Maybe writing will help me feel better. Ive had a horrible day trying to get my brazilian visa and I lost my iphone this morning. Life is a bitch. Its okay though…Ill get through it. It sucks being so angry without having anywhere to vent. I fear that this will be a common issue until I have friends around me again (March).
So where do I begin on summarizing the past four months of my life here in Ecuador? For starters, I had a terrible study abroad experience. The program lacked a serious relationship with our local partner and that affected our research projects. There are other aspects of the program that were bad but that is the main one. I did make two good friends though and fell in love with the Andes.
Perhaps the best part of my four months here has been seeing the entire country and getting to know its people (and spending time with my family of course). In the beginning, I felt like a foreigner but now I comfortably call myself Ecuadorian. I read and heard all about the incredible biodiversity of the country and it exceeded my expectations. Aside from the biodiversity and rediscovering my culture, I spent a lot of time thinking about various subjects that are affecting the country and me personally as well. Here is the break down:
Tourism in Ecuador
Ecuador is a paradise for the typical foreigner who loves to recreate in nature and feels like planet earth is something god-like. I found this troubling because Ecuador is not a paradise. Yes it is extremely rich in biodiversity, you can watch the charismatic humpback whales off the coast, photograph an Andean condor soar 3000m above the sky, and even wake up the morning roars of the howler monkeys in the jungle. But by limiting yourself to such specific experience you fail to see the bigger picture. Ecuador has some serious environmental issues. People here are extremely dependent on their natural resources so they need to exploit the land in order to survive. I see nature and adventure tourism (supported by the countless Europeans and Americans that come here) as a threat to the country´s precious resources. You might argue, well doesn´t tourism bring in foreign money for people to support and conserve these areas? The answer is complicated. Most of the people who involve themselves in such activities go to big tour operators and pay for all-inclusive packages. They are buying tourist experiences. Bought experiences that are troubling because the tour operators make the big bucks, not the people who directly live and depend on the land. The government seems to be making some effort to incorporate community-based tourism but I found it extremely difficult to get involved in such opportunities. Community-based tourism and TRUE Ecotourism, I believe are the solutions. These two approaches support the people who are mostly benefit from the land and who can also be the best conservation leaders.
Economics and Social Justice
Ecuador has been dominated by corrupt governments and special interests for the past 10 to 20 years. A new president was elected in 2008 and the constitution was rewritten. I have hope. It was the first constitution by any government to give Nature rights. It also prohibited any form of discrimination. The president, Rafael Correa, has a socialist agenda in which he plans to redistribute the majority of the counrty´s wealth which is concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority – the elites. The poor love him and the rich hate him. You cannot satisfy everyone. The gap between the rich and poor is extremely evident here. This is weird to experience because we have a middle class in the USA. The social and economic inequality became very clear to me as I traveled around the northwestern part of the Amazon. On my bus rides I would see oil pipelines along the side of the highway all deforested patches of land. I thought to myself, ¨How could it be that multinational corporations who make daily profits in the billions operate here and people are still living in extreme poverty?¨ This oro negro, petroleum, is a gift and a curse. It allowed me to travel by airplane here and is what keeps American running…our addiction to oil. It is also a curse because these corporations pollute the land and buy off the people with petty gifts to keep them on their side. But you know who is responsible? Us. We demand and consume.
Random stuff about life
Last year I begin to start accepting the idea that things happen for a reason and that we are all somehow connected. I always rejected this way of thinking because it meant I had no free will and my destiny would be set in stone. But the reality is that we sometimes just cannot predict or plan for what life throws us our way. What matters is the decisions we make and not so much the game plan we come up with. My study abroad was very shitty (I planned for it to be a life changing experience) but instead of focusing on the negative, I thought about the positive which was the friends I made, seeing my family, and having the privilege to be able to travel. I planned but got something else. That is how life is or at least how my life has become and I am cool with it.
I am not a good writer. Writing this post I have realized that it takes me a lot of words to say something. Oh well. I should work on it though.