I Want To Be A Quiteño

Mitchell Mankin - Ecuador

September 22, 2011

Buenas Tardes,

Sorry it’s been so long that I haven’t written.  Nearly every day I’ve started a blog post, only to look at it the next day and discredit it as naive, cliche, or based on ideas that I no longer hold to be true.  Finally, I’ve decided to let go of the next day and present a moment in time.  This particular moment in time is 16 de Septiembre, last Friday night (or more accurately, Saturday morning).  I had just returned from a fantastic night out in Quito, and this is what I was thinking…

I want to be a Quiteño.

Some crazy part of me has fallen in love with this city.  I want to walk its streets at all hours of the night and day, explore every nook and cranny, stamp through it’s puddles and climb it’s mountains.  I want to meet its people,  to talk with its taxi drivers and buy from its street vendors.   I want to hear its music and sing to its tune.

Houses nestled into the hillsdies above Quito

Until last night, I barely left my host family’s apartment except to travel to classes.  Now that I’m leaving Quito for the first time,  I’m glad I have two more weeks, wish I had two more months, two more years to meet Quito.  But I don’t.

The Sky Above Cúmbaya
The view from Cúmbaya, a Quito suburb


Do I understand Quito?  No.  Not yet.  It would take years, when I only have two more weeks. Even then, Quito is constantly changing.   By the time I got to know the facets of one Quito, thousands of new facets would have sprung from the cracks in its old walls and the bright paint of the new.  I could never catch up.  And that fascinates me.

Hasta pronto, Quito.  May the wait be short.

This extremely high-tech editing was accomplished by putting my hand in front of the aperture and then removing it. I bow, I bow. I know I´m an artíst. (Sarcasm isn´t too common in Ecuador, it´s been a while since I´ve been able to use it.)

At the same time, I recognize how rash this idea is.  I’m not in Ecuador to become a citizen of its capital city.  I’m here to help some of Ecuador’s most marginalized, the indigenous communities of eastern jungle.  Quito is beautiful, but it doesn’t need me.  My workplace, San Pedro de Aucaparte, needs me.  I may not help them in the ways that either of us expect, but somehow I will help.  Quito is comfortable, but it doesn’t test me.  At times, I feel like I’ve simply wandered into a different neighborhood of San Francisco, and that instead of the snow capped volcano of Cotopaxi, I’ll see the Golden Gate Bridge emerging from the fog.  The crowded buses and hole-in-the-wall eateries remind me of the Mission district.  As Quito grows and connects with the rest of the world, it becomes more like a big city in any part of the world.  Local customs become subjugated by the nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday work week and the shopping mall.  In contrast, life in San Pedro de Aucaparte will be like nothing I’ve known.   Never have I lived in a town where everyone knows everyone else, the nearest internet access is 20 minutes down the road, and you can’t find yourself on Google Maps.  It will test me, and that is part of why I’m here.  But more than anything else, I am here to volunteer, and learn whatever I can in the process.

I want to be a Quiteño, but I need to be a voluntario.

Mitchell Mankin