To survive in Ecuador you have to pay attention and learn quickly. The custom while greeting people is to kiss them on the left cheek. Women kiss each other and men kiss women, but men do not kiss other men. You can imagine how this can be tricky when you are first learning the cultural norms and your Ecuadorian family member’s are practical jokesters. Another interesting cultural phenomenon is machismo, best translated as an intense masculine pride of sorts. This can best be seen while taking public transportation. If you are a man, the bus will not stop for you when you are boarding or debarking. However, the bus comes to a complete halt for women. Some interesting facts: the current gas price is about a dollar, 22 chocolate covered bananas cost $1.40, and bus fare is 25 cents. The words that come to mind when thinking back on this experience are “eye-opening” and “life changing.” It is not every day that you can experience the culture and the people that you find in Ecuador and it really makes you appreciate your life.
I have been asked several times “what is your favorite thing about Ecuador?” To me the answer is simple: its people… especially my Ecuadorian friends and family. I stayed with a host family in Guasmo during my trip. My host mother’s name was Filadelfia (pronounced Philadelphia) which we all thought was funny given that I go to school in Philadelphia. Filadelfia, in my humble opinion, is one of Ecuador’s best cooks. This single mother of three runs the house, cooks every meal, not only for our family but occasionally for the neighbors, all out of a compassion for her friends and family.
Some of the kids who made a particular impact on me were Geovanny, Christian, Joel, and Mike. These four boys as well as all of the children’s at Starfish have such compassion and genuineness and will never be forgotten. These boys would go out of their way to say hello and make sure that my day was going well. By the end of my trip, these boys went from being my students to my friends to my little brothers.
If you ever have an opportunity to visit Ecuador I would highly recommend it. In Ecuador it’s not hard to find an experience that will make an impression and meeting these families was truly an unforgettable experience.
Written by Summer 2014 Starfish volunteer in Ecuador, Greg Branigan.