Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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They Call it: Tomate de Arbol

They Call it: Tomate de Arbol
Emily Schmierer: Ecuador, Fall 2009
The first lunch with my host family was about as awkward as you could imagine. There was miscommunication, lack of understanding of accents, (or lack of accent on my part), my slow listening with their fast speaking, and weird pauses in conversation, all of which is to be expected. What turned out to be even harder to get through than all that was the desert. Well, they kept calling it desert, but I wouldn’t have. It came in a bowl, alongside a spoon, with the stem still on it. It was partly shriveled, partly soggy, drowning in some kind of goopy substance. It was a fruit, and it was desert. Without any explanation, or even an introduction to the thing, all members of the family began to eat theirs with the greatest of ease. I decided to just go for it, but as you might expect had a lot of trouble with it. It was slippery and squishy but round so that the spoon couldn’t cut into it. The goop it was submerged in was slimy, and the fruit just sloshed violently around the bowl, resisting my attempts to cut through it. I was about to give up, when my new host sister told me to hold the stem, and sort of pull on the fruit with the spoon to tear off a bite. She made it look easy enough, so I tried again, and somehow, pulled off a sizeable bite. It looked like a normal enough fruit on the inside, but would it be tasty? Only one way to find out. Shortly after deciding that it was not in fact tasty, my host mom told me that they call it “tomate de arbol,” which directly translated to English means “tree tomato.” She was also delighted to tell me that it only grew in Ecuador, and is the most delicious fruit. Though I disagreed, I was glad to have the experience, and move on. A few days later, once again at the family lunch, we had tomate de arbol again for desert. I really didn’t want to eat it, but at least this time I knew how to, so I did. I guess I ate it a little too skillfully the second time, that I gave the impression that I really liked it. We had it again the next day, and the day after that. Over the months, we probably had tomate de arbol three times a week, and I came to expect it. I even came to enjoy it a little bit. When we didn’t have it, I sort of missed it. I even took a picture of it before I left, so that I could remember it, and here I am, being nostalgic about it. My relationship with the tomate de arbol is sort of representative of the whole study abroad experience, in that it was a challenge, and something different that I just had to get used to, even if I didn’t really like it, but soon came to realize that it wasn’t too bad at all.

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