My first day in the Amazon I went to a Kichwa wedding. I briefly met my new family, Lidia Cerda, my mom, Jorge, my brother in law, Erika, my sister and Jorge’s wife, as well as some cousins whom I did not have the chance to meet properly until much later. We all sat on a log to watch the beginning of the wedding which was three men walking back and forth with three women mimicking their steps in reverse. There was traditional music blasting with a huge emphasis on the drums and an older gentleman’s voice. This dance continued for extremely long periods of time with small breaks where the men would drink beer. Then the process would be repeated again and again. Of course I’m wondering when the ceremony is going to start. When will everyone sit down and watch a person speak while the bride and groom listen, then say their vows? Those were the kind of thoughts running through my mind, until my new host mom told me to look at the bride who was being prepared in a corner underneath some of the shelter covering the logs. They were putting a thin flowery skirt over her other clothing and twisting her hair. In a few moments she came out and replaced one of the women in the dance. The dance finished and everyone cleared the floor. Then people began to pass around soup and give gifts to the bride and groom. They both gave speeches thanking everyone for the gifts. After plenty of helpings of thick meat, soup, and yucca, dancing a serious drinking began for everyone who had been watching the ceremony.
I was so grateful and surprised by everything that was happening my first night in my new home, and I took it as a peek into my life for the next six months. Now that I have adjusted to my home here more over the past month, I can’t help but believe that I was right. There are so many things that surprise me daily, and tons of things I don’t comprehend, but with a little time and understanding, these become things I am grateful for, or at least things I respect. With time I find that people are the most applicable to this idea, probably because they are the easiest thing to misinterpret, and the most valuable part of this experience. The most extreme example of this that I have experienced so far, involves the most recent family member, Jorge Julio. My sister and her husband recently had their first child, and he is a delight. The family was obviously excited for this new arrival so one night we all gathered in a small room where the family sleeps to talk and be around the baby. My grandmother begins to casually smoke a cigarette, as she tends to do habitually. This strikes me as unusual, and I assume that everyone else in the room agrees that it shouldn’t be happening, but because the grandmother is a respected figure no one says anything. I am proved wrong of this when the person holding the baby accepts the offer of a cigarette, and begins to smoke as well. I am so utterly stunned by this I ask another person in the room quietly if the smoke is bad for the baby. The response I heard was, ‘no, it is good because it keeps away the bad spirits”. This was the moment when I realized I am in a place where I understand nothing. I am in shock by this statement, and politely leave the room so my jaw can properly hang open.
In the moment I heard this, it was something I would never be able to understand or accept, but with a little bit of space and time alone in my room, I came to terms with the fact that this is an integral part of the culture, and it is not something I will speak out against. It is something I’ve come to respect about this new country, and it’s the reason I chose to take a year away from the regular grind. I wanted to gain this perspective and this knowledge that I wouldn’t have ever experienced in the United States. My favorite quote at the moment is, “ It takes a great mind to entertain a thought without accepting it”. I feel that this is a phrase I will remember when I’m experiencing something out of my comfort zone, and it will help me feel more natural in that new unnerving space. The differences between just the connotations of smoking, make me wonder about so much more than just the narrow idea of tobacco. The deeper roots of this tradition was directly linked to the “bad spirits” mentioned to me. In passing I’ve heard mention of a river god.
These experiences are links to understanding, and if I dig a little deeper, I am sure there is so much more under the surface than what I could have imagined. I am becoming consciously incompetent about the Kichwa culture, and I am so glad that I now have an idea of just how much there is I don’t know yet, because that means there is at least that much I can learn. Learning is exactly what I came here to do, so teach me everything you can, Sinchi Pura, Serena, Napo, Ecuador. You are my new teacher, and home.