Abroad in Ecuador: Ecuamerican

Sunday March 13. I’m undergoing a minor existential crisis as I sit cross-legged on my bed, continuously looking from my laptop screen to my open cell phone. The first claims that it’s 1:21 p.m. while the other insists that it’s actually 12:21. Yesterday they were in full agreement. The Equator isn’t supposed to disrupt the time-space continuum, is it?

Turns out my American computer has reverted to daylight savings time while my phone, though of American origin, has decided to go native and stick to Ecuadorian time. My belongings are dividing themselves along nationality lines. This could be dangerous. I’ve got a million pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude to read and a paper about human rights abuses under the Argentine dictatorship to write; I really don’t have time to mediate any sort of warfare, especially not for nationality-confused pieces of plastic.

But it doesn’t stop here.

Today, as I chatted with a friend online, I responded to a funny anecdote with the following incestuous monster: “haja”. You see, proper to my background, I normally express digital laughter with the Anglophone “hahaha” instead of the Hispanic “jajaja”, which still makes me picture a miniature Bob Marley prancing around my screen.

Latin-ness is slowly creeping up on me, kidnapping my phone and infiltrating my very writing.

Yet a significant number of people whom I’ve had the chance to converse with here insist that American and Ecuadorian culture are essentially at odds.

Two nights ago, a few friends and I gathered in “Strawberry Fields,” a Beatles-themed bar in which black and white Paul McCartneys and John Lennons freely stare you down from their framed perches on the wall as you engage in whatever drunken debauchery you choose.

Within seconds, a group of skinny-jean and multi-color-scarf-toting Ecuadorian hipsters (oh yes, they’re here too) sat down beside us and asked us the inevitable question: “Who’s your favorite Beatle?” The debate began and quickly progressed to the faults and merits of “Across the Universe,” Animal Collective and as these things tend to go lately, Ecuador versus the U.S.

I can’t help but smile when a cigarette-brandishing Ecua-hipster who essentially borrows his identity from U.S. culture proceeds to call it “the trash of the world” – the aforementioned phrase said as he enjoys a smoke and a drink in a Beatles-themed bar.

A similar instance occurred last Carnaval weekend, which I spent at the beach at the kind invitation of an Ecuadorian acquaintance. One of the 16 Ecuadorians with whom we shared our quarters insisted that Americans are sheltered and ignorant of the world’s poverty – all the while he and his Hollister-clad friends tossed a football by their privately-owned home in one of the most luxurious resorts of the region.

I am continually amazed that upper-middle-class Ecuadorians who benefit from their status as members the 12 percent elite of the country accuse Americans of being blind to the world’s reality. Certainly, they live amid the poverty that accompanies a “developing” country; however, they are able to comfortably watch it from behind the screens of their luxurious automobiles.

Boston University students, like most college students in the U.S., may not cross dozens of trinket-selling children on their way to class every day, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t work a part-time job or have some sort of summer employment to help finance his or her tuition.

On the other hand, the vast majority of Ecuadorian students with whom I attend school will hold their very first employed position only once they’ve graduated university. My attention to this particular detail is not meant as criticism of my classmates, but merely as a way of pointing out a significantly different financial reality.

Without hesitation, so many pelucones here launch into virulent attacks on our country of origin the second they find out our group of BU exchange students hails from the U.S., without any qualms about potentially offending us (as evidenced by their subsequent requests for our phone numbers).

I must add that this does not represent the majority – I am still struck by the kindness and hospitality of so many Ecuadorians I have met in my two and a half months here. But I find it quite sad that those who do contend that all Americans are ignorant, dumb, “the trash of the world,” [insert equally degrading qualification here], can’t find a way to recognize that such generalizations point to their own ignorance, and not that of their Northern neighbors.

Latin and U.S. culture do not have to be considered opposite extremes – in fact, the constant exchange between the two makes this particular concept a ridiculous falsehood. As nations the world over become progressively more intertwined, we ought to leave behind petty prejudices and reap the richness of greater interconnectedness. I’m Franco-American, grew up in Belgium and currently reside in Ecuador. Who the hell am I to single-mindedly condemn any one of those three continents?

So I’ve adjusted my laptop to Ecuadorian time and may even begin to write “jaja” to express digital amusement. I’m an American in Ecuador, and I don’t find that to be an offensive anomaly.

- Meaghan Beatley, DFP Staff

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