I am in the capital city, Quito, for a week. The bus ride is four hours through the mountains/volcanos, and it costs 6 dollars. When I got here, I got a four dollar hair cut and met up with the family I’m staying with. I had pizza in a restaurant and rode in a car out to a field where their family horse, Chocolate, resides. The family is wealthy, so I am sort of having reverse culture shock. I’m not used to fancy cell phones, hot water, family cars, or even mirrors. The family is very nice, but they can’t cook. They heat up food for us in the microwave, and I’m used to fresh fruits and juices, homemade soups, and fresh herbs. Also, they eat late- 9 or 10 at night, the hour I am used to going to bed! It’s hard to stay up for dinner. I might not stay up tonight.
I feel like an ambassador for the community I live with, because I get questioned by people whether or not I like it there, and they are always really surprised when I say that I do. They are surprised when I say the people are very nice, and that I like the food and the language. More people from the city need to go stay with indigenous communities. The only things they know are from the posters and postcards of half-naked babies and weathered old people carrying loads of heavy goods through the jungle. The stereotypes of Kichwa communities are that they are dark skinned, don’t wear clothes, and drink too much. The truth is that just like any community there are dark, medium, and light-skinned people, who wear the same clothes that they wear in the city. Just like in Quito or the United States, there are people who drink too much and people who don’t drink at all. I guess the best thing I can do is to share my good experiences with the people who repeat these stereotypes.
Today I went book shopping. I drew out a map by hand (no iphone or gps here!) and was very proud of myself when I found all of the stores on my map. I bought an anothology of contemporary Ecuadorian poetry, and another book of poems by an Ecuadorian author, Julia Erazo, published in February of this year. I don’t know any Ecuadorian poets, so I’m excited to read them, though it will probably take me a year or so, since my translating is slow. I can’t forget the cookbook I bought! The Ecuador Cookbook, bilingual edition. I can now make dinner for my family in the community since I have recipes to go by.
While I’m here this week, I’m going to be a tourist in the morning, and take group Spanish lessons in the afternoons. I had my second class today, and I really like my teacher, who is very animated. She speaks to us, not just about the language, but about the culture of Ecuador. There are only three of us, and the other girl in my class is a baker from the United States who wants to move here permanently and open an American-style bakery to sell donuts and brownies. She has a used oven that still needs a part, but if she gets the part before Friday she is going to bake for us. I am dreaming of brownies….
The same girl in my class told me I should go to the park near her house because there is a statue of a poet. I asked her what poet, and she couldn’t remember, but she said it was the Plaza de Chile. “Neruda?” “Yes, That’s who it is.” I am going to try to find the park tomorrow. Neruda is very alive here in Ecuador.