Earplugs

Lydia Collins - Ecuador


January 24, 2013

One of the first bits of Ecuadorian cultural advice I remember receiving at Stanford is to expect a lot of noise.  Our innocent, pre-departure selves were told that the dogs bark more here, the music is played louder, and the cars never cease to honk.  I listened to the advice, processed it, and then forgot about it.  I was more preoccupied with the threat of explosive traveler’s diarrhea and robbers than I was with something as trivial as noise.

Then we got to Quito.  One of my first observations was the amount of honking.  Cars honk to let other cars know they are coming.  Stop signs are typically ignored, which results in more honking.  “HONK, watch out! I’m coming through the intersection!”

Bus drivers would scream to the back of the bus “Continue moving back, CONTINUE MOVING BACK!”  Mango and mandarin venders stand on street corners shouting the prices of their goods to everyone that walks past.  “Veinte cinco un dolarrrrrr.”  The pirated-only DVD store blasted music from the door, sending regaton beats all the way down the street.

When I came to Ibarra, the sounds of Ecua-life did not quiet.  I was exposed to the symphony of dogs singing to each other all throughout the night.  Almost everyone in my neighborhood seems to have a dog and they love talking to each other from their spot on the roof.

While the dogs barked late into the night, my brother had the bass blasting from the stereo downstairs.  He bobbed his head to the sound of LMFAO at 12:00 AM while doing math homework.  In the bedroom next door my sister has the TV volume all the way up on her Korean soap opera. 

Back then I didn’t react well.  I tossed and turned at night, slamming pillows onto my ear in an attempt to block out the Black Eyed Peas.  I compared the sounds to my life in America.  During homework time in my house we never had any loud music and the TV was always turned off.  I had violent thoughts towards the dogs and questioned countless times why the neighbors didn’t tell the dogs to quiet down like I always did with my perrito in Chicago.

Why do the Ecuadorians not get annoyed with endless, obnoxious sound? Why do they think it’s funny when a baby keeps crying? Why don’t they notice the barking at 5 AM?  Why do they need the stereo volume as loud as possible? 

In November, I desperately asked my parents to send earplugs in a care package.  Due to a slow mail system and busy lives, I didn’t receive the little box of CVS earplugs until two weeks ago. 

I ran home with the care package and ripped open the bubble wrap, excited to see what little bits of home made it to the equator.  As my siblings fought over who could pop more bubbles, I squealed when I picked up the hummus, fig newtons, and deck of cards.  It got better as I saw the Glamour, National Geographic, and Architectural Digest magazines.  Deeper, I dug, Leggings! A candle! Letters and notes!

Then, I spotted the small, plastic box of fluorescent orange earplugs.  With a rush, I realized that I had completely forgotten about my frantic November plea.  I smiled.

That little bit of Westernization will definitely be sitting at the bottom of my drawer, collecting dust until I clear out everything in April. 

Without realizing it, I adapted and embraced Ecuadorian noise tolerance.  I now barely notice the volume of LMFAO, the echoing sound of the Korean soap opera, or the constant barking.  Thank you, but no thank you, CVS.  I don’t need to block out the sounds of Ecuador with earplugs.  It is now simply a part of this exciting life that I now feel is finally mine.

I am not an Ecuadorian, nor will I ever be.  But I am now less of a foreigner.  I don’t ask the question “Why do they…

Instead I feel that I am part of “we”. 

Lydia Collins