This was the first post on the old Rodda Trials blog. It’s one of my favorite pieces from the old site and easily one of the most eye-opening trips I’ve ever been on. Enjoy!
A Lesson in Humility
I’ve been home from Ecuador for around two weeks and it’s taken me a while to get on the ball and finally post something. One of the reasons for this was the backpacking trip I went on almost immediately after falling into my bed following the 34 hour trip home. The bigger, and more important reason, was deciding how I wanted to describe my experience.
I could talk endlessly about the beauty that is the Ecuadorian Andes. Or the Ecuadorian jungle. Or the mind blowing avian diversity (I’m born and raised Alaskan. I know Eagles, Loons, Puffins, Ravens and the like. They’re all beautiful to me, but not even close to the same ballpark as what I saw down south). Or the street art, which is everywhere and done very well for the most part. Or how almost every vehicle farts huge clouds of exhaust on every corner and back road, making high elevation thinned air even more precious when you’re from a sea-level city. Who knows, maybe I will in a later post. Not today. Sorry.
Everyone who has asked me about my trip has gotten pretty much the same answer, “It was good. Really humbling. A good dose of perspective. Insanely beautiful! I’ve always wanted to see the South American Andes, now I have. And it was incredible. It also made me sad and feel kind of shitty about myself.” Which usually gets, “Awesome! Wait, what? Um, why?”. And then I go on about how I’ve been to developing nations before and felt feelings and so on and so forth but this trip has had a very different lasting effect on me.
So what I’m going to do is copy, word for word, something I wrote during my 14 hour overnight layover in Panama City. It sums up the thoughts that had been consuming me for the past couple of weeks. What follows was written after having “slept” on numerous benches throughout my terminal between walking in circles around the 40 or so “Duty Free” stores, fast food kiosks and searching for any sign of air conditioning.
Airport, Panama City, Panama 7/16/13 6:45ish in the damn morning
I’m waiting here at Tocumen Intl. Airport in Panama City, Panama for the second leg of my trip home. I’ve been in Ecuador since July 2nd visiting M and J. They’ve been living and teaching in Quito for the past 2 years and have been fairing pretty well. M is 4 months pregnant and looks stereotypically radiant and aglow “with child”. I think they gave me the baby bug. Great. J is just as I remember him, only more “grown up”. Which is to be expected, he’s older, and so am I. What does more “grown up” mean anyways? He’s J, one of my closest friends and so far as I can tell all of our friends have “grown up” at about the same pace, right? Which is to say we’re all the fucking same. Jesus, I’m tired. No big deal, I’m not going anywhere for a long time.
Spending 3 weeks in Ecuador has been incredibly humbling. It has been a huge reminder of the stark contrast between my life at home and the petty bullshit I spend my time absorbed with and the reality of life in a developing nation. Driving from Quito to Mindo, or Quito to Machachi we passed through a number of different neighborhoods / towns and they all seemed to represent a different time in Ecuador’s turbulent history to me. More obvious than that, though, are the huge differences in social class from one street to the next. Often from one home or development to the one directly next door there are two completely opposite representations of which end of the societal hierarchy the inhabitants may belong to.
To pass by so many cinder block homes and corrugated metal shacks and know that I am privileged is one thing. But to pass them and see them drowning in the shadow of a newer, bigger, “sexier” home that is a much closer resemblance to the home I live in and know that the bigger of the two is inhabited by a dismissive, more affluent member of society that is a closer representation of myself or my own friends and neighbors. . . it makes my heart ache. And feel kind of like an asshole.
To see my own life choices / values / baggage, or at least least similar representations, reflected back at me with a direct example of the other side of things in the same eyeful put an embarrassing twist on what I have put value in for the majority of my life.
My piddly little bullshit and my privilege are nothing compared to the majority of the population in any developing nation. Whether I’ve seen it before or not I know in my heart that my life of consumption and ignorance has contributed to the hardship of a large population of our world. My choices and my actions have not been an honest representation of what I know in my heart needs to be addressed. My consumer lifestyle is a direct contribution to the throwaway mentality that breeds inequality and creates more distance between the “healthy / beautiful” affluent people of this world and the people who live in the shadows of our manufactured reality.
These people we shit on to fulfill our “needs” deserve better. ”Human Equality” is a term that is thrown around and championed by so many of us, but are we really mindful of our own actions and consider who they are affecting? We don’t even consider how our actions and “needs” affect our own environment, our fucking home, let alone anyone outside of ourselves.
I’ve been waking up over the past 3 weeks. As I sit here in the food court of an airport in a country far from my own home I am facing the reality that I am a citizen of the world, just like everyone else. And for me to continue living the way I have would be a grave injustice to our planet and all of us who call it home. As far as I see it it’s very, very clear – no matter who you are or where you are, we have a choice to make-
Will I be a force for change that is good in this lifetime, or will I continue to be a parrot, one who’s learned to speak but whose words have no meaning?
So that’s what happened in Ecuador. Sure, everything was beautiful and amazing. But anybody who has the opportunity to travel and has a pulse and a set of working eyeballs can tell you before they go anywhere that it’ll probably be really, really neat. I’m one of those people. It’s why I save my money and bugger off whenever I get the chance. But there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s a really big diverse village out there, with endless diversity to blow your mind and hopefully change you if you let it.
Be good to each other. Count your blessings. And take a deep breath every once in a while.