The Power of the Internet

I recently blogged about how technology and the internet and this whole notion of being connected can lead to loneliness--and I support that--but I'm also amazed by the power of the internet and how it allows us to reconnect. This Google ad, Reunion, perfectly illustrates this, but little did I expect to have my own "reunion" literally minutes after watching the heart-warming ad. (Check out the link if you don't understand Hindi, although you might be able to put the pieces together even with a language barrier.)

It's amazing what technology can do. It's amazing what the internet can do. It's, just, amazing.

Then the most amazing thing happened to me. I was finally going through some outdated Facebook friend requests--messaging people I didn't recognize to figure out if/how I knew them or if they were just a random, deleting requests from spam accounts, etc.--when I came across Ricardo. I thought Ricardo was another random person who had stumbled across my profile, when I saw that he lived in Quito and was from Otavalo. My mouth dropped.

In December 2005, I went through a really tough time. It was my junior year of college, I was studying for my LSAT, I had sprained my ankle, I had just gone through a pretty big conflict with my friends and I was feeling really lost and sad and alone. Winter break snuck up before I knew it and it was time for me to go on a trip I had signed up through a student organization at the beginning of the semester; I was heading to Ecuador to volunteer in an indigenous community, building a school. It was the only thing I was really looking forward to at the time and while I was excited leaving my current situation and doing some good by helping others, it was really the people I went to help who helped me.

Getting in the truck to take us from Otavalo to our community

There were 8 of us on the trip from the University of Illinois, none of us really knew each other (except for a couple that was dating and both happened to get picked), and we had no idea what we were in store for. We stayed in hostels for the first two nights and then the rest of our trip was in our sleeping bags in a large room of the house of the family we stayed with. We didn't have any of the conveniences that we take for granted in the US, such as a warm shower or a toilet with plumbing, but we had each other, we had our community and we had our family. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

We'd do manual labor all day under the guidance of the man who was driving the school project, a kind, gentle, older gentleman who always seem to have a smile to share and never raised his voice, even when we messed up (which was often). And in the evenings, we'd spend time with each other and our family, huddled in the kitchen with our hot tea and our dinner, talking and laughing. The first few days, I spoke through my friends. My Spanish was bad and rusty, at best, so I would have my friends translate for me. After two days, I realized how ridiculous this was and how this wasn't sustainable over our three weeks there. I swallowed my pride and jumped in feet first with my horrible rusty Spanish--and it worked! Through gestures and basic vocabulary, I was able to talk freely with my host family, and over time my confidence grew and my grasp of the language got better. I still wasn't conjugating correctly, but I tried, with confidence.

Saying goodbye to Don Juan. Yes, I'm rocking a fanny pack.

Our family--yes, our family--was incredible. The mother, Transito, was the head of the community and always had a mischievous twinkle in her eye. The father, Juan, was a quiet man but always kind. They had one daughter, Ilda, the eldest of four, who was shy at first but slowly came around and was as sweet as can be. Then came the eldest boy, Ricardo, quiet at first but incredibly smart and funny, and the twins, Juan Gabriel and Jose Luis--a rambunctious pair who were always running around and laughing. One of the clearest memories I have is when one of the twins was running after me with something in his hand that scared me and I somehow got tripped or got hit in the face, by accident, in the process. I was still laughing, but he felt so bad about it that he started crying. Bless his heart! The family, like most families in the community and in Ecuador, struggled to make ends meet. But they always valued education. They might not have enough to put food on the table, but the kids always went to school, no matter what. No. Matter. What. It really made me think about the classes that I'd sleep through because I was too about perspective.

Our host family (minus the father)

The three weeks was a trying experience but one that I'll never forget.  It was the longest I've ever gone without showering, yet I dealt with it and moved on. It was the most manual labor I have ever done in my entire life, but I learned so much from it. I immersed myself in a new language and really started to recognize the power of language--and it made me wish that I had retained more from high school Spanish. I made new friends who inspired me. I met people who didn't have a lot, but they had this incredible spirit of giving about them and lived with incredible optimism. It was beyond amazing. When it was time to say goodbye to our family and the people in that community, it was impossible to not cry. With hopes of seeing each other again one day, we said our goodbyes and started the journey back to the US, a changed group.

Family excursion -- we went hiking. It was tough. Transito had to get behind me at one point and push me up a hill. The boy up front is Ricardo, the eldest boy.


But like most things, once we got back home and into the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we carried a piece of our experience with us but the memories began to fade and the details became blurry. I've always wanted to go back to Ecuador and thought that one day, someday, I would. I wondered, though, if my host family would remember me or if I would remember them. Yet here I am, almost 8 years later, looking at the friend request from the oldest son from my family in Ecuador and the memories came back.

Ricardo, now 21, was the oldest boy in the family and my newest Facebook friend.

We spent the next hour chatting through Facebook messages, trying to catch up and get updates on each others' lives. Having just come back from Peru, I still had some confidence in my Spanish and decided to give it a shot. Not too bad, if I say so myself--though I couldn't have done it without Google Translate.

Facebook chat, reconnecting friendships, one message and friend request at a time.

The power of the internet. Amazing.

Future Travels = Happy Thoughts

When's the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?