Status Report: Anecdotes from Azuay

Henry Duerr - Ecuador


December 20, 2016

With my mind turned home to during this holiday season, I would like to share a few stories with you all about my new home.

Many of you, I am sure, are gearing up for the seasonal festivities that come every December. As am I, albeit against my will. I enjoy the holiday season, I’m no monster. However this year, my attendance to religious events has skyrocketed. A surprise, even to me, a fairly secular individual. The person responsible for this is my dear host mother, bless her soul. A devout Catholic, she attends church every week, and more often than not, manages to trick me into coming along. Usually she’ll invite me along on some errand and before I know it I’m halfway through mass. While her concern for my immortal soul is very touching, I prefer to spend my time a little differently. Thus I no longer trust my mother on Sundays.

Yet when I do find myself towering over the rough hewn pews and the pious congregants, it’s hardly a loss. Good practice for translation, and with Navidad drawing closer and closer, there is always some interesting aspect to the service. As someone coming from an entirely different religious background, it’s always an interesting thing to see. During my sullen attendance, many of the longtime ideas and perceptions I had about Catholicism have been proved rather inaccurate. So in the spirit of the holidays, I urge you to attend a religious gathering that is entirely outside your faith. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Christmas isn’t just celebrated in church down here. I have attended several christmas fiestas, and they all bear a striking resemblance to a middle school dance. Chairs line the walls as remixed Christmas songs blast, yet no one dances. People remain seated for the entire party while the hosts bustle around with secos (rice plates with some form of meat) and colada morada. It’s a nice way to see everybody, but it is much to close to the days of awe inspiring awkwardness in middle school. That being said, this is hardly typical of all fiestas. This is more of a tendency in the indigenous community of my town.

Maybe I’m the only one who feels awkward at these. I tend to stick out like a sore thumb here. I have a good foot and a half on over half of my community. Children have to crane their necks 180 degrees to make eye contact with me. I also happen to be the one of the only three people in my town with white skin (the other two come from lighter skinned Columbian heritage). Every once and a while as I walk through town, a kid will dart out in front of me and shriek “such!”, fleeing amidst giggles. Suco is a less pleasant way of calling someone “whitey”. All I can do is smile and laugh. We all did stupid things as kids. I still do.

Yet it’s really the height that sets me apart. I hit my head at least once a day, typically in the full view of several people. More and more I find myself of thinking about Gandalf bumping around a hobbit-hole. I should be so lucky. This, coupled with the ever present language barrier, reinforces that I am an outsider. While my Spanish is improving, I don’t see myself shrinking or changing ethnicity overnight. It’s ok. I didn’t come here to become Ecuadorian. I came to learn what it means to be Ecuadorian.

What it means to be a farmer, what it means to speak Ecuadorian Spanish, what it means to live in an entirely different culture. This isn’t a year where I learn one thing. Life rarely offers up one challenge at a time.

For example, the other day I was trudging up the hill I live on with buckets of slop. The cute little pigs that I once knew have swiftly fattened into something much more sinister. Pigs, as it just so happens to be, eat like pigs. Which is to say a lot, and with gusto. As I was opening the gate to their pen, one of them reared up in excitement, and squealing with glee, kicked the gate with enough force to slam it into me and knock me over. Luckily for me I kept a bucket steady whilst I fell. Unlikely for me, I was unable to steady the other, spilling a delightful soup of food scraps all over my legs. Time slowed to a crawl as I slammed into the ground, exquisitely aware of every banana peel and egg shell washing over me, suspended in a viscous, high nutrient paste. As I was lying stunned in the mud, the chickens rushed over, smelling weakness. Before I could do anything, they knocked over the other bucket that I had sacrificed so much for. As I lay amid the feeding frenzy of of birds and hogs, covered in slop, mud, and scat (also courtesy of the pigs), all I could do was chuckle. Seeing as how I will be eating all of them, it only seems fair that they have a laugh at my expense.

Sometimes life comes at you fast, throwing challenges as fast as you can spot them. Sometimes it’s simple, like a crazed swine. Most times it’s not. It takes practice to keep up with it. Until I get the hang of it, I’ll get used to the mud.

So happy holidays from the mud.

Henry Duerr