The days leading up to my departure from Northampton, Massachusetts, then the week in Palo Alto, California, finally the month in Quito, Ecuador, each was connected to the other by a lengthening string of preoccupations about my six month stay in rural Ecuador. What might it be like living with no running water? Without showers? Would I have to eat guinea pig on a regular basis? How would I deal with living in a family where the father cheats on the mother or mistreats the children? What if my family doesn’t respect my privacy, or conversely and worse, ignores me altogether? The list goes on.
These were some top concerns, and I am happy to report that they were dispelled immediately from my first day. I was introduced to my own bedroom, next to my own bathroom with toilet, toilet paper, and shower, in a pretty little wooden house behind my family’s home. I was gifted with daily WiFi and fantastic vegetarian fare, including fresh yogurts, dried fruits still warm from dehydration, and rich teas of ginger, pineapple, and sweetleaf. I found that my family is smart and kind, and my parents, Sonia and Eduardo, are warm and welcoming. Their respect and love for one another was immediately apparent, as well as for my three energetic siblings, Edu, Alejo, and Anita. Every day I felt more familiar with the routine, and I was starting to think there really wasn’t anything enormous I was going to have to adapt to.
But that wouldn’t have made for a formative international experience, now would it? There are some cultural differences that take more than a couple days to rise to the surface, to be recognized.
I’ll give an example.
The other day, my family told me that I would be joining them to celebrate a relative’s eighty-eighth birthday. “We are leaving at ten-thirty so be ready!” Sonia explained to me over a breakfast of guagua de pan and colada morada, (a traditional and delicious snack eaten during the days leading up to Dia de los Difuntos, or Day of the Dead.) So on time, I was dressed and ready to head out. I waited. At ten forty-five I walked into the kitchen,
“Estoy listo!” (I’m ready!)
“Bueno mi hijito, we’ll go in fifteen minutes!”
At eleven o’clock my family showed no signs of moving, so I wandered around the property. I’ll just relax a few minutes while my family gets ready. I watched some TV with my host brothers, pet the cat, looked over my assignments for work, but by noon I started to get antsy.
“Are we heading over to the party?”
“Si, tranquilo! Very soon!”
So I found some more ways to fill my time. Wrote in my journal, watched more TV, raided the kitchen for snacks. At a quarter till two I was sure we had scrapped the whole party plan. I was heading down the cement steps towards the backyard when Edu ran over.
“Aidan! What are you doing? We’re heading to the birthday party remember?”
So we left at two o’clock, which even seemed late to an American who grew up in a family where “we’re heading out to Grandpa’s house at nine,” usually included a possible margin of error of an hour or two.
Lesson of the day? Things move slowly here in Los Bancos. Actually, this is a nationwide phenomenon some call “Ecua-time.” It’s been a major factor in adjusting here, and it hasn’t just been apparent in my host family. Meetings don’t start at given times, and performances take an extra hour or so to get started. At the municipality, I talked to my supervisor about a recycling initiative that they told me I’d be helping promote, and she explained that we’d just be starting “sometime next year,” and there wasn’t a set week or month. When I voiced that we could easily start the process now, I received a slow shake of the head.
“You Americans love to do things like this: chop chop chop chop,” she said moving her hands up and down in a cutting motion, “here we have our own schedule, and it requires one to be mas paciente.“
It’s the way people conduct their lives here, I can’t change it to fit my current schedule adherent mindset.
This difference in culture I’ll have to deal with like a balancing act. On one hand adjusting to this flexible schedule is part of immersion and I will have to get used to it to fully make Ecuador a home. On the other, I only have six months here, and there are certain things I simply can’t wait around to do later. By April I hope to be able to embrace the mentality of patience that comes with “Ecua-time,” while holding on to the more rigid planning aspects that allow me to work at full efficiency and potential. I can’t afford to leave starting my projects to next year, nor can I get to my meeting in Mindo today half an hour later than planned. However when it comes to weekend activities and such, I could toss the schedule and accept a more relaxed routine. Where it comes to the parts of my life I usually fill with an unnecessary adherence to rigid time-frames, I could get used to this more flexible “Ecua-time.” I’ll tell you in a couple weeks how the transition is going. May be a month if it’s going well.