by Danny Tobin
The idea of this blog is to add narrative and depth to the DWA experience for curious prospective students looking in and to create a platform where peers can engage with one another outside of the classroom. Hopefully, there will be active submissions from current students and alumni, in which students will give editorials about what they have learned and alumni will reconnect with the community by writing about where DWA took them after graduation.
To start things off, I thought I would share one of my DWA experiences that was educational in an out of the classroom sort of way. The following story is an account of an experience I had during a weekend trip when I was working an internship with the Ministry of Agriculture in Ecuador (funded generously by the Young Initiative). I entitled it "The Downside of Spontaneity (Dodging a Bullet)" in an email home to friends and family.
Some back story before I begin: I'm a planner and I am definitely risk-averse despite being an avid traveler. On this particular weekend, I had challenged myself to be as spontaneous as possible and break out of my old ways. On the bus ride to the town I had decided to visit (Vilcabamba), I met a retired ex-pat from the US, named Yagi, who generously invited me to join her and her friends for dinner at an upscale hotel on the city's outskirts. I accepted her invitation and ended up meeting some incredibly interesting (mostly retired) folks from different places around the world. I also met an Ecuadoran college student from the city who was also visiting from the city I was based in (Cuenca). I later accompanied him on a water sampling expedition in Cajas National Park and he became one of my close friends. However, that is a story for another time. This story begins as we (the retired folks and I) are making our way from the hotel to a bar on the other side of town:
"What I did not mention about first getting to Vilcabamba is that the hostel my organization recommended turned out to be way out of my price range and so I had found a cheap hostel near the town center and dropped my sleeping bag and pillow on my bed before heading out to dinner. That was at 4pm.
As we were driving down to the bar I had seen the gate being shut at my hostel, but I was assured by the jubilados that there would be a security guard posted who could let me in if I stayed out with them. I was still unsure and so they told me that I could just sleep in one of their extra beds at one of their houses if I was, in fact, locked out. Even though I was slightly uneasy, I decided I was being too paranoid and went out.
What I didn’t anticipate is that I would be so engrossed with a conversation that I would not even see them leaving. Thus, when I left the bar at 1:00am I no longer had a fall back plan. Uh oh. Again, I swallowed back my anxiety and began walking up to the town center on the not very well-lit road and hoped for the best.
I got to the town center without too much trouble, but unlike past weekends in other places, the town was completely dead. All the store fronts were closed and shuttered, very few people were walking around, no bars or clubs were in sight, and suddenly everything looked the same.
I started walking in the direction I thought my hostel was in and I quickly realized that the dark roads with dogs fighting were not where I wanted to be. I retraced my steps to the town square and I asked one of the very drunk teenagers still there which way I should go to get to el Valle Sagrado (my hostel). Helpfully, he gestured vaguely to a road I hadn’t tried yet before quickly returning to his debauchery. I wandered that way, again finding myself in a vacant, shady road and I began going through mentally what I would say to my would be mugger or murderer: "Yo soy un estudiante y por eso no tengo mucho dinero. No somos muy diferente, quiero ser tu amigo..." Needless to say, my pitch probably wouldn't have dissuaded anybody.
Luckily, I soon came to a little restaurant with two younger, less obviously inebriated Ecuadorians sitting out front. They assured me I was very close and that I just had to go up a few blocks more. Again, I hit a dead end and, pathetically, I went back to ask them. Seeing my gringo desperation, they were nice enough to show me exactly where I needed to go and I finally found my hostel.
Now I just had to deal with the fact that the front gate was locked without any kindly security guard in sight. At that point I decided I didn’t care if I was being rude by waking people up and that I just needed to get into the courtyard and out of the darkness. After about 10 minutes of shaking the gate in the pitch dark and calling in Spanish to be let in, the very drowsy, disheveled owner came out of her room and let me in.
“Finally!”, I thought, “that was bad enough, but at least I came out unscathed”. Then I tried to get into my room. Locked! Again I decided I would be that guy and I knocked decisively on the door. After a couple of moments, I was greeted by a middle-aged gentlemen in a night gown who assured me that there was no space in this room and my bag was definitely not there. The door was shut resoundingly in my face.
Downcast, I stood outside the door for a couple minutes and I actually contemplated sleeping on the patio. Eventually, I decided against it and once again called out to the owner who came out irritably and showed me to the room where my bag had been moved. Whew! I lay down, set my alarm for 6 hours later, and fell asleep with all my clothes on.
The next morning I got up early, paid, and got out of there as fast as I could. With the ruckus I had caused the night before I wanted to avoid as many awkward/apologetic conversations as possible.
To my defense, my behavior would have been completely acceptable in the other hostel I had stayed at and I had naïvely assumed that all hostels were the same. Guess not, but lesson learned, and at the price of only my pride and a few people’s good night sleep".