In this monthly column, project coordinator Megan van der Moezel writes about her experiences in Quito. Livin’ la vida Local: a humorous beginner’s guide to this fascinating country. This month a column about the international community in Ecuador.
By Megan van der Moezel
Everytime I see a gringo walking around in the South of Quito, I can’t help being astonished. Just for a second, I forget that I am one too and stare shamelessly. The way little children can gape. This morning for example. I was riding the bus to work, when I saw a pair of blond headed gringos strolling down the street near shopping center Recreo. A mere couple of blocks from my house. They must be volunteers at one of the daycare projects, I immediately figured. That was the only explanation for their presence I could think of. Expats tend to cluster around the fancier neighbourhoods uptown, and I suspect tourists are simply made to believe Quito ends at the centro historico. Can’t blame them, of course. I’d be surprised if any of the guidebooks disclose that there is something out here in the South besides busstation Quitumbe.
There is still plenty of diversity among the population though. Most noticeable – and currently most newsworthy – are the Venezuelan immigrants. And they, too, come in all shapes and sizes. The first distinct group I came across where the salesmen. Along with the best Ecuadorian peddlers, they roam the city bus systems selling the usual sugary ware. But they distinguish themselves in a few different ways.
Almost without exception, they start off with a speech. Thanking the Ecuadorians for their hospitality and apologizing for the interruption of an otherwise ‘tranquil’ bus ride. (No such thing, of course) And, the big trick, offering every buyer a free 100 Bolivar bill with their purchase. A sad nudge to the fact that their hard-earned money is now basically worthless.
Another dead giveaway, is the very distinct Venezuelan accent. When I first arrived, my Spanish wasn’t nearly good enough to discern any differences. I simply didn’t understand a word at all. Now, I can just as easily detect a Venezuelan with my eyes closed, as open. This is how I immediately found out my new hairdresser and the waiter in the restaurant I visited with my parents. And also: my neighbours.
Dirty laundry in Ecuador
A family, I suspect, living in the apartment next to mine. The composition of their household seems to change slightly over time. So far, I have observed two men – brothers? – two women – their wives? sisters? – and a little girl. My landlord is not a fan. ‘With those Venezuelans, you never know how many actually show up when they rent an apartment’. I am. One of the men immediately volunteered to help me with my furniture when I first moved in. And the other always carries my 19l water bottle up the stairs for me, whenever he sees me dragging a new one through the front gate.
The women and the little girl, I only see on weekends. They spent most Sundays doing the laundry on my rooftop terrace. I often greet them in passing on my way to taking care of the same household choir. That is on my way to the lavanderia, as they call it in Ecuador. I always feel slightly ashamed of my laziness, knowing that they will be scrubbing away hours at an end washing their entire wardrobe by hand. But charging only $1 a kilo, the washing service is pretty hard to resist. Besides, I’d like to think I am contributing a little to the local economy by outsourcing my dirty laundry.
With all these Venezuelans in Ecuador, it is a wonder it took so long for one to become part of my social circle. It was only last month, that I met Liliana. A lovely outgoing and fast-talking woman, who helped us out at Local Dreamers by temping as a Spanish teacher. And we are happy she did. The passion with which she teaches, is only rivalled by her passion for her home country. In her spare time, she is part of a local initiative trying to help Venezuelan refugees upon arrival in Ecuador. We were quickly inspired to make a contribution and decided to start a crowdfunding campaign. After all, this was a great way to put the mission of Local Dreamers into practice. To make a positive impact on someone’s life, no matter how small.
© Local Dreamers, International community during volunteer work in Ecuador