The following are three anecdotes—“snapshots” of my life, if you will—about my past week in Tena, Ecuador; they include an everyday bus ride, a rainy adventure, and an epiphany I had walking down the street one evening.
I saw the blue-and-white bus in the distance, and crossed the road to catch it. There isn’t a bus stop—if I want to catch the bus I have to wave my hand in front of it, and, if the bus driver feels so inclined, he will slow down enough for me to get on. People looked at me curiously as I sat down, wondering, I assumed, how a gringa* tourist knows how to catch a local bus. “Suba, suba, a Napo, a Napo,” the driver’s assistant yelled outside the open doors of the bus, as we rumbled and bounced our way down the road to Tena. Upbeat salsa music was playing over the radio, and the front of the bus was plastered with various images, complete with golden frames, of the Virgin Mary. A little sticker in the window says “Jesus me ama…y tú también!” (Jesus loves me…and you, too!) Every so often the bus would slow, and people would get on or off—smartly uniformed children heading to school, traditionally-dressed indigenous women off to the market, men in shirts and ties, secretaries carrying their laptops and purses. When I got off the bus and began walking to work, I amused myself with a favorite game—counting how many taxis honked as they pass by, as if to ask, “gringa, don’t you want to ride instead?” As I reached the banks of the river to cross to the nature preserve, my taxi honks had risen to a good, round eight—not bad, for a sleepy Tuesday morning!
*Gringo/a is a word here used to describe foreigners; it is a normal term to describe the majority of white people (mainly tourists). Normally, it is meant to be endearing, not derogatory.
It was a lazy, rainy afternoon. I sat in the office with my co-worker, and we were startled when Lucho, a caretaker in El Parque Amazónico La Isla (the Island), where I work, ran in, sporting his usual black rubber boots but also a bulky, bright yellow rain jacket and a red plaid umbrella. “Vamos!” He said, out of breath. “El rio está creciendo!” I looked at Magali in alarm. The river was flooding from the day’s rains! We quickly packed up our things and were about to leave when we spotted a pair of large, neon-orange ponchos. “Here,” Magali said, handing me one. We put them on and promptly bursted out laughing—we had been transformed into over-sized tropical birds! It was exhilarating to run through the Parque in the pouring rain, still giggling uncontrollably. Lucho ferried us over to the other side of the river in our little green-and-yellow gondola, and rainwater sloshed around our feet as the tiny, flat-bottomed boat rocked to and fro with the rapid current. On the bank of the mainland, I stood and looked back at the Parque, at the river swelling up to its banks, and marveled at our little adventure. Then we all turned and walked up the street together, our ponchos like colorful splashes on a canvas of slate-gray sky.
My mami, my little sister Maria, my baby brother Arón and I were on an evening expedition to buy milk from a tienda (store) before heading back home. We had just been to the town fair and bought the most delicious dessert there—literally half a piña (pineapple) piled high with scoops of blackberry and raisin ice cream. My sister and I were still exclaiming about it as we walked down the darkened street toward the store, hand in hand. I smiled broadly, feeling more at home than ever in Tena with my little family. We passed beneath a streetlamp that flooded the sidewalk with yellowing light, and I caught sight of us all in a storefront window—mimamá, strong and stout, carrying my baby brother; Maria, small and bright-eyed; all three of them with sleek ebony hair and cinnamon complexions. I stood beside them, tall and awkward, and my whiteness was all the more obvious because of its pale appearance in the half-light. My mood faltered when I realized how very much I looked like a lost tourist, rather than a member of my Ecuadorian family. Then my mother and sister smiled at me again, as if to assure me that I belong with them, and I remembered that families are built on love, and not based on appearance. I recalled that however much I might appear to be an “outsider” here in Ecuador, my mamá still introduces me proudly as mi hija—her daughter.
It is experiences such as these—mundane and everyday as they may seem—that affect me the most in Ecuador, and cause me to reflect about what I really value in life, and how I see the world. As I look out on this calm, Amazonian evening, the sun is setting over the mountainous rainforest; while the day as a whole was uneventful, it is filled with stories—snapshots—that are changing me constantly. Who knows what tomorrow could bring?