Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 3, 2006
"Man, Mom, you were a giant!"
To celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the recruiter on campus asked me to bring in mementos and photos from my two years as a volunteer in Ecuador 30 years ago. I figured it might also be fun to share some of my experiences at the high school. So I decided to produce a PowerPoint presentation - a slide show generated by computer software.
It had been awhile since I'd looked inside the box containing letters and other Peace Corps keepsakes, among them my first passport, my Peace Corps identification card, a list of volunteers in my group, letters to and from family members and notes on Ecuadorian history and culture.
I hadn't looked at my photos from Ecuador in a long time either. Many of them had faded while others had turned reddish-purple. Thirty years ago, the quality of the color printing process wasn't the best. Still, I found enough compelling shots for a nice presentation.
Looking at the photos, I could almost smell the pungent aromas of the open-air markets, filled with cabbages, oranges, pineapples, fish, bananas and more. It was there I first ate avocados, shrimp and lobsters.
After I assembled the slide show, I had Katie watch it with me two or three times. She has done several PowerPoint presentations at school, so I wanted to get her "expert" opinion on what I had put together.
She advised me to center the text in a couple of slides and brighten some of the photos in others. She commented on how poor some of the Ecuadorian people looked and how I didn't have gray hair back then. She also said my clothes looked like something "out of the '70s," which of course they were.
I had to laugh at her reaction to some of the pictures. In one, I was standing with a group of Ecuadorians and I was at least a head taller than the next tallest person.
"Man, Mom, you were a giant!" she said. I told her that sometimes the local men would call out "Mamasotas" - Big Mamas - when my Peace Corps friends and I walked by. Of course, the fact that I had gained 15 pounds might have had something to do with that. The Peace Corps nurses had told us that female volunteers typically gained 10-15 pounds whereas males lost the same amount. I never quite figured out why, although I did notice I was eating more bread, rice and potatoes than normal. Most of my male counterparts weren't used to cooking for themselves and usually didn't pay much heed to the warning to boil water so the intestinal parasites probably had a field day in their systems.
I guess I was pretty conspicuous in Ecuador. Tall and light-skinned with light brown hair, I definitely stood out in a crowd. Although I sometimes felt as though I was living in a fish bowl, for the most part I felt appreciated. And the feeling was mutual. I appreciated the opportunity Peace Corps gave me to learn about another country and its people - and to understand myself better in the process.