When I was 18 years old, I was accepted on a Student Exchange program through AFS Intercultural Programs.
I left the comforts of my hometown and travelled south to Ecuador for one year. 1991-1992.
I lived with the Muentes familia - my host mother, Delsey, my host father, Duval, my host sister, Mari del Carmen, my host brother, Duvalito and my cousin, Hjalmar.
I was immersed in the culture immediately - I attended an all girls catholic school every day- even though the nuns hated me and called me “gringa.”
A lot of great things happened in that year. Looking back now, it was the time of my life.
I met people from so many different countries, I experienced and gained appreciation of a new culture, and I learned to make sacrifices that I normally wouldn’t have had to make.
The year also helped to affirm my independence & boost a self confidence that I hadn’t previously possessed... and it established my on-going love of travel.
But I also started smoking in Ecuador (something I only kicked a little over 2 years ago), found too much of a love of dark rum (also temporary).
Looking back at all my memory books that I kept while I was there, I realize that we probably drank 'too' much. Not much has changed.
Then… almost like a blink of an eye, it was over and I was back in Mission.
This was NOT a time of facebook or email or cell phones….
All there was then was snail mail and long distance land lines.
Letter and packages became more and more seldom as the years went by, the phone calls dwindled to nothing.. and before I knew it- the Muentes family was nothing but photographs and memories.
Now that we live in a world of social media… finding old friends and family has become much easier. So every once in a while, I would throw a name in to facebook to try and find anyone.
NO luck. People got married, changed their names, go by nicknames... it was impossible!
I never found anything…
Last January, I decided to try one more time.
I typed in 'Duval Muentes' and suddenly a picture popped up of a woman hugging and kissing a man that very much resembled my host brother. He was older, fatter, wearing glasses and bald… but that was Duvalito!
After writing a little message to his wife, describing who I was… and who I thought her husband was… I awoke the next morning to about 10 friend requests.
I'd found them :-) and off I go!