Most of the people in Ecuador have dark skin, eyes and hair, which is a beautiful combination. I’ve always wished I had darker skin. I think a lot of light complected people from North America do, judging by how popular tanning salons and self-tanning creams are.
Many people also talk about getting that “healthy summer glow,” so I think a lot people with fair skin would like to have darker skin. I find light skin tones beautiful as well, but I guess it’s just the way it often goes – when we have one thing, we wish for something different.
Seeing Myself Differently
A few months after we moved to Ecuador I remember being shocked as I looked in the mirror.
I had spent the entire day with some Ecuadorian friends (Bryan and Drew were off doing other things) and when I got home I looked in the mirror. I guess I was expecting to see a dark skin tone looking back at me but instead I saw my fair skin and it gave me a little shock.
I know that sounds really funny – and it was – but it kind gave me a little glimpse into how different I must look to everyone here.
I know I’m not the only one that has gotten a little surprise when they saw their reflection. My father in-law told me that the same thing happened to him while they were here on vacation. That got me wondering how common it might be.
Being Seen As Different
We’ve noticed that peoples eyes linger on us a little more here than they did back in Canada. We lived in a small town and we hardly ever saw anyone of a different race or nationality. So when I would see someone different, I would take an extra long look, especially if there were children present.
I have always loved seeing people with different features and skin color. Diversity is so beautiful!
I think that is why people stare at us here in Ecuador, we are different. There are not all that many tall people with fair skin here.
Some Foreigners Get More Attention Than Others
I have dark eyes and hair so I don’t get nearly as much attention as Bryan and Drew. Ecuadorian friends have told me that I look like a local, especially when I have my sunglasses on. Some Ecuadorians have light skin like mine, but I guess my eyes are shaped differently. It’s a different story with Bryan and Drew.
Bryan is 6’3″ and literally towers over almost everyone. Combine that with his light hair and blue eyes and you’ve got an attention grabber. It’s pretty much the same mix with Drew, and because she is a child she stands out even more.
Everywhere we go we meet people that are excited to meet Drew because they don’t see many children that look like her. They smile and say “hi” to her, often commenting about her hair and her eyes, they also whisper to their children to look at “la suca” which kind of translates into “the light (or fair) one.”
That may sound funny, but I often do the same thing. I tell Drew to look at “that beautiful child.” I find the children here gorgeous – their sweet round rosy cheeks with their big round dark eyes! I’m so taken with them.
Strange But True
Another funny thing (aside from being shocked at my own reflection) that happens is when I’m looking at photos of Drew with her friends. It’s easy to forget how different we look because we live here, and we are used to looking at each other all day long.
It’s also normal to see dark skin tones everywhere, so sometimes when I see a photo of Drew she appears pale. A second later I realize that she only looks that way because everyone else in the photo has dark skin. Drew has very light skin, so the contrast is dramatic.
This only happens when I see photos of Drew with her friends, not when she is actually with them – strange but true.
Needless to say, I think my daughter is beautiful and I love her skin tone. This is just one of those funny little things that never happened before we moved abroad.
Are There Problems Involved With Standing Out?
The attention we receive is not negative attention, just as the attention I gave to different people in our small town in Canada was not negative, it only came from good thoughts. I can’t speak for everyone in Ecuador, but I know that the vast majority of people enjoy seeing the diversity that foreigners bring.
The problem with standing out is that there is an idea that foreigners are rich, and make good targets for theft. But it’s not that only foreigners get pick-pocketed, a number of our Ecuadorian friends have told us that they have been or have had their cell phone stolen. As with life in any city, it can happen to anyone.
Update (June 8 2014): We were robbed in Cuenca, although we are confident that being expats had nothing to do with it.
Yet it can not be ignored that we stand out more. Because we are aware of that, we are probably more careful than the average local about where we are and what time of day it is. It’s important to remember that most people here, just like anywhere else would never think of harming anyone.
Have you ever been shocked at your reflection after extended travel or moving abroad? Do you have any funny stories to share with us? Please share by commenting on this post.