Having spent two months in Los Bancos, I have come to a time of analysis and reflection. This experience has thrown so many new and unexpected situations at me daily, that only until recently have I felt qualified to categorize events, reflect on similar aspects, and make certain comparisons. To bring life to these reflections I will be comparing parts of this experience to one of my favorite parts of Ecuador: the fruit.
Let’s start with the plantain. Similar to the younger and aging populations of Ecuador, the plantain comes in two varieties: verde, or green, and maduro, or ripe. Like the young green plantain, the Ecuadorian teen loves to hang in bunches. In fact the average joven is rarely seen without a throng of friends or classmates surrounding. Like green plantains can be squished, mashed, diced, or sliced, for a variety of dishes, Ecuadorian teens are a versatile group; they keep up with trends and master technology quickest, while still keeping in touch with their traditional roots by tending animals, working the farm, and dancing salsa or merengue. Like a green plantain will soak up oil to become a tasty chifle, the Ecuadorian teen loves to absorb new information and culture. It is this absorbent ability and gusto attributed to youth, along with the increasing availability of information, that will create a unique generation of Ecuadorians. A batch of chifles, if you will, with a flavor all its own.
The mature plantain is analogous to the aging demographic of Ecuador. The mature plantains, like the green, are connected to one another naturally, and the elder population of Ecuadorians has its own tight community. These plantains however are softer and often have brown spots, lending to a more worn appearance. However, if one breaks the uninviting exterior with a cut at the stem, or for an elder Ecuadorian, with a “buenas tardes,” one will be greeted with a sweet interior. Facial wrinkles etched from years of frowning in the Ecuadorian sun lend themselves easily to laugh lines, and will crinkle into a smile if provoked by a respectful greeting.
On to fruit analogy number two: the guaba. Once the hard green shell is split, the little white puffs of guaba fruit are snuggled together like a close Ecuadorian family. Each fruit is composed of a sweet, fluffy pith surrounding a hard black pit. Similarly, Ecuadorians show a sweet, hospitable nature, while containing a solid identity; a central pride that is impossible to crack. Now while most of the fruits in a guaba are packed snugly side by side, there will invariably be a lone fruit, separated by inches of thick shell. In Ecuadorian society there are outcasts as well, whether it be for religion, or race, or reputation. Sometimes when one cracks the green exterior hiding the lone fruit one uncovers a rotten mess, best left alone from the others. Much more often however, one finds a fruit just as sweet as the rest packed together. Unfortunately in Ecuador, there are many people who find social exclusion due to class or race, and it takes little digging to see that they deserve a place in the pod alongside everyone else.
Third and final fruit analogy: the mango. The mango has come to symbolize a truth about my, and all, cultural experiences. The mango is very literally a hands-on fruit. You can’t tell a ripe mango by just looking at it. You have to feel it with your hands, squeezing it in your palm, before you can decide to take a bite. Just like this hands-on fruit, one cannot hope to make judgments and generalizations about a culture through detached observation. One must start by living in it and feeling it. Push a little here, press a little there, then come to conclusions. And even if the first impression of a culture is tough, sour, just give it a little while. Like a ripening mango, with time it will probably soften up and grow sweeter to you.
Well, there are dozens of other fruits not represented here, and thousands more sides of Ecuador to be discovered. The only way to keep discovering is to continue cracking guabas and squeezing mangoes, knowing I may encounter some rotten ones here and there, or that they just may not be ripe for me yet. I’ll just keep exploring and enjoying the many fruits of life and labor here in Ecuador.