Thursday, October 7, 2010

Overdue Post of Home, One-Year Mark, and More

My Cuanto Sabes Jovenes

Sept 1, 2010
I update my blog posting so infrequently that I always have a hard time starting because I don’t know where to begin. The last you heard from me, I was getting ready to go home for a 2-week vacation in early July. The two weeks that led up to that vacation were intensely busy. I started workshops in the high school with 20 students to get them ready to teach about HIV and AIDS. We worked 6 days in a crash course including themes in:

ProgramacionNeurolinguistica (This crazy theory about how people process certain environmental stimulations while ignoring others without even realizing it; and how this process of what we take in fires synapses in our brain that affects how we communicate. The only part I or anyone else truly understand about this theory is that there are visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. I’m a kinesthetic learner, no surprise there.)
Basic Concepts of HIV and AIDS
Characteristics of contagious vs. transmittable viruses
Blood tests required to determine if a person has HIV, and the window-period for testing
Forms of Transmission
Rights for People Living with HIV or AIDS

Each session also emphasized life-skills ranging from self-esteem and knowledge of self to managing pressure from groups, how to make a decision, and ultimately defining your life-long goal and the steps necessary to make that goal become reality and the circumstances that could prevent one from accomplishing that life dream.

Working to prepare workshops, and giving workshops 6 days in a row was like having a real job again. And it exhausted me. Meanwhile, on the social front there were 2 community dances in the midst of the workshops, and Christen came to visit me!! It was spirit-lifting to see an old friend’s familiar face and talk with her as if we had just seen each other the week before, when in fact we hadn’t seen each other in almost a year and a half.

During this time period, I was emotionally drained. I was running from one meeting, lunch or dinner, or social gathering to the next, not taking any time for myself. I was becoming wrapped up in the culture – accepting life as it was instead of looking to how things could be improved; watching novelas about broken families and constant love affairs, an everyday reality not something that just happens on TV, and beginning to actually think it was normal; laughing off or ignoring the drunken men asking me to dance or stumbling down the street instead of at least in my head if not out loud saying how unacceptable that behavior is; and being an active participant in chisme (gossip) instead of avoiding it like the plague. Wholly being a person that I only started to realize I didn’t recognize during my vacation in the states – while surrounded by the people I love and trust, and the culture that asks what next, what else do you want to do/to be, the culture that doesn’t allow you to settle for anything, not in your career, your degree or continuing education, love, food, clothing, cars, apartments, furniture, electronics, friends, hobbies, weekend activities, happy hours. Everyone is striving for the best, and when they get it, they immediately start planning their next move.

My trip home wasn’t all rose bushes, though. I was so overwhelmed by the choices of where to shop for clothing, toiletries, shoes; the options of what to eat, when and where (and boy did I eat sushi, steak, crab cakes, pizza, Five Guys burgers, hot dogs, pasta salad, pasta, ribs, corn on the cob, salad, cake, cookies, milkshakes, and more regardless of the fact that my intestines were revolting against me and no sooner would I eat one bite than I’d feel bloated and end up on the toilet by the end of my meal if not sooner. Yes, I’m living proof that traveler’s diarrhea goes both ways depending on what continent you’re coming from); the constant questioning of who did I want to see next; and being enclosed in a car with rolled up windows and air conditioning or in a house with glass panes on the windows, walls that reached to the roof and left no room for light or air to sneak in, and only walking to the garage to get into the car and go anywhere instead of walking down the street, talking with my neighbors, looking at the trees, green and lush hills, and blue sky until a bus passed.

In Ecuador you go to the Bahia and find everything you could ever need or want to buy ranging from broom sticks to elegant dresses in a few short blocks underneath tents; there are a maximum of five restaurants in Sucre, and zero where I live, that serve lunch until there is no more, which could be at 2pm, and don’t have breakfast and rarely will you find dinner in more than 1 or 2 places. The closest grocery store is an hour away and what you buy you have to carry home on a crowded bus, which absolutely cuts back on the purchases. There is no delivery, no fast food or take-out. If you are hungry at 8pm and have no food in your house, you will have to wait to eat until 6 AM, when there is a tienda that will open, selling eggs, bread, rice, frozen chicken and some other things I would never consider eating.

Now, after being back in Ecuador for a month and a half am I able to put words to my emotions and identify that rather than pushing the people and culture ever so little by introducing a different perspective or idea, they pushed me until I transformed myself – my thoughts and actions – into ones of an Ecuadorian and that I lost my American idealism and work ethic. And somewhere in the midst of the build-up to my trip home, the trip itself, and then coming back to Ecuador I realized that I was changing, and that I have a choice to make – I can fully embrace the Ecuadorian way of life, or I can push myself out of my newly found comfort zone and work harder, trying to change some behaviors by embracing what I view to be the best of the Ecuadorian and American cultures rather than conforming to either completely.

September 5, 2010
My life here seems more compartmentalized than my life at home, perhaps it is a survival skill or actually a learned skill that I finally do have divisions in my life and night to day and day to night don’t run together anymore to the point where I don’t know who I am or what I’m doing; that I can break things down into my work, social life, and emotions. Like at home, I never bring emotions to work – there is no crying in baseball afterall. That doesn’t mean I don’t lose control of my emotions in other moments, say for instance in the middle of a bus ride home from Portoviejo one Sunday night when I just cannot stop the tears from dripping down my face, and have to put my sunglasses on in the dark due to my embarrassment to try and hide my water-filled, red eyes.

My entire first year here I thought I couldn’t take any ME time, that I needed to always be working, visiting people, and constantly on the move. If I had a quiet moment in my house, I felt guilty like I should be somewhere else, with someone, doing something. Working in the high school has helped to regulate my work hours and my confidence and definition of my role in the community has helped to create some boundaries, so instead of feeling guilty about time to myself, I savor it. My social life is coming into balance as well. I no longer say yes to everything, nor do I feel guilty when saying no. I do the things that I can, and that I want to do. If I have another conflict or just simply don’t want to go to another dance and stay up until 5AM, I say so. I am FINALLY making decisions based on what I want rather than out of obligation. Certainly remain those somewhat dreaded community meetings where people arrive an hour late and talk forever about one teeny, tiny topic – the next beauty pageant and which lucky little teenie bopper will be participating - without ever coming to a conclusion. These beauty pageants NEVER end, and I will never understand the pride families and communities take in presenting their candidate, nor will I ever understand the amount of money that is spent on costumes, preparations, and the actual event. The same goes for 15th birthday parties for girls. Its like the sweet-16 TV show on MTV – beautiful, extravagant, and elegant dresses are just the beginning of these passages to womanhood.

While the girls receive parties well beyond the means of what the family can afford that have been in the planning stages since the girl-child was born, the boys are taken to a whore-house to become men if they are lucky. If there are not so lucky, they are taken out to a field where they’ll find a donkey to give them their manhood. No joke, it happens here, in the year 2010.

Its so American of me to think that instead of throwing a fiesta or beauty pageant or dance that breaks the bank, that money should be spent on, I don’t know - buying healthy food, materials for school - or actually SAVING it for a rainy day.

Which brings me to another topic of interest. The fact that apparently as soon as you reach a working age and have some sort of income, however sporadic it might be, you immediately go into debt. It doesn’t matter if another member of your family starts working, or you get a better job and start earning more money or have extra income from raising animals or anywhere else, regardless of the fact that you are earning more money, you are still in debt. The only way I can make sense of this is that with more money, people want bigger, better, and more expensive things. Instead of being practical and paying off their debt, they dive headlong, eyes wide open, into it. They is a favorite saying here when trying to make plans to do something, “Si Dios me permite y no pasa nada…” Translated to mean that if God permits me and nothing happens…I will do whatever it is we are talking about right now, but I can’t come out and actually commit to it because I could be hit by a car tomorrow and die, nadiesabe – no one knows. Hence, I believe, the attitude toward money - spend it while you’ve got it cause you ain’t always gonna have it and even if you did, you might be dead tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Jen -- I am always so happy to see your posts. It is wonderful that you have invited us to travel with you on your journey of self-discovery. You are an awesome young person. Ecuador is lucky to have you!!