Ian Gallogly is
studying abroad in Ecuador during the Spring 2012 semester with the School for International Training’s (SIT) Culture
& Development program. He left the U.S. Jan. 29 and is currently living
with a family in Los Chillos, a suburban valley southeast of Quito. He keeps a
travel blog at thisstudentslife.wordpress.com.
¡Buenos días Claremontitos! Estamos en el pachakutik de la luz.
What is “pachakutik
de la luz,” you ask? Aside from being one of many things I’ve learned while
studying abroad that are not learnable from Google, Pachakutik is an indigenous
political movement in Ecuador that is associated with the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), Ecuador’s largest
indigenous organization. But that’s just the political manifestation of the original
pachakutik, which, we learned from
our Spanish professor Elías on Wednesday, comes from the indigenous language
Kichwa (or Quechua) and can be broken down into pacha (world) and kutik
(rebirth). As historian Nils Jacobsen defines it, pachakutik is “the Andean notion of a turning point of cosmic
dimensions and the beginning of a new era through which what was below would be
on top and vice versa.” Chévere, ¿no?
Pachakutik de la luz,
according to Elías, is the current 500-year-long pachakutik in which we find ourselves in 2012, the last one having
begun in 1492 (when that guy sailed the ocean blue) and ended in 1992. That pachakutik, spanning 500 years of
colonization and destruction of Pachamama
(Mother Earth), was called “el pachakutik de la oscuridad” (of darkness).
La luz means light. So, all
that Mayan 2012 stuff aside, things should be looking up.
At the equator, the light shines bright. On Tuesday night I
went with a friend from the program and her host sister to a festival in Quito
in celebration of the full moon. We arrived to find 100 or so young Ecuadorians
dancing wildly around an open fire while a circle of drummers thundered out the
beat and others blew into flutes or shook maracas. Someone near me was playing
the marimba. We watched from behind the drummers as men and women thrust their
knees toward the sky and bowed their heads toward the earth, pulling from and
giving to the fire that burned at the center of it all. We joined the circle.
There are challenges abroad, too. Living
in close proximity to people—especially people you don’t know—can be tough. But
try doing that in a foreign language you’re in the process of learning and with
people from a culture very different from your own. It’s inevitable that
sometimes you’ll feel like an ignorant gringo or just a lonely stranger in this
semi-strange world. Kind of like college.
Sometimes it’s the little things
I appreciate most. In Ecuador, where around 45 percent of the population is
sub-employed, many people make a living selling things or performing on the
streets, often at red lights in the hope that bored drivers will offer up some
spare change. On Sunday, while driving with my host family, we passed one such
performer wearing a traditional puppet costume depicting two figures yelling at
each other and playfully sparring like an old married couple. My host family
smiled and laughed as we drove by. Despite all the massive changes this country
has undergone as a result of globalization and the 21st century, the
Ecuadorians are a people who value their history and identity.
Of course, like any good gringo
abroad, I watched the Super Bowl on Sunday. My host family didn’t know what
this was, so I explained to them that it was the championship and that my team
(not the Giants) was playing. At 6:30 p.m. EST, we piled into my host parents’
room and watched the game.
Though that early safety threw
them (and me) for a loop, they quickly caught on to the general object of the
game, with my host mother in particular getting hooked. They all thought it was
violent. We watched Madonna’s head-in-crotch halftime extravaganza and threw
our arms up in dismay when the infallible Wes Welker dropped that crucial
fourth quarter pass. And no one blinked during those last few seconds as Tom
Brady’s final Hail Mary pass fell just beyond the reach of Rob Gronkowski.
When it was over, I sat back in
my chair and sighed. My 75-year-old host father, who hadn’t spoken a word of
English since I arrived, turned from his chair and looked at me.
“How you say… I’m sorry,” he
I smiled a huge smile, and
thanked Pachamama or my actual mama or
Rhoda Borcherding or whoever was responsible for bringing me here.