Riot Acts

Photo Cred: Juan Garcia Delgado

Ecuador declares a state of emergency following protests and strikes as a result of an increase in gas prices, alongside a number of other economic reforms that will have sweeping effects on the working class.

Videos of tires burning in the streets. People throwing rocks. Crowds chanting. Running wildly with arms full of loot. Huge caravans of military vehicles lined with gun toting guards. Bystanders with cellphones in hand recording it all. The activity filled my Facebook feed in a fury along with commentary that ran the gamut. So many sides that when faced with in the United States, I can use a lifetime of experience to reason my way through to make informed decisions. That here, becomes a barrage of facts and opinions, each sounding just as logical as the opposing viewpoint. Without which having a solid foundation of personal knowledge to go on, leaves me unsure of what will happen next.

Our game plan was to lay low.  School was canceled.  And aside from an early morning run to the store so we could stock up on food, we did not leave the safety of our gated community.

Less out of fear.

But more out of uncertainty.  

As an expat, these kinds of situations remind me again of the intricacies that live and breath inside a society and culture that I will probably never crack the code of. Ways of being that are completely natural to a native, but can be shocking to a newcomer. One whose Spanish is not quite fluent. And grasp of the political and historical state of the nation remains cursory at best.

Corruption. Yes. Extreme poverty. Of course. Destruction of natural resources and the subjugation of the indigenous people. Oil. China. Debt. Loans. The IMF. Offshore accounts containing millions of dollars.

So much of the same bullshit that happens everywhere, uniquely playing out and reflecting those things unspoken that are ingrained within a people. Things that don’t make a lot of sense to me in the same way that responses to injustice from where I come from would probably look pretty strange to someone else from someplace else. Social media rants that go nowhere and politely organized events with hipsters holding brightly colored signs, posed with an Instagram perfect face of outrage – painting a more stylish picture than the uprisings here. Unbridled rage erupting with a fury of emotion coupled with a game plan that everyone seemed to know included fire and more of it. Reminding me of that time in college when the masses rioted following a basketball tournament.

I can’t even remember if we had won or lost.

Couches aflame. Plumes of thick tear gas. We holed up at a friend’s house watching people fall to the ground gasping for air and vomiting. Quickly shuttling in a few that lay motionless on the lawn. Police shooting canisters into the crowd. A frenzy that captured a community of sports fans turning them from your average 20-somethings into crazed masters of destruction running on adrenaline and group think. Flipping over cars and throwing whatever wasn’t nailed down out windows.

The only difference being that instead of a mindset limited to one college campus, the hysteria that has ensued has encapsulated the entire country spanning every major city in Ecuador.

So what does it all mean?

Apparently, it’s par for the course.  What locals have relayed is that this kind of response is normal.  The people rise up.  The military comes in.  And all goes back to what it was before.  The general consensus being to stay inside and wait it out.  No real concerns that it will escalate to anything more than vandalism, looting and some not too damaging skin-to-skin violence. Rubber bullets at worst.

And while I’m still not sure how to gauge the seriousness of the situation. Whether it’s a typical reaction that just feels super intense to an outsider. Or something I should be worried about.

I don’t know.

What I do know is that it’s shocking to see the impact an extra dollar per gallon of gas has in a country where the median income rests below $400 a month. A wage that often means long and hard hours of work. And I’m reminded of how lucky we are. The stark contrast of the inequalities that exist between my home country and country of residence. Ones that feel incomparable in so many ways, but at the same time represents struggles and challenges that at a very basic level effect our ability to provide for our families and the right to live freely at the hands of greedy politicians who put their pockets above the needs of everyone else.

So for now, I watch the news as it rolls in. Assessing as best I can with what I have to go on. Feeling like someone who has walked into the movie with only fifteen minutes until it ends. Trying to wrap my head around what I see in front of me without knowing what happened before, except for what has otherwise been relayed to me. A position that leaves me slightly unsettled, but nonetheless a little bit wiser.

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