My wife, Rita, and I have been living in Salinas on the Pacific coast of Ecuador for almost five years now, and we have started the process of applying for Ecuadorian citizenship. This isn’t a political statement, as we are still keeping our U.S. citizenship—it’s just that there are some real advantages to being a citizen of more than one country, and having a second passport.
To prepare for our interviews and a test on Ecuadorian history and culture, I’ve been reading the Ecuadorian Constitution lately. It is really very interesting, and I couldn’t help but compare it to the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. version is a thoughtful and historic document, full of almost poetic language as it strives to “secure the Blessings of Liberty.” For the most part, it is concerned with laying out the form and function of the government. Two years after its ratification, the Bill of Rights was added—citizens were promised certain rights, and more limits were placed on government.
The Ecuadorian Constitution is a bit more prosaic. It is very upfront with the rights of Ecuadorian citizens. For example, it states they have the right to food, water, shelter, healthcare, education—even discounts and protection for senior citizens are part of the Constitution. All of this stems from the idea of having the chance to live la Vida Buena, the “Good Life.”
What does the Good Life mean? Here in Ecuador, it means to live a life with good food and good health, and with respect for each other. The Good Life means cherishing the young and caring for the elderly. Even acceptance of other cultures, traditions, and languages is promised, and on environmental issues, every citizen can file a claim to stand up for Pacha Mama if they feel Mother Earth is threatened.
It seems that in the States, the Good Life has a different meaning. In the U.S., the emphasis seems to be on how many things you have, what kind of car you drive, if you have the latest cellphone, or the newest Fitbit, or all of the other electronic minutiae of North American life. Are you shopping at the best stores, eating in the best restaurants, watching the latest movies?
Since we moved to Ecuador, our lives have become filled with experiences rather than with consumer products. We found that after an initial adjustment period, we are actually happy that we do not need to own a car. We spend two or more hours walking each day for fun and exercise, and we spend more time watching the sunrises and sunsets over the ocean than we spend watching TV. I look forward to my trips to the local market, to see what fresh produce the vendors have today that I will use to cook a healthy, wholesome meal tonight. I like that the fishmonger recognizes me, and smiles when he yells “pangora!” to let me know he has my favorite crab claws this morning.
Sure, it is great when we go to a local restaurant and have a delicious lunch for $3 each, or a simple Ecuadorian dinner for $9. It is great that for a 30 cent bus ride we can go to Big Ralph’s, and get a gourmet meal from an English-trained chef for less than half of what it would cost in the States—but it really is not about the money. We are not in Ecuador because we can live the cheap life: We are here because we can live the Good Life.