Journals from Semester abroad in Quito, Ecuador
2008-03-02 Class differences according to my host family, our maid, and me
All right, time for a normal update, now that I got yesterday's venting out of the way. We did, by the way, find a fun place to go that would let everyone in, and we (two black Ecuadorian guys, two white American girls, one Mexican-American girl, and two mestizo Ecuadorian guys) had a great time, whatever the rest of society may have thought about it.
I just got an e-mail from my mom saying that the economy back home in Seattle is going downhill, and that the essentials (milk, gas, bread, etc.) are all getting more expensive. Gas prices here are regulated by the state, since Ecuador produces a substantial amount of oil, so last I checked it only cost $1.48 a gallon (and everyone here complains about that anyway). Also, our maid (Rosita) rents a four bedroom apartment for one hundred dollars a month. I can't even imagine how much that would cost in Seattle. In fact, I have never even heard of a four bedroom apartment; if you have enough to pay that much, you might as well just buy (o rent) a house. Oscar's family pays over $1100 a month for their two-bedroom apartment. On the other hand, the Venezuelan college student who rents the small apartment behind my host family's house says that what with Chavez and all his antics her family back home says there is no rice or milk, and that things just keep getting worse.
Oh, speaking of Rosita, I had a very interesting conversation with her the other day. They tell us at orientation not to talk about money with our host families and the maids, but her point of view is always so interesting that sometimes we end up talking about it anyway. She was surprised to hear that my family at home actually isn't upper class, in fact I would say we're quite pleased to have arrived at lower middle class, I think. I explained to her about all the scholarships that helped me get here, and how much it bugs me when other students (both at Linfield and at USFQ) skip class and don't do their homework and generally take all of the wonderful opportunities they have completely for granted. I know many people who are very proud of their sixth-grade diploma but really wish they could have gone to seventh grade instead of to work, and I know many people in their third year of college who would really rather just drop out but their parents are paying for all of it and won't let them.
So after that bit of venting, I think Rosita liked me better. She asked what class I thought my host family was, and I wasn't really sure what to say, because I haven't seen that much of Ecuadorian society between my comfortable host family, their well-to-do relatives and my (mostly rich) classmates, and the obvious poverty of the children (often as young as five or so, working late and night) and (mostly indigenous or black) people in the streets selling phone cards, newspapers, fruit, cigarettes and gum. So I guessed and said middle class or middle upper class. She seemed to agree, and started describing the millionaire's huge house she used to work at, demonstrating that this family isn't upper class, and then talked about how she rents a nice four bedroom apartment with her kids, so she has more than a lot of people, but she has less than my host family, so this family isn't lower middle class either. She described the people selling things in the street as lower class, so although she turns 58 tomorrow and works ten hours a day six days a week cleaning, cooking, and ironing in someone else's house, she doesn't see herself as lower class, presumably because she has a formal job and a nice apartment.
Eventually I finished eating my lunch and went back to my homework. Then it occurred to me that I was getting a little low on money, so I went into the kitchen to ask my host sister if she could take me to the bank. But she was in the middle of the same conversation I had just had with Rosita, so it was a little awkward. Rosita asked her what class she thought her family was, and she said lower class or lower middle class, which surprised me. I guess they do have a lot of relatives with properties in the country and huge, beautifully decorated houses, and she goes to USFQ, so most of her friends have more money than she does, but every day in the street she sees so many people worse off than her, so it surprised me that she would say lower class. Everyone's perspective is different, I suppose.
Business has been bad lately for those people selling their goods in the street because of the rain. It still pours almost every afternoon, starting around 2pm and going usually until it gets dark around 6. The mornings are usually very foggy, especially up here in Quito (as compared to down the hill in Cumbaya, where school is) because we are right at cloud level. The other day I woke up to a beautiful sunny day, and I was so excited that I put on a tanktop and capri-length pants, though I did bring a sweatshirt just in case. Then, suddenly, around 2pm when I was in my yoga class and all twisted into an intricate position that was very uncomfortable until I got it just right, a lightning bolt struck and I swear it hit right in the middle of our tiny campus. I didn't see out the window, though I jumped about a foot (an interesting feat, all bent out of shape like that), and I heard from other students that it actually hit the building next to ours. Whew.
We've had thunderstorms every afternoon for the last four or five days (including right now, as I type), and the other day the thunder came with a substantial amount of hail. On Wednesday, I heard that the south end of Quito (downhill from here; it's a long skinny city running north-south) actually flooded, and many streets were under almost a foot of water. It seems to have subsided, though, and we haven't had any problems up where I live on the very north end of the city. Apparently one of the soccer players on my friend David's team is at wit's end because his family is from the coast and he keeps calling the house and no one answers. He has no idea if they're okay, and he has no way to get there to find out because the roads are washed out. I can't imagine... Not knowing is the worst.
All right, last story, also related to roads but a little more upbeat. This may finally manage to help you understand what Ecuadorian traffic is like. The other day I was waiting at the bus stop outside of school to go back up to Quito, and things got a little backed up. One bus was waiting for more passengers to fill it up, and a second bus was trying to pull out into traffic from behind the first one but was having a rough time because of the steep hill and passing cars. So it just stayed put for a few minutes, in spite of the symphony of honks and beeps and yells coming from the cars behind it. Finally, after about five minutes of this, the passenger in a tiny old car right behind the bus got out, walked up to the bus, and irritably slapped the back end of it. Coincidentally (or not?) the bus got moving just then, and the traffic cleared up. Apparently this guy was pretty convinced that the bus could feel his slap, though the driver couldn't see it. And hey, I can't argue with him. It worked.
Adios for now,