Saturday, December 31, 2016


"Call the Smithsonian I made a discovery
Life ain't forever and lunch isn't free"
 - Smithsonia, by The Avett Brothers

I sifted through the coins in my wallet, thinking about how I used to fill a jar with spare change until it was full and heavy. I'd haul it to the bank and pour it down the coin sorting machine and out would pop crisp dollar bills in exchange. I still have a place where I keep coins: a small mug on my desk which I regularly reach into to get bus money. Every coin is quickly used up. I save up dollar coins and quarters for transportation and buying fruits and vegetables at the tiendas (corner stores). Instead of money saved for a rainy day, it's used quickly for everyday, practical purposes. 

I hadn't thought about a coin jar in a long time. It's one of those things left behind in the US. Here, there is no wondering what to do with spare nickels and pennies. They are counted up and handed over before I get on a bus or as a tip when buying a cup of coffee. Maybe one day I'll once again have coins I don't need, because of course in the US it's easy to pay for anything with a card, and if you pay in cash no one cares much about exact change, not the way they are here in Ecuador, where if you're not as close to the exact amount as possible the store owner may shrug and tell you he doesn't have the change, making it seem like the customer's fault that he just lost a sale. 

I forget those kinds of things sometimes. Coin jars and buying milk in a jug instead of a box or bag. Or being watchful of the price of gas and being surrounded by my native language, little things which used to be everyday until all at once they flood over me. Or of course the way my family fits together around the long table by Dad made, eating and laughing, sharing stories and inside jokes. I miss all that is known, all that has pieced me together forever. While at the same time, I'm glad to walk out each day and use Spanish, to sit at different family tables and feel a new kind of fit, and to even count out coins for the bus. I miss the wide Texas plains where one can see for miles and miles and miles, though I love the mountains, especially in the evenings when the setting sun casts a pink-orange light on the brilliant snow. (It's not everyday I can see this, but when the clouds lift and there's a clear view of Cayumbe, it can be breathtaking.) 

Right now, Spanish music is playing loudly out my window. There's the traditional percussion and beat, easy for swinging ones hips to, easy to pick out the bongo drums and brass instruments which come in every song in that genre. The singer is enthusiastic and sounds just like Ricky Ricardo. One song blends into the next. Does American music sound as similar to foreigners? 

I'll put in my headphones. Hear my own preferred beat. Walk down the street with coins in my pocket, ready for the bus. Decipher culture differences around me, miss home, love here, and gather little things to remember in bits and bursts, like coins in a jar and someday, the cost of a bus ride and the importance of paying in exact change.