Saturday, January 12, 2013

Olón...Otra Vez

January 11, 2013

I recently met a darling young expat from Colombia at Johanita’s in Olón, and we shared a beer together.  He is currently working at a Montanita restaurant and living in Olón.  Like us, he's happy to be in Ecuador and, in particular, our little town.
We shared our experiences of assimilating into Ecuadorian society.  It’s a tight-knit culture, and we may always be considered “outsiders” to a degree. But we also agreed that the Ecuadorian people are warm, kind, generous and gracious, which is certainly true here in Olón.  Regarding the Olón locals, my new friend made an interesting remark: “you can see the peace in their eyes”, and I can vouch for that.

Yesterday, I was passing by Leila’s new Herbal Life shop, and she waved me in. Leila is probably better known for her Olón evening restaurant adjacent to our park, but she also opened up a new shop around the corner from us to sell Herbal Life. Of course, no one around here is going to spend $70 for a full bottle of that, so she serves it by the glass. Think of it as Olón’s version of Starbucks, if you will.

I was preoccupied and in a hurry when I arrived, and was going to do the gringo thing of saying "hi", getting something para llevar, and splitting, but Leila lured me into taking a moment to pause… And into the most expensive treatment-item ($3) on the menu…a three drink/step thing of warm concoctions.

The clientele was an older woman taking care of her young grandsons – one on her lap, the other tight by her side (there are the cutest kids in Ecuador!). There was a guy in company uniform filling out paperwork between stops, and another guy sipping and working on his computer. All were Ecuadorian and all clearly regulars at Leila’s “day place”.
I’ve often exchanged pleasant buenas dias and smiles with these folks as we’ve passed on the street, so it was fun chatting and getting to know them better.

When Leila brought me the second drink, I thought it curious that she pointedly handed me an extra napkin, and the locals leaned in closer to me, staring intently while we were conversing.

I didn’t see it coming. The second drink makes you sweat. I mean SWEAT A LOT. At first I didn’t connect the waterworks with the drink (thinking that it’s pretty hot indoors now, or I was having a rather embarrassing, haven’t-had-one-of-those-in-a-long-time hot flash moments, after wringing out my extra napkin for the third time while we were all talking).

That was, until I realized my compadres couldn’t contain their smiles and giggles, kindly assuring me that THAT was the purpose of drink #2.   Ecuadorians love to laugh, and love a good practical joke -- not that this incident was meant to be one.
I made a mental note-to-self to stop by there more often this year (though I am not a big advocate of New Year’s resolutions) and to learn to live more in the moment as my Ecuadorian friends do.  **

I took a video awhile back that I thought really captured the spirit of Olón. It was taken at one of the many local parties here, and I love the catchy tune. 

For whatever technical reasons, I can’t embed videos to this blog now, so please CLICK ON THIS THIS LINK TO SEE IT:

A recent article came out calling "Latin Americans the Happiest on the Planet".  Seven of the top 10 countries are in South America (Ecuador is #7 on the list).
And it’s easy to see why.

They’re not slaves to their emails (guilty). They’re not farting around all day on Facebook (guilty). They don’t have their heads buried in a Kindle all day (guilty).

They spend time with each other; they hang out and laugh; they nurture one another in person.

No matter how long we live here, we probably will always be considered as “outsiders” by Ecuadorians. It is their country and their culture, and they are rightfully proud and generally protective of it.
Still, it’s wonderful to be accepted by them, and we always feel honored when an Ecuadorian calls us a friend.
Because they truly are, and they truly mean it.

Happy New Year to All.

 “Grow old along with me.
The best is yet to be.
The last of life, for which the first was made”

Robert Browning

 ** I think my español still sucks, but I get by. Some people tell me I speak “good” Spanish, but those are usually visiting gringos who don’t know the difference.