Not a girl, not yet a woman: How my life became a Britney Spears songQuito, Spring 2012

In my cultural anthropology class, we were talking about “youth” versus “adult”. Our teacher told us “youth” is defined as people who are not yet married – in Latin America, this automatically means you still live with your parents.

“Yeah, you guys are nowhere near adults,” she said, and laughed at us for thinking so.

I wanted to scream and tear my hair out and throw something. I am an adult. I set up and (mostly) stick to a monthly budget. I buy my groceries. I drive my car. I cook my food. I wash my dishes and clean my apartment. I make my medical appointments. I go on vacations that I pay for with friends. With very few exceptions, I take care of everything for myself.

Then I came to Ecuador. Both of my host families (I changed a few weeks ago) have maids who come multiple times per week to clean our house, cook our food, do our dishes, make my bed, clean my bathroom and clean my room.

At first I was living in paradise. I no longer spent frazzled days running to the grocery store while starving, cooking dinner as fast as I could, eating quickly and then doing all of the dishes before running off to some meeting or something – a much-needed change of pace from last semester.

Slowly, the novelty faded. I found my food covered in sauces I didn’t want – why couldn’t I dish out my food and choose how much of a topping I wanted? Why did my host mom have to salt my French fries for me? I was dying to cook anything for myself.

A desire for independence turned into anger. I realized I no longer felt like a college student. I take all of my classes back-to-back in the same building. Host mom #2 was so shocked when I started doing my dishes one day that she yelled. I don’t feel very comfortable leaving my house after dark due to some recent robberies among our group. At 6:30 p.m., I’m in for the night and curled up in bed doing homework.

After anger came and went, I found myself sneakily doing “adult”-like things. When my host mom wasn’t around, I washed my dishes. I put the sugar/coffee/soymilk/peanut butter back on the shelf after I finished breakfast. I poured my hot water for coffee. I never thought pouring a cup of hot water for myself would give me such joy and a sense of purpose.

With 24 days left to go, I’ve finally begun to accept I’m not an adult in Ecuadorian eyes. I still sneakily pour my hot water, and I can’t wait until I can drive my car. But I’ve realized I should try to enjoy having a maid and a host mom pick up after me. Because when I return to the States and my “I raised you to be an independent adult” mother, it’s back to cleaning up after myself.

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