As Chris and I wind down our time at the farm, I have been spending a lot of time reflecting on the experience. In so many ways it has been absolutely amazing and a once in a lifetime opportunity. However, there have also been some incredible challenges that I definitely think Chris and I have both grown from. At the very least my preconceived view of Ecuador is drastically altered.
Below is a list of some of my good, bad, and ugly take-aways from the farm. I also added an awesome category as there were definitely some things that are better than good.
Also, as a side note, Chris and I have decided to leave the Farm a weekish early. We are both sad to go but as we really wanted to spend time in the Amazon and this could be our last chance, we are heading out. On Monday we will be headed to a Lodge outside Coca (a 10 hour bus ride followed by a two hour canoe trip!) to see the monkeys, Anacondas, and piranhas. See you in a week!
- The people. They truly are some of the nicest, warmest people you can ever meet. It really has been fascinating to get a glimpse into their day-to-day lives; what they eat for breakfast, how they do laundry, what their weekends look like, how kids get to school. It all has been incredibly interesting to observe and has deeply challenged some of my ingrained stereotypes. It also has overall made me contemplate not so much our differences in cultures but rather our deep similarities and how everyone pretty much just wants the same thing, to provide their children with a happy and comfortable life.
The town of Cuellaje.
- The food really is muy rico (means very rich and is the compliment one gives to a chef). Simple, fresh, and nutritious, Virginia is an amazing cook and I will definitely miss her plantain fritters.
- Experiencing a people who are fairly if not entirely self-sufficient. I know I mentioned it before but Chris and I are in complete awe of this and are all of a sudden very aware of how in trouble most Americans would be if their buying power ever ran out.
Coffee beans ready to be picked.
- Watching Virginia and Amable after 40 years of marriage, 9 children, and so many grandchildren, they can’t even keep count. They are constantly conversing, working in perfect harmony together, and sharing joy in the farm and whatever family is currently visiting. Amable is a very affectionate man and he is always putting his arm around Virginia and teasing smiles from her. Virginia on the other hand seems to be able to tell what Amable wants before he knows it, and it is obvious she takes great joy in caring for him and her family. It really is beautiful to see and I wonder if their life away from TV and Internet (in other words distractions) has forced them to rely on each other for entertainment and joy, instead of these superficial past times.
- Learning about how the farm operates, including how to make Panilla (cane sugar), coffee, seeing the what appears to be haphazard, though I am sure it’s not, lay-out of the fields, raising of the cuy, and everything else.
Chanchos (pigs) and Coy (guinea pigs). The farm we stayed at also raised cows, chickens, and a rooster.
- The weather. It is always in or around the 70’s and with a mix of beautiful sunshine and intermittent clouds and fog, it’s as near perfection as you can get. (At least during summer, supposedly the winter is a non-stop barrage of cold rains.)
- No internet. It’s been great being away from this for a while (going through detox and all) and having some serious time to do nothing but relax.
The view from Amable and Virginia’s front portch, my favorite place to sit and relax.
- The children. Every child I encounter is incredibly polite and seems to have an innocence that children in the US just don’t have. It is so refreshing to see children who still play outside, get dirty, and can make a toy out of nothing more than a rock.
- The fresh fruit that hangs from every tree. It’s so fun tasting all the crazy fruits I’ve never heard of.
Chris and my favorite fruit, Garandillo (sp?). This fruit is incredibly hard on the outside, you break it open by hitting it against a tree and contains a super sweet fruit that looks like fish eggs.
- The language barrier. Since the community is very secluded and has had limited amounts of foreigners within their boundaries, they have very little experience dealing with foreigners and don’t always understand to use simple language with us. This makes it incredibly difficult for communication and there are definitely some feelings of isolation.
- So while the food is really good, it does get old. We eat rice, beans, and potatoes at pretty much every meal and I am definitely ready for a change!
- Cold showers and bug bites! While superficial, incredibly annoying.
- The treatment of Gringos or Whiteys. This is probably one of the most frustrating things that we have encountered. In Ecuador, like most places, light skinned people are held in greater esteem and we are therefore, constantly being coddled, especially by our host family. (Though I am sure this is also exasperated by our guest status.) Our family very seldom wants us to work, and then only light, easy work, is deeply concerned we might get hurt, and always wants us to eat first off the nicest dishes. It also makes me very aware that on the opposite side of our cushy treatment is a deep racism that runs through the country towards the Indigenous peoples and the Afro-Ecuadorians. (I have heard that upwards of 80% to 90% of these communities live in poverty and have very little say in the government or their treatment.)
- The treatment of dogs and animals in general. Animals are just that, animals and they are expected to perform duties with very minimal care given to them. While they don’t go out of their way to mistreat their dogs, there is definitely the occasional kick or smack if they do something like wander into the kitchen. This is incredibly difficult for me to stomach and I am constantly trying to figure out a way to stop this.
- The strict male/ female roles. While I deeply admire the women and their devotion to their families, it is incredibly difficult for me to see women who are expected serve their men non-stop and who always put themselves last, including not eating till they make sure all the men will have enough food. This is obviously a deeply complicated issue (and one that runs rampant across the world, including in the US) and it makes me long to speak Spanish so I could more deeply understand their feelings towards it.
- And last but not least the lovely stomach problems that accompany eating in a developing country! Ughers!
Amable and Virginia’s farm. The little white dot in the middle is their home and they are surrounded by their farm, which stretches as far as the eye can see.