Challenges and the kindness of strangers

(Written 7 de agosto 2008)As of about 11:00 tonight, I will have been in Ecuador for two weeks. As boring and factual as that may seem, to me it is an incredibly surreal statement. I have done so much in such a sort expanse of time that it feels as though I have been here for months. I have seen gorgeous mountains, volcanoes and lakes. I hiked to and waded in a sacred “cascarada” (small waterfall) that the indigenous still flock to for certain festivals in Ecuador. I’ve learned to bargain with vendors in Otavalo, an indigenous market where there are so many hand made crafts that it is difficult not to be overwhelmed–you got ripped off if you bought an Alpaca sweater for more than $15 or $20. I have been to the center of the world and straddled two hemispheres. I have tasted naranjía, guanabana, tomate de árbol, yuca, ahí, empanadas and platanos. I have seen a cathedral rumored to be built by demons. I have learned of a proposed constitution and evolving governments in Ecuador. I have created friendships with a great group of students who are experiencing some of the same joys and struggles that I am.There are challenges. I know that I still have much to learn, but I already feel as though I am being forced to examine my own culture and the role of the United States in Latin America. Yesterday we attended the Foundación Guayasamil and viewed the artwork of the famous painter (see photos). He truly captured some of the anguish and struggles throughout the history of Latin America. It is not easy to see this pain when you know that your country played a role in bringing it about.

Guayasamil painting
A painting by Guayasamil. Guayasamil´s paintings were often difficult to see because they gave life to the pain present in Latin America.

In addition, many of his paintings show people with a “split identity”; painted in two different colors and/or styles they represent the mestizos and the identity crisis that many of indigenous and Spanish heritage face.

Guayasamil painting
Another painting by Guayasamil. You can see the mestizo identity.

And, at times, I am incredibly uncomfortable. While I love many of the things about Ecuador (The food is simply amazing. You can buy an almuerzo for only $2.00 that has soup, a main dish, dessert and fresh fruit juice. I am surrounded by mountains; you become speechless in the presence of the Divine scenery here.) I am out of my comfort zone. At times, I miss my family and friends and the familiar. While a challenge, I am reminded that this must be how much of the world feels. Being a middle-class caucasian in the United States, I have also been in the majority. It’s good for me to be a minority for a while.Now that you’ve gotten a brief background into my current sentiments and my activities, I would like to share my thesis from an essay that I recently wrote for Spanish class. After all, this blog is supposed to have a focus, right?Para mí, vivir en Ecuador es recordar el valor de las relaciones humanas. La amabilidad sincera de desconocidos es increíble.For me, to live in Ecuador is to remember the value of human relationships. The sincere kindness of strangers is incredible.First, I couldn’t ask for a better group of peers in my BCA group, who were all strangers at first. Everyone is so kind, genuinely respectful and interested in learning about Ecuador’s culture and the Spanish language. I find it easy to relate to these amigos. We can joke and laugh, but also discuss our experiences and relate them to issues of social justice and examine our role as United States citizens (not Americans. Perhaps we’ll discuss this wording in a later blog.) Second, the leaders of BCA–Martha Peréz and Daniel Bryan–are supportive and truly interested in easing our adjustment into the culture of Ecuador. They have a wealth of knowledge that I’m only beginning to tap.Finally, mi familia anfitriona. Susi, José, Sebastion, and Juan Martín have graciously welcomed me into their house and accepted me as a part of their family. I came as a stranger to the Vallejo family and they showed me kindness. With my broken Spanish–it is quite intimidating to speak to native speakers–and my timidness, they reach out to help and make sure I am safe, comfortable and very well-fed.*One night, I was coming home a bit late from a shopping excursion with a friend and her ecomamá. I had to take a bus and it was getting dark so mi hermano anfitrión waited for me at the bus stop. Little did I know that the type of bus I was on could only be exited from the back door. I had entered early and made sure to be at the front since it is always safer to be closer to the bus driver. When I discovered you could only exit in the back I was already at my stop. I frantically squeezed past the other passengers in the bus squeaking out “perdón, perdón” as I tried to make it to the back. I made it there in time but couldn’t figure out how to open the door. The driver couldn’t see me in the crowded bus, so I missed my stop and we began to move further and further away from my home.Needless to say, I was flipping out. It was dark, I was going away from my host home and I did not know the city. At the next stop a kind man pressed the button to open the door for me (What is it with this new technology? Who ever heard of a button to open doors?) and I exited. I soon saw Sebastian, my host brother running from the previous stop. I quickly thanked him and apologized sincerely for making him wait for me and run to the next stop (not a short distance).He replied, “Don’t worry. You’re my sister.”The kindness of strangers is truly amazing.Maya-I-need-to-study-for-mi-examen-Kehr

You will see paintings like this in many places throughout Quito and the surrounding area. Some are political, this one is simply encouraging love and knowledge of one´s culture/native country.
Our entire BCA group in front of the waterfall I discuss in a later blog (I don´t remember the name of it right now). I´m the one in striped soccer socks with a yellow ´who cut the cheese?´ tshirt.
A group of BCA students at the Centro del mundo. The equator crosses through this exact spot.
Street painting
More street paintings. This one dealt with war. Notice the U.S.?