The 7.8 earthquake on the coast of Ecuador remains the focus of social media, the news and personal conversations here in Cuenca. Many expats have close friends who have settled in small villages right in the epicenter of the devastation.
Every few minutes my facebook pings with another comment from someone in one of the many Ecuador-related forums. We have Ecuador Expats, Expats without an Agenda, Ecuador Emergency, Bienvenido a Cuenca, Househunting in Cuenca, Crafty in Cuenca and many more that I’m not yet aware of.
Members report the mounting death toll, anticipated cost of recovery, numbers of volunteers from around the world pouring in. Family members try to make contact with their loved ones through the groups. Friends anxiously and determinedly work to get medical care to those they know who are still without help in remote areas.
The network here is impressive. Expats in Cuenca number around 5,000 (although some claim the number goes as high as 8,000). Men and women hail from North America (both U.S. and Canada), England, Sweden and other European countries —and they are pulling togther in an impressive way. As “newbies” we don’t know a lot of the names going back and forth through the ethernet, but I see a community that cares for one another—as well as for their new adopted land.
I’ve observed that (for the most part) the people who choose to uproot themselves and replant their lives in another country have strong opinions and are apt to let them be known. At times, the chatter on some of the forums causes me some unrest, but I figure if I don’t like what I read, I don’t have to read it.
Outspoken is an understatement for many of our expats. Bullish on their views. Sometimes resistant to hearing the other side. Opinionated and proud of it!
But during the past 24 hours I’ve seen politics and personal issues fall to the wayside as some very caring people pitch in and work together.
Should one happen to stray too far over the line and interject something controversial about a certain government official…the proverbial hand is swifty slapped and conversations goes back to “where to drop off goods” and “more people needed to help sort donations” and “where’s the best place to donate money.”
There are exceptions of course but, for the most part, times like these bring out the best in people. One or two expats back in the states on vacation offer to fly back to help out. Dog-lovers take on the task of helping find homes for nine dogs who survived the collapse of an animal shelter. People pull together to organize an air-lift of the wounded daughter of friends. Prayers and donations by the hundreds are said for nameless people a few hundred miles away who have lost everything.
Years ago in Atlanta, the subject of many discussions among my friends was how to build community. We would have long meetings about it. Invite other groups to discuss ways we could strengthen our relationships and create a caring place for people to live together.
It seems to me that hard times do that best. Unites men and women, entire families, streets, blocks– in one common purpose. The crappy, irritating things that drive us apart or cause us to not like our neighbors or drive us crazy about the person working next to us suddenly disappear when the big bad things happen… the things that are out of everyone’s control.
I’m a Christian but I admit I’m pretty fed up with the Christian Church as a whole. I don’t see a lot of Christ-like behavior in them. No wide arms welcoming the poor, the broken, the outcast, those who are different. A lot of passing judgment rather than passing peace. No sitting–and dining — with the publicans and sinners as Christ did. Instead they sit as far away from them as possible.
That often changes when the disasters come, the hard times happen, the crisis occurs. Then I’m thrilled to see churches acting more like the Christ they supposedly follow. Fists loosen, voices soften, love goes into action, and gloves go–but this time to help clean up the mess.
I don’t know much about the churches here. Haven’t been here long enough. But I’m beginning to know a bunch of hard-headed expats. Mostly retired. They’ve earned a right to their opinions and will tell you whether you really want to hear them or not. They may be in Ecuador to get away from the liberals or the conservatives. They may think the US is going to hell in the handbasket or not. They can be cranky old men and (kinda) scary women who speak their mind with fire and brimstone.
But when the chips are down, boy the good stuff comes out. I’m not as involved in the relief and rescue services as many are. We are donating money and that is about all. I have knee pain and swollen ankles. Nothing compared to what a lot of others are feeling. Katherine is in school and David spends half his day getting her to and from school. Another story.
So mostly I read and observe the interchange among this amazing group of people from all over the US…and the world. The love the people of Ecuador and they want to help. They’re pulling out all stops to do what they can to get help to those in need. They’re showing a community in action, one my old group in Atlanta dreamed about.
Someone asked on one of the forums where God is in all this. He was angry. He was being a little snarly. That’s ok.
To me, God is in the actions of the men and women who care about strangers they don’t know. And they give generously trusting it will reach the right people. And they cry for those who are injured and homeless. And they open their homes to homeless. And they feed the hungry from their own kitchens, out of their own budgets. And they honestly, genuinely care for the strangers.
We find good people everywhere. I count myself fortunate to be getting to know some of them right here.