Monday, November 26, 2012

La Gringa's Navigational Struggles

It’s taken a while to sink in, but I’m more and more aware of my status as La Gringa every day in Quito. I love being completely new in a place in retrospect, because it makes for awkward situations and hilarious stories, but I’d forgotten how stressful it is to be thrown into a foreign (big, busy, and rather dangerous) city with a different language and culture. It’s exciting, but it’s also bewildering and nerve-wracking. Maybe someday I’ll learn a language before I try to live in a country that speaks it…but, probably not, because that’s apparently not how I do things. It requires too much planning and not enough procrastinating.
Anyway, it’s hitting me just how challenging learning this language and city is going to be. My Spanish class is obviously helping, as is the simple passing of time, but I had to remind myself the other day to just relax and realize that I have a lot to learn here and that it’s going to take a long time, which is okay.
I had a meeting with a guy at this English school that has no address listed online. I had called and spoken with him about getting a job and he gave me the approximate location and the names of a few streets. I was running a little late because of eating lunch with friends after my Spanish class, so I decided to take a taxi instead of the trolley. I told my taxi driver the neighborhood and asked him if he knew the school. He said no, along with a lot of other things I didn’t understand. But I told him street names and he looked on his map and got me close to where I was supposed to be…kind of.
When I got there, there was no school in a four-block radius from where I had thought it would be. I walked all around and asked people I found on the street if they knew of the school or where it was. Some of them talked to me for a long time about lord knows what—even though I told them I couldn’t understand them and stood there shaking my head, bewildered—but none of them knew of the school.
Finally, when I thought I was probably twenty minutes late (but I don’t know, because I broke my watch and I don't have a cellphone) I decided I would just wander down this one street because it looked like there was a nicer neighborhood at the end of it. When I got to this street, I saw an English school by some other name and decided I would pay them a visit and see if they’d heard of the school I was looking for (and if not, if they were hiring).
Thankfully, they did know where it was, and they walked me all of two more blocks to get there. 
I must have misunderstood the street names, like, a lot. Which isn’t that hard, I might add, because most of the street names here are either people’s names or important dates. I suppose it’s a good way to learn key historical names and dates in Ecuador, but it’s also pretty confusing. There were three streets with the first name Francisco near this school and I misunderstood which one the school was on.
But, I made it to the school, finally, and said maybe ten words (yes, I'm from the US, I’m a native speaker) to the director before I was hired as some sort of part time, under the table, oral-exam-giver. (I’ll write more on this school later.)
Anyway, now I can at least navigate, for the most part, about four or five neighborhoods that are close to mine, and I can take the trolley and the taxi without too much of a problem (as long as I know the address). Buses are harder though, because I can never figure out where they’re going. They’re jam-packed with people and great spots to get robbed—and so is the trolley, but at least it can’t decide to take a different route, so I can tell where I’m going. The buses usually have the names of streets they traverse written on the front of them, but sometimes it changes and the man or woman who collects money hangs out the door to scream the new route at you. At least I think that’s what’s going on. It’s all terribly confusing for me, so I try to stick to walking if I’m close.
Still, I’m slowly getting used to the public transportation system and just being a foreigner again in general. I will say that it’s definitely much easer here than where I lived in Russia, because there are actually a ton of foreigners here compared to there. I don’t get stared at as much, I just get charged more for things. 
I’m re-learning how to be comfortable with my lack of navigational and communication skills and my status as complete outsider. Wish me luck.


  1. I loved this --- being a foreigner is certainly exciting, but definitely exhausting and often humbling. Can I just say, I'm geekily happy to have a Crystal travel blog to read again. :)


  2. this sounds so exhausting!
    I remember these days when I was living in Brazil, learning the bus system (or any transportation) takes courage and definately is a trial and error thing.
    You need to buy a local map so you can become more familiar with the main avenues and neighbourhoods! this will help you immensily.
    keep up with the adventures!

  3. Hi "La gringa"!

    I'm a swedish, 27 years old, guy going to Quito in early January to work at a school in Carapungo. Right now i'm learning spanish in Cadiz, Spain (during 5 months). A pleasure to find out about your blog. Hope your doing fine.

  4. Hola, Kristian. Let me know when you're in Quito--I can show you around some and introduce you to some people. Or, if you want to continue Spanish classes, I know of some good schools.

    1. Parece bien. Iré a Quito 7 de enero y despues te escribiré un mensaje. Ten cuidado. Thank you.


  5. And i hope you will find a serious language school asap :) /K