Well, here we are again. Another tragic earthquake, and I wonder if I should even be writing. But I think the silver lining of such events is it makes often distant lands real to us, and as the news streams in, we learn a little about the people who live there.
Among other things, Ecuador always reminds me of Elsa and Cristina, two Quechua girls who gave me this postcard:
Mitad del Mundo “Middle of the World” is a park in tribute to the equator, about 16 miles north of Quito.
Cristina, Elsa and I were in a Deer Hill Expeditions program together. Deer Hill centers its activities in the Southwestern United States, but also usually offers an annual trip to Costa Rica and another to Ecuador. Elsa and Cristina engaged with Deer Hill participants on the Ecuador trips, so Deer Hill arranged for them to participate in a U.S. Southwest one, which is when we met. It was a fascinating and somewhat surreal experience picking up on their culture on the Green River in Utah.
Cristina and Elsa arrived from the airport in stunning deep blue robes over white blouses and with elaborate necklaces. They changed into athletic wear when we got going, but clearly weren’t used to it, with baseball caps on awkwardly, pants up too high, and so on.
Elsa and Cristina didn’t speak English–their first language was Quechua, their second Spanish. “Elsa” and “Cristina” were in fact their Spanish names, not what their families called them. I spoke mediocre school Spanish, and never thought my vocabulary of vegetables and barnyard animals would be much use, but sharing a kayak with Cristina, I learned about everything on her uncle’s farm!
Food was a point of culture clash. I learned through the counselor who was serving as their liason that the Quechua, or at least the girls’ specific group, heavily salt everything. (No luck finding anything about this online. Please comment if you can put this in context!) But while Cristina and Elsa took salt to the point of excess by Euro/American standards, we did the same with sugar by theirs. One counselor had a tradition of surprising Deer Hill groups by flying over in his plane and dropping ice cream. When we spotted his plane above us on the river, we of course were thrilled, and when we learned Elsa and Cristina had never had ice cream, we were even more excited for them. How many times do you get to witness someone have their first ice cream? We watched the girls eagerly as they scraped a bit of Ben & Jerry’s onto their spoons and took their first tastes. Their eyes did not light up, but rather looked disconcerted. They found it too sweet, and put their spoons down.
But the most interesting thing about Cristina and Elsa was a certain innocence. Like the rest of our group, they seemed about sixteen years old, but were actually nineteen and twenty-one. Elsa was the elder, and was found crying in her tent because she had a crush on a boy in the group and didn’t understand why he didn’t feel the same way.
Maybe what I’m calling innocence is more a personal honesty. Like not feeling obliged to eat ice cream that tasted as flavor-saturated as a bowl of salt would to me. Related to that personal honesty was an openness. To come on such a far-flung adventure… And I remember being loaded with friendship bracelets when we said goodbye.
My old roomie Ale from Quito recommends Global Shapers for Ecuador earthquake relief donations!
Sending love from one fault line to another,
Los Angeles, California