Hola from Ecuador! This is Eleonora reporting on the first and second week cultural experiences of this immersion trip. I'm living in the same house with Valerie, Carla, and Elena from our program and we have the great luck of living with a tour guide, Cesar, his wonderful and talented wife, Diana, and their 5 month old baby. We're inhabiting a beautiful apartment in the center of Guayaquil, on the 15th floor, complete with a hammock and a piano bar. This has been a blessing on the days that the elevator was not broken and in the later hours of the night when the noise pollution dies down and we can enjoy the glittering skyline view.
Our second day in Guayaquil, our host family took us on a walking tour of the city. We walked through the Malecon, a park that runs along the main river, toured the park of the iguanas and ran into many that freely roamed the park grounds. We also saw giant turtles from the Galapagos islands, and walked up the 400+ stairs of Las Penas for a beautiful lookout over the city (Las Penas is also a great place to go out and try yummy street food with caution).
Early in the week, our group met with the Lucero family at the Cynthia Lucero Foundation welcome night. It was heart warming to be greeted by the Luceros and to hear them say that all of us are their hijos because we continue to carry out the work of their daughter. We enjoyed some live entertainment, appetizers, and great conversations.
During our first week in Guayaquil, the city celebrated a holiday and we had a free day from orientation to continue getting acquainted with the country. My housemates and our host dad went whale watching and snorkeling in Salango. I did not secure any pictures of the many whales we saw due to aggressive seasickness that lifted once the snorkeling commenced; I could not help but think of Maslow's hierarchy during those moments of seasickness and how taking pictures of whales were far from meeting my immediate needs. All in all, it was a great trip.
During our first full weekend in Guayaquil, our household ventured out to Parque Historico to observe wildlife in a beautifully designed sanctuary that mimics their natural habitat (much friendlier than the zoos in the United States). We saw many animals, some of which were specific to Ecuador. Afterwards, we went to a mall in the “rich area” as our host parents told us. It was fascinating to compare social attitudes between socioeconomic statuses and see how skin color played into this equation. While in downtown and in the “non-rich” areas of Guayaquil people like myself stood out (white, blond, green eyes) and received more attention than one would like; however, no one noticed me in the mall located in the prestigious part of town because I blended in with the majority. The notion that lighter skin is more attractive and is associated with higher SES was very apparent after visiting this mall and comparing it with other parts of Ecuador, especially the invasion neighborhoods which are constructed illegally with whatever materials are available on whatever land is available. This observation will be useful in working with Latino patients who may have similar cultural attitudes and who know stark contrasts between quality of life as it corresponds with SES.
So far, we learned that Ecuador has four main regions: Galapagos, the coast (Guayaquil is here), the Andes, and the Amazon. Each region is very different in climate, food, and culture. People in the Andes, in the Sierra, are all called Serranos but there is a derogatory connotation to being called a Serrano/a. Likewise, people from La Sierra in the Andes have some negative stereotypes about people from the coast. These microdynamics and stereotypes are also quite useful when working with clients. This upcoming weekend, we are going to Cuenca, a very European-like city in the Andes region. We were told to pack some warm clothes because it is expected to be quite different from the 102F coastal temperature that we experienced earlier today. We are eager to learn more about a different region of Ecuador this weekend and enriching our multicultural experience. Most of us are looking forward to successfully avoiding eating cuy (genuea pigs) by accident and after great experiences with fresh coastal seafood, enriching our palettes with mulled wine, carne, and choclo (large corn).