Lauren's adventure in Ecuador

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Row, row, row your boat

My time at the lodge has come to an end, and I´m surprisingly a little sad to leave. I was supposed to volunteer for a month, but instead I cut my stay short by a week because a friend of mine, Tracy, came to visit, and I decided to leave with her! My time at the lodge was great, and the best part was getting to know the staff and the tourists who came from all over the globe. I think I´ve met people from 15 different countries in just three weeks. Living with the staff at the lodge afforded me the opportunity to have really interesting conversations about HIV, education, family structure, natural medicinal remedies (especially for the machaca bug), teenage pregnancy, etc. One of my favorite ladies who works there is only 29 and she´s already a grandmother. I couldn´t believe it. But then I listened to her story multiple nights after dinner, and I came to know one of the strongest women I have ever met. She shared with me a little about the pain in her life, what living in a tiny community is like, and how it was to be pregnant at 13 and now have a daughter who gave birth at 13 as well. When I was leaving I wanted to leave some of my clothing and bathroom things for her, and I gave her a bag of stuff. At first she was really grateful, but then I could tell that something was wrong. I had never anticipated that giving her things would make her feel bad or would be insulting. That obviously was never my intention, but I think I embarrassed her by giving her things. She lamented that she had nothing to give me in return, and I just laughed and told her that she had given me her friendship and dinner conversations and that I had learned a lot from her. She didn´t understand. Anyway, I learned a good lesson with the giving of my clothing that I had never anticipated. I think I should have been more cautious and tactful about giving. It wasn´t charity. I was just trying to help someone that I admire.

Having the opportunity to be in Tena has also been a good experience. It is worlds away from Quito, and I was able to learn about a different community in Ecuador. The town is really small, and everyone knows everyone (seriously). Practically everyone has a child slung around their hip. Most people are very hot, tired, and looking to make a dollar or two. There is literally a brigade of popsicle salespeople, and people roam the streets hawking whatever object it is that they got a good deal on and are trying to sell this week. The people have much darker skin here, and the Kichwa descent is very apparent. Some poeple including guides at the lodge are 100% Kichwa. They also seem to look older to me than they are because of thier thick, leathered skin and multiple children in tow. They are very hard workers, and their posture and finger nails attest to their work ethic. They are also big drinkers, and when they drink it´s not the occasional cocktail, it´s two days of debauchery. Sometimes I stare at the young mothers on the street or bus because I can´t believe how full thier hands are; their babies are usually quite dirty and crying, and they usually have a burlap bag that weighs a ton with some kind of vegetable in it. Likewise, older women walk down the street with no shoes, and I look at their weathered, calloused feet, thier deep, almost chiseled wrinkles, and I think about what kind of life they have had and what they have gone through. I wonder if they´ve ever seen an iPod, if they´ve ever traveled outside of Tena, if they´ve ever had a day to rest, take a bath, and eat chocolate cake. I doubt it. But their life is rich in many other ways. They look at the yucca and corn plantations and smile because they can tell it will be a good harvest, they take their kids canoeing to fish, they drink chicha, and they´re happy to have lived a fruitful, sun-filled day. I really love how life is so slow here. People eat when they´re hungry and sleep when they´re tired. It sounds simple, but it´s a beautiful thing. They take life day by day, and they don´t worry about tomorrow because they´re too worried about making ends meet today.

Tena has been a bit of a shock for me because it´s been dirty, trying, and outside of my comfort zone, but I´m glad I came here and met such wonderful people. I learned tons about medicinal plants and Kichwa cooking, and I saw some of the most amazing sunsets on the Andean range framing the Amazon basin. It´s time to move on now though. Tracy and I went to a small town that we had heard a lot about called Misahualli, but it turned out to be a flop. The best part were the monkeys and not because we ooed and ahhed over them. Quite the contary! I was seated on a bench enjoying a nice ice cream cone when, whoosh!, someone stole my crackers! It wasn´t a person though. It was a sneaky thief. I hate those monkeys! It then started to throw my crackers to break them in the pack and then proceeded to try to open them. Meanwhile, I was confused because I´ve never exactly had to con a monkey into givng me my things back. Fine, take the crackers I thought. But apparently they are intelligent little devils, and he started opening the zippers on my backpack. I saw he was going for where the malaria pills are, and that´s where I drew the line. I just started to throw things to distract him, but this was no small nor stupid monkey, and it bore it´s teeth. I was honestly scared but also upset because I really wanted my ice cream! But at this point I was wearing my ice cream (and so was my backpack). To make matters even more wonderful for me, the poor foreigner, I was smack dab in the middle of the town square, and my hooting and hollering was drawing attention, and people were having a good laugh and the dumb North American. I laughed later becuase I honestly must have looked like a complete idiot fending off this silly monkey, but I was scared it would bite me. A nice boy finally came over and helped me, and my anxiety lowered. Going to the city was worth the monkey experience. Now Tracy and I are getting read to take a four day, white water kayaking class, and I´m psyched. I just hope that I don´t break something or get hurt.

I also wanted to mention that I read online about what happened at Virignia Tech. I honestly couldn´t believe it. I sat back and thought about how many people have expressed how concerned they are for my safety here in Ecuador, and then this happens at a university. I just happened upon Yahoo news and saw the headlines, and I had to take a doubletake because I couldn´t believe what I saw. People down here ask me what is wrong with the United States. First Columbine, now this, they say. Do parents not spend time with their kids? Is it because you all eat fast food? Is it because you are obsessed with success and working a lot? I don´t really have a good answer for them. They have a point though.


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