I have observed a different world in just two months of working at a small ecotourism agency, and living completely immersed in the culture of Ecuador. The most important thing I’ve learned is to appreciate the small things.
A mentality that I plan on bringing home with me — and one that we could all benefit from adopting — is that of gratitude. Gratitude for mother earth, gratitude for our successes and gratitude for family.
“Living a life of love and inclusion is something that I want to carry home with me.”
Something that I noticed immediately here is the amount of respect people have for the planet. At first I assumed that I was just surrounded by that mentality at work because I work in ecotourism, which naturally places an emphasis on sustainability and the environment. But after observing more closely, I can conclude that it is just an overarching mentality that is permanently part of the culture.
There is an Incan word for Mother Earth, Pachamama, that is used frequently and with great respect. This country is blessed to have so much natural diversity in such a small amount of land, and the people here definitely do not take it for granted.
When I mention respect and gratitude for the planet, I do mean the biodiverse nature that this country is privileged to have. But I also mean a gratitude and respect for the indigenous people of the land. The culture of the natives is conserved through attempts of the government, the citizens and even the tourists.
Instead of trying to completely ignore the roots of the country in favor of modernity, there is acknowledgement and respect for the past. This is another equally important form of sustainability that we do not even weakly attempt in the United States.
As wonderful as this country is, it is unfortunately plagued with great poverty throughout all regions. More than poverty, it is plagued with very obvious wealth inequality. The rich are very well off and the poor are making minimum wage if they are lucky. When I mention minimum wage in Ecuador, that means $450 per month for full time employment.
A complicated problem that has no obvious solution.
Because of this evident problem, however, I have seen that people are grateful for their success in life. I would hope that it doesn’t have to take experiencing poverty to attain empathy for those less fortunate, but here it seems to be the case. Those who have attained success are hyper aware of their status and seem to have gratitude for the things they have. I contrast this to people in our country, who take a roof over their head, a good education and an opportunity to succeed for granted.
Perhaps more impressively, I have seen gratitude from those who have close to nothing. People show up to work hours on end, earn close to no pay and then go home to their families who have just done the same. And collectively, they will be thankful that they have been blessed with another day.
I attribute a large part of that undying appreciation for life to people’s following of their faith. Catholicism in this country is overwhelming. It is tightly stitched into the culture. And it is, in my experience, a large perpetuator of this country’s gratitude.
Lastly, and perhaps most evidently, the amount of love and appreciation for family in this country is incomprehensible. Everything in the world could go wrong, but you would still be happy because you have your family. And you have your family’s family who loves you equally.
This immense web of love and support extends farther than you imagine. It could be your grandpa’s second cousin and they are still considered close family. I am so unaccustomed to this amount of care, that I even found myself getting annoyed at the amount of attention I received — it was almost suffocating. I didn’t understand why my great aunt wanted to have me over for lunch so badly, for I have seen her maybe seven times in my life.
Now I understand that there is no long complicated explanation. It is simply because we are somehow distantly related and that’s all it takes to make us family. And it is for this reason — the openness of people to share unconditional love with a large amount of people — that I think this country is so happy.
Living a life of love and inclusion is something that I want to carry home with me. I have become grateful for all of this.
And I hope to emit as much gratitude as this country continuously radiates.
Andrea Escobar is an international business senior. She is completing a two-month summer marketing internship with an ecotourism company in Quito, Ecuador.