Read Jane's other adventures
In the Shadow of Tungurahua, Galapagos, No Pasa Nada, Bolivia and Chile, and Bolivia and Chile. Travel Tips for the Ecuadorian Andes
Two weeks before I was supposed to return to Ecuador, I was in an accident. Fifteen minutes on a 4-wheeler, all terrain vehicle, and I rolled it, removing the notion of all terrain from its title. As common with most accident victims, the details of my accident are fuzzy. What I do remember is veering off the road slightly so that the right side of the vehicle was higher than the left and all the sudden I realized that the machine was about to turn over and I could do nothing to stop it. Probably two seconds later, I felt the impact of the dirt road against my shoulder. I threw my other arm up to protect my face and my head and kicked at the machine either pushing my body away from it or pushing the 4-wheeler back over--that I don't remember.
When my step-mother and friends found me, I was sitting up and although the pain was thankfully masked by adrenaline, I knew that I had messed up. Two weeks left before my trip back and I was injured. With this in mind, I swore to everyone that I was absolutely fine. They, on the other hand, looked at my back and shoulder and decided that it was probably best that I went to the emergency room.
The doctors inspected me and all expressed their disbelief that I didn't hurt myself worse than I seemed to be hurt. However, because of the placement of the wound on my back, they assessed that I could have possibly damaged my kidney. This, I knew, wasn't good. I realized that all of my plans might be changed by something that had taken just a few seconds to occur.
A cat scan and a few tense hours of waiting later, I received the verdict on my situation. I had only slightly sprained my shoulder and received a deep wound on my back that will more than likely leave a nice scar to remind me of my luck. And although, I spent the next few days sore and tired, I was thankful that my injuries hadn't been worse.
A few days later, I went to another doctor for a check-up and decided to postpone my return trip an extra week to give my body some time to heal. I also had to think--Was this accident some sort of sign that I shouldn't return to Ecuador at all? I had already been in the United States for a month and a half and was having some mixed emotions about returning to Ecuador even before my accident.
There are things that you forget that you enjoy when you are away from your own culture. I had forgotten how nice it was to be near people who knew me well and understood me. I had also forgotten how nice it was to be able to meet someone and know that they were using the same cultural tools to assess who I was rather than working from a preconceived stereotype of my entire country.
In the United States, I was close to my family and friends, had access to good medical care and could take advantage of how efficiently and conveniently everything worked. Of course, there were many things that I missed about Ecuador, but it seemed the pleasantries of home had cast their spell over my memory. I knew, however, that when I made my decision to come back to Ecuador, it was because I was having one of the best years of my life. I knew that I wasn't finished learning all that I could learn from the country and that I had always wanted to live in Cuenca ever since I first came down to Ecuador. However, once back in the United States, I was having a difficult time accessing the emotions that I had left behind me in Ecuador only two months before.
Still, with all the mixed feelings, I decided to go ahead and come back; and consequently, I boarded the plane and bid my goodbyes to my family once again to begin another adventure in Ecuador. I cannot say that all my uncertainties about coming back to this country eased up once I stepped off the plane, but something strange did happen. I went through customs and exited the Quito airport, pushing my way through the horde of people waiting outside to find an open space from where I could find my friend who was supposed to meet me at the airport. Unfortunately, she was late and I sat my bags down to wait for her. Almost immediately, I had about five tour guides approach me and ask if I needed help. They were already picking up their own tours, but said that they would take me to my hostel for free. And, in that moment, it felt good to be speaking Spanish again and receive all the kindness from the Ecuadorians who saw someone in need of some help. And once again, in just a few seconds, I became conscious of how my life and plans could be changed and molded by my circumstances. Decisions aside, the truth of the matter was that I was back and that I was ready for whatever experience the country and the people could throw my way.
Well, I forgot how frustrating looking for an apartment can be. I've been going at it for a couple of days now and haven't found anything just yet. It seems to be difficult to find an apartment with a phone. Right now, I am renting a room for a couple of weeks in a huge house that has a kitchen so I don't have to eat out all of the time. Eating by yourself can get a little lonely. Today, however, I ate lunch at a vegetarian restaurant and had to share a table with a woman due to a lack of space in the restaurant. It was actually great because I spoke in Spanish the entire time. In fact, it's ironic, because although there are more foreigners in Cuenca, I seem to be speaking Spanish a lot more than I did in Ambato. Okay, maybe I should go back in time a little bit and tell you how this is happening.
So, I got to Cuenca and stayed at the hostal where I have stayed every single time I've come here. I've been going apartment hunting for the past two mornings and have spoken in Spanish the entire time. We have seen a lot of places, but they are all huge and we don't have any furniture to put in them. The places are also lacking refrigerators and telephones so we haven't taken any of them.
In the meantime, I have been keeping my options open and checking out some apartments behind houses. Yesterday, I had lunch with a family who showed me their apartment. Their house was beautiful but the apartment didn't have a kitchen or a phone and it's very far from the centro. At any rate, I don't think that I'm going to take this place. Then, one of my students told me that her family has an apartment behind their house. So, I went to look at the apartment today and it's really nice. It has a kitchen, living room and a bedroom with a desk. The bathroom is not that nice, but I could work with this. So, this is my second option if I can't find a place with the Ecuadorian. I just can't wait to get settled. That's all that I know. It's kind of just like my life would be if I were moving to any new city in the United States. As I said before, my life this year in Ecuador is going to be completely different than when I originally came here. I feel like when I first came here, I was more or less in awe of everything that surrounded me. Now, I no longer have that sense of awe, but am hoping to really get to a different level of living in a different culture. Whatever that is only time will tell....
I've got loads to tell you, but no time to write. Tomorrow, I'm going to spend some time at an internet cafe and catch you up on my life. Other than that, I've pretty much decided to take the apartment behind the family's house. Since I'm only going to be here for 6 months, I feel like I need to speak as much Spanish as possible. Plus, it's completely furnished with its own living room, bathroom and kitchen. I would also have a telephone and be able to eat lunch with the family every day and speak Spanish. They don't even have a television in the dining room.
With the Ecuadorian, I have a feeling that I wouldn't see him that often and consequently wouldn't be speaking Spanish that often. The only drawback with living behind the family is that I would be giving up the possibility of having parties and also a little bit of my privacy. However, I have to think about why I'm here and mostly I want to learn Spanish. So, there's my decision.
I'm taking care of my shoulder. I tried to go out dancing last night, but found that I couldn't because my shoulder is still a little sore. I'll give it another couple of weeks.
I once again have to flake on writing about Plan Columbia. It seems I have little time to do so. Thursday I don't have Spanish class so I should be able to write it out. Tomorrow, I teach from 7 to 8, then take a shower from 8 30 to 9 30, then have a meeting from 10 to 10 30, then have Spanish class from 10 30 to 12 30, then go eat a quick lunch just in time to come back and plan my classes for 3 to 4 20. At 4 20, I prepare my class for 6 o'clock and teach until 7 20, then I prepare my class for the next morning and after that I eat a quick dinner and go to bed. So, I can't tomorrow. Other than that, I've accepted the apartment with the family and will be moving in next week. So much to do and so little time. I guess a bigger city means less time, but once I get a secure place to live and a schedule, I should be able to figure out better e-mail times. Okay that's all. I have to go eat now, so that I can get to bed early.
two weeks now, my dad has been telling me--''Jane, you need to write a few words
about why you chose to move to Cuenca.'' There
are ways that I can put my decision simply.
For one, I honestly had one of the best years of my life last year in
Ecuador and I didn't want that feeling to end.
Not only that but I had originally wanted to come to Cuenca when I signed
up for WorldTeach last year, but the program placed me in Ambato. This, I'm actually very happy about as I was able to see a
whole different side of Ecuador than I see in Cuenca. However, when I had the opportunity to arrange everything
myself this year, I chose to try life in this beautiful, colonial,
said, I will now say that I cannot explain my decision simply at all.
For me, decisions are tied up with emotions.
Most of the time, they have to do with a hunch I have in the pit of my
stomach that tells me what to do and where to go. The hunch I cannot explain.
I just know that it has never led me wrong and when I go against it
(which I often do or have done), I generally regret it.
are practical skills that I learn from being away from home like speaking
Spanish, feeling more independent, problem solving skills, self assurance,
learning how to salsa dance and general teaching ability.
All of these attributes I have gathered from my experience and I'm sure
that I will use them in the future. Even
more than the practical skills, there is one thing that I gain from being abroad
that I don't think I would have ever acquired by living in the United States.
short, I like the way that the life here challenges my perceptions and ideas.
It is similar to how I felt in college when I read a new philosopher or
discovered a new idea and I had to step back and reexamine how I viewed a text
or life or literature. Here, my
perceptions are constantly being challenged.
However, the challenge comes not from a book or an idea, but is
constantly being thrown in my face by my environment.
I guess that I can sum it up with a notion that I acquired four years ago from
reading Hegel in a a 19th Century Philosophy Class. Now, I'm probably going to
simplify the whole idea here and butcher it, but one of the things he believed
was that a person had to remove himself from his own consciousness of his 'self'
in order to evolve into something else. This
is something that I firmly believe and by moving away, I have, in a sense,
forced this dialectic upon myself.
are things that you know and things that you don't know in the United States. In other words, like it or not, we are all shaped and
molded by our surroundings and our culture.
Not only are we given certain myths and beliefs about life from our own
culture, but we all live these myths and we mostly do so without even thinking
about them. After living 24 years
in the United States, I accepted certain truths about my surroundings as being a
constant in life. In other words, I
had a certain understanding of how the world logically worked and what
consequences should logically fall as a result of one's actions.
In short, I assumed that my cultural truths were also universal truths.
living abroad for a little over a year, I have realized what an error I made in
this assumption. While I could
honestly cite a million examples of how I wrongly generalized these truths as
extenuating to the whole world, I would like to touch upon one event that
concerns both Ecuador and the United States.
As a United States citizen living in Ecuador, I am greatly affected and
concerned about it.
must first preface this information by saying that before I went abroad, I had a
pretty secure trust in the media and it's ability to relay important information
to the public. I was in fact more
skeptical of those who constantly distrusted the media and the government and
placed blame on the ominous ''man'' for all of society's problems.
We, after all, are from a free society that cherishes the freedom of the
press as one of our highest ideals. We
are also from a society that advocates 'life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness' above all else. Since I
have lived in Ecuador, I have begun to view the United States in a different
light, especially when the topic concerns the United States' foreign relations.
I have been hearing a lot about a plan the United States is carrying out called
'Plan Colombia.' On the other hand,
I hadn't heard anything about this plan when I was home a month ago nor have any
of my friends, who are residing in the U.S., heard of the plan.
about a year, the United States has been increasing its armed forces in Ecuador.
The U.S. has placed an army base in Manta, Ecuador due to the country's
proximity to Colombia. The
government validates its activities in Ecuador because of its need to control
the drug problem in the U.S. and combat a very powerful Colombian drug cartel
called Farq. All of these things I
had more or less heard about when I was in the United States. I didn't, however, hear about the actions the United States
has been taking in order to control the drug problem.
seems that some time ago, the United States dumped chemicals on the part of the
rain forest that lies on the border between Ecuador and Colombia.
The chemicals were supposed to kill the cocaine plants in the jungle.
The problem was that the chemicals didn't just kill the cocaine plants,
but they also killed a lot of the vegetation in the jungle along with both the
Ecuadorians' and the Columbians' domestic farm animals and agricultural crops.
These people had nothing to do with the drug cartel and basically
suffered because of their unfortunate location.
the United States has developed another set of chemicals that are genetically
engineered to only kill the cocaine plants.
The problem is that these chemicals are experimental and I'm hoping that
the chemicals do not once again have any unfortunate side affects for the
indigenous tribes who live in the jungle.
me, the whole affair sounds like something out of a movie and I can hardly
believe it is true. Not only that,
but I also question the United States' true reasons for fighting the drug cartel
in the first place. Last year, I
read in Newsweek that Colombia is the 6th largest exporter of oil for the United
States. I am sure that the drug
cartel causes problems for the United States' exportation of oil and I wonder if
this isn't the real reason the United States is uniting with the Colombian
government in its fight against the drug cartel.
In essence, I wonder whether the United States is putting an ideological
cause, 'The War on Drugs,' on something that is really economically based so
that it can sell its actions more easily to the public.
unfortunately, is forced to go along with the United States' plan due to its
economic crisis. After all, Ecuador
defaulted on its Brady Bond last year and the country desperately needs the
United States' support.
honestly cannot believe what is going on and what's worse, I can't understand
why no one I talk to from the United States seems to be aware of the 'Plan
Colombia' either. Perhaps, there is
just too much news in the world to report about, so the media cannot possibly
place much emphasis on a small country like Ecuador, which is just about the
size of Colorado. Surely, I would
think that the public would be interested in this information and surely the
media isn't overlooking this piece of news.
Well, I went to two Halloween parties this week. On Friday, my costume wasn't that much of a success. I was a disco diva, but I didn't have the right shoes and I tried to fro my hair, but it's too fine to get the hairstyle. Everyone just said I looked like Sharon Stone. Oh, well.
Last night, however, I was the nighttime and wore a sexy black dress and made a shawl by sewing glow in the dark stars all over some black material. I had a fake diamond star necklace and wore a fake diamond star clip in my hair. I also streaked my hair purple and put glitter all over myself. Now, that costume was a success, especially since I made a star wand and went around the party granting everyone's wishes all night. It's fun to be a person with a wand. Then, I went salsa dancing for the first time since I've been here and although I couldn't do the turns like I usually can due to my shoulder, I really had a ball. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of myself last night, but I might have one if it comes out. I also made a devil costume for my friend Kate and used some extra material to make a mask for another one of my friends. He was a broken mirror.
I don't have much to report. I think I'm getting a cold--comes with the territory of living in a new environment. In New York, I always caught what was going around.
than that, I don't know if I feel like having everything I write put on the
internet this time around. I'm not
sure why, but I feel like I need to dedicate my time to other things.
I kind of just want to have a normal communication with my family.
If something really blows me over, I'll write about it.
than that, I'm moving on Thursday to the apartment behind the family's house.
I hope that I'm not making a mistake by moving, because I really like the
foreigners I'm living with right now. I
also like the house and my room a lot. However, I'm not really speaking that much Spanish and I
really have to think about why I'm here. One
of the primary reasons I'm here is to speak Spanish and I'm not going to do it
by living with other foreigners. I
guess I can just pop over and visit every once and a while.
think that I must've been having a little anxiety about moving because I had a
really strange nightmare the other night. I
dreamt that I was moving into the most perfect apartment, but I had to share a
room with a couple of people. I
went to sleep and I woke up the next morning and felt a rat tale underneath my
hip. I reached down and pulled the
rat up by its teeth and then squashed it. For
some reason, I had to leave abruptly and I left the bloody rat in my bed.
In the next part of the dream, I was making a cake and I had just bought
a new bag of sugar. I opened the packet to pour the sugar into the bowl and there
was a gigantic cockroach in the sugar. For
some reason, I couldn't get any more sugar, so I just had to pick the cockroach
out and use the sugar. It was a
very strange dream.
else? This weekend, I'm going to Vilcabamba because we have
vacations. On Thursday and Friday,
Cuenca is having its annual fiestas. I'm
staying for the Thursday fiestas and leaving on Friday for Vilcabamba. It will
be nice to relax for a while in warm weather and read in a hammock.
Teaching everyday at 7 in the morning until 7:30 at night is really
tiring me out.
more thing, I thought I might mention. Last
Saturday night, we went to a bar here for a Halloween party.
Most of the foreigners went and my friend, Kate, came with me.
The next day, I told Kate that she had been acting a little strangely and
making poor judgment calls on some things she was saying and she couldn't
remember any conversation that she had had or anything she had done the night
before. She was worried that maybe
she had gotten too drunk, but was also shocked by the fact that she blacked out
and really hadn't had that much to drink. On
Monday, her friend Fabian called her and said that he had drunk half of her
second drink and that her drink had been drugged. 5 minutes after he drank half of the drink, he had to sit
down because he felt sick and then he couldn't really move.
His friend had to carry him out of the bar and take him home.
He lost complete manual coordination and could not unlock his door or put
the padlock back on the door to lock it. He
said that he also vomited almost the entire night.
He told Kate that she had only had a couple of sips of the drink.
on the other hand, can't remember anything after the second drink, but had such
a little bit of it that she wasn't as affected as Fabian.
I remember that it was strange that Fabian disappeared so quickly without
saying goodbye. We were hanging out
with him and then we went to the bathroom.
When we came back, he was gone.
talked to one of her students that is a doctor and he said that he had a patient
who had had a similar experience. He
said that he thought that the drug was probably a liquid form of cocaine that is
mixed with other drugs that wipes out a person's memory.
still cannot tell you how pleased I am with my host family.
They are really adding to my experience here. My host grandmother hugs me every day. They also talk a lot during lunch and they talk to me.
It's fantastic. I
think that I will make them rice crispy treats this week.
I really have the best living situation.
Other than that, I met up with a guy in Cuenca last night who has been writing to me from my web page. He said that I inspired him to move to Ecuador. He's planning to live in Quito and was a really nice guy. I took him out with my friends. It was great fun. It's strange to be an inspiration to people. I'll tell you what, though, coming to Ecuador has done wonders for my confidence.
than that, I feel like I'm teaching all of the time.
The way my day is scheduled, I seem to be always preparing classes or
teaching. Plus, I'm teaching
tomorrow from 10 to 1 because the business where I teach at every morning didn't
get their act together and we started two weeks late.
Because they are paying for the full course, we have to make up the
hours. This means that I will be
teaching 6 days a week for the next three weeks.
Next semester, I'm going to see if I can consolidate my
schedule so that I only teach 2 classes in the morning and then one in the
evening or all three in the afternoon. That
way, I can have a good chunk of time free so that I can write more.
I've been really craving writing in my journal.
Oh, I seem to have finally shaken my cold. I was sick this whole week. Today is the first day that I feel normal. I've been going to bed really early (for me, that is) every night--at least by ten or a little before. However, this morning I woke up at 4:20 and couldn't get back to sleep. I hope that I don't start having the OŽBrien disease.
that's about all. I have to go and
prepare some exams for Monday.
Boy, if I wasn't busy before, I have just really made myself so. Because Spanish classes are free at CEDEI, I've decided to take both the intermediate and the advanced class. This means that I will be taking Spanish 2 hours a day, 4 days a week. In my intermediate class, I'm a little too advanced for the class, but I learn the grammar. In the advanced class, I'm below the level of the rest of the class, but I'm able to learn from the other students. I think that the challenge will be great for my Spanish. My professor is from Cuba and today we had a really interesting lecture about education in Latin America, politics and Cuban society. I'm going to love this class and I have a lot of academic articles to read in Spanish.
Well, I missed my Spanish class for the first time today, because I felt a little ragged and needed some time to myself. I really go, go, go all day long, but I'll be going to the Spanish class tomorrow morning.
forgot to tell you that one of the teachers here at CEDEI was down by the river
alone one night and got mugged two months ago.
The mugger hit him over the head and left him unconscious on the side of
the road. My friend, Pablo,
happened to be in a taxi when he saw the teacher, Spencer, on the side of the
road. Pablo told the taxi to stop
and picked up Spencer and took him to the hospital.
Spencer had to get 14 stitches and Pablo waited for him in the hospital
to see if he was okay.
far as my safety is concerned, I never walk anywhere alone at night and I'm
always extremely careful here. Quito,
I'm afraid, has gotten really dangerous at nights especially in the area where
the gringos hang out. I think what
happens is that appearances are deceiving here.
It seems really safe, but the longer you live here, the more stories you
hear. In Quito, I never walk
anywhere by myself after dark. Even
though the streets are practically empty at night, I never feel safe.
During the day, I always watch the shadows of the people behind me to see
what they are doing. I also always
keep my hand on my purse.
Cuenca is a lot safer, but you still need to be careful. That's the life in a country that's having a severe economic crisis and gringos are definitely seen as an easy target for money.
I just got out of my worst class. I've
got two students who are in their first year of English and they honestly can't
learn anything. I'm very frustrated
with them and today I almost started crying in class.
First, let me explain. I
teach two basic level classes. One
is in the morning with 14 students and the other is at 3 with only 2 students. My class with 14 students started 2 weeks later than my class
with only 2 students. At any rate,
the morning class has now passed the other class by about 3 weeks.
Today, I asked my afternoon students a question and they honestly just
sat there for about 5 minutes. I
even gave them several examples about how they could answer the question and
they just sat there with out talking. Finally,
I threw up my hands and started speaking Spanish.
I told them that I was really frustrated and I really wanted to know what
I could do to get them to learn because my other class participated and really
tried to work hard, etc.
said that it wasn't my fault and that what happens is that they only have a
little bit of time outside of class and that they come to class tired, etc.,
etc. I really don't know what to do
and I feel like I've failed with teaching them English.
What's worse is that I hate teaching their class and I'm afraid that that
shows in my teaching ability. I
give up. The semester is over next
week and I think that I'll probably fail both of them.
My other classes are going fine.
reason that I haven't been writing as much is because I teach from 7 in the
morning until 7:30 at night. This
week, I am finishing my semester and have been busy correcting all my papers. In fact, I have to go home and do so right now.
I've actually been a little sad for the past week although I'm not sure
why. One of the reasons is that I
really, really wanted to see Meg (ed-a family friend from Texas) and I
tried to get a reservation to fly to Quito and all of the flights are booked.
Consequently, I won't be able to see her and I feel bad about that.
I could take a bus, but I would get there when she's leaving.
That's just sad for me. Other
than that, I think that I was sad because I have to bid my classes goodbye and I
had to fail some students. That was
hard. Plus, it's very difficult
being away from home for the holidays especially when your surroundings,
although they have the decorations, don't make it seem like Christmas.
Don't get me wrong--I am incredibly happy to be here and when I have
time, I can go into why, but every situation has its ups and downs.
So, next semester, I have a great schedule and hopefully will have time to myself and more time to write. Again, I'm sorry. Well, now, I have to run again because the internet cafe is closing.
days before Christmas and once again, I have no consciousness of the holiday
aside from the constant cues given by the plentiful decorations in stores,
lights in the park and computerized Christmas Carols in the stores.
This will be my second Christmas away from home and my absence has made
me realize that the holiday feeling has more to do with association than it does
with the externalized presence of the season. After all, where is my snow, my reunion with all of my
friends who venture home for the holidays, the pungent smell of coffee beans in
my favorite coffee shop, my Christmas tree and most of all my family.
In this way, I have come to realize that Christmas means a lot more to me
than the holiday or a day for giving, etc. etc. In
a lot of ways, it represents home and many of the memories that I associate with
the day are also attached to my concept of home.
from my present feelings, I have also realized that I have a transformed
conception of something much bigger and somehow attached to this estrangement
from holiday spirit---Since coming to Ecuador, my notion of time has definitely
changed. In a country where seasons cease to exist, where the
temperature may vary by ten degrees, I have stopped feeling the movement of
time. It's not that I don't know
that time passes, it's that I forget that it exists.
In this country, one day is almost exactly the same as the next or the
one previous or from the week before. Sometimes,
it may rain in the afternoon and sometimes it may rain in the morning, but most
of the time it is a pleasant temperature, 65 -75 degrees during the day and
45-60 degrees at night. It is with
this consistency of temperature, of climate, that time seems to stretch into an
endless continuum without beginning or end, but exactly the same day in and day
out. Gone are the short bursts of
climate, the rush to get things done before the winter sets in, the slow wakefulness
that occurs in the spring, the vitality of summer, the calm and exhilaration of
fall. The emotions that I associate
with each season are no longer valid and what replaces them is a feeling that I
can't quite describe. It's a
feeling of timelessness that almost acts like a drug of forgetfulness.
Sometimes my time here seems long and full of experience and at other
times it seems to fly by me without me even noticing it.
weeks ago, my Spanish teacher commented on the notion of time in Latin America. We were discussing Gabriel Garcìa Marquez and she pointed
out that while the rest of the world classified his literature as magical
realism, he, however, called it realism. ''Viannys,''
I pointed out, ''How could it be realism when his characters live to be 200
years old or more?'' I asked, showing my ignorance.
''Ah,'' she said, ''Because we view time differently than people in the
United States or in Europe do.'' For
a while, I was puzzled over her statement and unable to leave my logic behind, I
avoided the possible truth of the statement.
It was only shortly after that I began to take note of how true this
actually was in Ecuador. While
talking to a friend about the age of his grandparents at their death, I learned
that his grandmother died when she was 112 years old or older.
In a small town south of Cuenca, the people are said to live to be 150
years old or older. My host father
said that he once new a woman from there who was 130 years old.
of this information, I received in polite attention, but in quiet disbelief.
Now, I'm not quite sure that what they were saying was untrue.
Isn't it true that a person at a very old age could feel like they had
had 112 years of experience, while another at exactly the same chromatic age
could have lived much less of a life. I
know that with my own notion of time, that I feel at times very old for my
years, but most of the time I feel very young.
And isn't it true that I am happiest operating on my own time clock,
doing things by what my intuition tells me is right.
It is only when I begin to think that I must get things done by a certain
age that I begin to get stressed out. However,
still, I cannot ignore the fact that time does move on and I know if I let this
feeling of timeless sweep over me completely, that it would be a fallacy and
leave me lost without the desire to accomplish my goals.
As of right now, I remain suspended between the two points--a feeling of
timelessness constantly interrupted by my awareness of home and of the desire to
return to what I know.
Jane has returned from Christmas Vacation to find new adventures teaching English in Ecuador.
I got to Guayaquil last night at around 10 o'clock and took a morning flight to Cuenca today. I got up at 5 and my flight was at 7:15, so I got to Cuenca around 8. All is the same here. I'm exhausted, however, due to the fact that I woke up so early. I taught my first class--the kids who are all pretty good English speakers and are all around 10 years old more or less. I don't have a book and I don't have any curriculum so it will be difficult knowing what to teach them. I'll have to work hard at first until I get the class rolling.
students told me today that they were closing all the high schools tomorrow
because there are supposed to be huge strikes.
My family, who had questioned whether or not I would be teaching on
Wednesday, already informed me of the strikes.
It seems that while I was away, prices were once again raised without
salaries being raised to compensate for the higher cost of living.
This time, the prices have been raised by 70%. I think that everyone--students, the indigenous population,
teachers, workers, etc. are all going to protest tomorrow.
As usual, I'll stay out of it and lay low.
for the past two days, I've continued teaching as normal even though there have
been continual riots in Cuenca. Everything
around my school is pretty calm even though it is only about 4 blocks away from
the Parque Calderon where a lot of the protests are happening.
It's actually very surreal because if I stayed in the building, I would
probably never even know that there were protests. Then, if you walk towards the park, you can see the tear gas
and the groups of people. Yesterday,
I was walking home, when I heard a lot of shouting and saw that the people
around me were beginning to run. I
did the same, running up towards my house for about half of a block before I
changed my pace to a brisk walk. Soon
after, the protesters were marching, running and shouting down the cross street
that I had been on before. I don't
know if the police followed them or not. I
was far enough away that I couldn't see anything and I didn't want to linger
long enough to look.
usual, I am a foreigner here and while the protests don't affect my life that
much, I certainly understand the reasons the people are protesting.
I just wish that their protests would get something accomplished.
from that, I was talking to my friend about how if you weren't near the action,
you wouldn't even know it was going on and how strange that seemed to me.
He replied that that was how a lot of revolutions were--that if you
weren't in or near the hot spot of fighting, that your life would go on just as
normally as it would if there weren't any revolution at all.
My kids class is going great. Everyday, I enter the class by sliding through the door (the floors are really slippery) and saying Hello Class!--kind of in Kramer fashion. I also always have my discman and I always chew gum in class. When the children are busy, I blow bubbles. The previous two things, I wasn't doing consciously, I've just chewed gum in class ever since I quit smoking and I carry my discman around so I won't have to be annoyed by men on the street. At any rate, I came to class on Wednesday and I noticed that every single one of my students was chewing gum. Then, they began to blow bubbles. So, I joked with them and told them that I could blow bigger bubbles that all of them. It was really fun. Then, three of my students have begun walking around with their walkmans. Also, I called one of my students up to the board and he slid on the floor just like me. It's really cute to have all these kids doing the things that I'm doing, because they aren't mimicking me--They're just copying what I do. It's so funny. Then, I had to give an oral exam, so I called each student out individually. So, when I came into class, I would say, ''Okay, who wants to take the oral test next?''. All of my students were fighting about who got to get interviewed by me next and then some of them wanted to take the test again after I finished. Boy, I'm going to get a big ego from this class.
I've been walking around Cuenca trying to remember what kind of person I was
before I came to Ecuador, and the things I liked to do in the United States and
some good memories. Like last
night, all I wanted to do is go to a punk rock concert and listen to some good
discordant music where the people yell all of their anger and frustration out.
I wanted to be in a crowd of people where I didn't stick out, where I
could feel anonymous for five minutes and watch everyone stomp around.
I wanted to o be in Amarillo, drinking beer, playing pool and putting
quarters into a jukebox and then laughing and talking with Jassen and Luke until
3 in the morning. I wanted to be at
the PDC, sitting on the steps in front of our cabin in the quiet of an early
morning, listening to the dove calls and watching the break of day like I did
when I was 5 or 6 years old. I wanted to be in a cafe eating eggs benedict with Tammy and
Chay and laughing about events that happened the night before or discussing our
lives and our confusion. I wanted
to be back in Mexico, sitting in the back of a car with Emily and Kam in the
front, watching them interact as a married couple and two people who had
overcome all the difficulties in a relationship and learned how to communicate.
Just for one moment, I wanted to be reminded of a life that I am not
living right now, and probably won't live again.
get me wrong....I still love it here, but we all have our days.
I read the Alchemist in Spanish and I absolutely loved it. I have been trying to read Midnight's Children for a long time, but find it a little confusing. Kam and everyone else have told me that you need to read 200 pages and then you're hooked.
Oh, I'm trying to figure out what to do for my March vacation. I think I have three weeks. I think that I might be going to Bolivia or somewhere down here, but I will be traveling alone. I could come home, but I don't really know if I want to, because I feel like if I'm down here I should take advantage of the proximity to these other countries. I'm thinking that I'll teach here through the next semester which ends on June the 8th and then I'll travel and then come home for a couple of weeks and then go down to Guatemala and take Spanish lessons for a month, then come back to the U.S. and get my job, etc., etc.
I spent about 45 minutes writing a message to you yesterday and then the computer wouldn't send it. I tried to save it and then the computer erased everything on my disc, so I'm assuming that the computer had a virus.
Other than that, CEDEI has cancelled classes for tomorrow because the entire country is supposed to be striking. I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I probably won't be writing you tomorrow. The government has declared Ecuador to be in a state of emergency so that means that police can do basically anything they want. I heard that they shot some indigenous people near Tena, but I don't really know the details. As always, I will be staying out of it. Even if the protests don't turn violent, I've never been a big fan of getting teargased. I hope that all is well with you and I'll try to rewrite my message from the other day down below.
''I don't want to be a foreigner any more,'' I whine to my friend who works at the internet cafe. He, in turn, responds with the appropriate extension of the bottom lip. ''Why?'' he asks me.
And this is where I have to think fast and lie, ''Because the people throw water balloons at me. They wouldn't throw half as many water balloons at me if I were Ecuadorian. I know it,'' I say.
''Oh,'' he laughs, ''I'm afraid to tell you that they aren't throwing water balloons at you because you're a foreigner. It's because you're a woman. It's the way Carnival goes around here. People throw water at the opposite sex and it just so happens that the majority of the water throwers are men, so the women get the brunt of it.''
I have to admit that I had already figured this out after three weeks of having water balloons pelted at me from car windows and buckets of water dropped on my head from balconies. I have seen countless other women go through the same treatment--Men chasing them around the park with bottles of water, pouring them over their heads, water guns aimed out windows, making direct hits on their female targets, balloons over filled with water breaking against their heads.
It is a silent torture we are enduring. There are no battle screams, no yells from the joy of the fight to warn us of the forthcoming attack. There is only the sensation of the initial impact of water and the aftershock of being wet.
The worst part of it is that we still have almost three weeks until the official date of Carnival begins and I have heard that water throwing will only increase as the dates draw nearer. While no one seems to know the origins of this ridiculous tradition, they all seem to accept its permanence, some with a smile and others just as annoyed as I am.
Presently, I walk down the street, expectant, but always surprised by the next balloon that hits me. The iron balconies are no longer the beautiful display of colonial architecture that I have always loved, but have now become the vantage point for the next water thrower. Smiles from passers by are no longer the friendly gestures that they were before, but are now the sources of deviance and planning for future water attacks. Everything in this city has become a culprit in my annoyance, and I have begun to eye every building, every corner, every car and every person with suspicion.
Still, I have to say that the water throwing is not the source of my feeling of alienation or my wish to relinquish my position as a foreigner. Instead, it has perhaps only become the excuse for my general bad mood or perhaps a medium for my annoyance and frustration with my surroundings. The truth is that I have been dumped and as with any dumpee, I have to walk around with my pride wounded, annoyed that I don't quite know why I was dumped which then extends to a general annoyance with everything around me. I'm sure that if I were in any other city or place in the world, my perceptions of my environment would equally be as tarnished. So, perhaps in some strange way, this crazy tradition of Carnival has come at a good time--allowing me to stomp and brood and yell at the water throwers with each hit. It is my justification for acting like an angry moron after each unsuspecting blow.
returned from the beach okay and I will try to write about it tomorrow.
I did pretty well with the sun, wearing a hat and sunblock the whole
time, but unfortunately my nose got burned.
My students are calling me Rudolph.
than that, finally, Carnival is over and I sat calmly in the park this morning,
writing in my journal and watching the hordes of people pour out of the church
with ash crosses on their heads. It's
nice to finally be able to walk down the street without flinching every time a
car drives past me or a group of boys are standing on the corner.
It's also wonderful that the people actually respect the fact that
Carnival is over. My life seems
pretty nice and is continuing as normal.
however, only a few of my students in my kids class showed up to class; so, I
decided to forgo class and take them to the park to play games in English. As we were walking back to the CEDEI building, my ten year
old student asked me why everyone stares at me and why a lot of people say
things to me when I walk by. I told
her that it was because I looked different than most of the Ecuadorian people
and that when people look different, other people treat them differently and
stare. She then commented on how
strange it was and asked me if it made me feel weird.
''Sometimes,'' I answered her, but the truth is that I had been feeling
like people had stopped staring at me as much as they used to.
also strange because I have had conversations with Ecuadorians about how people
sometimes treat foreigners differently and most of them have said that it was
because I was an attractive woman and not because I was a foreigner.
If they treated me differently in a conversation, it was because of the
individual's perception of me rather than a common perception of foreigners
here. Furthermore, when I am with
Ecuadorians, I notice that people don't generally stare at me as much as when I
am by myself, so the Ecuadorians aren't able to witness how I am treated.
has become some kind of abstract concept for me.
It seems like something fairytale authors dreamed up to convey everything
comfortable, everything secure. I
don't even remember what it is like and I think the more I miss it, the more I
think about it--the more it becomes an unrealistic vision of happiness for me. It's funny, because there has been a question swimming around
my head for weeks, maybe even months--What do I want? And all of the sudden, the answer seems so easy.
I want to come home.
Unfortunately, I won't be there for several more months, so I just need for that desire to slide right past me like a forgotten dream.
''What do I want?''--It's a simple question, made up of four simple words, some of the most basic words in the English language, but somehow trying to figure out the answer has become something like decoding the Rosetta stone. Most of the time, I try not to think about the question, but with my time in Ecuador drawing close to an end, I am forced to re-examine the issue. I have goals in my life and dreams and I am fortunate enough to be living out one of my dreams right now--living in another country. However, there are still more things I want to achieve in this lifetime and if I can achieve most them, I will consider myself a very lucky person. Right now, I'm thinking about returning to the United States. The reasons for my return are many and complicated in nature and I do not expect my return to be an easy one. At the foundation of all of these reasons, I have to admit that one motivation for my return home is that for the first time in my life, I no longer feel like a kid. While I don't feel old, I finally feel my own age which is still very young, but old enough to crave a deeper purpose or feel that time is actually moving and doing so very rapidly. If I make it to an old age, I suppose fifty, sixty, seventy more years of life sounds like an eternity, but for me, it sounds like a millisecond to accomplish and do all that I want to do in this lifetime. Perhaps, this all sounds morbid, but I guess I agree with the Buddhists when they say that you should be conscious of the fact that you are going to die, everyday that you live.
That said, I have the desire to do something to help this world. I still want to work there, to have conversations with people my age, to go out, to fall in love, to take advantage of my youth and to see how people live and exist in my own country. I also think that I want to go back to school and I have to decide what exactly I want to do. Presently, I am thinking either I will get my masters in fiction writing or perhaps I will study international relations.
This is very different from when I graduated from college. Then, I didn't make any plans, but let my life take me where it wanted. I swore that I wouldn't go to graduate school until I was sure if I wanted to go and sure what I wanted to do. I also swore that I would go for something practical. And now, I feel like I am ready to do more and contribute what I can to this world, and I really feel that my time is limited to do so.
years ago in my social psych class, we were given the homework assignment to
break a social rule and then report back to class about it.
At a school where almost all behavior was accepted, people went to such
extremes as to walk around campus nude or walk into a crowded movie theater
screaming. Because the experiment
went over so well in my psychology class, I decided to repeat the experiment in
a society over-run with social rules. Thus,
I gave the experiment as a homework assignment to my English classes.
my surprise, the teenagers were the least enthusiastic about breaking a social
rule and it took a lot of coercing on my part to get them to agree to do the
assignment. As a bribe, I told them that I, too, would do it.
I held up my end of the bargain and went to the park with my friend Kate,
whistling and hissing at all the men who walked past.
Then men had a different reaction than I expected.
Rather than responding to our catcalling, they instead looked at us very
strangely, some angry, but most very shocked and uncomfortable.
Later, many of them smiled and laughed, but only one of them responded to
went to class to report about the experiment expecting only half of my students
to have actually done the homework. Instead,
they all preformed the experiment. Not
only did they do the experiment, but they really got involved in their work.
Now, this is a class comprised mostly of teenage girls, from ages 16 to
18, one teenage boy and a 29-year-old woman.
Two of the girls decided to ask a boy to dance.
They informed me that here in Cuenca only the boys did the asking for a
dance (even my adult classes told me that in discos only boys ask the women to
dance). If a girl or woman talks to
a man first or asks him to dance she is viewed as easy and not respected.
So, the girls did so and they found that the guys were shy at first and
then agreed to dance. Afterwards, they said that the boy returned to his group of
friends and gossiped about the girl and laughed at her.
They also reported that the boys all looked at them strangely.
I asked them how they felt and if they would ever ask a boy to ask again.
One said that she would and the other said that she definitely wouldn't.
Both of them felt very uncomfortable.
girl put her feet up on the coffee table at friend of her mother's house and got
in big trouble, having to call all of her mother's friends afterwards, explain
that she was doing a homework assignment and apologize.
The boy said that he behaved the same way with a girl as he does with his
friends. This meant that he
roughhoused with her. When I asked
him if he talked to her the same way he talked with his guy friends, he said
that he would never ever do something like that.
With just rough housing, he got called a jerk.
Now, while this might all seem to be a little normal that girls and boys
live in such separate worlds in the teenage worlds, I have seen a lot of
evidence of the separate spheres of the sexes in adult society.
You often see groups of guys drinking together but you almost never see
women with them or groups of women drinking on the streets.
any rate, the students told me that they loved the experiment and asked me if we
could go to the park to catcall at guys.
I refused not wanting to promote behavior that their parents might not
agree with. But, I'm telling you that they got really into all the
next day, however, we were discussing the significance of their findings and the
29-year-old woman made the point that women should and can do anything they
want, but that they need to preserve their feminine mystique and delicateness. They, in essence, need to maintain their femininity at all
times. She then gave the example
that she once saw some girls drinking in the back of a truck with some boys.
She said it was horrible because the girls were dancing wildly, laughing
loudly and then one girl even went to the bathroom behind the truck on the
sidewalk. She commented on how ugly
the behavior was and how women shouldn't ever behave in such a way.
I said, ''Wait a minute, I see men getting really drunk and peeing on the
streets almost every weekend. Do
you guys find that behavior acceptable in men and not in women?
Would you view a woman worse with that same behavior?''
The entire class took a boys will be boys attitude and said that they
would view the woman badly, but wouldn't view the man badly.
They further commented on how women needed to sit right, to laugh
quietly, to be demure, to be feminine. The
whole conversation really upset me. I
had to smile and hide my reaction, because it is not my place to put my values
and opinions on this culture. However,
I felt that these women were clipping their own wings.
They were losing their own freedom to act how they wanted to act rather
than conform to a society-induced notion of women.
They were pushing the idea that women need to be closed up in their
houses and this is exactly the double standard that makes a lot of them angry.
Many of them can go out only once a week while their brothers can go out
and do anything they want, any time they want.
don't know. I felt like I was once again back in my Amarillo, Texas high
school when the boys told me that I couldn't play poker with them because I was
a girl. In my opinion, men and
women do have some differences, but we should all be looked at as people first.
I would respect a guy a lot more if he came up to me and told me that he
had had a one night stand the night before rather than lie to me about it and
put on his best behavior because I am a woman.
I worked for years and years to have men respect me as an equal and see
me as an equal and talk to me like they would talk to one of their male friends
and here I am in Ecuador where I sometimes feel like a whole sphere of society
is closed to me or hidden from me and all because I am supposed to be a delicate
female. At times, it makes me want
to walk around with a sign that says, ''I am not a virgin or a whore.
Do not put me on a pedestal or below the ground.
I just want to be a person.''
As a person in this world, you think that you achieve things. You think that the fact that you graduated from college, that you have helped people, that you have tried to be sincere, that you have attempted to fight against things that you believe are wrong-- matters. Last night, I was once again reminded that these past achievements are ephemeral and do not give you respect or esteem in this world. Their benefits, instead, lie in experience and what they teach you rather than the identity that you have built out of them. It is this identity that can be wiped away in an instant. After all, you are often only who you are at face value when presented with a confrontation. You are not perceived by what you have accomplished, but by how you stand alone.
So this is my story of how I was once again put in my place as a foreigner and especially as a foreign woman. At 2:00 last night, I was tired and ready to go home from a disco before my friends. I walked outside the disco and, seeing some friends of mine who work at the internet cafe, I walked over to them and asked if they had seen any taxis. They were standing with a group of guys in front of a car who were extremely drunk. My friends told me that I should go ask the disco to call me a cab as some of the drunk guys muttered some rude comments about me. I went back to the disco where I was informed that they had already tried to call cabs, but that all the cabs were occupied at that moment. As a result, the bouncer at the bar sent one of his friends to wait with me for a taxi outside. When we got outside, my friends from the internet cafe had already gone and only the drunk guys remained. They began mumbling insulting things in Spanish about me which I ignored. Then, they started yelling comments at me in Spanish and finally some guy yelled, ''I love your pussy'' and then, ''I want your pussy,'' very loudly. Something happened to me which I have found happens to me more often here than it ever did in the states. My blood began to boil and I reacted in a split second yelling profanities at them and flipping them off. They found this extremely funny and laughed. I, in turn, after yelling at them walked off with the friend of the bouncer to the corner of the street to wait for a cab.
However, after my experience with all the men, I felt very uncomfortable even with this friend of the bouncer and decided to go back in the disco and find my friends. Luckily, the bouncer of the disco had heard and probably seen me screaming at the men and had come out of the disco to help me. He, in turn, found me a taxi about two seconds later and sent me home.
I'm not exactly sure why this experience had such an effect on me, but it really upset me. The comments were extremely disrespectful and although I know that I shouldn't take all of this personally, it's difficult not to. I just felt that no matter how hard I have worked to make friends here and to make people see me first as a person rather than a woman objectified or even worse, a foreign woman objectified, all that work can be taken away in one moment by some horrible comments. Those guys wanted to put me in my place to make me see who I was to them and they certainly did a good job of doing so. I can't help feeling that if I had been an Ecuadorian woman, they would've never said such things. Perhaps, my problem also lies in the fact that I had started to feel comfortable here and had let my guard down. I had started to forget that I was a foreigner and had started to feel more like a friend or a teacher since that is how the majority of the people now treat me. Whatever effects last night had on me, I can say probably the most detrimental one is that I feel disappointed. I would fight against this treatment, but it is not my place to fight against something that is neither my country nor my culture.
It's really interesting, because I had gone to a birthday party the night before for a Cuban friend of mine. She had been complaining about how women in Latin America were limited and how she was unable to do anything that she wanted. I replied that if she didn't like her position in society, then why didn't she live how she wanted to live rather than follow the behavior that society had prescribed for her. ''You can fight against this treatment, because this is your society,'' I said, ''I can't do anything nor do I want to do anything because it is not my country to change. However, if you are unhappy, then you can change things by your own actions.'' She shook her head no, saying that it was too difficult and impossible.
Now, the ironic thing is that I had been upset with this friend earlier because she had been gossiping maliciously about another friend of mine. She had said that the woman was a prostitute and had taken money for sex. This is an outright lie and I assumed the gossip originated from the fact that this woman was from a lower class and was a little more open about her sexuality than a lot of the women here. This is what made me angry. However, after seeing my friend at the party, I realized that she had gossiped because she was jealous of my other friend's freedom, and all of the sudden, I couldn't be angry at her at all. Instead, I felt sad for her and she just seemed incredibly human.
So, I write you all of my thoughts about gender perceptions and complications from the internet cafe where my friends work. As always, the issues are never black and white, right or wrong, but are clouded by personal perspectives and problems. As for my friends at the internet cafe, they apologized for the behavior of the guys last night. "What jerks," they said to me. I asked them if they had understood what they had said to me and when I discovered that they hadn't understood, I translated their comments into Spanish. They told me that these guys should've never talked to me like that, that they had been drunk, etc., etc. Now, while my friends' comments do not excuse the actions of the drunk men, it's always nice to have a little sympathy.
Read Jane's other adventures
In the Shadow of Tungurahua, Galapagos, No Pasa Nada, Bolivia and Chile, and Cuenca. Travel Tips for the Ecuadorian Andes
Also see Travels in Bolivia, Chile & Argentina.