I intended to finish Ecuador with the dog attack detailed in the last couple of posts, but that would ignore one of the most interesting people I met on my trip. After I had gotten sick of hostels in Cuenca, Ecuador, I booked a room in a family home on airbnb. When I arrived, they told me that there was also an American girl there called Sakura. Having eaten at a great sushi restaurant in London for many years with the same name, I assumed she would be an American girl of Japanese or half-Japanese descent. So I was surprised when I was introduced to a short blonde girl from Colorado. She was doing an intensive Spanish course and living with the family.
The walls were thin, so we could always overhear each others conversations. I heard her talking on skype with what I assumed was her girlfriend. The way she talked, telling her partner how beautiful she looked, reassuring her that she loved her, it was an easy assumption to make. Sakura could her me having constant skype arguments with Cristina, the girl I’d left behind to go travelling, and I could Sakura’s arguments and despair from time to time. We didn’t talk to each other much beyond a friendly hello here and there.
Then one night I said I was hungry and Sakura told me she’d seen an outdoor place serving skewered meat that she wanted to visit. Sounded good to me, and we ate and had our first real conversation.
Sakura means cherry blossom in Japanese, and it was a name her parents had found in a book of baby names and liked. Her boyfriend ( she called him her boyfriend with the Ecuadorian family) was going through a sex change to become a woman. She had the sense that Ecuador was a fairly homophobic country. She told me that she was watching TV with the father in the family we stayed with, and when wo men had started kissing on the program, he changed the channel. Of course there could have been another reason he wanted a different channel. Either way, she felt more comfortable explaining him as a boyfriend.
“Are you bisexual?” I decided to ask, not sure if it was appropriate, but curious how someone decides to date a guy turning into a girl.
“No, I’m straight. And if I’d met him after his operations I probably wouldn’t date him. But I met him as a guy and want to stay with him,” she told me. Who knows how that will work out, but it’s interesting.
She also told me she hadn’t spoken to her parents in seven years, and said it as if it was a normal thing. When I asked, she realised that it was a surprising thing to say. “They didn’t do anything wrong, they’re just not very nice people,” she half-explained to me. She was also curious about one aspect of my personality. “Are you a shy person?” she asked.
“I’m not shy…I’m a quiet person,” I declared.
“That’s what I was going to ask next.”
For those that don’t think there’s a difference – a shy person doesn’t talk much because they are afraid of other people. Either afraid of what they think, afraid of getting into a confrontation, or even afraid of relating to other people. A quiet person doesn’t talk much because they choose not to talk. Either they don’t see much value in it, they would rather listen and observe, or because they are with people they don’t want to relate to. After dinner she took me for a tour of Cuenca, showing me the river, and finishing up in a playground. They had a giant rope swing, and we both took a couple of turns, unsupervised grown children swinging in the moonlight.
The last time I saw Sakura, she told me the grandmother of the family had just died. I had met the grandmother just the night before, and she had seemed fine. Heart attack. It was a shock to our host family, who still did their best to be good hosts and look after us even though they just returned from a funeral.
The dead get buried or cremated quick in hot countries. On that sad note, I’ll end my posts on Ecuador. Peru next.