Christmas season in a religious, tropical country

My host family put up the Christmas decoration on the first of November, just about when one could start noticing a change in weather and the start of the warm season had arrived. So, I came home sweating because it was 24 degrees Celsius outside to be welcomed by a “Feliz Navidad” sign. My Christmas experience this year was very different from what I am used to. I feel like I am in the middle of summer. I guess it just can’t be Christmas without cold, my family and all the traditions and events I know. My Christmas this year is more about observing how Ecuador celebrates than it really being Christmas. So, I thought I’d share some of the traditions or celebrations taking place next to palm trees.

Papá Noel

One way of getting into the Christmas mood was introduced to me by my apprenticeship. At 16:30 for nine days they had something called “novenas” (nueve means nine in Spanish). The whole municipio gathered to listen to some religious person talk about a different topic every day, sing and pray together. Afterwards everyone shared traditional food, like rosero, empanadas, quesadillas, etc. Novenas happen in various different contexts, but seem to be a thing for the first two weeks of December. 

Another tradition I got to know through my work, but also just by happening to be in the right place at the right time is “Pase del niño”. Basically there is a procession through town with someone dressed up as virgen Maria, if I am not mistaken, and carrying a baby Jesus figure. Behind people follow carrying flowers, religious depictions and other celebratory things. When I tried to figure out the origin I found a couple of confusing stories, but the most common one said that “pase del niño” has its origin in a statue of the Christ child arriving in Ecuador all the way from Rome, blessed by the pope. On the 24th of December there was a huge “pase del niño” in Gualaceo. In total there were over 70 cars in a long procession with different dancers and a marching band. The cars were decorated to showcase an important bible scene and on top of them were people dressed up as the most important biblical figures. It was a beautiful experience.

„pase del niño“ at a fiesta for old people

A celebration which seemingly occurs in every city is turning on the Christmas lights. In Gualaceo, they had a procession of decorated Christmas wagons, similar to carnival, a speech by the mayor and fireworks on a Saturday evening to celebrate turning on the Christmas lights. In Gualaceo, the Christmas lights are not so much of importance compared to other cities. Paute, for example, declared itself the city of lights and the lights there are insane. I heard people say that the city spend 30 million USD on the lights. I would argue that this emphasis on Christmas lights it at least debatable. Gualaceo has a new mayor this year who decided to spend less money on the lights and invest more in roads and safety which to be honest sounds more reasonable in my opinion. 

The next habit it not necessarily a tradition or celebration, but during the month of December there seems to be a heightened focus on old and disabled people. For example, the unidad social of Gualaceo organized little fiestas for those people in the villages surrounding Gualaceo and the city itself. I know that other cities as well have been organizing similar things to bring joy to the more vulnerable. 

playing a game at a fiesta for old people

To be honest, with all these festivities and preparations for Christmas over the past two months I expected a lot of the actual Christmas celebration. However, it turned out to be very different from what I imagined. After the “pase del niño” on the 24th we went back to the house for a tee and some “pan”. At about 6pm I went to rest for a little in my room and at around half past seven we went to the house of some family friends to meet two other families. We quickly exchanged presents right before we left, they gave me socks and chocolate and I gave them the game “twister”. The evening started with a couple of rounds of shots before eating the Christmas dinner at around 10pm. The dinner consisted of Turkey, baked potatoes with cheese, rice and a pasta salad with mango. Ecuadorians love carbs… After that more shots and at some point we went outside to their terrace for more shots and to dance to reggaeton until 3 am. All the adults were pretty drunk by then. I am used to Christmas Eve being very relaxed and chill and it definitely never reminded me of a party until now. It was not at all what I expected from such a catholic country. On the 25th my family did not really do anything interesting, we just relaxed in the house for most of the day. All in all a very interesting experience…

Family in Ecuador

I live with a host family of six people which has taught me a lot about Ecuadorian culture one would never know from just visiting the country as a tourist. So, this blog post is going to dive into the life of Ecuadorian families and the differences to my previous family life in Germany.. 

The faces of the indigenous founding family carved into a tree in Saraguro

I am the seventh member of my host family. I have a host mum and dad, three host sisters (5, 15 and 20 years old) and one host brother who is ten. In the society here, family is central to daily life. It is important to regularly visit the extended family and spend time with the nuclear family. Being single once you are older than 30 just does not seem to be a thing here. As I live with a local family and participate actively in their family life these expectations and standards are impacting my experience especially because my family life back home looks very different.

My parents are separated and live in different countries. I lived in a boarding school for the past two years before coming here. My sister is currently living in a boarding school in yet another country. Both my parents have new partners. Explaining this rather complicated situation to my host family was an interesting experience because it took them a long time to fully grasp the extent of what my family is structured like. The four of us live in four different countries. My host family shares three rooms and beds. My two eldest host sister share a room and a bed and my host mum shares a bed with the two youngest and sleeps in the same small room as my host dad. They have no personal space. 

Somewhere an hour away from Saraguro i the middle of nowhere next to the home of an indigenous family

Most of the time, after school and work all of them hang around in the living room, doing homework, watching YouTube or playing. Going out in the afternoon to meet friends again doesn’t seem to be a thing here. Only my eldest host sister sometimes goes out in the evening to meet her friends, but that is always combined with attending mass or other services in the church. Compared to the UK, not meeting friends is normal as people live too far apart there and are dependent on their parents driving them around. In Germany, families usually spend time together on one afternoon in the weekend or have dinner together. The afternoons, however, are reserved for homework in one’s room, meeting friends or other hobbies like sports. In Germany this is possible because the population density outside of big cities is higher and public transport is better compared to the UK. However, compared to Ecuador public transport is also decent and people in the city live close by each other. So, me going out in the afternoon to meet friends was something my host family had to get used to as it was a little unexpected for them. This week I happened to be out for three afternoons in a row and on the evening of the last day my host mum was voicing her concern that I had been very busy this week. When I stay at home in the afternoon, I am not necessarily always in the living room or interacting a lot with them. But simply showing my face and being at home makes a big difference.

wet season in Ecuador

My host family also enjoys spending a lot of time together on the weekends. Saturdays we would usually explore surrounding cities or sites in the mountains and Sunday afternoons we usually go for a short walk to the market and stop at the playground on the way back where we play volleyball. My family, back when we used to live in Germany, barely spent any time together. We would usually have breakfast or dinner together on weekends, but otherwise everyone was busy living their own life. When I go to visit my parents, obviously I spend more time with them, but even then I am not around all the time. Getting used to spending a lot more time with the family was an interesting process for me because I used to live very independently, especially in boarding school. I have managed to create a good balance between acknowledging the implicit wishes of my host family and spending my time with my friends.

Hi

One random note at the end of the blog post: Ecuadorians don’t take off their shoes in the house because they believe that one catches germs through one’s feet. 

If you would like to know more about the gender roles within my family and others I observed, check out one of my previous blog posts.

Hasta luego!

Chaos in Ecuador

As promised I am going to share a little about my experience of Ecuador’s chaos over the past one and a half weeks. If you would like to learn more factual information, check out the links in my last blog post. As an important development occurred since then I am sharing more articles here with updated information: 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/10/14/heres-why-raising-gas-prices-leads-violent-protests-like-ecuadors/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/ecuador-indigenous-president-open-talks-over-protests/2019/10/13/f3c5b25c-ee17-11e9-bb7e-d2026ee0c199_story.html

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/10/ecuador-protesters-cautiously-optimistic-deal-gov-191014222937911.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/14/ecuador-protests-end-after-deal-struck-with-indigenous-leaders

A church on a hill in Cuenca…one has a beautiful view over the city from up there

Here is my individual perspective on what happened.

On Wednesday evening, the 2nd October I received a message from my personal supervisor informing us about a national strike and limited public transportation. Spanish classes (which take place in Cuenca) were cancelled for tomorrow.

On Thursday, the 3rd October, I went to my apprenticeship as usual. I heard talks about something to do with fuel and a strike of public transport, but did not really understand what was going on. Classes were cancelled, my host dad could not go to work because he needed to take the bus and there was some information about protests in big cities. I was told by my supervisor to be aware of riots and not get involved in any political activity. In the evening, I received another message: The government is going to involve the military. We were supposed to only leave our cities with our host families. Apprenticeships were cancelled. Don’t go to any areas with lots of people. Videos from the violence in Cuenca started surfacing. I was in Cuenca on Tuesday and everything was normal. The contrast seemed surreal.

Friday, the 4th of October: Global Citizen Year initiated the first step of the emergency response protocol. We are on standfast, meaning we aren’t allowed to leave our host communities.

Saturday, the 5th of October: Intra-city buses started working again. We receive a message that the strike has ended. We are still on standfast. We have to be in our homes by 6:30pm.

Sunday, the 6th of October: Spanish classes are cancelled for the next week, apprenticeships will be on a case by case basis. We are instructed not to join any protests, be close to roadblocks or marches. I went on a walk with my host family and discovered the remains of roadblocks: burned materials on black streets. Until now I thought nothing had happened in my city.

Stairs in the middle of Cuenca leading down to the river

Monday, the 7th of October: I go to work, the intercity buses are working again, things seems to be going back to normal.

Tuesday, the 8th of October: I don’t work as I would usually have had Spanish classes. Intercity buses stopped working again. We are still on standfast. Debrief circle 2 (a 3 day retreat which was supposed to happen from Wednesday to Friday) is cancelled. My city is out of gas and one cannot buy more. My host family had enough gas for cooking, but not enough for warm showers. In the evening, my host mum and sister come running back to the apartment. They were just out, but suddenly a protest started. All shops closed down immediately, the streets are empty. The indigenous have come to protest in Gualaceo.

Wednesday, the 9th of October: I do not go to work as more protests are expected. During the day my host sister shows me a video on Facebook. Maybe between an hundred and three-hundred people are standing in front of the municipality where I work and are shouting. Later I hear noises in the street and my family runs to my balcony to observe the march of the same people along a street perpendicular to mine.

The river running through the middle of Cuenca

Thursday, the 10th of October: My apprenticeship supervisor tells me not to work until the government found a solution for the situation. The news show is running on the family TV and is broadcasting the violence in cities like Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca. I am getting used to cold showers. 

Friday, the 11th of October: My family is at home and is waiting for a solution, indigenous people are marching, people in Gualaceo and smaller cities are protesting. Some cities are cut off by roadblocks and are experiencing food shortages. 

Saturday and Sunday, the 12th and 13th of October: There seems to be no soon end or resolution. Food shortages are also hitting my city. The markets are empty and the little food which is sold is more expensive than in Germany. Sunday evening: Talks between indigenous leaders and the government are happening in Quito. I get a call from my friend at 10pm. IT IS OVER! The president has agreed to revoke his decision, strikes are over, classes are still cancelled tomorrow, but things should go back to normal. My apprenticeship for tomorrow is already cancelled.

Monday, the 14th of October: Me and my friends celebrate our freedom by visiting each other in our cities using the functioning buses. Relief and happiness are felt everywhere. I have Spanish class in Cuenca tomorrow. The debrief circle is set for next week. Standfast is over.

The big cathedral in the center of Cuenca

I personally only felt the effect due to my cancelled apprenticeship in the beginning. The hope was everything would go back to normal after the first weekend. However, after Tuesday no one could really see an end to this. Governments aren’t known for revoking their decisions. I only started getting a better picture of the chaos of the country, when the protests and shortages came to Gualaceo and I was told it was best not to leave my house. I never felt unsafe at any point, enjoyed having full liberty over my entire day and filled it with reading, sleeping, yoga, workouts, Netflix and Youtube and going on walks with my host family. However, I was getting increasingly worried about what was going to happen in the long term. No one knew when the situation would go back to normal. If we were experiencing food shortages after a week, what would happen after two or three weeks? People were worried about their livelihoods as they could either not reach work due to the strike or roadblocks. My host mum was very worried about her sister who lives of selling her fruits from the coast and couldn’t sell anything due to the strike. I did not want to be locked in for another few weeks. Aside from these worries, I was also kind of excited and happy to experience a political situation like this first-hand. I sourced my information about what was going on not only from the media, but also explanations by my host family, accounts of friends about their cities and my own observations.  An entire country in chaos, I knew what was going on, could be agitated about the lack of importance given to the situation by Western media, could see how indigenous communities rose up to a government and in the end witness how a government actually changed their mind. I am used to politicians using the most ridiculous arguments to defend their position no matter what and never ever we willing to change it. A government agreeing to revoke such a big decision after talks with indigenous people and agreeing to form a committee to find a better solution to repay the debt still is astonishing to me. Overall, these past one and a half weeks definitely were a worthwhile experience and I was lucky enough to not be seriously affected. It allowed me to look at issues from different perspectives and reflect on my personal life here and in Germany/UK. I am happy though that the situation is normalizing again for everyone’s sake. 

What I love about the sierra region is that you can always see the mountains, even if you are in the middle of the city

Hasta luego!

You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food

Before we get into the blog, I just want to make a short comment about the political situation in Ecuador. It is shocking how an entire country is in chaos and yet very few people from Western countries know about it. The media coverage of Western media outlets is more than insufficient. Yet, if you would like to know more about what is going on, feel free to use these links to educate yourself: (Obviously, these are mostly from Western media because they are in English. However, this does not mean that Ecuador made the front page which would do the chaos here justice.)

I would just like to stress that the situation is different from city to city and even though it is affecting everyone, families are affected slightly differently. I will cover how my city, family and I are affected in a different blog post as things are rapidly changing at the moment.

In this blog post I would like to give my perspective on the food on Ecuador which is largely shaped by what I grew accustomed to in Germany and the UK (where I used to be vegan).

A banana tree I discovered on one of the hikes with the host family

Starting with the places one can buy food, I am going to describe my first and only experience in supermarkets here. Funnily enough, my family has only once been to the supermarket in the now four weeks that I have been here. I am used to going to the supermarket once a week or when I buy food only for myself every couple of days. I discovered that the reason for only going once a month lis connected to the way my family buys food. They buy fresh vegetables and fruits from the market at the top of the city once a week. Meat is bought right before consuming it from the central market of the city. These two markets are different types of markets, but more about that later. In the supermarket my family buys cleaning products, cereals, tea, flour, pasta and rice. Everything, absolutely everything is wrapped in plastic and apart from the cereals everything is sold in huge packs of 5, 10 or for rice 20kg. These amounts also explain why they only go to the supermarket once a month. Compared to Tesco, Sainsbury, Edeka or Rewe the supermarkets are also very small. The way the products are sold does not really compare to the supermarkets I know from back home. Everything is stacked up on shelves like usually only a certain section of the supermarket is. There is very little space to move around or let another costumer pass. Products like shampoo were sold in a section behind the counter, so one had to point at what one wants. (By the way, shower gel is veryyyyy uncommon in Ecuador, they use hard body soap like some people use for hands.) The variety of products is also nothing compared to Germany or the UK. If you hope to find anything slightly unusual or a variety of pasta sauces or rice sauces or whatever, good luck. To illustrate which products I haven’t seen so far: curry sauces for rice, pesto sauces for pasta, variety of milk alternatives, tofu or any meat substitutes, a variety of cheese, a large variety of cereals or bread spreads or snacks or nuts or anything really. They did have a variety of cleaning products though and a large section for plastic cutlery or plastic anything.

Please excuse the quality..all picture were taken with my phone

Moving on to “the market above” which lays at the edge of the city and as Gualaeo is located in a valley, one has a beautiful view over the city and the mountains from the market. It is open Tuesdays, Fridays and on the weekends. Old ladies dressed in traditional clothing sell local fruits, vegetables, beans and products from the coast, such as Yuca which is similar to potatoes, or different fruits. Everything is as fresh as it can be, you can say how much you would like of a certain kind and they will put it in a plastic bag for you. Now every different “stall” or person has a variety of products to offer, so one has to know who offers the best quality of, for example peas, at the cheapest price. They also like to advertise their products in a load manner (especially when a white person walks past). I, personally, do like this market a lot because to me somehow is symbolizes Ecuadorian culture and all the fruits, veggies and beans are fresh and sold at a very cheap price compared to Europe. Definitely vegan heaven.

A picture showing only the entrance of the huge place

The central market in the city is rather the opposite of even a vegetarian heaven. It is called Mercardo de 25 Junio and focuses on serving food. Although one small corner is reserved for selling fruit and other corners are designated to sell “mote” (non-GMO corn which does not resemble European corn in any way), most of the stalls are for meals. In one section outside, meals composed of fries and eggs are served. Around the corner “cuy” (guniea pigs) are roasted above a fire. If you go upstairs, lovely ladies will offer you a piece of “hornado” (a whole roasted pig, yes WHOLE). There are tables next to the stalls to consume a meal composed of hornado, rice and a little salad. Opposite of the hornado, other women are preparing soups and other meals composed of mainly rice for customers. If you walk down the stairs you can find two main areas with tables and women preparing traditional tortillas for you. If you go down one more level, you can find raw meat being sold, chicken corps with their legs up in the air, meat hung up and cut and other dead animals. I have never been to this place with my family, but I had to take plenty of pictures of it for the Facebook page of the tourism office.

Moving on to what I actually eat and am served by my family. For breakfast, my family usually drinks instant coffee or hot chocolate (both with so much sugar that you feel like you are biting into a candy cone) and eats a bread roll made up white sweet bread with no nutritional value (even worse than our German “normale Brötchen”). I eat oats with an apple and yoghurt without sugar which they got especially for me. For lunch I usually eat a soup with either pasta or potato inside and sometimes some vegetables. We drink fresh juice made out of fresh fruit by my host family with at least 100g of added sugar. For a snack in the afternoon I drink tea without sugar, they drink tea with at least two tablespoons of sugar and we eat another one of the white bread rolls. For dinner, we usually eat rice, sometimes with eggs as omelette, with some vegetables, such as peas, carrots or broccoli. Occasionally my family also eats some chicken with the rice. They usually serve me a larger portion of vegetables and smaller portion of carbs. Often they also eat rice with pasta or rice with potatoes. One of my favourite part of the meal is either fried or cooked bananas or bananas fried in egg. However, overall standard Ecuadorian cuisine lacks the variety I was used to back home including burritos, stir-fry, summer rolls, pizza, pasta and of course, good bread. My family also does not eat a lot of sweets, for example, biscuits and does not know what pancakes or waffles or banana bread are. However, I plan on baking for them as soon as the strike ends and I can get ingredients.

In general, foreign cuisine is not very well known and you can only find restaurants offering foreign cuisine in the biggest cities. In general, the US cuisine with hamburgers and other fast food is the most available. However, compared to the UK and Germany, fast food is not common at all. The general interpretation of foreign cuisine can also be very Ecuadorian, for example, I saw Chinese cuisine advertised as rice with veggies and in some sauce and you could either get just that or have it with egg or with a “salchipapa” sausage (salchipapa is a common dish made up of fries and an oddly formed sausage).

Example of a lunch I ate in a cafe in Cuenca

As you probably noticed in my account of my daily food above, Ecuadorians love sugar and cannot understand why I prefer food without sugar. To them it doesn’t taste nicely without sugar which is funny because generally they do not put any spices in their food, so the food is quite bland. Ecuadorians generally also eat a lot less vegetables than I expected. The main diet is sugar, rice and meat. Without wanting to be judgemental, their diet does affect their health and weight. According to the WHO, 52.8% of the population are overweight and 18% obese.1 Surprisingly to me only 7.4% of the population have diabetes.1 Just walking around I have seen very little slim females which probably also has to do with the cultural expectations toward the female gender as exercising doesn’t seem to be as common for females compared to males, at least in public.

Last one on trying to grasp Ecuadorian food: bakeries. There are so many bakeries everywhere and they smell delicious and the cakes look stunning, but everything looks and smells soooo much better than it tastes. Most of the bakes are only disgustingly sweet and don’t taste of anything else and I would not recommend the cakes. They also use the same dough or pastry for most of the products, a croissant is made with the same dough as the bred rolls. Overall the bakeries are super cheap and one can find bakes for 30 cents (Ecuador uses USD). However, if you do not know the good bakeries, even 30 cents are hardly worth your money. By the way bread as in a bread loaf does not seem to exist here.

Overall, I am lucky to have landed in a family who eat very little meat, just want to see me happy so are more than open to feeding me slightly different meals compared to the rest of the family and are not offended that I eat less than even their five-year-old daughter because the portion of carbs is just too much for me.

Connecting the food back to the current political situation in Ecuador to close of the blog, a lot of cities are experiencing food shortages, especially of fresh goods. In addition, a lot of farmer families are suffering because they cannot transport their goods to markets due to road blocks and the strike of public transportation. The sister of my host mum has not been able to sell anything for over a week now and in Ecuador families do not have a lot of money reserved for harsher times. Not being able to work for a week, can make a big difference.

Appreciate what you have!

Hasta luego!

Sources:

1 World Health Organization. Ecuador Diabetes Country Profiles. 2016, www.who.int/diabetes/country-profiles/ecu_en.pdf?ua=1. (accessed 12.10.19)

Being a white woman (gringa) in Ecuador

Before we get into the actual post, if you want to check out some cool local Ecuadorian music, search for „Jayac“. My host mum loves them. The pictures are going to be from the work of local artisans which I took for my work in the tourism office at the municipality of Gualaceo.

Being a white woman in Ecuador.

I was visiting my friend, another girl from Germany, in the small town of Paute. We got ourselves some ice cream, sat down on a bench in the central park and were just chatting about life in Ecuador. The middle aged man who was sitting on the bench opposite of us was soon joined by his friend; another middle aged man who greeted us with “buenas tardes”. So far, a little odd, but nothing to odd. My friend turned around to me right after and said: “If they talk to us again, we don’t speak a single word of Spanish.” Right after she said that, they did say something to us in Spanish, we ignored them, the guy continued talking and we decided to leave as some of the words he was saying were “guapa” (pretty) “bonita” (beautiful) and other similar „compliments“. Even when we were walking away, he was still shouting after us, continuing to „compliment“ us.

To be honest, this kind of situation in which I have been spoken to by men who made me feel uncomfortable and made me leave is not that uncommon, not only in Ecuador. However, as a white and (for Ecuadorian standards) very tall woman this type of interaction is more likely to occur than if I were in Germany or the UK.

On the way back to my home town from Paute, me an another guy were sitting in the bus, waiting for it to depart. The guy was chatting to the driver; I was minding my own business. At some point he turned around and asked me where I was headed. I replied and his next question was whether I was single. He did not ask this in any particular way, it was just as normal a question, such as where I was from or any other small talk question. I replied yes, he nodded as an answer and continued chatting with the driver. To me the only thing strange was that he didn’t ask me where I was from and I took that as a compliment to my Spanish. Being asked whether I am married or have a boyfriend is one of the first things I am usually asked by Ecuadorians who I just met. My response to the question about marriage is usually that I am only 18. Due to my height, people assume that I am about ten years older.

Another thing I have experienced here quite often is cat-calling, especially when I were more than just jeans and t-shirt. To me, wearing what I discovered to be “more fancy” trousers with a blouse is just normal everyday business. However, here in Ecuador (where people, in my opinion, lack any fashion sense and only wear something a little nicer, if they work in official institutes) my “normal” clothes are super fancy. When I wear these types of clothes, the cat-calling increases a lot: “Hola baby” when I just walk past them; “Guapa gringa” and of course the standard whistling. Honestly, I struggle to understand what males hope to achieve by this…as if I ever would turn around, feel flattered and hang out with them. Then again, I guess it is more about feeling powerful and dominant and able to call out women than hoping for it to have any effect.

As you have probably already guessed by now, the Ecuadorian culture is quite sexist (let’s be honest, most main stream cultures are). To me it is very interesting to observe how this sexism is expressed (other than making women feel uncomfortable in public) as I do feel like this can differ a lot from culture to culture. In Germany, for example, one can observe sexism in the way the media and people sometimes refer to our female chancellor: reducing her to the way she looked that day or calling her “Mutti” (cute version for mum) which pushes her into the traditional role distribution for women. Unfortunately, I cannot compare Ecuadorian media due to my limited Spanish, but I can observe the behaviour of people. For example, it is very common for males to play Ecua-volley out in public and a lot of males are surrounding the pitch and watching. I have never once seen a female do sports out in public and if they are watching, then only with their husbands. I personally wouldn’t dare enter a space like that because I would get a lot of unwanted attention. I love playing volleyball and it is a shame, but I guess I’ll just have to find an all-women’s club.

Side note on this, I have come to understand a little more why it is so hard for females to break gender rules or reform society’s expectations. One could easily say: „Hey, just go out there as a female and show them how you can play volleyball and by you joining them it will be easier for other females to join. Just do it, go and break the gender stereotypes.“ I deeply admire all the women in our past who have done this and changed the agency of women for all coming generations. The flipside of the coin is that one puts oneself in a very vulnerable position and exposes oneself to unwanted sexual attention by doing so, especially in a culture where men are used to expressing their dominance over women in sexual ways. So I pay my respect to all women who exposed themselves to that risk for the good of other women. (I acknowledge that these considerations are within a culture which has a very binary understanding of gender and do not mean to diminish the struggles of all people on the gender spectrum, nor the pressure on men and young boys to fit into a “machista” culture. I can only speak from my perspective of a cis-head female.)

I talked about this a little in my first blog, but now I would like to expand on the gender roles within a family context. I have never seen a man cook other than if he is a chef, not in my family or the extended family on visits or in the market or when visiting neighbours. The men sit down at the table and are served by females and when they want seconds, often they ask the daughter or mother to bring them seconds. I have also not seen a male person clean. The male is the head of the family, he pays, he orders the taxi (btw, only seen male taxi drivers so far), he makes decisions, he works, he introduces the rest of the family, he serves the alcoholic drinks (which females only occasionally drink), he is taken serious and respected. With regards to this topic I am treated a little differently because I am a visitor, so I usually am not asked to help cook or clean, I am always offered a drink and I introduce myself.

All in all, in Ecuador I have become a lot more aware of what it means to be white in a culture in which they are the minority (people love to assume that I am rich) and especially what it means to be a white woman who stands out everywhere she goes. I am glad I am having this experience because being a white women in Western and Central Europe is nothing special and I am learning a lot more about privilege. Ecuadorians assume I am privileged because I am white, but am I in the local context? Sure, most of the things here are cheap for me coming from the UK and Germany. However, I do not speak Spanish nor do I fully know the culture, the way things work or appropriate behaviour. I know very little local people or where to get the information I need. In anthropological terms, I do not have social or cultural capital and my economic one is limited at the moment because my credit card still has not arrived (after a month!). And of course, I am a white woman…

Hasta luego!

Street art and Ecuadorian customs

I have been living with my host family for about a month now. During this month I not only had to chance to explore my home town and its beautiful street art but also the Ecuadorian culture. To someone who lived all their life in Germany, some habits and ways of daily life appear rather strange. So, I thought I would share some of my observations and throw in some pictures of the street art in Gualaceo. Enjoy!

The side of a school

First, it is cold where I am, but a few minutes down the road and it is up to 5 degrees Celcius warmer. An hour down the road and it is 10 degrees Celcius warmer. One of the first things I bought was a fleece pyjama. I had packed for the coast and not the sierra region, the Andes.

Second, people here eat mostly with a spoon and sometimes a fork. Knives do not seem to be a thing here. I struggled a lot a first, believe me, cutting everything (including meat) with a spoon is a skill. I am lucky that I usually only have to cut an egg with a spoon instead of meat.

Meat is a more than common here and it is more than common to have an entire pig or cuy (guniea pig) at the side of the street roasting over a fire. Me, as a vegetarian and former vegan), had to get used to seeing animals sliced open along every street. (Scroll the the bottom for an example picture)

The side of the main church depicting the battle between the Moors and Christians which was won by the Christians and Patrón Santiago who is widely celebrated in the area around Gualaceo.

On the topic of animals, from a Western European perspective (so obviously biased, everything I say is an evaluation within my own value system which is not the only right on in the world!) Ecuadorians have an interesting view on the value and rights of an animal. Explaining that I am vegetarian and was vegan because of animal rights has been a struggle. For example, something similar to pet shops are very common here. In those shops you can find chicks held in small cages reminding me of a mass production scenario. A puppy and baby cat were held in another small cage with a metal grid floor without anything else in it. Street dogs are another issue. But once an animal is a pet, everything changes. They are loved and cuddled and what not.

Coming back to food, even though the markets offer tons of cheap fresh vegetables, fruits and legumes, a meal mainly consists of carbs and meat. For example, you would eat rice with potatoes and chicken and maybe an avocado or a tiny portion of vegetables. I am lucky that my family acknowledges my preferences and feeds me only one type of carbohydrate and half a plate of veggies. Yet fruit is only consumed as a juice and with a ton of sugar in it. However, soups are very common and I eat them every day for lunch.

Last one on food, it gets dark here at around 6:30pm. Yet they only eat dinner at around eight, lunch is usually eaten at around two and breakfast at 6:30am. For me, this is a big gap between meals, so I am usually super hungry by the time we eat and snack in between. Yesterday, we were invited to a birthday party for a 4-year-old which started very late (Equa-time) at around 9:30pm. This late start meant that we eat dinner at 10:30pm.

Equa-time…Always punctual to work and school, but for social events always late and really late.

Let‘s get more into the way of doing things here. First of all, greetings. Men shake hands and men and women “air-kiss” on the check; meaning that the checks touch each other and you make the kissing sound. Women and women do the same. So yes, you’ll get really close to people who you don’t know (German standards). Personal space generally is an interesting thing, especially on the bus. Ecuadorians have absolutely no problem touching each other, when they sit on the bus and even though one could put one’s hand on the lap, it could also just go next to your leg. Or their child could basically sit on your lap.

On the topic of how Ecuadorians do things, I can obviously speak mostly for my host family. My family does not own a car, so we take the bus or taxi which are super cheap here (for me). We don’t own a hoover or washing machine or dish washer, so we use a broom and wash by hand and by the way it takes ages to wash the clothes for seven people. My family seems to be a more traditional family regarding the distribution of roles. My mum is an ama de casa, meaning she cooks, cleans and stays at home taking care of my 5-year-old sister who comes home from school at ten and my 10-year-old brother who comes home at 12:30am. My other two host sisters also help with washing up and cooking and serve the food to me, my host dad and the two kids already sitting at the table. My host dad works and comes home for dinner.

Below I included some pictures to illustrate what I explained in the examples above. Hasta luego!

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