Monday, February 18, 2013

The White Girl on the Block

Some days I notice it more than others. There are moments when it feels awkward, like I'm imposing. I have even felt guilty because of the assumptions people have made about me, most of which were actually false. I walk down the street feeling like the lone marshmallow in a field of M&M's. What am I talking about, you may ask? Being the only white girl on the block. 

Back in college I took a course titled Diverse Populations where we talked all about racial, sexual, and ethnic differences. Though I learned a lot from the class and gained awareness of the types of discrimination that exist in the world,  I never really experienced prejudice or racism firsthand. Now I'm not going to say that anyone here has intentionally made hurtful remarks about my race, because that would be a lie, but for the first time in my life, I know what it's like to be the black sheep. Except I'm not black. I'm white.

I have said for some years now that at some point in my life I wanted to experience being the minority (Although I have definitely been in the minority in many settings: age, sex, etc. In this case I was speaking primarily of race). Well, I am now living in a community that is quite diverse, but whose residents are all Latino. Ecuadorian. Most have indigenous blood, to varying amounts. Of course, not everyone here is the same color, but I will say one thing: I am the only Caucasian person in this one-horse town. And that has led me to several realizations.

1. When walking down the street, there is no way to not be noticed. I've become accustomed to staring (curious, not unfriendly) eyes. Everyone knows who the young gringa is, even if I don't know them. It feels like there's a constant spotlight on me.

2. I am 99% sure to be questioned when meeting new people: Where are you from? Why are you here? Legitimate questions, which I try to answer honestly (even when it gets old). This is a correct assumption that I'm not from here, which I sometimes wish I could take away. If I just had a darker face with no freckles, and black hair, no one would doubt that I'm Ecuadorian. I would blend right in.

3. People assume I have lots of money, listen to Marilyn Monroe and Hoobastank, and have never in my life seen a puddle (true story: a man told me that he thought puddles did not exist in the U.S. because we have such advanced technology!). But that's mostly after they find out I'm American.

At first, it was really uncomfortable even walking around by myself, anticipating the gawking looks I would receive. For years I have taken for granted the ability to go about my business, without being noticed by strangers. This experience has made me realize the privileges I have in the U.S., being in the majority in my town and neighborhood. Stepping into the shoes of minority races in the U.S., I can now see how it feels to be sitting in a room of all white people, feeling that your opinion might not be considered fairly, and dealing with the racist attitudes that some people unfortunately still harbor.

Racism still exists today. Sadly, I have heard several backhand comments about "negritos", people of African descent, and "indios", individuals of indigenous blood, here in Ecuador. Multiple times in the city, in various settings, I have witnessed stereotypes spoken about both of these groups. Though maybe the intention was not to hurt or under appreciate, these generalizations promote hard feelings and suspicions toward certain groups of people, which are utterly incorrect. My skin boils to hear a pastor talk as if all black people can't be trusted, and a friend to mention indigenous customs as if they were inferior to the modern lifestyle.

Today I am thankful for the opportunity I have to live in a community where people are unique, and also like me. Though we look different, and come from separate cultures, we have much in common. Our beliefs, feelings, and common experiences bring us together. No matter if you're black or white, or somewhere in between, you are a human being, and you are valued. You are important in this world. You are loved. So I will gladly be the only white girl on the block. Because what is important is not my color, but my heart.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Carnaval. A national holiday in Ecuador, getting 9-5 workers two vacation days. Basically an excuse to throw eggs, shoot water, and spray silly string at every single person in sight.

What is all this about? Well, let me tell you. Over the past few weeks I've been hearing all about Carnaval, evidently an insanely crazy phenomenon which gives anyone permission to shoot water and throw all sorts of food and messy stuff on others who are playing. A friend made sure to explain to me that the government has rules against abusive behavior: if those armed with water guns or flour shoot someone who has no interest in playing or clearly stated their sentiments against the game, the perpetrator will be fined $15 for assaulting the victim. Eek! Both it's mostly young people who play anyway, so we're all fair game.

After several attempts to find out the meaning behind this wacko holiday, I still don't understand how the tradition started or what exactly we're supposed to be celebrating. But hey, why not go out and have a great time getting messy (one step down from a food fight) one day of your life? Sounds like an adventure to me. Plus, I've always secretly wanted to be in a food fight. This might be the closest I'll ever get!

So, this past Saturday I went to Machachi to meet up with my friend from church to see (and participate in) the parade. The parade in this particular town is dubbed Cascaronazo, deriving from the word "cascara" which means egg shell. Now I didn't see too many people throwing eggs, but we went crazy with foam and colored flour! As we were watching the parade go by, people would shoot us with the foam and even paint. I turned around for a split second, and felt someone's hand on my face. When my friends started laughing I realized that the person had splattered me with dark blue paint! After the parade we bought some blue and red flour to throw on people, as a defense from the foam. Hehe. It was quite the day! Here is some photographic evidence:

First float of the parade

A dance group

One of the many beautifully decorated floats

A local high school band playing

Noemí, Raquel, and I after the parade

Here is a short video of the parade. Gives you some idea of the craziness!

Friday, February 1, 2013

On Our Knees

 It's a beautiful thing to see people so humbled before the Lord. Over the past two months, I have been extremely touched by the willing hearts of people in my local church here in Romerillos. Not only through their kind, welcoming words and generous acts, but also through their devotion to the Lord. Despite the physical labor, emotional trials, and hard lifestyle people in Romerillos face daily, their faith has taught me that we always have something to be thankful and joyful for. If we just look around us, the hand of God in our lives will be evident.

At Iglesia Metodista Rios de Agua Viva, each time we have prayer, led by the pastor or anyone church member, without fail everyone kneels on the hardwood floor, including older members who have a hard time walking and standing. What a surprising act of faith! Having never practiced this in my own church, the act of kneeling really touched me. As the popular TobyMac song says, let's be "a city on our knees....if we've gotta to start somewhere, why not here? If we gotta start sometime, why not now?" There is no better time than now to show our gratitude for what God has given us, whether it be food on the table, a roof above our heads, an opportunity to travel, or encouraging friends. Being on our knees is a way to show our submission and reverence to God. Sometimes in our churches in the U.S. our worship can be very formal or rigid. We hesitate to be our true selves before God, in fear of becoming vulnerable. Seeing the passion and genuineness with which Ecuadorians worship has inspired me to care less about what others think and truly express myself in worship.

Another normal practice in the Methodist church here is "especiales", spontaneous specials performed by the church members. Now these performances are not planned or written in the bulletin. At the end of each service, the pastor asks if anyone has a special or something that they would like to share. Without fail, every time there are at least two people who feel led by the spirit to share a Psalm or a song from the heart praising God. There is no shame or fear of singing out in front of everyone. Wow. This is something that would never happen in any church I've been to in the states. The wonderful part is that no one minds if the person has a good voice or not. What is important is that they are glorifying God. All praise, in whatever form, gives God joy. As Paul says in Romans 12:1, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship." There is no shame in worshiping in whatever way we can: through song, dance, prayer, acts of service, or sharing a message. 

Next time we feel that urge to express ourselves in worship, let's get down on our knees and look only to God. Because His is the deepest and most significant relationship we could ever have.