Welcome to Quito. A bustling city packed with hard working people who have no time to waste. It’s a beautiful city with exotic colored buildings and houses, surrounded by rolling hills that give way to snow-covered Mt. Cotopaxi and the world’s tallest active volcano, Chimborazo. The sidewalks are full with street vendors selling exotic fruits, fresh juices, and all kinds of meats and bread at a price range of fifty cents to three dollars at most. Along the bus route there are a lot of run-down areas and abandoned houses or businesses.
The climate is pretty strange. I wasn’t sure if the locals were being serious when they told me that on average you experience four seasons per day. But they were. It’s about fifty degrees in the morning, ninety degrees in the early afternoon, sixty degrees in the evening with pouring rain for an hour, and then it drops to forty’s at night.
The city life is fast-paced and pretty crazy, especially if you commute via public transportation every day. I mentally prepare to take the bus as if I’m about to play in a big game. The bus never really stops moving, so I jump on while it’s on the move, grab a handle from the ceiling if one is available, and basically participate in a massive group hug due to the number of people packed into the bus. After being here for a few days now I’m used to the staring once I board the bus. I don’t think I could stick out anymore. After about twenty five minutes I jump off and walk up the street to my classes in the Ecuadorian Experiment in International Living (EIL) building.
For this month, the other eight GCY fellows and I take Spanish classes from 8:30-12:30 at EIL every day, and then go back to our host families for lunch, or almuerzo, which is the big meal of the day. Then we meet at the University de Las Americas (UDLA), where we have lectures and discussions involving international human rights, and Ecuador’s political and economic situations. Oh yeah, and every Thursday we have TWO dance classes. One in the morning at EIL, and one in the evening at UDLA. Nothing like a little salsa to start off the day, and how about some “tropicales” dance to end it? Apparently it’s all in the hips. Much easier said than done, however.
The more proficient I become in Spanish, the more safe and comfortable I feel here. But there’s no doubt, theft is pretty prevalent here in Quito. You have to hold your belongings in front of you at all times, and you have to walk with a purpose along the sidewalk or streets. I was sitting next to a boy on the bus yesterday who looked about ten years old, and I asked him how he was doing and if he had school today. His first reaction before he answered was to pull his bag to his chest and look around to make sure other people were near. Generally, nobody talks to each other on the bus. Once he realized I meant no harm, he smiled and we talked briefly. He gave me an enthusiastic “ciao!” as he hopped off the bus. I don’t have a complete sense for the people here yet, but on average I find they are more generous and open than I am used to. There just needs to be some trust established first.
The first few days were pretty rough as the sudden immersion caught me off guard, but the culture shock and language barrier have gradually lessened in the last few days. I have to keep reminding myself to be patient with the language, and embrace the discomfort of living in a completely new place and culture that I strive to figure out more and more of each day.