I am not sure when the transformation from newbie to veteran happens, but I sure feel that Randy and I have moved out of the Novice stage of being an ‘expat’ here in Ecuador.
May 21 will be 5 years in Ecuador as a whole and 4 years here on the coast… and still going strong.
I had a conversation recently with a lovely lady who said something so very true and simple about us ‘gringos’. When people relocate to our home countries we refer to them as ‘immigrants’ yet we refer to ourselves as ‘expats’. This seems to be our way of softening the connotation of the word immigrant. But really and truly, we are immigrants; foreigners that have been welcomed into this country with open arms.
Because of this immigrant status; I have learned much about tolerance for our differences in customs, languages, laws and processes. I found when I first arrived, I would focus on these differences, I would compare and judge them on many different levels. Everything from the condition of the sidewalks to the continued lateness for appointments would become topics of discussion and frustration. The way women wear really high heels for the simplest outing to why on earth do they only sell molasses in the health food store rather than the grocery aisles; all of these things, big and small became daily conversations.
These days I prefer to focus on our similarities as human beings and I find when I approach from this common ground, there is far less judgement and far more understanding and tolerance.
With relative ease, Ecuador has welcomed us and encouraged us to live freely amongst them. They allow us to openly practice our religions, and even start churches. We can own and operate businesses and purchase prime property without restrictions. We can participate in their third age programs for senior savings on taxes, utilities, and travel costs. If you look at your Cedula, it is identical to their own citizens.
Certainly, if they can embrace us regardless of our peculiar ways, then we can extend them the same respect. I imagine them sitting around giggling at how uptight we are about time. How our primary coastal footwear is flip flops, even in the nicest of restaurants. The simple fact that finding molasses, Skippy Peanut Butter and a multitude of spices and foods seems so darn important to us, more important than knowing our neighbour’s name. All of these things must strike them as very peculiar.
I am grateful for the acceptance from the Ecuadorians, the hand of friendship being extended, the willingness to communicate, to be inclusive. There is an eagerness to share their customs by explanation and invitation to their celebrations. I actually notice more tolerance from and between the locals, than I see amongst the expat groups toward each other.
We all gather here from different parts of the world, for different reasons and what I appreciate is the respect we are shown while we each pursue our own visions of what it means to live in paradise.
It is a humbling experience being an immigrant; living as the visible minority. Trying to communicate needs using broken words, charades, pictionary, and hand signals. To think back to all the situations where they went that extra step to ensure our communication and understanding were complete and we were satisfied with the service.
I become slightly embarrassed when I think back to my much younger years in Canada and how annoyed I would be to phone for chinese food and reach someone that did not speak perfect English. This was not because I had anything against Chinese people in any way, it was that I simply wanted to call in my order and have it understood without repeating it 12 different ways.
When I think of how much patience I am shown by the Ecuadorian people as I try to get through any given day, I am very grateful and wish I could call back those hometown restaurants and apologize for my impatience and intolerance as they tried to understand my order.
Even after 5 years here, there are still some differences that make my eyes roll. Conditions, like the street dogs, still makes me cringe. When I see folks throw garbage on these beautiful beaches I become extremely frustrated. To reconcile these feelings, I started to think back to early years back home in Canada.
I recall the Litter Bug Campaign while I was a child. They would play the Don’t be a Litter Bug song during Saturday morning cartoon time so the catchy tune would be memorized and sung by children everywhere. The TV commercial where the First Nations man sits upon a horse, a tear rolling down his cheek as he watches garbage being thrown from a vehicle. Educating the children being key to the new direction our own country was heading and I see signs of it happening here. Road signs and regular discussions from their own president about the importance of picking up garbage. The very reason we love Ecuador is the feel of days gone by and unfortunately, that comes with both good and bad points.
My home country was not always anti-garbage throwing. We had many street animals before the days of the SPCA and municipal dog pounds, registration of pets and enforced laws came into effect. I try to remember to step back and put things into perspective. We had the same mentality barely a generation ago with similar struggles that they are facing now as a nation in a state of great change and growth. I have a firm belief that they too will get there and embrace the notion of clean environment and ethical treatment of animals.
Ecuador may not be as polished as we might come to expect, however, the resilient and proud people of Ecuador make up for it in heart and soul.
I am so very grateful to the people of Ecuador. My spanish may not be perfect but I would like to say:
Gracias a la gente de Ecuador para darnos la bienvenida con los brazos abiertos. Para hacer la transición tan fácil como puede ser. Estamos eternamente agradecidos. Con amor y respeto, Randy y Dodie