In this monthly column, project coordinator Megan van der Moezel writes about her experiences in Ecuador. Livin’ la vida Local: a humorous beginner’s guide to this fascinating country.
It’s already been a month and a half since I started working for Local Dreamers in Quito. I won’t pretend to have become a full-grown Ecuador expert in this short period of time, but valuable lessons have most definitely been learned.
Lesson number one: how to get from my apartment in the far south to the Local Dreamers office in Villa Flora. It took no time at all to figure out which of the smog-happy blue city busses to take. Simply look if there is a “V.Flora” sign amongst the countless destinations mentioned behind the bus’ front window. If so: get on; pay your $0,25 pasaje, and throw yourself ass-first into the first available seat. If there are no more seats: spend a miserable hour being shaken about by an either ferociously aggressive, or an unbearably slow bus driver. All the while ignoring his wingman’s order to siga siga! to the back of the bus.
There is simply no human way to push through the crowd of sardined human bodies that occupy the space between where you are hanging on for dear life, and the back exit. And even if there was. Why move when the act of moving dramatically increases your chances of face planting, accidentally losing your belongings, and being squashed by fellow passengers -rightfully- protecting their claimed territory?
Lesson number two: The bus is not merely a mode of transportation. It’s an ecosystem. Here you can buy your fruits and veggies, toothbrushes, potato chips and quack medicines, while being updated on the situation in Venezuela, being converted to Christianity, or observing the latest children’s game. (In my case: a best-of-three match of rock-paper-scissors while chanting “pi-ka-chu”, after which the victor gets to viciously pull the loser’s ear.)
Vendors of all shapes and sizes, each with their own distinct personal style, wonder in and out. Some simply belting out the item and price in question (like the current top-of-the-charts mandarinas, un dolar, un dolar mandarinas), while others offer up their riches to rags life story as a surprisingly successful ploy to tempt passengers into purchasing a chocolate covered gummy bear. So far, I’ve managed to remain impressively cold-hearted. Save for the $0,25 fake Oreo I bought last week after a heartfelt speech from a Venezuelan refugee. Although I must admit that purchase might have had more to do with the fact that I was hungry, and the cookie looked rather appealing after a month and a half of chocolate deprivation.
Lesson number three: Say you get an early morning call from your landlord, just when you’re visiting an awesome Local Dreamers partner-project in Puerto López. He wants to ask you if it is alright if he enters your apartment to do some electrical work. Here’s what you do: you pick up, scream “NO!!!”, and go back to sleep. If you don’t… Well, let’s just say odds are that two days later you will arrive home at 4 o’clock in the morning, only to find a hole the size of Siberia in your living room wall. Oh, and also the lights and all the wall sockets have stopped working. But mainly there’s that big hueco.
See, the landlord needed to install a fuse box for the new apartments he is constructing in the backyard. And what better place to put it, than in the outer wall of my ground floor apartment? Luckily the landlord understood my lack of enthusiasm about the surprise refurbishment, and brought me a huge sofa pillow to temporarily plug the hole, plus a plate of fried chicken for my troubles the next day. Now I do like chicken. Next time though, I think I might just pick a wall over a meal.
Not that I don’t appreciate my landlord’s efforts to acquaint me with some of the local customs. Quite to the contrary. Every single one of these Ecuatorian life lessons has been most welcome. And I for one, can’t wait to see what other surprises my new home country has in store for me.
Megan van der Moezel
© Local Dreamers, experiences volunteer work in South America