Week 3-ish: Gringos, Niños and Water
by tdepke on Sep.24, 2009, under Jeff and Tyler's S. American Updates
Written by Jeff Vredenburg and edited by Tyler Depke
Jipijapa is a town of undulating hills that drain (if there ever were water) into the center square. This is where everything happens, the market, the church, the pharmacy, the bus station and the people are always here. Every time I need to use the internet, buy a phone card, or catch a bus, I have a 15 minute walk down from where I live to the center where I can go about my business. A municipal water system doesn’t exist so people are used to procuring their water from giant water trucks and boiling it before cooking or drinking. The big news lately though is the government finally approved a water project to install water mains to create a city-wide water system. In the meanwhile, this means that there are huge chunks missing from every street all over the city. I think that somewhere in the planning stages they decided to start the pipes in random places and then eventually connect them, which makes navigating the city a maze of holes. The buses that we take to work never drop us off in the same place because they are constantly being re-routed because of construction.
It is also a town where trash is common. There are very few public trash receptacles, and I am not sure if the trash that people throw in them is ever collected. Instead, it is just burned every few days along with the trash from private residences, that is, if the trash even makes it into a receptacle. Nobody here ever thinks twice about throwing trash out of windows, on the street, or in the neighbor’s yard. In my class, the students wad up paper and throw it out the window where it winds up in the creek behind the school. This makes the city smell like smoke and creates a haze that lingers over everything which mixes with the dust for a great breathing environment.
Last weekend we went to Porto Lopez, a seaside town no more than an hour west from Jipijapa. Friday, after settling in to our hotel, which came complete with hot (well lukewarm) water, a dart board, a pool (table) and tables of people smoking weed (for which the minimum sentence is 15 years), we set out for dinner. We ordered Ceviche, a dish made with raw fish marinated in lemon juice, vinegar, and seasoning, and eaten cold. It hit the spot with the warm weather, and after an extended night photo shoot of stray dogs, fishing vessels, and the beach, we retired to our beds and wrestled with our mosquito nets until we fell asleep.
Saturday we woke and after a breakfast of fried eggs, rice, and fresh pineapple juice smoothies, we made our way to the beach to board our tour boat. We were going to La Isla de Plata, or Silver Island, so named because of the treasure that Sir Francis Drake buried during his short stay on the island (Marooned). For those looking for a less fantastic interpretation of the name, the bird guano that piles up on the rocks gives the island a silver color. On the way to the island we stopped and saw humpback whales playing in the surf. They can grow up to 33 tons and every year migrate from Antarctic waters to the waters off the coast of Ecuador to mate, birth, and raise their young.
After a few people lost the battle to keep their cookies, we went to calmer waters (some of the swells were around 15 feet) where a group of sea turtles met us, poking their heads out of the water and diving down again, almost as if they wanted us to jump in and play. We debarked to land and walked the paths of the island, seeing blue-footed boobies, nasca boobies, and other species of birds and lizards that gave the island its nickname, “Poor Man’s Galapagos.” Silver Island is the closest land mass to said infamous islands, and many of the birds and plant life from the Galapagos have come to inhabit the island – birds by air and plants by air and water. Our tour group had warned us to wear comfortable hiking shoes for the tour, since we would be walking up and down steep, rocky hills on a dirt path. Heeding these warnings we were surprised to find that our guide choose not to wear shoes for the entire 2.5 hour tour. I took my shoes off for twenty minutes or so because my shoes were rubbing my heels (why did I forget socks?) and went barefoot on the paths. This man must have had heels of steel. I had to pick my way carefully through the rocks and dirt while he was able to walk unfazed through the toughest terrain.
Written by Tyler Depke and edited by Jeff Vredenburg
There is something fascinating about being the minority in another culture. The minority I talk about is us, gringos in a town of morenos.
When most people think about being a gringo in South America, the first and most common stereotype that comes to mind is money. People see the white skin from a mile away and try to charge more, take advantage of you, etc. They don´t have anything against us, they are just trying to get more out of what they are given. Once they get over this ´rich gringo´ stereotype they start seeing other things that are different about gringos that they usually don’t see everyday.
We were all sitting at dinner one day and my family asked me how tall I was. Of course I know how tall I am in standard, but in meters, not a clue, only that I am between 1 and 2. They asked me to walk into my room which is conveniently located right next to the dinner table. As I entered my room I heard the entire family laughing and as I turned back I was very confused as to why they were laughing. I guess it was because when I enter my room I have to duck to walk through the door because the doors here are smaller…they thought that it was the funniest thing they have ever seen.
I had my shoes off the other day while we were watching TV when I looked at my host who was staring wide-eyed at my foot as she nearly yelled, “Gringo’s feet are so weird! Look at your toes!” She pointed at my pinky toe counting them towards my big toe but stopping at my second-to-biggest toe laughing and saying, “What is that!?! Why is that one so long?” Well not all gringos have their second-to-biggest toe longer, but I will say that the average gringo who is a lot taller than the average Ecuadorian is going to have a lot bigger feet than the average Ecuadorian.
Now let’s look at the reaction of children to gringos. Baby’s usually stare at me like I look weird, but is there really ever a time when babies DON’T stare at someone new? After babies we have the 3-ish year old. They walk around without really knowing what’s going on, and THESE ones, OH, these are the ones that stare at me for 10-30 seconds trying to make up their mind if I’m actually human. My host niece here looks at me and if I attempt to make eye contact she looks towards her mom running to her as if I were going to kill her. I approached her trying to dance with her once and she immediately ran to her mother pushing the entirety of her body into her mothers stomach on what looked like the edge of tears. Finally, we have the 5 year-olds and up. Initially very shy and anything more than a “hello” makes them giggle. My host nephew qualifies in this category as he would run away from me with a big smile on his face, but eventually he even showed me his dance moves including a pretty decent moonwalk. With these kids you could literally say anything and they would smile. These are the interactions are the ones that make me feel welcome here. With all of these staring children, we often feel like we are in a zoo, and every move that we make is something either to be laughed at or documented. The best thing that we have found to break the tension is to dance, it`s universal and come on, who doesn´t laugh at gringos dancing?