Friday, February 23, 2007

Good Parenting

The beach was packed on New Year’s Day. It was perfect weather; not a cloud in the sky. We ate fish tamales, drank beer, went on a banana boat and played shark with the kids in the water. Speaking of beer, there was an interesting moment while we stood by our chairs that got me to thinking. One of the babies, a 9-month old, who will remain nameless to protect the identity of her and her parents, dropped the small rubber duckie she was sucking on, in the sand, while leaning over her daddy’s shoulder. I picked it up and passed it to her mother who promptly asked her brother-in-law to wash it off with some of his beer. Cleaned, she then handed it back to her daughter who sucked the little piece of plastic like there was gold inside. Every adult watching broke into a good 30-second laugh. The lesson here: it’s ok to give your infant child small amounts of alcohol, even as they’re still learning to walk.

I’ve learned since being here that sex, adultery, being hung over, and other “adult” topics are open subject matter in many Ecuadorian homes. Spared the gory details, children often giggle and laugh along as adults tell tales of debauchery and inebriation. Maybe, the attitude is that this is a part of life just like birthday parties, what other kids are wearing and SAT scores. At least, that’s my best guess so far. Or, people may believe that knowledge is power. Knowing why uncle so-and-so is snoring on the couch and stinky takes the mystery out of the effects of alcohol. It also balances the glamorous light alcohol and drugs are often put in by the media. At the end of the day, the results may be nearly identical in terms of rates of alcohol consumption and abuse. However, there is surely a difference in approach to one of our legal taboos. Would you, do you, give your children sips of wine or beer? They usually seem to get their hands on it before they’re 21 anyway. And often, they do more than sip. Like sex, many people are never taught by their parents how to do it responsibly. They find out what they know in the street, experiment, make mistakes and then, if caught, are chastised for not having listened to their parents about not doing what they did. If they’re lucky and never get caught, they are finally able discuss it at home years after they’ve entered adulthood. Does this approach make more sense? What other alternatives exist?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Tarantula and the Earthquake

The first Friday after arriving here on the coast, I was reminded that we are now in a different place. In the morning, while out in the fields looking at the vegetables being grown by our landlord I nearly stepped on a tarantula. I saw it out of the corner of my eye about 4 feet away. It was coming in the direction I was going. Quickly, I stepped back sideways around Manuel who was showing me the bell peppers and tomatoes (a slight act of cowardice on my part, but more reflex than premeditated chicken shit behavior). At least I didn’t him push towards the tarantula as a distraction while I ran in the other direction. Anyway, Manuel laughed and got a stick. Not to spear it mind you, but simply shoo it away. The tarantula was not the one from the horror movies that’s 10 feet high, but he wasn’t little by any stretch of the imagination. The thing about tarantulas is not so much their length. It’s more the roundness of their bodies. Most spiders are flat in shape. Tarantulas have this girth that’s just uncomfortable to look at.

While we escorted the tarantula away from our garden (me, a step behind Manuel) we paused a moment so Manuel could flip the little guy over and show me his red fangs (that’s where all the poison is). I was tempted to drop down on the ground and do a Crocodile Hunter impersonation, but respect for dead, and my own life made me pass on that comedic moment. Manuel wouldn’t have gotten it anyway, which would have only exacerbated the stupidity of my fatal mistake had I been bitten in the face by a tarantula. Actually, I never thought, at any point, about dropping down to the ground. It just sounded good while I was writing.

Later in that same evening while Sylvie and I were yukking it up with our guests, the architects who are designing our soon-to-be wonderful property, there was an earthquake in our living room. The earthquake was actually throughout the entire area, not just our living room. But that’s the strange thing about earthquakes. They cover a huge area of space, but they’re an extremely personal experience. I mean, even though I was sitting on the same couch as Sylvie I’m sure she had a very different experience than me. Point in fact, she calls it a tremor to this day. It shook the earth, foundation of the house, floor, and seat right underneath me. It personally touched me and disturbed my place in the Earth’s gravitational pull. As I discovered, that is a very special and important connection that I have been taking for granted for way too long. Earthquakes are like bad in-laws (I have a great ones by the way) who get in the middle of your relationship.

What have I learned from this experience? Everyday while Sylvie and I ride our bikes, we get chased by dogs. They run at our feet and bark. At first you think they might try to bite you, but they’re not really out for that. They’re just protecting their property. Tarantulas don’t bite unless you step on their homes or threaten them. Even earthquakes (and natural disasters) act as reminders of the fragile place we have on this planet. A cosmic interpretation could be that we need to be careful to protect our homes which include the planet and our environment. Another is that Ecuador is a dangerous, scary place, and we’re stupid for being here. I’ll go with the former. Personally, I was humbled and continue to be. Living closer to the earth is giving me a heightened sense of respect for the fine balance of our ecosystem - the one we are now rapidly losing.