We live in such a big world with people who have diverse cultures, customs, and beliefs, so I started traveling to get to know the world we live in better.
When we are born in one place and stay there all our lives, sometimes we miss the chance to truly be exposed to the cultures of others, and this can lead to thinking that our way of life is the only way, or sadly, the best way, so I began to travel more in order to experience for myself what other places are truly like.
My first trip outside of the U.S. was to Cairo, Egypt. A college friend was going home for the summer, so I decided to accompany her on the journey. While there I saw a world that was so different from my own. As I traveled around the country, I was fascinated by the fact that many people in Cairo have some of the same perspectives on family as those who live in the U.S. There was the mother who made sure her children were fed in the morning and off to school. The father who worried about where his teenage daughter was going, and who she was going out with at night. Having the opportunity to witness these similarities, and also experience some of the cultural differences, broadened my thinking, and probed me to ask more questions like, “Is there a right or wrong way? Couldn’t they all just be different?” These questions are what started my traveling bug.
Since Cairo I have been to many other countries in the world, and I wish to visit and explore more places in the future. However, right now I have settled in Ecuador. This country fascinates me, and I want to continue learning about the people, so I haven’t left yet.
I currently live in beautiful Cuenca, Ecuador, South America, the third largest city in Ecuador and host to a variety of cultures. One that I have come to really embrace is those who speak Kichwa – an indigenous language in the country. I feel a connection to them, especially the women. And when I am with them, I often reflect on my own family.
They highly value hard work, and are committed to keeping close-knit family bonds. For example, the women usually get up at four in the morning to make sure everyone is well prepared for the day. This is also the perfect time for them to cook and wash clothes, which is all done by hand, and once everyone is off to work or school, they go to work themselves.
The photo (bottom left) shows a mother, her two daughters, and her granddaughter selling vegetables at the local market in Cuenca. The small children are carried on their mothers’ backs so they can remain hands-free for working. In bigger cities, the markets are where you will find most of the Kichwa women, so I love to stop, shell peas, and talk with them. I haven’t graduated to plucking the corn kernels off a cob because it’s too hard, and I usually end up with all the corn splattered on my face.
The Kichwa-speaking people are a very private and closed community. It takes a while for them to trust and let you into their circle, because they have experienced a lot of prejudice. Unfortunately, those outside of their community tend to look down on them, viewing them as ignorant and dirty. They believe Kichwa is a dying language of the past and don’t want to learn it; in fact, speaking English is preferred because they equate it with fortune. However, Kichwa is important to the rural areas of Ecuador because Spanish isn’t spoken, so their indigenous language is the central way to communicate.
The negative perceptions about this community are what make the people reserved and skeptical. But, on the other hand, once you win their trust, you’ve gained friends for life. I have also found that because I’ve taken the time to learn their language, I am easily accepted. They view me as someone who genuinely makes an effort to be a part of their lives.
There is so much more for me to experience in Cuenca, and I am excited to continue sharing my adventures and inspirations with you. Traveling around the world has changed my life, so hopefully, you’ll be inspired by some of the stories, and take the leap to begin (or continue) exploring places that have always intrigued you.
Erika Turpin is an English as a Foreign Language Teacher, who lives in Cuenca, Ecuador. To express her passion for sharing her traveling and cultural experiences, she shares a verse from her spiritual practice, “Jehovah himself gives the saying; the women telling the good news are a large army.”(Psalm 68:11) Furthermore, “why should women travel the world? Learning about women of all different cultures all around the world helps us to become connected and understand ourselves better. Many women around the world don’t understand their true worth, we must help and love each other.”