Just The Two of Us

Russell Gens - Ecuador


February 14, 2014

For the past three months I have been living in La Victoria de Pusuca, a town of thirteen families about an hour outside of the city of Riobamba. In this tiny town, I’ve come to make up exactly one half of one tiny family. I spend almost every waking hour of my life with my host mom, Charito. Just the two of us.

In our time together she has taught me more than I could ever recount here from agriculture, to cooking, to tourism. We’ve laughed, traveled, and taken care of each other in weak moments, growing closer together through every (mis)adventure. But of course, nothing is ever perfect. The more time we spent together the more I began to notice a few things that just made me stop and scratch my head.

First things first though, a little context: Most people who know me would probably agree that I can be more than a little hard headed, supremely disorganized, and independent to a flaw. With this in mind, when Charito would correct me for things like wearing dusty shoes, drinking juice with pulp, or having dirt on my hands it was more than frustrating to me. I saw these as personal decisions rather than mandates and to have someone question that was challenging.

At first my way of dealing with these differences was to ignore them, blowing off the criticism and continuing with whatever I was doing, but when I started getting comments on how frequently I was washing my sheets it became clear that something was amiss.

Feeling frustrated and confused I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Despairing that we had come to some irreconcilable clash of personality between host and homestayer, I decided it was time to phone a friend. A few conversations and many hours of thought later I came to something of a realization. Though spending so much time with just one companion had opened my eyes to so many new things, it had also blinded me.

Without other points of cultural reference, I had failed to develop an understanding of Ecuadorian culture. I didn’t understand that culture was more than just food and music, but rather a complete system of values so deeply engrained in us that, more often than not, we don’t even realize they exist. Rather than consider that these wrinkles in our relationship came from differences in culture and the values that come with it, I could only see a single stubborn person acting, in my estadounidense eyes, irrationally.

By recognizing that there was more at play than personality, I began to move forward. Recognizing the part culture plays in my moments of frustration I now feel humble rather than combative, seeking how to adapt and accommodate instead of resisting in an ignorant struggle. Of course, as any dynamic duo must, we still have our struggles from time to time, but by recognizing our differences for what they are, I think that for Charito and I, the best is yet to come.

Russell Gens