Remembering St Patrick in Cuenca

Cuenca is full of graffiti. It is annoying, mostly visual noise, but sometimes it catches your eye and makes you smile.

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Happy St Patrick’s Day, friends!

Pat’s a Dude
Although Irish Catholics whoop it up on March 17th, St Patrick was not Catholic nor Eastern Orthodox, he predates all that silly split stuff. He’s just a guy who went where God sent him (through a vision), and because of his obedience, God used him to single-handedly convert the Celts to Christianity.

Yep, he’s a dude.

2016 St Patrick’s Day take-away for me is that our Lord set the stage for Patrick before He sent him. In Celtic prophecy God planted that one looking like, sounding like, and dressed like Patrick, would come from across the sea. God also seeded Celtic mythology with triadic gods, making the Trinity an easy nod.

By and large, Patrick brought the Good News and, besides a few spiritual power encounters with Druids, started dunking people in the river.

Yep, he’s a dude.

Since I’m a foreigner in a strange land and got the divine Nod to stake out some time here, I’m banking on this notion that God sets the stage for those He sends. What that means for me, I don’t know. And maybe I’ll never know, and that’s okay.

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To help me celebrate, I bought my first clothing item: an alpaca wool/cotton blend poncho made by artisans in Otavalo, Ecuador.

$18.

Of course it is green.

Yes, I’m in my pajamas.

Don’t judge.

 

 

 

 
And for you beautiful people who have made it to the end…this is for you.
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MJ by a DJ and…

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A DJ was in Parque Calderon last night. I stayed for an hour and no one danced but an expat hippy from the 1960’s. I almost joined him…no lie. :)

A video of MJ by the DJ is here

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. ❤

$4 will get you

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Look what I bought for $4 at the local market in Cuenca.

The leafy green is spinach.

Most flavorful produce I have ever tasted!

And yes, I ate half a banana before I took this picture. :)

A video of my first mercado (market) visit is here.

The street where I live and other news

I live on Borerro street in Cuenca, Ecuador about three blocks north of Parque Calderon (the park located in the center of the city). I took these pics on a Sunday afternoon, so the stores are all closed (corrugated metal doors show you where the stores are). Stores line this street and all streets in Cuenca.

See the brick building with three balconies, one on top of another? I live right next to the  top balcony. To the far left on the pic, you can see the railing of the terrace just outside my apartment.

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One of my apartment windows looks out over the terrace. The window to the left of the terrace is my apartment’s office window. If you want to see the video tour of my place, to gather your bearings, you’ll find it here: https://youtu.be/uDeKFLgGPaM

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I am still loving this move. A LOT! The apartment, the city, the people, the weather, the vibe, the cost. I keep pinching myself to make sure this is real! God has been oh, so generous to me.

Even unpleasant moments are transformed…

Last Saturday, as I was washing and hanging out bedding, mopping the floor, and scrubbing walls, Poor Me slunk in and started her litany of lamentations.

“This is icky. Ewww!”

“I worked so hard this week, I should not have to do this too.”

“Ouch!  Blasted clothes pins!  Hanging laundry is treacherous!”

“It is a beautiful, sunny day, I should be out sightseeing.”

“I DON’T want to. I don’t WANT to! I DON’T WANT TO!”

She was totally annoying and then came the kicker, she threatened to visit each time I  grabbed the scrub brush.

She had to go.

So I went looking on a local expat posting site and found this:

Can you help a young indigenous lady find work?

Maria, my goddaughter, is from a family living in extreme poverty in the Amazon region, she came to live with us to escape a violent relationship. She is looking for work, but when people find out she’s not from Cuenca and that she’s a single mum, they tend to turn her away. Thank you so much to the kind people who have already given her work, she needs just a few hours more to make ends meet on her own and start an independent life. Currently she has one full day free a week and most afternoons between 1 PM and 3 PM. Her current families are very happy with her standard of cleaning work. She learns fast and is very keen to do her best to provide her son with a better life than she had. Please contact me if you can help. Thank you in advance…

With tears streaming, I emailed the author and the short of it is, Maria is here two hours a week cleaning, laundering, and shopping. She’s eager to do a good job, is hardworking, and incredibly pleasant. What a gift she is to me. I’m thrilled that the money I earn helps her, and that I get to be part of her story of moving into new life. God’s a wild man!


Word by Word

Word by Word, my freelance copy writing business, is doing well. I now have three clients, plus one client I volunteer for.
I spent Wednesday, with representatives of Hearts of Gold, at El Arenal, an after school drop-in center that provides a nutritional lunch, homework help, and other services, to the poorest of the poor children in the area.
To earn a living, these children and their families fill wheel barrels with  homegrown produce and sell it on the street. Produce they don’t eat, as it is their income, their way to survive. They live without running water (bathe and launder in the river), live in very close and unsanitary quarters, and are often illiterate, quitting school young to work for the family’s survival.
I’ll be helping create and execute a global giving campaign in April to raise desperately needed funds for these kids, to help ensure they have a future they can look forward to.
Check your pocketbooks, peeps. I’ll remind you when the time comes, in case you want to help move a kid from abject squalor to something beautiful.

Wait, what did you say?
Friends? Do I have any friends yet?

You keep asking, so much pressure…

Well, I AM gathering plenty of acquaintances, as I’ve joined a church, International Christian Community, a writer’s support group, Writing Our World (Wow on that acronym), and am joining Coffee Club Spanish tomorrow.

Friendships take time and effort, peeps. Have you forgotten?

For those of you who have never moved to a new location, here’s what I think is typical, or at least what I’m discovering. People already have their circle of friends and aren’t looking for a new face to mess with their happy social life.

Are you guilty of this slight? I know I am, and now I know what it feels like to be on the other end of it. What goes around comes around…

That being said, I think I may have a friend now. Meet Will Timmerman.

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We met in our attorney’s van on the way to the residency visa application office a few weeks ago.

He arrived the same week I did, so we’re both finding our way at about the same pace. Although, Will knows Spanish, so not really.

He has been incredibly kind and patient, and has been actively trying to introduce me to people he’s already met and made friends with (yeah, he’s much better at this friend-making thing than I am). He even invited me to his 66th birthday celebration luncheon last week.

This is Will on my laptop learning the ins and outs of Facebook, to keep up with friends and family far away. I’m glad I finally got to help him with something.

Will, thanks for having such a huge heart and for your blinding kindness. I’d be lost without you!

Whoa, this post is long. I should go.

Quick family update first:

  • Rich, my husband, has had the floors refinished and the house is staged. By the end of March, our house should be on the market. Thanks Rich!
  • Charlie, our son, is singing all the tenor solos in the Palm Sunday performance at First Presbyterian Church Berkeley. The piece is Dvorak’s Mass in D Major. Check it out. Charlie, go SHINE! I’m so sad I’ll miss another one of your performances…
  • Boots, our 14 year old tuxedo cat that survived lymphoma in December through one of those online drugs you raise your eyebrows at (petdca.com), has moved in with our daughter, Emily, and has adjusted wonderfully. Thanks for being such an amazing mama, Emily!
  • Family Skype date in 30 minute. It will be fun to see our four faces in different locations.

Ok, bye, and thanks for persevering and reading all the way to the end. Your interest, love, and support, mean the world to me.

 

 

 

 

Moments in Cuenca

I’m trying a new way to post from Facebook. Hope you can see this.

Here are some moments from this past week, in Cuenca:

 

And for those of you still here, thank you and bless you.

For you, a purple sky ablaze as the sun sets.
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I knew “Minnesota” was not fitting in

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.**

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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.

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Graciela is next to me, her brother and his wife to my left, and her husband on the far right.

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 :)

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A 2o second Panama hat making video I took is at: https://youtu.be/AZAeUx9XUIM

* “pity the pathetic expat” is how I’d see us expats from the outside. Ecuadorians are too polite and gentle to utter, or even think such a thing.

** the stone posts represent the wooden hitching posts that were once used for horses. :)

Me and Andre

What’s new and different here in Cuenca?

I’m a giant.

At 5’5″ I’m about 5 inches taller than most women and at least 2 inches taller than most men.

It is really weird to be tall and…I’ve become pretty pudgy too, and most people here are tiny, in every way. There’s no easy clothes shopping options for me.

I feel like Andre the Giant.

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Source

 

Eggs (huevos) are sold on shelves next to cooking oil, none are in the refrigerated aisle.
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Butter (mantiquilla) is hard to find. Margarina rules in Cuenca, it’s on store shelves AND in the dairy aisle. I about kissed the vendor on my block when I realized he sold butter!

Cars (autos) are parked like this, per the bomberos (not homeland security, but the firemen). Easier to exit when there’s a fire, perhaps?20160211_113812

They sell tiaras in jewelry shops. Girls, you know you want one, you deserve one. C’mon on down, the selection is fabulous!
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Toilet paper goes in the trash, not the toilet. No flushy, no matter whaty. (no pic for this one. You’ll have to use your imagination)

Super loud car alarms that make you stand at attention and have you looking for the militia. Everybody has one…

Dogs (perros) rule and are everywhere, big, small, strays and pets. They’re allowed to bark til they physically cannot, which is never.

The only cats (gatos) I’ve seen have been rooftop prowlers. Poor babies…

So, some of you are still here and a subset of you are wondering…

But WHAT are you doing?

Here’s some of the highlights:

  • contract working for The Dwelling Place (that new website launch is getting closer)
  • volunteering for Door of Hope (a sister ministry to The Dwelling Place that has an international reach)
  • getting myself out there: updating and relaunching my freelance copy writing website: Word by Word. I already have one promising lead! :D Thanks to all you amazing friends who liked my Word by Word Facebook page! YOU ARE THE BEST!
  • Church shopping:
    • The Gathering, their worship leader doubles as the lead for Rubber Biscuit, which expats recently voted the best band in Cuenca. Rubber Biscuit may find me on their dance floor soon.
    • International Christian Community, voted best place of worship by expats, this may be where God wants me to land. I’m praying about it. (PS met a St Olaf grad in the midst of this small congregation–there couldn’t have been more than 70 of us).
  • Museum visits:
    • Museo del Monastario de las Conceptas which is also an active convent. They were piping in Taize music when I was there. I stayed until they shut off the lights and locked exhibit doors behind me. I will be back, this may become one of my regular haunts.
    • five museum bus tour last Saturday, that has to become its own post soon. What a day!
  • Signed up for Coffee Club Spanish classes that start in March and go for 6 weeks. I desperately need these lessons!
  • For too common and distracting migraines (missing you Diane!): weekly two hour massage by this wonder worker, Maria Eugenia Cobos. $40. She speaks no English and I no Spanish, but we communicate anyway. Her brother lives in Minneapolis!
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  • Joined a writers support group, Writing our World. We’re all expats and all speak English. Whew.
  • Praying, for many of you.
  • Reading, mostly about how to live here.
  • Lots of walking around the city, there’s a vibe here that puts a skip in your step and, besides, the weather is almost always FANTASTIC!

AND, the BIG NEWS is (are you still reading?) is that my degree from Gustavus Adolphus College was accepted, and this Friday I am going with my lawyer to Azogues (neighboring town) to apply for my professional residency visa.

Gusties, go ahead and sing that rouser,we’re legit in Ecuador!

Gusties will shine tonight, Gusties will shine, Gusties will shine tonight, Gusties will shine…

Long Distance Valentine

Happy Valentines Day everyone!

I shared this on Facebook, but need to share it here as the college roommate who set us up isn’t on Facebook, but does receive these blog posts via email.

It is a glimpse into what this half a world apart, can’t direct mail anything to Ecuador, Valentines looks like for me and Rich, my guy since 1984.

Click the link, watch, and then read below.
Valentines Day

Backstory: our first date was a “set your college roommate up” blind date. We were bused with other blind date couples to a rollerskating rink.

I was a cling-to-the-wall skater who occasionally let loose and joined the masses in the middle, while screaming.

Rich was patient and stayed near, surely wondering what he’d gotten himself into.

Then I accidentally backhanded him in the groin.

Suddenly he was gone…for a very, very long time.

I didn’t take the hint. Misremembering his name, I went looking for him asking people if they knew where Steve was.

PS He had great hair.

FYI, they celebrate Valentines Day in Cuenca. Lots of red stuffed animals, flowers, jewelry, and chocolate everywhere. I don’t know of any unique-to-Ecuador Valentines traditions.

 

Cuenca Q & A

Can you drink the water?

Yes, in Cuenca it is safe to drink the water straight from the tap. In other parts of Ecuador, bring your water filter.

Rich, my husband, bought me a Brita water bottle that has a replaceable filter in it. I drink from it all the time, not because I have to, but because it is convenient. When you come to visit, I have two spare ones in case we wander outside the city.

How do you bank?

I’ve read various forums and blogs and they mostly say you can open a checking account once you have your visa. You can open a savings account, in most banks, without a visa.

If you pay utilities to a utility company, they may require you to have a bank account to pay them…this is what I’ve heard. Utilities are included in my rent, so I do not have first hand knowledge of this. Google it or hire my terrific facilitator, Isabel Mosquera at isabelmmosquera@hotmail.com, to help you unpack the banking scene.

I have money direct deposited into my Wells Fargo account back in MN and use an ATM to withdraw cash to pay for almost everything. I believe I pay a $10 fee for withdrawing, because the ATM’s bank keeps $10 of the amount I try to withdraw. At least, that is my experience. Perhaps I need to try a new bank’s ATM….

Some ATM’s have English subtitles. I’ve discovered that “retiro” is “withdraw.”

Phones

Here’s what I found out before I left Minnesota: T-Mobile will let you travel and visit other countries and use their plan, but they don’t have permanent coverage outside of North America. So, I had to cancel my plan with them, have them unlock my phone (so I can put another carrier/SIM card in it) and bought a minutes only plan/SIM card with them to use when I’m in the States.

Once in Ecuador, my facilitator took me to the best cell coverage carrier in Cuenca, Claro, and had them set up my cell with an Ecuadorian SIM card, phone # and minutes plan. I think I paid $30 and $25 was for minutes. I will use it for Ecuador calls only. I guess I have voicemail on this phone #, but I think I need to pay extra to retrieve the mail, and then figure out how to retrieve it. Everything is in Spanish, you know. I can text on it and it does operate just like a US cell phone. Recharging minutes is easy, I guess you just go to a recharging station and put $3 on it (which will hold you quite a while). Recharging stations are all over this town.

My old 612 phone number, the one many of you have, is now linked with MagicJack, a Voice Over IP carrier. It is hooked up through my apartment’s wifi and although I can take a call on my cell with it (as long as I have a wifi connection), it works best when I use the cordless phone I brought with me. I recently discovered I can text on it via my cell phone, which is WONDERFUL!

Zika?

No mosquitoes here, so no Zika.

What do you wish you would have brought with you?

Although it is WARM here compared to Minnesota, it does get chilly, especially on rainy days. I wish I would have brought at least one more warm sweater and an all-weather type of jacket. You know, the kind you wear in spring and fall, that is water resistant.

One of Grandma’s homemade afghans to curl up in when I read a book or pray.

My handheld cross. I meant to grab it, but forgot. I really miss it, especially today, Ash Wednesday.

Photos of loved ones for empty shelves, walls, and the mantle.

I can’t think of anything that you can’t get here, except posted mail.

There are shops EVERYWHERE offering EVERYTHING! I walked by a casket store recently.

What kind of wood are the doors and furniture in your apartment?

According to my rock star landlords, the doors are wood from the laurel tree and the wardrobes are wood from the eucalyptus tree. To see the wood I’m talking about, watch my apartment tour video.

Real time news

Last night was a bit of a bugger because I couldn’t watch live results of the New Hampshire primary over the internet. No news outlet gave me permission without login info for my cable carrier. I ended up listening to Fox radio over the internet, something I didn’t know existed and something I will not listen to again. It was a talk show and, well…hopefully I’ll have something better figured out for the election.

Cable TV

It is available here and I have Direct TV. About half of my stations are in English. Unfortunately, I do not have any US or English speaking news stations (no CNN, Fox News or BBC), hence the problem mentioned above.

Ummm….Are you making any friends?

Ok, this is to help alleviate your concern about whether I can make friends in a different country. Please meet Wayne and Michelle, new friends from British Columbia (Canada, peeps) I met at the Hostal Macondo and who I had a lovely lunch with on Monday.

I know you’re thinking, “What a cute couple!” You’re right, they’re cute and even more delightful!

Thanks, Wayne and Michelle, for extending your hearts to me and for giving my friends and family back home a sigh of relief. Safe travels! Visit often, move here soon! :)

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Thanks for popping in and even reading all the way to the bottom! You, friends, always lift me and make me smile! Thanks for the love and support, I’d be lost without YOU! :) See most of you on Facebook!

 

 

 

 

Nightfall, Carnival, and the Local Mercado

Ecuador is in the thick of Carnival, a South American version of Mardi Gras that lasts for about a week (it ends Ash Wednesday).

Part of the shenanigans is that everyone is a target for water balloons or spray foam (sold in cans just for the occasion). I’ve found that it is best to accept that you may arrive at your destination different than when you left.

Yes, two adolescent boys foamed me today. :D

There is lots of partying, especially after dark, and to escape the crazies many locals head out of town. I fell asleep to sirens last night…

Friday, Feb 5: Day 15

I was planning to see the Cuenca Symphony in the Old Cathedral, but considering the holiday, I decided to stay in. Besides, the hot water tech was in my apartment servicing the hot water heater (my apartment is the hot water hub for the building) and I had promised to see him in and out.

So, I sat by my window and took photos of the sun setting and the night arriving…

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Saturday, Day 16

I finally felt like myself.

Wait, huh? Ok…a bit of back story.

Day 1-15: migraines, fatigue, and brain fog found me, bullied me, and wouldn’t leave me. Perhaps adjusting to the altitude (8250 feet), and the new culture are to blame. That’s what I’m going with, anyway.

Feeling well, I went to my neighborhood Mercado (market)…

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The unprotected, raw meat piled high is something I’m trying to wrap my head around. Ecuadorans must have a resistance to several strains of food poisoning. Or maybe the US regulates meat to ridiculous levels. I don’t know, I just know I won’t be purchasing any meat there, for a very long time…

It was a musical experience. Click here or pic for video.20160206_104550_HDR

As one reader has reminded me, I’m not in Kansas anymore! Everyday yields new sights and sounds and reminds me of God’s beautiful diversity.

Remembering home, I finished the day by watching the RNC Debate in New Hampshire and saying a prayer for the USA.