By Christopher Lux
On Saturday morning, a concerned resident in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, called 911 to report a man “mistreating a squirrel.” The man, in fact, was merely roasting a Guinea pig. When the police arrived, the Ecuadorian was cooking the animal on a 4-foot wooden skewer over a park barbecue. As anyone who lives in Cuenca knows –locals and gringos alike– he was not “mistreating” an animal. He was preparing a fine meal.
Police didn’t take action against the man because it is legal to grill meat in the designated barbecue areas of the park. It is not legal, however, to hunt or trap park animals such as squirrels, much less grill them.
My first thought after reading the article was, “Did he get that at PetSmart?” My second thought concerned my family’s upcoming trip to the United States. My wife, five year old son, and I moved to Ecuador last year and, later this month, we will make our first trip back to our homeland to see family and stock up on some missed luxuries.
Among these luxuries will be “Mexican” food at our favorite Mexican restaurants. I wonder, now that I am use to speaking Spanish every time I leave the house, should I now speak to the waiter at the Mexican restaurant in Spanish? Last time I was there, I only spoke to them in English. I’m now more comfortable with my Spanish. What should I do?
I also wonder if I will accidentally throw my used toilet paper in my mother-in-law’s bathroom trash can. Will I be able to handle the summer weather in the southern U.S. after living in the Andes for several months? Will I balk at paying American prices for fruits and vegetables at the local grocery store? Will I become annoyed with drivers because I think they drive too slowly and too cautiously?
More importantly, though, I worry about what Ecuadorian habits my son will take back to the U.S. with him. We moved here when he was four, so he has learned to live as a gringo in Ecuador. When you’re four years of age, you forget many of the habits you learned earlier.
Not only that, my wife and I have loosened up on some of our household rules — he showers less often, we don’t do very well teaching him “manners,” and he’s more polite to adults in Spanish than in English. “Huh?” is not an uncommon response for him to give when he doesn’t understand someone.
Because he rides in the back of taxis, my son seldom wears a seat belt in Cuenca. I’m thinking that his reaction to belted-in booster car seats in the U.S. will present a challenge for us.
Though most people in Cuenca drink the tap water, not everyone in Ecuador does. After a bad stomach illness I experienced, my family and I do not even brush our teeth with the tap water. Having migrated at a young age, my son doesn’t even know how to brush with or drink tap water. All water comes from a bottle.
Since moving to Ecuador, I’ve also let things go a bit. I shave less often and I worry less about what I wear. My wife has started forgetting words in English. Our son often makes requests and statements in Spanish.
I wonder, will we grill a Guinea pig in an American park? Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Christopher Lux lives in Cuenca with his wife and son. He teaches English and writing. Before moving to Ecuador, he worked as a freelance writer. He holds bachelor’s degrees in theology and English from Belmont Abbey College and a master’s in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.