Living in the Foreign Service sometimes leaves you feeling disconnected from the culture that surrounds you. Despite making a life in a completely new and different culture, you are often never truly a part of it because of the lifestyle you live and the knowledge that you are but a transient member of the place.
To combat this, we try hard to get outside of our comfort zone and find experiences beyond the normal tourist trail. To this end, we drove south one rainy weekend to a small farm in the Central Valley where are beloved nanny Elisa was raised.
Driving into the rich agricultural farmlands near the town of Latacunga, we bounced along the dirt roads until we pulled into the small farmstead. There we found a small walled compound amongst fields of corns, broccoli and various other grasses. Four cows were staked in an open area and various farm tools were at the ready for our use.
We were introduced to Elisa’s mother and some family members and then set off to work, first chopping broccoli stems with machetes for the cows. Once we dumped large piles in front of the cows, we used crescent shaped knives to cut more grasses for the resident cuy (guinea pigs) and rabbits. Through it all Piper was ready to cut, carry, or simply run around!
In fact, Piper was adored and photographed by all. We were a little bit of an exotic appearance in a rural area not widely visited by foreigners, and numerous relatives and neighbours stopped by to watch with bemused looks our work peeling the small potatoes that would be made into soup with fairly dull knives. We spent a lot of time convincing them all that we could do some of these daily tasks without issue, and that we, ‘gringos’, were fully capable and interested in doing a little manual labor!
We had meant to camp but the rain was so intense that the family insisted we sleep inside. In attempting to demonstrate that we would be fine sleeping outside, we put up our waterproof tent in the shared living room to show how easy and sturdy it was. This was a show in itself and they all seemed quite amazed at this ‘tent’, albeit amused as well that we would opt to sleep in that when a bed was available.
We spent two wonderful days lugging ridiculously heavy aloe plant pieces, weeding a relative’s newly created flower farm, collecting firewood, cutting grasses for the livestock and preparing potatoes for meals. We were even able to explore the local market which was in full swing on a Saturday morning. It was especially eye-opening, being in potato land, to see just how many types of potatoes one could buy in one place.
Through it all Piper was joyful to have time with Elisa, her daughter, and the various new child friends she developed. Mosa was thrilled too and thought it was great fun to wander the fields and occasionally harass the cows!
It was a truly special weekend that we hope to repeat soon. It allowed us to better appreciate the challenges of a rural life here in Ecuador, get to know Elisa’s family and spend some time in the fresh air. A huge thanks to Elisa and her family for hosting us – welcoming us, laughing with us, and making us feel part of the family.