This student essay was submitted by Camille Schmidt from New York.
There was a spider on my face. Wait, let me rephrase that: There was a large, black, hairy tarantula crawling across my face. “Smile,” Abellito, our guide and friend, snapped a picture. And I smiled. I didn’t even grimace. This was a normal after dinner activity in Ecuador.
When beginning to reflect upon my time in the Amazon, I first went to my journal, in which I wrote every single day. I would quietly creep out of my bunk bed at 5 every morning to go sit on my hammock overlooking the Amazon to record the excitement of the previous day while watching the sunrise.
I opened up to a page scribbled in black ink, smeared and wrinkled at the top from when I accidentally went swimming in a river with my daypack. Each page contains memories that form vivid stories in my head. But on this page is an abridged list of the things I would miss the most once leaving Ecuador:
“I’ll miss platanos. I’ll miss waking up to the sound of both a horse and a rooster. I’ll miss cars driving into the wrong lane on the wrong side of the road, and never knowing whether to wear a t-shirt or a jacket because of the Amazon’s crazy weather. I’ll miss the green velvet mountains rising and falling against the turquoise sky, Guayaba Mermelada de Maria Morgen, and the overwhelming usage of cilantro in everything. I’ll miss climbing through the dense jungle and finding magical waterfalls. I’ll miss avocados growing on trees, the rich red soil, and feeling one with the clouds. But mostly, I’ll miss the people I’ve met on this trip.”
Under the journal entry is a scribbled stick figure-esque picture of every student on the trip, people I became closer with than I ever knew was possible. I formed friendships with people very different from me, and very similar. I gained an appreciation for a multiplicity of opinions, from not only the different environmental specialists we learned from, but from the incredibly diverse and intelligent students around me. We had conversations about out favorite literature while riding on the back of trucks and sang out bohemian rhapsody riding through the countryside. We learned each other’s life stories; I learned what bony fish soup was and how to properly heard cattle. I gained an astonishing amount from the people around me. I realized how similar people are no matter where we come from and no matter what our background is. Aprendí a hablar español from another friend, well, un poco…
My favorite memory with my friends was probably trying to figure out how to milk a cow – it’s much harder than it looks! But one of the truly enlightening aspects of the trip was seeing the direct source where food comes from. From milking cows on farms that were supplying milk directly to Nestlé, to visiting local farms that were supplying fresh food to the small surrounding area, we gained incredible insight to how disconnected Americans are from the agricultural process. Every morning we would drink the fresh milk for breakfast and eat the fresh produce for dinner around the glow of candlelight, listening to our guide tell us captivating stories about the neighboring Huaorani people and the local environmental culture.
It was fascinating to learn how the Ecuadorians don’t use pesticides and then to buy the organic and fresh fruit from the local market.
The interdisciplinary nature of the program allowed us to learn by doing. I even learned how to make chocolate!
My mind was completely opened to a new way of life. I have been bringing the information I learned back to my school where the aim of the environmental club I am leading this year is food. I planned and facilitated a Food Culture Potluck at my school where specialists came into speak on the importance of local and organic food; 30 people attended and each person brought a homemade and sustainable dish! There are two more Food Culture Potlucks planned, and on climate day the environmental club will be educating the high school on agricultural sustainability. From the harms of GMO’s to the water, food, and energy crises, the Hackley Earth Action League will be explaining the connections amongst the major problems our generation faces, as well as teaching the students how to create a more sustainable community at school and at home, one which will closely resemble the sustainable practices I learned in Ecuador.
Not having electricity often and using waterfalls and cold showers to clean off caused me to realize the absurd amounts of water, electricity, and time I was wasting through the banal actions back in America: keeping my phone plugged in while it was already charged, taking very hot showers, washing the dishes with the faucet running, constantly checking my social media sites, and using lights in the day time.
Since returning, I take cold or just warm showers instead. With information I learned in Ecuador I helped my family as well as my close friends’ family replace old wasteful showerheads with water-saving showerheads. These were both things that I had originally written about in my Sustainability Action Plan while in Ecuador.
The pages in this journal bring back so many memories I wish I could relive. I plan to keep this book forever, so that I can look back and remember the life-changing experiences I had, the incredible knowledge I gained, and the new friends I made. I can’t stop thinking about all the amazing people I met and the world we created, a world in which we could dance in the streets to Ecuadorian music.
I can still smell the sweet burning smell of the air. I can still see Quito glistening in the distance, lights dancing among the sloping hills.