It's easy to get caught up in the craziness.
Cuenca High Life, our online local expat daily, sometimes doesn't publish much if anything on Sunday. I was surprised by this little gem a few minutes ago. Take a few minutes to read this short piece and come back.
Robert wrote something I needed so I thought I would share. My experience tracks his as he describes it. I have never lived among people who are so eager to help or just to share a few sentences with an old gringo whose spoken Spanish sucks but often humorously. As it was getting late on Friday evening the crew helping to rehinge and rehang our just refinished massive front door got a good laugh out of my observation, "Cuatro payasos, una obra." [Four clowns, one job.] The job wasn't quite a Marx brothers quality goat rope but close. The remark sure took the frustration out of a more difficult than expected job. Score one for all my work learning Spanish during the past four years.
Three experiences clearly demonstrate Robert's point of his story. What is also clear from the comments to CHL articles is that too many gringo expats brought themselves here with them when they moved to Cuenca. Let's forget that and get on with three short stories.
The night we arrived in Cuenca, Jan. 11, 2018, was cold and raining like hell. The three of us, and four cats along with animal crates and a shit ton of luggage filled every bit of space in a Hyundai H-1 ten passenger van with the driver and co-driver. (I would have to return to Quito to pick up our two pit mixes 48 hours later. That's a story in itself.) We had departed Quito early in the morning following a 10 PM arrival and a few hours to try to sleep at the Wyndham Airport. (Wyndham specializes in accommodating pets of travelers. I can't recommend them more highly although the chain can be expensive. The one in Quito is not expensive but is a great property with an awesome staff.) Ten hours crammed in a van was more than enough but arriving and finding the leasing agent had not left keys to the apartment as promised was not a good end to the day. Fortunately, her assistant showed up about ten minutes later to finish preparing the apartment. We were wrecked by the time we got everyone up the elevator and into the small three bedroom apartment we would live in for the next seven weeks.
We had noticed a small cafe in the front of the the building on the ground floor was open. Starved, we went down to see what we could get to eat. It was about 7:30 and still raining so there were no other options. Hole-y buckets! the lady at the counter spoke great English! (I would get to know Maria pretty well. She was an Electrical Engineering Ph.D. and university department chair from Caracus, Venezuela, who had fled that US inspired mess. She was unable to provide credentials due to the chaos and no university in Ecuador would talk to a woman looking for an engineering teaching position. Not everything is right here.) We had the first of quite a number of meals there. She asked if there was anything else and I asked if it was possible to get a cup of coffee. Of course it was possible. When she left for the kitchen my wife says to me, "You know they closed at 8:00, right?" No, I didn't. Crap. She returned quickly as I tried to apologize for my ignorance. She would have none of it. "Take your time. You've had a long trip. You looked like you needed us." You have no idea. It was after 9:00.
The next one was 2-3 months later. We were in a temporary house on the east end of town up on a mountain. High end homes and dirt poor farmers with their farms mixed together are all around. The barrio is two dirt streets accessible from a dirt road that goes way up the mountain. We drive up the main road and then come down our road, one way, that is a 22% grade right in front of our house. The temporary one is 100 meters up the hill at the intersection of the two roads. We lived there the nine months it took to build this house. (Another unplanned, unexpected amazing amount of good fortune.)
April and May are the biggest rainy season. 2018 was a bad rainy season. I got up one morning with water flowing from an access road to a water pumping station up the mountain, across the main road, and down our now severely rutted gravel driveway. It is only millimeters from cresting the threshold into the kitchen and it's raining like hell. By the time I can grab a coat and hat, a lot of good they did, I see Wilson (he was living with his family in the multi family home he was building next door) and two of his workers are beginning to dig a ditch across the road to divert the water from our driveway. We spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon along with the older farm lady in the house above us clearing the ditches, putting in a temporary 10" pipe to divert ditch water, and moving gravel to where it needed to be on the driveway. Nobody had asked for help, they just saw a need and showed up.
The last story is ongoing. There was a thwarted breakin very early Wednesday morning on Calle los Maizales - Cornfield Street (ours is Calle los Eucaliptos). Two guys in a newish Toyota truck had cut the fence of a neighbor's house who was not home. A new neighbor noticed and scared them off before they could steal anything. There have been a few of these in the 2 1/2 years we've been here and it's no surprise now considering the economic strife many are feeling. The neighborhood WhatsApp group exploded with messages. Those on that street are rather upset. That is evident in the messages but what is shocking and encouraging is not how upset they are but how are we as neighbors going to improve our security. The instinct is to band together, find a neighborhood solution, and get it done. Neighbors helping neighbors. What a concept! These two streets got together before our house was finished to design, get approved, self finance, and install a new potable water system to replace the inadequate one from the community water system on the mountain. It came in under budget and the neighbors all agreed to use the left over to resurface and place French drains on the roads.
The people of Cuenca are what I love most about living here. They've taught me something I already knew: having stuff doesn't make us happy. They know they are strong together. They don't bitch and whine and point fingers at each other but come together to find solutions and implement the solution. They just get shit done. And they have fun doing it.
This leads to a cultural difference that people new here have to get happy with lest they reamin their miserable selves. Cuencanos don't say no. It has become easy to spot when they should be saying no, sorry but I can't, or it isn't a good idea. It's also become easy to accept that if they say they'll do something they'll try. It may not be on my time or the solution I expected or wanted but they'll try. Working together we do just fine. It's up to me to work within their culture, not them within my expectations or desires.
What is also clear to me now is that the craziness, here or elsewhere **cough**cough** EEUU **cough**cough**, can be dealt with in the same manner. It's only what I do that matters. Helping and working with others is what's right. It's when we expect or demand the kindness in return that things go sideways. Do it because it's right not for reward. Compost still happens but I don't get spun up over it.