Oxfam Ecuador

Madeline Lisaius - Ecuador


November 4, 2013

During our initial training at Stanford, the Global Citizen Year Cohort did a sort of simulation called the “Oxfam Dinner.” After a long day of lectures, we were greeted in our dining hall not by the usual line of hungry fellows, but with staff and an ominous bag. Except a few tables still left out in one corner, the grand room was bare. One by one, we stepped forward and drew a colored paper from a bag (not unlike the Sorting Ceremony in Harry Potter). Those who drew a green slip represented the 10% of the world that eats comfortably; these fellows continued into the buffet style cafeteria to get their dinner as normal, eating at the few remaining tables. Those who drew an orange slip represented 30% of the world; these fellows had dishes and utensils, and ate beans and rice. I drew a pink slip – I represented one of 60% of the world; no utensils and only rice.

Each group gathered and ate, and had the chance to discuss amongst themselves before sharing thoughts as a cohort. Over and over, I was slapped with the reality that I have lived among that 10%. More frustrating than being affronted by my previous lack of gratitude was, after seeing the members of the 10% pass the 60% and 30% -ers without sharing the magnitude that they had, I caught a slim glimpse of my own ignorance, close-mindedness and selfishness. But as the minutes passed on, the clenching hunger in my stomach became hard to ignore and the rich wafts of fries, toast, sautéed veggies, seasoned rice… These sensations were
hard to ignore. And, to both my disgust and relief, I was acutely aware of my reality. My reality was that, although I was hungry, that night or the next morning I would eat whatever and however much I might desire. As much as I wanted to understand the 60% that I was a part of for that hour or so, I was distanced by my realization.

Here in Ecuador, I eat richly. What I’ve been struggling with, though, are fleas. Googles and gaggles of the little buggers and their bites. Up my arms, down my back, across my legs, around my ankles. And one
unfortunate bite on my cheek that looks like a mega pimple. Initially, I fought the fleas, tooth and nail. Spreading salt everywhere to stick to and “bleed the fleas to death” as WikiHow suggested. Rubbing lemon juice on my body. Spraying by bed with flea killer. Hanging all my blankets in the hot sun. All of these efforts to no avail; they don’t seem to get enough of my blood.

Coming from a lifestyle mercifully free of fleas, this has been a significant discomfort. Much like my aching hunger the night of the Oxfam Dinner, the itchiness and paranoia never seem to cease. When I have asked family and coworkers what to do, I often get a response along the lines of “just catch the flea when you
feel the bite and smash it.” More that learning the multitude of flea smashing techniques, I have gained that fleas are just something that is part of life here. And while the red welts sprinkled over my body are testament to the fact that I, too, share this reality right now, I know in a part of me that fleas aren’t forever. A part of my mind whispers, “this is a ‘life experience.’” But I have come to realize that, like the Oxfam Dinner, I am distanced by the security and privilege of my life; I have the security that, come May of 2014, I will
live flea-free.

I want to understand life here. I want to truly live life here. But how can I actually and truly
understand when this isn’t my only reality? To be honest, right now I have no answers to this question. I’m hoping that recognizing the problem actually is the first step in seeking the solution. What I know is that my mission now is to, as best as I can, understand life here little by little while simultaneously acknowledging and giving thanks for the opportunities and comfort of my life.

I want to live Ecuador. Not just Oxfam it.

Madeline Lisaius