Friday, October 15, 2010

Coup Scare and Life After Quito

Taking blood pressure in Las Flores during a medical bridage.

On September 30th, during my mid-service conference (to mark my year+ of service), in Quito there was a civil unrest situation that spread across the entire county, which Correa has labeled an attempted coup. Basically what happened was that Correa fed a public service bill down the throats of assemblymen that would have changed some benefits of the police, along with other public servants. The police didn’t like how the bill was passed, much less that they would have gotten fewer benefits, and so they rioted. Correa went to police headquarters in Quito to try and talk to them, and things got out of hand – tires were burnt, tear gas thrown, the Pres ended up voluntarily entering the police hospital to be treated, where he was supposedly held hostage for 11 hours until the military came to rescue him in a shoot-out with the police that left at least 1 cop dead. I could hear the shots from the hostal I was in.

During all of this, us PCVs are holed up in a hostal watching TV, reading articles online about what is going on and wondering what it all really means. At one point Correa came on TV ripping off his tie and yelling, “If you want to kill your President, go ahead, here he is!!!” I thought for the first time in my service that things might have reached that point like they did for volunteers in Honduras and Bolivia, where we would be sent home with only the bags we carried, not being able to go to our sites or tell our families, friends, or communities goodbye.
When the military did rescue Correa and he gave his speech from the balcony of his palace, I started to think the worst was over and that we would be safe as volunteers. So far, that has been true. Now the government is taking that entire day, Sept 30, and using it as propaganda to promote the President and his agenda, naturally. They are even accusing certain people close to the ex-President, Gutierrez, of orchestrating the whole thing, and ultimately placing blame on Gutierrez himself as the leader of the “coup attempt.”

The scariest part is that the people of Ecuador, the real people who I live with and most of the other volunteers live with, believe the President. They are only receiving information from him, so I guess that makes sense. But the talk of the town is how the police tried to kill the President. No one has mentioned anything about it being a show completely and totally orchestrated by and for Correa. I think what happened will unfortunately make Correa stronger, and in the long run hinder democracy in Ecuador as he continues to act more and more like a dictator.

In other more personal news, mid-service was fun. It was great to see everyone, eat great food, and have access to hot water, TV and internet 24/7. I went shopping and bought a pair of much needed jeans (I have holes the sizes of fists in one pair, paint stains on another, and my 3rd pair recently starting tearing in the thigh. And I came home to discover a huge tear in my khakis too ). A group of my friends and I took salsa lessons and tested our skills in a salsa club a few nights later. While I will never quite have the kind of rhythm that I want, I at least know the steps of salsa now and can do a bunch of curly turns. I love Quito, because it’s like DC. It’s young and vibrant with people from all over the world. There are art shows, galleries, movie theaters, artisanal markets, clubs, restaurants, parks, and active people riding bikes and running. It’s a breath of fresh air. So coming home was tough, and it’s taken me this week to readjust to life again. Part of me is ready to pack things up, call it a day, and just head home. But the bigger part of me would never let that happen, even if I was miserable, which I am not. I made a list of what I love about Ecuador and Ecuadorians when I came back from the states and was having an even harder time readjusting that I like to read whenever I have a case of the blues…

I love that Ecuadorians will talk to anyone and everyone. I love that they say hello and that they look out for each other, they take care of one another, even complete strangers. I love how friendly and connected they seem – connected to one another by land and family. I love their smiles, the tired and worn faces of tiny abuelos, the spunky and uncreased faces of little babies and small children, the workers trying to get by supporting a family of 5 on their harvest, and those who wake up at 3AM to drive to the beach to fish and are back home selling their fresh catch before the world has cleared the cobwebs from their brains and pushed aside the cold morning dew. I love the young adults and men who play soccer every afternoon, the girls that lose their youth to motherhood, the students dreaming of a better day, the women who work day and night preparing food, washing clothes, tending to the yard, animals and house. I love the families and bars that blast music from their stereos at all hours of the day and night, the men driving buses, pumping the gas only to slam on the breaks 30 seconds later to pick up a passenger and officials who yell “siga siga siga” while packing so many people on the bus we are like sardines in a can; and I love all of those who fall between.

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