In Ecuador,in the home of my nuera, my daughter-in-law, there is not a TV in the living area. In fact, I've visited several of their relative's homes and none of them have a TV in the main living area. I know that there are homes in many parts of the world that cannot afford a TV so that's the least of their issues and I know there are some homes in the United States who also keep their living areas TV free. A couple of my friends actually have this practice but when I visit Ecuador I have the privilege of staying with my consuegra, my daughter-in-law's mother sometimes for extended periods. Perhaps the simple fact that they have a word for the mother or father of their son or daughter's in-law is an example of how different their culture is than ours.
Our home is not TV free. We have managed to keep the TV out of the bedroom but it has a strong presence in our kitchen. When the families that I have met in Ecuador gather their main activity is conversation. I was lucky enough to be invited to the home of one of the aunts for Fanesca. We were away from the city and her family was gathering for a traditional Ecuadorean feast. It's celebrated after Easter (Semana Santa.) In the past, all the farmers would come together after they harvested their grains, which normally occurred after Easter. It was explained to me that different farmers grew different types of grains and so each family would contribute to the fanesca, the potato type soup. It also contained many different types of beans. The celebration I attended had a fruit salad as its first course. In Ecuador the variety of fruit is amazing. I was told there are 40 different types of bananas. After the fruit came the soup. When the fanesca was served I was amazed that they had enough dishes and glasses to serve everyone, no paper or plastic. The accoutrements for the soup included empanadas, pickled vegetables, hard boiled eggs and some sort of fish that looked like flaked tuna but tasted much saltier. You decided if you wanted all or some of the sides to put into your soup. I tried them all but I had been forewarned about eating too much of the grain-bean entree because visitors didn't necessarily digest the soup easily. After the soup came birthday cake and ice cream. I knew I could digest that just fine.
At the aunt's home there were three buildings. The first was the home of her son and his family. Then, there was her home. It was a simple stone building with 1 bedroom. There is no heat or air conditioning. If it's cold, you close the windows; if it's hot, you open them. The third building was the family gathering space. The day I visited, there were around 30 people, all ages. When we arrived I, a complete stranger, was kissed by everyone there who could walk. If someone was chatting with another or sitting down or running around playing, their activity came to a halt and they came over to greet us.
We were there about 4 hours. We talked and then we talked some more. Most of the adults made an effort to come over and sit with me and let me share some of my visit in my halting, stumbling Spanish. The really good news was how many of them are fluent in English. I also watched. The children even the teenagers either ran around playing outside or just gathered and talked. There wasn't any type of electronic gadgets being used by anyone. Although many of the adults had cell phones, few of them paid any attention to them. I wondered if the existence of the cell phone was the beginning of the demise of this delightful "unhooked" tradition.
Everywhere we went during my visit it was the same. Warm greetings from all and people who seemed to value time and connecting to each other more than what was going on somewhere else or what was coming next. Most evenings at home with my host family, we sat and talked or my daughter-in-law spent hours helping me with my Spanish. One evening we sat and played cards, four of us including one of the teenage granddaughters. It was delightful.
I had been thinking of redoing my living room to include one of those big screen TVs that they show in all the commercials. We have a TV but it's behind a cabinet and it's seldom used. After my Ecuadorian experience I'm wondering if I shouldn't remove it and the kitchen TV and try life "unhooked." I wonder if our family gatherings would include more talking or if everyone would simply go off to find their personal way of connecting somewhere else. My eldest daughter and her husband and his boys are good at being present to family and friends. I wonder if it's a personality trait, a cultural trait or if it's something that can be learned? I wonder if our American culture will allow us to "unhook?" I actually find myself worrying about us loosing the art of visiting and communicating.
The cartoon Wally was a satire about what will happen to us in the future if we don't make an effort to change. The people of earth were now living on a space ship because they had wrecked the earth. Their arms and legs no longer functioned because they had floating recliners and in front of them they had floating monitors and that's how they communicated. They weren't even aware of the people next to them until this rogue robot appeared and kept upsetting everything.
I know our monitors and chairs are not floating yet but have you watched people on the streets or in the airports or at parties? How many times have you been talking with someone when their cell phone rang and they answered it, like you're not even there or like this person calling is more important than you or like the caller will never call back or not leave a message? Once again I am being called to stay present to the moment and to the people I am with. My daughter-in-law describes my son, a computer programmer, as someone who is "easy to unhook." He doesn't even take his phone with him when he plays golf. I think that's great!
There's my goal, I want to be "unhooked." Actually, I'm pretty good at it. The issue, and that's a whole other story, is that I want my whole family to be unhooked and I know I am not in charge of changing anyone except myself. I think if I suggested removing the TV from the kitchen, some in my family would revolt. Maybe I could just cover it with a towel and try doing without for a week or two. I'm also considering putting a basket by the front door in which people can drop their gadgets. Do you think anyone would come visit us anymore? What if I promised to still feed them? What if I promised they could retrieve them at any time as long as they used them outside the house, like most public places do with cigarettes. I can see it now, most of my family standing on the front steps or in the driveway until I call "dinner is served!"