I spent the fall 2000 semester in Quito, Ecuador. This meant being there when they adopted the U.S. dollar and repeatedly being asked if my country had a president yet. But on to the dishes!
Part of the program was staying with a host family. My family was a really sweet couple whose children were a bit older than I was and had already moved out of the house.
Some students stayed with families with live-in maids, but my family had someone who came a few days a week to help my host mom out around the house.My host mom did all the cooking. One evening she had an event away from home, and left dinner ready for me. After eating it, I started to do my dishes; my host father told me I could just leave them.
But I insisted and tried to wash my dishes. I kept waiting for the water to warm up, and my host father explained that I shouldn’t do that, and should just use the cold water. So I did. It was partly about gender equity but also felt like it was the basic principle that you should “clean up your own mess.”
As it happened, my cousin was studying in Quito that same semester. A while later I told her this story, probably a little too pleased with myself. “You were subverting the patriarchy,” she joked.
This was an early experience negotiating the morass that is being a somewhat self-aware international traveler, wanting to be respectful of my hosts but also true to my own values. My anthropologist friends have lots of fun with that.
If I could give my younger self advice in this area, it would simply be “keep thinking about this stuff, but don’t expect it to ever be easy.”
Next post in series: Memories of dishes: sharing a house with roommates.