Ecuador: Ama la Vida

On a lighter, happier, and shorter note, this year, Ecuador has given me a home away from California where I feel so comfortable and happy. As one of my UCSD friends put it, “it is so cool to hear that you found somewhere that fits you well.” 2012 has been a year of privilege for me, and December, has undoubtedly been the craziest month of them all.

We started off with the Fiestas de Quito where we celebrated for a week straight the foundation of Quito. There was constant music, parades, fairs, chivas (party buses), concerts, you name it! One of my favorite artists Julieta Venegas performed on the 6 of December (the official founder’s day) in a free concert in Parque la Carolina. Also, IES got us a chiva where we danced a lot and got to witness the IES staff raise the roof, get low, and pelvic thrust for a good 2 hours.

Shortly after finals and the IES Cena de Despedida (Goodbye Dinner) I hopped on a bus to Guayaquil and spent over a week there where there were more fiestas (I’m not sure if I follow the fiestas or if they follow me)! We celebrated Karlita’s birthday with a cangrejada (party where we cooked & ate crabs). The next day we had a pool party to celebrate the ending of the year. Afterwards, Karlita’s university, ESPOL, had end of the year fiestas with DJs and concerts.

I ended my year by celebrating Christmas with Karlita and her family. We cooked together, prayed together, ate together, and partied together to salsa music. The next day I was on a bus heading through Perú with the mission of getting to La Paz, Bolivia as soon as possible.

Six buses and 72 hours later, I was in La Paz. The transportation costs totaled $80 so I saved a ton of money, but my entire body was in excruciating pain. But at least I was in Bolivia, waiting to be reunited with one of my good friends from IES the semester before and two friends from Bolivia who were also on exchange at La Católica in Quito for the Spring Semester. I’m currently in the south of Bolivia (another 17 hour bus ride) ready to celebrate Año Nuevo in the warm climate of Tarija (La Paz is freezing). Even though I’ll be missing New Years in Ecuador and the infamous burning of the viejos (human-sized dolls made out of paper), Bolivia is beautiful and I’m very happy to be here.

Although, I have to admit, that I gave plenty of tears to the Pachamama (Mother Nature) when leaving Ecuador. However, after a month in Bolivia, my plan is to return to Ecuador for the month of February!

I truly can’t get enough of Ecuador. Some of the things I’m looking forward to are:

  • Carnaval in Guaranda
  • Fútbol season starting up again
  • End of the semester fiestas in ESPOL
  • My family visiting for a week!

I finally convinced my family to make a trip down and my dad asked me if a week would be sufficient to see Ecuador. I responded, “yes and no…but mostly no. But come anyways because it is beautiful!”

In 10 months of being here, I still haven’t seen and experienced everything in Ecuador. Doing so would be impossible, in my opinion, no matter how much time one spends here. As a foreigner, I will always lack a basic understanding of cultural context, especially due to language barriers. My Spanish has improved tenfold, but at the same time, Ecuador is a plurinacional e intercultural (plurinational and intercultural) State, which is to say there are tons of cultures and diversities of people. And as much as I love Ecuador, I will never know it all. Which is depressing but also inspiring since I know my interest and love for the country will never diminish.

The Peace Corps Volunteers and Peace Corps Ecuador Director recommended that I look into doing the Peace Corps and I told them that at this point in my life, I am more interested in returning to Ecuador. One volunteer said, “but with your background in Spanish you’ll almost definitely get placed in Latin America” but for me, I just really want to continue exploring and understanding the many cultural intricacies of Ecuador.

For example, cooking with Karlita made me feel like a complete idiot. “Wait, you know how to properly eat crab, right?” and “You’re peeling the plátano (green banana) wrong, watch how you do it” and “Do you know how we cook rice on the coast?” was an instance in which I felt more foreign than ever before. For the record, you peel the plátano with the tip of the knife in one swift slice. Also, on the coast, you wash the rice three times, and then fill it up with just enough water so that when you stick a spoon inside, the rice stands up straight. Also, on a side note, you scrape the burnt rice off the bottom of the pot and eat it (called cocolon). Karlita said her biggest fights with her dad are over who gets to eat the cocolon!

One of my friends in La Católica grabbed my planner and said she wanted to see if I write in English or Spanish to myself. She pointed out that I started writing everything in English but switched to Spanish after a few months. Cultural immersion is definitely a process of transformation. According to my Psychology of the Family professor she saw me become more “Latinoamericanizado” during the semester.

And although I am gringo at the end of the day, that comment made my day, but also made me realize study abroad has transformed (and will continue to) transform me. Thank you to all who made this amazing experience possible, and making 2012 absolutely incredible.

In the indigenous attitude toward life, however, one doesn’t go forward or backward. Rather, you keep advancing forwards but towards the past (imagine walking backwards). It’s not a stand-still, not forgetting history, nor repeating it. It is recreating the past in the present and future. I believe my study abroad experience will take a similar path.