Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Cat's Eyes Are the Bee's Knees

As I've been told several times down here, I have what are considered, "Cat's Eyes," meaning because of the color and dilation of my pupils, my eyes resemble those of a cat. Well, in the eyes of the Ecuadorians, anyway. Behind my back I've been called "El Gato," by my students, but it's not an insult. It's more of a term of endearment. And many people, as it would turn out, are either jealous of this or curious.

Sometimes I find that people stare deeply into my eyes as if they've never seen anything like it. Obviously many people in Cuenca have had experience with foreigners, but few get the chance to actually talk to one for an extended amount of time and get to know them. So for the people I've gotten to know, it's like a treat that they get to look into my eyes. It can be a bit weird of course. I've never liked that much attention anyway, and now I am supposedly the ideal of beauty with blond hair and blue eyes. It's more strange because that would never be the case back home.

Sometimes it can really get annoying. On the days when I don't want to be noticed it seems as though everyone is staring and turning around to look at me. It's like being a freak. Other times I just roll with it and let it be. In the United States I'm just another blond guy. There is literally no big deal about it. I've always been aware that many people would like to have blond hair, and I'm also obviously aware of the stereotypes that come along with being blond. But it's just not a big deal. Here, however, it's exotic and different.

One friend in Riobamba, who is blond, found out that the maid in the house was using her hairbrush. Someone told her it could be because she was hoping to get some of the blond hairs in her own. There's something odd about being so different, but at the same time it gives you a chance to look back and reflect.

For me, I've had to think about what it's like for people in the United States who are seen as different. There is no way I could ever know what it's like to walk a day in their shoes, just as they could never know from mine, but I think I might have an idea. And if that's all I have, at least it's a leg up on someone else who has never been the oddball. And hopefully that will give me enough perspective to never regress to the kind of behavior of making someone else feel insecure or inferior.

I don't enjoy all of the attention that I get as a result of my hair or eyes, and in some cases I feel that it puts me at more risk. But it's something that I have to get deal with here, and in fact, as I've spent more time here now, some of the people seem to be getting used to it. Luckily, I've learned to just take things as they are, and I am more accepting of what is going on around me. I've still prone to bad days, but for the most part I walk by without noticing all of the stares. And the more Ecuadorian friends I make, the less of a problem it seems to be. With time it could be nothing at all.

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