Thu 29 Jun 2006 3:24 PM
As Rob and I sat outside a bar in BaÃ±os, Ecuador, the daughter of the tavern’s owner became fascinated with us and attacked us with her stuffed Barney. She was beautiful, but this was not a surprise; almost all the children I encountered in Ecuador were nymph-like in their radiance, even more so in their formal school attire. In fact, the dress of officials such as airport security and army personel in the streets was strikingly discordant with the chaotic backdrops in which these people stood. Everything worked smoothly and without fail — buses and taxis arrived safely at their destinations, no one was thrown from the vehicles or run over — but in every instance a desirable outcome seemed implausible at best, a miracle at worst. Like much of South and Central America, Ecuador to me seems like it was pushed hastily into modernity by Spanish and tourist colonization and then abandonded (and/or oppressed) without proper resources to cope. Socially I found a much warmer climate than anywhere I’ve visited in the U.S. The wall of cynicism, the jadedness, that keeps me at arms length from strangers at home was a distant memory, and instead I was greeted with an immediate intimacy that I envied. But the sense that the culture has one
foot, and its heart, in the
past, while it’s being dragged to the future by the other foot, never left me. The disparity of wealth is enormous, and tourism seems to be the only main industry other than agriculture. The most problematic issue for me is — and has been since my many trips to Mexico — the lack of varied roles for women. It seems girls are to be very sexual
and desirable to attract a husband, but then are expected to have as many children as possible right away. Some graffiti I saw in Quito roughly translated to “Sex when I want, pregnant when I choose.” This dovetailed with my sister’s experience at a couple of Planned Parenthood’s in California where South and Central American women lined up for the birth
control shot because it was a method undetectable by their husbands. I’m not sure what the native policy was on
procreation before the Catholic influence, but this seems to be a growing point of tension that might boil to the surface if other more pressing problems didn’t take up all the space in the public awareness. As a result, the ubiquitous presence of children in the counry is conspicuous for someone from the abortion-happy north. I just hope the extra numbers will help the next generation tackle the problems they are inheriting.