Boats, and Bulls, and Bravery! Oh, my!

Joan Hanawi - Ecuador


December 9, 2011

Tena's version of the county fair

Las Fiestas de Tena. The Parties of Tena. Dangerous words in any language.

One thing that I’ve learned very quickly here is that Ecuadorians are very proud to be Ecuadorian. They love finding reasons to celebrate their vibrant nation, and one of the ways this is done is through the Fiestas. Each province or capital city of a province has week-long festivities at different times in the year to appreciate the rich diversity of culture, music, food, and dancing that can be found in every corner of the nation. There are cultural exhibitions, grand parades, vivid fireworks, crowded concerts, and the fair. One of the highlights of the Fiestas of Tena for every inhabitant of Tena is the fair. When we stepped off the bus onto the fairgrounds, my 6-year-old nephew voiced everyone’s sentiments perfectly as he yelled, “LLEGAMOS! We’re here!” My nieces and nephews immediately scattered to explore the fair, weaving between traditional food vendors, mechanical monstrosities of various types of rides, typical boardwalk games, and sideshows while I stepped tentatively off the bus, overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. As I began to walk more confidently between the tents and crowds, I realized that this was simply your typical county fair—jungle style.

My family and I continued to meander through the expositions, until we came to a ride called, La Barca,Spanish for “The Boat.” I have never been a fan of fair rides, but as soon as we approached the boat, my brother began to challenge all the girls to ride La Barca. “Come on, todas las mujeres, all the girls!” he chanted. My sisters and I looked at each other apprehensively until finally one of them exclaimed, “Let’s do it!” I began to shake my head, but my sisters grabbed my arms and dragged me to the line, all the while exclaiming, “Joanna, you’re one of us now! You have to! Either we all go, or no one goes!” And, as much as I hate fair rides, I pulled myself together and stepped onto La Barca.

My much braver nieces and nephews riding the child version of "La Barca."

I know that I don’t like fair rides from my experience on them in the States. However, what I didn’t know is that no one in my family, besides my brother, had ever been on La Barca. Within seconds of the ride starting, half of my sisters were in tears and the other half were screaming so loudly, I couldn’t hear anything else. As we stepped off La Barca, my sisters quickly recovered from their fear with laughs and smiles, as the experience of La Barca continued to be a conversation topic for days. As we were walking away from La Barca, one of my sisters turned to me and said, “Now you’re really one of us. Sharing tears and screams creates bonds stronger than blood.” (My brother later pulled me aside to thank me for providing him with a week’s worth of laughter, as he shared that he knew none of his sisters had ever ridden La Barca, and that he knew none of them would like it, which is why he encouraged us to go on it so he could watch and enjoy their terrified reactions.)
After La Barca, we continued to wander around the fair, until my nieces and nephews came running up to me, grabbing my hands, and pulling me to a mini stadium in the corner of the fair. As we entered, I realized that we had just walked into a bull-fighting ring. Immediately, I was entranced by the fallen beauty, the angst, and the bravery of the bulls. In a stadium full of spectators, they continued to charge with an inexplicable anger, oblivious to the taunting chants and enthralled by the waving red flag. My heart went out to these poor entertainers, as such majestic animals, filled with strength, courage, and pride, were reduced to an object of amusement. The ornate costumes of the torreros,more commonly known as matadors or bull fighters, seemed like a sad attempt to match the natural beauty of the bulls. And as I was watching, I realized that so many of us often share the same sentiments of the bulls. I can only speak for myself, but I know that at times, I charge ahead without thinking, I don’t heed the advice of others. But instead of ending up literally locked up in a pen by my ignorance like the bulls, what my experiences thus far have instilled in me is a desire to understand what it means to learn—through a mixture of experiences, mistakes, observations, and shared wisdom—so that the waving red flag I set my sights on will be a goal worth chasing.

What type of red flag are you chasing?

Joan Hanawi