Seeking Beauty and Being Stared At

Over the long weekend my family decided to take a last minute road-trip to Quito (8+ hours); having just moved my things into a different (non-slug-invaded) room in the house (and feeling like I’d just made the trek down from Quito not too long ago), I decided to stick behind, move myself in, and care for the house.
After a Friday of scrubbing, sweeping, mopping, and washing the space, Saturday morning I decided to take the bus into Cuenca to shop in the markets for a few things that would make my room feel a little more “Me.”
Bumping into the same vendor I had purchased a cozy sweater from the week before, I got a great deal on a big blanket to use as a new bedspread.
I stumbled into a fabric store and purchased a few meters of some cool prints (American Cotton) to replace the existing dull gold curtains, and spent too long deciding on just the perfect assortment of woven baskets to arrange various things.
After picking up a few packets of incense to bring a final touch of peacefulness and luxury to my little white-walled haven, I resolved the only things left to find were two buckets to wash my laundry in, one tapestry for the remaining blank wall, and an empty Coke or Sprite bottle to use as a vase for fresh flowers to adorn my desk.
So, today I walked into the center of Cañar (~1.4 miles, 25 minutes along a hilly dirt/paved road at a good pace) to seek out the buckets and bottle of soda.
Walking around town since I’ve begun living here, traveling to and from work and such, has been a somewhat frustrating reminder that I do not immediately fit in. Greeting people along the road, or even just when meeting eyes, I’ll often receive blank stares (mostly from children), shouts in English and giggles from students about my age, and occasional whistles.
This afternoon, particularly, I became more frustrated than usual at the staring and honking from cars rolling by and the fact that I just generally stick out. Reflecting during the last minutes of my walk in, I realized that my unavoidable distinction from others was a test of my self-consciousness, which in my naïvety I thought I had mastered, that I could overcome.
After learning that store-keepers would not let me purchase a soda in a glass bottle and leave the store with it; I think for the compensation they can receive from returning the glass bottle. So, admiring my Sprite on the way out of the store – a nice green glass that would look beautiful sitting on my windowsill – I got stopped on the way out, and the store owner transferred the soda to a plastic bag with a straw… so much for that plan. I didn’t attempt to tell her that I didn’t want the soda, but the bottle to hold my flowers.
Though a little dismayed about the bottle situation, I did manage to find some nice buckets.
And so I began my walk home with the clunky buckets, which reminded me of walking with the women in Malawi and Senegal – carrying water, gravel, and sand to and fro. And so I swung the buckets atop my head, freeing my body to walk at a steadier pace, and marched on home with a little more comfort and humor in my step.
For, with or without buckets stacked on my head, I embraced that I stand out here without even trying to, which is something I can’t say I’ve experienced before. I know I’ll remember this experience at future times when I might be the one inclined to stare at someone who “doesn’t belong,” and instead reach out with a smile, a greeting, or a conversation. Because right now I know all I want is for someone on the street to simply have the courage to do the same.

2 thoughts on “Seeking Beauty and Being Stared At”

  1. Some people always feel self-conscious, for a variety reasons…but being self-aware is also important…and I think you seem like you are more self-aware and you want to fit because you are embracing your experience and you want it to embrace you back…it will…and I look forward to reading about it!
    I love your photos as well as your writing.

  2. Georgia,

    This is a wonderful report, and the pictures showing how you have set up your “home” are great. Your writing and your photography are both top drawer. Much love, Grandma

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