Almost thirty years ago, I began my student exchange adventure in Miami, Florida. I had met my Ecuadorian host parents, Alejandro and Elsie, and spent several days in Miami visiting with their family. We were headed to the airport when we realized I did not have the proper Visa documentation with me. I was panic struck. At the airport, my host father temporarily solved the problem with several telephone calls. I would be allowed to fly to Quito and we would have to follow up with the Visa as soon as possible. I apologized for having complicated our travel.
The flight to Quito from Miami was only four hours, but when we landed I felt very, very far from home. The airport was a bit chaotic. Of course, people were speaking, or shouting, in Spanish. Then I was struck by the number of armed men I saw at the airport and in the neighborhoods as we drove in a taxi to their house on Mariano Echeverria. These were the police, military forces, and private security. It was a bit unsettling. I was glad to be with my host parents.
When we got to their home, built on the side of the Pichincha volcano, I met my nemesis in the form of a ferocious Chow Chow. His name was Chompopis and he was the family’s guard dog. I had never seen anything like this dog. He had large mats of fur surrounding his head. He was snarling and snapping at the air. He looked as though he might be rabid.
The way the house was built on the side of the mountain we walked up a short, steep driveway behind a solid metal gate. Then there were several steps and a long, narrow alcove-like space leading up to the front door. Elsie was trying to shepherd me to the door, shielding me from the beast. The problem was there was a high shelf-like opening that ran along one side of the alcove. From this perch, Chompopis lunged threateningly at my head. He scared the daylights out of me. We made it safely inside.
I wish I could say I was a fearless adventurer. I was more a scared teenager. When I spoke to my parents on the telephone later that night I explained I needed for them to send the Visa paperwork as soon as possible. Then I burst into tears telling them about Chompopis. We had a cuddly Labrador golden retriever mix at home that didn’t have a mean bone in her body. The stark contrast between the two dogs highlighted the fact that I was clearly outside my comfort zone.