One of the things I was looking forward to the most about moving to Ecuador was embracing the “forced simplicity”. I was so ready to go back to being a “human being” instead of a “human doing”. Life here functions at a much slower pace – there is plenty to do, but somehow there just seems to be plenty of time to get around to it – if not today, “mañana”. It is beautiful to see a culture that functions around family and life, rather than so much of what we westerners deem important. Children just PLAY – they don’t have to be enrolled in music lessons, sports or activities – they just hangout in the neighborhoods and PLAY. A stroll down the street on a Saturday finds men out mending their fishing nets, people laying in hammocks, people buying produce from the trucks that come around, etc. It is all quite refreshing.
For me personally, the change in environment has brought about some interesting habit changes. First of all, if I were to wear make-up here in my small town (or any of the nearby surrounding ones) they would think I am either a movie star or from outer space! Also, any attempts at a hairstyle are futile – with the humidity and ocean breeze, even if I do something with my hair, it quickly reminds me it prefers to do its own thing! And honestly, how often does one really NEED to take a shower or wash your clothes? A lot less than at home (both me and my clothes will get dirty again relatively quickly anyway!)
But the “simple life” isn’t always simple. Here, you have to drink bottled water (or boil it). You have to go to a nearby town to an office and stand in line to pay your electric bill, phone bill, etc. and it could take hours. Going to the bank to do a basic deposit or withdrawal can also take hours. The electricity goes off frequently. Getting things that are broken fixed can take days or weeks longer than we are used to. And there are much fewer “creature comforts” (although many more than I was expecting). I knew all this in advance and was actually looking forward to “downgrading” to how much of the rest of the world lives (and quite honestly, much of the rest of the world still lives under much “simpler” conditions). I grieve at some of the western influences that have encroached on even my small, rural village (many now have pre-paid cell phones and drink lots of sodas) and in the closest sizable city (but still far from the largest) McDonald’s, KFC and Subway are readily available.
Additionally, the cleanliness standards here would challenge most, if not all of you I know. There are several reasons for this: one is just the nature of living on the beach. There is a constant tracking in and influx of sand and dirt (but how can you live here and not have your sliding doors/windows open 24/7 for the ocean breeze and sound of the waves?!) Also, the building standards here are sloppier than in the states, leaving lots of gaps around doors and windows for dirt to get in. (If I showed you the amount of dirt in my trash can after sweeping my floor yesterday, some of you would toss up your Thanksgiving dinners!) But I still remind myself that much of the rest of the world lives with dirt floors and in their case, sweeping is pointless!
I honestly believe we westerners have become so warped in our thinking of what we think we need to “have” and “do” in order to be happy – and sadly, we’ve pushed a lot of those ideas on the rest of the world, in my estimation, to their detriment. Crime is escalating in Ecuador, but it is still not anything on the scale of the daily, horrendous occurrences we have in the states. The crime here is mostly petty, and aimed at “rich foreigners” – the reason? Many have come here to “live like kings” in this less expensive country and they flaunt it. As one local mayor here said, “Our people didn’t know they were poor until the westerners came and showed them what they did not have – up until then they were happy and content.”
Even living in the states I tried to live a simpler life (I didn’t have cable and never really watched TV or listened to news; I refused to get a Smartphone until I was told I would need it here in Ecuador; and I’m still a holdout on using Facebook). But it is so hard – the cultural pull is so strong. I constantly tried to remind myself mentally the kind of life most others around the world live – in Africa, Asia, the Middle East – just about everywhere. We have become so spoiled, privileged and satiated, and yet we are still probably the whiniest people on the planet! It is interesting how the poorer, simpler people on this earth, in many ways, live more rich, fulfilling lives – didn’t Jesus say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”? (Luke 6:20) I am not saying that I am living poor – but I am certainly open to learning lessons from those who are.