Upon coming to my community in Ecuador, I was expecting to be introduced to a world where women tended to the home all day whilst men set off to do manual labor. What I was not prepared for, however, was the reality of Alto Tena, where women are responsible for nearly everything. They are the backbone of this community, and I am amazed every day by how hard and endlessly they work.
It came as no surprise to me to learn that Kichwa women are the toughest. On a regular day you will find them out in the jungle with babies slung around their backs, swinging machetes around and harvesting crops. Take my mother, for example. Every day, she wakes up at 4 in the morning to prepare breakfast and the daily guayusa. She assures that the kids make the bus to school, and then sets off into the Amazon to harvest cacao or plant yucca on the plot of land that she herself owns. She makes the trek home to prepare lunch (she is always first into the kitchen but last to eat), only to set off once again into the jungle. When she finally returns home, she spends the evening scrubbing clothing, sweeping, and caring after her eleven children. She finally retires after a long and exhausting day, but only after everyone else is safely tucked in bed. The hardships of her life are revealed by the deep wrinkles that cover her face, but her strength is obvious and beautiful behind her ever-lively eyes.
The truth is that the community would crumble without women like my mother. Not only do they care after the house, the children, and the farm, but they serve as the foundation to which everyone turns. They provide support and nurturing to all that come to their doorsteps, and they hold their heads high in a culture that historically has tried to bring them down. Every single day I am in awe of all that the women in Alto Tena contribute to the lives here, and I can only hope that over these next five months I will take in all there is to learn from their incredible way of life.