The boys share a room. The girls share a room. The baby sleeps in the shower. All in all, seven people live in a wooden house built by Kevin himself. Dusky red-leaved plants line the yard; a frilly tree from Florida sprouts medicinal properties in the back. A wall painted sky blue encloses this patch of jungle. About a year ago, the family admitted the need for more space. Now a two-apartment guest house reclines, across the yard. Our first night there, its tin roof sheltered us from the downpour outside. The rain pounded as if from a shower nozzle, forcing Rachel and me to shout to each other over the noise.
That night we examined our shoes, sheets, and suitcases to verify that the rain hadn’t delivered us any unwelcome guests. Rachel discovered and dispatched one many-legged friend in the bathroom. Come morning, we encountered another.
After an early breakfast, we piled into the family truck, Ecuador-style.
Archidona boasts streets of cramped stores, loose dogs, and friendly people. Ecuadoreans smile and nod whenever you greet them. Mutts of every size, shape, and color emerge to bark when you pass by them. Streets invite your entrance with garish advertisements.
We visited the panadería (“bakery”) first. The bakers and the missionary family know and love each other, so we settled in at the tables there for a long visit. The boys, Ezra and Joe, extolled the delights of chocolate bread to us, while the lady of the store entertained Tomasito. This baby communicates with the world in primary colors, grinning his happiness and roaring his displeasure. His mother, Beka, calls him a “screamer”; he articulates “Hola” and “Bye,” but otherwise expresses himself without words. I would liken his disposition to Ecuadorean weather: When sunny, he beams; when stormy, he screams, and he switches back and forth often. His smile, though, stretches like a rainbow.
The panadería granted us our first conversations with a native speaker. The baker’s sister agreed to chat with us while Beka bought bread. After fielding a few preliminary questions (Where are you from? How long will you be here? Do you like Ecuador?), I nudged her into sharing her story with us. Soon, she was pouring forth information about her work as a teacher and her separation from her daughter while Rachel and I strained to understand. I grasped her meaning, enough to respond and ask questions, but the difficulty of deciphering her precise words strengthened my desire to hone my listening and speaking skills with native speakers.
We also spoke briefly with the baker himself, when he invited us into the kitchen to watch his decorating a batch of pan de postadelo — basically, pizza bread. He had adopted this Italian mix of oregano, mayonnaise, bread, and ham from a Japanese chef.
I swapped spaces with Rachel after the baker, so I could experiment with riding in an open-air subway. Alongside Ezra, Joe, and Tessa, I clung to the bars and tilted my face into the wind. Stores and pedestrians bounced past. I toyed with my camera strap, envisioning a shot of us from within the truck bed, but the drive ended before I had persuaded myself to risk my camera.
We accompanied the family next on their typical romp through the park. Fountains, tiles, and greenery carpeted an area the size of a city block. Statues of an indigenous woman and her baby supervise visitors from a pedestal positioned near the entrance. The geometric patterns and groomed shrubs contrasted pleasantly with the wild jungle and concrete town. I couldn’t resist such a backdrop.
This shot catalyzed a spree of photo-taking. While I instructed one of the kids in the basics of DSLRs (‘Look here; push there’), I caught the others’ attention. Every one itched to handle the equipment. I secured the neck strap, switched to auto-focus, and tried to vary the subjects and backgrounds. Actually, I enjoy loaning out my camera. It both fosters the next generation of photographers and expands my photo collection. The kids captured me a few gems.