The teacher kept talking about what continent Ecuador was on and where it was on that continent. I was thinking about that green- and blue-colored frog that Miguel and I caught by the spring and stuck in that rusty hole on the side of Papá’s truck. I figured it might not be there anymore after he drove into Cuenca to sell our cuys this morning. Frogs are hard to get too.
The teacher was still talking and it was getting in the way of my thoughts about afternoon plans. I could hear her tapping on a map with a stick but my eyes couldn’t see it as they were focused elsewhere. On the dirt path outside, a dog had drug a kid’s pack behind some bushes and had rooted out a tamale and a little sack of moté.
My sister had already been going to school for a whole year. I had just started. She talked about how much fun she had there and told me that all her teachers liked her more than other kids in her class. I liked her less than other kids at school or at home and thought she just made this teacher stuff up. Arriving home from school, she would head over to her favorite rock by the river and plop down with her lessons. She would finish them pretty fast before helping Mamá with chores.
I wasn’t feeling the same way as my sister. School was torture to me. I already had plans for the afternoons and I didn’t need some old homework messing them up. I already knew where the river was, where the trout liked to swim, where the frogs stayed and where the best hiding spots were. None of that was on the teachers map and it was easy to see that being here was a waste of my time. My sister was just plain dumb.
The schools siren began to sound and all us kids started getting our packs on. My butt felt better as soon as it lifted off from that hard-seated chair but not as good as my head felt when the sunshine hit it. I started running hard. Home was a little ways and I was more than ready to get some boy-fun started down by the river.
When I got to our house, my grandfather was there talking with my mamá. Grandma was back at their place milking Lotta for the last time that day. She was hurrying with her last outside chore of the afternoon. Soon, it would be too dark to scramble back down the mountain from the little barn that was on top of the first ridge. She still needed to make fresh queso for the quimbolitas.
I asked Grandpa for a story since he always knew the very best adventures to tell me. He had told me about far away places and people that were a lot more interesting than any talk that teacher had been doing. I knew he and Grandma ate early, so he was probably wanting to get back home. Grandpa said he’d tell me a story but it would have to be quick. He said that he was taking my sister and me on an adventure early in the morning! He was bringing the pony and we were going way up into the mountains. He promised to bring the kite so we could fly it in one of the meadows high above our place along the Yanuncay.
I sat close by Grandpa. My sister came in from gathering eggs and unloaded her basket as Grandpa started talking. In his story, there was a far away place called the United States of America. The people that lived there were like giants, they were really tall! And, they had all different colors of them too. There were some brown ones like us but some were even black-colored and some were white! I just couldn’t believe that a person could be white-colored but that’s what Grandpa said and he always told the truth. He explained to my sister and me that a long time ago, none of those people came here. But, he had begun to see them here and there in our country even before my sister and I were born. Grandpa laughed when he could see I wasn’t sure what to think about these funny looking people in his story. Grandpa said that the few he had met were nice and they weren’t anything to get worried about. He called them a funny name, “gringos.” I dreamed that night about white-colored and black-colored giant people in a land far away.
Grandpa arrived early the next morning and we had a little hot moté and ají for breakfast. I was so excited that I couldn’t be still for a second. Mamá kept telling my sister and me to go pee so we didn’t have to get off the pony so much on the steep trails. Grandpa and Mamá lifted us into place on the pony’s back. Its tail swatted at a fly as Grandpa cinched up a rope. I asked Mamá to bring me my bici helmet. It was too big and I had trouble keeping it on but I really liked it. The big boys wore them when riding their bicis and I was going to be up high on the pony. I was proud of me, my helmet and this adventure.
Mamá was walking with us to the end of the little dirt road that led from our house toward the mountains when it happened.
I couldn’t believe my eyes! There they were right in front of me, those gringo people from the far away place in Grandpa’s story! And, it was a whole pack of them too. The one in front said good morning to me but it didn’t sound like the way our family said it. Some of the others said stuff I couldn’t understand. I was pretty scared but I remembered that Grandpa was there and that he said we didn’t need to worry about them. He wasn’t paying any attention to them at all. Mama’ was laughing at what I guessed was the look on my face. My dumb sister waved at them like they were some family we knew.
I was scared but amazed at spotting a real live gringo. My mouth just fell open but I couldn’t say anything back to the gringo that had greeted me. He was a white-colored one but I saw two black-colored ones and a kind of brownish-yellow one too. We were moving quickly and I couldn’t tell what colors the other gringos were. They all waved at us. They smiled so big they looked silly to me. The one that first greeted me shoved some big white and black thing toward me that I thought might be a ray-gun like I had seen in a movie at my tío’s house. I wasn’t sure whether the gringos had ray-guns where they came from. This one only made a cuh-lik sound when he held it up to his face. The pony was trotting pretty fast and we were past the gringos in a second. I quickly forgot them as we headed up the mountain trail with Grandpa.
That night, after supper and prayers, I lay in my bed, still but not asleep. My mind wandered to Grandpa’s story of the gringos and their far away land. I thought about other far away people and lands that he had mentioned in his stories. Now, I had seen a gringo very close to our home. A whole group of them were actually on the road that led to my house. I thought about school and the teacher’s lessons about Ecuador and where it was in the world. Well, I decided right then and there that I had to be ready to meet these new people I hadn’t seen before. And, school seemed like a place where I could find out about them. I sort of looked forward to getting back to school on Monday so I could find out about the rest of the world.
I wanted to know their ways. I wanted to know what their strange words meant. I wanted to greet them and welcome them to my country. But mostly, I wanted to let them hold a green and blue-colored frog.