I don’t want to write this post. I want to skip over the last year and just move on to now. But I know it’s not fair to pretend like everything is sunshine and roses, when anyone who has ever lived in Ecuador knows that is a far cry from the truth.
I tried to like it in Quito. I tried really hard, and I stayed for a year. I have written before about how I believe every city has its personality, and I generally can get a feeling straight away whether or not we will get along. I arrived in Quito last January, and did everything I could to squash the ever-persistent feeling that Quito and I could never really be friends.
Ecuador is still an impoverished country, struggling to develop after the currency switched from the sucre to the U.S. dollar in 2000. Whatever your political affiliations may be, I do believe that president Rafael Correa is doing a lot to make big changes in the country, however the results are yet to be seen. In day to day life, Quito; the capital city; is dysfunctional, polluted, and dangerous.
Despite my best efforts to take precautions, I was robbed in different circumstances four times, and had one–how shall I say–“inappropriate” encounter. I only know a few people who have not been robbed or attacked in Quito. The rest of my friends and coworkers can recount multiple muggings, kidnappings, attacks and robberies. Three of my best friends were victims of the infamous “sequestro express,” or taxi kidnappings. Right before I left the country a coworker was in a taxi on her way home when thieves stopped her cab, stole her credit cards, beat the shit out of her (yes, females receive the physical violence too) and her boyfriend, then drained their bank accounts. She was beaten so badly that she couldn’t see out of her left eye and had to go to a hospital in Miami.
The week before that, another coworker was on his way to campus when he was tapped by a stranger, who had just drugged him. He was luckily only a few minutes away from campus so he started running before the full effects of the drug hit and he passed out in front of the building, where an Administrator found him and took him to the hospital.
I lived with a family for a while, and finally found out that the missing father had been killed when thieves stole his car. One of my TEFL teachers was tied up in her own home by a gang who held her and her boyfriend with guns and machetes as they stole everything in their house, keeping them tied up until they emptied their bank accounts as well.
These are just a few stories. I could go on and on. The police did nothing in any of these cases. This is the daily danger that I lived with, that we all lived with. No matter how many times I tried to dye my hair, I could never blend in there. I was always a target. I hated the way people looked at me. Men stripped something from me every time I walked down the streets with their disgusting sounds and their constant comments. I felt dirty just for existing. We all did our best to put it aside and try to live our lives, but the constant threat to my security was something always weighing heavily in the back of my mind. I could never fully relax. I could never fully lose myself in a moment of laughter. I resented what the city was taking from me, piece by piece, every day.
People regularly asked me why I didn’t leave. Why would I stay somewhere that was obviously so negative for me. But leaving never felt like an option. I had committed to a year at the University, but more than that I had gone there with a goal. I had intended to stay for a year and learn Spanish. If nothing else, I’m stubborn and I’d be damned if I was going to let a few assholes keep me from doing what I wanted. I felt drained and stripped by the end of the year, but leaving felt like giving up, and I refused to let them win.
I feel a bit guilty in writing this. I have said this before and I’ll say it again, this by no means represents everyone in Ecuador. I have met some amazing people, and there is some incredible natural beauty to be found in the country. I think if I had lived in a different city or in a small pueblo, my experience would have been different, and who knows, I may have even loved Ecuador. But I didn’t. And this was my experience. And this is what I can share. Do I regret it? Hell no. Everything serves its purpose in life, and I am stronger for it. (Plus, I now speak Spanish!)
Before I decided to go to Ecuador, all I read about was how beautiful it is. While I saw a few mentions of danger, it appeared as though that was a stigma of the past and with some simple precautions there was no need to worry. The reality is very different. The country is struggling for change, but still a far way away from any sort of political or economic stability. I do genuinely believe that Ecuador will be a much different country in ten years. And I do wish the best for it.
I’m sorry it didn’t work out between us Quito. It’s not you, it’s me.
No, actually, I’m fairly certain it’s you. Ya… it’s definitely you. I hope you get some help with your issues. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart.