I’ll admit it: I never really liked kids. While I enjoy working with them, and certainly don’t hate them, I never really understood the appeal of having a tiny, incompetent roommate who doesn’t pay rent or do the dishes.
And then I made my first friend here in Ecuador.
Allow me to explain via my favorite literary device, the simile. Moving to a foreign country is a lot like being the new kid at school. You don’t know anyone, you don’t know how to act, you feel as if all eyes are on you. Oh, and you’re also secretly afraid that everyone hates you for some reason. Every movement that you make, every word you speak, is incredibly weighted. You don’t just have to make a good first impression of you, but your entire culture. I represent the entirety of the Jewish population of my town, which is hardly surprising. That being said, I have to be an ambassador of my country, my religion, and my culture.
It can be a lot sometimes.
This is only compounded by fact that caught me off guard: I am a minority here. My whole life, I have been able to blend in fairly well. The United States is a fairly diverse country, yet 72.4% of the population is Caucasian. Here in Ecuador, 7% of the population is Caucasian, and that is mostly of Spanish descent.
Jews in Ecuador make up less than 1% of the population (and the nationally provided statistic includes both Eastern Orthodox and Muslims in this figure – still less than 1%)
The average male height here is 5’4. I am 6’4. Are you starting to get the picture?
But my best friend, Dana, doesn’t care about any of that. She doesn’t even know about any of this.
To be fair, she’s only four years old.
For some one who was born the majority, and is now living the minority, this is a godsend. Dana doesn’t care about where I come from, or what I look like. She doesn’t mind my poor grammar or fumbling sentences. She only wants to do puzzles and have me read to her. Sometimes she has to help me with the big words.
Every time I step into work, I wait to hear the high pitched shriek of “Viejo!”. To her, I am just that: an old man. nothing more, nothing less.
While I have learned to empathize much more with immigrants, minorities, and foreigners, I will never really understand what it is like to spend your entire life embodying an entire people. That being said, these months have been plenty enough for me. What I miss most about my home is my anonymity. I can wrap it around me like a cloak, and wear it with silent glee. At home, when I go to the store, I’m just another guy who wants pepperoni and duct tape, as opposed to the local circus attraction that I have become here.
Again, Dana cares nothing about this. To her, I’m simply another person to throw Legos at. Kids really do have an innocence that so many of us struggle to hold onto. They help us rediscover our own. Maybe they’re not so bad after all.
When every act that I make here is representative of millions of people, sometimes it’s nice to do puzzles and play hide and seek.