Having been here for a while, I have gotten an inside look at Ecuadorian culture in the cities. I live in a decent sized city, considering that some other fellows in Global Citizen Year are living in towns of 100 people. Women wear low-cut shirts and jeans or shorts instead of traditional dresses. Men wear knockoff American t-shirts instead of indigenous ponchos. People have a decent amount of money. My area shows culture envy for the United States. The young girls are in love with the American boy bands even they don’t understand a word in their songs, all the mannequins in stores have blond hair and blue eyes, and the word “fat” is thrown around a lot where it doesn’t belong.
I was watching TV with my family a little while ago. Some well-known program was on, with a beautiful 20-something year old TV host with body like a model. Upon her arrival on the screen, my mom said “Mira esa gordita!” (look at that fatty!). I thought to myself My mother is not very fit herself, actually quite the opposite, but she calls this woman fat? There is a Peace Corps volunteer in my town, and she is not overweight, yet still my relatives called her gorda. I highly doubt that people would think her fat in the States, and even if they did they would keep it to themselves or say it behind her back. Here mothers call their daughters “gordita” or “chanchita” (piggy). This has something to do with the ideal “barbie” figure in the states, but it is also something embedded in the culture here. The people I have experienced here are very likely to speak their minds instantly, if not say more than the truth.
My 15 year old cousin had a few pimples on his face a few weeks ago. In the States, people would either dismiss it as normal or feel bad for him. Here his own aunt said “Cara de chancho!!! Mira!! Que feo!” (Pig face! Look! How ugly!). Some people here are just outright offensive when they see something abnormal. There is a lot of pressure here to not have imperfections. At a barbeque with all of the Global Citizen Year fellows from my region, my cousins saw that I had a caña, or gray hair. Instead of just telling me, they informed me and proceeded to try to grab my head and try to pluck it out on the spot like a monkey removing bugs from another’s head.
One other big cultural difference I can see between here and the United States is yelling. Yelling is a lot more common here, between parents and kids, teachers and kids, or among kids themselves. I don’t think that there is a day that goes by when my neighbors don’t yell at their kids. The most common phrase I hear from the house is “DEJA LA ALLI!” (leave it there!!). Instead of trying to fix a badly behaved kid by explaining to them why they shouldn’t touch something or giving them boundaries, my neighbor just yells and yells. When the baby cries, the mom yells at it to try to make it stop. The 6th grade kid yells at the other kids when she comes to school, and is both a verbal and physical bully. A teacher at my school yells at the class even when explaining world history, not just punishing.
People also have kids at 16-20 years old. A lot of the time the guy is a few years older than the girl. Girls get pregnant in high school or college here, and it is normal. In my experience, the people you think you love in high school are not your perfect matches. I may be speculating here, but I think there is a tie between unhappy marriages and this culture of yelling, calling others fat and ugly, and pointing out every imperfection others have. It seems to almost be an outlet of frustration.
Of course not every family is like this in the cities. Although my family can be very judgmental, nobody yells or seems angry. I am not saying by any means that all Ecuadorians are judgmental and offensive people. Many families I have seen or heard of are made up of the most wonderful people. There are many great aspects of Ecuadorian life and culture. It is a beautiful country and very diverse. With this blog post I am not trying to talk badly about anyone or make any sweeping assumptions, I am just trying to point out some cultural differences and flaws that I have seen in my community.
I would like to remind everyone that donations are still open for the scholarship fund to help people be part of this amazing program. I have met many friends on this trip, both inside the program and out, and feel that I am achieving my goal of cultural immersion and language development. Speaking of language development, my Spanish is improving so much that I need to use my Spanish-English dictionary to find words that I don’t remember how to say in English! Also it would be great if yall could spread the word so more people can hear about my once in a lifetime opportunity!
P.S. I dropped a few pictures of really cute kids I teach just because.