Suck it Up and Eat the Pig

Lily Shaffer - Ecuador


January 21, 2011

Many of my family and friends have been impressed with how seamless this experience has appeared. In uncountable ways, I have been blessed in every aspect of GCY. That’s not to say that I don’t break down regularly, struggle daily, and miss home, though. So I thought I’d share some of the bumps in my road. I suppose this isn’t a reflection or a philosophical bit, but instead just some of my day-to-day encounters that may seem outlandishly comical, but are, in fact, my current reality.

  • Don’t Ask What You’re Eating Until After You’ve Finished

Those of you who know me know that I was a vegetarian for my whole life before Ecuador, and even dabbled in veganism several times in the past few years. I think I tried chicken and fish for a few months somewhere around nine or ten, but I had never eaten cow or turkey or sea food until this September.  I’ve put my vegetarianism on hold this year, for various reasons. And boy, does my Ecuatorian family love feeding me animal products!

I was eating this really delicious soup not too long ago. When I finished, I asked what it was. Mamá said “Yauralocro.” Huh, I thought, trying to figure out what it meant. Locro is a thick type of soup, but yaura? Where had I heard that word before?

There’s a lake by my house called Yauracoche, which translates into lake of the indigenous blood.  Yaura has something to do with either indigenous people or blood.

“So, what exactly did I eat?”

“Soup made out of cow intestine and clotted lamb blood. Did you like it?”

Mmmmmh.

  1. Learn to Love the Critters You Shower With

I’m a little bit spoiled. I have internet in my house, the shower is generally hot, and we almost always have running water.  But I do share my shower time with some exotic little insects and arachnids and such. The best way to deal with this is to simply keep your eyes on the bugs at all times.  Typically, they just hang out on the walls, but if that strange, eight inch cross between a centipede and a wood louse suddenly leaps onto you, you have permission to flick it off and ignore it if it’s drowning.  But, usually they keep to themselves.  If you make it a quick in-and-out, you’ll probably have a fairly uneventful shower.

  • Check What’s In Your Shoes Before You Put Them On

I think that’s pretty self-explanatory.  If you don’t, you could be making friends with some pretty unhappy creatures.

  1. When Vegetables Are Available, Eat as Many as Possible

I have tried some of the most exquisite, bizarrely delicious fruits and vegetables in Ecuador. They’re insanely cheap (a nearly four pound papaya for fifty cents?) and are sold in the open air market where we buy all our food. But, as one of my co-workers explained to me, Ecuatorianos stay fruit and vegetable hating, fried food, salty, sugar loving little kids for their entire lives.  I eat a lot of oily, salty carbs.  Every lunch is some new combination of rice, potatoes, and chicken. Sometimes pasta is even thrown in there! So, if Mamá ever makes a salad (which is usually just white lettuce, lemon juice, and salt), eat it. Eat as much as you possibly can because the next time veggies present themselves may not be for another week.

  • You’re Going to Have to Sleep With Spiders on the Wall

When I was maybe four or five, my neighbor told me there are jumping spiders and biting spiders. Ever since then, I’ve always been a little put off by the eight-legged, multi-eyed, monsters.  Yes, to me, they are monsters. My first night here, I was unpacking my bag, and this massive spider, about five inches in diameter, came creeping across my dresser. I ran into the kitchen and got a cup, covered him up, slipped a piece of paper under, and threw him out the door. My family thought it was hysterical that a.) I had never seen a spider that big, and b.) that I went through all that effort when I could have simply killed it.

I capture a spider pretty much every day, and toss it out the window. Kate, they do jump and they do bite, and they still freak me out. Some of my friends and I used to joke that I can’t sleep when there’s a spider on the wall. Well, I’ve had a three inch guy weaving a web on my ceiling for five days and he hasn’t moved from his corner and there’s nothing I can do about it. It doesn’t matter how many spiders you catch, there will always be more. So you’d better learn to sleep with them, or you’ll be suffering from some extreme exhaustion.

  • Learn to Take a Hint

I’ve discovered that Ecuatorianos really like to beat around the bush.  If Mamá wants me to clean my room, she’ll come sit on my chair and ask me how I can survive in such a mess (I swear it’s really not that bad. I have my sister’s old room filled with her things, so there’s not a lot of space—half of my stuff is still in my suitcase. Plus Mamá is really neat). That is her saying “Lily stop playing the guitar and clean this up.” Or when my brother will sit on my bed and watch me for thirty minutes while I use the computer; just watch in silence. So when I finally give in and say “Do you want the computer or something?” he’ll respond, “oh, well, I mean, yeah, could I? If you don’t need it or anything…”

  • Witty Comments Sometimes Work

I’ve mentioned how frustrated it makes me when taxi drivers beep or slow down or when the owner of a tienda assumes I can’t speak Spanish.  The one other thing that may make me more frustrated is when creepy old men shout random English words at me while I walk down the street; “Thank you! Thank you;” or, “Baby you so beautiful;” or my favorite “Holy macaroni!”  The best though, is when I’m hissed at. Do I look like a dog? Is coaxing me like a cat really going to make me get into your car and go home with you? Sometimes, though, you’ve just got to be witty. When someone says, “hola Gringita,” I like to respond with “hola Ecuatoriano!” If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?

  1. Life is More Comfortable in Otavalo Pants

So Meg, remember when you said Ecuador was going to make me into a stick? Haha. As I mentioned, unless I go to the market and stock up on fruit and then stash it in my suitcase (which then leads to bugs, so I end up sharing with my family, then it’s gone in about three hours), I eat potatoes, rice, chicken, aji (hot sauce), salt, and sugar-loaded fresh fruit juiceevery day. My carb-laden, exercise deprived body isn’t feeling so hot, and daily yoga just doesn’t seem to be cutting it. Let’s put it this way: Mom sent me my favorite jeans a few weeks ago and they were a littttle bit tight. So I bought myself a pair of Otavalo pants—those striped, colorful, classic backpacking gringo pants—from the indigenous market in Otavalo. And now I wear them all the time. They are probably the most comfortable piece of clothing I own. The way I look at it, I’m only in Ecuador once, right?

  • Sometimes, You’ve Just Got to Suck it Up and Eat the Pig

I’ve tried pig here, but it’s the only meat I’ve really avoided eating. My family knows that I’ll figure it out if they try to sneak it, and I’ve explained to my bosses that I don’t eat any. Part of it is Judaism, and part of it is that I don’t like eating pigs.  So, during one of our excursions into the mountains, we stopped for fritada, a road-side classic. This is basically a pig hanging from the ceiling of a hut, and the woman cooking cuts off slabs of meat throughout the day to fry with potatoes. I tried to stop my boss from buying me some, but she and my advisor continued to push, saying this pig was grown to be eaten, and that eating it would help me “adjust to Ecuadorian culture,” and that it’d be rude if I didn’t (they said all this with huge smiles on their faces). So, I just looked at the half carcass hanging from the ceiling and muttered an apology to Señor Chancho, and I ate that pig. It was about a nibble of meat to an entire potato, and I ended up throwing a lot out of the car window because “it was fat, not meat.” I mean, sometimes, there’s no escaping the daily nuances of Ecuadorian life.

I’m really excited to go back to veganism, to riding in cars with seatbelts (or in the car, not the back of a pickup truck, for that matter), to be able to run and walk around at night. But for the next three and a half months, I’m living on the equator. So, for now, I’m just going to suck it up and eat the pig.

Lily Shaffer