This brevity cannot accurately capture the effect of an experience, nor will it attempt to. But since Audrey already covered the essentials of our trip, I will reflect more upon the personal impact that it has had on me. Before I go too into things, I would first like to thank Frank and the entire SIBC team for providing me with this incredible opportunity to live, learn and gain exposure to a life entirely unlike my own. I am immensely grateful for your generosity. I also feel greatly indebted to the Social Entrepreneur Corps and am thankful for the wonderful work they do and their intense goal to “make the world a better place,” as Maria Luz always puts it. Their work, partnered with the graciousness of our host families, made this an incredibly impactful and intellectual trip to say the least. Lastly, I want to thank the other SIBC members in my group– Audrey, Daniel, David and Sean– for really molding this experience for me, for holding me up when I was weak and for helping me see where I was strong. The memories I have with you all are some of my fondest.
Thank you all.
“I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.”
Perception is purely an interpretation of reality and our place within it. We can perceive our worth, our impact on those around us. Conversely, we can see ourselves as bystanders, as witnesses to the world continuing in our midst. Regardless, how we perceive is impressive upon both how and why we live our lives. This could not be any more apparent within Ecuador. Yet it wasn’t quite my direct time with the locale that taught me this, but rather was a book I read while in the country that did.
The Sun Also Rises.
To begin, Spanish classes in Cuenca were an experience in themselves. Between crossing the thin, cobblestone streets, witnessing la limpieza and munching on pan de yuca (with yogur de mora, naturally), our group not only became more acquainted with the area, but with one another also. Once we all moved past the basics regarding each person’s life, we moved into the weird facts, the funny stories and the diverse interests seen within. When we got on the topic of literature, Sean Costello recommended Hemingway’s famous book to me. Sean lent me The Sun Also Rises as we transitioned from lovely Cuenca to the much rougher Pulingui, and day by day I progressed in the book when I returned back to my casita each night. Right off the bat, hearing the fancy stories of ex-patriots vacationing in early 1900s Pamplona seemed like a striking contrast to my own reality at the time.
Although the mud road, bucket shower, sopapilla filled lifestyle of Pulingui was interesting, I must admit that at times, thoughts of a warmer, more luxurious atmosphere sounded quite nice. As I progressed through the trip and the novel, I continued to see opposites. The lives of these Hemingway characters were almost a fantasy– bull fights by day, parties by night and glamour all throughout. The same could not be said of Pulingui. The locals faced a hard reality and they faced it early on. Men worked all day to bring home whatever they could to provide for their homes. Children went to school either in the morning or afternoon, having split days to alternate between education and tending to livestock. All the while, mothers oversaw it all– keeping the household in tact, the family fed and the farms running– whilst also managing to actively participate in women’s group, community projects and in some cases, holding paid positions.
This harsh lifestyle was tough for me to understand at first. The Ecuadorians worked day and night to simply feed and clothe their families. Simple luxuries like hot water, television and even soap were absent in many cases. Although I do not live the Sun Also Rises, splendor-filled life of Hemingway’s characters, their stories were more relatable to me than the reality in which I was in. The concept of teaching locals the importance of soap as well as basic nutritional values perturbed my understanding of people and the ways in which they inhabit this earth. Such ritual possessions seemed unique in an area like this, which was certainly something to adjust to.
As our time in Ecuador quickly passed, I suddenly became terribly ill with an intestinal infection. After a few days of immense pain and no possible food intake, a hospital visit proved that my body as well as my thoughts were unused to the area in which I was residing. While I was bedridden and antibiotic filled, the pages in The Sun Also Rises flipped by much more quickly. With limited mobility and entertainment opportunities, I began to see more into the lives of Hemingway’s characters and the emptiness that resided in each of them. While they were privileged socialites, each person had a certain lacking that kept them dissatisfied and in the hopes of something more. Even though these people appeared to live such fabulous lives, each struggled to love what they had and enjoy their fate.
The opposite could not be more said about Ecuador. Those with the least found the most meaning in what they did have. And that was primarily family and a strong sense of community. Those two things made Pulingui one of the most relaxed, friendly places I have ever been. And one of the most appreciative as well. Although some were more religious than others and attributed their livelihood to different things, each person had a deep respect for one another and for the lives they had been given. This stark contrast, among many others, really caused me to question the human condition.
Ideally, each of us is endowed with some purpose yet when it comes down to it, our thoughts and actions are what best reflect our perception of life and our position within it. We have the option to love what we have; to appreciate each little thing. Or, we could conversely always want more, in the sense of seeking unfound fulfillment. Each method has its positive and negative attributes and often are not so black and white. Thus it seems to me that life is merely a matter of perception, partnered with attitude. We can certainly aspire to have that which we lack, yet it is the things that we already do have, the everyday luxuries that go unnoticed that we must become more attentive to. And it is a heightened appreciation for these things and for those that surround us that will undoubtedly bring about more happiness. From Ecuador, and particularly from Pulingui, this I have learned.