I’m not as poor as they think. They look upon me with pity, and they think I struggle. My family may not have as many cows, our plot of land may be a couple of acres less than others, but it’s not as bad as they think. I have heard of worse.
Okay, so maybe I do struggle a little bit. Maybe I do when mother is unwell and my sisters need to be cared for. I’m not as mature as I look, and it’s a tough job. Who cares for me? Maybe I do when I am only able to go as far as grade 10 with my education. Maybe I do when the eyes of the men at the river port shamelessly follow the 17-18-19 rhythm of my buttocks as I walk past with my family’s laundry on my hips. They all notice it, I know they do. And it’s not just the men either. It’s the wives who consider me competition for the attention of their husbands. It’s the young boys who are looking for some fun or for a little wife to prove their manliness. It is the little girls who wish to look like me when they grow up. They say it is in my African blood: the wide hips, large thighs, the booty, the “coca-cola shape”, they call it. Now that is where my connection with my ancestors end.
I’m nothing like them. My present situation is nothing like theirs. Abuela said many, many years ago they got stranded here, brought in on slave ships from West Africa to work these lands, but they escaped their masters, settled near the Onzole and built a home and a community. Well, I say, lucky them! lucky us! We are this new breed of never before existed Afro-Ecuadorians. One of a kind. Our home is rich in fruit trees of oranges, sugarcane, guanabana. We thrive on our rice and plantains and shrimp. Dare I say, we live quite the life. These Africans, the people of my ancestors, now they, they struggle. I’ve heard stories of their suffering from the radio in Luciano’s house. It is not pretty.
Yesterday, the gringos came back.The one who speaks our language said he would return with more of their kind to help build the school for my sisters. Or at least that is what I understood. Because then I saw her, among the gringos, but she was not their kind. She was more my kind. Skin dark like the cacao beans mother lays out in the sun to dry, large brown eyes, lashes to the heavens, not quite the coca-cola shape, but African descent nonetheless. She even seemed to share my struggle, for it appeared the young boys and the old men at the river port had eyes for her as well. She stood on the desk, silently covering up the thin planks of wood in fresh white paint. I stared. Que es tu nombre? De donde eres? She stared back at me for a couple of seconds. She had not understood. The one who speaks our language came to our rescue. Our precious Spanish-English translator.
As we spoke my eyes dug straight through hers, ready to uncover what secrets she hid. For she admitted that that continent was her home, and she had lived there all her life. Yet, her belly bulged not, neither were her eyes sunken with fear and destitute. It made no sense to me that dark-skinned one eats my plantain in her Africa and squeezes the juice from her oranges straight to her mouth like my people. She even knows that the burnt bottom of the rice pot is the best part of the meal. Yet her last couple of years were spent in school in Canada! How is this ever possibly so?
It seems we are more alike than I thought. If there is one thing I know now it is this: Our people are not all like her, able to travel the world. But they are not all like Luciano’s radio says either, hiking deserts and unable to afford a square meal. They are no lower than me, and I no lower than them. We both experience a poverty that is no fault of ours, but a product of corrupt leadership, unjust hearts, blind eyes and apathy. But we fight, oh do we fight! We fight for lives better than our ancestors’. We fight to be heard and to be educated and successful. We fight out of love and a desire for justice for our people to encourage, impassion and motivate them.
To remind them that They Too Matter.