Note and appology: Our having to post from Cyber cafes until our phone line is installed, hopefully Monday, is exposing our great weakness as a language teacher and once-off author – abysmal spelling. Spell-check was invented for us, and we beg your indulgence until we can once more avail ourselves of its graceful guidance…
Spent most of the day in Puertoviejo (Old Port, although there is no navigable water nearby), the provincial capital of Manabi, trying to get the pictures off of our camera and into our computer. Driving around the city with an ex-student and nephew of Norma Yvonne, we must hve tried at least a dozen camera stores, computer stores and Cyber Cafes. Most places, people looked at us like we were from Mars and were asking for Dilithium Crystals. It is beginning to look like our best bet is to wait for the first of the several friends and students who have indicated interest in visiting us and ask them to bring down a cheap Compact Flash card reader.
Meanwhile, we are settling into our little corner of Paradise. A routine is developing. Tennis in the morning, at the Club, lunch at a different restaurant every day, followed by a swim in the ocean and a nap, all bracketed and interspersed with reading, writing and listening to music.
Our days have been further enlivened by Norma Yvonne’s habitual reversion, when in her country, to deeply ingrained behavior patterns surrounding the model of Latin American feminity she no doubt learned as a child, watching how her mother treated her father. Now, in the United States both Norma and the Dowbrigade himself are a thoroughly acculterated post-feminist couple, with a solid working relationship which has transcended sexual roles and traditional male dominance.
However, from a point of view anchored in our training as a cultural anthropologist, we find it refreshingly “native” to luxuriate, if only for a few months, in a cultural context in which a woman’s first obligation is to make sure her man has everything he needs to “bring home the bacon”, so to speak. Now, while we try not to abuse this cultural regression in our adored partner, we are old-fashioned enough to enjoy holding doors open for her and receiving a generous gamut of unsolicitated sexual favors and demure domestic attentions in return .
So far, the only preoccupying trend we have found in Ecuador this time around is a rabid rash of thefts, assaults, armed robberies and gang related shootings. Our view has long been that these unfortunate symptoms of societal breakdown are due laregly to the disappearance of a stabilizing middle class in Latin America and the third world in general.
To an increasing degree, the society in Ecuador is being reduced to a few very rich people, who live in a glamorous Latin version of the American Dream, down to the Mercedes, Hiltons, jetskis, KFC’s and upscale artsy boutiques in heavily guarded modern Malls, and lots and lots of poor people, who live in wide rings around every developed urban center and who are kept from being a depressingly heartbreaking reminder of the inequities of Capitalistic Globalization only by their invisibility and the inherant agricultural and maritime richness of the country which insures that there are no bloated bellies or people dying in the streets of starvation.
However, having so many poor people living so close to guilded pocket of the comparatively very rich is a prescription for trouble. Our personal belief is that in any human population there is a very small percentage of people who are “born bad” and would be anti-social evildoers in any society, in any age, under any circumstances. Whether this is due to genetic factors or early childhood experiences is best left to other social scientists to argue.
The majority of people in a society will be law-abiding and respectful in any situation, even under stress. We are a strong believer in the basic goodness of human nature. Nevertheless, there is a sizable minoroty who could go either way, and given a depressingly bleak and deprived existence will responmd by ignoring the social rules and taking what they feel they are being denied by an unjust society. Though understandable, this hurts no less when what they want happens to belong to you.
The thieves in Ecuador have become increasingly bold in recent years as the Economy has slid into a deep and prolonged depression. The banks have failed, there are few jobs, and the social support network in almost non-existent. In Guayaquil, the latest urban nightmare is a gang called the “Rompa-puertas”, or Doorbreakers, who pick houses they think contain riches and goodies, and attack them, often in the middle of the night, with heavy-duty battering rams, busting down doors which have been triple locked and fortified against normal theives, whereupon they clean the place out and disappear into the night before the police can think about responding.
Yesterday in the paper we read about the robbery of an armored car carrying payroll to a huge industrial complex on the outskirts of the capital. The method was alarmingly simple and effective. They hijacked a semi (huge heavy 18-wheeler) and, knowing the route of the armored car, simply drove it head-on into the payroll carriers. This busted the armored car open like a grape shot from a shotgun. Three heavily armed accomplises in another stolen vehicle shot the stunned guards and loaded the money into a pickup truck, and sped away. Two of the guards died and the other two are in the hospital.
Then last night a we returned to our apartment in a taxi, the driver told us that there had just been a fatal shooting mere blocks from where we are living, appearantly between members of rival drug gangs. Manta being a major seaport, and so close to Columbia, there is appearantly an increasing level of contraband passing through the zone. Although this kind of violence is never (so far) directed against tourists or locals, the chance of being hit by a stray bullet is just as real here as in any American city.
Unfortunately, urban danger is a fact of life in any city in the world these days. We cetainly hope this report will not discourage any of the people who have expressed an interest in coming down to visit us. Given normal and reasonable precautions and common sense (don’t take your $2,000 video camera on long walks down seemingly deserted beaches, for example) we can truthfully say we feel as safe here as in Boston, LA or London. Still, it is a necessary reminder that true Paradise is attainable only on a higher plane or in the afterlife.