I was taught from a young age, as most children are, about the virtue of sharing. I learned that sharing is caring, that greed was an ugly trait, and that yes, I really did have to give some of my chocolate to my sister. Of course I’ve had my fair share of avaricious moments, but in general I’ve always felt that I had a pretty good idea about what it meant to share. It took but a couple days in Quito to realize my understanding of sharing was in fact grossly limited.
The buses here in Quito are cheap (25 cents), easily accessible, and bursting with travelers. A seat is rare, and even if one becomes available the chances of actually getting to that seat are slim. I start my trek to the doors at least a stop before my destination to ensure I have enough time to shimmy and “permiso” my way through the dense maze of people. Even if I’m lucky enough to have a few inches to myself, I’m bound to fall onto someone with one of the numerous jolts of the bumpy ride. One way or another I find myself shoulder to shoulder, or check to check, with another passenger. The system completely challenges my idea of person space. Without realizing it, I’ve grown up believing that I have a right to my own area, a “person bubble” that must not be popped. Being in Quito has allowed me to recognize space is something I’m actually quite possessive of.
Similarly, at the local pool I was astonished as people continued to pile into the Jacuzzi, despite already being filled (to what I considered) capacity. More and more bodies joined in, making it impossible to sit without touching someone else. A grandmother did her exercises in the middle of the circle, kicking me with each rep. Some people only managed to get a single leg into the warm water. Feeling violated, I left the Jacuzzi. Only in hindsight do I see how low my tolerance was for sharing this space.
And it’s not just with personal space I see this higher standard for sharing here in Quito. At lunch one day, I was confused as all six of us wore plastic gloves so that we could dig into a communal chicken instead of separating it onto individual plates. When I went out dancing with my host aunt and host sister, I was surprised that I was expected to pay for everyone. I’m slowly seeing the cracks in my sharing. When it comes to space, food, and money I have some learning to do.
The exciting news is this generosity seems to be contagious. I now leave my door open allowing full access to my room. I’ve noticed that at lunch we Fellows are constantly offering each other bits and pieces of our meals. We make sure that everyone has enough money to get home each day, and we have no problem lending a quarter or two. Yes, we are still obsessed with “splitting the check”, but there seems to be a new sense of openhandedness within the cohort that grows stronger each day. I can only hope that I will continue to expand my definition of sharing throughout my time here in Ecuador.