Still riding the tailwinds of my time in Peru, and only after spending 8 days in the States, I repacked my bags and left on a Saturday afternoon feeling unprepared to live in another country for the next 5 months, but at least more confident in knowledge and experience after living in Lima. I knew how to navigate the bus system, speak more than just survival Spanish, negotiate a cab, had become a pro at crossing treacherously trafficked streets, walk with brisk purpose in my step, ignore catcalls and wolf whistles. Transitioning from Lima, a city of 9 million that dwarfs Quito's 2 million, I thought adjusting to life in another South American mega-metropolis would, quite frankly, be fairly smooth.I was wrong.
The past 3 weeks have been more of a struggle than I would like to admit. At first, everything was harder here. Even going to the grocery store was an adventure. The first day I arrived, my host sister was assaulted on our street by two men--hit in the face, lost a tooth, and robbed. That Friday night I took a taxi cab who's driver seemed to have less than honorable intentions, and had to pay almost double the fare of a normal cab to get out at my house. A few days later, my host mom was assaulted and robbed on the same street as my host sister, but this time at knife point, and at 10:30am. She was wearing a leather jacket, and the knife cut straight through it, but thank goodness she was wearing it.
As if my dwindling confidence hadn't been shaken up enough already by being the only non Ecuadorean in my university classes, being unable to catch on to colloquial slang, living in a new great big city, and adjusting to an entirely new culture and lifestyle, I now felt like I couldn't even be safe in my own neighborhood. I was told that Quito wasn't a particularly dangerous city, but like any other big city, one just has to be careful. I still think this is true, and, like my 26 year old host brother told me, "Sometimes shit happens--you just gotta let it flow" (Thanks, Fabio.)
If you know me at all, feeling vulnerable and dependent are not exactly my strong suits. Independence and self-reliance are both things I have always prided myself on for as long as I can remember. Hang around me long enough and you'll hear the words "strong and independent black woman who don't need no man" be used in serious conversation. But for the first time in my young adult life, I felt completely dependent--like a child, I felt like I couldn't do anything by myself--especially walk around and wander like I tend to do.
Frustrated and angry, but not scared, I wondered "why?" hoping to make some sense of the speed bumps and street violence that had begun to make me feel trapped. Three freaky incidents within my first week and a half? All happening to me or someone in my family? I don't believe in coincidences, I thought, there has to be a reason...I am a strong, independent...
And then, like my host sister's assailant in the night, it suddenly hit me.
I am a strong and independent black woman who don't need no man.
Though you may laugh at that little dicho, this independence with innocent origins had turned into pride which had turned into arrogance which had turned into me thinking of myself as independent of everything else--main stream culture, other people, and...God.
Which left me with this: Being vulnerable or dependent on others does not make me weak, or foolish, or dumb. I'm not supposed to be 100% independent 100% of the time. Especially when that independence brings me dangerously close to thinking I can live life independent from the one who gave it to me in the first place.
Like so many other truths, it is a paradox. To become strong, you must become weak. To be first, you must become last. To become rich, you first must lose everything. To become truly independent, I had to learn to become dependent. (try reading those in a wise Yoda-esque voice. Giggle. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.)
In Lima, independence day means that every single business, building, and home flies the Peruvian flag, painting the town in red and white beacons of freedom. In Quito, independence day means concerts in every plaza around the city, dancing, drinking, and celebration.
In my head, to become independent I had to learn to do the thing I had tried my hardest not to do--be dependent on someone, even if that someone is God himself. For me this is freedom. For me, this is my independence day.
And on a different note, here are some photos from Ecuador so far...
Lunch with the host fam
Valle de Cumbayah--Cumbayah valley, view from Parque Metropolitano
Pinchincha Volcano, Quito. 4600m, 14000+ feet hike
Teleferico Cable Cars-Pinchincha
Lake Cuycocha--Cotacachi Volcano, Otavalo