Ecuador Travel: Pushing Past Pizza in Quito

October 28, 2010
culture, ecuador, f1, volunteer
Ecuador Travel: Pushing Past Pizza in Quito!

“Why Ecuador?” The person asking me this – whether American or Ecuadorian – typically has a furrowed brow. And for good reason. Ecuador doesn’t have a sweeping Eiffel Tower, or a Great Wall, or even the impressive Incan ruins of nearby Peru. It’s a tiny splotch on the elbow of South America, and the only reason many Americans have heard of it is because of one tiny, sparsely populated sector: the Galapagos Islands. The rest is just geography trivia.

So why Ecuador?

When I first graduated from college in 2008, Ecuador didn’t even cross my mind. Neither did the continent of Latin America, for that matter. But after perusing various teaching abroad websites, I happened across it…here was this mysterious little country of which I knew almost nothing about. It seemed like a tiny world unto itself, complete with a jungle, coastline, mountains, and a myriad of different cultures. I wanted to learn more about the country, so I headed there to teach English for a year.

Ecuador Travel: Pushing Past Pizza in Quito

At first I was disappointed. My initial glimpses were of tired-looking concrete buildings, with peeling paint in dusty colors. Traffic clogged the streets of Quito, clouding the air with smog. Garbage littered the drought-stricken parks. I had known beforehand that it wouldn’t be like the United States, but somehow I hadn’t expected what I saw.

Like it or not, I had to adapt. A couple of days into the program, it was time to move in with my host family. They picked me up in the evening, two parents and two teenage kids, and we all piled into their car. Only their son, David, knew any English; I barely knew any Spanish. It felt odd, riding along with a strange family with whom I could not communicate, watching the lights of Quito flash past.

David, thankfully, made an effort to break the silence. “How many years you have?” he finally asked me in English.

“24,” I answered.

He paused. “You like pizza?”

I nodded enthusiastically. “And you?”

“Oh, sí, sí.”

We fell back into silence, weaving through the sea of cars. “Tráfico” I suggested tentatively, using one of the few words I knew. All of the family nodded profoundly at my assertion.

Then David came up with a new conversation topic. “You cry when Michael Jackson died?”

“Uh, no,” I said, feeling a little heartless, but smiling because to him, pizza and Michael Jackson were American culture.

As for Ecuadorian culture, I also didn’t have a clue. Did I know any of the music artists or the famous dishes? Nope. Armed with the language skills of an infant, I could only observe. A few things were salient to me – like the apparent homogeneity of the culture. It seemed as though 100 percent of the population was at least nominally Catholic. Crosses dangled from the rearview mirror of every cab. I also noticed that people ate the same thing seven days a week: soup, rice, and chicken or fish. To be sure, the soups were deliciously spiced, and sometimes garnished with popcorn or banana chips. Still, I wasn’t used to soup twice a day, everyday.

Another thing I noticed was an emphasis on family. In almost all of the families that I met, people lived with their parents until marriage, even if that meant staying home until age 40. Kids in their teens and twenties still reserved the weekends for walks in the park with their family. I saw no sign of the rebel adolescence that defines American pop culture.

But slowly I noticed more variety in the country. In the old part of Quito, indigenous designs lace the edges of traditional Spanish architecture. High-speed internet cafes line the edges of poorly paved streets. The glittering dance clubs in the Mariscal section of Quito are reminiscent of Europe, the perfect place for “jovenes,” or youth, to flaunt the latest Ecuadorian fashions. And yet, only a few miles outside the city, people still cook their dinner over traditional wood fires. There was clearly immense diversity in Ecuador – just a different kind of diversity than I had experienced before. I knew that this was a country I absolutely wanted to learn more about.

Ecuador Travel: Pushing Past Pizza in Quito

Ecuador Travel: Pushing Past Pizza in Quito bottom photo credit:unsplash.com

About Emily Koester

Emily KoesterEmily Koester taught English in Ecuador through WorldTeach.

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