I've finished a month in Puerto Quito and now I'm in Chontal - just finishing the monthly update for January, I hope you enjoy it! Luz y Vida
For the first week or so, the Franciscan sisters put me up in their place, because the new house I was going to move into wasn't ready yet. The windows had to be put in, and a mosquito net gotten, and most importantly, the floors were all still wet from a final washing and were taking quite some time to dry. (Even after I finally moved in, the floors were still wet for the remainder of the time I was there.) But it was a nice little new house, as you can see here:
It's located about a 20 minute walk up a hill from the town center, about a half hour from the parish church, in a section called Luz y Vida, or Light and Life. In the outside pictures, the concrete structure on the left is a set of three bathrooms that include a shower and toilet. There are two more plots of land to build homes, thus the three bathrooms. The house is meant to be rented to people who need housing and to make a little money for the sisters. On the inside, there is a kitchen, a living room/dining room, and two bedrooms, although one of the bedrooms has no windows. The walls and floors are unfinished concrete.
My neighbors are the Bazurto family, including the mother and grandma of the house, Rosa. Rosa looks to me to be about in her mid forties. She has 4 daughters and one son, and 3 of the daughters have severe physical disabilities that have limited their growth, their ability to carry out some normal life functions, and their ability to work. One of the daughters is a young widow with 5 children, 4 of which are living in the house. The son is 18 years old, but not yet starting his high school education. Now, two of the three daughters with disability have children. One has a son and daughter, and the other has a son. (The same man is the father of a child with each of those young woman, and that same man was a boyfriend of the mother/grandmother of the house - it makes for a complicated situation!) Anyway, that makes for a total of 13 people living in the little wooden house next to mine in the picture. I knew some of the family a bit from before because the daughters with disabilities have been a part of the program Amigos del Arca that I volunteered for. The youngest, Nieves, I had helped to transport to a hospital in Quito a year or two ago. For this month, they were my neighbors. I liked to say that I was the Light and they were the Life!
What stands out the most right away was the kids. As some had said to me before, the house is like a day-care. There are seven little kids in the small space, and trying to spread out to play. We got to play games together when I was around, and that was a fun time. They were always waiting to play something whenever I got back from being out. And the kids are the experts at chasing escaped chickens. Once a chicken escaped, they were off and running, and it was the oldest Alex who eventually cornered the bird and caught it. He even got two in one chase!
"Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 19:14)
Many nights, I was able to take the Franciscans' car back to the house to get home, and park it there. In the morning, if it was raining, as it usually was, I would drive 6 of the kids down the hill to the school, first dropping off one of the mothers at her work along the way. I would go back to the house, and an hour later pick up Nieves and Maria to bring them to the Amigos del Arca project which is located at the Franciscans' house. Nieves, who is 14 and quite small and is still in the process of having the first of her legs adjusted medically, has to be picked up and placed in the car. She walks with crutches, which are simple home-made wooden ones. (I got some materials to soften up the handles and arm rests.) Maria can get up into the car on her own, and they share a seat together. On the way, we would pick up Cristian as well. I was a veritable school bus in the mornings!
One of the things I was very conscious of with regard to my neighbors was that, as I live a pretty simple lifestyle, whatever is good enough for me to have is good enough for my neighbor to have. I thought, I need some simple things for my house - if I have those things, then I can offer my neighbor help so they can have them too. Mosquito nets, lightbulbs, a toilet seat were among the number of things I was able to get for them because I got them for myself. Now, to sleep at night, the family occupies a lot of the space in the house. I didn't see two of the bedrooms they have, but I could see that a few mattresses and thin bedding material were laid out on the floor throughout the living space at night time. One thing they wanted was a bureau or dresser to put their belongings in, as their clothes and such were usually just piled up. So, I had a conversation in passing with some friends who have a clothing shop in the town, and they mentioned they could get a hold of a dresser. It was great, they were able to delivery it directly to the house, and now they at least have one dresser to put some of their things in. Like I have.
The boy Alex is 11 and has eyeglasses that are falling apart. His half-sister Jessica, who is 5, also was in need of glasses. So, one day I took them with Rosa to the city of Santo Domingo to a place called Vista Para Todos, or Vision for Everyone. They had eye exams and new prescriptions and picked out new frames, to be picked up in a week. It was not free, though, but this time I was glad to pay, because I have glasses myself.
I will tell a few stories of our trip. First, the vision of the kids is so bad that they have only a partial prescription, meaning that they have to return in 6 months to get a bump up and complete the full prescription. To take that large step all at once apparently would be too much. It's tough, because they are going to have eyecare costs for a long time, it seems… But the young girl Jessica is a sweetheart. Jessica's front teeth are mostly rotted out because of bad nutrition, but she's the sweetest and cutest little girl, always happy with a smile and a big hug. Well, when we got into the optometrist's office, it was man landing on the moon. Completely alien territory to this poor little girl from the country. She wasn't scared, and I just could hardly hold back my laughter and smile, which always generates a smile in her, too. They plopped her onto a big chair and put some technical gadget on her head for eyetesting, and then asked her to read the chart. Well, she didn't know her numbers yet, so they had to use another eye chart nearby that, instead of letters or numbers in the rows going from large to small, had black and white sketches of a house, an apple, and an umbrella. Now, Jessica wouldn't know the word for umbrella because it's never referred to in her house, so basically the optometrist was limited to house and apple for her pointing and testing. So there was little Jessica, sitting in this big old chair with a big old testing gadget on her head, saying over and over, "House. Apple. House. House. Apple…" The cutest thing, and a brave little girl! Anyway, she is excited to get her new glasses in mid February and will finally be able to see the board in school!
"He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind." (Lk 4:18)
After the exams, we went to a restaurant near the bus terminal to eat lunch. While we were seated in the restaurant, a few times people came in begging for money. Each time I gave them a dollar. It was an interesting situation, because the family I was with just as poor as the person begging. I wondered what Rosa thought about it, and I wondered what her reaction was? She seemed to sympathize. Well, we got on the bus back to Puerto Quito, and, as usually happens, someone in a tough financial situations got on the bus asking people for some help. He has lost the use of one of his legs. As he came around, I gave him a dollar, and I noticed without intending to that Rosa reached out her hand and placed her own dollar in the guy's hand. I was impressed. Rosa and the family don't know where their next meal is coming from these days, and yet could still give a dollar, to this stranger who really was no worse off than she was in terms of needing money. I like to think that this is in part because of what was being given to her and her kids and her grandkids. Gratitude for what we were giving her, with all that was given to her. It makes me think, our ability to give to others like that can only come from first being given to out of the generosity of others. Out of the generosity of God. And for me, the greatest reward that I could get from giving to others is that they might be inspired to pass that generosity along to others. Then we are sharing in the same action, we're really like each other.
One of the difficulties in living in our location was the frequent lack of running water. Few are the days that I took a shower. I had an outdoor water tank that I tried to fill whenever water showed up, and so for bathing I used the water tank with a large bowl. A shower curtain hung to hide me from my neighbors, and on the other side was the large farm area of the other neighbors, where I could see trees of so many times: orange, tangerine, coconut, passion fruit, cocoa, plantain and banana, and others. It was not a bad way to bathe at all, and I had done it before. And we were blessed with incredibly powerful downpours of rain, which the Bazurtos took advantage of to shower in under the drainpipes, and I once used as well in my bathing area. It was turning the nuisance of a pounding downpour into nature's shower, and it worked out really well! So for bathing outside, the only worry was that the kids wouldn't come running over, but fortunately that never happened. Anyway, drinking water is not a common thing here, in the sense of drinking a glass of cold water. Water is usually drunk in the form of coffee or herbal tea, heated or boiled. Meals are cooked with the water and salads are washed with it, but again, it's not common to drink a cup of cold water. And there is access to bottled water and other bottled drinks. But nonetheless, not having running water was a problem for the family for cooking and making coffee and tea.
But the biggest problem was the problem of food. Most nights that I went home, I usually brought something with me. Cans of tuna, cooked chickens, fruits, breads, eggs, and other things. One evening, as I was heading out, Rosa asked to borrow $10 to buy some dinner for the family. I gave it to her, realizing it wasn't a loan but a gift. So, the next night when I got back home at about 8pm, I brought a whole rotisserie chicken and dropped it off with the kids. About 5 minutes later, one of the kids came by telling me that Rosa was inviting me over to eat. Since I hadn't eaten and didn't have annything planned yet, I went over. She served the chicken I had bought to the whole family and me, with a little bit of rice for everyone too. I realized that if I had not brought that chicken by surprise, there would have been no dinner that night.
That's their condition, since Rosa has lost her job and only one of her daughters, the widow, is working as help in a small convenience store. She probably makes about $300 per month. The daughters with disability receive each $50 per month from the government for their disability. From what I can gather, together the household takes in about $450 per month for 13 people, including 7 growing kids. The family receives help from the Franciscans as well, who draw on community charity and other resources. But yet the family does not have enough to eat, nor eat a nutritional diet.
You might ask, what about the fathers here? Well, one is passed away. I don't know the story of the father of Rosa's kids. But she did have a boyfriend, who is also the father of two of the kids of two of her daughters. He now has another girlfriend and a kid with her. I don't know about child support, but my guess is that he makes little if any money to provide for all he's fathered. Either way, it would seem that the Bazurtos receive little if anything from him. I should add that a situation like this is not all that uncommon in poor places here….
Anyway, I am hoping to ask for generosity from friends back home to provide a little support over the next 3 months or so, to give Rosa some time to find a job. That will be coming soon …..
Because I seemed to be doing so many different things in Puerto Quito, as well as getting adjusted to the house and dealing with the limits of transportation and ability to "get things done" like at home in the States, I was only finally able to have a housewarming party at the end of my time in the house. The Franciscan sisters came, as well as a few teachers from the high school. The Bazurtos came over, too, and it wasn't until everyone else had left that they could finally let their hair down so to speak. After some games of duck duck goose and musical chairs, the dancing went on until midnight:
"When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just." (Lk 14:12-14)
Living in the house, you are in close contact with all the life of nature. It was obvious from the beginning that bats were living in the house before I had moved in and before the windows - with screens - were put in. Fortunately, they never came back. But my first night, I sat in a chair reading and falling asleep. All of a sudden, something wet slapped down from the ceiling onto my neck. I jumped up, completely startled, brushing at the back of neck to get whatever landed on me off. Whatever it was, I couldn't find it. I took my shirt off to see if it went down my shirt, but there was nothing. Then, I started wondering if I had been dreaming. Anyway, about an hour later, while I was now in my bedroom, I heard a slap onto the floor in the same room where I was before. There on the floor I saw this guy:
Unfortunately, he didn't have a soft neck to cushion his fall this time, and he was dead. But these frogs can leap like you wouldn't believe - it wasn't my last encounter with them. One morning, after realizing that there was running water, I decided to try out the shower. But, I had lost first dibs to my other neighbor:
Now, these frogs are almost impossible to get out of anywhere. They leap all over the place and attach to anything, climbing walls and ceilings, you name it. They stubbornly refuse to go where you direct them. In retrospect, the best thing would probably be to try to capture it and then set it free outside in the farm next door. But I decided to let him have the shower this time. I went and took the bucket outside. But this guy was always out at the shower and water tank area, every night screeching his (or her) mating calls. Every once in a while I would go out with a broom and give him a bop off the wall. But he would come back, and sometimes with a mate. At the very end of my time, there were two together, and I gave them a bop with the broom. They jumped into the water tank, which is not good because that's what I bathe with. I couldn't get them out. I went off to bed, and they started their screeching. When I put my light out, it sounded like something large landed on my metal roof with a thud. Then it took a heavy step across my roof, and then another, step by step making its way toward the screeching. I have to say, I was alarmed. Finally, when it reached the end of the house it finished, I didn't hear anything else. I think that it was another frog, hearing the screeching and hopping along to meet its mating caller. But who knows, maybe it was some other animal making its way to its dinner?......
Now, when you go to bed here in the tropical climates, it's mandatory to use a mosquito net, especially in the rainy season. Mosquitoes are out in full force, and you will get eaten alive. Moreover, the mosquito that spreads dengue fever is very active in this season. So, at first, I wouldn't move into the house without a mosquito net.
Now, back in my first times in Puerto Quito in 2013, I decided that I would pass on the mosquito net and instead rely on the breeze from a strategically placed fan (directly on me, that is) to keep mosquitoes off of me. That plan was foiled when in the early morning hours I awoke to a cockroach climbing on my head. Well, this time I had the mosquito net going faithfully, but I learned a new lesson. I again awoke in the early morning to a cockroach climbing on my head. This time I learned to tuck the netting in good around all of my mattress every night!
In Ecuador, there are giant flying grasshoppers that are about 6 inches long. Every once in a while one of these guys would land on a wall or screen outside. And there are geckos that live inside and climb the walls. These are good friends that go around cleaning the walls from other bugs and spiders.
I learned another lesson about showering at night. Many times you sweat a lot in a tropical climate like in Puerto Quito, and you need a shower at the end of the day. One night, I went out and bathed from the water tank. Everything went fine. The next morning I went out again to the water tank and found this:
This guy is a trapdoor spider, in the tarantula family, and was still alive in the water when I came across him. He was positioned exactly where I scoop water with my bowl. I thought, what if this guy was in there last night! I learned then never to dip into the water tank without first seeing what's inside first!
Houses here usually have a dog of some sort. They are not pets in the sense that we would have dogs in the sense. They provide a certain protection for the house, either an alarm bark or sometimes a real attack. They are the last to be fed in a poor culture, and so they are usually skin and bones. One night when I came home, I found this dog sitting at the doors to the bathrooms:
It was clear that the dog was dying. It showed no response to me - usually a dog will run away at lights and sounds when it is in a place outside its territory. This dog could barely lift its head, and its whole body language was like, "Do whatever you want with me, I'm desperate." The dog had lost much of its hair on its legs, and its skin was leeching blood. It was dying. I thought, "What do I do, this dog is about to die, and I don't know how to handle the poor thing." I left some bread nearby, and the next morning both the bread and the dog were gone. The next night I came back and he was there again, a little closer. I left some more bread, and the next morning same thing. There is not a lot mercy here for people, and there is less mercy here for dogs. After asking a friend, who has training as a vet, it was clear that this dog suffered from malnutrition and a skin fungus that, together, were killing it. I asked if he could give the dog medication that would get rid of the fungus. He said he could, but it wasn't worth the time because it needed to be fed, and fed a good diet, that the malnutrition would soon kill it. The dog needed someone to care for him. I don’t know that I could have taken that up, but it didn't matter. I never saw him again …
The Bazurtos had a dog as well, scrawny as usual, named Blacky. This dog was white and brown. Just kidding, of course it was black. Blacky got the bone scraps from the Bazurtos and also from the Franciscan sisters. I usually fed Blacky as she came to my door every day. At first she wouldn't come near me. That is very common with dogs here: they are so beaten down, especially by men, that they are terrified of any approach from a man, any raising of a voice. If you raise your voice to play, it is taken as a threat, and the dog will cower away. But, but by bit, I gained Blacky's trust. At first, I would put the bread down on the ground as the dog cowered away, and leave her to pick it up on her own, which she did. After some of this, I then began to put the bread in my hand and hold it out to her and wait. She would get stuck in confusion, between the reaction of avoiding a beating and satisfying her starving belly. I would eventually retract the food, and then she would come in closer, like I called her bluff. Then I would put it out again and gently let her take it. I learned to make no sudden moves around her, and bit by bit she became comfortable around my doorstep. It helped that she had a great relationship with Sr Josefina, who always brought her food, because whenever she heard the sound of the truck - whether it was me coming or Josefina - she had the pavlovian reaction of jumping for joy and hopping all around the truck, waiting to be given some morsel of food. She would bust her way out of the property and come bounding to meet the truck before it had even reached the house, I had never seen a dog so filled with joy!
By the end of my time there, she was comfortable being at my door step and my walking in and out. She also protected my house. If other dogs (or whatever/whoever else) came onto the property she would bark them away. And she would start to bring things and put them on my doorstep. One day, she brought an empty tuna can. One night I came home and I had some leftover bones, including one big one. I opened the bag and dumped them into the Bazurto's property where she was waiting with her hopping and jumping. I then went to my bathroom, and when I came out, there was the giant bone on my doorstep, with Blacky a few feet away, excited and looking at me like, "LOOK at this thing, would you!! Isn't it a thing of beauty! And I. Am. About. To. Devour. It!" And then she went and picked it up and went to town devouring it. And on the very last day, for the first time, I held out my hand and she actually licked it, and then she let me pet her. It took several weeks, but it was an amazing transformation in trust in an abused animal. I'll miss Blacky!
What a month of Light and Life in Ecuador!
"Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life". (Jn 8:12)
Preaching the Gospel to the Poor
The Franciscan sisters here lead a Eucharistic Holy Hour on Thursday evenings, and they invited me to do the preaching a the Holy Hour, as well as help with a short Eucharistic procession in the church to make the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance available to people to pray with personally. To be able to share reflections with Jesus present in the Eucharist in that way is special to me, and to be able to make the Blessed Sacrament available to people like that, to have a personal encounter with Jesus sacramentally, is a great joy for me. I enjoyed it and received many blessings and graces in my heart myself.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor." (Lk 4:18)
A few of the themes that were coming out were about our gift as Christians as being able to go into places that others don't want to go and transform them into something beautiful; about taking the first step in response to God and then receiving the light he wants to give. It was a gift for me to be there and share.
I was also able to visit a bible prayer group a few times for listening to the Scripture. Each time was an eye-opening experience, with many blessings!
Amigos del Arca
The project Amigos del Arca continues to go along here. I was able to join in on a few of the Friday celebrations and share a reflection. At one of the meetings, we were following up on Epiphany, where the 3 wise men come to visit Jesus. The theme of my reflection was on the way we can give a gift to God: by giving a gift to each other. Our love for God is expressed in our love for our neighbor, because that's what pleases God. I used an example of my own Mom. Reconciliation was always what was most important to my mother. I told a short story of her telling my brother and I not to fight: "Don't fight." This is the gift we can give to Jesus, and make us wise men, kings.
It was good to see people I hadn't seen in a while, and share in some of the goings on in the project for a few weeks. It seems that the project has a little more organization now. It is slowly trying to separate from its founder, the Rev. Finbarr O'Leary, and the analogy I like to use is that of a young adult who has lived too long dependent on their overly doting parents, and is learning how to gain the maturation and separation from their parents. This can happen with parents and founders of organizations. Hopefully, the management and people as a community can develop their own identity and can get out from what looks to me like a co-dependent relationship with the founder. But for now in my own visit, I'm grateful to the Franciscan Missionaries of St Joseph for their hospitality and their inviting me into the goings on!
At one point, there was a program set up for a dance of the hats, which is not an uncommon folklore-type dance here in Ecuador, though I'd never seen it before myself. The members dressed up as though short people with giant hats that then have cutouts for the eyes to see:
The community will always have a place in my thoughts and heart!
Visits to Santa Cecilia
One of the reasons for coming to Puerto Quito this time was hopefully being able to visit the first Communions of the children in the village of Santa Cecilia. A few years ago, it was made known that the two priests in the parish didn't have time to visit this newly formed, poor village that took a while to reach and was really beginning from scratch with hardly any religious culture. It was preferable to them to go to the places that were already established and lively. They were looking for someone who might visit the village, and the deacon at the time didn't want to go because he didn't want to go to a poor area. "Ugly," is what he called it. So, I said I'd go. I realized that I needed help in going to the people, especially in language and culture, so I asked one of the Franciscan sisters, Sr Josefina, if she was interested in going with me.
That began the relationship with Santa Cecilia as we began to visit to celebrate the Word of God and for catechesis in the parish program. My goal had always been, not to get intellectual facts and truths from a book into the kids' heads, but to make the Gospel present with my visits and generate a first experience of communion with the people - a first communion - through a dynamic preaching and teaching of the Word of God in the spirit of love and service. The celebration of the sacrament in the Mass would be the crowning event of the whole of the two year experience. So, now, two years later, the kids are all bigger and they are preparing for their first sacrament of Holy Communion.
My first visit back was a surprise. After reaching the house where we have our meetings, we said our hellos, and then began the usual waiting process for everyone to show up. In the meantime, I asked one of the kids if he could show me the river, Rio Blanco, which I knew passed through the village but had never visited it. It was much closer than I thought, about a 2 minute walk in fact. When we got there, a whole vista of the river opened up. A man was rowing a canoe with his young son, maybe fishing. The youth I was with, Carlos, then started to climb a tree that was there. In a few seconds he was about 15 feet up, I was amazed! He was gathering fruits off the tree. They are about the size of a small stone and green, and taste like little apples - some sour and some sweet depending on ripeness. He would drop them down and I would catch them in my hat. We got enough for everyone and when we got back, we shared them. I have always made it a habit to bring a gift, something to eat for everyone, every time I go. So, God worked in His way to make sure I didn't come with empty hands! And, really, it was a chance to see fruits after the two years…
I also had the opportunity to speak with the kids about confession, the sacrament that they'll receive before Holy Communion. I find that the pedagogy in the dioceses here is very heavily intellectual and rigorous and demanding, even divisive. The books that are used are loaded with information and social criticisms and moral obligations. I would call the pedagogy slavish and even hypocritical. In any case, it doesn't bring anyone's attention to the amazing goodness and mercy of God and the hidden treasures to be found in life, to the amazement and gratitude and wonder of encountering God! So, when it came time to talk about confession, the book was pulled out with a long list of possible sins, along with a little talk by the catechist about the necessity to confess every single sin rigorously. The analogy used was the field in the country, how it had to be cleaned of all the weeds in order to plant. The kids cowered. So I interjected. You see, the weeds don't have to be all pulled up to plant - I am a witness to that truth in Chontal here on the farm I visited in December. But even more, in the fields of some people, there is indeed a giant tree or two that does have to be pulled up. Those trees make it impossible to plant. But if you run around plucking up all the little weeds rigorously, it means that you're missing the obvious giant tree, the real problem. That's what the blindness of hypocrisy does: you focus rigorously on a multitude of smaller unimportant things and miss the one important thing. In Jesus' words, "You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!" (Mt 23:24)
So, in speaking about confession, I first talked about some of my own mistakes, in language and in life, and how God loves to do great things with them. My advice was simple, and put the attention on the value of the kids' own hearts and what they hear inside themselves, along with the great joy of God when He forgives and lifts guilt and weight off of us. Find one or two big things that are right on the tip of your tongue, and maybe you don't want to confess them, and bring those. That's it. And what was standing behind my words was the experiences they had with me since the beginning: finding beauty in them in the midst of their poverty and mistakes or ignorance, always looking to draw that out, lift them up, give them good things.
I was glad to be able to be there for that and share what I did!
"He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, ... to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." (Lk 4:18,19)
The kids didn't have the first communion in my time in Puerto Quito, they will celebrate that on February 22. I am hoping to make it, and that will depend on what is happening here on Chontal on that weekend, so we'll see!
A young woman friend in Puerto Quito has been struggling with a depression and a difficult life, between generally being poor, having difficulties in finding work and finding a career path, and making bad decisions about her boyfriend. It is good to let people struggle with their own problems, it's a growing point, and to try to solve other peoples' problems before they are doing their best to solve them, is to steal a growing opportunity away from them. But, as happens when I tutor in math and science, there comes a point when a little interjection is needed to help get the person into a healthier mindset and take back up their own problem solving. And, in the process, they can learn how to interject for themselves.
In life, we need to regularly step out of our situations, get away from it all, to refresh not only our bodies but also our whole personality. It gives a sharpened mind and will to get back into things and resolve life's challenges and move forward. God took a day of rest after six days of creating. Jesus regularly got away from everything to be alone: And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives … and knelt down and prayed. (Lk 22:39,41) And that's why He can do the same for us
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mt 11:28-30)
I had known for a while that my friend was working every day and night helping her mother's two-person restaurant out of their own home, unable to find other work, with a rare day off once a month. She had almost no money or prospects of making any. She was having a lot of boyfriend problems and suffering from severe depression. So, I said, "Let's go to Mindo for a day for some stress relief, clear the head. I will pay." Her brother came along too.
Mindo is a small international tourist area where there's lots to do in adventure sports and contact with nature. It's peaceful without all the hustle and bustle of Puerto Quito. It's the type of place that, for us in the States, is pretty inexpensive, but for the people here in the rural areas, is very expensive. So, it was great to just get them out of the routine and the poverty and into an experience of something completely different. She and her brother got to take a look at a nice lodging, eat some new foods including pizza, and we went on the tour to see the waterfalls there. By the end of the day, no one wanted to leave, but we had to catch the bus.
We all had an unforgettable day, and I'm glad that my friend had the chance to completely get away and experience how valuable that is. My hope is that it sticks with her, and that she can initiate some of her own getaways on her own, in her own way … and grow!
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; ... to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. (Is 61:1-3)
Other Odds and Ends
I didn't get to visit friends in Santo Domingo or Quevedo this time in Puerto Quito, as I was caught up in the goings on in the church and community. But I plan on coming back and making a visit to both places before I leave, hopefully within the month ….
I was able to watch the Super Bowl at the sisters' house, with much gratitude! Like everyone else, I was a bit heartbroken when Seattle made an improbable catch near the end of the game. And then …..Go Pats!
I also got to catch up with other friends in Puerto Quito, including a few teacher friends from the high school. Wiliam and I made it out a few times for some karaoke. In the song manual, it says, "Singing is good for you. Ecuadorian karaoke is different type of singing…" Enough said ……
I'd like to share 3 stories that shed a little light on the poverty here, as it affects culture and the individual lives of the people. I hope you enjoy them!
In the little cement house that I was living in, what was needed from the get go, among other things, were some curtains for privacy. Having seven kids next door doesn't make it easy for privacy through the windows, so I decided to get some curtains. It happens that in Amigos del Arca, a woman, Nelly, does sewing as a service, with the intention of training some of the folks with disabilities in sewing. I decided that, rather than buy curtains, I would buy the material and give it to Nelly to make the curtains with the help of one of my neighbors, a young woman with disability. Not knowing the landscape like Nelly, she offered to go with me to the city of Santo Domingo to find and buy the curtain raw materials. It's about an hour and a half in each direction by bus, and I had to pick up a few other things for the house, so we took a day to go.
Well, lunch time finally came around, and we got to talking. Nelly is about my age, forty to mid-forties, and she has a husband and daughter. The thing is, her husband is in the US, and has been for fifteen years. When her husband wanted to go to the States, he daughter didn't, and so she ended staying behind with her daughter. They talk to her husband by phone regularly. But I thought about that - imagine having your spouse 2500 miles away for fifteen years. What type of family life can you really have? But this is not uncommon in Latin America. I call it the effects of the barrier between the North and South, a barrier that cuts into families, either by poverty if they stay together, or by separation if they want wealth. Here, even when families stay together, so to speak, often people have to travel long distances for work, resulting in many a man staying in a work location during the week and then returning only for weekends. Or, as in the case of a friend who is a schoolteacher here, the couple leaves their home area to work, awaiting possible opportunities to return to their home area. My friend and his wife have been waiting 10 years to go home…
Well later on in the day, we finished all the shopping and we ended up at the shopping mall in Santo Domingo. Now, what we needed was a truck that we could rent to take us the hour and a half drive to Puerto Quito. I guess a lot of times, here are people with trucks who will give you a ride for your large purchases, like a taxi cab, except for transporting large things along with you. We walked around the side of the mall where there are usually trucks, but there were none. Then, we went to a taxi driver, wondering if our stuff would fit in a taxi. He wanted $35 for the trip. Well, we set off again to look for a truck, because we weren't sure if all our stuff would fit in the taxi (I had bought a medium fridge, too).
We went to the entrance to the mall, where there is a man who directs people to taxis, and we asked him. He said, "Go and ask the guy over there," and pointed to a gentleman about 20 feet away. We went and asked him. It was already late in the day, drivers were not excited to travel such a long distance, and this driver was not interested in our price range. So Nelly asked the taxi director again. He said, come over here. We followed him to the side of the mall entrance, and we walked up to the wall really closely. He pointed to a spot on the cream paint where there was a phone number written in pen. So, Nelly called that number, and again there was no luck. So we went to the taxi manager again, and this time, he said, come over here. We went to the OTHER side of the mall entrance, walked up to the wall, and read another phone number written in pen on the paint. Again, the driver was not in our price range. I was thinking, "Only in Ecuador." Only in Ecuador are you going to find phone numbers for taxis and trucks conveniently written - and hidden - on the side of the mall building!
Finally, we asked the taxi manager if we could give a taxi a shot. He goes off and comes back with a taxi that all our stuff can fit into, and we set off. $35 for the hour and a half trip to Puerto Quito. Now, Nelly lives in a barrio about 20 minutes outside the pueblo of Puerto Quito, so she gets let out first. I ask the taxi driver to take me to my house, so he does. We get there, and immediately all seven of the Bazurto kids are out and jumping around and helping me unload and carry all the things into the house. A thousand questions and a pressing need to open that refrigerator box. Welcome home!
A few days later I was talking with Nelly. She was telling me that here compadre, which is the godfather of her daughter, was shot and killed the night before. I had no idea, and she did not seem broken up (she's usually fairly staid in personality, though). But we talked about that for a little while, and she had questions about God's justice and why things like that happen. A little later, she asked me another question. She asked if I thought it was sacrilegious to dig up someone's bones from the grave. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, I thought, it depends I guess. Why? I asked. Well, she said, her daughter is studying for a degree in medicine and the students were told to procure a skeleton (which I understood to be a cadaver at first, but afterwards it became clear it was just the skeleton) to keep in their personal home. Apparently, what happens is that you go to the cemetery and give a guy $50, and he comes back with the bones of a skeleton for you. However, Nelly had other thoughts. Her daughter came to her and asked, "I was thinking, about the skeleton I need, if I could have grandma's bones?" Nelly replied that she was thinking the same thing. What they were thinking of was taking Nelly's mother's bones out of her grave and giving them to her daughter for her personal, in-home medical skeleton. Nelly had asked her siblings for permission, and 8 said yes while 2 said no. So, she's not going to do it. But she still wondered about it, and so was asking if I thought it would have been wrong to have done.
I'm glad that there is some degree of her conscious that she's listening to. For my part, no one is diggin my Mom's bones up for nothing except a sainthood cause. But the fact that it would seriously be considered, and accepted by most of the siblings, is heartbreaking. It's yet another aspect of the culture that reveals an oppression of the people here, a habitual loss of the sense of self dignity for the sake of advancing ahead in life. The people here so often enter into situations that are below their dignity out of necessity, in order to survive or move along in life, and this has become habitual to the degree that they lose sight of their dignity. They don't have many experiences of the value of their dignity, it's not well learned, and so they easily set their own dignity aside to move ahead. This is the sad part of the effects of poverty: the habitual setting aside of personal dignity to survive, that makes it difficult to keep one's dignity even when you've left the realm of necessity and entered into the next stages of development. Getting a skeleton is difficult and expensive (in the thousands of dollars in the States!) and the requirement to get a skeleton is probably in part based on the cheaper - and obviously unethical! - way of getting skeletons here. But it shows how the effects of poverty can generate cultural currents that oppress human dignity and present great obstacles to people's progressing out of the habitual handing over of their dignity.
One last anecdote … I was talking to a friend, and the topic of duendes came up. Duendes are the Latin American equivalent of leprechauns. They are a myth, but the people do believe in them. There is still a lot of superstition in Ecuador, and as I politely asked my friend about the duendes, it was clear that there is still belief in them. At first, I thought she was joking, but then it became clear otherwise. She said that duendes live in the mountains in solitude, and they will harrass people at night, especially people who are drunk or are vulnerable and hurt and lost in life. Females will go after men, and males will go after women.
So, on that note, I leave you until next time, and please stay safe from the duendes!