Tag Archives: culture

Storytelling the Texan Way

January 2012 -We have now been living in Texas for over a year. During the first few months, I started to become familiar with the cultural differences between this western state and the very far eastern states in which I lived in the past.  Since I’ve never lived in any other western state, I couldn’t tell you if Texas is similar or different to some of its western neighbors.  I can only compare it to Florida, Georgia, South and North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York where I lived or visited in the first 35 years of my life.

One thing that did become very clear in the first year of living here is what I like to call “the pride of Texas.”  This is the first state that I’ve lived in that focuses on teaching their kids about their state history, legend and lore. It is a required part of their school curriculum and you can even see it in the stories that are found in the library.

I take my kids to a local library on a regular basis and we’ve found well-known children’s stories that have been re-written with a Texan twist.

The Gingerbread Man has become “The Gingerbread Cowboy.”  This cowboy made of gingerbread goes running across the desserts of Texas being chased by cowboys, buffalo and other Texan ‘villains’ before being eaten by the sly coyote crossing a river.

Then there is the slightly disturbing retelling of the three little pigs in a story about three little gators being chased by a ‘big bottomed boar’.  The boar destroys the first two gator’s flimsy homes with a “bump, bump, bump” of his large rump.  When he can’t knock down the third gator’s home, he tries to scoot his body (rump first) down the chimney.  The gators respond by heating up their grill.  The boar’s large behind gets slightly charred at which point he quickly retrieves his large proportions out of the chimney and runs away never to be seen again.

Side note: My sons really got a kick out of me acting out the role of the big-bottom boar knocking down the gators’ homes.

I think my favorite book so far is the Texas ABC’s.  Every letter of the alphabet has a picture of something from Texas.  Jared helped me take pictures of the pages, because I thought they were so cute.

I’m sure there are other books re-told Texan style.  I’ve only pointed out the few examples with which I have already become familiar.  Let me know if you know of any more, or if you know of another state that has its own similar stories.

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Experiencing Dora Live

For those of you who might think that kids are getting a real glimse of Latin culture and Spanish language through the Dora the Explorer videos sold in the U.S., think again. 

We were recently at the birthday party held for the first birthday of a couple who work at the school.  The husband has been teaching the elementary Spanish classes for the past two years.  He and his wife and entire family are Ecuadorian.

They put together a huge party which included blow up bouce house, face painting and a cotton candy machine (all which their one year old couldn’t enjoy, but her elementary aged guests could).  After a couple hours of free play, the kids were brought together for the great “show.”  A very animated lady on a microphone greeted all the children.  Behind her it was hard to miss the “Dora the Explorer” theme in the decorations and the birthday cake. 

But we didn’t expect what came next.  Suddenly a live “Dora” came out from behind the bushes to dance and sing with the children.  Soon, a live “Boots”  (“Botas” in Spanish) who was actually taller than the Dora figure, also joined the circle of children.  The kids were going crazy trying to shake their hands or give them hugs.  Jared and Luke weren’t sure what to think about the people with the big plush heads. 

Luke does a double-take on Dora's large head.

Then Dora and Boots began to sing and dance and encourage all the children to join them.  However, I’ve never seen Dora shake her hips on the video as much as she did at this birthday party.  That girl had some real latin moves going on. 

At one point, the kids were sprayed with white foam during the singing and dancing.

Of course, all this activity was taking place completely in Spanish. The two characters led the children in some jumping and dancing games and then finished off by breaking a pinata over their laps so that everyone would have the same opportunity to get some birthday candy.

It was a birthday party that Jared and Luke will not forget for a while.

It’s Coffee Time

“Did the boys have their coffee this morning?”

This had to be the strangest question I had ever heard someone ask me.  After all, my boys are under three years of age.  Every time that the nanny would ask me this question, I had to do a double take until I realized what she was trying to say.

An important staple in most Latin American homes is freshly, ground coffee.  I remember growing up smelling coffee brewing in every house that I used to visit with my parents.  My dad often drank instant coffee at home, so we usually saw someone drinking it every day. 

However, I never actually got into drinking coffee myself.  On top of that, I married a guy who also doesn’t drink coffee. 

Although coffee is not an exclusive trademark of South American homes, there is a distinct difference between the use of coffee in the United States and in Latin America.  In the U.S. coffee is still primarily an “adult” drink.  Pregnant women are told to avoid it as much as possible and parents of young children are told not to give it to them. 

Here in Ecuador, parents are encouraged to begin giving their young children small tastes of coffee to help them adjust to the flavor. 

Asking someone if they “had their coffee” had become synonymous with asking if they had eaten their breakfast.  This was a tradition I had never noticed growing up here as a child, but I find it quite humorous now.  Although I now realize what they are trying to ask me when they ask if the boys have had their coffee, I still balk at responding with a “yes.”

Hey, I don’t even drink coffee, so I’m not going to feed it to my kids.

The “Loose Change” Issue

One of the convenient things about being a U.S. citizen, living in

A typical Susan B. Anthony coin seen used by Ecuadorians.  (Image from - treehugger.com)
A typical U.S. dollar coin seen used by Ecuadorians. (Image from – treehugger.com)

Ecuador, is that you never have to worry about monetary exchange rates.  Ecuador is the only country in South America that uses the U.S. dollar as their national currency.  This happened at the turn of the century when the Ecuadorian economy hit rock bottom, leaving the value of their own money (the sucre) as practically void of any value.

 Although the transition from the sucre to the dollar was painful, especially those in poor communities, the country was able to stabilize its economic situation.  It is also interesting to see how Ecuadorian citizens use their “dollars” differently than in the U.S.  It seems that the U.S. must have donated some of their old Susan B. Anthony dollar coins to Ecuador.  There are also a lot of dollar coins with the Sacagawea image that are used here.   I have never seen so many of these coins in the U.S. as I see used here.  However, it makes more sense culturally, since it reflects the indigenous culture here where women still carry their babies around in slings on their backs.

It makes sense that these coins are especially used by those in the lower economic strata.  For these citizens and entrepreneurial business people with small businesses, cash is king.  Having a bank account is a mark of luxury.  Very few have credit cards or handle checks of any kind. 

One prime example is the lady who cares for our sons while I’m teaching.  Her name is Marina Hernandez. She’s in her late 50’s and she’s never had a bank account in her life. 

“I need $100 to start a bank account,” she told me once. “I just don’t have that kind of money.” 

Therefore, I must pay her in cash.  Her payday is on Friday.  One particular Friday, I found that I did not have change.  I had a $20, but I needed to break it down to give Marina a $10 bill to go with the rest of her pay.  So, I put Jared and Luke in a stroller and took off down the street near our home. 

I stopped at a pharmacy to buy something.  They didn’t have change, so I used the last few coins in my wallet and continued on to another store.  I stopped at a corner bakery and tried to buy a few bread rolls that were less than $2 total.  When I presented my $20, the lady shook her head.  She had no change.  I was about to leave the store without buying the bread, when she said something that shocked me.

“Oh, that’s O.K.  Just take the bread.  You can pay me back later.”

When I asked her if she was sure about that, she said, “Oh, I know you’ll be coming back.  Just pay me the next time you are here.”

Well, I left the store feeling a little amazed at her trust, but still needing to get some change.  So, I stopped at another street vendor to buy two pints of strawberries that were worth $2.  The lady also gave me the same response.

She said she had no change, but I could pay her back later. Wow, at this rate, I’m going to be owing everyone money all the way down the street!

Finally, I came to a little stationary store and bought a ball for Jared and a few other items.  The purchase was going to be about $5.  I pulled out my $20, and to my dismay, the lady said she had no change.

However, she looked to a customer who was purchasing something behind me and managed to get the change I needed, from him, to give to me.

Finally, I had my change.  I was able to go back and pay everyone else that I owed money to, and get back home to give the $10 to Marina. I had learned two valuable lessons that day.  First, street vendors are very trusting and generous to their regular customers.  Second, never leave the house without some loose change handy!

Stephen’s Lessons in Ecuadorian Culture and Language

Stephen’s three weeks of intensive language classes gave him more than just a taste of the Spanish language.  He was also able to go on some “field trips” with his teachers and classmates to some of Quito’s cultural attractions.  Stephen has appreciated being able to learn more about the country in which we have our ministry.  It is especially significant, because we didn’t have the time or opportunities to do much sight-seeing during our first year of living in Quito.  These opportunities have helped enrich Stephen’s cultural experience here.

The first place that his class went was to a wax museum in Quito known as the “Museo Albert Nema Caamaño” of Quito.  He took lots of pictures of the wax figures that were made to represent different historical periods of Ecuador and the diverse people groups that are included within the Ecuadorian borders. 

They also visited a small museum dedicated to the works of Osvaldo Guayasamin.  Guayasamin was a contemporary modern artist whose works became most popular throughout Latin America, although he is also known in Europe.  Stephen was able to see many of his works displayed in the Museo Guayasamin.  If you are interested in seeing his work that focused on abstract representations of human bodies and body parts, you can visit his website: http://www.guayasamin.com

The second field trip that his class took was to the Botanical Gardens of Quito.  Here Stephen got to see some of the interesting and exotic plants that grow in the diverse landscapes of Ecuador.  Although I lived in Quito for nine years of my childhood, I had not really stopped to realize how much diversity there is in the landscape of Ecuador. 

Ecuador boasts of tall mountains and deep valleys.  Its mountainous area has its own dry and spring-like climate and temperature.  If you travel down to the coast, you have a completely different climate that is warm and humid all year long.  The humidity level rises if you head down to the jungle area.  The climate there is even warmer and muggier than the coast.  And finally, if you travel away from the mainland, you will find the Galapagos Islands with an island climate different from the rest of the country.

With special care, the Botanical gardens are able to maintain plants from each of these climates. Stephen had fun taking pictures of many flowers and plants that he found to be interesting.

Once Stephen’s three week intensive course was finished, he was left to practice his Spanish on his own, and to do his own sight-seeing.  However, he was also given an opportunity to join a Spanish class field trip to some other museums in the city.

They visited the same wax museum that Stephen had been to before.  From there, they traveled toward Quito’s “Old Town” area to visit some of the old Catholic churches that had been build there in the 16th century. Located in the main plaza, each church boasts of fine silver and gold inlaid into its architecture.

The largest church is called the San Francisco church. According to GoogleEarthHacks.com, the church was built in the 16th century and was known as the “richest” church in South America for many years.  The gold is specifically found in its altar room where the walls are coated in Inka-Gold from floor to ceiling.  However, they were not able to visit that church because of renovations taking place to restore and maintain the ancient structure.

They were able to visit the church known as La Compañia.  It is known as “The Gold Church” because it has one ton of gold layered within the walls from the main entrance to the altar area. 

The sad thing is that some of the poorest in Ecuadorian society sit in front of these churches to beg.  All it would take is a little chip off the walls inside the building to completely change the economic situation for these people.

Signs I’ve only seen in Ecuador

Although I’m an American citizen by birth and nationality, I have lived most of my live outside of the United States.  Nevertheless, I can safely say that there are certain things that I’ve found astonishing or hilarious while living in Quito, Ecuador.  I never noticed them when I lived here as an adolescent, but I’m definitely noticing them now.  So, let me share with you some signs I’ve only seen in this country.  If you’ve seen something similar in the U.S., please let me know. I would love to hear a comparison.

(Note: I’ve translated these signed into English, but they appeared first in Spanish). 

#1 – Please show your level of education when you use this urinal. 
Comment – Hmmm…it must take a certain level of education to know how to flush a toilet properly or how to dispose of toilet paper.  I wonder what they expect of those who have their master’s degree or Ph.D.? 

#2 – This ice cream treat consists of vanilla flavored vegetable grease and covered with chocolate.
Comment – Yummm…I’m sure this advertisement strategy would not work in the U.S. Or perhaps there is a certain group of people out there just dying for a taste of “vanilla flavored vegetable grease.” 

#3 – Please decide what item you wish to pull out before you open the door.
Comment – This sign was posted on the door of the frozen food section in the grocery store.  I’m guessing they’ve had trouble with people just opening the freezer door and standing there for hours staring at all the rows of frozen vegetables and microwave dinners. 

#4 – When you go shopping, think “Ecuador” first.
Comment – This is actually one of the slogans that belong to a political campaign against imported goods.  The current presidential administration is trying to encourage people to buy goods that are made in Ecuador instead of buying those are that imported by foreign companies.

As I see more interesting signs, I’ll be sure to update this post.