This past week, announced with a resounding assortment of singing, dancing, ice cream and collective relief, the Eastern Mediterranean International School, bade farewell to its first ever student body and initiated a well-deserved and anticipated summer vacation.
Perhaps not unanimously, but certainly in stock, was the excitement most students had at the prospect of returning home. For some, myself dully included, life in our country of origin was systematically abandoned. Our families, friends, neighborhoods, landscapes and language; left in the dust of our new educational venture. Our return was an auspicious event, at least in this writer’s perspective, filled with awe; some form of remembrance, as if nearly travelling into the past. It is as if we are returning to a reality, forgotten in the wake of some ephemeral dream. For me, that was my time in Israel; at least now that I have returned to my ilk and kin.
At least most of us have a story to tell upon our return, and a detailed portrayal of what marvels await in the home which was once so common and banal. I wish to explain what I found in my own.
Upon my return to Ecuador, after a gruesome 34 hour trip, an aching back, and a rather fervent dedication to “The Shining” while waiting at various airports of the world, I found a world which had not changed.
No, it had not changed in the 10 months of my absence. Perhaps the true audit lies in my further understanding. I simply saw where I had lived, in a detail I was previously unable to sustain.
For those ignorant of the illustrious land of Ecuador, it is stark news to understand its social situation. Poverty is no seldom matter, and a rather prominent lower class inhabits these bountiful lands. Of course, I use the word “poverty” with a degree of retention, since most people would not consider themselves poor, especially the indigenous.
However, this evades the main point. Ecuadorian wealth is low on average, as compared to many nations around the world, and a family which would be considered standard and middle class here, would be easily considered belonging to the lower classes in many other countries, say; Germany.
On the other side of this nation, however, exist the Social elites of the country, an aristocratic wealthy group of people which inhabit the land on equal stake. Theirs is a far smaller percentage of the country and their distance from the general public is more than palpable.
These belong to a select few families, which characteristically own large parcels of land, wealth and prestige, a quality which passes down hereditarily. It is no secret that this life style belongs to a sacredly isolated group of people, one which can only be called aristocratic. This fact perfectly explains why my grandmother can almost immediately identify the prestige, origins and background of a single last name.
But the most discouraging thing lies in the separation of these seemingly opposite poles. On what once might have felt like my side, the wealthiest have their own malls, neighborhoods, faces, expressions, language, drinks, food and culture. They are a different ethnicity all together, it seems.
And then, the lower classes, which reside on a different world, all together.
There is no doubt that both have taken to their side. The lines have been drawn, perhaps for many years, perhaps since this country was formed. This is the great divide, which has characterized our country.
The wealthy and the destitute.
The laborer and the owner.
The consumer and the creator.
When I returned to Ecuador, this separation had become clear to me. It was evident in ways I had not imagined. As I walk the streets, there is almost an aura of division. Something I might reluctantly call apartheid of the classes. My country, split in half by a tittle as simple and common as a green piece of paper, stowed away in my pocket, but all too clear on my face and clothes.
You ware wear it, your side of this division. It was you, regardless of where and who you chose to be.
Where it was that I was more welcome, I hate to imagine.
However, it was the contrast of the luscious palaces and the mock buildings that first drove me mad.
The sides drawn. The labels cast.
But there was, in my mind a parcel of hope, which may simply be my own quixotic interpretation.
As I sat at the tram station, on the 19th of June, I was invited to a rather nostalgic experience, as I was stuffed into the overcrowded tram car. There was hardly any space for me to breath, let alone move, and the entire vehicle was adrift with the air of a hundred people breathing and being starkly silent.
As I peered over the heads of these, my kin, I could not help but feel grateful and comforted by it all.
Here we all were, as human and as raw as we could be. We were more sardines in a can than people, but we could not escape ourselves. For a moment we were all jumbled together, as people, not as lawyer and waiter, worker, or minister, farmer or doctor. We could escape our profession and become the senseless pounds of meat we were born to be.
To one side, an indigenous woman, stout and short, wearing an indigenous garment and looking brown, stained by a beating sun. To the other, a white male man, 40 or so years old, wearing an elegant commanding suit, his eyes pervading a self-inflicted egotism.
For an instant they, among all of us, were forced to be together, to abandon all dignity or distinction and become the absolutely human piles of garbage we were, all hugging each other, like it or not.
God Bless Them.
We were human, the most ridiculously, unwinding element of human as possible.
There we all shared, together, as people, as Ecuadorians, not as the rich or the poor.
Upon my return to Quito, our president, Rafael Correa, a staunch leftist, had begun to pursue an invasive tax hike, in reference to inheritance.
According to local sources I consulted, cited below, taxes could reach as high as 77.5% of the total inheritance, depending on the amount passing down. This tremendous increase did not go unabated, especially among the social elite of Ecuador.
It was an upheaval, and upon my return, various strikes, riots and manifestations had already taken place; demanding an end to the increase.
The government’s position lies in aiding the poverty of the country with the money, however, special attention was given to the implications this would have on the richer families of Ecuador. As our president boldly told the public- “We have put a finger on the ulcer of the rich” as he claims the new policy will only majorly affect 2% of the country.
His new political stance, as can be clearly discerned, is one of antagonizing the rich, almost as if declaring war against the upper class.
It rang out like a Stalinist accusation. As if our president was going to war against the upper class.
Perhaps here lies the problem with the policy and position of the government. It is not the extent of the tax, or even its origin, which disturbs me, but more so it’s means. For a policy and a president to so fervently attack a social class brings about an upheaval which deserves to be insurrected.
This deserves to be challenged.
Perhaps because our country does not need a social war, does not need a greater separation between the higher elites and the working class. This declaration of war, delivered by the government, serves only to deepen the strain of our country; to further tear it apart.
There lies the trouble of our government. It has tried ardently to end the listless poverty, and how? By attacking the rich, dismantling the wealthy and exacerbating a social struggle? By defanging the social elites? By bringing about a civil war against the landed aristocracy? By persecuting human beings based merely on the content of their pockets?
What is it we need; have needed?
To bring the classes together. Not to deface the wealthy, but instead, to empower the poor. To crack down on the petty differences which divided our country since its origin.
Let not capital become the measure of our greatness, the measure of our evil, the measure of our soul.
Let instead, us be united, as people, as human beings, amongst a suffering country.
That would be equality. To bring the classes together, rather than one to attempt to destroy another.
Let us not make the existence of the rich impossible, but instead to craft a system where poverty is not real.
Let us tear down the walls of division, formed by the illusion of value and worth. And instead, let us be men and women.
Riding the tram.
Our breaths equal before our extending day.