February 22, 2006


• Ecua-Beat. The difficult to describe (without an audio example anyway), yet musically simple, ever-present thumping heard day and night. You know it when you hear it, and will come to recognize it after only a short while in Ecuador. The beat is the same, but the lyrics change, an easy fix to the problem of composing new songs. From a distance, it is impossible to know which tune is playing since the music sounds the same. The best, or shall I say most entertaining, goes something like this: “Say, Say, Say, Say, Say, Say….” over and over and over again. The lyrics in this case are as inspired as the beat. After enough time in Ecuador, with gradual numbing of the senses, it becomes something like white noise and you notice it less and less.

• Ecua-Walk. The telltale stride of the Ecuadorian. The feet aren’t quite lifted off the ground, but scuffed along, effectively slowing the pace. I’ve practiced this many times, with failed results, making it seem as though you must be Ecuadorian to really get it down. To further slow down the rest of pedestrian traffic, they’ll just stop randomly in front of you, and look around, or chat with another Ecuadorian. Once, during the high point of our Ecua-walking career, we shuffled along, and inadvertently stopped right in the middle of the sidewalk, continuing to talk, apparently having lost all necessary momentum to sustain the act of walking. The reaction of the Ecuadorians was to actually laugh and stare at us; obviously, gringos Ecua-Walking does not have the same effect.

• Ecua-Volley. “What is this, Jungle Ball?” and “No Monkey Hits!”, the words of my High School Volleyball coach, scolding us for poor form during practice. I never quite understood the whole Jungle Ball comparison; I only knew it implied rule-less play with little or no technique. Until I came to the Jungle, where the men fervently play on open-air courts. It is almost religion in Ecuador. They are fiercely competitive, playing in teams of three. Anything goes, it seems: the ‘bump’ is two hands meeting but never fully clasped, often open-palmed to send the ball upward; the classic volleyball ‘set’ is more of a catch and throw, and is often done from the back row; the ‘spike’ is usually more of a cradle with the full palm, lobbing it, rather than driving it downward, over the net. Great entertainment.

• Ecua-Knot. Perfected by the market ladies, who seem to have it down to a science, but tied by all, the Ecua-Knot is an extremely tight, seemingly inside out and twisted, impossible to undo knot used to close plastic bags. I have spent much time watching them execute the knot, but cannot seem to perfect it myself. You can be sure that nothing is going in or out of your bag to spoil your purchases. The slippery plastic does nothing to aid in the knot’s removal; wanting to reuse bags here is a challenge, as you often end tearing the bag open in frustration.

• Ecua-Cambio. Or more aptly, lack thereof. A shortage of change is something you learn to expect, and fully anticipate, in this country. Even the bank sometimes can’t break a $50 for you, or can only give you 20’s, which doesn’t help your predicament when you want to buy something for .50. But, I have learned, thanks to adequate language skills, that you can call their bluff 99% of the time. They often have the cambio; they just don’t want to give it up, especially to a tourist. The issue of change becomes part of conversation, and even warrants bragging rights when you really score: Not having to wait very long at the bank, and getting twenty 5’s for your $100 takes the cake in the cambio department.

• Ecua-Signage. “Internet? Why would you think we have Internet?”, said with an expression clearly indicating that this Ecuadorian thinks you are just plain crazy. “Why? Because it is PAINTED on the outside of your building, that’s why.” And painted in big letters, nonetheless. Or, getting the same reaction by asking about the Meriendas (set dinner, usually cheap) that are advertised, again the huge letters painted on the wall right behind where the orders are taken in the restaurant, suggesting permanent availability. One does have to wonder though if it’s just that they don’t want to sell you the Merienda when they know they can charge you twice as much for the same meal a la carte.

• Ecua-Presence. Apart from the Quechua, most Ecuadorians seem to want the world to be aware of their presence, at all times. They do this by making as much noise as possible, in any given context. They may even be in competition with each other for who can make the most noise: outdoing the neighboring businesses’ blasting of the Ecua-Beat; who can honk the loudest and most often, from buses to taxis to motorcycles, they all honk incessantly; loudspeakers the roof of a car is a common sight and a well-used noise-making device; the ‘whap’ produced by women smacking their wet laundry on the rocks in the river, which supposedly, albeit questionably, better cleans their clothes; smacking the buildings/structures as they walk by with a bottle, stick, whatever they have; a young boy making the second most annoying noise known to man (after fingernails on a chalkboard): rubbing a balloon with his sticky palm as he walks the entire length of the main drag. With a seemingly bottomless quiver of noise-making tactics to draw from, you can never doubt the presence of an Ecuadorian.

No comments: