A Host Experience by Stephanie Banos

When I was younger, I spent every summer off from school in someone else’s home, whether it was my aunt’s, my cousin’s, my brother’s… just anywhere that wasn’t really my home. I’ve lived in different parts of Boston and Pennsylvania, and have gotten extremely good at learning how to pack a moving box and a suitcase the right way. In 2010, after my first semester had come to an end at my university in Costa Rica, I packed my bags and prepared to move into my new host home, another home that wasn’t really mine.

This time it wasn’t as easy – I had random objects all over the room that I’d seemed to have collected over the months: items from different beaches all over the country, from the Chinatown-style market in the capital, future gifts that I’d give to my family, and stuff I’d use to decorate my own apartment when I eventually had one. The suitcase and backpack I originally showed up with weren’t exactly cutting it now.

So when I showed up at the next home, I found myself even more stressed out than I usually am when I move. I had my suitcase and backpack tucked in neatly in the trunk of the car, but thrown on top were plastic bags, books, cans of food and other things that I simply couldn’t find a place for. As the car parked in the driveway, I sighed deeply and for once, I wished I weren’t always on the move. I slowly opened the door and went right to the trunk to start gathering my things… again.

That’s about the time my new Host Mom came out of the house to greet me. She looked at me excitedly, and while throwing her arms up in the arm, she said “Stephanie!” but from the look on her face, something was wrong. She let her arms fall to her sides and looked towards the ground, thinking intensely. I paused from rummaging through the trunk and watched her carefully. After all, I would be spending the next few months living in her home. She slowly looked up at me, making an eye contact that seemed to connect more than just our eyes. A smile crept across her face, and it was obvious that whatever piece of the puzzle was missing had just been placed exactly in its spot. “TEFI!” she then yelled, and was so pleased with my new nick name, she rushed over to the car and gave me a hug, welcoming me into her home and into her life.

Within a few days I decided that calling her by her first name just wasn’t working either. It felt too impersonal, too cold, and for all the love she was giving me by allowing me to live there, I had to find something better to call her. She became mamita, which means “little momma,” but sounds much better in Spanish. And although it may have started as an alternative to Katya, which sounded harsh to my ears, it soon became the only word I could think to explain who she was – my mom. Four thousand miles away from my real mother, my Mamita gave me much more than a bed to sleep in, even if she never intentionally did so.