Chloe Chen is a junior in the School of Foreign Service, studying Science, Technology, and International Affairs within the Energy and Environment concentration. She is currently abroad in Quito, Ecuador, where she studies at La Universidad San Francisco de Quito, and where she has found a new love for a Spanish-English dictionary. She is excited by the prospect of being in such a bio-diverse country and plans on taking in as much of it as possible (especially the Galapagos!). Chloe finds the contradictions within daily Ecuadorian life and culture to be fascinating, and feels that her thoughts on Ecuador are changing as constantly as the weather. She hopes to not only learn better the Ecuadorian version of the Spanish language, but also all she can about Ecua politics, worldviews, and the many types of people that are the heart of the country.
October 19, 2011
When I first arrived to Ecuador, I honestly didn’t know what to expect with regards to the looks of the Ecuadorian country. I had seen pictures of the Galapagos, but I knew these tropical islands would be far from the city of Quito, my current home. I knew I would be at zero latitude, but also at a very high altitude, and I knew that Ecuador boasts its reputation as one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. What was I to find in Ecuador’s capital?
To my surprise, Quito is all mountains surrounding a sprawling and rapidly growing metropolis that at first glance, is not very picturesque at all. Though the colorful skies at sunset, filled with puffed up clouds perched upon mountaintops are on par with a California sunset in my hometown, one of the main reasons these colors occur is due to the relentless pollution emitted during the day. A girl from LA should surely be used to this type of air pollution, right? Wrong.
The type of Quiteño pollution I’m talking about is of the breed that is clearly visible as it poufs up in to an ominous jet-black cloud from the tailpipe of the numerous public buses that run throughout the city all hours of the day. Worse yet is when one has the luck to be standing too close to the street or walking across it when this said cloud of diesel particulates engulfs the innocent bypasser. Although I’ve become more accustomed to this constant game of holding my breath at the right moment, as a STIA major, it made me very curious as to why nothing was being done about this obvious source of pollution that diminishes the city’s beauty and the health of its inhabitants.
As I was talking to the professor of my Impacts of Climate Change class, we got around to this subject of how Ecuadorians view the environment. When I asked him how Quiteños could possibly stand this pollution, he supposed that well, in reality, they were simply used to it. He added that more than this, because Ecuador is still developing, environmental issues are not usually high on their list of priorities. He pointed to the fact that in more ways than one, the developed world is living in the future.
I told him I couldn’t understand how the people of a country so rich in invaluable natural resources and beauty, such as the Amazon rainforest and the Galapagos, could be apathetic to environmental issues. I also commented that my classes about ecology and environmental sciences maybe had a total of one or two Ecuadorian students, and that this surprised me. He agreed with me that there is indeed a lack of awareness among Ecuadorians, but that their lifestyle just really couldn’t be compared with those of Americans because even though they may live a less “green” life, consumption per capita is still much lower.
Reflecting later on what he told me, I realized that the Ecuadorian point of view isn’t one of apathy, not really, but one first and foremost, from the developing world. How can I expect the man selling tamarind candies for 25 cents on the bus to care more about the protection of the environment than making enough money to make it through the day?
This same contentious problem on a much larger scale can be seen in the debate over the Yasuní National Park in the Amazon, a UNESCO world biosphere reserve where in one hectare of land, one can find as many different species of plants and animals as there are in all of North America, and where $7.2 billion worth of crude oil sits beneath the surface. Having recently traveled to the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a research center established by the university I attend here, Universidad San Francisco de Quito. It is also one of the sites that could potentially be drilled for oil, and where I learned about the multitude of species that are not only rare and beautiful, but could also hold the keys to cures of various human ailments waiting to be discovered.
After seeing even the small amount of development brought to the area by previous oil companies, including the Maxus Road – the only road there, I couldn’t imagine what havoc and destruction the drilling of 846 million barrels of oil would bring. Yet how can developed countries who have created much of the problem ask a country like Ecuador to choose between its economic development, and as a result the quality of life of its citizens, and leaving this monetarily valuable natural resource alone?
From my point of view, I would obviously prefer that Yasuní remains untouched, but my eyes have been opened to what a difficult predicament Ecuadorians must find themselves in. Even if they wanted to protect their country and indigenous peoples from more damage such as that which occurred with previous drilling by Chevron, how sweet and readily accessible must those billions of dollars look to them, especially since much of Ecuador’s past growth has been due to the oil boom here in the 1970s. It’s almost like the key to the bank vault is being dangled in front of their faces, but they’re being told they can’t have it.
Though as of September, President Rafael Correa has pledged to forego drilling indefinitely, he also asks that developed countries supplement Ecuador’s substantial losses by paying 50% of the expected income they are also foregoing. It is an interesting dilemma to watch unfold, and one that I think deserves more attention in the developed world since its result is ultimately in their hands.
Personally, I would feel that we would be doing a great disservice to the world were we to permit this drilling to occur, but I understand better now where the other side is coming from. For now, I guess I will keep breathing in the smog and carry on.
COMMENT FROM SAM KAREFF - OCTOBER 27, 2011
Chloe, as a STIA major also studying abroad in Latin America, I couldn’t echo your sentiments more about sustainable economic development in the developing world. One of the things placed first and foremost in the mind of every student in STIA-305 is the importance of sustainable development and its impact on the future. We understand the wide range of scientific evidence proving the existence of global warming and our duty as global citizens to stop it wherever we can.
Conversely, something we are not taught at Georgetown is the point of view held by the majority of the world that currently lives in the developing world. I learned this lesson the hard way here: instead of buying the copious amounts of books for each class as we would do back on the Hilltop, here one simply travels to the local copiadora and purchases hundreds upon hundreds of photocopies for each class. I cringe every time I go to one, but there simply is no other choice in order to obtain my reading material since I am technically not a full-time student at any university here.
Perhaps Ecuador and Argentina (and the rest of the developing world) could learn much from its Latin American brother, Costa Rica, regarding ecology and sustainable economic development, since it seems to have figured out the perfect balance between the two.
November 14, 2011
In choosing to study abroad in Ecuador, I expected that like in any Latin American country, la religión y la familia were going to be central aspects of life for the average person. After actually arriving to Quito and meeting my host family when they picked me up from the airport, I found that my expectations seemed to be true.
One of the first things my host family was curious to know was whether I was Catholic or not. I answered that though I have attended Catholic schools my whole life and received the sacrament of Confirmation, I haven’t found myself continuing to practice Catholicism on my own at Georgetown. They seemed to be relieved that at least I was Catholic, though they admitted that nowadays they attend mass only once in a while.
As we continued to my new home, I soon found that their church was only a few blocks and staircases down the street from their home. In fact, as I began to learn my daily route to school, I realized that I would be passing this church twice each day. For about three months now, I’ve begun my morning by quickly descending the stairs next to it, and then ending my day by slowly ascending those one hundred plus stairs, all the while staring up at its tall steeple against the sky as if I were staring up at Jesus himself.
Although the looming presence of this holy edifice may be an obvious indication of the importance of religion here, Ecuadorian faith seemed subtler to me than I had anticipated it to be. It was not the overt type of religious devotion that one may picture when thinking about a Latin American country – in fact, I haven’t seen any public displays of religious activism. There are no preachers in the street shouting out Bible verses and urging people to be saved, nor do there seem to be other types of religious demonstrations of different denominations such as there often are in the states.
Gradually, I realized that there is a logical explanation for this phenomenon. Ninety-five percent of the Ecuadorian population identifies as Catholic, while the remaining five percent is mainly Christian or Protestant, so really they probably see no need to convert the faithless since the majority of the population are already believers. Or perhaps religion is viewed as more of a personal choice and private matter, not something that needs to be imposed on others.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there is more religious freedom here. More likely it means that it is assumed one identifies with one of the three main religious groups. While I have seen many a priest and nun throughout Quito, I have yet to see a woman wearing a burka or a Hare Krishna draped in orange cloth.
Many of the buses I take to school have stickers with religious slogans plastered on the walls inside, my favorite being a window-sized portrait of Jesus with “Jesús es Amigo por Siempre”, or “Jesus is Always Your Friend”. Though this type of religious imagery has proven to abound throughout Quito, (even in my host family’s home where there are several religious paintings and crucifixes) this didn’t seem to stop a man from robbing my friend at knife-point on one of these buses.
I guess that like any aspect of culture, religion in Ecuador is interwoven so seamlessly into life that it is simply a constant presence that fades in to the background. From my perspective as an outsider, I’ve felt that like many cultural features of this Latin American country, religion, especially the dominant Catholic religion, is a living relic of their colonial past, something that has been integrated so thoroughly into their traditions and culture that it comes along naturally with living here. It has even infiltrated into my life in a way.
After passing this church for three months, I finally set foot in it this past Sunday to experience an Ecuadorian mass. In all actuality, it felt no different from the masses I attended throughout my childhood, save for the Spanish language and their music, which was beautifully somber and hopeful at the same time. The music was my favorite part of the service, as I felt myself transported to an earlier time in their history with every strum of the traditional Spanish acoustic guitar.
Finally experiencing an Ecuadorian mass inside this church that had become a part of my daily life brought their faith alive for me. Though it was nevertheless a serious worship ceremony, I saw the community, the unity that religion creates here for all Ecuadorians, as subtle as it may be. So whether religious homogeneity is good or bad, religion – or really, Catholicism – is an inextricable piece of the complex and ever-changing puzzle that is Ecuadorian identity.
COMMENT FROM PROF. ERIN CLINE - March 29, 2012
Chloe's article highlights one of the most remarkable features of cross-cultural
experience: the way in which it prompts us to reflect on aspects of our own
culture while learning about and working to understand more fully the cultures
of others. Although she found herself in an almost exclusively Catholic country
and observed the various ways in which Ecuadorian culture and society both is
and is not bound up with Catholic values, she was also prompted to reflect in
new ways on the religious diversity that is a part of her own culture and society.
Her article offers us a glimpse into the depth and complexity of cross-cultural
learning, and how it beckons us to look more closely not only at the experiences
and identities of others, but at the traditions and values that have shaped and
continue to shape our own lives.