Monday, July 15, 2013

To everything there is a season, unless you're on the equator

Until now, I'd only ever lived in places with four distinct seasons. I'm one of those people who can barely concentrate at the turn of the season because I'm so excited for the next one, especially winter (the first snow) and spring (baseball season)--so living here at the equator has been a new and sometimes trying experience. 
Quito's seasons are rainy and dry. Right now is supposed to be summer here, but as far as I can tell the only difference between now and the rainy season is that the clouds that come in the afternoon don't let loose every single day like before. During the rainy season, there are a couple downpours every afternoon, but there really aren't many days that are totally rainy. Same thing in the dry season: most mornings are sunny and clear and most afternoons are cloudier and oftentimes overcast. 
When the sun is out its rays are super intense, so I have to wear 50 SPF, even though it's only 60-70 degrees out. (This takes some getting used to and I've been badly burned a time or two). When the sun goes behind a cloud, you can really tell, because what makes you hot is the sun's intensity, rather than the air temperature. So, you need to dress in layers and carry an umbrella. I went to the park yesterday in shorts and regretted it every time the sun went behind a cloud. 
There's not much variation when it comes to light and dark, either. Every morning, the sun rises a little after 6am and every evening, it sets at about 6:30pm. It's good as far as being predictable, but strange. It gets fairly chilly at night here and because it gets dark pretty early it feels a bit like fall at night. But then the sun comes up every morning early and it's so warm and birds are chirping and it's spring again. Confusing.
Anyway, if you're going to be trapped in one season, spring is probably the best one to be trapped in. It's rarely too hot or too cold--perfect weather for running, sports, parks, and hikes. If you want colder temps, there are volcanoes close by and if you want hotter temps, there are beaches about a day's bus ride away and jungle even closer. This is probably the ideal climate and setting for a lot of people.
But eternal spring has had all sorts of strange effects on me. For awhile--before I had a job and had to write down the date on things--I could never remember what month it was. And I still wake up confused as to what season, month, and time it is. I've gotten used to the weather by now of course, but part of me feels stuck. I need that change in the weather and the season to keep me aware of time passing, of change in general. As silly as it sounds, I need the seasons to remind me of the cycle of death and rebirth. I need long, cold winters to make me appreciate the spring and summer; I need chilly, sad autumns to look forward to in the heat of August. 
I've had friends who've had Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which makes them depressed in the winter months. And, I know winter can be depressing for people because of the lack of sun and warmth, etc. Even though I love snow and bragging about subzero temps, I'll admit I was pretty sick of winter when I was in Russia. But without dead, cold, starkly beautiful winters, and without hot, dry, burning summers, I just feel suspended in time, not changing. I don't have SAD or a depression brought on by eternal spring, I just have this longing for a change and an undefinable sense that something is not quiet right. Part of this could also be due to the fact that I'm obsessed with following the weather/forecast, which leaves me pretty bored when it doesn't change. 
Whatever the reason, I'm happily looking forward to being on the run again, experiencing different climates, countries, and cultures. This week is finals week at UDLA and after some make up exams next week, I'll hang up my profesora cardigan in exchange for some work gloves and prepare to head south to Peru, volunteering on some farms and sightseeing for a month or two. Then, it's north to Colombia for a bit of the same before flying out of Bogota and back to the US of A for a real winter at the end of November.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Little Things

There are a lot of little things I've gotten used to in Ecuador that were a bit odd at first. I'd totally stopped noticing these things until a friend of Danielle's visited her and reminded me of them again. I've since been noticing more and trying to think of a list. Here's what I've come up with so far. 

1) Not flushing your TP. 
This is pretty common in most of the world, outside of Western Europe and North America. The pipes here aren't built for that. Anyway, there's always a small garbage can near the toilet to throw your poopy toilet paper, which grosses a lot of gringos out at first. I don't mind; it helps me save money because I don't want to continually take out the trash. (Also, toilet paper is scented here and it's really hard to find any that isn't.)

2) Milk in a bag, juice in a bag, liquor in a bag, leftovers in a bag, EVERYTHING in a bag! 
A lot of things--most alarmingly liquids--are sold in bags here, which was a little unnerving at first. (But I love juice in a bag now!) It's especially weird when you don't finish your drink at a restaurant and they send it home to you in a small plastic bag. You just bite a hole in the corner and suck out the rest of your coke later, no big deal.

3) Names, titles, and saying it like it is.
It's normal for venders, people working in tiendas, or any stranger pretty much anywhere, to call you "mi hija/hijo" (my son/daughter). It's really cute, I think. It's also normal for people to call you by your profession. Any time I check out speakers to use in my class, the people at the academic secretary's office say things like, "tenga, profe" (here, professor). Students call their teachers "profe" here all the time (or "teacher" in English classes) rather than calling them by their names. I call my aunt here "tia" and nothing more. 
People also say a lot of things we would consider rude or not politically correct. Any chubby person is called "gordito" (little fatty), black people are called "negritos" (little blackies), etc. It's not rude, it's just saying it like it is. 

4) Greetings, goodbyes, and kissing everyone.
It's really important to greet everyone when entering any room. And I don't just mean a quick hello, you need to kiss them on the cheek, one by one, and ask them how they are, etc. Same thing goes when leaving. I think it's a sweet thing to do, but I'm STILL not used to it. Whenever I enter and exit the teacher's lounge at UDLA, I get a little nervous about it because I don't want to offend anyone but I really don't want to take 10 minutes saying goodbye. The nice thing is that if you don't know anyone, in a place like the teacher's lounge, where everyone's working, you can just say a general greeting and a general goodbye at the door. 

5) Dodging traffic, breathing exhaust fumes, and the dangers of walking.
This one is pretty straight forward. I wrote an entire post about public transportation here, which is incredibly awesome and incredibly disgusting and frustrating at the same time. As far as walking goes though, you gotta be on guard 24/7. People don't pay attention to crosswalks or traffic lights too often, they just honk and keep going. I've become pretty adept at jaywalking. And you will constantly be breathing in some pretty heavy fumes. 

6) Public Displays of Affection in likely and unlikely places, by people of all ages.
PDA is very common here. In the States, I've really only seen drunk people or junior high couples being overly physical in public, but here it's everywhere and it's people of all ages--although here too, it's teenagers more often than not. Sometimes it's a good thing, sometimes it's a bit too much. In general, I'm glad people are comfortable showing affection. However, when couples are making out on a crowded bus, right next to my face, I get a little disgusted. And this happens pretty frequently, actually. I prefer the couples who romp around in the grass at parks. 

7) Different hand gestures for things.
There's this hand gesture here that people make when something bad happens. It's the same thing you do if you're packing a thing of chewing tobacco and it makes a sort of snapping sound. At first I was just confused when I saw it, but now I do it without even thinking sometimes. 
The common "come here" motion we make in North America is more agressive here. Instead, people turn their hands over and make this little effeminate wave that we would normally associate with gay men. Between that and the skin tight jeans on guys here, I was initially a little confused. 
Also, people point with their lips here instead of their fingers. You just pucker up and nod in the direction of whatever it is you're indicating. It still cracks me up. 

8) Men peeing in the streets.
Even in huge cities like Quito--where it is technically illegal--men stop at any old place on the street to take a wee. This was definitely a shock to me at first. The first time I saw it I told my aunt: "There's a man peeing on your sidewalk...?" because it was right outside her house. She just said, "Oh yeah, people do that here. It's really unsanitary." I mean, I have no problem with the idea of people--men and women--peeing any old place really, but it is a bit gross and it makes the whole sidewalk reek sometimes. And men seriously have no shame. One time a guy just whipped out his business probably two meters away from me. We made eye contact, but he just kind of shrugged like, "Deal with it." 

9) Getting whistled at, "psted" at, called "preciosa," etc. 
Being a woman and an obvious foreigner means getting some unwanted attention while walking through the streets of Quito. Men will often practice their English on me by yelling, "Hello, I love you!" or they will try whistling or making little "pst" noises that are also come-ons. It doesn't happen that often (perhaps because I can pass as a little boy), but it's annoying when it does. It's also humorous sometimes though. Especially when people walk up behind me and whisper things like "Hola preciosa" or "deliciosa," or something like that. It would be so silly to call someone precious or delicious in English that it makes me laugh. Part of me wants to turn around and say, "No, YOU'RE precious and delicious!" I've never done it though, because I don't want to encourage them.

10) Security guards everywhere, armed to the teeth.
Nearly every building here has at least one security guard--most of whom carry either clubs or guns--and if it's an important building or a bank or something, there are probably five of them with huge automatic weapons. Once, there was a parade that I stumbled upon and the Ecuadorian SWAT team was right there, complete with shields and huge guns and everything. For a parade! Crazy. It was startling at first, but now I'm pretty used to it. 

11) Slow walkers, especially in groups, who don't move to let you pass. 
Everyone walks very slowly here and they generally walk abreast, in groups. This makes it very difficult to get around them, but they don't seem to notice or care that you'd like to pass them. They just lollygag along without a care in the world, even if they are late for class and on a narrow, walled-in walkway. It's extremely frustrating and actually, I DO still notice it, pretty much everyday on the way to class.

12) People not having change. Ever. 
Breaking a $20 can be really hard work in Ecuador. You usually have to go to a nice restaurant or a grocery store or something. This would just never happen in the States, or if it did, it would be the person in the store's priority to find change for you. Here they just get annoyed that you don't have the correct change. It's not really that hard, you just have to plan ahead a bit more. But it's become a funny sort of fixation for me. I plan my purchases around breaking 10s or 20s. Sometimes 10s are pretty tough too, and the other day a man seriously didn't have change for a 1.