As you’ve heard by now, a devastating 7.8 earthquake hit Ecuador last night. The death toll keeps rising and thousands are injured. Many are trapped alive. It is horrible.
375 miles from the epicenter, I didn’t feel the tremors, although some Cuencanos did. I didn’t realize anything had happened until Facebook pinged me to share whether I was safe from the Ecuador earthquake.
Ecuadorians have been laboring tirelessly to build up their country. They’ve got wifi in many places, have built new roads and airports, and are even building a tram through Cuenca.
As they build, bullies knock it down: El Nino has brought widespread flooding and landslides, low oil prices are hurting the economy, volcanoes threaten to erupt, and now this. And this is huge.
Bricks and mortar can be rebuilt. The dead can be buried. But trauma and grief can steal hope…
If you want to do something, please pray. If you want to do something else, make a donation.
As promised, and long overdue, I’m blogging about a visitor. Yep, I’ve had a house guest.
On St Patrick’s Day he arrived, hungry and weary….
A shower and a ham and cheese sandwich brought a smile. Kyle Hilding, a fellow Gustie and a dear friend’s nephew, teaches English at a Quito university. He had a week to kill and wanted to see Cuenca. I was pining for company. It was perfect.
Outings happened, like a guided trek in Cajas National Park. It’s crazy, but not once did I feel like a bull fighter on the Toreadora Trail.
At 14,000 feet with a high level of difficulty and mud everywhere, I found myself, after landing on my backside more than once, quoting scripture, and singing songs that mention angels.
I almost quit, but then realized they’d have to airlift me out.
Kyle’s smile never faded as he skipped through the three hour ordeal.
Museum visits, hot springs soaking, musical performances, and many moments around restaurant tables gave us time to hang out, get to know one another, and enjoy this great city.
I hope Kyle visits again and soon. Being with him reminds me that God’s busy blessing the world through some very special young people.
I am quite lonely. Work fills the time, and Will is a peach and a perfect gentleman, and he continues to introduce me to fabulous people. Yet, I miss you all and now realize how I took you for granted. Thanks for loving me so. Your smiles and hugs linger in my heart. ❤
Last Saturday morning, I prayed about whether to go on a free tour of museums later that day, provided by the city of Cuenca. I had spotted the opportunity in the local news (that is translated by CuencaHighLife for English speakers). I heard Him say “Yes” and then prayed again, and got the Nod.
So, off I went.
I hopped the bus at Parque Calderon five minutes before the time noted in the news.
There were two of us on the bus.
Knowing I was where God wanted me and having nothing else to do, I pulled out my pocket Spanish dictionary and started reading.
45 minutes went by. Finally a few other people boarded. I chalked this up to the “Ecuadorian time” I’d read about, smiled and kept trying to memorize the days of the week in Spanish.
After an hour, seats were filled.
As the bus pulled away, the tour guide asked a question of the group and gestured at guests to answer. People started responding with names of South American countries and Ecuadorian city names. He looked at me and skipped over me, I was grateful. I wasn’t sure what the question was, but if it had to do with where people were from, I knew “Minnesota” was not going to fit in.
It was at this point I realized that this wasn’t going to be one of Cuenca’s “pity the pathetic expat” tours by giving English translations.*
I was alone in a sea of native Spanish speakers touring this fair city in their language.
Knowing I was where God wanted me, I embraced the experience. I even challenged myself to capture the gist of what was being said.
This was hard.
At our first stop, I exited the bus, but stayed distant from the group, trying to be as invisible as possible, hoping no one would catch on that I was completely clueless. I took photos, smiled, and wondered if the pillars were perhaps, an Ecuadorian Stonehenge.**
Inside the museum, we all moved as one, from room to room. I listened intently, and figured everyone thought I understood. Then in the middle of a presentation the museum’s guide turned to me and said something in Spanish.
All eyes in the room shifted to me.
I looked at him, swallowed my tongue, felt the blood rush from my face, then fully to my face, and said, “No entiendo.”
I was pretty sure that meant “I don’t understand.”
A woman from the group stepped forward, spoke perfect Midwestern English to me and, without asking me, yet knowing it was the only way, became my tour translator.
This still brings tears to my eyes….
I think I saw wings on her at one point, but she presented herself as a native Ecuadorian living with her husband in Chicago. They were on vacation visiting her Cuencano brother and his wife.
As it happened, she and her husband were in the seats in front of me on the bus, so we got to interact the rest of the tour. They were the kindest people, so gracious. They even invited me into one of their photos.
Near the end of the tour we exchanged business cards. This remarkable woman, Graciela Chediak, is the President of Ecuadorian Volunteers Association, a U.S. 501(c)(3) nonprofit that raises money for Ecuadorian causes chosen by the Association.
I asked her if she could help me connect to a women’s shelter in Cuenca. She promised she’d check and of course, she’s already sent me the name, address, and phone number of one.
I don’t know all the reasons God had me on that tour, but I’m pretty sure she’s one of the main ones.
If you’re reading this Graciela, thank you, thank you, thank you!
I hope we get to meet again someday.
Here are more photos, for you rare souls who enjoy other people’s vacation pics :)
To help outfit the furnished apartment I’m moving into tomorrow, Isabel (my facilitator, firstname.lastname@example.org) took me shopping at Coral yesterday. I had no idea what I was getting into.
Coral is Walmart on steroids!
Here’s a video to give you an idea of what it is like.
For three hours we power shopped. From section to section and floor to floor, we stuffed shopping carts with things like bedding, towels, tools, lamp, clock, scissors, stapler, shampoo, potatoes, peanut butter.
Of course, everything was in Spanish and had Ecuadorian style. It took some doing to find a mattress pad that wasn’t brightly patterned.
As we entered the checkout lane, my heart began to pound and my eyes went wide. I had two overflowing carts and a comforter bedding set besides. The volume was shocking and I suddenly remembered I had daily spending limits on my credit cards.
My brain went into hyper-drive trying to remember those limits. Were they $300 a day? $500? $1500? And which had a higher limit, the credit card or the debit card? Nothing sounded right.
Then the rabbit hole deepened:
What if a card was rejected because I’d gone over the limit, would I be unable to use it at all for the purchase?
Would Coral allow me to make payment with two separate cards? Would they let me pay cash for some, and credit for the rest?
As the checkout lady scanned item after item after item, and the bag attendants filled carryout cart after carryout cart after carryout cart, I deliberately left the few grocery items remaining in my cart in the cart, and pushed it backwards and sideways out of the line, back into the shopping area.
Like that would make a difference.
Surely Isabel wondered why I rejected the grapes…
Sighing deeply, I resigned myself to this becoming a big, long, red-faced ordeal, complete with calls to Wells Fargo and putting things back on the shelf.
While holding my breath, the cashier tallied and the screen read $392.54. I couldn’t believe it was less than $700.
I felt the sun rising and a smile spreading.
When the credit card cleared and the transaction went through, the air became light, and my feet left the ground.
Floating to the car, I took this pic for you of Isabel instructing the attendants how to load her backseat and trunk.
Everything after that was easy. We went to the apartment building, climbed those three flights and unloaded the items inside the apartment, cold things into the fridge.
Before heading to my hotel room, I treated myself to a classic American duo, a Coke and fries, for dinner at Charlie’s (the local mom & pop fast food place, where I also took the receipt photo).
Even though it was only 3pm, the day was done. My head hurt and my eyes kept closing. Back at the hotel room, I sprawled on the bed and listened to NPR and Eric Metaxas podcasts (oil and water mix better) while slipping in and out of consciousness until 7:30 this morning.
Tomorrow is moving day! :D
PS There is no chance of contracting Zika in Cuenca, as the altitude doesn’t sustain mosquito life.