For the past few days, I shut off my phone, lived with no electricity or soap, and opened my heart to the amazing Waorani People. When preparing for Ecuador, the concept of being a flexible traveler was stressed above all else. With almost no itinerary, my expectations for the trip were formed off of my own imagination. My group is the first ever to take the Plus3 program to Ecuador, so our advisors could not exactly tell us what to expect either.
Not only was I apart of the first Plus3 Ecuador groups, I was a part of the the first group of students to visit the Gomaton community. The Iyarina Lodge had made a connection with the Waorani, and decided to build a lodge for students and researchers to stay in as they immerse themselves in the culture and way of life of the Indigenous groups of the Amazon. Gomaton is only one “nation” of Waorani, which is made of about 4,000 individuals. Most of the other Waorani nations live completely un contacted.
My expectations for staying with the community was immersion. I knew that I would be without connection to the “outside world”, pushing me to truly get to know the people. I was told they have a cacao operation, so I expected those operations to consume the purpose of our excursion. While we did spend time helping them plant new cacao trees, my takeaway was their entrepreneurial spirit. The Indigenous groups of Ecuador are currently fighting for their rights. In doing so, they must be open to entering the world market which simultaneously threatens their way of life. If you have not experienced their way of life, you may not understand why it is something to be preserved. They are a tight-knit community, a family who works in rhythm with another. The young girls took a liking to me, one was glued to my side. I learned how bright they were; as well as social and kind. I admit, I am not educated on all of their hardships and challenges, but I know their potential is endless.
Inspired by our time with the Waorani community, my study group decided to create a hypothetical chocolate company for our final project. The mission is to provide a structured system for income and growth to Indigenous people by using the beans that they grow. In laying out the structure, goals, and values of our fine chocolate company, it became clear that I need to do better on the topic of decolonization. In my recent global studies class, we focused a lot on the impact of colonization, paired with the concept of othering. I am now putting those ideas into action, and witnessing what they mean up-close. I am excited to further explore those ideas and be intentional in how I approach such topics in my professional career.
At this point in the trip, I have learned to let go of expectations for they only limit how I experience moments of enlightenment. All at once, I connected what I have learned academically to my current experiences and furthermore to what type of professional I wish to be. Traveling means to leave expectations behind and embrace opportunity instead.