Ever since I started the Global Citizen Year program, beginning with Fall Training, I have been experiencing this very strange feeling, which is incredibly difficult to pinpoint. It’s always on the tip of my tongue, but I don’t feel any anxiety to find out what it is. I am flabbergasted when people ask me how I feel, and I always simply say “Good” even though I’m not sure if it’s true. I know it isn’t a false thing to say, but I don’t think I can fully embody that “Good” feeling.
The more I ponder this odd predicament, I think, maybe I am just overly protecting myself from culture shock, or maybe I am trying to be so non-judgmental I don’t want an overshadowing emotion to taint my experience, and parts of both of these explanations are true. However, I am definitely not able to be completely non-judgmental when I see so many different things around me. I always notice myself making little judgments when I see a thick cloud of black smoke fuming out of bus tailpipes, and I make little judgments when I see people performing in front of stoplights and children selling gum in the middle of the road. I make little judgments when I walk up the street and strangers catcall and make kissing sounds at me. At first, I’m incredibly disgusted, sad, or irritated, and the judgments I make are along the lines of ignorance, and I pity them momentarily. Then I try to take a step back to realize that not only is this person a stranger, but this person’s whole culture, and perspective of the world is a stranger to me.
Without being able to feel fully and unequivocally “good,” I sometimes end up lacking any feeling. I think possibly this indescribable feeling is an issue because I don’t want to look back on this experience with that empty emotion to reflect on. I want to step out of my comfort zone and let myself feel and let myself observe my reactions to cultural differences instead of inhibiting them. Each reaction I express can only become an opportunity for reflection, and with that introspection I’ll find truth about myself, as well as a deeper understanding of the world around me.
Although there are some integral things about Quito that intensely irritate me, I have to remember that some of these things also concern the rest of Ecuador, and often most of Latin America. I am learning slowly to adjust to changes. I cannot let the problems bog me down, and I make a point of thoroughly enjoying my time here. Every city has it’s faults, but this city in particular also has many wonderful things. Primarily I love the company of all of my Fellows, and I learn nearly as much from them as I do in my classes. All of my peers here have extremely valuable ideas and perspectives that often surprise me and always expand my own way of thinking.
Some of the classes we have had are at UDLA, one of the large Universities here. We were blessed with many opportunities to hear from very highly qualified people about subjects they are passionate about, and as students we are hungry to know more about. We were graced by the presence of Norman Wray, one of the writers of the new Ecuadorian Constitution, implemented in 2008. To have the privilege of listening to the writer of any constitution is incredible, especially in the context of how in the United States, our founding fathers are completely inaccessible except for our history texts. During this lecture I felt like I was in a very historically and culturally profound moment. In front of me was a man talking about the evolution of human rights in Ecuador, how nature is given rights. Many of the ideas in this constitution are radically progressive and liberal, and made me forget for a moment that I am in a developing nation.
These are the moments when I want to feel the most. I want to remember how I felt when I heard Norman Wray explain the constitution he helped write, and a constitution I hope to last in this country. I want to remember how I felt when I first experienced the pollution. I want to remember how I felt when I learned that abortion is the leading cause of death in women. I want to remember how I felt when I saw someone drop money, and everyone stopped to help return it. I want to remember how I felt, when I arrived on my first day and looked up to see all of the glistening lights, with a shadow of the Andes encompassing the west side of the city. These are the kinds of feelings and experiences that will define my Global Citizen Year, and I don’t want it any other way.