I come home from a long day at work, just after dusk, I’m happy my host father is returning from Otovalo and he picks me up on the road back to my house, saving me a 15-20 minute walk littered with ‘cute’ dogs (who probably want to kill me). We stop at our second house father up the hill and pick up my host mom, two brothers, and an aunt. We all cram into the small family car, which doesn’t have enough space for my legs, much less for 6 people, but together we trudge on down the hill. My house is higher than the road and as we pull up the driveway my little brother exclaims something lost on me in Kishwa. All of a sudden my entire family jumps out of the car without explaining anything to me. They turn on every light outside and start to bring out candles. They call our neighbors and my grandparents and everyone comes to the house and starts catching something interesting…beetles. Within minutes we’ve caught glasses and glasses of them and they are soon after cooking in oil on the stove along with my favorite Ecuadorian food, toastado. My family eats the bugs, which I now know are called Fianchos (Katzo are another, more common variety), rapidly. They offer me one telling me it tastes like a sausage with the texture of a potato but I was a little too shocked to brave it (though I later would try them). I couldn’t believe in that moment that my family was eating well… bugs.
The Fianchos we caught that night (Katzo are more common and the tradition for them is better recognized though Fianchos are prepared and considered the same.)
I tell this story because it was the clearest example in my year abroad of culture shock. I was frozen and paralyzed by a lack of cultural context and understanding, I had to wear the hat of relativism and attempt to understand what was happening before my eyes. But in telling this story I fell victim to the trap of the single story, and I started to ask a simple question.
Why do I, and subsequently everyone in the US I tell, look down on this tradition as a symbol of a lower culture, when we pack ground meat into pig intestines and consider that better? I realized that in sharing this ‘fun’ story, I had failed in my responsibility to tell the whole story; and therefore had perpetuated the single story of Indigenous Ecuador.
The truth is that the tradition of eating those beetles extends back father than the Incas, the Katzo have represented strength and good luck for generations. The Kayambi people even supposedly used them to win a battle against the invading Incas, and quite frankly they weren’t that bad. Apparently, they only come every one to two years. But despite this they perpetuate a single story of undeveloped indigenous traditions held by people holding onto a lower level of society when honestly this tradition is equally as developed as many of the food-based traditions we hold in the US. We look at sushi as an art form not as eating raw fish with rice and we enjoy sausage despite the fact its stuffed pig intestine. We just make it look cleaner and hold our heads high, when Kishwa’s couldn’t care less about what people think of their traditions. We put their story into a box because they refuse to defend their tradition to the world and I don’t think this is a problem I as an individual am capable of solving, but I have a few simple rules to hopefully help (some of these are from GCY while others are my own).
1. Practice curiosity before judgment: ask before you come to a conclusion, listen before you speak (though I’m bad at this), and attempt to understand their perspective before introducing your own bias’ to the situation.
2. Wear the hat of a Cultural Relativist: “It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different.”
3. Step back: For me, there’s a good word to describe the most shocking experiences I’ve had here: existential. I am removed from my body and while I’m there physically; mentally I’m racking my brain trying to understand in some capacity what’s happening in front of my eyes (i.e. seeing a cow die for the first time in my life.) Let that happen, process it, don’t pass judgment, keep the other principles in mind, don’t forget to breathe, and don’t assume anything.
I look at these as tools. To both combat the single story and gain the global understanding which I came here to ascertain. I’m still left with so many questions, and every day I seem to encounter more. But I have a challenge for those of you that read this blog. How do I tell this story in an equally compelling fashion (equally funny as well) without perpetuating the single story? In my search for an answer, I contemplated adding the context but I don’t believe it changes the view of the practice. Beyond this story, I think the problem with sharing anything about this year is that we simply can’t provide all the context. We can’t help the single story because we can’t adequately express with words the insanely beautiful, diverse, and unimaginable experience we’re having, and in that lies a different kind of beauty.
I’m sitting in a hotel waiting for my Father to arrive right now, questioning my responsibility to him and my Ecuadorian family to show him more than the single story. To somehow in the course of six days give him some idea of how diverse and amazing this place is. Of how despite the things I miss from home this experience means the world to me, and the things I have learned here are not only skills I will use for the rest of my life, they are skills which have taught me things I wouldn’t have learned until after college. This isn’t the whole world I’m experiencing I’ll admit, but this is enough of a taste to know I want to do this 12 times over. I just hope I’m responsible in the story that I tell.
Now for the less serious part. All is well down here, shifting gears right now as I prepare for more travel around the country followed by my final community project. Shifting gears from observation to impact. Currently tossing around ideas for my community project ranging from a potential division of minga (mandatory community service) work to creating recordings of the English pronunciation section of the textbook and translating parts of it (it is all in English and the English teachers at my school and the students can’t understand it). Not sure what the project will end up being I want to discuss with members of my community what their needs are, visions for the future of their community, and what they think would make a lasting impact; however small. Below are some photos I would like to share. Hope you enjoy. Please visit the page on my website under: Jodahphotography.com/series for more photos to come! Prints are available if you’re interested! See you all soon.
Joseph Cole Hansen
P.S: My father left a week ago, I was waiting to confirm the validity of the Katzo tradition as compared with other indigenous groups.
P.S.S: An example of the single story: http://bit.ly/2m9LR4q “Ecuadorians also have a fondness for beetle larvae and a soup made from bull penis, but luckily Claudia Furez-Anrango, the anako-wearing beauty who hosted our cooking class, stuck with some of the more palatable specialties.”
Me with a group of my students. From L to R: “So why are we taking a picture” “I’m just gonna drink my milk” (The next two): “We’re gonna look so smooth” “That’s a cool dog over there” “I did my homework and got recess today”
An old picture I’ve been saving for some time, taken in the Jungle de la Provincia de Napo, on my way back from the Amazon.
The view from my community on a sunny day at the end of the “Veranito” the break in the Rainy season.
My friends and I celebrating Dale’s birthday with some laser-tag.
The view over Plaza de Ponchos late on the eve of Three Kings Day
Las Cascadas de Peguche (The Waterfalls of Peguche)
A view from the South of Quito looking North (this is on my website and you can order prints! They’ll be mailed from the US)