Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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What Are You Doing?

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I was sneaky, very sneaky, with my photo-taking during an excursion to the Saturday market in Otavalo. Not wanting to draw any more attention to myself than my pale skin and blue eyes already did, I held my camera at the level of my waist, out of view of most everyone around me, and surreptitiously pressed down on the button, often not even looking at my unknowing subjects. I wandered around the market in this fashion for most of the morning, squeezing my way through stands full of tourist-geared figurines, alpaca sweaters, and shoulder-bags, to the food market with fresh vegetables and whole roasted pigs, and then to an area containing western clothing, underwear, shoes, pirated DVDs, and a man standing with a green lovebird in a box.
When I first saw the two of them, both standing patiently, watching the crowd, I walked past, pushed onward by those around me, and wondered what on earth they were up to. Was the man charging people to take a photo with his little friend? Were they a part of a magic show where the bird entered one drawer of the box, only to exit from another a second later? Were they simply out to enjoy a Saturday at the market?
These questions continued to pursue me through the narrow streets, so that I found myself inevitably drawn back to the man and his bird, this time to capture the image. Employing my covert camera skills I snapped a picture, silently asking them, what are you doing? and then quickly moving along to watch an auction of kitchenware. I was sneaky, so sneaky. At least, I thought I was.
It was hours later, sitting on the bus and reviewing my photos from the day, that I discovered someone had caught me. Reflected in the young girl’s face was the same question I had been asking: what are you doing?
Suddenly, as I saw myself through another’s eyes, I realized how odd I must have looked, this solitary blue-eyed thing pretending to be casual with a camera held tightly at her waist. It was then that I learned that culture shock is a two-way street, regardless of the country, and I am just as strange as a man with a bird in a box. This is one of my favorite photos from my entire time in Ecuador because it captures a moment when two unintentional representatives from distinct cultures looked at each other from across a great span of differences to think, what are you doing?

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