First Month Findings

Peter Saudek - Ecuador


October 29, 2010

The past few weeks I have found myself doing lots of observing, listening, and gradually beginning to interact more with the locals as I gain more confidence in my language abilities. However, the more comfortable I feel here, the more I want to say. Then I realize there are still so many ways in which I cannot express my thoughts or who I am due to the constant language barrier that leads conversations to dead ends when I can only circumscribe with so many words the idea I am trying to get across. My (real) sister hit it right on the dot as she told me in an e-mail, ¨those feelings make up the basis of many people’s lives – it is valuable to get a taste of what it feels like, to be able to empathize just a little bit.¨ Not to mention, slang is kind of everything, which Spanish classes can only do so much for. Fortunately, my sixteen year old host brother has helped me out a lot with the teen-talk and so on.

Speaking of teens, the kids and teenagers here are very fun to be around. There is so much laughter and hoarsing around that I can’t help but join in and laugh even when I have no idea what it’s about. It’s really refreshing to see them have a ball and often act knowingly immature, rather than stress about the future and having to be adults too soon, which I feel is an issue where I come from. The adults here also seem to really allow the kids to be kids, as I haven´t seen them break up the fun whether it’s on the public transport buses, sidewalks or in the streets.

The afternoon classes at the University in Quito have covered a wide breadth of topics including politics, economics, human rights, the environment, public health, and waste management. We’ve been fortunate to have some of the most well known professors in Quito deliver lectures each afternoon, some of which have really opened my eyes to topics that I didn’t pay much attention to in the past. The most interesting thing about most of these professors has been how almost each one has shared their personal opinions with the group after presenting an overview of the material. For example, on a lecture about the rights of homosexuals, adoption, and abortion, a professor shared how he felt about the new sets of laws established here by the current President, Rafael Correa. Some of this professor’s viewpoints may not have been exactly politically correct, however it’s been enlightening to hear concrete points of view of those who live here, as opposed to the constant devil’s advocate we are familiar with in the US education system. I think the way the professors have taught some of their classes characterizes many of the people here, very forward and direct about how they feel without the extra fluff.

Some of the most interesting and surprising information from the university classes include:

  • Ecuador’s newest Constitution (2008) created a loophole that could legalize abortions, which up until recently have always been illegal. However, abortion is so frowned upon by the majority of the population that this new law is minimally excercised as clinics for such procedures are scarce.
  • Ecuador became “dollarized” (using the US dollar for its official currency) in 2000, as inflation of the former ¨sucre¨ sky rocketed and the government decided to turn to the U.S. for further economic stability.
  • The economy is now dependent on oil as its biggest export, and secondly on other natural resources such as bananas, coffee, cocoa, and flowers.
  • Deforestation is rapidly killing Ecuador´s natural environment, as 21.5% of the rainforest in the country has been cut down since 1990.
  • The current President, Rafael Correa, became the eigth president in ten years when he was elected to serve a four year term in 2007.

I find the role that politics plays here in Ecuador fascinating. People in Quito are constantly talking about the President and the Government, and what they are or aren’t doing to help the people. The city is covered in grafiti with political statements or opinions on controversial topics such as abortion and violence. Each action the government makes here feels very tangible. Perhaps it’s the small size of the country, the capital city, or the current political instability, but in comparison to the massive United States, it feels like the decisions the government officials make have a more rapid, direct effect on the people.

The last few weekends have been filled with memorable experiences. The nine of us GCY fellows ascended an active volcano named Mt. Pichincha, reaching the peak at 15,698 feet, and we a could certainly feel the elevation. We were completely swallowed in the clouds, but supposedly the view is incredible. Either way it was a very challenging and rewarding hike — as the clouds broke for split seconds at a time we were able to get an idea of how high up we were. We also filmed somewhat of a choreographed dance at the peak!

Last week my host father took me to a South American Cup soccer game in which the best team of Ecuador played the best team of Chile. Wow. What a way to experience my first professional soccer game. The fans sang these rhythmic songs to drum beats throughout the entire game, lit firecrackers, and piled on the fences whenever a goal was scored. It was absolute mayhem and so much fun to be amongst that kind of atmosphere. Soccer really brings the people here together. It’s always being played in some street, courtyard, and even on all of the basketball courts. I’ve gone to play with my host father and brother every Sunday morning at a local field. My foot skills have a long a way to go.

Lastly, we have gone on two excursions with our cultural immersion class which is made up of the nine GCY Fellows and nine local Ecuadorian students. We’ve  gone to two different farms out in the country side, and been able to see where exactly these exotic fruits and meats come from, including a barn full of guinea pigs, a meat that is an Ecuadorian delicacy. I have not had the opportunity to try it yet, but it’s on my list of things to do in Ecuador over the next six months.

Peter Saudek