After a few weeks of living here in Ecuador, I began to wonder about a lot of things. Mostly I was thinking, “Will I EVER fit in here as an American Woman?”
I approached Felix, a native Ecuadorian and the owner of the Macondo Lodge in Canoa where we were staying and asked him, “OK Felix. If you looked at me and didn’t already know that I was an American, is there any other South American country I could be from?”
He smiled his impish smile and said, “Hmmmmm. Let me think here. Well, you speak good Spanish so that would not give you away. And there were many Europeans who emigrated here years ago and married into Ecuadorian families. I would say, you might pass for an Argentinian or maybe even a person from Paraguay or Uruguay?”
Whenever I worked in Europe over the years, I always spoke Spanish and pretended I was from Spain. People often asked me if perhaps I was from Eastern Europe? Or was I possibly from Ireland since I had such a round face and bright green eyes? One thing I was sure of: I did not want to be associated with the “Ugly American” type of person who I always saw traveling somewhere.
The typical “Ugly American” was demanding, pushy, rude and insisted that everyone around them speak English. Well I didn’t want to be THAT kind of American. When tensions rose in the Middle East, I told people that I was from Canada if someone really tried to call me out. Things just seemed to go more smoothly, at least in that part of the world, when I didn’t say I was from the U.S.
But now I was living in Ecuador. I was an American woman living in Ecuador. I looked around and I didn’t feel like I really fit in anywhere. Having come to Ecuador only recently from the Pacific Northwest, where we don’t see much sun, I looked very, very pasty white. Then I realized that my Spanish I normally used wasn’t working for me either. I couldn’t pass pass for an Ecuadorian no matter how hard I tried.
The Latin American Spanish spoken here uses different words for things, words I had never learned in school. At first, I constantly felt like a dufus since I didn’t understand what was being said around me or to me, like I usually did when I had travelled in Mexico or Europe.
I struggled over all of this for a few days, feeling quite out of sorts, forlorn and lost. Then I called my son Josh.
I was telling him about my struggle and he said, “Mom, I don’t understand this. Why is this so important to you to be someone else other than who you are? Why do you have to pass for ANYthing other than yourself? I’m confused. ”
Stinging tears welled up my eyes as I thought to myself, “I’m confused too! What’s really going on here?”
Then my son said, “Why do you have to “FIT IN” ANYwhere?” Why can’t you just be yourself – you know- Mary Anne Dorward – a really, really nice person, who yeah, is a woman who just happens to be from the United States?”
I was speechless. He had me there.
All I could think of to say was, “Excellent point. Thanks. I’ll give that some more thought.” And we hung up.
I sat there in my chair thinking, “Yeah. Why not? I could just be that: Myself.” And then I laughed out loud. “Yeah right. As if I could ever really be anyone else!”
PS: Would you like more ACCURATE, AUTHENTIC and UP TO DATE INFORMATION about ECUADOR?
WORDS TO THRIVE BY FOR WORLD TRAVELERS: FOOTPRINTS IN ECUADOR by Mary Anne Dorward
Note: All photos in “Footprints in Ecuador: An American Woman’s Life Changing Journey” have been taken by Mary Anne Dorward. All photos and writing on this blog are protected under the U.S. Trademark: Words To Thrive By. Please do not copy or reproduce any part of these blogs without express permission from Mary Anne Dorward. For more information or to schedule and inspirational speech or interview, please contact Mary Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.)