Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Today season

Let's lay the entire Ecuadorian culture back on the couch. Go ahead, relax. Get comfortable. So tell me more about this problem you have with planning or thinking about the future. I see, so it's not a problem for you, but for others around you? Interesting. Tell me more about that. What, then, is their problem, and why do you think you are both different?

I was talking to my friend Richard about the kids' otherwise professional school's inability to tell us when there are vacation days, or even when the last day of school is. He said, it's because here they live in the moment! And that goes a long way in helping me deal with and even appreciate how things are done here, even up to the highest levels of business and government.

Example: If you are paying a lawyer $2,500 (a heap of money here) to handle your visa process, you'd expect they'd walk you through the process and manage timelines deadlines for you. But no, if you don't call them regularly and inquire as to the process and what you yourself need to be doing, your stuff is likely going to sink down to the bottom of their to-do pile and you'll be scrambling to do their job for them and it will be your fault.

Annoying. Frustrating. But if I begin to appreciate that Ecuadorians already live as we try to--The Power of Now; Stop and Smell the Roses; I'm OK, You're OK; Just Be!--I am better prepared to find the Yang side of that Yin (even if I still...don't...quite...see it).

Anyway, I then related that story to, Ana Luisa, my Spanish teacher who wholeheartedly agreed (she is Ecuadorian). She clearly already had thoughts on it herself and expressed her own belief that it's because...wait for it...there are no seasons here.

Get it? It's actually a fantastic theory and exceptionally insightful for someone from a culture that to me seems very healthily uninterested in introspection. It works like this: with a rich bounty of foodstuffs everywhere around all year, and no harsh weather to protect much against, there has never been a reason to plan for the fundamental needs of life. Sure, planning can get you more things you desire, but any Buddhist will tell you that as soon as you introduce desire into your equation, you have just created the Yin that necessitates the Yang of suffering (desire, in Buddhism, being the source of all suffering, etc., etc.).

When I was 20 I came to my first relativistic realization when I traveled to my sister's Peace Corps site in the Philippines. By nearly all Western standards these people were impoverished. But they were like people here in Ecuador--remarkably happy, despite not being Americans. How could this be? They were aware of the things in Western culture that one can desire, but those things were so utterly impossible for them to acquire that they had no real desire for them. And so they did not struggle for them. They lived, as do Ecuadorians, for what they have.

Another interesting observation from a friend here who has money and does business with Ecuadorians: It's the people with almost nothing here who want nothing from you and are trustworthy; the people who have some stuff want more and will cheat you to get it.

This theory raises all sorts of interesting questions, so...oh, all right, I'll just do a post with lots of pretty pictures next.


  1. Hello Matt and family, I'm a new follower of your blog. I enjoyed reading your piece on the living in the now in Ecuador but the thing I'm wondering is...does it work both ways? In other words, supposing you *don't* call the lawyer after you've paid him or her, and you don't get the visa process taken care of, and you're eventually told you can't stay, would they people telling you you can't stay be amenable to you saying, manana, I'll get that visa manana. (sorry, not tildas on my keyboard).

  2. When we were leaving Ecuador there were threats of randomly stopping apparent foreigners to check visa status. Otherwise you're unlikely to get caught until passing a border (though there is still a slim possibility of bribery there as well). If caught, you will be banned re-entry for a period of time, which was 2 years, but I don't know the current term. We wouldn't risk an illegal stay, but your situation could be different. Expulsion is the penalty for being caught. Many who have little else but their backpacks decide to take that risk.