Lessons from Life in Ecuador

Over the past six months I have spent much time analyzing
the intricacies of the Ecuadorian customs that I have had the privilege to
experience. Cultural differences between
my old home and my new one provided an opportunity to ponder the stark contrast
between the two and discover how that fit with my view of the world.
Conditioned by my upbringing in an environment that was so radically different
from the one here, I found myself investigating the complexity of family
relations, personal values, and perceptions of success. Yet recently, as my bridge year comes quickly to a close, I have made an effort to drop the analysis in
exchange for appreciation. I now spend many of the precious moments that remain
simply observing and reveling in the beauty of the life that I have built here.
The more I do this, the more I realize just how much this place has left an
enduring mark on me and taught me more than I could have ever imagined.


One of the first things I noticed about the people of my
community, specifically those from my family was that they all seemed to go
about their everyday lives with a sense of positivity and happiness that I at
first had difficulty understanding. To tell the truth, my initial suspicion was
that the apparent elation towards life must have been a facade. I asked myself
how people who lacked so many of the things to which we assign value in the
United States could be so incredibly content. Despite my initial suspicion, I
have come to see that their general attitudes are not a mask but rather an inspiring
outlook on life that so many individuals, including myself, struggle to attain
in the pressure cooker of American society. When conversing with my friends and
host family about their lives and aspirations, I can sense a feeling of peace
that arises from the tranquility of life in a rural community of Ecuador. For many
of them, the highest attainments lie in a productive piece of land that provides
a source of subsistence and the freedom to enjoy time with beloved friends and
family. Conditioned to think the precious
moments we are endowed on this earth should be dedicated to going somewhere,
doing something, and being someone,
it took me many months to accept and treasure the contrasting definition of
achievement that I have been shown here. Now that I have, I savor the hours of simply
sitting and conversing with my family about anything and everything, during
time when I used to feel like I had to “be productive.” Even just thinking
about that iconic phrase provides a heaping platter of food for thought. What
does it really mean to be productive? My definition is ever evolving, but it is
no longer defined solely by how many things I produce in a given amount of time
but rather includes aspects that cannot be quantitatively measured.


As I walk down the street in Paragachi, I pause to reflect
on the feeling I get when I exchange a greeting with every community member I
pass by.  As simple as it seems, there is
something so special about acknowledging the presence of another human being
and expressing enough interest in their existence to offer them a “buenas
tardes” or stop for a quick chat. Stepping out of my own world every once and a
while to recognize another person has unveiled the power of a personal
connection, no matter how brief it may be. This spirit of considering others strikes
me again every time I witness the selfless hospitality that so many Ecuadorians
exhibit. I cannot count the number of times that, while going about our rounds
with my coworker in one community or another, we have been invited into
someone’s home for a respite from the heat, given food to recharge, and engaged
into a chat based in genuine interest about what we have to say. It need not be
over looked that those who take the time to provide for us are those that have
relatively little. To sum up the philosophy of the people here I think no one
put in better than my host mom when she said, “although we do not live a life
of luxury, we have open hearts.” Being a recipient of such selfless actions has redefined my concept of generosity and reaffirmed that no matter what we possess, there is always room to give. 


One of the traits I admire in so many of those who I have
formed with relationships with is an ability to take life as it comes and
respond to its misfortunes with a chuckle. Everyday, I see my
Ecuadorian peers respond to seemingly stressful situations with a broad smile
and a sly joke before proceeding to approach them with a lightheartedness that
always seems to yield a positive result. Whereas to me it seemed that issues
that arise throughout days and lives naturally provoke a reaction of
frustration, I have witnessed examples that that does not have to be the only


As the inexplicably wild ride that has been the past seven
months swiftly comes to a close, I find myself in awe at all that has happened
and how it has impacted me. In the
weeks, months, and years to come I will undoubtedly reflect back on this period
of my life and process truly just how transformative it has been and welcome it
as an inherent part of who I am and will always be. Until the next blog, I am
focused on cherishing the small moments that represent the life I have built
here and holding on to the meaningful memories I have formed with people I will
miss so dearly.