Before coming to Ecuador I was given forewarning that “catcalling” would be an issue and that people would stare because I look different. What I was unprepared for was the reaction that my appearance would evoke from children.
My commute to and from school involves a short walk and a twenty-minute bus ride. I am often a passenger during rush hour (in the mornings, to and from lunch, and at the end of the workday). For those that have not yet ridden a bus in Ecuador, it is an intimate experience. My height alone sets me apart from the other passengers, and given the number of individuals on the bus, I am often left standing, towering at five-foot-nine. While my butchered Spanish may dissuade most others from engaging in bus ride conversation, children are always there, unafraid to ask me blatant questions and stare with unblinking eyes as I attempt to remain vertical on a seemingly unsteady vehicle.
This population has been my greatest source of Cuencan friends thus far. I first became friends with two children walking home in front of me, both of which stared for about five minutes, asked my name and then ran to their father to report their findings. Several children since have run up, skipping the formalities to quickly ask, “De donde eres?” While sitting in the clinic waiting to begin my volunteer work this past Friday, I engaged in a staring contest with a girl whom I guessed to be about three years old. She ran up and down the hallway with arms stretched out after her mom, while continuing to maintain eye contact with me. During my first week at my volunteer position I shadowed two doctors to a local preschool. Upon entering a room full of children ages one to four during song time all eyes were on me.
While their attention was initially intimidating I have come to appreciate the intention. These children are completely unafraid to examine what is different and to look with shameless eyes in order to learn from what is in front of them. It is an approach that I hope to take from here forward. I hope to continue to keep my eyes open and to be unafraid to ask questions.