Departure! The countdown is on...

July 14, 2009

Yo Soy Gringa

The word here for a foreigner from the Americas is ''gringo'' or ''gringa'' if you´re a girl. My host father explained this to me in the first few weeks one night at dinner. So for the duration of my time here I am a gringa, and this is made very noticeable because of the colour of my hair, skin and eyes. On any given day walking down the street I am treated differently by all people. Some are very happy to see me, they say hi and sometimes even stop to shake my hand and ask where I am from, others look at me and look away, and still others whistle, etc. in an effort to attract my attention. At first I was very aware of the fact that I didn´t fit in, I didn´t know the customs of the country and trusted my little host sister to show me where to go because I had no idea where anything was. Now however, after being here for nearly three months I am confident in where I am going and I have learned the language well enough to get what I need and understand when someone is telling me something. It is easy for me to walk down the street and sort of forget for a few moments that I actually don´t blend in with everyone else, but I am quickly pulled back to reality by some man saying ''hello, my name is...'' in very broken English or whistling, or even sometimes walking by of group of men whose conversation stops as they all stare. But don't get me wrong, not all men are like this, some are in fact very kind gentlemen.

I asked my host sister one day if ''gringo'' was a bad word, a derogatory term, she responded no that its just a way of stating where someone is from. Coming from Canada which is such a multicultural society that you can´t guess someone's home country based on the colour of their skin, this is one thing that still bothers me a little. It isn't meant to be a derogatory term but at the same time it obviously segregates you. Also, people here assume that I know every other white person in the country. A prime example is one day I was eating lunch in a restaurant with my host family and a girl with a fair complexion and blonde hair walked in with her boyfriend speaking flawless Spanish when my host sister asked me very loudly ''is she your friend?'' I just said no and looked up at the girl to smile appologetically and even laughed a bit. I don't know why they think this, but it has happened more than once. Also, people seem to think we know everyone in the country, there was a student here a few years ago that everyone talks about named Christopher. No one knows his last name or even what province he lives in but almost everyone says ''You´re from Canada, do you know Christopher?'' so I am left to say ''no, Canada is a very big country and there are lots of people named Christopher'' which is really the best explanation I can give.

So, while I am here I will always stand out, because I will always be a 'gringa' but after living here for these three months I have come to love this country, its people and most of its customs. Even though I will never quite fully belong because of my appearance, I feel that a small part of me will always be Ecuadorian.


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