Abroad in Ecuador: Getting my bearings

Approximately a year ago, I made the decision to study abroad some place far, far away in order to plunge myself into something uncomfortably and exhilaratingly new. I’d been leading a routine life in Boston for two years at that point, and though I basked in its ease, it was time for change.

So here are a few facts about my new bearings:

Location: Quito, Ecuador

Duration: Four and a half months

Latitude: 0 degrees

Temperature: Better than Boston

Goal: Return speaking Spanish fluently. If that fails, become the girlfriend of a world-touring Hispanic pop star and have him immortalize me in some song about love and alpacas.

So here I am, beginning my third week in Ecuador’s capital, my second week at the University of San Francisco de Quito and my first week blogging about it (because what else is a slave to the FreeP going to do? – that is, a slave of love, of course.)

And as I hustle to and from school on my hour-long, multiple-bus-switching route every day – clutching my backpack for dear life so that an indiscreet hand doesn’t snatch its contents and avoiding eye contact with unnecessarily long, lingering stares – my wonder at my current situation has yet to abate.

The sights that greet me as I make my way through the city couldn’t be more different than those I’ve grown accustomed to in the United States.

A stone-faced indigenous woman in traditional Andean garb sells trinkets on the side of a major intersection after having shielded her child from the sun by placing him under a cardboard box. A pint-sized boy no older than 10 juggles on top of a tire as his brother sits inside it in the middle of a busy avenue during a red light. Vendors offer passers-by meat and vegetable empanadas and freshly-cut lemon and guava rounds for 20 cents. A blind woman slowly makes her way through a crowded trolley, extending her hand for change as she sings a song about lost love. These are some of the scenes I see on a daily basis.

But my perpetual state as a wide-eyed Bambi is reciprocated in many of the Ecuadorians I encounter: for the first time in my life, I, a white female of average height and weight (in North American terms that is), am an anomaly.  The “Hola blanquita” catcalls and unashamed stares I receive remind me that I am a foreigner here, even if I don’t open my mouth to reveal the combination of my French and English accent when I speak Spanish.

Yet despite my current status as an observer, I want to become a part of this world I’ve been in complete awe of for the past two weeks.

You can see the vestiges of a mighty and ancient civilization throughout the city. The dark shades and lines of men’s faces and the ribbons women lace through their long, jet-black hair stand as reminders of these people’s Incan origins. The very names of landmarks and monuments –Cuicocha, Atahualpa, Cotopaxi – in Quechua, the Incan language, seem to conjure an ancient magic, just like the imposing Pichincha Mountain at whose foot Quito lies.

So for the next four months, as I endeavor to learn Spanish (and the occasional Quechua expression – “achachai” means cold for all you Bostonites), I’ll be sharing with you my observations and expressions of Ecuadorian life and culture. And for those of you who loyally put up with my weekly rants, I’ll bring you back a real-life llama.

Hasta luego!

Meaghan Beatley, DFP Staff

Drinking coconut milk in the Otavalo market. Photo credit Britney Herman

Andean landscape. Photo credit Meaghan Beatley

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7 comments

  1. pankaj singhvi

    Hey Meaghan,

    Its great that you are getting a totally different experience than you have been used to…
    This will add dimensions to your perspective about the world around you.
    And good job starting up a blog to help your friends look through your eyes!
    Your description does reflect many of the rural India features too…
    I hope you will also catch up ur spanish fluency soon…:)
    Good luck!

  2. ayankatoxford

    It’d better be a fuzzy llama or a funny llama. Llama. Llama. Duck.

    Write much and often (and in excruciating detail) because I want to know everything about what you’re doing.

    With all the love I possess in my heart,
    Maggs

  3. Claire Beatley

    It’s always so entertaining to read your writings, be they short stories, essays or blog postings. They put a huge grin on my face. In any case, what you’ve recounted of Ecuador sounds so colorful and fascinating. I’ll be looking for updates missy!

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