As I’m writing this, only two weeks remain until my departure from Pijal – my home for the past 6 months. I can’t help but feel nostalgic. I’d like to share some of the experiences that I will remember best from this place. To you they might just appear to be evidence that Ecuador is a very strange country. (But to Ecuadorians – at least the ones that I know – the U.S. seems like a strange country. They were astounded that I’d never seen a live pig or that I only buy groceries in the super market.) To me they are fond reminders of how wonderfully diverse the world is that God has made for us.
Limpia de Cuy
This is what foreigners call an “Indigenous X-ray”. My host mom is kind of like the village medicine woman. So this is how it works: she takes a live guinea pig by the neck and rubs it all over your body for about 5 minutes. By the end the guinea pig has squealed, urinated and then died. Then she dips it in water and rips its skin open by the foot. She peels back the skin almost completely off the body and “reads” the insides of the guinea pig to determine your illness, of which she prescribes a remedy (like drinking some kind of medicinal tea).
I was taken aback the first time I saw one. But who knows? My friend, who has had really terrible stomach problems while living here (like parasites, amoebas, gross stuff like that), had one done and my host-mom knew she had stomach problems because the intestines from the dead guinea pig were still moving.
Pedido de la Mano
Only once did I witness a “pedido de la mano”, which roughly translates as “asking of the hand”. My supervisor invited me to come with him to see how Indigenous Ecuadorians “ask for the hand in marriage” in a community about 30 minutes from Pijal. All I could really understand was that it was a ceremony before the wedding that the groom does for the bride. So we arrived at the groom’s house at 8 o’clock. We waited around for about 2 hours and were served food, offered moonshine (“only for the cold, of course”) and serenaded by a band that contained 3 guitars, an accordian, a saxophone, a trumpet and a violin, while people arrived continuously with boxes of bananas, bread, beer and eggs.
Finally, it was time. The band stopped playing and everyone congregated so the boxes of food or crates of beer could be strapped to their backs. A man said to me, laughing, “It’s time to go buy the bride!” and we were off. We marched (there was roughly 100 of us) in the direction of the fiancé’s house and, as I soon realized, at every intersection we were to stop and “dance” (march in a giant circle) to the music of our band and their only tune. If you didn’t want to “dance” there were “herders” with whips who could coerce you. What easily could have been a 20 minute walk became a noisy, two hour trek through a sleeping town in the bitter cold. Fortunately, someone brought the moonshine.
We arrived to the house just after midnight. We “danced” and slowly began to unload the cargo and deposit it inside the bride’s house. We were served soup, offered more moonshine and serenaded yet again by the band. Once everything was unloaded we went home.
Later I learned what the bride’s family does with all that food: they drive around in a car and deposit a basket-full of bread and bananas at all the houses of their family and friends, like a kind of wedding announcement.
One night I was awakened by my host-mom asking to use my phone at 1 in the morning. She had heard that some thieves had been caught nearby and eventually left and didn’t return until 4. I didn’t hear what happened until the next morning. The thieves had been planning to steal cows and earlier that week had attacked an old lady with a knife while stealing from her house. They were caught by 10 men from a community slightly farther up the mountain than our house. In indigenous communities they do something called “justicia indigena”, or “indigenous justice”. It’s entirely legal. So with the thieves they tied them up in a room and rubbed ice on their backs and then whipped them with ortiga (stinging nettle that burns like crazy) for I don’t know how long. The next day they had a “meeting” which was, as far as I can tell, like a trial in front of the community. The thief who wielded the knife was banished.
I’ve gotten quite used to people laughing at me. Unfortunately, rarely do they laugh because I’ve made a joke. It’s usually because I’ve done something ridiculous or embarrassing.
I was walking home one day around 4 in the afternoon and 3 people were approaching me walking in the opposite direction. When our paths intersected I nodded and absentmindedly said “Buenas Noches!” (Good Evening) to all three of them but only received 3 smirks in return (probably thinking “silly white giant doesn’t even realize it’s still the afternoon”). I got about 5 steps until I came to my senses and yelled “Ohhhhhhh. Buenas Tardes!” and all 3 of them started laughing hysterically.
I’d be lying if I said that kind of thing doesn’t happen daily.
Here I’ve learned the things I expected, like Spanish and how to appreciate another culture, but I’ve also learned and changed in ways unexpected. I’m excited to go to college, not to be away from home and restrictions (as most people are), but to actually learn. (What a crazy idea that is!) I’m sure my personality has changed in ways still unrealized, though I’ve certainly become used to people staring at me. And, as cliché as it is to say, I’ve been reminded of what matters most: people. That is what I miss most about my home. Not using the internet, watching football games, eating pizza, driving a car nor going to the gym. Something so easy to lose sight of while surrounded by so much stuff is that it is the people in our lives, family and friends, that gives life its flavor – that makes it worth living.
I’ve woken up every morning for the past 6 months with a view of one of the most beautiful places in the country where thousands of people come to visit every year, and I´ve had an experience that those people who spend thousands of dollars to come can only taste on a superficial level. I’ve been accepted in a home (and community) that has its own language, food, dress and traditions that are completely different than mine. I will probably never have an experience like this again. I´m so happy I made this decision and I’ve been so blessed to live here.
Thank you for letting me share some of it with you.