Cuenca Stands

Yesterday I came across a scene I’ll never forget.

At an ad hoc disaster relief donation site, people were loading trucks with donations, for areas hit by Saturday’s devastating 7.8 earthquake.

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What I failed to take a photo of, and was most moving and memorable, were the crowds of onlookers lining the sidewalks and filling the park.

Cuencanos often pause to watch what is going on, but this time it was different.

They weren’t chatty and half interested, like spectators.

They were attentive, quiet, somber.

They were standing in solidarity with the workers and the victims.

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Stand in solidarity with the Ecuadorian people through your prayers, and/or through a donation to your favorite relief charity, or give here:
http://heartsofgoldfoundation.org/earthquake-relief-fund/

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I’m safe

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.

Earthquake map
Epicenter is the star. Cuenca is in red.

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. 

Either to your favorite relief fund or to one that is here, in Ecuador: http://heartsofgoldfoundation.org/earthquake-relief-fund/

If you want to invest in those who’ll soon be this country’s engineers, architects, doctors, and decision makers, make a donation here: https://www.generosity.com/fundraisers/full-bellies-dreams-of-hope-you

A moment for another makes a difference. The people of Ecuador thank you.

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For you beautiful people who made it to the end. I know you’re wondering: Kyle is safe. :)

 

Easter Crucifix

Having grown up very Protestant, it is fascinating to be in a Roman Catholic country.

I had to share this pic with you, in case you’ve never seen an Easter Crucifix either.

Easter Crucifix
Easter Crucifix taken Easter Week, in the New Cathedral in Cuenca, Ecuador

Here is a video of church bells playing Easter morning from my apartment’s back door.

I had a visitor for a week, from 3/17-3/25, but I haven’t had time to give his visit a proper blog post. Stay tuned, Kyle will be blogged about. We had some fun times, and I have many fab photos and videos to share of our adventures. :)

Other news: I’m working and volunteering quite a bit. That global giving campaign for Cuenca kids I’ve mentioned previously, will be launching next week. You’ll know about it, don’t worry. ;-) Please prime your heart to help. These kids need anything you can give.

Processing with Jesus

Glowing candles, chants, music, and costumed characters filled the streets of Cuenca last night, Good Friday.

San Blas
San Blas Church with the full moon kissing its dome. 

Penitent and pious, sinners and saints, innocent and guilty processed, pausing only to watch as actors reenacted that night we call good.

All walked with Jesus to His crucifixion. All walked with Jesus to His death.

Jesus carries the cross
Simon the Cyrene helps Jesus carry His cross

Sitting in the Cathedral watching people rise to line up, I hesitated to join them. I’m not Catholic, Ecuadorian, or Spanish speaking. I stick out and still feel like a tourist, not like one of them.

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Yet I am a Christian, just like them.

God sees me as His own, and He sees them as His own. We are His.

I joined the Stations of the Cross procession. Video

These gentle people accepted me and my presence with them. I never sensed a judgmental look or comment. It was remarkable and yet not really, for we are His children, all Brothers and Sisters.

They get it, I’m the one who doesn’t…or hasn’t, until now.

Video taken for the audio, as this was spoken at each station. Translation help welcome.

More photos below:

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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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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.

 

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.