A drinking culture is undoubtedly very prominent in Ecuador and more specifically very prominent in the Kichwa communities surrounding Tena. When I lived in Alto Tena, it was common to see the community borrachos stumbling around at all hours of every day, and there was rarely a weekend without a community party.
Something I heard time and time again in Alto Tena after someone had made some sort of scene was ‘estuvo borracho, estuvo borracho’ (“he was drunk, he was drunk”). Being drunk is a totally acceptable excuse to have gotten into a fight, to have spent the night sobbing outside the house, or even to have taken a fall and broken a limb. One is not judged for something he or she did while he or she was drunk. It’s almost as if people are seen as totally different persons when they are drunk and therefore one’s sober-self is not held accountable for the actions of one’s drunk-self.
I think the alcoholism here is often closely related to the machismo culture. One of the things that I first noticed as I started living here was how the men would often completely open up emotionally whenever they started to drink. They would cry, laugh, yell, and quarrel: all things that came as a surprise to me as I saw how reclusive and shy many of these people were. Suddenly men who once were too timid to even talk to me were hugging me and making confessions to me. I came to realize that in a machismo culture, where men are expected to be essentially feeling-less and detached, the alcohol becomes an outlet for all these pent-up emotions. One memory in particular sticks in my mind of my host dad. I was never quite sure how he felt about me; he rarely spoke to me, after all. But whenever he’d been drinking, he would break down crying and hug me, telling me about how much he would miss me when I left to go back to the US.
Just as the women are held to certain gender standards, the men are also expected to behave in a certain way. The stereotypes they are expected to uphold – being emotionless, strong, insensitive, and in-control – become evident when they drink and become the opposite of how they behave when they are sober – extremely sensitive and expressive. Though I’m not sure just exactly what the cause-and-effect relationship between the machismo and the alcoholism is in these Kichwa communities, it is interesting to draw connections between the two.