No, Americans Don’t Have All The Answers

Elias Smolcic-Larson - Ecuador


December 19, 2014

I have now been in my community for more than a month and I am still searching for a place in an area not used to seeing many foreigners. I continue struggling to make new friends my age (I am experiencing a similar situation that Sara, a team leader, experienced in her time doing research in Ecuador in that we have both made friends mostly with the children under 12 and the older women of the town). Despite this struggle, I have a wonderful host family consisting of three sisters my age and parents who are willing to involve me in their many projects. Some exciting things that I have been involved with recently include participating in the town‰Ûªs annual party, working with my father on the town’s irrigation system, and planting maize. I will struggle to find free moments as I become more involved with my family‰Ûªs work and, gradually, the community. At the beginning, I had a lot of free time and found that one way to fill this gap was by introducing myself to different members of the community. This, I found, is much harder done than said as most of the women in the community tend to be introverted and work very long hours, the men often want me to drink with them, and the youth are frequently at school or out riding motorcycles. With these difficulties, I found that the children who mostly wanted to play soccer have become my best friends. They are incredibly patient with both my Spanglish (a combination of English and Spanish) and my rusty soccer-playing skills and are often laughing and full of energy, energy both for the game and for learning about the world. There is much enthusiasm from them about the upcoming internet cafÌ© that will be the first in the community and, when they are older, working at the planned organic fertilizer factory instead of heading to Cuenca on the 4:30 AM bus for work. This enthusiasm is also shared by my host father, who is excited that in the coming decade or two these children will not feel as though they have to make the long journey to Cuenca, Guayaquil, Quito, or even the United States to make a living. Though inevitably some will still make the trek because one can earn so much more working in the US, this may be a chance for some not to feel the need to leave just to find a way to eat. Although everyone I have spoken to has at least one family member in the USA, I have struggled in explaining where I live. Many of the community members believe the entire East Coast is part of New York, with its neighborhoods of Queens, Brooklyn, Sunset Park, Philadelphia, and Boston. I have since learned from my initial mistake of mentioning I live south of New York, which has lead many to conclude that I am from New Jersey. I have now learned to mention Washington DC (also part of New York) as this is in fact the closest metropolitan area to my home. Further west there are few human settlements, namely Houston, Chicago, Miami, and Minneapolis, until one reaches the West Coast called California and its neighborhoods of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Utah, and Seattle. Lacking a map of the country, I generally don‰Ûªt bother attempting to explain that I live in a small town in the middle of the woods in Central Pennsylvania. While struggling to explain where I live, I have found it equally challenging to explain that I know little about the greater New York area and even less in regards to California. I am often asked how much can one earn working there, how easy it is to get a visa, and more. Many forget that the United States is a much larger country than Ecuador and multiple times I have been asked if I know the young woman living in Miami, Florida who was featured on the TV show “Ecuatorianos en el Mundo” or if I‰Ûªve been to the municipal park where their son living in Cambridge, Massachusetts took last years Christmas card picture. As an American, many think that I know all things regarding the USA, from the small town in Oregon where the neighbor’s brother lives to the weekly forecast for the Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota area – but I often resort to informing people that ‰ÛÏI have no idea.‰Û

Elias Smolcic-Larson