The initial first-world culture shock has passed, a new job has been procured and secured, and plans have been made. So it’s time for some back-to-the-Empire-State anecdotes.
“So April, what have you been up to all this time?”
“I’ve moved back to New York recently. I was living in Ecuador for a little over 2 years.”
What the person chooses to say next has been a source of amusement or a chance to practice my world renowned withering glare*. Lets go through a few of my favorites gems, shall we?
1. “Wow! You were in Africa?!”
Folks… Ecuador is not in Africa. This is the continent of Africa:
Now turn the globe counter-clockwise, about a third of the way around, and on a completely different continent you see this:Note how Ecuador about as close to Africa as Florida is.
2. “Oh yeah? I’ve done something like that too! I just got back from a week in Cancún.”
Nope. That thing you just said was nothing like the thing that I just said. At all. Do you remember SAT analogy questions?
What I just said : What you just said :: Living in San Francisco : Drinking at a bar in LAX
Here are some additional variations on #2, all of which are nothing like living in another country for an extended period of time:
- A cruise.
- A resort.
- Any kinda ‘tour’ that you paid someone to plan for you.
- Any trip where you didn’t know or learn enough of the language to actually interact with anyone.
- Anything you could have used your vacation time for.
- Any trip where you were not working for a living.
Those things are still awesome. I’d love to try them as well. I’d love to talk to you about your week to Cancún. But let’s please not start comparing apples and oranges.
3. “Was it weird living under a dictator?”
No it wasn’t. Know why? Because Raphael Correa, the president of Ecuador, is not and never was a dictator. As shocking as it may seem, all the countries south of the United States are not actually run by dictators. He is a young, smart, ballsy/reckless**, and handsome doctor of economics who was educated in Belgium, the States and the best Universities in Ecuador. He is very progressive and popular and came from humble beginnings. Just because he doesn’t start kissing ass whenever the States or Europe tries to order him around does not mean that he is a dictator. Just because he was an supporter of Hugo Chavez does not mean he is a dictator. Do y’all need to be reminded of some of the people the States has been a supporter of?! Let me remind you that even if Chavez was a socialist and maybe a shitty president, he wasn’t committing genocide like the USA’s old buddy, Saddam.
I’ve noticed that since Assange received Ecuadorian asylum (and Snowden failed to), some of our talking heads and politicians have suddenly started attacking Correa’s record on freedom of the press. While I’m not in total agreement with Correa’s Communications Law, I am in agreement with this statement that he made during a speech responding to American criticism:
“Don’t come lecturing us about liberty. You need a reality check. Don’t act like a spoiled rude child. Here you will only find dignity and sovereignty. Here we haven’t invaded anyone. Here we don’t torture like in Guantanamo. Here we don’t have drones killing alleged terrorist without any due trial, killing also the women and children of those supposed terrorists. So don’t come lecturing us about life, law, dignity, or liberty. You don’t have the moral right to do so.”***
4. “Oh my God! It must have been so dangerous there!”
There is crime in Ecuador. There were 12.7 murders for every 100,000 people in 2012, one of the years I lived there. Do you know if there are any American cities have a higher murder rate than Ecuador’s overall average? Hmmmm… I wonder? Well here’s a list of major cities in order bloodiness (# of murders per 100,000 people)****:
- New Orleans – 57.6
- Detroit – 48.2
- Saint Louis – 35.3
- Newark – 33.8
- Baltimore – 31.3
- Oakland – 26.3
- Kansas City – 23.4
- Philadelphia – 21.2
- Atlanta – 20.7
- Cincinnati – 20.5
- Stockton – 19.7
- Cleveland – 18.6
- Memphis – 17.9
- Washington DC – 17.5
- Miami – 16.8
- Chicago – 15.9
- Pittsburgh – 14.3
- Milwaukee – 14.2
- Buffalo – 13.7
So clearly everyone needs to just calm the hell down. If you know someone who has lived in any of these cities, they had a higher chance of being murdered than I ever did living in rural Ecuador. On the other hand, if we’re talking about petty crimes like stolen bags, or snatched cameras, or picked pockets… then sure, that seemed to happen a lot.
5. “Ugh… Scary!”
Americans seemed to be very under-represented in the South American travel scene relative to Europeans and Canadians. But among the Americans that are down there, I observed that really cool interesting people seemed to be disproportionally over-representative. I theorize that one side effect of fear induced isolationism is a self selecting population of interesting, fun, and adventurous people wandering around South America making good impressions. I do not think it’s such a bad thing that our silly and ignorant citizens are too scared to cross the borders, where they would inevitably end up doing silly and ignorant things that would embarrass me and America’s general image. Obviously a few will slip through occasionally, but what can you do.
Point being, if I tell you that I was in Ecuador and your response is #5, then you are 100% correct. Ugh… scary indeed. Ecuador is a horrible terrifying place full of poverty, disease, thieves and murders. You’d probably end up coming back riddled with malaria and STDs, have to beg your friends and family back Stateside to bail you out financially. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to go there. I think you really would be better off staying at home.
*The glare in question was first developed during childhood to effectively demonstrate superiority and dominance over younger siblings. It was then improved and enhanced over the impending years until it was perfected during a 2 month window of frequent use, during which one understands just enough Spanish to get pissed off at the boyfriend, but not quite enough Spanish to effectively tell him all the reasons why you’re right and he’s wrong in the fashion which one is accustomed. When the satisfaction of telling someone off in their native tongue is impossible, the withering glare become an essential tool.
** An example of the crazy badassness of Correa. In 2010, members of the police force and armed national guard decided they didn’t like their benefits and pay so they decided to demonstrate. They put road blocks all over the city, brought everything to halt and allowed looters and unrest to take over the streets. In the middle of all this chaos, President Correa is pissed and decides to personally go over to the police barracks, which is full of a mob of armed police who hate him, tell them exactly what he think of all the trouble they’re causing and try to reason with them.
It didn’t go well. They started screaming and chanting insults at him, working themselves up more and more. Finally Correa rips open his dress shirt and screams at the angry, and armed mob, “If you want to kill the president, here he is! Kill me, if you want to! Kill me if you are brave enough!” He barely escapes with his life.
Think that sounds dramatized? Google it if you don’t believe me. That is what happened.
*** Source video: Ecuador’s President Attacks US Over Press Freedom Critique
****Source Article: “Murder and violent crime rates continue to drop in Ecuador; Cuenca rates are among the lowest.”
Source wikipedia page: “United States cities by crime rate.”