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Attention

This post could be considered as my first ´´culture shock´´ experience. In the past, as a shy person, attention has never been something I looked for. However since I couldn´t help but get an abundance of it, eventually, I learned to work with it through humour, smiles and friendliness.

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For those of you who may not already know this, I am unusually tall for a female, and taller than most men for that matter! An old teacher used to tell me, ´´Feeling weird about your height, will only make other people feel weird about it. Strut, be proud, they will see your beauty if you feel beautiful.´´ Without shoes I stand at 6´3 inches in height. I´ve always been the tallest woman by far in every location, at school, in my neighborhood, and even in my city if you ask me. When I´m in Canada, almost every day I hear the following things:

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Stranger: ´´Wow you are tall!´´
My response: ´´Thank you, I didn’t notice ;)´´ 
Stranger: ´´How tall are you?´´
My response: ´´Tall enough to feel the rain first  . . .  Six three and 2 quarters, I grow daily its crazy :)´´
Funny stranger: ´´How´s the weather up there?´´
My response: ´´Delightful as always, the air is fresher and the view is nicer too! =D´´ 

As interns, one of the things we were advised to do was observe the culture, customs, and how people interact, before jumping in head first. The reason for this was to help us  avoid unintentionally insulting people, acting irrationally or simply creating unwanted hostility in our new environments. A previous intern told me that she was very successful building relationships because she spent the first full month just quietly observing the community she was going to work with. Having that in my mind, I arrived to Ecuador where the general population was much shorter than I was used to in Canada. Some people were literally to my hip! I can´t fit in the bus seats, or even stand up straight in most busses, I am usually crouched over and have half a bum cheek on a seat while my long legs are in the aisle. 

Needless to say, as quiet as I was being, trying to observe the new way of life I was going to immerse myself in, I felt like a big bright yellow elephant in the room that’s screaming ´´LOOK AT ME! GIVE ME YOUR ATTENTION! HELLO I AM HERE!´´ Every time I leave my house, there is not a moment I am not being stared at. When I walk by, people turn around and still continue staring until I leave their sight. Judging from my personal experience, I believe that generally, Latin Americans are much more dramatically expressive than Canadians are. Here are some of the examples of the reactions I´ve encountered thus far, after nearly 2 full weeks in Ecuador.
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Kids:  *Gasp, and begin to tug on their parents pant leg while pointing directly at me and shouting* ´´MIRA MIRA MAMA MIRA LA CHICA ALTA!´´ Meaning, ´´MOM LOOK LOOK! LOOK AT THE TALL GIRL´´ the parents then look over, and then up at my face with the funniest surprised faces!  And their mouths literally drop open.
My response: A great big smile that helps me hold back my laughter as I keep walking away.
(on a bus) Bus driver shouts to the whole bus:
: ´´DIOS MIJO ! Mira la chica alta! Que apenas cabe en el bus!´´ Meaning (MY GOD! Look at this tall girl! She can barely fit in the bus!)
That happened on my Third day, and resulted in a bus for off people DYING of laughter for a full 5 minutes. No joke.
My reaction: I joined everyone in laughter, however I was laughing at the comedy-movie-like situation and thinking ´´what are the odds of this happening to anybody else in the world?´´

And finally the last Ecuadorian-tall-moment experience that I will share but, definitely the most dramatic moment of them all. If you´re thinking (what could be more dramatic then a bus full?) you´re in for a treat.

(at bus stop downtown Guayaquil
I was waiting for the bus on my way to work, and there was a very small (especially for me) older lady with her back towards me. She was talking to a woman that could have been her daughter, and the conversation seemed intense. Suddenly daughter cut her off mid-sentence and pointed at me silently. Please note, that the closer I am to you, the taller you feel I am. It´s kind of like looking a tall building from afar and being able to see the top, and then standing right beside it with your head straight back realizing how very tall it is. The old woman turned around looking straight at my belly button at first. She then looked up and got so surprised she fell over and screamed as if she saw a ghost or something. The younger lady she was speaking to quickly caught her, with the help of a man that was also waiting for the bus. The older lady simply kept repeating:  ´´Eres demasiado alta, demasiado, demasiado alta. . .´´ Meaning (you are too tall, too , too tall.)
My response: thinking (gee thanks lady). Then I just lifted my shoulders and eyebrows with both palms in the air thinking (oh well! Out of our control.)
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Needless to say, I am most definitely not doing a good job observing the people of Guayaquil. I seem to stir up a perfectly normal situation, with my presence and everyone around reacts as if a dinosaur coming their way (without the running and screaming. . . thank goodness!) . When I enter the scene, everybody instantly stops acting natural, and all of the attention gets put on my as if there is an invincible spot light. I understand that I can only control myself, and creating such dramatic reactions on a daily basis forced me to accept the fact that this may not change. However, being an optimistic extrovert person that tries to present herself in an approachable and friendly way, I often use my height disparity as an ice breaker and say things like the following:

´´I may be tall to you, but where I´m from I am short.´´ This of course, is not true, but it always sparks great conversations. And I get reactions like ´´Oh wow! Where are you from?´´ My answer is usually, ´´Jupiter, the planet´´ After some laughs, I tell them that I'm an intern from Canada and would love to learn more about Ecuador, and develop my Spanish too. Some people wish me luck and go on their way, others tell me places I must go eat for REAL Ecuadorian dishes, and places I have to visit as well. But once in a while, you get someone that says things like ´´If you help me with English, I will help you with Spanish.´´ or even better ´´Let me be your tour guide! Come over for dinner, meet my family, I can make this a great experience for you!´´ … okay so the last one happened only one time. But it only needs to happen once to satisfy me. I now have an unofficial Ecuadorian family. I have a father that is a street artist named Luis, a mother that is a cook named Karina, and 3 triplet sisters, all named Maria, with different middle names that they go by. (I just call them all Maria, one name is much easier to memorize than 3) and an older brother (my roommate Abraham) . So far life is Tall in Ecuador, but being closer to the sun seems to give me an overdose of vitamin D, because I seriously couldn’t be happier about the adventure that has yet to come.

Comments

  1. Hilarious stories, Cassie! I'm glad you radiate confidence in yourself and your height. You're doing a great job already; don't be too hard on yourself!

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  2. Lol, oh wow it seems we are both in a sort of similar boat. I can truly relate to the never ending stares. I was contemplating winking at every stranger that stares at me for more than 10seconds, but I think that will get me into more awkward situations. So I've settled on staring back, which doesn't seem to phase them. It's truly a cultural difference. In Canada, we are raised not to stare because its rude. It seems like here, its almost a past time (jk lol). But I'm really enjoying your blog, keep updating!!! :)

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  3. Aw Cassie! I love how your handling yourself with such confidence and positive thinking, I know you are making many good friends :D. I love how different our experiences are, and I agree with Vera keep the posts coming they always make me smile! -Vero R.

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  4. Love this post Cassie - I may not be quite as tall as you but I can certainly relate.. In Nepal my husband & I were like giants! He is over 6 feet & I am 5'11'... I can't believe she fell to the ground screaming! lol

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  5. hahahahaha this post made me laugh very hard! I hope you are adjusting well since it has been a few months.

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