Levi updating here.
In my internship-inspired fervor, I realized I had not yet written about my life in Quito otherwise. So I´ll take you through a typical weekday and weekend, inserting the most notable anecdotes along the way. I´ll even put up a few of pictures taken by others; I don´t have a camera here because it is with the other bros.
The Moya Urueña house, in which I´m staying, is located in the north end of town. I usually leave there at about 8:30AM after eating a bowl of granola, the recipe for which I am currently tweaking and honing. A few blocks to the south I catch a ciclovia, one of the numerous bike paths sectioned off throughout Quito. I´ve been very impressed with the bicycle infrastructure within the city; it seems that President Correa is trying make Quito into something of a Netherlands metropolis with trim-suited businessmen whizzing by on bicycles to and fro the commercial districts. Within 15 minutes I´m at the MAP office. Around 1PM I take my packed lunch to the nearby Parque Carolina, which is comparable to Central Park, New York City, in its size, shape, location, and scope of activities.
Around 5PM I leave my internship and usually bike around the city for 1.5 hours so as to not lose those leg muscles! I often stop by Parque Ejido to eat a grilled plantain and chat with some guys there that watch volleyball, which is evidently an exclusively male sport in Ecuador. The people here are really friendly, and quite accustomed to foreigners. They always ask me if I´ve been to the Galapagos or if I have an Ecuadoran girlfriend yet, to which I answer “no” on both accounts.
Sometimes I keep biking well into the night, exploring new neighborhoods and zooming past bright, lively restaurants. I get a rush gliding covertly through the cool air, sometimes climbing high into the abutting city suburbs to admire the twinkling lights. And really, with my speed and facility, it feels like one of the safest ways to travel at night in Quito. Most of the time I opt not to bike more than 1.5 hours, but instead I call someone, meet someone, or someone calls me, and we spend time together (talking in Spanish ideally). These wonderful folks have been good company:
-David Shenk: MCC worker at Quito Mennonite for the past 3 years. Goshen grad. 3 years older than me.
-Pablo Garcia: Friend from church. He is teaching me Colombian slang.
-Alison Brookins: Friend of my sister, Annali, in Madison Wisconsin. Is studying Spanish here for 4 weeks.
-The Ballesteros siblings: These 3 fine folk are from Spain. I met them through Dave.
-Miguel: The parking guard on a street near MAP. From Haiti.
-Carin: A middle-aged woman who I met at Parque Ejido. We speak each in the other’s language so as to practice. Win-win.
-Isabel and Dorthee: Two German girls, volunteering in Ecuador, who I met outside the Basilica. I quickly discovered I unable talk German anymore at this point in my life.
But really, my biggest social network is within the people connected to Quito Mennonite Church. I’ve spent time with David, Eliana, Caleth, Yessenia, Javier, Karen, Daniela, Alyssa, Alba, Wendy, Scott, Angy, Jasbleidy, and of course, Cesar and Patricia. All of them are extremely gracious in showing me the city, sharing Latino culture, and being patient with my Spanish. On weekends with these folk I´ve played soccer, danced salsa, ate guinea pig, biked around town, and hung out at the old city. Because of the people of the church, I have a community, I am familiar with the city, and I have more confidence in self expression.
Quito is a beautiful and vibrant setting, a UNESCO World Heritage site, as Abe points out. Both the clear, sunny days, and the crisp, cool nights bring out the flavor and grandeur of dozens of churches and cobbled streets nestled in the valley that is Quito. Additionally, the city boasts flashy boulevards, posh neighborhoods, and big parks. There is even a city sector called the Mariscal Foch, or gringolandia, which is littered with Hostels, clubs, and internationally-certified Spanish Schools. I usually avoid the Mariscal unless I´m wanting to dance salsa on a Friday or Saturday night when the local young population floods the streets of this zona rosa. Unfortunately, during the week in touristy places like the Mariscal, you could spend your entire Ecuadorian experience talking English with new acquaintances, and thereby miss out on the valuable conversations with local, working people in the surrounding neighborhoods.
At times, it is clear that I am living within the legacy of those gringos who have preceded me. Vendors assume I want to buy clothing and crafts (which I am unable to carry by bike). Folks on the Metrobus assume that I want to get off at one of the stops by the old city or Mariscal. People respond to me in English in such a heavy accent that I can´t even understand them. Well-intentioned Ecuadorians recommend local upscale restaurants and expensive jungle tours. Above all, I am constantly barraged with the warning: ¡cuidado! take care! they will steal your passport, all your money!
These local assumptions and projections about my life and my desires are not unfounded; I would want to buy a piece of traditional clothing if I was not biking back with limited weight. I do often get off the Metrobus at the old city and occasionally the Mariscal. I do, ultimately, feel most comfortable in English, my mother-tongue. I would sometimes want to eat fine food and see the jungle if I had unlimited time and money. And sure enough, many innocent foreigners are robbed and mugged in Quito.
Of course, every foreign traveller would like to think of themselves as just a little bit savvier than the next; that they connect with the culture more, that their travel style is the hip, penny-pinching alternative, and that they have a basic level of street smarts to avoid theft. Really, I am no exception to this egoism. Yet, I begin to realize what really bothers me about the “gringo legacy” is that I don´t like being labeled into groups, along with all behavioral associations that this label implies. When I return to the United States, I will have to refrain from assuming that foreigners I meet hold any specific behavior or life motivation. If they look Latino and have difficulty with English, I will refrain from speaking Spanish to them without asking them first (as much as I may desperately want to practice).
Quito is great. I feel like I´ve lucked out with my situation here. I have reasons to grow: My profound independence currently sheds light upon my needs and desires for community. The frequent lack of understanding in my workplace motivates me to learn more Spanish and explain community health development strategies. As a stiff, North American-Mennonite, I have a social style which still contrasts with the warm Latino culture, and everyday I´m learning to embody free kindness, to loosen up my attitude and even to loosen up my body! The unique exposure to my own theology and faith, packaged in a very different ethnic context, is challenging me to look to the core of my values, and what it means for us to be children of God and part of the same Body.