A Bowl of Bugs
My thoughts were less than gracious as I drug myself out of bed. The first set of urgent knocks were followed by another.
“¿Niña? ¿Estás despierta?” I heard through the door. “Sí. Un momento,” I replied as I pulled on my shoes and a sweater. I emerged from the dark bedroom to a house that was just beginning to stir. My host dad, Manuel, smiled and handed me a small plastic bag. As he turned to lead the way outside, I gave Karen, my host sister, a confused look. She shrugged apologetically and followed.
The Ecuadorian sky was still pitch black as we made our way across the street to a field. I remained clueless as to what in the world we were doing, and nobody seemed to feel the need to explain. To my surprise and further bafflement, half of the inhabitants of the street had joined us to stand in the field and mill around in anticipation for… whatever it was we were waiting for.
The Ecuadorian sky was still pitch black as we made our way across the street to a field. I remained clueless as to what in the world we were doing, and nobody seemed to feel the need to explain.
I glanced down at my watch. 4:58 AM. What are we doing? I thought to myself again. Just as I had finished the arduous mental process of translating to Spanish and the question was about the leave my lips, I noticed a faint humming sound that was steadily growing louder. In the dim glow of the street light, I could see Papa’s eyes light up with excitement. He crouched to touch the dewy grass with his hands… and then quick as a frog’s tongue, he snatched something out of the air and wrestled it into his bag. Proudly, he held up his prize for me to see: a writhing, buzzing, tan beetle the size of a quarter. “¡Catzo!” he exclaimed.
I looked around, my disbelief palpable. We’re out here to catch bugs? Exclamations of success echoed through the small field as our neighbors began filling their own bags with astonished insects. My gaze returned to Papa, whose grin was as wide as I’d ever seen it. He motioned for me to join the madness, then slowly walked away to stalk his prey.
To clarify, I’m not inherently afraid of bugs. I’m a farm kid. I grew up chasing them, watching them, and digging in the dirt alongside them. As long as they lack the ability to kill me, don’t surprise me, and aren’t attempting to destroy something of value, I’m basically indifferent to their presence. In all my encounters with the insect world, however, I had never made it a goal to catch them as they sprung up out of the ground and I had never been expected to do so in the dark. Sighing, I pulled myself together. “This is true immersion, Hannah,” I thought to myself. “Buck up and catch some beetles.”
Sighing, I pulled myself together. “This is true immersion, Hannah,” I thought to myself. “Buck up and catch some beetles.”
Once I had resolved myself to fully participate in the bug rustling, I essentially transformed into Steve Irwin, Crocodile Hunter. I pounced on the beetles without mercy as they leapt up to greet the morning. The first several dozen times I failed miserably, but I eventually succeeded in capturing five beetles. As the sun began to fill the horizon, the hum died down and the beetles slowed their leaping. Panting, sweaty, and feeling utterly victorious, I made my way across the field to Papa and Karen. “¿Cuántos, chica?” Papa asked. I proudly held up my bag to show it off. “¡Muy bien!” he exclaimed and patted me on the back. He was kind enough not to compare my meager collection to his nearly full bag.
And so it was that I greeted each morning of my week-long home stay in Quito, Ecuador with the Hidalgo family in a field, harvesting catzos to prepare for an end-of-the week celebratory meal (yes, meal). To prepare this Ecuadorian delicacy, we placed the beetles in a bowl and gave them a feast of harina de castilla (fine wheat flour), which serves to empty all other contents from their stomachs. Later, we sat down as a family to rip the wings and legs off our crunchy friends. Once they were stripped of their escape mechanisms, the catzos went into a bowl of salt water to soak for a few days before being toasted with large kernels of corn.
When the day finally came for us to enjoy the fruit of our labor, I was nervous. Up until that point I had never intentionally eaten a bug nor had any desire to. As I sat staring at my bowl, the words of my wise mother came to me: “If you don’t try at least one bite, how do you know you don’t like it?” I took a deep breath to work up my nerve, lifted my spoon, and went for it.
Everything inside of me resisted. My whole being screamed, “THERE IS A BUG IN YOUR MOUTH! GET IT OUT!!” Fighting the urge to spit it out, I chewed… and chewed… and swallowed. My entire host family watched with expectancy. Surprisingly, the texture wasn’t bad. I had expected squishy guts to explode when I bit down, but there was little to no distinction between them and the crunch of the corn pieces they were mixed with. Without allowing myself time to think it through, I scooped up another spoonful and popped it into my mouth. Several bites later, I was sure that my opinion had nothing to do with the cultural conditioning that told me “bugs are not food.” I set my spoon down and gave an honest review.
They tasted terrible.
To my relief, everyone laughed. My host mom told me that my preference balanced out the family by joining her and the two sisters who eat soup on the nights that catzos are on the menu, leaving the feast of beetles for Papa and my other three sisters.
Coming into the semester, I expected to encounter quite a few physical challenges. It is, after all, an outdoor adventure based program. Physical challenge is kind of implied. I did not anticipate, however, facing the seemingly endless ranges of mental mountains that are also a key component of Summit’s College Semester Program. Over my four months as a student, I encountered situation after situation where the boundaries of my comfort zone were stretched and rearranged—seeking to handle interpersonal conflict in a compassionate way, convincing myself that the rope would hold, living with a family I could barely communicate with, staring incredulously at a colossal mountain from its base—and this allowed me to unearth new facets of myself I did not even know existed. Some of the discoveries weren’t pretty (here at Summit, we like to call them “areas of growth”) but others left me astonished at just how capable I am when I allow myself to be pushed.
We believe that if something is uncomfortable it should be avoided, and that we are our best, truest selves when surrounded by family, friends, and cultural contexts that are familiar.
We often have assumptions that were so engrained into who we think we are that we never seek to challenge them. We believe that if something is uncomfortable it should be avoided, and that we are our best, truest selves when surrounded by family, friends, and cultural contexts that are familiar. Although these are irreplaceable pieces of our identity, they can often end up becoming crutches that prevent us from getting to know the parts of ourselves that we can only become acquainted with when faced with a bowl of bugs.
Step out of your comfort zone and apply to Summit Adventure’s College Semester Program!