Diana was my host in Quito. Her house was always filled with guests. Mostly Argentinians. Diana was an aggressive confrontational feminist who voiced prejudice after prejudice, you know, the kind of person that you can only argue with to argue. Her superiority complex was not a secret, she admitted freely that Ecuador was the best country in the world and that all Ecuadorans are great, amazing, beautiful, and awesome. Somehow we got along like peas and carrots when not talking about serious matters, and she always came around asking about my whereabouts and giving me big hugs. She called me “gringito” and so did everyone else in the house. Otherwise they called me George or John or Ken or Jack. My name was lost somewhere in translation.
My Spanish was better 8 months ago. In Mexico I had begun to talk slang without missing a beat. The difficulty with Spanish, or at least the difficulty with traveling Spanish, is that the words are constantly changing. “Orale, que pedo cabron, que onda guey? No mames guey, que te chigaron ahi a DF pues..” This is a long statement that really, doesn’t work outside of Mexico. Each country, no, each region or city, has it’s own way of speaking, and so for someone who lacks the motivation to perfect all forms of slang, I am oftentimes unable to participate in conversations. Here at Diana’s, I am dealing with crossfire between Argentinians, Chileans, a Spaniard, and Ecuadorans, none of whose Spanishes are familiar to me yet. So I strain sometimes, but in the end, I suppose I’m probably acquiring language still, albeit subconsciously.
I liked hanging out. I cooked all the time. Chilapees mostly. Gaby, one of the Argentinians, was teaching me new things about “levadura”, or, rising agents. We threw some levadura into my dough, and also some mantequilla (butter). And we used more oil. The result was that my chilapees plumped with air and formed into tasty crackling balloons. Another time, I decided to cook pancakes, and they just happened to come out perfectly. Again, Gaby helped me with some pointers. Mix the egg with some flour, little by little, and when the texture is akin to that of gum, you add milk. Argentinian pancakes are apparently much thinner than gringo pancakes, so we clashed briefly on that. But she had to run out on an errand, so I had my way. Since we lacked syrup, I threw some milk, butter, and sugar into the frying pan and then added some levadura. So, we feasted on pancakes dipped into a creamy sweat sauce. Everyone liked it and I got my ego boost.
The exploits of cooking were many in my time at the apartment. The Argentians impressed with some homemade pizza, and then the Chilean took a shot at making chilapees to accompany her carrot tortilla and rice. I cooked mashed potatoes and fried potatos, and then also some steamed carrots. My final contribution was eggs in a basket, and Argentinian Nico fell in love with them and just had to learn how to do it.
- First get a nonstick pan. Pick out the middle of a piece of sliced bread. Turn heat on low.
- Place the bread into the pan and drop a bit of oil or butter into the whole. Push the bread around so that the oil or butter is spread on the surface of the bread. Repeat on the other side of the bread.
- Let one side of the bread brown.
- Flip so that browned side is up, and crack an egg into the middle.
- When you can no longer see the black of the pan through the egg white, flip.
- Add a pinch of salt and let cook until your think the white has hardened but the yellow remains liquid. Serve right away, because it really sucks when it’s cold.
I have an obsession with potatoes. Having spent some time reading Diana’s Lonely Planet Peru, I discovered that Peru has over 2,000 varieties of potatoes. Naturally, I will make it a goal to try as many as I can once I arrive to that country. In Argentina, I want to learn Tango. Here, I would like to try to go to the Galapagos Islands.
My throat has been hurting for over a month now, and so I decided it was time to get some help. I am lucky enough to be covered by health insurance until I’m 26. And it just so happens that the only hospital that the insurance covers in Ecuador is the best and most expensive.
Hospital waiting rooms give me the creeps for some reason. I am rarely in a hospital. But there I was. Bright lights and moans from hidden “rooms”, as it were, rooms walled by curtains. I met a doctor, he gave me a prescription. In the emergency room I got a shot straight into the right butt cheek. I told the nurse, “what, you dont have sunglasses?” “Why?” She asked me. “It’s very bright, that butt.”
At Diana’s people come and go. There is quite a lot of anti-gringo sentiment. I’m not surprised by that, but I am surprised that Diana and Maraca, the Chilean gal, seem to judge me based on my origins. Conversations got heated, especially when I started to mention that the Libyan intervention was not quite like Iraq or Afghanistan, that I actually thought it was a decent move by the UN. The history of US intervention in Latin America is very sour, a horrible point in American history altogether. We supported dictators that openly killed their own people. We supported covert killings of activists and anyone who smelled communist. US intervention exists to this day, but I do not think that it is as malicious as in the days of the cold war, as malicious as it is.
Anyway, I struck another wrong chord when I said that there are relatively few people dying of hunger in Latin America. I think I created quite the wrong image for myself on those two points. I know that yes, there are people dying of hunger, but the number is infintesimal compared to Asia or Africa. There are people dying of hunger in the US. But the problem is malnutrition. I just wanted to point out that at least most Latin Americans have something to eat. My optimism fell on deaf ears.
Some of the Latin Americans that I’ve come across, their identity depends on a negative-positive juxtaposition vis-a-vis the United States. Meaning that when I try to explain something about the United States in a positive light to them, it might be taken as an negative commentary about themselves. And it wasn’t politics or capitalism I was trying to put in a positive light, but the idea of the States itself. The prejudice I’ve received has triggered my protection of the States, trying to explain beyond the consumerism and beyond the government and international politics, to describe what the US really is, or what it was before it was hijacked by the culture of capitalism. It’s natural to protect our homes. But after all, it was against all of my upbringing to be judged simply by what Macarena and Diana had seen in the news or movies, having never before met a gringo.
Diana is a sweetheart when we’re not talking about anything important. However, she talks in generalizations. “Cordoba Argentians are the best, Colombians are nothing, Gringos are the bottom of the bottom, there are white people everywhere, it bothers me.” My personality wouldn’t let these kinds of statements go without trying them, and it always led to a stubborn confrontation.
My nature is partially a product of my environment, and my environment is one in which almost anyone can pass as a citizen of the country based on their appearance. Here, as Diana puts it, “your face is too tourist, you have ‘rob me’ written all over your forehead.” I don’t see it like that, but Diana was just bringing out too much negativity in me. I had to leave.
I’m no patriot. Countries shouldn’t even exist. But every place has it’s good and it’s bad. It’s a tragedy to ignore the good.