Friday, Aug 24, 2018

How Close Are You?

Living in Ecuador requires a relaxed attitude about how close other people are to you. I’m not talking about relationships, like how close you are to your family and friends. This isn’t an issue about how far you are from your family and friends now that you live in Ecuador. What I am referring to though is how close in proximity people are to you. It is a conversation about personal space.

Personal space becomes especially apparent here when standing in “lines”, or traveling on buses. More often than not while standing in line I can feel the breath of the person behind me on my neck, usually I can feel them making contact with me on some part of my body. On the bus I find my self shoulder to shoulder, or thigh to thigh, or butt to back, you name it, it happens on the bus. This different sense of personal space is such a curiosity to me, coming from the US where personal space is king. 

Think about being in the middle seat of the airplane. Do you like it, or are thinking “Gawd…please don’t touch me.” On the rare occasion I ended up in the middle seat, my personal space OCD used to kick in. As it is now, I don’t care any more…or at least I usually don’t. I have chosen to view the contact as humanity in all its warmth, colors, smells, and textures. It is actually incredibly cool now to me.

My Personal Space Shrinks

I became aware the other day on the bus of just how desensitized I have become to this. I was riding home from Montanita to San Jose. When I got on the bus I sat in the first seat next to the window. I was looking out the window lost in my thoughts as we came into and through Olon. After a bit I felt a body next to mine. I turned and a mom, with her small daughter in her lap, were sitting next to me. The kid’s leg was on mine and the mom’s shoulder was butted up against my shoulder. I could not tell you when this happened. Right then and there I decided I have experienced a shift in my own personal space awareness since moving here.

The most extreme example of no-boundary-personal-space was when I traveled on the bus to Peru. I was in the aisle seat. Side note: I still do choose the aisle seat because I can’t always control when my personal space OCD flares up. I need at least a chance of escaping a too-much-for-me situation when it does. Anyway, this women sits in the seat next to me on this 9 hour, middle of the night, bus ride.

After the movie finished, it is about midnight and everyone is starting to fall asleep, including the woman next to me. It wasn’t long before she turned to her left and is now sleeping on her side. The next thing I know, her more-than-generous backside is pressed up against my lower left side and thigh. I mean…this is where my wife would be. Personal space! And even though I was in the aisle, there was no place to go. Should I spoon? Geesh. 

Your Bus Seat Is Only An Illusion

personal spaceA bus ride from Olon to Montanita often involves a stop at the school where on any given day upwards of 50 kids will pile into an already full bus. They bus driver tells them to keep moving to the back until the seats as well as the aisle are packed tight. How tight you ask? When the door closes, kids are sitting on my shoulder or have their armpit over my head. I feel like I’m inside a Pillsbury pop and fresh dough cylinder that’s sat at room temperature for too long and ready to pop. Let me out!


Knowing this school pick-up happens regularly does require planning. If I am anywhere but in the first two rows of the bus when it pulls up to the school, I have to get up and move as close to the front door as I possibly can. When the bus arrives in Montanita this river of children will not be flowing out the door. Their stops happen later. 

And like a salmon fighting for his life swimming upstream, it is a literal swim through an aisle of children with bulky backpacks, suckers, and even ice cream in hand to make it out the bus door before it takes off again. It is not a swim for the timid or weak.  

What Do We Really Control?

Dealing with this everyday living here has been good for me. It is chaotic, messy, and often out of my control. When I think about it, how much control do we really have? We are just a bunch of humans living on this blue orb spinning in an infinite space. Maybe we aren’t so big and important to get offended or outraged when another human being invades OUR personal space.

Living here and having these experiences helps remind me of this. I have the freedom to choose to be present, stay curious, and observe myself and others in our dance of humanity. And what a dance it is.