One of the first things I noticed when we got to South America was that the people there were very different from Washington State. And I donít just mean skin color, either. Sure, that popped out at me as well, but it was more the way these people acted with each other and with us. It wasnít a complete shock to me in Venezuela, the first country we went to in South America, as I had seen many of the same traits in the Lesser Antillean locals, but it all suddenly escalated when we got to Ecuador.
During my year + on the boat in the Lesser Antilles, I have learned to ignore catcalls and whistles from men as I walk along the streets. At first I thought it rude and obnoxious, and I still do when it comes from older men, but now when I get some from younger guys, more my age, I ignore them in public and grin about it in private. One time, in Riobamba, Ecuador, there was a war protest in the streets consisting of most (if if not all) of the school kids in the town. We were with another family, with a girl my age, and Rachel and I made the mistake of walking through all the high-school guys instead of around them, and we got deafened by whistles. Usually itís like that just because weíre white in the middle of a bunch of locals. But the weird thing is, itís not just us. I noticed, in Venezuela and Ecuador Ė and even Panama Ė that many men put wolf-whistle horns on their car, and they blow it at every woman they see.
This is so different from the states, I donít know if women up there could visualize what itís like to be walking along, minding your own business, and suddenly hear this whistle or ďtst tst tstĒ or ďhey, babyĒ from a group of middle-aged rasta men. Iíve mostly gotten used to it, but it still feels a bit wacky.
Somewhat related to that are several other observations Iíve seen. It seems a bit sexist to me, but I havenít actually investigated it fully. While in Saquisili, we went to a huge local market, with food and hardware and clothing and almost anything else you could think of, including live animals. The latter was a half a kilometer out of town, but we walked there first. On the way, we saw many people going the same direction as us, and obviously to the same location. Men in pickup trucks, with animals and feed in the back, and women carrying feed on their backs and dragging pigs or sheep along behind them. There were lots of people carrying feed or sticks on their backs, and not a one of them that I saw was male. Iím not forming any conclusions, and I donít really even have any ideas as to why that is. The whole culture is just so different from what Iím used to, I donít know what to think. I could say that women in the states donít carry things to markets on their backs while the men drive, but of course they donít Ė they donít usually go to open-air markets that all the locals use to sell their goods. Iím not really sure what to compare it to. Grocery stores? Those are there, too. Garage sales? Multiply that by about a hundred people selling things and coming to buy things, and it may be similar. In that way, women in the states are not discriminated against.
Also, the percentage of the poor and/or un-educated people down here seems to be a lot greater than what Iím used to. Walking around the streets, in city squares, even at the bus stations and on the busses, you see people in rags sitting around begging. I mostly saw old ladies or women with small children, but there are a few old men walking around with their hands out as well. The problem is I would really like to help them, but as soon as you give them a little bit, they get encouraged and all the others come over, too. Maybe my memory isnít too great on this account, but I donít remember seeing as many beggars in Venezuela and the Lesser Antilles as we did in Ecuador. Iím not sure why this is. I did notice, however, that most of the beggars I saw were all in the larger towns that we went to. They werenít, for example, in Saquisili on market day. I never spent much time walking around in Seattle, although I have seen several beggars there, but they were all in the big cities. I donít think I ever saw somebody needy even in downtown Redmond.
But far more numerous than those asking for money were people trying to work for it, or sell things for it. Even in large cities, at nearly every street corner there was a little stand of people selling food, or paintings, or clothing. Most noticeable, however, were those selling food. They were everywhere! Even on bus rides, every ten minutes the bus would stop to pick up someone, and theyíd come on board selling water, or soda, or meat pies. We didnít take many long-distance bus rides in Venezuela or the Lesser Antilles, but we did in Panama, and certainly no one came on board to try to sell you things. Perhaps, of the places weíve been, Ecuador is unique in this. Certainly it would never happen in Seattle, mostly because in the states you need a license from the Department of Health if youíre going to be selling food. To tell the truth, it was a bit annoying on the trip when we were always stopping and starting again and there were all these people walking down the isle waving food and drinks in front of your face. But maybe itís just because Iím not used to it. The locals seemed to have no problems with it at all, perhaps they just take it for granted and ignore venders when they donít want anything and find it handy when they do.Itís hard to compare extremely different places. In truth I probably didnít cover many things you could compare and contrast about the people in South America, the Lesser Antilles, and Washington State, the place I still call home. But these are simply my observations from over a time period of a few days, not a scientific research of weeks or months or years. I find these places different from what Iím used to, and Iím pretty sure that any local South American would find the United States just as wacky before they get used to it. Almost Ė almost Ė I can look back at my old home and see it through their eyes.
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