I lived in Quito, Ecuador in 1985 as a Rotary Club International exchange student. Thirty years have passed. I still have such strong, vivid memories of my time in Quito. Some of my memories, of course, are pure nostalgia. Certain smells, sights, and sounds take me immediately back to Quito. Burning wood, or for that matter, burning tires from frequent political protests, a deep blue sky with puffy cumulous clouds, and any Andean pan pipe music which fills my soul with these hauntingly delightful memories.
Visiting traditional marketplaces was fascinating for me. All sorts of goods were available at the markets from fresh produce to livestock, plastic laundry baskets to delicious snacks, such as roasted pork. Elsie, my host mother, would always warn me, “No comes en las calles”, meaning “Don’t eat in the streets”. To Elsie, any food not prepared in her own kitchen was food prepared “en las calles”. I am certain she was concerned about my health and did not want her “gringa” to suffer any avoidable, unnecessary bouts of gastrointestinal distress. Of course, I loved to eat in the streets!
As I have mentioned previously here in my blog, I love to shop. These markets presented unusual shopping opportunities for me. Regrettably, I was not in the position to buy livestock, as much as I would have loved to have my own cow. Or a piglet. I did buy a number of handmade baskets for mere pennies. I often bought fresh flowers. Many beautiful varieties of flowers, especially roses, are grown in Ecuador. Again, for very little money I could buy an armful of blooms. Ah. Those were the days of wine and roses. Or, at least, roses.
However, the marketplaces were somewhat dangerous in that there were pickpockets and muggings. It was best to use a fair bit of caution to keep yourself and your belongings safe. My friend, Rich, had his 35mm camera stolen in a marketplace. This was especially tragic as Rich was an amazing photographer. I imagined back in 1985 that one day I would see his work in National Geographic.
Rich reported the theft to the local authorities and then did something most of his fellow exchange students, myself included, thought very ill-advised: he tracked down the thief himself. Rich began visiting all the local markets thinking his camera would turn up at one of them. He was right. After about a week, Rich found his camera for sale in the same market where he had been mugged. At that point he got the police involved and they recovered his camera. I think it is safe to say, most victims of mugging don’t see their belongings returned. I was happy it turned out okay for Rich.
Perhaps it was my experiences in the marketplaces in Ecuador thirty years ago that made me into such an avid flea marketer today. The idea of a large group of vendors gathered together with all sorts of different merchandise on display for my browsing and buying pleasure makes me very happy. Huh. I had never connected the two things before today. A bit of self-reflection is not a bad thing. A bonus of this blogging endeavor!