Lauren's adventure in Ecuador

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

I decided to make my first photo a good one... salsa classes!

As many of you have been asking me about the food situation here, I thought it necessary to write a little because I imagine you’re thinking that I’m eating guinea pig every day. Don’t fret, I’m being very well fed, and regrettably I haven’t even eaten “Cuy”, or guinea pig, yet. It is the national delicacy, and I frequently see the cuys being roasted on a rotating rotisserie spit. It’s quite a sight seeing skinned guinea pigs with their little teeth and paws, but the Ecuadorians seem to love it. It’s an indigenous specialty that dates back to Inca times and is supposedly high in protein and low in cholesterol. I’m actually really excited to try it. My experience with Ecuadorian gastronomy so far has been really positive, and I haven’t been sick thankfully. The diet is amazingly well balanced. It’s really fun to roam the isles of the markets and grocery stores and see things that I didn’t even know existed. The diet here is primarily based on varieties of protein rich strains of corn, which is really interesting. “Chochos” are a corn variety, and kids eat them as snacks. The Ecuadorians have found a million and one uses for corn. They toast it for tostadas, pop it for popcorn, mill it into cornmeal, and boil it for other uses. As you can see, it’s a corn-crazy country. They also rely on quinoa and other amazing grains that NASA has even used to send with astrounauts in space. They’ve found really light, complete protein grains in the Amazon here. Anyway, I eat a lot of tamales, empanadas galore, and a national specialty, humitas, which are kind of like corn dumplings. I also eat tons of soup. It’s served as an appetizer before every meal and we usually put popcorn in it, which is the traditional way to eat many soups. So basically I am full all the time.

I’ve been to quite a few food markets, and they have been really colorful. The fish markets are really lively and there are usually about 20-30 vendors all trying make their fish the most attractive to clients. Fish heads fly everywhere and the vendors hurriedly clean the fish, which means you can’t escape quite a few fish scales in your hair. It’s a beautiful thing. You also have to delicately walk around the fish blood, ice, and fish bones, but it’s really fun. The meat markets are a little harder to stomach. Fully skinned cows and pigs hang next to segmented cow spines, chicken feet, cow tongues, and many other bright red pieces of meat. Many Ecuadorians cook with ALL parts of the animal, so nothing goes to waste. This is an admirable method of cooking, but I am used to my sheltered process of buying perfect, cleaned meat from Publix. It’s great to go to these markets though because usually the meat is less expensive, and the taste is amazing because the meat is so fresh- sometimes too fresh! (For example, blood still dripping).

On to more recent events…
Today is Halloween, and it’s been really fun seeing the Ecuadorian decorations for us silly Americans. Ecuadorians do not celebrate Halloween. Instead, like most other Latin American countries, they celebrate the Day of the Dead (Nov. 2), which has completely different roots than our pumpkin-carving and candy day. It’s more of a celebration of life while also remembering and honoring those who have died. The typical way to celebrate the day is to make “Colada Morada”, a really thick berry drink with corn flour, and “Guaguas de Pan”, or basically huge pieces of bread in the shape of dead babies. Yes, that’s right. The tradition is to dip the head of the baby in the Colada Morada and bite it off! I had some issues with this. An older tradition involves going to the tombs of loved ones to clean them and to cook a humongous lunch for the dead. The indigenous cultures here believe that the spirits of their loved ones will rise and that they will eat and celebrate with those still on earth. I am really looking forward to seeing how the town celebrates on November 2nd.

The past couple weeks have continued to be really great, and I finally got to meet my Rotary sponsor and attend a meeting. My sponsor, it turns out, is 86 and is the oldest Rotarian in Ecuador and quite possibly all of South America. I thought that was really funny. He has been a Rotarian for 53 years, so I have a great source of information. He is a renowned orthopedic surgeon in Ecuador, and he still practices! The man can hardly walk, but his grip and concentration are amazing. I’m not so sure this is safeJ I accompanied him and his wife to a hacienda in a nearby town (Puembo) for a special, bi-annual Rotary meeting. It was great to hear them review the pillars of Rotary. There were so many similarities between their club and the club in Downtown Gainesville that it made me marvel and how interconnected Rotary is. I thought what one man in particular had to say was interesting. He traveled to Evanston, Illinois, in the past to see the Rotary headquarters. He said that he had expected an opulent, grand monstrosity of a building in true American style, but he was pleasantly surprised to see a somewhat humble, yet obviously multicultural headquarters building. After the meeting they treated us to an amazing, who-knows- how-many-courses lunch, and I was able to meet other scholars and youth exchange scholars as well. It was a great introduction to the host club in Quito, whose emphasis is “dar de si antes de pensar en si” (give of yourself before thinking of yourself). Next step is making my presentation!

I had some other general tidbits of information for you all of things that struck me funny in the last week. For example, we talked about women who opt to be drug-trafficking mules to make a living. If you haven’t seen the movie María Full of Grace, I’d suggest it, as it deals with this topic, and it’s practically a spitting image of where I live. I learned that there is a really strong American military presence in Manta, a base in Ecuador. Plan Colombia has placed such a stronghold on Colombia that many of the drugs are now coming into Ecuador to circumvent the anti-drug efforts. Export of drugs is less easily detected in Ecuador because most of the attention is given to Colombia. The jails here are full of foreigners who, almost 99% of the time, have been caught for attempting to export drugs. As you can imagine, many boats leave the coasts here full of drugs, and it’s common that they sink. So what is to become of the floating packages of drugs? “Fishermen” go to fish drugs (or “pescar la droga”). This produces a whole lot of truancy, as kids would rather spend the day fishing for drugs. Speaking of drugs, I was told that they don’t sell anti-depressants (don’t worry, I’m happy) because of religious reasons. I don’t really understand this yet.

I’ve also had many conversations with women about the woman’s role in society. In all honesty, I’ve found the culture to be far less machista than I had anticipated. What I’ve found most interesting that it is extremely common for married me to have lovers (yet if women commit adultery, it’s seriously shunned, and their basically outcasted). It’s just shocking to me how open the men are about their infidelity. For instance, I was making copies the other day, and I saw a poster listing the top twenty reasons to have another lover! It was copyrighted! I have to admit I laughed at the jokes, but I was shaking my head at the same time. As in many other foreign cultures, children live with their parents until they marry. It’s kind of a nice arrangement. Mom still does your laundry and cooks. What could be better? In all seriousness, this creates a bit of a problem for some Ecuadorians in regards to marriage. Many women become so used to not having to do laundry and cooking, that having to fill this societal role is horrifying for them. Most young women in Quito are well-educated, and they simply don’t want to have to begin to conform to the traditional role of women here. On the other hand, many women rush to marry because this means they can finally move out of their parents’ homes. More often than not, these couples have serious problems later. One of my female professors told me that one of the most horrible things in life is to never marry because society will think that there’s something wrong with the woman. She said that it really is a goal of every woman more or less to marry to avoid this societal stereotype. Anyway, the women that I’ve met are typically strong willed and are active members of the work force. I’ll leave you with the most recent quote from my house mother, Juana, “Laurencita, the men here may be the heads, but the women are the necks!”


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