Two weeks ago today I arrived at my host family ‘s and a lot has happened since then. I explored the area, started working in the town’s municipality and had my first debrief circle in the warm Yungilla valley. A couple of things have surprised me about Ecuador in these two weeks. (To be honest, today marks the day I arrived three weeks ago. I wrote this a week ago, but somehow I always end up sharing things a week late.)
First, it is cold where I am, but a few minutes down the road and it is up to 5 degrees Celsius warmer. An hour down the road and it is 10 degrees Celsius warmer. One of the first things I bought was a fleece pyjama. I had packed for the coast and not the sierra region, the Andes.
Second, people here eat mostly with a spoon and sometimes a fork. Knives do not seem to be a thing here. I struggled a lot a first; believe me, cutting everything (including meat) with a spoon is a skill. I am lucky that I usually only have to cut an egg with a spoon instead of meat.
Meat is a more than common here and it is more than common to have an entire pig or cuy (Guinea pig) at the side of the street roasting over a fire. Me, as a vegetarian and former vegan), had to get used to seeing animals sliced open along every street.
On the topic of animals, from a Western European perspective (so obviously biased; everything I say is an evaluation within my own value system which is not the only right on in the world!) Ecuadorians have an interesting view on the value and rights of an animal. Explaining that I am vegetarian and was vegan because of animal rights has been a struggle. For example, something similar to pet shops are very common here. In those shops you can find chicks held in small cages reminding me of a mass production scenario. A puppy and baby cat were held in another small cage with a metal grid floor without anything else in it. Street dogs are another issue. But once an animal is a pet, everything changes. They are loved and cuddled and what not.
Coming back to food, even though the markets offer tons of cheap fresh vegetables, fruits and legumes, a meal mainly consists of carbs and meat. For example, you would eat rice with potatoes and chicken and maybe an avocado or a tiny portion of vegetables. I am lucky that my family acknowledges my preferences and feeds me only one type of carbohydrate and half a plate of veggies. Fruit is only consumed as a juice and with a ton of sugar in it. However, soups are very common and I eat them every day for lunch.
Last one on food, it gets dark here at around 6:30pm. Yet they only eat dinner at around eight, lunch is usually eaten at around one and breakfast at 6:30am. For me, this is a big gap between meals, so I am usually super hungry by the time we eat and snack in between. Yesterday, we were invited to a birthday party for a 4-year-old which started very late (Ecua-time) at around 9:30pm. This late start meant that we eat dinner at 10:30pm.
Equa-time…Always punctual to work and school, but for social events always late and really late.
Let‘s get more into the way of doing things here. First of all, greetings. Men shake hands and men and women “air-kiss” on the check; meaning that the checks touch each other and you make the kissing sound. Women and women do the same. So yes, you’ll get really close to people who you don’t know (German standards). Personal space generally is an interesting thing, especially on the bus. Ecuadorians have absolutely no problem touching each other, when they sit on the bus and even though one could put one’s hand on the lap, it could also just go next to your leg. Or their child could basically sit on your lap.
On the topic of how Equadorians do things, I can obviously speak mostly for my host family. My family does not own a car, so we take the bus or taxi which are super cheap here (for me). We don’t own a hoover or washing machine or dish washer, so we use a broom and wash by hand and by the way it takes ages to wash the clothes for seven people. My family seems to be a more traditional family regarding the distribution of roles. My mum is an ama de casa, meaning she cooks, cleans and stays at home taking care of my 5-year-old sister who comes home from school at ten and my 10-year-old brother who comes home at 12:30am. My other two host sisters also help with washing up and cooking and serve the food to me, my host dad and the two kids already sitting at the table. My host dad works and comes home for dinner.
To conclude, none of these observations limit my happiness in any significant way and so far I have been having a really good time here.