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Soaking In Cuenca’s Carnaval

“Bye, Honey. I’m off!” I shouted into our apartment.

“Have a good time, Dear, and stay dry!” Belinda replied from the kitchen.

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I walked on Avenida Diez de Agosto, a normally busy street with grass-filled medians, which commemorates the day when Ecuador’s first cry of independence from Spain was heard in 1809. Carnaval vacationers had emptied the city, giving a ghost-like feel to this urban artery. I saw no blue buses nor passengers at blue-signed bus stops. The indigenous women who roast brown-crusted pigs had disappeared. The quiet allowed me to hear bird calls from stunted trees.

I gazed at El Cajas National Park, in the direction I walked to meet with Cuenca Character theater mates at the director’s home. Clouds hovered over the mountain top like scattered pillows floating in air. Prepared for a sudden onslaught I had my rain jacket in a backpack which held paint supplies to create the stage banner for our “Death in Them Thar Hills.”

I relished in the sense of familiarity of the South American city. Cuenca held fewer surprises after two and a half years residence. I watched out for rowdy Carnaval excess. Friends and strangers alike are subjected to white foam spray and water attacks. Where wet pavement or strings of white foam covered my way, I checked for miscreants lurking behind high masonry walls and in gated driveways. Even adults become kids over Carnaval, joining neighborhood raids with the children.

Cuenca has many homeless dogs seeking handouts. Street-smart and sometimes aggressive, they avoid vehicular traffic. When confronted by a snarling mutt, I retreat into Diez de Agosto’s median covered with flowers, shrubs and trees. The street’s blacktop provides a broad moot to avoid teeth-bared challenges. Maybe the vacation mood had induced a calm. Some dozed on the sidewalk against masonry walls.

Yellow taxis passed; their drivers tooted the horn to solicit my fare. I luxuriated in the fresh morning air while I vigorously pounded the pavement. Over my forty minute stroll, only one city bus worked its route, on broad Avenida Las Americas which connects commercial centers along a southwest to northeast trajectory.

Halfway into my walk, I passed my former carpentry workshop which I shared with fellow gringos in 2014. This garage space outfitted with power tools helped me to make furniture for our unfurnished rental. I acquired knowledge of local lumber species and where to purchase material for making chairs and tables. “You’re not in Home Depot anymore, Dorothy.”

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The overcast sky opened into a downpour. A couple of blocks south of the shop Rio Yanuncay drained distant mountain hillsides. After a few minutes it intensified. I stopped under a tree to ward off the rain and dug into the backpack for my rain coat. Across the street, under an abandoned railway bridge, a couple huddled in the brick and cement tunnel while I tugged at the Velcro tabs of my hood.

At a quickened pace I turned right onto Calle Canton Gualaceo and sought cover along high walls protecting two-story homes.

This completes the first 500 words. Click here to read more.

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A Door Closes, Another Opens

Visualize a path leading from Ecuador to California. Belinda and I do, as we anticipate our return to Monterey. The nature of our travel will be both personal and business. Belinda has shipped Ecuadorian “artesanias” to family and friends to sell to boutiques handling indigenous handcrafts.

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Monterey, CA

It’s true that life opens another door when you have closed one behind you which happened to us two and a half years ago. Moving from a familiar culture in North America to an unfamiliar one in South America took a leap of faith. We followed many developments with blind faith over a year to prepare for our successful transition to Cuenca from the shining city on sun-splashed Monterey Bay. I give my beautiful wife most of the credit to Belinda for keeping us focused to reach our goal of retirement from our jobs at Royal Oak Apartments.

 

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Dear friends Marilyn and Bob visit at Royal Oak Apts

 

Recently, we treated ourselves to a festive New Years Eve party on December 31, 2015, at Ali Baba Kabab Bar and Grill house owned by our friend Reza from Tehran. We enjoyed the belly dancing performances of delightful Sussy Shabana and gorgeous Jouvana. Belly dancing originated in ancient Egypt. People danced in temples worshiping gods and celebrating human fertility and the earth’s bounty.

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Sussy Shabana and Jouvana

 

The crowd-pleasing style and warm smiles from Sussy and Jouvana reminded me of our Monterey friend Christina Herrera. Christina taught Zumba exercise classes and danced with The Sambahemians, a Brazilian-influenced samba group of dancers and drummers which she founded after vacations spent soaking up the music and rhythms of Rio de Janeiro.

 

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Christina Herrera and The Sambahemians

 

Belinda and I had become fast friends of Christina over a couple of years when we managed apartments. Middle-aged and petite with flowing brown tresses, she had responded to our apartment-for-rent ad in the Monterey Herald classifieds. She dressed professionally for her appointment in a long, elegant dress which ocean breezes would gently lift while we chatted with her outside on our apartment complex wrap- around interior deck.

“Well, we’ll see,” she laughed as we concluded the interview. “If it’s meant to be, I’d love to live here, so close to the beach. I’ll let you know.” Afternoon sunshine warmed us at the intersection of Sixth and Ocean. Flowers in deck boxes emitted a fragrant odor.

“We’d love to have you in the vacant apartment, Christina,” my wife told her. With so many younger tenants attending the U. S. Naval Post-Graduate School one block away, her presence would offer maturity to offset their and their friends youthful exuberance, particularly when the weekend rolled around.

A month later, she returned and took an inside one-bedroom unit. Christina had two vehicles: a classic Mercedes convertible, and a VW camper bus. Restricted to one parking spot, she kept the convertible under cover in the complex; the bus sat on the street in view of her balcony.

 

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Christina and husband David join us for dinner

This completes the first 500 words of the story. Click here to read more.

A Door Closes, Another Opens

 

One, Two, Three!- a one act play

by Jeremiah Readon, August 2014

My one-act play is based on observation of classes in “bailoterapia” conducted in neighborhood parks by Cuenca’s department of recreation.

The sold-out success of our expat Azuay Community Theater’s premier presentation of four one-act plays inspired me to create “One, Two, Three!” First, I made drawings of scenes on notebook pages as I watched neighbors, mostly women and children, dance and exercise in Parque de La Plateria. Slowly, other elements came to mind as I sketched a storyline for the characters.

For example, Muffy represents a stray dog which barks and menaces me when I walk by the park. Once, I tossed a board which I carried to scare the snarling mutt. Also, our expat friend and neighbor, Peter, told me how he had approached the instructor and asked him to lower the dance music coming out of the speakers. While telling me, Peter commented how the young man had on red sneakers.

Outside our condominium’s front gate, our indigenous neighbors occasionally help themselves to things of value from the condo trash bin, particularly recyclable items. These poor workers lift huge bundles upon their backs after accumulating their load at several locations. I added this element as a device to bring about  cultural differences which I have experienced in Ecuador.

Certainly, all the characters are stereotypes which represent my view of Cuenca through their dress, attitudes and remarks. I wish to inform as well as entertain, while aware of my immigrant status and bias to local culture.

The three female dancers wear tight-fitting dark colored slacks or leggings, sneakers and printed tee-shirts. They have on make-up and jewelry. Their long dark hair is pulled back into pony-tails.

“Mono” is slang for monkeys, which is how some Cuencanos dismissively refer to residents of coastal Guayaquil.

The male dancer “Rene” wears a ball-cap, work jeans, sneakers and a cowboy shirt.

The indigenous worker wears a straw Panama hat and a colorful poncho over dark slacks. His “hip” dialogue reflects his awareness of western culture. He is proud, and “with it”.

“Chola” is mixed-blood female offspring of indigenous and Spanish parents.

The play opens at a Cuenca park on a sunny weekend afternoon.

Click here to read the play.  One, Two, Three! One-Act Play

 

 

 

 

CONNECTED IN ECUADOR – fiction

iPhone 6

With my iPhone I feel connected to family, friends and the internet. The virtual web in my device feels like a spider’s web capturing unsuspecting prey. Daily for six hours I estimate, I’m connected. Texting, phone calls, listening to music, snapping and sharing photos, or searching the web, I’m hard at it.

In my hometown Cuenca, I stroll with it in hand. With small plastic buds in my ears, I grove to Latin hits. With it in the palm of my hand, it’s easy to glance at the illuminated five-inch screen for texts or updates to favorite web sites, like latinamericancupid.com, my singles dating site.

Sure, I help out the family, and work lots of hours to pay for my obsession. My Mami, God bless her, doesn’t understand my attraction to iPhones. She tells me, “If you study at school, people would pay you to teach them how to best use their iPhone.”

Anyhow, the family takes care of everyone so long as you contribute to the restaurant or the deli out front of our home. Tech-savvy customers appreciate “wifi” access at our location.

Oh, my, I have a new message! I wonder who it’s from. Maybe a new girlfriend. I live at home with lots of family and my cousins, but I need a girlfriend. You know? Once I’m off the sidewalk and safe from thieving “puta ladrones,” I’ll check for messages. Maybe, one from latinaamericancupid!

Thieves and young hooligans have sharp eyes out for unsuspecting victims, you know. Stealing smart phones, tablets, laptops, and cameras is quick cash. Crowded city buses pose a risk, especially when schools let out for the day. Rowdy students crowd the aisles, leaving you to navigate slowly past many empty hands and nasty conspirators.

It don’t matter if you’re chilling in the park, a movie theater or restaurant. You gotta be vigilant. Put away that phone or tablet where no one’s gonna see it. Dig? And, I don’t just lend this expensive baby to anyone! Even for a minute. That’s all it takes to lose track of my 3/10th-inch wide treasure. My Apple iPhone 6 measures ‘bout 5 by 2 1/2 inches. So, you know, it’s gonna be easy to lose track of the slim beauty. Also, it’ll break easily when misused, especially the glass screen. And who’s gonna miss it? Me, dummy. Geesh.

Mine has sensitive controls which may create connection issues when not used right. I may lose my phone contact list, go online without knowing to a pay-per-view site, or lose settings for the internet. All of which would result in not having use of the thing when I need it. Dig?

I love how internet links to websites fly across the screen with just a touch of my finger. When I get a text or phone call, I just tap it to connect or start talking. Cool, huh? I update my facebook page with messages to my Buds and photos. When I get emails, like an especially important one from a singles-dating contact, I hear an electronic “Beep!” This site keeps me on my toes, checking out available Latinas and their gorgeous photos.

This completes the first 500 words of the story. Click the link to finish reading. 

CONNECTED IN CUENCA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Workshop Delivery

Cuenca’s Gringo Workshop delivered fifty mini-Christmas tree stands to Hearts of Gold charity in 2015. The tool workshop is a clean cooperative space serving a dozen members from Canada and the United States who make furniture and store personal items in lockers. Projects which create dust and noise pose a challenge at home but are easily accomplished in the workshop. Fees cover rent, maintenance and tool purchases.

Hearts of Gold’s vision is an Ecuador where every individual enjoys a life of dignity, hope and empowerment. It’s mission is to strengthen the capacity of local non-profit organizations through education, mentorship and mobilization.

My wife, Belinda, and I had arrived in Cuenca in 2013 from Monterey, CA, where we volunteered at Rice Plus. Once a month a couple dozen of us packaged donated rice and beans for migrant farm workers and their families. Additionally, in our roles as apartment managers, on occasion our dumpsters and vacant units contained usable furniture and mattresses which we supplied to Rice Plus. In Cuenca, we’re thankful to volunteer because we receive more than we give.

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Belinda and Christina at Rice Plus

Frances Hogg, moderator of Cuenca Writers Collective, had proposed to me at an October weekly critique that the workshop make wood bases to support mini-Christmas trees. Previously I had donated through Franny an artist easel built with scraps from my workshop projects. At Hearts of Gold 4th of July BBQ fundraiser, indigenous students of CETAP-Lucy displayed their handmade jewelry clipped to the sheet.

Trees would be assembled by both expat and Ecuadorian volunteers. Large plastic soda bottles cut at the base are slipped over PVC pipes. Crafters insert toothpicks glued to decorative items into the plastic form. Green confetti-foil trimmed the final product. A gold star at the top set off the holiday masterpiece.

 

Franny and her fellow expats volunteer at CETAP-Lucy in Chilcabamba several miles south of Cuenca. They tutor the school children, teach English and provide social services at the afterschool owned by two sisters, the daughters of Lucy. Hearts of Gold provides support and publicity for its benefit.

I knew I’d have no problem doing the job, but it would require hours of labor and travel. Home Depot in cities of the United States carried everything needed for my carpentry projects. In Cuenca, I have to shop at numerous lumber yards and hardware stores. What took an hour to start such a task in Monterey, CA, takes a couple of days in this Andean city of 600,000. And, I don’t have a car! But I’m retired with a lot of free time.

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I had been a member of the workshop for a year and a half when Franny asked for help. Hearts of Gold would reimburse me for costs of material. I emailed the workshop leader, Navy veteran Terry Erickson from Yuma, AZ, requesting the workshop’s participation. Based on a prototype which Franny agreed to, Terry would buy a sheet of MDF plywood. He would request that the supplier cut it into 7″ wide pieces. Terry delivered it in his Chevy pickup.

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Terry’s Chevy at Workshop Entrance

When I stopped by the workshop that same afternoon, Terry had already cut 50 bases with a hole drilled in the center. I sanded and stained each to finish the job. I loaded half the dried bases into my backpack to deliver them to Franny, a mile walk to her home.

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Workshop space

The remaining twenty five would have to wait as the start of Cuenca’s Fiesta de Independencia had arrived on the weekend of November 1st. I returned to the task of sanding and staining after ten days. I delivered the final group the next Sunday with appreciation from Franny and her husband, Robert Lochow, also a volunteer.

“Gala Navidena 2015” would take place on December 4 at Quinta Lucrecia, giving Franny and her legion of volunteers almost a month to cut the pipes, decorate the bottles and slip them onto the workshop’s stained bases. These works of art would serve as dinner table centerpieces. The gala’s auction would follow, with the trees and donated items offered to raise additional money for Hearts of Gold biggest annual fundraiser. I’m proud that the Gringo Workshop had a hand in this very worthwhile charity. Thanks, Franny, this makes us feel so good!

 

 

 

 

 

“Benigno!” Cancer-Free

SOLCA street

The enormous high-ceiling waiting room, the size of a small city bus terminal, echoed with low-pitch conversation carried on by patients and family. Daylight shone through a vast skylight. At 1:00 pm, only half the seats were filled. Fine art and plants decorated the room. Occasionally, one of several hall nurses called out a patient’s name.

My wife, Belinda, and I positioned ourselves at the surgery area in the rear to listen for my name. “When can I see the doctor, please? I scheduled surgery for a lesion on my left knee,” I told the volunteer in order to keep abreast of appointments. Her job was to usher patients called to their respective consulting and surgery rooms.

The nicely outfitted middle-aged woman studied my appointment receipt and replied, “Your turn is number eight; soon, I am sure.”

SOLCA, Cuenca, Ecuador’s cancer center, required that I have someone to accompany me for biopsy surgery. When we had arrived, we happily learned that the initial charge was only $30. We would pay when leaving.

Belinda speaks Spanish well and comprehends it better than me. Her presence would also ensure the safety of my personal property, another item on the handout with instructions for surgery day.

Ten minutes into our wait, a surgical nurse emerged from the hallway and called out my name. “You will be next,” she said after looking at my appointment receipt.

“Thank you,” I replied. I sat with Belinda and told her how much I appreciated her support. My previous visit two weeks before had presented communication challenges. Anxiety created by missed information and instructions to set up surgery would surely be compounded today.

Once called by the nurse, I entered a green-painted surgery room. Belinda stood outside in the dark hallway with patients waiting their turns. My surgical nurse, the fast talker from my initial consultation, handed over a blue back-tied gown, paper booties and cap. She indicated a curtained alcove to changed into these items. “You may give your valuables to your wife,” she emphasized.

“Muchas gracias, senora,” I said. A quick check revealed only my leather belt. I passed it through the door to Belinda.

The young surgeon and I greeted one another while I sat on the surgery table. “This isn’t the same surgeon I met on my first visit,” I thought.

“Doctor, por favor, am I dressed properly? Or do I take off my pants.”

He smiled at my confusion. “Yes, please do. And, then, lay down with your head in this direction,” he indicated with youthful zeal. He and the nurse engaged in friendly banter while getting ready.

At the table, the nurse asked while tugging at a cord around your neck, “What is this?”

I forgot! It was my traveller’s wallet which contained cash, bus pass and a copy of my “cedula,” the national ID, things I should have given Belinda. I shuffled over in my booties to the alcove to store them in my pants.

This completes the first 500 words. Click the link to read more.

Note pad biopsy

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit to SOLCA-Cuenca’s Cancer Center

SOLCA

7:35 am. I leave my apartment to walk to the hospital in solidarity with my fellow patients, many of whom are indigenous and make sacrifices to come from distant towns.  It does the soul good to take time to contemplate how well off I am, itchy skin and all.

Car, truck and bus traffic moves faster than I’m accustomed to, being a late riser. Morning rush hour overwhelms pedestrians and students. Cars rule in Latin America. “Come on, dammit! Give me a break!” I want to shout, ignored at marked crosswalks. In “redondels,” traffic circles, vehicles come from all directions. With no traffic signals to observe, weaving motorcyclists are the worst.

On the other hand, the soothing effect of moisture in air evaporated by sunshine stimulates the senses. It’s the reward for getting up early. Crossing town on foot with vistas of Ecuador’s Andean mountains promotes good health.

8:00 am. I arrive to have the lesion on my left knee examined. SOLCA, an association of related medical professions, is a couple of blocks south of Hospital Vicente Corral Moscoso, a public medical facility.

Steady taxi traffic drops passengers at the entrance to start the day. An indigenous woman does a brisk business selling snacks to get through the long wait ahead.

The cancer institute occupies a generic-looking four-story building with white and tan stucco walls. A gray-stone design fills the wall along Avenida Diez de Agosto, depicting Saint George astride his steed, slaying the dragon with his sword, the dragon representing the devil or evil.

I approach window #1 to pick up my appointment receipt. I glance back to a line of eight people. “My God! I just jumped the line,” I think. “Oh well, this guy next to me did the same. The woman clerk yesterday told me to be here at 8:00 am, and, so, here I am!”

I present the laminated copy of my “cedula,” the national ID to the clerk. “I came yesterday afternoon and the woman who helped me told me to report this morning,” I explain. He doesn’t comment on my line-jumping for which I am grateful. With minimal Spanish, I’d have a hard time justifying it.

“Un momentito, senor. Let me find your file,” he tells me. The young man dresses nicely with gray slacks, complimented by a long-sleeve dress shirt in a lighter shade of blue-gray. He wears a telephone headset and professionally assists poor and sick patients. Particularly sad are sick children, some of whom wear caps to hide baldness, reminding me how my younger sister Mary and our family had to confront the ravages of childhood leukemia for over two years before her death at age 12. “May you rest in peace, Mary,” I pray.

The clerk searches among several cardboard files on the floor. Then, he reaches into a drawer under the counter. “Aqui!” he says triumphantly. My file fills the metal drawer, isolated from yesterday’s filings.

 

This completes the first 500 words of the story. Click the link to continue reading.

A Visit to SOLCA