasn’t for me.

“You know about Global Citizen Year?” Emery asked back. The man named Chris then explained that he is a current Peace Corps volunteer and that, Global Citizen Year is apparently widely-known among the Peace Corps community as the “baby Peace Corps” which, obviously, made me feel much more confident in the program itself. We discussed how our program trained us before arriving in country, matched us with host families, and gave us each a specific apprenticeship.

“Wow, that’s exactly what we do, except longer of course.” Chris responded.

“Man, I wish I had done something like that when I was your age!” he said. I was stunned that this amazing individual, who was spending so many months away from home after working and studying in university, admired us. We spoke more about the Peace Corps application (which yet again matched exactly our own application process), how we managed to get our parents to say yes to taking a bridge year, and where we will be going to college next year.

The past month in Ecuador has, to say the least, been an endless W-curve of emotions. Every day had it ups, and a few lows as well. Teaching in the classroom, talking with my host family – everything had made me start to question doing the Peace Corps.

A Day in Sayausi - Hapke 1.jpgImage: Noah Hapke

But speaking with a Peace Corps volunteer who was just like us Fellows erased my prior doubts. He didn’t know a single word of Spanish before coming to Ecuador, he joked about all the quirky aspects of the Ecuadorian culture, and he expressed total and complete vulnerability about being in a new place, not knowing any background beforehand, but still doing his part to make the world a better place.

We then continued to place the plants into holes that had been dug before we arrived, covering them with more dirt and soil, and making our hands a beautiful color of brownish-black.

The plants had been blessed during a thirty-minute ritual that I won’t even try to explain, and I drank some river water that has yet to make me sick.

The “PC+GCY gringo team” then walked to where we would be having lunch, a ten minute walk across the concrete road, and ate some nice bologna sandwiches. We talked more, and I thought of how lucky I was to be standing with these four amazing individuals who had only six months left in their service. When the music began, we formed a circle and step-touched to the rhythm of the Spanish flutes, laughing together as if we’d been friends for years.

Afterwards, Chris told us that he was going to climb the mountain that had been shadowing us all day. Lifting my head, staring at the giant rock, I jokingly shouted “SAY YES!” and, in a flash, that’s what we were all doing. When we reached the top, we lied down in the grass and just looked at the beautiful view.

A Day in Sayausi - Hapke - 2.jpgImage: Noah Hapke

Thinking about these people I was sitting so close to, who I admired so much, reenergized my dream to pursue the Peace Corps. 

A Day in Sayausi - Hapke - 3.jpgImage: Noah Hapke

The headline photo is of the newly established PC+GCY team, which we joked about by saying we were all “baby them.” Yet, at the end of the day, Chris said he really enjoyed spending the day with more Peace Corps peeps, and motioned to us. After all, we were already babies; all we had to do now was grow up a little more.

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