Tuesday, July 19, 2016

An Aspect about the Spoken Word in Ecuador

National traits symptomize aspects to a country. Since I arrived in Ecuador in October 2015, I´ve discovered traits about Ecuadorian people I find engaging. My landlords invited me to their home to celebrate Christmas. I had a wonderful time with their extended family of grandparents, sons and daughters, cousins and in-laws. I found they laughed, danced and celebrated with an exuberance and humor uncommon to my experience in the United States. One common trait to Ecuador is the people here know how to have fun and enjoy themselves.

Tunnel entrance in Guayaquil city.

Another aspect I´m finding true is that in Ecuador people share a sense of collectivity. The good of the community is valued. Networks of friends aid to surmount individual, difficult life circumstances. People ask for help from one another without feeling embarrassed to either do so or to have to do so.

The health of the country environmentally speaking is valued as a whole, as well as the health of individuals. Signs on freeways remind people to not contaminate the water. Packs of cigarettes display graphic pictures of cancerous lungs or amputated legs. Quite a few Ecuadorian friends of mine have remonstrated against my smoking cigarettes, clearly concerned for my physical well-being. Not so in the United States, where friends mostly consider another´s smoking to be none of their business.

One aspect common to the people in the United States is to place a high value on good work. Most every employee and business in America strives to produce genuine quality products and excellent customer service. In Ecuador my experience has been this aspect is valued to a lesser degree. I had invitations to a party printed and the business failed to include the address to my apartment. At an upscale restaurant, even, the waiter failed to bring all I had ordered. A representative of an internet service provider came to my apartment one morning, investigated and then declared my location made a situation such that service would be impossible to provide. In the afternoon, a different rep from the same company made an unscheduled visit and told me that service could be provided.
Street scene in Guayaquil city

Among Americans as a whole a high value is placed on the content of the spoken word. It is considered important in the United States to do what you say you are going to do. I´m finding to my consternation this aspect is less valued as a whole in Ecuador. An Ecuadorian fellow I know suggested we meet to get together and talk. I agreed and invited him to dine with friends the next Friday at my apartment. He didn´t show at the appointed time. He didn´t show at all and didn´t call to say he would not. The same type of instance happened with another friend I was to meet at a coffee house. In a third example, an Ecuadorian friend asked for a favor. I agreed.  We set up a time and place to meet. I waited in vain for him to show, and I waited in vain for a telephone call from him to explain why he wasn´t there.

As a result, I am enjoying those engaging aspects to Ecuador. As well, when I find a business that does quality work, I make special note of it. Furthermore, I find that if I am to live in Ecuador, I must become less trusting.


Monday, July 4, 2016

How circumstances paint a picture of Ecuador

The water is off here in Cuenca this early Monday morning, but no dogs are barking outside and it´s not cold inside the apartment. It´s a good time to write a story.
I´ve become a known entity around here in the San Sebastian neighborhood in which I live. The female owner at the market I frequent most often recognizes me also when passing by out on the street. I´m acquainted with two neighbors across the street who wave and greet me when we see each other outside. The fellow who owns the local CD movie sales shop is selling his business, but it´s pleasant to buy movies from him because he tries hard to accommodate with suggestions and he´ll readily order a movie I want he doesn´t have in stock.       

Last night I walked to the river to get a break from a lot of thought clamboring about my head. I watched the water rushing within its banks and listened to sound created by its washing over the rocks. I was alone, feeling a certain comfort that could be represented by the river passing below in its travel to an unknown destination.
The seed of myself I planted in Ecuador nine months ago has grown roots that now tie me to the ground, and shallow though they maybe---I´m not going anywhere else soon.
I am discovering South America and its land and people and it´s turning out to be the greatest lesson of discovery I´ve ever had in my life. I´m learning there are other ways to look at the world. I´m learning that other societies can be different not just in superficial ways but in fundamental ways. And that´s turning out to be okay with me. I´m game. I´m also learning what it means to be from the United States and that´s okay too. It isn´t learning by reading a text book, it´s experiential learning and it´s slowly changing the way I am.

The other day I was kneeling on Simon Bolivar Street to tie the loose shoelaces on one of my shoes. As I struggled to get up a woman offered to me her hand. I refused the help. I have a mentality that values self-reliance, while she exhibited a trait home to a mentality that values mutual assistance.     

While I´m not here to complain, that doesn´t mean I have no complaints. When I find an Ecuadorian shop or an Ecuadorian worker who takes pride in their quality of work, I make note of it. I don´t assume everybody does good work anymore because I´ve lived here long enough to know better than that by now.

But last month I also attended a concert performed by the orchestra of the University of Cuenca and attest the quality of its presentation of classical music was on a par equal to the best I´ve enjoyed anywhere, anytime.







Saturday, May 21, 2016

Homeless Dogs Part of Cuenca Life

While walking home on Simon Bolívar street one afternoon last week, I saw this little dog taking it easy on the sidewalk. I started taking pictures. Apparently annoyed, the animal trotted into a store and I followed. I saw the store owner inside and asked her if the dog belonged to her. She said yes.

Store owner´s dog

I stooped and called and it came over and let me pet its head. I love dogs and felt glad to be doing it. I sometimes think if people were dogs there would be no need for figures like Buddha or Jesus. A lot of times, I attempt to pet the dogs I meet on the streets of Cuenca, but I get virtually no takers. They ignore me. Not that they would pee on me, but I´m like a fire hydrant or a tree to them---an inanimate object.

I´m not used to it. There isn´t almost one dog back in the states, at least where I come from, that would not gladly accept a petting human hand, not to mention warm words like ¨good dog¨ or ¨nice boy.¨
Everyone, both Ecuadorian and ex-pat with whom I talk agrees the city has a sizeable homeless dog population. I couldn´t find official figures, but I can report it is not uncommon to see scruffy looking dogs on the streets of Cuenca.

Lunch for two homeless dogs in Parque El Paraíso

Mauricio Bernal is the owner of Sabatino´s restaurant in Plaza Otorongo, and we´re talking one day last week, and he´s telling me he feeds his left-over restaurant food to homeless dogs who live around the plaza. He says a small pack of them visit at the same time daily because Bernal does the feeding at the same time daily. It´s this way with many restaurants says Bernal. 
Dog regular in Plaza Otorongo
He says there is no official, city-wide program to sterilize street dogs, hence their population continually rises---every six months the females give birth to new puppies. In an effort to reduce this growth, Bernal claims some people put puppies into bags and tie the bags and throw the puppies into one of the rivers in Cuenca.
Sometimes, he says, people will try to sell puppies in one of the open markets in town, and failing that will leave them to fend for themselves.

Many homeless dogs live in El Paraiso Park, Bernal says, where ¨They know they need to be friendly to get food.¨
There is a private organization in Cuenca dedicated to promoting the cause of humane treatment of animals. ARCA was founded in August 2003, and runs a vet clinic and an adoption agency. It has volunteers, collects donations and sponsors public events.

ARCA introduced a proposal to the mayor of Cuenca in June 2013. Called Citizen Dog, the proposed measure would elevate animals to official status as creatures due public policy attention. Among other practices, the measure would educate the public about good animal practices, implement legal norms and protections, and institute a program of sterilization. 





Thursday, May 5, 2016

Not Yet Speaking Spanish like a Pro?

Little else galls more than to not understand the language of the people of the country in which I live. As such no greater motivation exists and by default no effort can be wasted---no mistake made that can deter---to become a fluent Spanish speaker is fifty percent of the reason I moved to Cuenca, Ecuador.
Street scene in Cuenca
I had at one time entertained the notion that immersion as methodology for learning a foreign language was--- in and of itself---sufficient to achieve fluency. Not so by a long shot. I met an American ex-pat in Cuenca who has lived here for five years. Although a 50- something, bright, college educated woman, she speaks no more than token Spanish. ¨Gracias¨, ¨hola,¨ and ¨adios¨. Immersion is a big help but it´s not a critical factor.

In addition the aid that immersion offers isn´t activated unless its benefit is utilized. When taking a taxi it does not help to hear the news on the radio but it does help to listen. When watching television, it does no good to filter out Spanish shows and watch only English language programs. It does good to have Ecuadorian acquaintances or friends with whom you can practice speaking Spanish. Immersion is worthless if English only is spoken to fellow ex-pats.

Ex-pats enrolled in Spanish language schools like Yanapuma or Simon Bolivar, or ex-pats who hire tutors---these people demonstrate sincere desire to adjust themselves to the life of Ecuador. It is a credit to them to be doing so, not only because learning a second language entails hard study, but also because it is a sign of respect towards Ecuador.
Simon Bolívar Spanish language school in Cuenca
Be this as it may, the type of Spanish spoken by teachers to educate students is not the same type that is spoken in the shops or on the streets, or in the bars and banks. I tend to understand a great deal of the Spanish spoken to me in the classroom. I tend to understand little of the Spanish spoken to me by the fellow shining my shoes in downtown Cuenca or by the taxi driver taking me to Mall del Rio.

I would argue there are two reasons why this is what it is.

At the school the professors teach at an understandable rate of speed. This is to say their communications are conveyed in a manner slow enough to comprehend. This is not artificial. It´s authentic Spanish elaborated in an educational environment.

The second reason why is that Spanish spoken by Ecuadorians in day to day life is laced with slang that makes no sense to those who are not native to the country. That´s why this book by author Nicholas Crowder, who writes extensively about Ecuador, can help towards a better understanding of Spanish as it´s spoken in ordinary life. 


Observations on Gender Communication

I do a lot of listening to women talking in the gender language of the female, and I'm amazed as I observe how much access they have to their feelings.  How do they know so much about themselves I wonder as I listen with interest and admiration and  sometimes envy as these women soak their words in the inner worlds of their beings and speak them with fluidity and ease and confidence. I don't know what my feelings are half the time, and if I did I wouldn't bet a dime I'd be able to express them. Women seem to have an ability to communicate feelings with all their various gradations of nuance. Like in the picture from Shutterstock below, women seem to know what they are about in ways I venture to say men just don't know.

My observation is men are inexperienced when it comes to talking with feeling and about feelings. Men obeyed the social rules growing up as boys and never learned how to exhibit empathy or access the more gentle feelings. Men sit silent about how they feel. I'm a man and I don't often feel exactly what's going on inside. I feel anger, impatience and frustration too often, but those are not feelings. They're automatic responses. I don't know my inner world. I was never taught how to access my inner world. I remember this little league baseball game that happened when I was a kid. The game would decide which team won the pennant. I was pitching, and I was among the top pitchers, but we lost the game. I felt devastated and cried. Another baseball player saw my crying and yelled at me to stop, and that's what I did, instantly, feeling embarrassed in front of everybody watching.  I broke a social rule that boys don't cry, and that's an example of how social environments mold people into what they become.  Boys are taught not to express feelings.  If the male gender doesn't get family and social permission in childhood to express feelings they don't learn how to express feelings.  I'm not a social scientist. I'm a gentleman with my own perspective making observations about the world the way he sees it. What I observe is that women live inside and share inner worlds with other women. Men live in the outside world of making mechanical adjustments to the environment. The landscape of creating and implementing blue prints for exterior projects is where men feel at home.  I recall a woman telling me her husband plays cards with his friends from time to time. She told me if she asks afterwards how they were feeling he says he doesn't know. That's the point. Men don't talk about their feelings.

When I was in 6th and 7th grades, the girls sat on one side of the classroom and the boys on the other. The teacher would ask a question and almost every time the hands that shot up rose from the female side. I felt a little ticked. I knew my friends were smart and had good answers to these questions. I wanted the teacher and the class to know I had an answer but if I raised my hand I'd get colored by the boys with the subtle tint of appearing too feminine. I was aware of this but I'd raise my hand.  I wanted recognition for intelligence more than I feared being labeled a sissy.

Women are so much better at knowing and expressing their feelings than men that this divides the genders. Women share feelings with other women while men gravitate towards comfortable discussions about outside events in politics or what's in the news. When women gather informally they don't talk about politics or history. They talk about the people in their lives and share sentiment about how they feel affected. Men are mostly only able to talk about the outside world. They don't speak the language of women. Since the women's movement began four decades ago, women have become engineers, attorneys, scientists and politicians. They know how to speak the language of men. It's not their native tongue, but it is a second language. So women can talk about the outside world with both women and men and share their inner feelings with both genders. Men can talk scientific theory with both genders but they don't know how to share feelings with either gender. I'm painting with loud colors and broad strokes, I know, but to me it's like an elephant in the room. Women are entering combat units while men don't know how to express tender feelings and empathy.


How and when are men going to learn to speak in at least a rudimentary way the language of women?  How are men going to acquire the nurturing and empathy characteristics women have that allow them to feel and share who they are. How are men going to deepen communication with women if the feminine aspect is so thwarted it doesn't gets discovered in the first place.   
Men are starting to learn. I think it's helping that homosexuality isn't hidden in our society like it was in the heyday of the Greatest Generation. There's less peer pressure to act in the Marlboro man way that blocks access to feelings. Men are starting to learn by osmosis because they are realizing they need to know. The women in their lives are making a demand of it.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Different Points of View

You might fairly inquire how it is I know what I´m talking about---what credentials do I possess to write about Cuenca, Ecuador?  I ask myself the same question. Experience is the main guide when time comes to write the stuff of my Ecuador Experiment.

So far I´ve learned enough to know I´m a complete novice at living in this city. I´ve learned enough, after six months, to know that what I do know is much less than there is to find out---what I know is no more than the tip of a titanic iceberg.
Subway Restaurant on Cuenca Street

What captures my interest about the ex-pat matter are not only discoveries of differences and similarities between the cultures of Ecuador and the United States, it´s also a dawning internal discovery occurring at the same time. For most of us who have repatriated to life in Ecuador, the older years of retirement age present new territories of being alive.  These two enormous changes in time and place combined make for solid adventure.

So yes, it is true---due to inexperience what I write may be off the mark, but write I must if I´m to blog. So I employ slang and say I´ll take a stab at it. 

I´d say work and money are not treated like gods in Ecuador. In this society people as a whole do not confuse wealth with happiness. In the United States, work separates from the functions of daily activity. What I mean is that work is placed upon a special pedestal. It´s work! Nothing is more important than work!  And it´s unacceptable to interfere with the main purpose of work---which is to please the client--- an end to which both boss and employee subordinate almost all else.

Llama animals outside Cuenca

Not so in Ecuador. Work here is one of a number of forms of participation in the living of life. It isn´t an end in itself. It is one of the means toward another end--- which I´d describe as the goal to live without the pressures of undo concern. Here in Cuenca one time I had to wait for the supplier of a service to go out and get a coke before she offered to me her business attention. Although the customer is important, in Ecuador the customer doesn´t necessarily come first.

Not so long ago I had ordered furniture to be made by an Ecuadorian cabinet maker in Cuenca, the work excellent and completed in timely fashion. I had e-mailed my phone number and e-mail address to this man´s business, but he didn´t call or e-mail to schedule the  delivery. He arrived with the furniture across the street from my apartment in his truck twice at times I wasn´t home. It wasn´t until his third delivery attempt that he managed by chance to catch me at home. This I think is an example of a more general trait. The evaluation of time as important appears evaluated as less important, in Ecuador---on a different plane than time in the United States, where what is considered not wasting time has cultural value.    

Life in Ecuador on the whole is lived one day at a time. Few people have much extra money. The average salary amounts to about $400 a month. As well, the 2015, fourth quarter Ecuador unemployment rate of 5.65% is enough notification to keep most employees from taking their jobs for granted. I´ve noticed many Cuenca people don´t discard items that have little value because in Ecuador virtually every penny counts.  
Monument in Cuenca

But I don´t sense people consumed with worry about what tomorrow may bring. I speculate one reason why might be contained in the national memory of Ecuador. The country´s history is replete with dislocation in a long and tragic story that goes far back into the time of the ancient Incas. If nothing else, Ecuadorians are made of sturdy stock.  

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Tale of Heart on Fire in the City of Cuenca.

I jump over flame on the Cuenca street of Honorato Vasquez this New Year´s eve night. The custom long endures for meanings unsure; I make meaning for myself that the leap takes symbol of vitality born anew.

Fire consumes the remnants of a past now tethered in memory, and over the heat I hurdle onto further offerings of time yet undiscovered for ill or not---and offer gratitude.    
My want for deep experience testifies in an idiom not yet fully learned. Raised in North America to most value intellect, I feel South America calling with warm, heated winds of corporal sense. Cuencanos dance tonight in welcome to the new born 2016, and I saw it so not in an ornate club but in the street dirt of land ancient to earth---not by many couples separate but as people united. I have long waited for these moments without ever knowing.

Death shall not take my life unlived to full measure, not now. I am seed in soil ripe with nutrients for spring growth. Damn the years. Ecuador rubs into me and onto me while connections form into friendships which adhere and bind. I become as graft of vine onto branch.
The owners who rent my apartment extend accepted invitation to their family Christmas. I meet an entire Ecuadorian family from grandparents to sons and daughters, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins---all willing to share family warmth with me the tenant. Laughter ensues as jokes stoke fun and music brings dancing. The wealth in this land of Ecuador derives not from the worth of money. I learn in my bones poverty resides more not in absent material but in the absences of heart.   

Colored lights decorate New Year´s eve night in downtown Cuenca´s Parque Calderon. I purchase a stick of meat cooked by veteran man of many years, and we small talk in the Spanish so far spread about the southern hemisphere. I eat the small measure of food with gusto and take a stone bench to watch what appears about. An man size effigy  in flames explodes to shred the dummy and emit cascades of smoke. The tending 30-something Ecuador man with lighted match then sets rockets skyward which burst above in sound, light and color. We pass greetings and I move to walk myself home. I´ve heard family news this day that weighs, that clouds the spirit of celebration. It gives added measure to knowledge that life struggles in vulnerable circumstance.

I examine a pile of ashes and retrieve this half-burned ledger. The numbers calculate 2015 sales and I get my meaning. The things of life turn to ash. I am ash---not yet made. I sense in Ecuador a facing towards death that grants an extra appreciation for life. I speculate. Hosts of Ecuadorians on the day of the dead flock to the graves of deceased loved ones in cemeteries throughout Ecuador. They sit for hours beside the tombstones, place flowers and cards with messages to family on the other side. They eat and drink. The specter of death does little hide from native Ecuadorians, augmenting ability, it seems to me, to live in manner warmer, more of essence than ways lived in the culture of Caucasian North America.