Expect the Unexpected

Lily Shaffer - Ecuador


October 25, 2010

Yesterday I came home from classes and there was Klezmer music wafting down the stairs.  Yes, I am in Quito, Ecuador.  Yes, I’m living in an evangelical Christian household. Yes, my internship with Pastoral Migratoria is affiliated with the Catholic Church.

I went upstairs to Mamá’s room and found her sewing muñecas and humming along to Klezmer music.

“¡Ay, mija! ¿Como fue tu mañana? ¿Te gusta esta música? Es mi favorito. Juan me llevó de Israel cuando estaba trabajando en un Kibutz.”

(Ay, my little daughter! How was your morning? Do you like this music? It’s my favorite. Juan (my brother) brought this CD from Israel when he returned from the Kibutz).

I’m not going to lie—I was pretty shocked.  As much as I tried to follow last year’s fellows’ advice to expect the unexpected, I never once thought that mi mamá would listen to Klezmer music, randomly recite Hebrew prayers, or quote the Talmud.  Did I mention I live in an evangelical Christian home?

I think it just goes to show how intricately united this world is.  I wear a necklace my dad gave me the day before I left home. In Hebrew, the words on the pendant say “may you come and go with peace.” I was nervous to wear it here; forget a Star of David. I hadn’t exactly planned on sharing my religious beliefs, either. Yet on the first night here, Mamá asked me what religion I am.  Timidly, I said Jewish. The response was something to the degree of:

¿SI? ¿CLARO? ¿En serio?¿Es Judío? Ay, que chévere. ¡Se encantan los Judíos! (REALLY? Seriously? You’re a Jew? How cool! I love Jews!)

Being open about certain beliefs has unearthed a new level of developing Spanish and understanding Ecuador’s political stances. Mamá and I get into these monstrous debates about immigration laws, health care reform, Ecuadorian—United States relations, natural medicine, global warming—you name it, we’ve discussed it. And when I say discuss, I mean we yell, laugh, and disagree…most outsiders would call our “discussion” a “flaming argument.”

Mi Mamá is from the coast of Ecuador.  Coastal Ecuadorians are notoriously louder, more straightforward, and constantly in motion.  Our conversations remind me of Rosh Hashana at my Buba and Papa’s house.  Any outsider at a Shaffer family gathering would probably think our family is going to tear each other to shreds before the night is through.  But that’s just the nature of my stereo-typically Jewish family—loud, honest, tons of hand movements, disagreements.

It’s funny how similar we all are.  I’m realizing that the notion of family is, más o menos, the same all over the world. When I treat Mamá more like my mom than a host, and when she treats me more like her daughter than a guest, we both learn from each other. So next time you think you’re with someone who you think you have absolutely no connections with, or whose beliefs seem to be the complete opposite of yours, try sharing a little piece of yourself. You may find a new best friend, or a second Mamá below the Equator.

Lily Shaffer