The Disconnect

Joe Giallo - Ecuador

April 20, 2011

“Why the #@$% would you want to do that?” And before I could reply, the conversation changed, and shifted back to the drunken debaucheries she had conducted since coming to Canoa.

Alberto (who’s writing his own perspective on what I’m about to talk about on his own blog – check it out!) and I were touring around Southern and Coastal Ecuador, using the last of our vacation days before leaving the country, and we were wrapping up our journey in Canoa, a coastal surfer town in western Ecuador. We were talking with two girls, both from the UK, but who were both traveling around, just sort of drifting along as tourists. I had just finished explaining what I’d done with my time at AACRI and in Apuela, as we had been discussing how we’d all come to Canoa, as travelers generally do.  The response I got to my story can be seen above. I stopped talking, after that, and then stopped listening, and I don’t think I spoke with them again.

That’s the Disconnect for you. When someone not only totally doesn’t get the point of taking a Global Citizen Year, but doesn’t care to find out either. It happened a lot as we traveled, the above being the strongest example. The Disconnect is first a reaction on the part of the listener, a “You’re crazy, why would you ever put something like that on yourself when you could be out getting drunk and high on the beach, going to college, etc.” or perhaps more commonly, a “Oh, that’s nice. But you ate GUINEA PIG? WOAH!”  The second part of the Disconnect is what comes next, at least for me: a mixture of frustrated sadness and absolute rage that ends in a sort of sulk, because the person at hand just doesn’t get it and doesn’t want to, and all the time and effort that give the experience value have been consigned to the garbage bin because the last seven months haven’t been all sunshine and rainbows, or because it’s simply not as interesting to talk about development and cultural exchange as it is to talk about the flavor of guinea pig.

Back in training, we’d talked about this. Way back in the U.S. Training Institute, I remember distinctly talking about just this phenomenon. I’d somehow forgotten this, having lived in a place where telling my story to other people from my country and my background in my own language, face to face, isn’t necessary. Now Plato’s Allegory of the Cave seems overwhelmingly important. (Look it up, if you’re not familiar, you’ll be glad you did. The short version is this: A bunch of people are living in a cave, looking at a reflection or facsimile of “the real world” or “truth” or what have you. One guy leaves, sees the “real world” or “truth,” and comes back, and tries to tell people about it, and they just don’t get it because they’re content with watching the facsimile.) My one week of vacation is just a tiny peek into what things quite possibly will be like when we return, having been outside of the cave, to all those still there, staring at the wall. And, honestly, I’m a bit afraid of going back to an environment where perhaps the majority of responses I get will be exactly like those I stated above. The most important thing you’ve ever done, the seven most important months of my life thus far, disregarded: it’s intimidating to think about.

I suspect that the vast majority of people who will read this legitimately care about what’s going on in my life here in Ecuador, and I’m thankful for that, more than anyone will know. But the people who most need to be reached, at least in my mind, are those who don’t care about me or any other GCY fellow, or things like development, cultural exchange, and international understanding. Both despite and because of everything that’s happened to me here, I still cling to the idea of world change, no matter how mind-bogglingly frustrating that goal is to attain. I still believe that stories change the world. And, what’s more, that telling those stories the right way, the honest, truthful way, will create positive change. But, now, as if that wasn’t hard enough, I realize that that’s not enough: you have to tell the stories the “right” way, the way that gets the people who don’t want to come out of the cave to listen to you.

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the hardest part, as usual, is yet to come. Fighting this Disconnect, on both ends. Trying to open ears to the truth, and not shutting down and shutting up when people don’t listen. It’s the storyteller’s role to tell a story that people will listen to, not the listener’s role to hear a story that doesn’t speak to them.

Joe Giallo