The twins and I just returned from a trip to Ecuador where we visited Peter, my third son. Peter is a Peace Corps volunteer who is teaching English to the teachers in Machala, Ecuador. We met his teachers and got to see him work with these teachers. We also visited Guayaquil, Cuenca, La Cajas National Park, La Playas, Las Penas, and Machala.
My favorite city was Cuenca. Perhaps it was because we had hot showers there, but it was a beautiful city with modern and traditional all mixed together. We visited Cuenca during festival season, celebrating the Day of the Dead, and their Independence. We got to see parades, artisans, jugglers, dancers, and much much more. The children were dressed in traditional Ecuadorian costumes, and there was a party on every corner. At night, the city came alive with young people celebrating until the wee hours of the morning (which made it difficult for those of us who needed sleep.)
This trip was an educational experience for me and the twins. The safety issues that Americans take so seriously were of no concern to the people we saw in Ecuador. Children, even babies, without helmets rode on motorcycles with up to 5 family members. At night, motorcycles without headlights wind their ways in and out of traffic. A ride in a taxi at any time of day or night is scary as the cab driver cuts in and out of traffic, ignores stop signs and traffic signals, and cuts off buses and trucks. What was amazing was I never saw a single traffic accident, although I saw three car accidents on my way home from the airport in Houston. Children run around in the streets, ride buses without parent supervision, and are much more independent that the children of United States. On the other hand, this is a very family oriented culture. On Sunday evenings, as late as 10:00 pm, whole families are having a great time in the playgrounds located in the center of the city. We could probably learn a lesson or two from these people.
The land was so beautiful, but it seemed that the Ecuadorian people took it for granted. There was trash, unfinished buildings, graffiti, and uncleanliness in general everywhere. It almost seemed like this was paradise that was marred by its inhabitants. And that is something the Peace Corps is trying to help the people understand. Dani, Peter’s girlfriend, is teaching the people in her town how to recycle and care for the land.
My personal favorite aspect of the trip was seeing the diversity of people in Ecuador. The Indigenous children were my favorite, probably the cutest children I have ever seen with their round glowing cheeks and beautiful brown eyes. The Indigenous people wear the most colorful outfits with, of course, their signature hats all the time, not just at festival time. My favorite scene was seeing a whole family of indigenous people working the fields with pigs, chickens, donkeys, and a young girls holding the rope tied to the neck of a cow, taking on her cell phone. It was a good example of the contradiction of the old and new.
We really enjoyed our trip and hope that Americans really support and appreciate the work of those in the Peace Corps. They are fighting a battle of resistance of the Ecuadorian people. Education is not valued in Ecuador among most of the middle and lower class people, and that is what the Peace Corps is trying to change. It is an uphill battle, one that unfortunately will not be won anytime soon. The government is trying to change this, but it is a status quo feeling among the people. Peter and many of his friends feel frustrated at the noncooperation of the very people they are there to help. I hope that we can show them the appreciation that they deserve for giving up 2 years of their lives to help other people.