Our last trip as a group was to an indigenous community called Salasaca. On the way there we visited a painter’s workshop, stopped off at a botanical garden, and enjoyed a tasty pizza lunch, but the highlight was arriving at a small granja (farm) where a Salasacan couple welcomes visitors to learn about weaving, eat a delicious and locally-supplied dinner, and listen to local musicians. I was rather proud when our entire group – even the shy ones! – got up to dance along to the fast-paced melody of flutes, drums, and guitars.
The next day was the best of all. After breakfast we hiked to the top of a nearby hill, about dying in the process considering the altitude and the post-meal lethargy. Our efforts were rewarded when we met up with a local shaman who guided us to a sacred place called Nitón Cruz. It was a small crevice between two rocks filled with a variety of objects, among which were dried flowers, ribbons, cardboard, and a dead bird. The shaman proceeded to cleanse each of us by batting us with bunches of herbs, asking each of us to spit three times on the bundle, and then reciting a prayer for pacha mama (mother earth).
As I come into contact with the many different indigenous peoples of Ecuador, limited though that contact may be, I become aware of the implications of my own presence. I’m torn between the notion that we must share pieces of our separate cultures to understand each other, and the guilt of white privilege that makes me feel as though I must be taking advantage simply by showing up. Then again, that kind of idea automatically assumes a lack of power on the indigenous people’s part, which is entirely problematic thinking.
In the end, intercultural communication is too important to avoid interactions. Anyway, that’s one of the reasons why students like me are here, isn’t it?