Magical realism in Quito

(Today's guest blog comes from Eliah McCallah, who has his very own guest-blog fan base. The wait for the next Eliah installment is over!)

"Life as an American in Ecuador inevitably requires you to become accustomed to practices and circumstances that would be never occur in the US. For instance, we are no longer bothered to drink milk that has sat on the shelf unrefrigerated for weeks. If we receive an electric shock from our shower head, it’s probably our own fault for raising our hand too high, while witnessing public urination is just a reminder to walk on the other side of the street until the next rain. Catching the Libertadores bus home from Quito earlier on Saturday, though, I realized that the city had offered me an unusual amount of unusualness.

Actually, part of the absurdity of the trip was my own fault. Saturday evening, ten spring breakers from Duke/UNC landed at Mariscal-Sucre International Airport and placed their lives in my hands for a week (though for purpose of legal liability, I should probably mention my co-leader Jocelyn here). Anyway, after weeks of building beds and planning schedules, it occurred to me Saturday morning that I don’t actually know how to get to the places I’m supposed to guide them to. I went to Quito to remedy this.

Walking toward the Basilica, Quito’s most famous cathedral, I passed a political rally with probably twenty people waving flags emblazoned with the number 3 (political parties here have numbers as well as names) and standing below an enormous sign promoting Lucio in the upcoming presidential election. Curious if Lucio might be a serious contender, I asked one of his flag-bearing followers what the name of the party was. “Er, 3.” He told me. Is he a conservative or liberal candidate? I asked. “Um, ask someone else, I’m just paid to be here,” he told me. Paying non-affiliated citizens to fill rallies is actually a common practice in Ecuadorian politics, but it’s nonetheless hard to get used to.

Having reached the Basilica, I began walking toward Plaza Grande in Old Town and stopped to ask directions from a trio of taxi drivers standing outside their cars. Holding their open beer cans unashamedly as they pointed me in the right direction, I found myself glad it was close enough to walk to.

Finally, after leaving the touristy street La Ronda incensed that I couldn’t find lunch for less than $3.50, I stopped to ask a police woman where to find the stolen goods market I’d been told exists in that part of town. She had a hard time answering me, but only because she wasn’t sure which of three in the area I wanted.

All of this left me sitting on the bus home, marveling at the straight forward strangeness of aspects of this country, and how quickly the ridiculous has become commonplace in my own mind. Maybe it’s in part a reflection of “magical realism,” the literary style adopted by many Latin American authors in which the everyday is mixed with the fantastical, which, in many ways, paints a more accurate picture of what life in Ecuador is all about. Whatever it is, it’s life for the next five months, and as long as I’m here, I’m just as happy to lose myself in the sureality.