All I had wanted to do was buy some new gauges (the type of ear jewelry that stretches your ear piercings) that didn’t feature your standard marijuana leaf and Playboy bunny designs. I hadn’t planned on shocking the bejesus out of my conservative, devout Catholic, Ecuadorian host mother in the meantime. But you know… life happens and all that.
I had bought a pair of beautiful white elephant hangers (the type of ear gauges that hang down) to replace other “going out” hangers that I’ve lost in the past from too much head whipping action on the dance floor. But later that night I was admiring my new elephant hangers in the mirror when I noticed that a key element of elephant-ness was amiss in my new ear bling. One of the elephants had no trunk.
I was determined to find the shop and swap the ear gear STAT. The next day, after spending hours wandering the clean, busy streets of Cuenca with a pace that spoke of resolution, I had to admit defeat and head on over to a lunch date with my host family and fellow volunteer. Over soup, avocado, rice, maduro, and pork, I told them of my distress. I described the plaza where the shop was located and, god bless them, they knew instantly the place that I was looking for – only three blocks away from where we sat at that very moment.
Soon after, we made a family outing to the tattoo and piercing shop. I entered, and in followed my fellow volunteer and my extremely conservative, devout host mother.
As I stood explaining the case of the missing elephant trunk to the shop attendant, my host mother grew eyes as wide as saucers as she gazed around the very first tattoo/piercing shop I believe she had ever seen in her 64 years of life. I watched in mild horror and amusement as her now dinner plate-sized eyes drank in the anatomically correct models of phalluses and labia complete with glinting steel piercings. Her expression said that her eyes were only reserved for Jesus, and that nowhere in the Bible did they mention genital piercings.
Here I am trying to have a cultural experience and I unwittingly end up giving my Ecuadorian host mother the counter-cultural shock of her life. Well, what is cultural exchange if not shocking?