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Bella Bjornstad - Ecuador


January 26, 2015

I moved to Ecuador expecting to discover the oneness of humanity, to fall in love with the rich culture and warm people. But what I have, in fact, encountered is a stark reality: We are all partial to the ways of our homeland. No matter how much judgement I suspend and curiosity I exercise, I will always hold my own values and prefer my own mother’s food. And likewise, no matter how open my host family is, they will always prefer chicken-potato soup and their own values.

There are so many different ways to be, an infinite menu of options to choose from, an endless variety of religions, customs, cultural habits, and languages. And then, on top of all of that, there are personal choices, some of which are bred into us, others that come from our individual make-up. The result is a planet covered in people who all see it differently. Sure, we line up on some things, maybe we agree on politics, or I agree with my other neighbor on the best way to roast a turkey. But in the end we are all walking through the world separated by our unique experience.

One way to look at this is the beauty of it, which is not lost on me. That we are a gilded, laced, and bejeweled tapestry of life is magnificent, and I realize that. But beauty is not always disposed to function, and from where I am sitting now, I am concerned that this particular beauty is not of a functional nature. How will there ever be world peace and global oneness if we are all seeing it from a different lens?

This thought has been brewing since I arrived here in Ecuador. It was not until recently, discussing my feeling of dissatisfaction with some fellow Fellows that it came out as a fully formed thought. When I moved to Tres Juanes, I was blown away by my reception, there were so many well wishes and curious neighbors, my family proudly showed off their home to me and me to their neighbors. We picked so much of the food for our meals in the front yard and what we didn’t grow, someone nearby was bound to have on hand. But as the weeks passed, I felt more and more homesick, groping for some sense of my former life in the unfamiliarity of my current surroundings. Peanut butter, other gringos, familiar music on the radio, letters from home, all held a sacred comfort. I became frustrated because I didn’t come here to leave, I came to live, to learn, to become absorbed in this new world. But after forcing myself to enjoy cuy, I gave up, because I can’t do it. After months of telling people how much I enjoy Ecuadorian music, I started to be honest with them, and myself. Those are goofy examples, but they represent the larger narrative‰ÛÓ I will never feel at home here. My home is in the United States, and no matter where I go, no matter how much I identify with this or that aspect of a different culture, I will always be glad to come home to the familiarity of English, the smells of the desert, and enveloping atmosphere of our Christmas celebrations. And then it hit me: if I feel this way, so does everyone else, or most of everyone else. And what does that mean to my youthful fantasies of becoming a citizen of the world? Or for my fervent belief in the potential for a global community, finally relieved of the weight of hate?

Questions were not what I expected from Ecuador, I expected answers to other, more optimistic questions. But I have found no answers, only deeper, more shattering questions. I’m fine with this, I realize that most answers only lead to more questions anyway, but I do not like feeling cynical. I pride myself on being able to see the potential in every situation, and in every person, but I am stuck in the apparent truth of this revelation. I am unable to get around the reality that I will always be an outsider when I am not in my native country.

The happy truth, or what I see as a truth, is that a strong majority of humans have good intentions, that most people want to do the right thing, even if they don’t act on that desire. And the other thing, which is a sharply double edged sword, is that everyone wants to be happy. So if you were to draw a map of how to solve all of the worlds problems, these two things would be in the legend as tools, but since we all point to north from a different place on the planet, I just don’t see how we can come to an agreement on how to get there.

Bella Bjornstad