Four Months Later, Still Living in Exceptions

Lindsay Saligman - Ecuador

March 3, 2015

My very first blog post, back from when I was living in Quito in September, was about how my host evangelical competitively swimming upper middle class family in Quito seemed to be more of an exception to a rule when it came to Ecuadoreans.

Four months later, as I contemplate my current Ecuadorean community, I cannot help but feel an even bigger exception than my Quite̱o host family. Most people in Santa Rita cannot dance salsa. Most people do not watch telenovelas. No one ever greets anyone with a kiss on the cheek and most families (mine included) don’t celebrate Christmas. Perhaps the most exceptional thing about my Ecuadorean community, is the fact that some of its members do not speak Spanish.

Ironically, when I choose to come to Ecuador, I imagined perfecting my Spanish. The blurb on this blog says one of my goals for the year is to learn to speak without a foreign accent.

Little did I know, where I was going, the majority of adults speak Spanish with a foreign accent. This is because their first language is Kichwa. Many people also have a limited vocabulary and grammar habits that would probably make the founders of the Real Academia (the official Spanish language authority) roll over in their graves. This is a combination of poverty and their first language being Kichwa.

In a country whose population is 57% rural and 80% mestizo* (mixed race), my 100% Kichwa community is so rural that it doesn’t even have a store; this is indubitably an exception as well.

Because my community does not celebrate Christmas, I decided to spend the holiday with the family of an Ecuadorean teacher I had back the United States. The family lived outside Quito, and on my four and a half hour climb up out of the rainforest and up the Andes I remember being excited to finally get a taste of mestizo Ecuador and experience a “real Ecuadorean Christmas.”

When I arrived at the family’s house, I was greeted by 30+ relatives all of whom spoke fluent English. They had turkey for dinner and a ginger bread house for dessert. They drunk wine out of wine glasses and lived in houses with guest bedrooms.

When they put on classical music, I realized was in shock. How could these people (some of whom had hair that was naturally blonde) be from the same world, let alone the same country as my Kichwa host family that lives in a four room government issued house, eats off of metal plates, and listens almost exclusively to Kichwa folk music?

So how can these two families, both so different from each other and both so different what most people would call “Ecuadorean” both be considered Ecuadorean? Read on please.

When I imagined Ecuador, I imagined salsa-dancing,telenovela watching extroverts with round eyes, wild black hair and skin the color of coffee with milk.

Having been here four months, I still haven’t found those people. Instead, what I have encountered is a country full of diversity, a country in which every family and person (as far as I’ve found) is an exception.

I grew up thinking I live in an exceptionally diverse country. There is a lot of evidence to back this up: the population of the United States is comprised of immigrants from every single other country in the world. Among Americans are some of the world’s richest individuals as well as people who work fourteen hour days and go to bed hungry. I could go on, but you get the point.

When I was 16, I lived in Russia for half a year. Upon arriving, I was interested in seeing what life would be like in a country that lacked diversity. What I found out however, is that Russia is the native home to 185 different ethnic groups (more than Ecuador). I found out that there are places in Russia where it never snows. I found out that there are a lot of Muslims who call Russia their native home, and I found out that an Ukranian whose family has lived in Moscow for 200 years is Ukranian, not Russian, and will be Ukranian until the day they die.

When I got home from Russia I remember thinking: wow, who knew, Russia is diverse just like the USA.

Then two years later I came to Ecuador. Again, I found diversity and more exceptions than rules.

This leads me to the conclusion that my hypothesis that Ecuador is a country of more exceptions than rules, is applicable on a global scale.

Rather than the world being a place with some diverse countries and some monogamous countries, I’m starting to see that every country is diverse, and if I once thought otherwise it was because I had only experienced other countries through media, which tends to present generalizations that are so general that they do not resemble reality.

Conclusion: Almost everything is a little bit atypical. Almost every person is in some way exceptional.

Which means the world is totally worth paying attention to.

I can see why people are always saying that you should never make assumptions.

*Statistics from Ecuadorean Ministry of Education.

Lindsay Saligman