Erin Patricia McIntosh is a St. Olaf College student double majoring in Anthropology/Sociology and Spanish, with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She’ll be our student correspondent from the Community Internships in Latin America program in Ecuador this semester, regularly posting about her study abroad experience in Quito and beyond. Read Erin’s dispatch from the coastal region of Esmeraldas below. A note for our readers: Erin wrote this piece a few weeks ago, before the earthquake that devastated Esmeraldas and surrounding coastal provinces. Please read on for a glimpse of Olmedo and Esmeraldas pre-quake, and please, if you are able, donate to support the disaster relief efforts in Ecuador. Care International and Oxfam have teams on the ground.
Three short days ago I was sitting in a teal canoe surrounded by my classmates observing the tallest mangroves in the world. We were learning that the composition of these marine forests absorb 8 times more carbon dioxide than a comparable plot of your average land forest.
The lush greenery surrounding Olmedo.
Florencio, our guide from the Afro-ecuadorian community of Olmedo, paddled this canoe down the town’s largest freshwater source. He exposed us to the factory exploiting the natural resources that have fostered the population of Olmedo since the 16th century when many of the community’s ancestors were brought to Ecuador as slaves.
As each of the members of our group wrapped their fingers tightly around the side of our tipping boat, laughing helplessly at the likelihood of us falling in to swim with the crocodiles, the time dawned on me. Not the time of day, but this time of life that I had not fully recognized until this moment. As I have written in previous blog posts, my experience in Ecuador has been packed with new opportunities to learn through experience literally every day. So much so that I haven’t exactly digested that these experiences I am currently living are what I have been fantasizing about for years. The fact that our time living here in Quito is more than half way through is something that I unwillingly must accept, but not without a light at the end of the tunnel. As our professor of political development in Ecuador told our class today, “Eso es un pre-contexto.” This is a pre-context, a foundation to guide us toward the steps that follow our worlds being turned upside down and inside out.
Half of the HECUA crew with their guide.
There have been an alarming number of experiences here that have evoked thought and feeling that I never dreamt of conceptualizing prior to Ecuador. Today as I stand on the other side of those processes, I look forward to the culmination of what we have learned in the coming weeks. Through our final class trip to Otavalo, a march in Quito to counter violence against women, the final weeks of my internship, and the several weekend trips our group is going to squeeze in, we still have a lot to see! I am hoping to discover where my new found combined passion for culture and environment will go with the help of these coming activities—stay tuned to find out all the unknowns of the near future here in the middle of the earth!