Bottoms Up

Danny DeBare - Ecuador


September 17, 2017

Liquids aren’t the most defined matter. Taking the shape of whatever container they inhabit, liquids constantly change forms. Not reliable like solids, or mysterious like gasses, fluid substances are hard to pin-point—literally. I could talk about the solid food I’ve been eating – white bread, white rice, and white flavorless corn – or the disgusting air contaminated by countless public busses emitting soot and endless chemicals into the thin air. However, I can’t do Quito justice unless I use liquids as a vessel to share my experiences in this city with you?*

 

7:15– I wake up and brush my teeth. Does that weird mix of saliva and toothpaste count as a liquid? Since I don’t actually drink it, I don’t think so. Next.

 

7:40—Each morning, I sit down for a breakfast of scrambled or hardboiled egg, bread, and a mug filled with steaming milk. A container of instant “100% Columbian” coffee stands next to the spoon. I’ve never been a coffee guy, but I love the warm milk with a hint of coffee! This glass of leche yanks me out of bed in the morning. Fingers crossed, this isn’t just a habit of my awesome abuela, but an Ecuadorian tradition. Opposite the milk, a narrow glass of juice counters the steam with fruity foam. Sometimes, this juice is my favorite part of the day. Freshly squeezed tomate de árbol juice revolutionizes the way I view the tomato family. If I could, this jugo would come out of the purified spigots. However, some mornings, a store-bought, chemically infused, ambiguously orange liquid forces it’s way down my throat.  This breakfast juice is hit or miss; just like Quito. You could end up strolling through Parque de Carolina, sitting by the fountain watching acrobats flip their way across the spacious lawn, or stuck in a public bus kilometers beyond capacity, struggling to find breathable air. Believe it or not, I’ve gotten both on my half an hour trip to and from language class. How lucky!

 

10:30—Two hours into Spanish class, we have a break where we reunite and commiserate about the lack of hot water in our showers or the 6pm curfew that trapped someone for hours. I use this time to refill my water bottle with the purified agua unavailable at my apartment. This ritual is a distinct aspect of being a foreigner in a country with different bacteria in their tap water. I’m not talking about gross LA water that’s technically safe. I’m talking about water that if consumed in a substantial amount will ruin your next 48 hours. Throughout the next seven months, I will never be able to consume the tap water of Ecuador. This forms a distinct barrier that will always separate the locals and me. I can never fully integrate into the community, never fully remove my American identify and all the baggage that comes with that red, white, and blue childhood.

 

19:00—After half an hour of jamming out to Frank Ocean or Book of Mormon, fumbling with the lock to four different doors, I arrive home thirsty. On the counter is this pitcher of red tinted, water based, transparent liquid. The shade of rojo varies each day. Honestly, I have no idea what’s in it. I taste that spice/seed Indian food restaurants offer by the spoonful on your way out. Some lemon. Obviously water. Maybe rose petals? Your guess is as good as mine. My abuela calls it agua saludable, which translates to healthy water. According to her, it keeps the sicknesses away. It may sounds like some voodoo, but so far, it’s been good!

There’s some stuff in Ecuador that I just don’t understand, but seems to work. Take their obsession with juice. In my experience, there rarely seems to be any fruit available at meals. But juice, often freshly squeezed, makes an appearance at almost every meal. Ecuador has fresh fruit and all the accompanying vitamins, but not usually consumed in its natural form.

 

20:00—Following a light dinner, I open the furthest right drawer behind the table and take out a beautiful dark brown box with the letters “T” and “é” carved in the center. The box opens from the middle, like the shutters on those cute houses from West Oakland. Broken into four compartments, each one contains a flavor or two of tea. Creating a unique display of color, like much of Ecuadorian culture, this habit is a comforting part of my day. No matter how hard Spanish class was, no matter how poorly I communicated with that store cashier, no matter what mood the afternoon activity puts me in, this tea will always be there. I’ve learned quite a few new vocabulary words through the wrap on tea packages.

 

These liquids filled up my first independent week in Quito. Throughout these upcoming months, I aspire to inherit the mindset of liquids; that means taking different shapes depending on my surroundings, adapting to each unique environment.

 

Yes, this metaphor can only stretch so far, but I think for now it has done the job. I am now heading off to where I will spend the next 7 months of my life; Cotacachi, Imbabura. Living thirty minutes outside of Otavalo, I will be a teacher’s assistant in a classroom teaching English to elementary level kids. I recall telling many people that I would love to do anything BUT teach English, but I can’t say I’m too upset. Reach out if you want an address; I’d love to have some pen pals!

 

*I’m starting to really enjoy using these footnotes! Anyways, I’m here apologizing to any mentor of mine who explicitly forbid me from using second person in my writing. I wouldn’t be true to myself unless I intentionally break well-established rules. Oops.  

Danny DeBare