My View in Cuenca

A beautiful morning here at 8,300 ft in the Andes. Brilliant blue skies dotted with pure white marshmallow clouds provide a backdrop to my landlady’s towering and quite laden avocado tree. Large hummingbirds flit between their feeder to the right and the moira bush to the left. And I see no evidence of any shortage of bees here in Cuenca.

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Our back patio butts up to Josefina’s lovely orchard

Their existence may be in danger in the US, but down here, they seem healthy, happy and loaded with bzzzz.

Margarita, my friend and weekly cleaning lady, arrived just a little bit ago.  She came in bearing a small bag of rolls, fresh from the panaderia.  She gave me two.  David received just one.  “Shhhhh, don’t tell,” she communicates, flashing a huge grin as she heads to the kitchen to get her coffee.

A bright yellow/orange tablecloth hangs on the line outside my window.  Not handmade, but still beautiful, the fringed cloth has multi-width stripes of vibrant purples, greens, blues and reds. The weaving is a traditional Ecuadorean design.  I had wanted to cut the cloth up to use for curtains, but Margarita would have none of that. “No, no, no,” she insisted some weeks ago.  She speaks no English, but she looked like she wanted to say, “It’s a tablecloth, dammit!”

One thing I’ve gathered in my limited time here is that most everything and everyone has its place. People have roles. Things have a purpose. And one shouldn’t try to mix them up.

Getting curtains made for our home, for example.

My former landlady, Susana, has taken me to several fabric stores to select curtain material.  At one shop, I found a fabric and design I loved and wanted to purchase it for the living room.  But they wouldn’t sell it to me because it is not intended for curtain material. It is for muebles. Furniture. Now, I’m a person that uses what I like for decorating. Corrugated cardboard and brass tacks served as wainscoting in my dining room in Arkansas. Brown craft paper has papered many a wall of mine with amazing effects. I had painted concrete floors before it was cool.

So, when I saw this material, I knew it would work. But I couldn’t buy it because Susana and the sales clerk knew I wanted it for cortinas and this was NOT cortina material.

Our windows remain curtainless.

The same for my bright colorful tablecloth. It is fated to serve one purpose and one purpose only–covering our mesa.  Do I dare tell Margarita I’m thinking of buying two more tablecloths to sew together for a bedspread?

This single purpose idea isn’t totally consistent, however.  The other side of the coin is to make do.  Just make things “good enough”, as my friend Jody says.

When we first moved into our current home we had a few plants in the front of the house that proved impossible for our dog to ignore.  Within a week or so, the succulents had been unearthed and left for dead. Josefina (our new landlady and next door neighbor) noticed the bald spot in the garden and offered me something to cover up the blight to prevent more digging from our sweet Punky.

Good idea, I thought. “Thanks”, I said.

imagesJosefina brought over a wooden toilet seat lid, with fake-brass fittings. She speaks no English but her look implied, “That should do it.”  I plopped it into place in plain view of our front door and every guest who visits and there the toilet lid sat for a few weeks until new potted plants could be arranged. It remains out there somewhere. I think I hid it behind my towering rose bush.

Now, I imagine in this city of anywhere from 400,000 to 600,000 (who really knows) there are people who wouldn’t dream of using  toilet seat covers in their front lawn to protect their gardens.  There are the rich who live in enclaves behind tall pristine walls and iron gates. Their shrub and tree-lined streets absorb the incessant barks of neurotic dogs confined to tiny spaces, block the smells of belching diesel buses as well as the tone down the bombardment of car alarms. These people live in a more perfect world. No bald spots in their lawns. They have full-time gardeners who tend to the gardens and mini-paradises that surround the family estates.  Not a potty lid to be found.

Friend Jody and I talked not too long ago about the “good enough” attitude that seems perfectly acceptable in our new city.  We got to laughing at the ways we see it around us every day.  For me, a visit to my hair salon brought me face to face with “that’ll do.” I went to the bathroom and was met with one of those beauty shots that appear in every salon in the world.  A stunning woman, a kick-ass hair style and a body that won’t quit.  The pièce de résistance was that my stylist had hung the poster up with what looked like duct tape.  Good enough, indeed.

I experience less pretense here. People are people. It’s hard to put on airs when a toilet lid sits in your front yard. Or a poster promising unlimited beauty is held in place by bulky grey tape.

51967999_Alt01And one more thing.  Next to almost every commode in this city stands a covered wastebasket. A silent reminder that everyone has crap in their lives and we just have to deal with it.

Toss, not flush.  It’s a great equalizer as far as I’m concerned.

365 days on Cuenca time

Our six-week road trip across the United States ended on February 28,2016 at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. David, Katherine and I had criss-crossed the country, visiting family and friends from the California coast to Florida. We packed and repacked eight jumbo suitcases and three carry-ons, paid the hefty excess baggage fee and boarded Jet Blue for Quito, Ecuador. We disembarked at 11 pm to a fairly empty airport.We made our way through customs, hassle-free. Amid a crowd of eager drivers, we found our two assigned taxi drivers who took us to the Airport Suites where we spent two nights adjusting to the altitude and our new life.

Not-so-bright and early the second morning,  Patricio our driver arrived to transport us across the country to our new home, Cuenca. (The not-so-bright refers to the time, not our driver!)  We saw little of the volcanoes  we passed through the Avenue of the Volcanes as fog and rain obliterated most of the high peaks.

But what we did see was beautiful.

Deep greens, crystal clear streams and beautiful skies. Dairy cattle grazing precariously on high Andean slopes. Families tending crops squeezed onto steeply-pitched fields. Colorful hats and skirts popping against a crazy-quilt landscape. Pint-sized brown-skinned children walking alone, close to the highway, heading for school without a care in the world.

We pulled up in front of our new home at 5:00 pm (our new landlord said he’d wait no later than 5:30) and unloaded the truck. Carrying even one small bag up 13 steps had me winded. The altitude would take some adjusting for me. David and Katherine moved with apparent ease.

From that first day at our Air B&B rental next to the Tomebamba River,we have moved twice in this year.  Not unusual for expats who settle here. Someone said to expect to move 3-4 times before you find the place that totally suits you.  We’re lucky. I think we’ve found our casa after numero dos.

Learning to live without a car was difficult for me.  I missed jumping behind the wheel and taking off for who knows where. Katherine missed that too. I also longed for greasy Mexican food (my Atlanta friends know what I mean) and Crunchy  Peanut Butter. David missed–nothing.  He felt immediately at home and settled in without a moment of remorse.  His two female companions–not so much.

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Katherine finds a seaside friend at Ayampe, Ecuador

Tears and despair have been frequent guests in our home here in Ecuador. Despite feeling we made the right move, I’ve questioned our decision because of Katherine’s unhappiness. But we were right.  Over the months, she has found her place, made some friends, created a space for herself and now calls Ecuador home.  She likes it…she really, really likes it. She’s shot up and thinned down. She’s developed into a young woman full of fun and ideas. She knows more spanish than she lets on. She has begun impersonating her old parents with amazing accuracy. Have I told you how much I love this daughter of ours?

We were planning to visit the US this summer but those plans have been postponed.  Maybe next spring. Or summer.  Time will tell. It feels too soon to return to the old home.

So what do I love about this place that has won our hearts?

Not in any order of importance, I love…

  • no constant bombardment of advertising and marketing of things to buy
  • family-oriented culture
  • constant spring-like weather–cool in the morning, sunny during the day, cool again in the evening
  • stress-free zone. i do not have to face the traffic (it’s horrible) nor do i have to make a commute. i have no work that must be done. some days it is fun to do nothing.
  • history around every corner
  • rivers running through the city, count them…four
  • rubbing shoulders with indigenous men and women who keep their native dress and customs in the 21st century and fit right in
  • the woman who started cleaning our house and who has become a dear friend that makes me laugh
  • gringo-frequented establishments that satisfy an occasional need for familiar foods and conversation
  • a culture of creativity and a cast of characters who make each and every day more interesting
  • hummingbirds of all sizes

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  • gorgeous flowers that bloom in our front yard–no thanks to me
  • a day view from our bedroom window on a cloudy morning.

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today is ending up the long weekend of Carnaval (not sure of the correct spelling as I’ve seen it so many ways).  unlike Rio or New Orleans, Cuenca celebrates not with parades but with spray foam, water balloons and string foam.  i haven’t gone out much. but Katherine has had a ball!  the city has been “at battle” for days. many people having the time of their lives. quite a few expats complaining about the unrest.  such is life. a good dose of a water gun and spray foam from a stranger isn’t such a bad way to celebrate.

all is well for the Thornton-Vander Plaats in Cuenca, Ecuador.  it’s been a good year. looking forward to many more. and remember friends and blog readers…our door is always open–except when string foam is being sprayed.

 

my daughter, my life and my angst

(NOTE:  this began in a fit of frustration and written with top speed.  typos are numerous, capitalization inconsistent, etc.  not recommended reading for those with OCD.)

if had known what parenting entailed i don’t know if i would have signed up for the task.

an 11-year old with a mind of her own is a terrible thing to live with.

she can be charming, delightful, loving, attentive, smart, creative and kind — and a joy to be around. but dammit when she wants to drag her feet and be a prima donna, act like a spoiled child and demand that everything be about her…i want to scream. no, i do scream.

i want to pack a bag and flee to south america.

oh, i’ve already done that.  with her.

so that isn’t an option. i have nowhere else to go.

africa is too hot. can’t drink the water is a lot of other places.  afraid of bombs in the middle east (thanks America)…plus i can’t stand the thought of wearing a habib. USA is much to scary a place for me anymore.  Perhaps one of those remote monasteries tucked in high places in china may suffice.

david doesn’t get ruffled a bit.  ok, ruffled. he raises his voice and puffs out his chest for a minute or two but then all is well and he goes back to whatever he was doing.  my daughter slips away into her room, under her headphones and escapes into the world of minecraft or moviestar planet or youtube and all is fine.

and i sit here stewing about what i’ve done wrong and how she’s going to turn out to need therapy for at least three decades and what can i do to make her into a person she’ll be proud to be. strong. resourceful. self-confident. self-reliant.  kind and generous and good to all. or most.  or at least one other person.

i don’t want perfection. do i?  i don’t know.  but i hate to see a child who wants what everyone else has. who compares everything she has to what others have and puts her self in a lower position.  who wants parents who dote on her and shower her with anything she wants.  not one, not two but three computers.  someone else has a great voice machine. why can’t i have one.  she has iphone 7. he has iphone 6. why do i have to have an iphone 4  something in me gets hooked. i feel guilty. i’m not being a good mom.  maybe i should indulge. maybe i should have her keeping up with Juan’s family.

no, I SHOULD NOT!

she does not have to compete here or in the usa or anywhere with what other children have. how do we teach her that what is inside is the most important. not what you wear (though she doesn’t really care about clothes), not what you own, not what you carry around or where you live makes you valuable.  it is who you are.

how do we instill that in her?

part of the reason we moved here is to provide her a different experience than the materialistic culture of north america.  er, the usa.

but we’ve found it here too…to some extent.  probably because she goes to a private school which automatically places her in the same class as more wealthy ecuadorians.  it’s not expensive by usa standards; it’s not the most expensive here in cuenca. but it is, i suppose more elite than public school.  for where she was with spanish, however, public school would have been too big of a step we felt.  this school offers a lot and the  more i know of it, the more value the education she is getting there.

i get angry, sad, concerned and stressed at what i see in her at times or what i hear her say.

then i think of how i was as a child.

I wanted the sweaters that lesta springman had.  i wanted the wig hats that the hilyard girls got for Christmas.  I wanted to be able to go to dances like everyone in the school.  I wanted to drive up and down main street on saturday night…but had no one to drive with me. I wanted matching bra and girdle sets like the powell and doyle girls. (yes, that was in the 60s when girdles were the rage).

i’d get upset with mom and dad and storm up the steps into my room.  i’d drag furniture around to release my pent-up anger.  i’d smash radios with my fist.  i screamed into pillows and i’d cry my eyes out.  WHY CAN’T I BE LIKE OTHER KIDS?  WHY CAN’T I HAVE WHAT THEY HAVE?  Why did my parents have to be so generous and give a large portion of their income to people need and not lavish me with gifts?

I was a selfish, stubborn, willful, child.  I was a hurting child. I was crying for something in the inside.

Is my daughter crying as well?

Maybe.  Uprooted from her home, her school, her network of friends…always changing network but nevertheless well-established friendships.  Landed in a culture where family is everything and individualism is not highly rated at all.  Attending school with children where the words “negra” and “gordito” are used freely and not as insults.  yet that is what they feel like to a girl from the USA where the “n” words is anathema and to be called fat or chubby is an ultimate insult.  here, they are words of endearment. truly. family members call each other by those names as ways of saying “i love you.”  how does Katherine’s young mind make the switch?

She’s adopted in a culture that doesn’t understand adoption.  here, families just absorb each other’s children when necessary.  Children continually ask her, “who are you REAL parents?”  We are my real parent, she says. She is not believed.

She is neither black, brown or white in this culture that measures people by the color of their skin.  She is a bit of an oddity because of her curly hair, her hazel eyes and her height. Short by usa standards, the towers among her classmates.

But she is loved. david and i visited her school on friday and saw the crowd of kids with whom she was playing.  right at the center.  boys and girls clowning around with her, touching her, laughing with her.  she is well accepted. well-loved. her teachers say she is part of the class and enjoyed by all.

so…what do i do for my little girl?  my dearest little girl?  how do i make this transition easier?  do i keep hands off and let her feel the pain and grow through it?  do i soften the blows and play interference?  maybe walk with her day by day and help ease hurt feelings, explain the truths of life and listen to hear pain and wipe her tears.

i feel stab wounds almost daily.  she, an extra-sensitive, ultra-dramatic soul — i think much like her birthmom–has to go through life feeling things deeply. wanting things intensely, expressing emotions outrageously. much like her REAL mom–me.

i want nothing more in life than to be mother of this dear child.  i am gifted and blessed beyond measure. like her, i have to vent sometimes.  this has been my vent.

she’s not going to get what the sanchez family gives their children. she is going to go to the coast instead with me in two weeks and spend time with children who lost everything in the earthquake.  we will experience together the value of family there. how possessions mean nothing and loved ones mean everything.

all is right in the world.  my outburst at paragraph one has cooled and i am on my way upstairs to hug my daughter and help her pack.  we are moving to a new house on monday.

she’s getting bunkbeds (used.)  she’s decorating her room with emojis (she thinks).  we are going to be happy.

 

Reflections on a Tuesday

An author wrote, “The real state of our spiritual life is best revealed late on some Tuesday or Thursday afternoon after a rough day.”

Whoever he or maybe she is.  I find the statement scrawled in pencil on a scrap of lined paper stuck in the spine of an old sketch book. The name of the work has faded from the torn sheet…and even from my memory.

But her words they stand strong. They resonate. They punch me soundly in the gut on this late afternoon.

It is on a Tuesday after a very rough day.

And the real state of my spiritual life has been revealed so very clearly.

With impatient words and gruff voice. Jagged nerves. Too little charis, too much malice in my thoughts, words and deed.

Not such a pleasing sight. Not right, not right.

Oh, there are reasons.  Always reasons.

A conversation that opened up old wounds and prompted the flow of tears from deep within. Jaw muscles tensed, clenched and locked to keep the feelings in and pain from spilling out. I worked to get them free–the muscles and the memories. And oh the bitter feelings flowed. Spirit-breaking remembrances that are as old as I am. They are too long with me and they have kept me from…

From what?

From experiencing a constant connection of the soul. A comfortable place of rest for my spirit.  A centeredness and settled-ness that creates a sense of being all right with the world, with myself and with God.

So what now?

I sit and silence the commotion of spinning thoughts inside.  I ease into quiet.  I let go of the wrestling with and blocking out of all that once hurt and allow it to flow into the stillness. I sense the vastness of God and the goodness as well.

Tomorrow is Wednesday.  Another day to allow a more relaxed and gentle spirit to be revealed.

 

Learning: not as easy as it used to be

After reviewing my final grades upon graduating university, my dad handed me a book called, “Bright Child, Poor Grades.”

bright child poor gradsSamuel Watson Thornton made his point without saying a word. Ouch.

I’ve never been a good student. Not that I haven’t had role models. I’ve been surrounded by siblings and siblings-in-law with PhD’s. Nephews and great nieces who teach and study at some of our nation’s top institutions. Relatives who speak at international conferences and win impressive awards for things scholastic and bright. I have listened in awe at a few of my great nephews (ages 10-13) discuss string theory over a campfire at the Grand Canyon. Why, a nephew of mine even owns a patent on drought-resistant wheat. Smart cookies. Brainiacs. Brightest light bulbs in the box.

And then there’s me. I get a book for graduation that (in essence) says, “Hey kid, why did you screw up in school?”

Dad wasn’t being mean. Not at all. He was telling me, tongue in cheek, that he loved his daughter even though she wasn’t living up to her potential. Sigh. The story of my life.

For me, learning in the classroom has never been easy or interesting or desirable. I daydreamed. Slept. Doodled. Much like I see my 11-year-old doing now.

Over time, I’ve learned I acquire knowledge best when done on my own. When I catch a scent of something interesting and start sniffing out the data.

The late 70’s found me pouring over everything about copywriting.  And that became my career. The 80’s was my China period. I read everything I could find on the country, its people, history and politics.

你吃饭了吗       nǐ chīfàn le ma      “Have you eaten?”

I learned, for example, that a common greeting among older Chinese is “Have you eaten yet?” Used much  like our “How are you?“, the question harks back to the days of food scarcity in China. Just yesterday I read that today, many Chinese are using the greeting, “Have you surfed the Internet today?”  High tech wins over hunger. Not in my house.

Spirituality kept my interest during the 90’s and my bookcases swelled with the writings of the early church fathers and mothers, mystics and religious writers of all faiths.

So yes, I have an inquiring mind… but I’m lousy in the classroom.

And honestly, I’ve never really cared about it.  Until now.

Here I am at age 64, attempting to learn español. We toted textbooks and Pimsler’s Spanish Lessons on MP3  to South America. 12108793_1504025139907931_3137879693761703263_nBut Ana Luisa at Coffee Club Spanish at Plaza Otorongo has lit a fire in me. I love her classroom. Finally, at retirement age,  I want to excel.

My dad would be so pleased.

I’m halfway through my third session with her and find I love learning this language with crazy verb tenses more with every passing week. However, my spirit is willing but I’m finding my flesh (er, brain cells) is weak. It’s not so easy to absorb and assimilate new information.  My new-found desire to excel is being sorely tested by flabby gray matter.

But try I am. My stack of homemade flash cards grows weekly. I invest a minimum of two hours a day in studying. I attempt to join in the flow of conversation in class.  I stumble, fall, go blank, pull my hair and sigh.  Ana Luisa smiles and nods and encourages me (as she does each one of us) to practica, practica.

Ana Luisa is one of those teachers who makes students feel comfortable with learning and who don’t mind making a mistake.  She’s petite, vivacious, funny and an outstanding speaker of both English and her native tongue.

My chest swells with pride on those occasions she says,”Perfecto, Nancy!” Granted that doesn’t happen often. But it’s often enough to keep me going. Going until I reach my goal of being able to converse with ease and at length with Margarita, our lovely and shy housekeeper.

I measure my progress by how Margarita and I communicate week by week. When we moved in and I first met her,  I held my dictionary in hand as I tried to ask her what she’d like for lunch. She looked at me (she’s the same height as Katherine) with total confusion.  We’ve since made great strides. Margarita likes helping me with pronunciation using my flash cards. She used to giggle at my mistakes and now she guffaws. We laugh uproariously as we act out the verbs. She nods her head vigorously when we connect. She’s a delight. And I’m as proud as can be. I think she is too.

Progress. I’m making it thanks to two warm-hearted women, hard work and a classroom of ambitious gringos.

Learning is both fun and frustrating. I want to do better in class. In fact, I’d love to be the star.  But I’m not.  But I am a student who is applying herself and making good strides.

There’s no place I’d rather be than in the classroom with Ana Luisa and at the dining room table with Margarita.  These two women are doing a fantastic job teaching an old dog new tricks.

Life is very good.  And I think my dad, if he were alive, just might want his book back.

 

 

 

 

 

Cuenca, through the eyes of David

A number of people have requested that I provide photos to record our life here in Cuenca. But it seems every photo I take has my thumb in the foreground. I just don’t have the gift. And, I realize, I don’t want to develop it.  Too many other things to do. Spanish to learn. Friends to make. A country to discover.

However, mi esposo, David, is pretty handy with the Nikon or whatever it is we have.

And he has a goal to walk every street in this city and he is well on his way.

He leaves the house with camera around his neck and umbrella in hand (not so much for the daily rain as to fend off annoying street dogs).  He returns a little winded and red faced three or four hours later and hightails it to the desk, picks up the city map and commences to mark his most recent trek.

He loves to walk and this city gives him ample opportunity to do just that. I want to share his enthusiasm but at this point I find myself too leery of falling down (as I have already done too many times in the past four months!) Sidewalks here can be treacherous at times. One needs to learn to walk with eyes to the ground. I can’t quit talking and I can’t seem to walk and talk at the same time. Sigh.

He’s documenting some interesting things.  Starting with…laundry.

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Near our home is a busy laundry spot. Families without access to laundry facilities or those lacking money for machines or maybe those who choose to do it because that’s how they’ve always done it come to wash clothes in the Tomebamba River.

We see both women and men pounding their laundry on rocks in the fast-moving water and laying them out on the grass to dry. I imagine it’s a great way to reduce stress if they have any.  People are pretty chill here.  Not much high blood pressure medication sold in Cuenca.

Children play along the banks. As shirts, pants and towels dry in the sun they create colorful, playful patterns.

Growing season is year round here and gardens are plentiful. In town, you’ll see raised beds or small plots by the side of the house. Farther out of El Centro, in the burbs,  open spaces fill up fast with rows of green, leafy vegetables.

Who knows, we may even join the ranks of food producers once we move to a place with enough green space. The land is rich and fertile. Just stick something in the ground and it takes off.  Margarita, the woman who cleans our house every week, took a garlic bulb that was sprouting in our kitchen, stuck it in the dirt and we’re on our way to having our own garlic crop this year! Huge fat juicy carrots. Cauliflower and broccoli for a pittance. Cabbages good enough for kings. P5140572 (2)

The only thing I really miss is Iowa raised corn-on-the-cob. From what I’ve learned, yellow corn here is fed to the animals. White corn goes to the humans. But it’s not at all like the corn raised on my in-law’s farm in Northwest Iowa. I do miss that.  We’ll be back there July 2017 bearing our sticks of butter and hearty appetites. You are forewarned Daryl and Alyda!

Along the sidewalks…

P5090538 (2)P5140574 (2) Street art is encouraged in the city.  I hear sometimes the city even helps pay for the paint. Everywhere we walk, we see displays that make us smile. Brilliant colors, bold graphics, bizarre murals, happy spaces.  I wonder if I can get a block or two of walls to paint?

I won’t say there is a church on every corner, but it is close.  Large and small. Hundreds of years old or relatively new. I don’t know that I hear many bells peeling, but I do hear many fireworks going off — very frequently– honoring a saint’s birthday or a patron saints day.

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Something old, something new. David and I love seeing all the  antique buildings still holding their own in this city of high rise buildings and modern expressways.

My husband has this dream to acquire an abandoned adobe house and fix it up.  I like the thought of it, but the actuality is not in my comfort zone.  I like this growing modern city that allows room for the old to spend their remaining years in peace. Buildings and people.

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I’ll post more.  I have a book to read.  Friends of ours are returning to the States and are selling off their extensive library.  I find myself wandering over there every few weeks and purchasing another load of hardbacks and paperbacks.  The house is starting to feel more like home.

We have a good life in Cuenca, Ecuador.  And we are muy thankful.

 

 

it’s the little things…

the major cultural differences between North and South America became obvious the moment we landed in Quito the last of February. and when david, katherine and i arrived in Cuenca on March 1, our eyes opened wide to this new world of ours.

truly a right-in-your-face kind of experience.

we left affluent atlanta, georgia with its heat and humidity, fast-paced, multi-laned expressways, bmws and blonde hair, and very familiar, southern-drawled english.

we settled into a slower-paced cuenca, a not-so-rich, old-old-old city with its mix of dirt, cobblestone and paved roads,  towering cathedrals, brilliant sun and cool temperatures, black hair and fast-spoken, lilting spanish. (i’ve read that Ecuadorians sing when they talk and it’s true.  listening to Susana, our landlady is like listening to a soothing song.)

we’re creating a home at 2-104 Calle Ricardo Darquea Granda.

the first couple of months consisted of adjusting to the altitude and the many steps in the city. the ubiquitous buses and yellow taxis. we visited restaurants and settled on our favorites.  david began his quest to walk down every street in the city. (he uses a yellow highlighter to mark off the conquered calles on a huge city map.) i’ve enrolled in spanish classes. and katherine continues to struggle to find her place in this new world.  oh how she misses “home.”

the newness has begun to wear off although i still find myself looking up into the sky and whispering “what a beautiful day!” as if it is a rarity rather than commonplace. probably in time i’ll start taking it for granted.

i have, however, developed a strong dislike for the buses despite the amazingly low fares. 25 cents takes you anywhere in the city but that value doesn’t prevent me from feeling tense and on-guard  at the bustops. residual from my encounter with a robber, i know. i find the bus interiors are often too crowded. too hot. getting on and off the bus feels dangerous to me and i move maybe too carefully to avoid falling of the higher than usual landing. aggressive bus drivers  wait for no man or woman to get to their seats or off the bus.  native cuencanos take it in stride.  me, not so much.  i’m becoming a taxi girl.

open holes in the sidewalks, broken up cobblestones, washed out sections and poorly maintained streets pose a threat to walking safety.  i’ve fallen several times, twisted my ankles, bruised my bum, wounded my pride. but no bones are broken so i am thankful. other expats have not been so lucky. i walk in awe as i see many  local women (young and old alike) stroll with such ease in their 3″ heels, up the steps and down steep hills. i gawk in amazement.

now, with a few months under my belt, i start to see the subtle differences. there will be many more to discover, i’m sure. but for right now here’s what i’ve observed:

1.in the states, i was guilty of tossing and replacing. here it is a make do, reuse, re-purpose mentality. repair shops are visible everywhere. construction and home repair often seems to me to be patchwork.  adequate but not craftsmanship.  function rather than form.

our landlady is having a flurry of activity around the house, getting ready for her daughter’s visit in two weeks.  mucho renovation. to cover a large, non-functioning window in our kitchen she has plywood inserted into the area and covers it with old, partly faded curtains she found in her closet. they don’t match the other curtains hung to disguise a door that separates her kitchen from ours, nor do they fully hide the patchwork plywood, but it is sufficient. i let my compulsive need for things to match, fit and look just so, go. it does the job.

2.napkins in restaurants.  in the US we had unlimited access to paper napkins and i would use them liberally.  here, one or,at the most, two very small, not-so-absorbent napkins arrive in a basket with silverware for your meal.  one dab and you’re done napkins.  i am determined to bring my own handwipes.

3.the smallest serving dishes for salsa and chips i’ve ever seen.  one sunday a group of us dined at the new el jalopeno for lunch. a wee, small bowl was placed in the center of the table holding at most six chips. not even enough for one per person at the table.  the salsa bowl held, at most, a quarter of a cup.

4. i was at my hair salon the other day and visited the women’s room.  a finely-retouched poster hung above the sink showcasing a strikingly beautiful woman with a stylish do. this “yes-you-can-look-like-this-with-the-right-cut” poster was attached to the wall with painters tape. i smiled. again, function beats form. use what you’ve got to make things work.

i see very little  lot of pretense here. i’m sure there are in certain areas, but those are not the neighborhoods we have frequented nor probably will. i find it very easy to relax here.

5. fast food. yes we have it here.  a mcdonald’s, burger king, KFC, pizza hut, dominos and papa john’s.  the thing is, it’s not fast.  not fast at all.  while we have chosen not to frequent these US-based franchises much, we do occasionally for katherine’s sake. preparation is extremely slow. one must ask for ice (this is not freely given nor, in some establishments, is it easily found).  and the largest drink offered is the size of a kid’s meal in the USA.  no giant gulps to be found in Ecuador.

6. and salt?  i’ve been to a few establishments that have had the server scrounging in the kitchen to find a container for just a wee bit of salt for this sodium-loving expat. flavor is not the most important thing in ecuador–but you’ll find many who disagree with that statement, i’m sure.

7. we took katherine to a hair salon in el centro a few months ago.  i did a double take to see the stylist dipping water out of bucket to wash katherine’s hair. the only plumbing in the salon was in the bathroom. so they make do.  another customer, a young male tourist from Germany, looked at me and smiled when he saw the set up.  when in Ecuador, do….

everyday i see little things that set this place apart from the place we left.  and for the most part, these differences feel so very comfortable. they are almost imperceptible yet they say to me looks aren’t everything here. things are valued, used and serve a purpose. there’s not a lot of waste. beauty is appreciated but it needn’t be flawless. comfort, common sense, practicality and frugality help make this a great place be. i feel freer in Ecuador.

maybe that should be the new motto to promote tourism here:  Feel freer in Ecuador.