In the United States, despite having only lived there for still less than half my life, I have witnessed significant historical events like the re-election of Obama, election of Trump, attended several protests for women, the climate, and the undocumented. Being in protests, I really felt the togetherness and human-ness of people who are angry, hopeless, and tired. There are times I came because I had a purpose, or because I cared for a marginalized group, or because it was something I felt was important, but didn’t really know why. And after attending the marches, I would ask myself what impact it really made.
For the most part, and amidst changes within education and healthcare, nothing in my immediate lifestyle was changed. I was still secluded on a hill in Vermont and going to class. I still had health insurance, and I stand in a position in this country where I can choose not to listen to the news and be fine to a certain extent (Of course, as a woman of color from an inner city, it’s a close extent).
Here in Ecuador, I, along with students and teachers from public schools, have not been in school since Thursday. It is Sunday now, and it was just announced that there is no school tomorrow again. These past few days, the town has exempt from the sounds of cars on the streets, busses on the main road, and teachers coming from the big city of Cuenca. When the strikes ended, it felt like one of those scenes in a superhero movie, when everyone’s trying to repair all the damage from the action fighting. The camionetas were back and there was one bus in town. Still, it was quiet. If we needed to get more food from a supermarket or go to a bigger hospital, which were in Cuenca, there was no way to go.
I kept asking my host family what will happen tomorrow. Do we return to school? Do we have to pay $1 now for a bus ride? Do the teachers and drivers get paid? Most of it, they don’t know. Decisions being made between government officials are communicated in real time, as they change their minds and decide. And the people just have to go along with it.
Here, I cannot stand not to listen to the news. Here, I didn’t have to go to protests (which we weren’t allowed to anyways) to feel the togetherness of people who are angry, hopeless, and tired. It affects whether I wake up at 6am tomorrow or sleep in. It affects whether I put a 50 cent coin in my coin purse or a dollar. The small scale of its effect on me does not reflect the stress and struggle of teachers and drivers who are not getting paid, the people who cannot afford a $1 bus ride as the average monthly income here is $400, the people who need serious medical support in bigger hospitals, and the people who commute to work to survive.
I never thought about how impactful and important transportation system can be. Living in a city, where there are Ubers sprawling everywhere and where almost everyone owns a car, I never had to truly think about the $1 bus ride I take in Los Angeles.
Perhaps, these realizations are products of the scale of how small this country is (it is literally the size of Colorado), or how different it is run, or the significant difference between Ecuador’s GDP and the United States’s, or the fact that the US functions on a federal government and 49 state governments is quite a brilliant idea, or if it’s because it’s a privilege to live in a developing country and my privilege allows me to live in comfortable blinders, or all of the above.