Saturday, August 25, 2012

The people of Cuenca.

Where does the inspiration for this story on the people of Cuenca reside?  It lives in the Cuencanos!  The people I meet and see. The hawker of lottery tickets whose voice sounds crisp with the sense of certainty that given time he’ll make a sale.

The teenagers gathered on the sidewalk I meet by chance---who let me take their picture on Mariscal Sucre Street.

It is in the police too, standing solid and evoking the presence of order.

It is in the spirit of this woman who consented to let her picture be taken though I interrupted her lunch. Her countenance sheds beauty on the city of Cuenca itself.
The city is of a spirit gathered in common yet displaying variation---of culture and wealth, of material deprivation--- of art and music---of modernity fused with an ancient past. Life in Ecuador today must due to the very laws of nature breathe in part from hurts that took place in its often sad history---and the serious spirit of the Cuencanos it seems was etched in part by that past---by the seasons of time which groaned to bring forth the fruition of the present day---peculiar to Ecuador---yes, but as well part of the larger movement of European power upon the whole of the North and South Americas.
There is a cool to the people of Cuenca which intrigues me. Perhaps this air about them developed into what it is because it did grow in the soil of its past.

It is not only in the sophisticated woman I met selling jewelry and watches in as shiny and modern a store as any in Silicon Valley---or the businessman in a suit strolling casually down a busy street at noon---it is in the silent middle-aged man shining my shoes without brusque movement but instead slowly---with focus on the details of his work.  It is in the careful presentation by the teachers at Simon Bolívar School of Spanish. I meet this sophistication in the warmth given to me by my host family.

Maria del Carmen, Maria Eulalia, Enma Lafebre, Karina Ochoa, Mauricio Fernandez de Cordova.

 Enma and Ivan are the mother and father, and they have three children, Ivan, Mauricio and Andres.
Cuenca is composed of a tranquil people. The city doesn’t appear as if in a race against time. It seems as if Cuenca is in agreement with time to let it pass as it may.
I need to get out of Ecuador---a.s.a.p.---way before the three months I’d arranged. I’m waiting for a flight with an empty seat back to San Francisco. The genesis of this return has nothing to do with anything like a funeral in the family.  It has to do with waves of bipolar mania that have been swelling in me for months---but that peaked just before I left San Mateo for Ecuador. It was an avalanche that cascaded against and smashed the frontier wall guarding simple common sense. It was a fury for false freedom that overwhelmed the mere defenses of practicality and tepid faith. This mania of biological explanation was tempted into occlusion, I believe---with dark forces of theological explanation---evil forces I believe that seek to destroy my immortal soul.

All of it…all of it almost does compel me to seek shelter in comforts and satisfactions that don't have within them any peace that comes from God. When I get back to California---I’ll promptly get behind the shield of the laws of bankruptcy.

I felt at home in Cuenca as soon as I met this lovely city.
What is it I see in the people and hear in their conversations as I sit and write this post at my table inside a restaurant across from Parque Calderon?  What is the difference I notice as compared to those Americans conduct in restaurants in California? 
Perhaps the way people dance in Cuenca helps to explain this difference I sense. The people here dance together in a way that as a whole Americans do not. They dance to the tempo of music like we do, but not alone---not separated--- instead they dance close together and feel and touch--- in synchronicity to the music---their bodies sharing the feelings of male and female bodies holding hands and enveloped in spirited motion. I can dance to the beat of music---I’m loose enough for that---but I don’t dance in the close mesh I’ve seen Ecuadorian men and women dance with one another.

I’ve connected with a few Cuencanos. Strangers have become friends in a short time. I think because there is a vulnerability to people here---a willingness to open up to the other person.

Ivan, the head of my home stay family, is an extraordinarily intelligent man with a background in engineering, who very much is on the quiet side.  His interest in looking at this blog and my Facebook page was quite a compliment to me. Ivan is now a Facebook friend. 

Jaime teaches English. We met on the street close to where I live and he asked me to set aside time to explain a list of American-English expressions he didn’t understand.  We got together twice--- he came to understand common uses for which there probably is no Spanish to English dictionary---for instance, what is a ‘grouch’--- or, what does it mean --- ‘he put his foot in his mouth.’  Jaime or Jim, is about 76 years old and teaches English to some fifty students  for about $2 an hour.

Gladys operates a tiny grocery store with two cabinos utilizable for making affordable phone calls---she and her son helped me to put vital telephone calls through to the United States which involved international and country code dialing which I kept messing up when doing by myself. She’s easy to like and her son Alexandeo is a good kid---persistent and focused--- and the family deserved every el dinero I paid to compensate them for their extra service on my behalf.

Gladys Morocho, Alexander Guzman
Steve at D’Talles Joyeria didn’t just sell an Android smartphone to me. He walked me to a swank administrative office after the sale, where it was activated and set-up with a calling plan.  He invited me to meet his family.  Elizabeth, one of my teachers at Simon Bolivar took me on a walking tour of the heart of Cuenca, introducing me to artisans and shopkeepers selling fine, hand crafted merchandise of excellent workmanship---art and craft of theme and design unique to Ecuador.
And Santiago, one of my Spanish language teachers from Simon Bolivar---I relied on him for essential help while dealing with the apparatus of technology in Ecuador. He is a friend who listened to stories from my life I felt I had to tell.

Santiago Pulla
One behavior of quite a few Cuencanos I’m not familiar with is to be bumped while walking down the street with no ‘excuse me’ or ‘pardon’ offered following the bump. I thought this was a universal politeness. It apparently isn’t considered rude here to act that way.
Every morning, many afternoons and most evenings, Enma or Maria, the house-helper who is more like a part of the family than hired hand,  call ‘a comer’ to me and the other home stay guest, Gordon, an attorney from near Washington D.C. who also studies Spanish at Simon Bolivar. At table, delicious, well prepared meals are served, starting with soup. The home-made soups are tasty as can be and practically each serving is different from the last.  The main course of meat or fish with vegetables and rice and ‘pain’--- with a deep black coffee---is always a treat. I light up every time I hear ‘a comer.’

Enma Lafebre, Maria Eulalis, Gordon Pearson
 At table the conversation flows back and forth in exchanges often punctuated with laughter. Sometimes the family’s attention focuses on television news or a silly comedy that nevertheless sparks a lot of laughter. The grant of asylum by Ecuador to WikiLeaks founder JulianAssange took top story news here on the TV broadcasts, and the family at table listened with serious expressions on their faces. I understand and speak more and more Spanish as I listen and participate in the conversations at table.

Alexandra Diaz, Student Coordinator at Simon Bolivar School of Spanish
Outside the house and forced to either speak Spanish or not be understood--- that’s powerful incentive for anyone to find words and form sentences that get across what you mean to say.

Tim Murphy, student at Simon Bolivar and American ex-pat living in Cuenca.
Cuenca lives in its people and its people exhibit an aspect of care about giving.  Otherwise there would be no organization like Fundacion Bolivar Education. The foundation has a desk at the Simon Bolivar Spanish School attended by volunteer coordinator Sandra Molina.

Sandra Molina, Volunteer Coordinator, Fundacion Bolivar Education
Students receive discounted pricing for their lessons if they volunteer. Founded by Simon Bolivar Spanish School in 2004, the foundation for eight years now has been finding and sending volunteers from around the world to help to those in Ecuador needing assistance.
For categories such as children and youth, better health, environmental protection, teaching others and more, the Fundacion Bolivar Education relays helping hands to where there is need in Ecuador--- one charitable aspect in Cuenca that adds to the color of the city.

Fausto Balarezo, Academic Director, Simon Bolivar Spanish School


Pictures from among the people of Cuenca.