Some faithful readers may recall how, in my early days here, I described a certain type of expatriate as “Gringoland mice”? There are many of these: they live in a part of town full of high-rise buildings and American-style supermarkets and stores; they squeak in English in a country of Spanish; they mostly scurry around in cars just like in America; they socialize with other Americans at gringo mousehole hangouts like cafés and bars with English-speaking staff. I find them tiresome. Yet, I find they are more common than the other type of immigrant. A few even live out the stereotype of the “ugly American,” insisting that everyone around them should speak English and displaying contempt for the lovely, welcoming natives whenever they do anything differently than the mice know from home.
The other type of immigrant is an adventurous soul who is always questing for new experiences. These people are open-hearted, always trying to understand the people around them and to affirm the choices they have made as they move through the world. Such people learn as much of the language as they can; they seek interesting neighborhoods to live; they befriend local people as much as possible. They are also not conventional people, and they tend to be brave and outspoken. They are independent as cats and peripatetic as helium balloons; each moment with one is an ephemeral treasure.
Slowly, such people are finding their way into my life. Last week, we met up with a warm and lovely Canadian couple. Today I went to lunch with an amazingly vibrant woman. We ate our lunch and then the conversation stretched into the afternoon, and before we knew it, it was 3:00. Suzanne puts me to shame with her energy level even though she is well past retirement age. She travels the world solo, planning her next jaunt to Guatemala and Honduras, and she is in charge of a child-care program at a foundation which teaches poor Ecuadorian adults to read (I’m volunteering to be with the children starting tomorrow, which is how Suzanne and I connected at first). She also has had some healing experiences via complementary and alternative healthcare, and I am a chiropractor qualified in pediatrics, herbal medicine, and acupuncture, so she and I had much to discuss. On a deeper level, I’ve found there are few friends I make in real life who share my core values of personal freedom, responsibility, truth, and kindness. What a celebration it is to find one!
I hoped to befriend more Ecuadorians, but I underestimated the difficulty of learning the language with enough fluency and of earning trust across cultures. I love and miss my friends from my old life. Social media and e-mail allow us to keep in touch. And at the same time, it is heart-opening and life-affirming to make new friends. What a wide, wonderful, welcoming world!