Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Season's Greetings

"I am a sojourner and foreigner among you. . . "  (Genesis 23:4 ESV)

Greetings from our land of sojourn, Ecuador!  It has now been almost a year since we first came here to Cuenca, Ecuador to live.  We thank God for this place and the many blessings Cuenca has bestowed upon us, including lost weight, better health, a better financial outlook, and the opportunity to get to know and minister to the needs of the Cuencanos and Cuencanas here, as well as a number of expats from our country of origin, the United States.  

Rather than give once again a recap of what we've done in the past year - which many of you already know by reading the weblog here - I'd rather give you a view of what's happening with us now.  Carolyn Anne continues with her Spanish learning (in this holiday and vacation period without the tutoring of her twice a week Spanish teacher) via Duolingo on the Internet where she is beginning to internalize more vocabulary for spoken use, including the use of verbs, which are so vitally important to communicate with.  The repetition inherent in the Duolingo algorithim and programming is helping her to solidify her knowledge of different words as she refreshes skills, and she feels better about learning verbs than she did a week or so ago.  Conversing with me helps, I think (I hope).  As the language teacher in the house, I try to help her make connections from what she knows to what she needs to know so that she can make sense of the words and get the spelling right (Spanish is by and large easy to spell words in due to the phonetic makeup of the language).  

She uses Spanish in conversations with certain native friends she sees on a regular basis, too, which is good practice.  I happened to see her with a married couple at their vendor stand cart at a well known transit bus stop in the downtown area (El Centro) yesterday and she was pleased to see me while she was with her native friends.  Conversation and practice is key in learning a new language, and she is doing well.  We speak more and more Spanish at home, and I revert to English when Carolyn Anne doesn't understand me and she requests it.  

As far as the Duolingo program goes, she is at Level 12, which is fairly high (shows months of practice), and has 1500+ words in her vocabulary (~2500 is the complete set of vocabulary words).  She has passed all three checkpoints in the Spanish skills tree and now in the process of finishing the last, and largest, skill set before completion of the tree.  35 skills completed and 29 more to go.  She is considered 53 per cent fluent in Spanish, which actually means she is at the highest range of language knowledge given her lessons/skills learned to date.  Duolingo states that the highest fluency rate one may achieve is between 50 to 60 per cent, so as you can see, she is doing rather well considering where she started from a year ago.  

Her Spanish teacher who has been concentrating on verbs and their usage in conversations and sentences will continue with her in that general path.  Carolyn Anne's is now understanding longer sentences in conversation, and will in time speak them as well.  

I too have been progressing in my knowledge and usage of Spanish.  I completed my Duolingo Spanish skills tree just before Christmas (early Christmas present, eh?) and now I am working a little bit each day on completing what's known as a "reverse tree" where you learn English starting from the Spanish language.  The English to Spanish skills tree teaches you to hear and understand Spanish, but the Spanish to English skills tree teaches you to write, and therefore speak Spanish.  Being able to initiate conversations with minimal to no effort using Spanish is a worthwhile goal, and one that I am already in the process of doing.

My Duolingo stats: 56 per cent fluency, Level 14 reached, ~2500 vocabulary words learned, and virtual completion certificate awarded (pretty snazzy item, if I may say so myself!).  I still need to practice and refresh daily, and the newer lessons, such as subjunctive mood (which has to do with opinions and emotions, for instance) are still somewhat fuzzy in my mind at present.  !Si se puede!  I've gotten this far, haven't I?  The subjunctive is usually taught in high school Spanish 2 and 3 courses, which shows you what level you have to attain to get to that point in learning.

Speaking of which, when I test myself on my Spanish abilities, I test out as Advanced Proficient (level 4 of 6 levels, 6 being the highest).  Cambridge English calls this B2 (Vantage).  Only two other levels higher, C1/Effective Proficiency and C2/Mastery.  Much thanks and praise to Almighty God for helping me in this foreign language journey!  

With communicative bilingual abilities comes more opportunities to teach a foreign language, English in my case, to the natives.  You don't have to know Spanish to teach English, but it can be useful as you teach words and phrases as well as concepts to students.  Out in the real world of living in Latin America, knowing Spanish is a life skill, and the more you know, the more you can learn from and get to know the native population.  

Our good friend Joan has let me know of a missionary here in Ecuador who is in the process of assembling a team to teach English to prospective missionaries who will be traveling to lands and continents that have populations that use English as perhaps a secondary or tertiary language.  In that way the Gospel - the Good News of Jesus Christ - may be shared with others.  The three most used languages in the world presently are Mandarin, English, and Spanish.  I'm using two out of these three (not touching Mandarin, perhaps ever!) and those bilingual and fluent in Spanish and English can hold a definite advantage in communicating the Gospel to others around the world.  The English teaching team would concentrate their efforts on pronounciation and vocabulary development, especially as it relates to having spiritual conversations about the Gospel.  These students would then be placed where needed worldwide.  That is exciting to me, and the teaching team looks to be put together in the first part of 2016.  I aim to be a part of it.  

Our missionary friend is working under the auspices of OM, which is Operation Mobilisation.  They may be found at http://www.om.org/  Perusing their site, it becomes quite evident that OM is very interested in furthering the Kingdom of God by loving the people in the world in relational, tangible, sacrificial, caring ways.  Never heard of OM before, but they sound like an organization worthy of support.   

My wife Carolyn Anne continues to offer her time and efforts in arranging medical supplies for the upcoming year's Medical Brigades that Clinica Hogar will be putting on in 2016.  Clinica Hogar is the ministry under Fundacion Hogar which is under the purview of our church here in Cuenca, Iglesia Verbo Cristiana.  She spends a couple days a week with other volunteers in the church's third story attic sorting out the supplies.  The Medical Brigades are conducted as an outreach to the Cuenca community around three times a year, reaching the poorer residents' medical needs through offering medical procedures and operations that aren't done the rest of the year at Clinica Hogar.  They do dental work, physical therapy - Carolyn Anne herself received PT and a dental checkup through Clinica Hogar this year - and much more.  The reputation of Clinica Hogar is so well known amongst the residents, they know about it and its location even more than they know about the church that sponsors and supports it!  Not your regular run of the mill clinic. . . smiles, hugs and prayers gladly offered and accepted there between staff, volunteers and patients.  

We are continuing to work through how we reach out and communicate by telephone, especially internationally.  We are coming to the conclusion that we need a Smartphone in order to 1) use a service such as Skype Voice to make very low cost international calls back to the US, for example and 2) use the Whatsapp app to make local calls in and around Cuenca.  Believe it or not, local calls placed on our Claro cell phone can cost up to $8 or more for just 20 minutes or so for outbound calls to a non Claro cell phone (inbound calls from others are free - that's how the system here in Ecuador works).  Carolyn Anne has a phone list of friends and they with a couple of exceptions all have cell phones (wired phone calls are free from what we know both inbound and outbound locally).  So it's time to reevaluate the phone usage situation and avoid those incredibly insane $8 local phone calls by getting something better in the long run.  

The other big project is figuring out what to do about health insurance.  We as legal indefinite residents (Visas and Cedula cards in hand) are eligible for the Ecuador government's Social Security system health plan called IESS, and we'll sign up for it in January.  That will in the long run save us around $300 a month in prescription drug costs - quite a relief!  It will also allow the use of primary care doctors and specialists within the IESS hospital system.  The Ecuadorian government only at the start of 2015 made the IESS system available to non citizen legal residents (expats), and the cost for a married couple is around $86 a month from what I've been able to find.  Very inexpensive and with modern facilities and well trained doctors, some of whom speak English.  IESS could be compared to Medicare in the US, but you go to the government doctor in the government hospital, which is a bit different procedure than in the US.  The IESS system does allow you to use any hospital, public or private in the case of emergency. 

There's the free "safety net" healthcare system which never turns away patients in Ecuador for any reason, which is Hospital Vincente Moscosco here in Cuenca.  We know them well after going through Carolyn Anne's two previous falls to the ground.  They do procedures and operations too, I found out.  Even open heart surgeries that expats have had done there.  So that's one option to consider as needed - though primarily for emergencies.   

Lastly, there's the private hospitals and clinics that one can self insure and pay as needed for services (likely the choice we will be making).  I have read and researched and read again until my mind has been worn down to nothing, and I am coming to the conclusion that in Ecuador and Latin America, health insurance isn't what a North American is used to in terms of paying claims when needed.  These insurance companies seem to not pay the majority of the time, sometimes never, and thus are in effect what one expat calls "premium collection agencies."  We are concluding that private insurance in Ecuador is not a wise use of limited funds and so we'll self insure and pay as we go.  For more serious events, traveling back to the States and using our Medicare (Carolyn Anne needs to get enrolled in Medicare ASAP. . . a reminder to self) is very likely the path we'll take.  There's talk of medical evacuation planes that fly from Ecuador to the United States.  Need to check into that more.  So much to study and research on regarding this subject, and so little answers from those who have experience to share.  But we are making some headway.  

There's a Senior Health Care decisions seminar we have been going to that has been held a few times last year, and it will be held again in January and will present more information.  They also discuss end of life situations as it relates to expats in a different language, culture and country than what they are used to.  Very eye opening.  We are in these folks' debt for them putting all this information together and presenting it (and likely getting it into a printed booklet of some kind in the near future).  Wendy Jane Carrel spearheaded this effort earlier in 2015, but there's some other fine ladies that are assisting nowadays.   

We love and miss so many of our friends from the States, and hope and pray you will have a joyous and fruitful 2016 ahead.  And we thank God for each one of you.  As you can see, God is not done with us yet.  Our work here in Ecuador is just beginning!  Your continued prayers are coveted and much appreciated.  Please let us hear from you, either by the usual ways - email, Facebook, or even Skype (the few of you who do that with us) or you may leave a reply here at the end of this post.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The English Teacher

It came to pass in November.  I had finally been accepted as a profesor de Ingle's - English teacher - at Arco Language Institute, a ministry of Iglesia Verbo Cristiana here in Cuenca, Ecuador. 

Cate Messenger, the newly appointed coordinator for Arco, and herself an English teacher on Arco's staff, had let me know she needed to hire me due to a request by an Ecuadorian national to get tutored in English in order to prepare for English language tests for his Ecuadorian pilot's license.  Ecuador, of course, doesn't use English at its airport towers to the best of my knowledge, but internationally, English is used by Air Traffic Control towers all over the world.  We figured the man would show up for a meeting with us to discuss how his tutoring would be done, but after two attempts he never showed up.  That would have been two months worth of work for me, around 80 hours of instruction. 

Nevertheless, I was hired on as an English teacher, and there was an upcoming substitute (how I have hated the word when spoken in disrepute by my previous students and even staff Stateside) assignment coming up for Saturday December 12th.  I would take the place of Cate and another teacher who both taught a Basic English level class Saturday mornings.  

But first, before all that, there was an Arco Language Institute student cultural event which was planned for the Wednesday before (US) Thanksgiving, which of course is not a holiday in Ecuador.  Time to thank God for everything he has provided during the past year.  And what a year it has been for Carolyn Anne and I!  Looking back, we were living that past November in a motel in the Antelope Valley in California, waiting after the sale of our house to get permission from our airline, Delta, to move our 17 suitcases and dog crate to Ecuador.  We moved that following January of 2015, of course.  After several months of going through the Visa application process, we finally obtained our Pensionado Visas this past October, and have our Cedula national identification cards in hand as well.  We've survived falls - and a hospital visit, getting lost (yet again, taking the transit bus the wrong direction in town), pain from Carolyn Anne's ongoing osteoarthritis, computer and Internet problems (see our previous post) and taken a trip back to the States to see friends and family, which we were glad to be able to do.  Now was the time to give Thanks to Almighty God in the presence of our new friends in Ecuador whom we've made acquaintance with over the last year.  We sang - in English - "Give Thanks" as well as some other worship songs in both English and Spanish.  The Thanksgiving style supper event was largely conducted in English, and different groups of students from the different English classes would sing a song, say a poem out loud in unison, or even put on a puppet show!  All in English, of course.  Much rejoicing and enjoyment in what the students have learned thus far.  Turkey and Ecuadorian accountrements were served to all on paper plates.  Desserts abounded, too.  (The Ecuadorians don't know how to make a North American pie, so cakes were abundantly available, as were fruit concoctions.) 

Next up was Arco's annual student Graduation Night, which was in December.  Here, students, parents, friends, faculty (I was now part of the teaching staff and invited to attend) and staff were all present to congratulate the students graduating from their programs for the year.  Students had to pass their exams first, of course, to attend graduation.  Maybe 15 or so school aged students and adult students were called up to the stage and awarded their paper diplomas of recognition.  One student gave a short speech -in English - on how her learning English opened doors to her and allowed her to know more about the world around her, especially involving foreigners outside of Ecuador. 

Besides these student convocations, we teachers had an inservice meeting with the author of our Arco Language Institute textbook, Steve Nine.  Four new teachers and the teachers already on staff attended for a couple of hours.  I learned a lot from this meeting, and found out - confirmed, actually - that the program was sound and vocally based, centered around phonemes, or sounds of words that make up words.  We went through a lesson (truncated due to time limitations, though) and played the part of students doing the work as instructed in the classroom.  Gives one a different perspective, and lets the teacher understand just how important proper enunciation and sounds are to the writing of the letters that make up the words that make up. . . the language known as English. 

Finally the week came where I needed to put everything together that I had learned to date.  I was going to take the place of two teachers and teach one lesson jointly to both classes!  I had shadowed the teachers involved, as well as the other teachers of English at Arco, and gone over with Cate the lesson plan devised by her, which was quite well put together with sounds - phonemes - that were repeated in more than one exercise and activities that reinforced the learning of the day.  All that was left was reviewing the lesson, and preparing for the big day Saturday the 12th. 

I wisely decided to rest the afternoon of Friday the 11th.  Good thing I did, because I was on my feet for over four hours of teaching the next morning. 

Some of the items were not available to me until the morning of class.  The textbook, flashcards, and attendance sheet were not in my possession until that morning.  This wasn't a big problem, as Cate had emailed me a lesson plan previously, but the flashcards with the sounds on the back had to be put into order for this class, covering what had been already taught to date, omitting what had not.  That took a bit of time in front of the students. . . unavoidable. 

My sense of humor was intact and working, my life vignettes popped up at opportune times, too.  Thank you Lord!  I could communicate with my students by and large - although there were a couple of times with the younger students where I had to ask them to repeat likely due to the large room we were in that had not the best acoustics.  We had fun, too!  I read a poem to my advanced students in the earlier hour, and played a song on my laptop to my basic students towards the end of my time with them at the end.  I even sang the last stanza of it. . . "Do You Hear What I Hear?" as famously performed by Andy Williams.  The students really enjoyed my on key tenor vocalization as I hit the high notes. . . thank you, Lord for moments like these where we can worship you and give you all the Honor and Glory due your Wonderful Name.

Several students thanked me for being there to teach them.  I haven't had that happen in ages. . . decades.  I had been so used to teaching the incarcerated kids in the juvenile hall and county camp system in Los Angeles County, who were never grateful in public if they could help it.  What a nice end of the day that was! 

Yo soy un profesor de Ingle's en Instituto Arco y yo lo disfrute muy mucho.  !Gracias adios por este regalo de eso posicio'n!

The Long and Winding Road Towards Computer Functionality

Pardon the extended time away from updating our doings here in the ever lovely city of Cuenca, Ecuador.  We have been experiencing (ahem) technical difficulties of a repeating nature that are hopefully on the way towards staying resolved and being resolved.  Life's no fun when you cannot communicate with those you love, and for that we largely rely on the Internet and our home computers.  When those fail. . . well, it gets tough and takes time away from the tasks we really would rather do, like say "hello" to friends overseas in the States, for instance. 

How it all began: Windows 10 - the self installs on both our computers.  At first I thought I was saving some money by doing it myself - after all, I am self taught at home computers and have been doing several regular maintenance tasks for years without any serious negative consequences.  I did both installs of Windows 10 at different times and even different weeks, and both were quite a snap.  Easy to do from all appearances, and the computers seemed to work well after the new install of the new operating system. 

But then I noticed that one Internet site I frequented was with what turned out to be a bug of some sort: when I wanted to return to the previous page, it took several clicks of the mouse to get to where I wanted to go.  Actually, I overshot my goal, and ended up on the search engine page instead.  I did that for weeks, saying it's just peculiar to that one website. 

I had after the Windows 10 self install also installed Apache Open Office document software.  It appeared on screen, and I had used Open Office previously without any bad effects.  I said "yes" to the install, and away it uploaded effortlessly on my part.  Little did I know that this new version somehow would not let me edit my documents, which previous to Open Office were Windows document software.  I should have considered what the free "gift" of Open Office might mean in terms of consequences that would cause me more problems.  Shareware - free software - often isn't as good as it is made out to be, I have learned.  I couldn't even open and start a new office document with Open Office.  Not good!

Then I couldn't use my mouse on my desktop computer.  It wouldn't function any longer.  That did it. . . I had to get a computer tech to look at my 'puter and get it working again.  First I had already purchased a new mouse, which didn't fix the problem.  Off I went with the computer to the computer shop, which I found out about using the laptop computer that still worked. 

The technician found out that I had some loose connections inside the computer that prevented communication via the mouse.  Once those were resolved, the computer worked fine.  We talked some more and he recommended getting a "clean install" of Windows 10 that would allow my computer to have the speed and functionality it was supposed to have, but didn't.  So I let him have it for more time.  Clean Windows 10 install completed, things looked good at that point.  Still didn't have my document software working correctly, but he had run out of time for the day to look at my problems.  So it was put off for another day. 

In the meantime, the Internet service here from TVCable was going on the fritz.  Later on, I found out it was not the fault of the Internet Service Provider - TVCable in this case - but an issue of how to properly disconnect and reconnect the wires from the router (a white box here from TVCable with two small antennas) and the modem (which is a black box affair similar to what I was previously used to from TimeWarner Cable in the USA).  After several false tries, reboots of the computer(s) involved, and - prayer - which needed to be foremost in mind, not something done approaching desperation - forgive me, Lord - I had connection again with the Internet.  Sometimes I had to get a computer technician (second supplier, different from my first supplier) here at the residence to fix the Internet connectivity problem, sometimes it was resolved on my own.  But it has proved vexing for several weeks continuously. Several times we have had only one computer up and running with Internet working, and sometimes it's been both computers not able to connect to the Internet.  Frustrating to say the least!

In the midst of dealing with the ever vexing Internet connectivity issue, I found I could not contact via telephone my second computer technician shop.  Movistar , their cell phone provider, said in perfectly good Spanish that their account was suspended.  Suspended?  For cryin' out loud!  So I contacted a third computer tech guy, and got him to take a looksee. 

His advice was good, especially on how to use the Internet router and modem and do the connections and disconnections to ensure the computer(s) were connected to the Internet.  However, he mentioned that my laptop seemed slow.  Had I done a self install on Windows 10 lately, he asked?  Of course.  I answered in the affirmative, of course. . . and so away the laptop computer went with this third tech to his residence for a clean install of Windows 10.  So back to only one computer available for the next three days. 

All this time, we were harder pressed to keep up on new emails, Facebook - if we really had the time, which depended on the person on the other end and the message they left - and most importantly on our Duolingo Spanish lessons on their Internet site.  With only one computer working for weeks at a time, and sometimes not any of them working at all or with no Internet service for any of them, life got tough.  We somehow managed to keep our Duolingo daily practice streaks alive. Mine's at over 150 days currently and Carolyn Anne's at about 80 days now - I sometimes sign in for her and do an easy refresher lesson to keep her streak alive, taking maybe 3 to 5 minutes to do so.  She appreciates that, of course. 

After tech guy number three comes back with the laptop computer, I notice he did a number of significant and unasked for changes.  He set up the computer so that one no longer has to type in a password - if you ask me, that's a safeguard for our laptop that we once lost in a rental car in California last year.  The way the new rental car customer found out how to contact us was by the email address on the beginning start up page, right above the password entry slot location.  It turned out to be a film studio in the Los Angeles area that emailed us.  Thank God for honest people like that studio, which was a smaller one run out of someone's house in the El Sereno neighborhood of LA.  The way it was set up by tech guy #3 was to press a button, and whoever had it - friend or foe, rightful owner or not - could use the laptop to their hearts content, not to mention possibly find out personal info about us.  Not good.  That has to change immediately. 

Tech guy #3 also got rid of a lot of the Lenovo icons and such that were never used and actually "fluff" that wasn't ever used, or wanted.  Not a bad idea, but again, he never asked me first.  He also disconnected our AVG antivirus software, saying to me that AVG was known to be inferior in Ecuador (that will come as a shock to my computer tech shop guy in Lancaster, California who installed the AVG antivirus software *and* charged me for doing so!) and he had installed a free antivirus software instead.  Again, I let him know of my displeasure. 

Icing on the cake for tech guy #3: he had also not reinstalled and uploaded the Skype software for the laptop.  We bought the laptop expressly for that very purpose - to use and communicate via Skype.  The reinstall was taking too long on the laptop for the Skype reinstall, and likewise an install of a Windows Suite for Office on the desktop computer was not installing at a fast enough rate - it hadn't finished downloading just yet.  So tech guy #3 told me that he had an appointment with another client to fix their computer, and that I could do the work from here. 

Nice try.  I later found out from getting ahold of computer tech guys #2 that he possibly was installing a $300 version of Windows Office 2016. . . or I had not known which version (true, that) he was trying to install, likely a free version that *still* needed a competent tech to supervise the complete installation.  Either way, he was going to get me for an extra $300 for the Microsoft officially licensed software suite for Office (which I doubt since he never mentioned the extra cost to me) or do half the job needed to be done by cutting short the time spend supervising the install of the Microsoft "pirate" software, which was free to me.  Computer shop guys #2 did the MS "pirate" Office Suite software installation and ensured that I could edit my existing document pages. 

By the way, the reason why I had to contact computer shop guys #3 *again* was due to computer tech guy #2 taking out my RAM in my desktop computer, and putting it in again. . . in a different slot, apparently.  After a day, the computer ran, but nothing appeared on the screen from the data from the computer.  Computer tech guys #3 took out the RAM and reinstalled it properly.  The desktop computer has been running fine ever since. 

Lessons learned through all of this: *don't* install Windows 10 yourself.  Get a competent computer tech to do the job instead.  Be willing to admit what you don't know, and get help where and when needed.  Be very specific and upfront in telling specifically what you want done, as well as what you don't want done in terms of changes to how the computer operates.  Don't use computer technicians who also advertise on their business card that they drive customers around and are Facilitators (personal assistants).  "And more. . . " is a dead giveaway phrase on a business card that the provider doesn't care what kind of job they do, they just want to work. . . and most of all, get paid.  Once you find a competent computer technician, keep using them.  

The reason why computer tech guy #1 didn't get further work from me was that he was out of town the next time I needed him.  Besides that, he almost always wanted the work to be done at his shop.  With the Internet issues at hand, it was important to check things out where I was using the computer(s), not where it was convenient for the technician.  He only came one time to my residence, due to there being an issue connecting to the Internet and him being available that time and day to check it out.  So off to computer tech guys #2 I went.  I think I have found a reliable shop in #2, and have confidence in them that they will continue to diagnose and correct the issues at hand correctly.  

As you can see, we have several backlogged issues relating to computer operation that needs to be dealt with ASAP, no thanks to computer tech guy #3, who actually through all of this ended up costing us more money that what we paid him.  Expensive lessons, to be sure.  Not to mention at the very beginning of all of this trouble, we had to get the laptop cleaned up inside and get some loose wires reconnected due to - you guessed it - the inability to use the internal touchpad mouse.  Tech guy #1 did that job, and quite well at that.  Total costs currently for computer service calls and repairs are around $200 of late.  That would be $600 or more if the same work was done in the United States.

Here in Ecuador, quality of work isn't always reliable or uniform, and there are people who don't perform the way you want them to.  It *is* the Wild Wild West here in Ecuador, and you really have to practice the saying Caveat Emptor (buyer beware).  We're living proof of that!  Learn from our experience if you choose. . . but only if you choose.      

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Operation Big Bird

Many of you are gearing up for cooking your turkey for the Thanksgiving Day feast - provided you live in or are from the United States - and you have the whole affair planned out.  That was us, too, until we woke up to find out our refrigerator had shut itself off overnight. . . and the pavo - turkey - had lost any semblance of being frozen. 

That moment was one that stirred my wife and I into immediate action.  Carolyn Anne had some volunteering to do that morning, so I did the bulk of tossing things out that would be spoiled, or had already, like the milk had done.  First sour milk we've seen in months. . . hold your nose!  We contacted our landlady who lives above us onsite, and she graciously let us use part of her refrigerator for storage of still cold (enough) items.  Our pavo was one of the items in the landlady's refrigerated section. . . hopefully it had not gone completely bad (it hadn't). 

As a smaller bird of 7.2 kilograms (approximately 16 pounds), it fit on the shelf in its new location - had it been one of the 10 to 15 or even 20 kg birds like I have seen at our Mall del Rio Coral Hipermercado, it never would have had room on the shelf.  Good thing I picked one of the smaller sized birds last October before the week of Thanksgiving (as observed in the USA. . . it's not an Ecuadorian holiday or custom here). The current turkey inventory I've seen is of the larger and grande sized pavos.  Getting one of those really big birds in our horno - oven - may have been impossible, even with the metal rack lowered all the way.  Remember, most everything here in Ecuador is smaller, and that includes conventional ovens, which the average Ecuadorian doesn't have by the way.  Rich gringos us. . .

Good thing I hadn't yet done the usual biweekly grocery shopping for foodstuffs, too.  The refrigerator was largely bare, and we had no spare bags of milk.  The frozen bread loaf had defrosted. . . we would have done that anyway for making the stuffing.  Not a lot of monetary loss of food, so we had dodged a bullet, so to speak. 

Of course, the big task at hand was to pick a date to cook the now defrosted turkey now located upstairs in our landlady's well appointed penthouse suite.  (Think Jennifer Marlow as played by Loni Anderson in WKRP in Cincinnati when you consider what the interior of her living spaces looks like.  Warm wood flooring throughout, custom touches everywhere, and clean as the Dickens.)  Saturday was coming up, and that is a day off from work for many Ecuadorians (unlike the upcoming Thursday, November 26th which is just a regular weekday here in Ecuador).  As we had in fact already contacted some Cuencanas that my wife knows through her volunteer capacity at Clinica Hogar, we likewise scrambled to contact these friends of the new date to come and enjoy a Norteamericana holiday feast.  Saturday worked well in that regard, and actually allowed one of our guests to come, as she had to work the entire day - as usual - this coming Thursday.  The other, with children, couldn't come on such short notice.  Our table is small, as is our condo, and we have just four regular dining chairs here.  It worked out well in the end.

To make traditional savory stuffing, one needs poultry seasoning.  Turkeys aren't sold in any large quantities here in Ecuador and the ones that become available are ones for sale when the gringos would most likely buy 'em. . . in October and November.  Poultry seasoning, it follows, is not available on the grocery shelf like what you'd find back in the States.  So. . . you have to do what the Ecuadorians do and make do with what you have.  Turns out all six seasonings that make up poultry seasoning are available for sale here in Cuenca.  I found via Gringo Post on the 'Net a tienda, Saboress,  that had just changed locations from El Centro to within walking distance of the condo here.  They had all six of 'em, reasonably priced and labeled in English and Spanish to boot!  I let the duen~a - proprietress - of the store know I appreciated that extra unexpected touch and told her I would be back as a customer come Navidad.  

Seasoning and spices obtained, groceries gotten, all that was left was to cook everything up for our invited guests of that Saturday afternoon, and us.  We took out the bird Friday to ensure it defrosted (it had) and placed it in our own refrigerator once again.  Believe it or not, that previous Thursday afternoon our regular housekeeper fiddled with the temperature knobs and - voila! - the motors for the fridge and freezer came back on.  They've been running ever since, but as I told our landlady, I don't trust the refrigerator after what happened that Wednesday/Thursday overnight period when it utterly failed.  I'd noticed the compartments getting warmer and the cycles of the motors getting longer and longer too.  So we're still on track to get a new refrigerator/freezer unit.  This being Ecuador, you can't buy and get it delivered the same day it breaks down.  We'll have to wait 8 to 10 days from the day of the failure to get it here and all plugged in and running.   Patience. . . 

Oh, turkey defrosting - our fridge again.  On Saturday, we began the process of cooking it all up: not only the big bird, but also the mashed potatoes, the sliced carrots, preparing the salad, getting the rolls ready on its serving plate, and slicing up the postres, which were two: a smaller sized torta - cake - we purchased with our always kind landlady's help in finding a nearby panaderia - bakery, and a larger torta I obtained at Coral after scouring all my usual spots in El Centro for a flaked crust pie.  That animal just does not exist in Cuenca or Ecuador to my knowledge, at least not at an Ecuadorian bakery. . . although I've read about available orders of fruit and pumpkin - pumpkin! - pies through reading Gringo Post on the 'Net.  Next year, perhaps. 

We opened the turkey up Saturday morning and Carolyn Anne just about croaked when she found what else there was besides the usual giblets stuck in the craw of our bird. 

"I can't look at it!  Get rid of it now, David!" she shrieked.

"They're part of the bird, you know!" I deadpanned back. " Birds have heads and necks, and yes feet.  So the Ecuadorians don't waste things like we in the States do, eh?  What did you expect from them but this?"

"But I didn't want to see the head and feet!" she animatedly allowed. " Why couldn't they take them away and make it into dog food like everyone else?"

After that surprising discovery, preparation followed the usual way.  One small find: a bit of hair on the side of our bird.  We lit up our flame starter stick and burned it off.  So appetizing to hear, eh?  (grin)

I did a bit of researching to find out how long to cook the turkey, as well as what temperature.  Wouldn't you know: I learned that Celsius - which is how our oven is calibrated - runs essentially half of Fahrenheit.  Divide the Fahrenheit number by two, and you come up with the correct Centigrade cooking level.  I had been cooking our chuletas - pork chops - and chicken legs at double the usual temperature for months!  No wonder our chuletas were not fat and chewier than we were used to than our time in the States!  (I have since baked pork chops at the more appropriate temperatures and the chops are now decidedly softer and easier to cut with a knife.) 

Our bird came out soft, not dry, and with the aromatic smell of the stuffing inside.  Basting was easy enough. . . and we learned that our oven rack wasn't exactly firmly in place, either!  It racheted down a level or two each time we placed the heavy bird (in pan) back in the oven.  It all turned out well, though. 

Next year, we just might go to a restaurant or hotel for the affair.  Who knows what they'll put inside the turkey in 2016 that will drive my wife to the brink of not cooking the thing after all the preparations that have been put into place?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Different Independence Day

We have just concluded a period in the Cuenca and Ecuadorian calendar that covers a number of holidays and events.  If you know dias de las fiestas in Latin America, you know that the location where you live or are at just generally shuts down.  That was largely true here, as far as I know, with some exceptions. 

Whatever you wanted to do based on *your* North American cultural expectations had to wait until the return of normal business, which starts today.  Remember, you're only one per cent of the local population of Cuenca, according to those who write about such things in newsletters and such here.  You don't get to set the tone for how your special days are celebrated. . . the Cuencanos/as do. 

Last Friday morning, we experienced a citywide power outage.  The whole city went dark around 4:20 AM and lasted for a few hours.  When I got up at 7:00 AM, I checked for electricity service, and the lights were able to come on again.  However, in due time, we learned that our laptop had suffered damage due to the power surge that occurred.  It now has a dark screen that is not workable.  Hopefully it will come back to life without too much time or money spent.  Lesson learned: use a surge protector on the laptop, which I had neglected to provide, though the desktop computer has one.  Simply turning the machine off might have helped, too.  Sigh. 

Getting back to the festividades, we went through in order: a very muted version of Halloween as observed here in Cuenca, the appearance in homes and buildings of Christmas trees and ornaments (both held on Saturday), All Saints Day or Dia de los Santos on Sunday, Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos on Monday, and finally Cuenca's Independence Day or Dia de la Independencia on Tuesday

On Friday the 30th, the traffic in our neighborhood started to build.  It was like freeway traffic in Southern California, but at city street speeds. . . which was about the speed of walking more or less.  You could see the traffic coming in from outside the city coming from specific directions, and the traffic from Guayaquil especially was thick.  Over 100,000 people flooded into Cuenca from all over Ecuador, and even other countries according to reports.  I saw a license plate from Venezuela, as well as a VW Campervan from Argentina which had painted on the back roof "Argentina a Alaska" (Argentina to Alaska).  Ambitious, eh?  (grin)  In that same general area of El Centro downtown, I've seen a newer model VW Vanagon with California plates months ago.  Probably staying at one of the hostels in El Centro.  Anyways, with the tourists taking nearly every available hotel and hostel bed in town, the place was jumpin' with tourists. . . mostly speaking Spanish, of course. 

Their objective was to take part in the various activities surrounding the dias de las festividades which were centered in the El Centro of Cuenca, as well as the area along the Tomebamba River just to the south of El Centro.  A parade with different high school students in school uniform started the process for the days of celebration, which was Friday, and was centered about Parque Calderon, the city square of El Centro downtown.  From that start, the different dance venues began, and the street fairs full of different foods, drinks, regalos (gifts), and other wares such as clothing and hats - the Panama Hat is made here and is centered in Cuenca, by the way - were set up under tarps using folding tables and chairs.  Streets were blocked off and dedicated to the different vendors of food, drink, and wares. 

It was like having the Antelope Valley Fair without the parking fee and long walk (we took Cuenca Transit buses to El Centro), and a lot more relaxed and decidedly less big business commercial.  Just the Mom and Pop folks there, and plenty of 'em.  Expats too, showing their food and gifts.  It's open to anyone who wanted to get a city permit for a booth. 

We heard plenty of fireworks, but didn't see any go off.  The Cuencanos like the noise more than the sights of 'em from what we can figure out.   There was music and free concerts, where even one of the major streets of the south of Cuenca, Remigio Crespo, was blocked off for a street party.  We didn't attend any, however. 

Halloween is not a big thing here in Cuenca.  One expat who writes from time to time in Cuenca High Life wrote about his young son going door to door Trick or Treating. . . his responses were fewer than if he were in the United States, but he still enjoyed the going out.  Most residents were not prepared for a Trick or Treater to knock on their door, unsurprisingly.  Our Iglesia Verbo church had a pastor bring a witch's hat to let the secretaries try the thing on just for fun and take some photos on the church's Facebook page.  They tried it on willingly and in fun, but one hesitated at first before finally succumbing to a smile and a por favor from the pastor involved.  That was the extent of Halloween 2015 for us. 

Meanwhile, on the same day as Halloween, our landlady got out the Christmas ornaments and tree from storage, and began with the help of the guard on duty to assemble them and install the Christmas lights.  The reception room soon began to take on the appearance of Navidad as well as the drive into the underground garage, which was lighted up with Christmas lights that sparkled with a light white glow at night.  I later found out this is a normal custom to do it this time of year with Ecuadorians.  Even the mall I frequent, Mall del Rio, already had its tree up in the main court area.  At least they don't have these items up in September, like you sometimes see in the United States more and more often.  Earlier and earlier it gets Stateside. . . soon there *will* be Christmas in July if the trend continues. 

According to Cuenca High Life, Day of the Dead or Dia del los Muertos is when people visit and apparently perhaps decorate the gravesites of the dead in one's family.  So people stay in town for that day, which was Monday.  Tuesday was Cuenca's Independence Day (from Spain, by the way) and traffic was the lowest amount I had seen the whole period.  Mind you, the buses were still running - if not as many of them - and were generally empty in the earlier morning, unlike when it's a workday.  Middle of the day they were full as usual.  Meanwhile the streets were still blocked off in El Centro for the different vendors who were still there for five days straight.  Plenty of people, and a relaxed feel where extra tables and chairs were provided for tourists.  We never had a problem walking around or finding a place to sit. . . or finding a place open so we could use a restroom for that matter, too. 

Definitely not like an Independence Day in the United States, but something enjoyable and relaxing here in Cuenca. . . which suits its laidback nature as a tranquilo, calma kinda place to live.  !Viva Cuenca!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cedula cards obtained. . . What We're Doing Now

Has it been that long since an update from us?  Looks like it has!  Oh, boy, where to begin. . . (smile)

As we have begun to reestablish contacts with our Cuencano/Cuencana friends, we have been blessed by the Lord in a number of ways.  For starters, now that we have our Resident Visas in hand, we were finally able to procure our Ecuadorian National Identification cards, our Cedula cards.  We emailed our Facilitator in Quito some pertinent information that is found on the cards, and sent him our US Passports again - for the fourth time in the entire process from start to finish - and received them back within a few days with a couple of official documents needed for processing the Cedula cards.  We also had to supply copies of our first page of our US Passports, as well as copies of our new Indefinido Visas just obtained that were recently processed by the Ministario de Relaciones Exteriores.  Oh, and pay $40 total for the two of us for processing the Cedula cards at Registro Civil, located on one of the streets, as it turned out, that we had stayed while tourists last year at a very nice vacation condo we enjoyed.

From start to finish, obtaining our Cedulas took a total of two calendar weeks. . . a far cry from all that we previously endured in getting our Visas!

Registro Civil is far better than visiting a DMV office in California.  There are similarities, to be sure, but there are helpful differences.  Registro Civil, by the way, is where you go to register birth, marriage, and death certificates besides obtaining ID cards which the Cedula card is, of course.  One of the good differences is that there's no waiting line there.  Our legal receptionist, Merci, let us know that up to a few years ago Registro Civil had no seats to sit on and also had waiting lines outside the front door that were long and not well managed.  We were glad to sit on the nicely contoured seats and not have to wait in much of any lines (two of 'em).  Pretty nice deal if you ask me.  Nice modern clean office, too. 

They're modern in technological ways, too.  You'd see if you were there the television screens saying in Spanish - of course - "Now serving S24" or words similar.  Just like the California DMV does with a queuing system just like we were already used to.  Same robotic female type voice, too.  The guards assist in shouting out the service update numbers so that the clients are properly informed. . . you won't be passed over for service if your hearing is intact. 

I went to my station with documents in hand and answered a few questions about where I lived and if everything on the application was correct.  I said we live in a different sector - neighborhood - than what they listed, and they changed it, no fuss.  I then got my photo taken (two attempts) - no criminal mug shot, this - but you have to close your mouth for the photo by the clerk's own direction.  That's Latin America for you.  Then back to my seat to wait to obtain my new Cedula card. 

Carolyn Anne went through the same process with a different clerk (can't wear glasses for the photo, by the way) but due to technological problems with the computer software she got delayed in getting her information entered.  This likely ended up in getting her card taking longer to process and make, as I got my card from the next station earlier than she did.  We had to patiently wait one more time once again for about 45 minutes due to the technological snafu, but she did get it.  You have to look over the card and make sure the information is all correct, then you hand the card back to the clerk, who activates the computer chip embedded in the Cedula card, and you're good to go!

The end result is a Cedula card that is in color, with fingerprint, thick and durable.  You *don't* want to lose this card, as it can be a hassle to replace it, from what I have been told by our legal receptionist and other fellow expats here.  We've made copies already, and will be using them instead, laminating them to look like the real thing and keeping the originals in our safekeeping.  You use the original Cedula cards for things like flying out of the country and so forth.  For every day activities, use the copies.  That's what the majority of Cedula card holders do, anyways. 

Process over!  !Gracias adios!  (and help from our abogados at Coloaustro and our Facilitator Joseph Guznay as well. . . we couldn't have navigated the whole process of getting our Visas and Cedulas without you.) 

           ***          ***          ***          ***

On the relational front, we have been occupied getting our volunteer/professional lives in some kind of direction and order.  Carolyn Anne has been volunteering at Clinica Hogar, a ministry through Fundacio'n Hogar of our church here in Cuenca, Iglesia Verbo Cristiana.  Her RN nursing skills have not necessarily been used at any kind of high level, but the mundane and tedious support activities she does do, such as organizing and readying medical supplies for later use is ultimately a blessing to those on the staff there.  She is happy to do the little things as well as the big things, and with that kind of flexible attitude, she may enjoy her time spent volunteering there. 

One important aspect of the volunteer work at Clinica Hogar is prayer.  Carolyn Anne engages in prayer with the patients with ease and in a way that assures God's love for them and their family members present.  In Spanish, too. . . or may I say in all likelihood, Spanglish.  She's improving her Spanish language skills day by day, as I am as well.  The improvement in her Spanish is noticeable by those we know, and is of course appreciated by the locals.

I meanwhile have ended up back at "Square One" in my endeavors to obtain a position as a profesor de Ingles at Arco Institute - likewise a ministry of Iglesia Verbo - but not due to anything about me personally.  As it turns out, the Directora of Arco quit her position last Friday.  Whatever agreement she and I had is now history regarding my future employment there in teaching English to students.  I am currently trying to establish contact with the leadership at Verbo to find out who I need to talk to in order to possibly obtain a teaching position there at Arco. 

Meanwhile, on another teaching front, I had made a private agreement to teach English to three girls from one family upon my return from the United States.  *That* effort turned out for naught as well, as the father decided to pursue Arco Institute as the provider for the girls' lessons.  That was, actually, my advice to him before I left for the USA.  So I don't feel particularly bad about the outcome, and the girls are getting quality instruction that includes Internet support during the week via a site online.  I am, however, in possession of a number of ESL/EFL books I purchased Stateside for these girls that are not going to any immediate use at the moment.  We'll have to see how God works that wrinkle out, eh?  $200 worth of books, which includes the cost - Stateside only - of shipping the books to me at a friend's California address.  They'll get used in due time, just don't know when. 

So many new folks - and familiar friends - to see of late, especially through our connections at Iglesia Verbo, and we can't see all of them at once!  We have been in regular communication with some new folks we haven't met previously (except via Gringo Post on the 'Net), Peter and Joan Vaughan, and we were able to host them here at the new Ecuador location of Pilgrim's Rest.  A delightful time of almuerzo - lunch - and conversation about what God is doing on an international scale.  We are blessed to have them here in Cuenca for this season of their lives. 

We have several friends from our Celebrando la Recuperacio'n - Celebrate Recovery - group that meets weekly at Iglesia Verbo as well, and we plan to meet with them on an ongoing basis at group.  They have missed us, and we them.  Due to Carolyn Anne's arthritis flaring up from time to time, we haven't made each meeting since our return to Cuenca, missing one.  As it turned out, the entire group sent us a bunch of flowers with a lovely card letting us know we were loved and missed.  Wow!  We of course didn't miss the next meeting. . . (smile).  Actually, I was told privately in group that I am an example for those in the group, considering my life and my age and health status.  I told them a little more about myself and my life challenges that night. . . so much I could say, but I kept it short, speaking in Spanish of course.  Wonderful folks that the Lord loves more than they may realize.  The honesty and humility shared are a marvel to behold.

We'd love to have almuerzo or cena (lunch or supper) with some of these folks in due time.  We'll see what develops and where the Lord leads in all of this. 

Carolyn Anne maintains connections and visits regularly with some Gringo friends of hers she meets in El Centro (Historic downtown center).  We will be attending a social dinner/dance with that circle of friends later in November.  Already purchased a pavo (turkey) at Coral for Thanksgiving.  Never prepared a turkey here in Ecuador before, and there's sure to be a wrinkle or two in the fixing of that bird.  Not too expensive if you buy it from the store frozen like we did.  I've seen via Gringo Post that some enterprising Gringos are going to have Thanksgiving Day spreads costing around $50 per person on up.  We don't want to blow that kinda money, soooo. . . We'll be here for the big non holiday here in Ecuador that is so well observed in the United States.  Who will we invite for the Thanksgiving Day feast?  We don't know yet!  Stay tuned for what happens next!  (smile)


As I was typing this post, it rained a bit this afternoon as it often does here in Cuenca.  This time, however, I saw a bright multicolored rainbow that soon became a *double* rainbow!  Where it touched land from our vantage point at our condo was in the vicinity of where we had spent so much of the last ten months in obtaining our Visas and Cedulas: the legal district along Calle Juan Peralta south of El Centro, which includes the Corte Judicial where court cases are tried.  The Industrial Office Center building, twenty stories high, modern and with windows gleaming, is in the foreground of that legal district.  The rainbow touched ground just outside that tall building.  Amazing sight to behold! 

You can be sure we took a photo of this scene before it changed on us.  We'll upload it and get it here for you as time and skill permits.  Selah. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Cute Sardines!

I'll explain the phase above in just a bit.  Got your attention, didn't it?  (smile)

We have returned to our Cuenca condo at long last!  All looks familiar. . . except a UPS package delivered here by mistake addressed to a Stephanie someone or other.  Our lovely landlady will return it to UPS "Return to Sender" as she doesn't know who that person is either.  She helped us get the gas water heater fired up correctly as well as our gas oven, too.  She ordered on our behalf for para llevar a good, proper, healthy and nutritious Ecuadorian meal of pork, rice, and soup with salad.  She knew we would need supper but would be too tired to cook!  God's Blessings on her for her unfailing kindness.

The flights on United were on time - a plus - and the LAX to IAH/Houston flight was jam packed with passengers and luggage.  Carolyn Anne wisely gave up her long carry on bag after the ticket agent on duty got on the PA imploring passengers to have them checked with the other checked luggage.  If she had brought it aboard the cabin, she wouldn't have stood a chance of getting it in the overhead bins - they were that jammed up.  We endured -especially me - the middle aisle seats rebooked on very short order.  Carolyn Anne's seat was right behind mine.  My two seatmates promptly went to sleep. . . good thing I didn't need to use the lavatory or anything!  United's seatbelts don't require me to use an extension, which tells me I have kept a good deal of any gained weight from happening. 

United is such a cheap airline anymore.  If you don't have a tablet or other small electronic device, you can't use their free Wifi.  No free food, even peanuts.  At least we got biscotti and peanuts from Delta on the way to LAX while flying them in August!  And no free airline flight tracker/screen like Delta offers.

At Houston, we had an uneventful layover of three hours.  I procured from Wendy's in Concourse E a cheeseburger for me, a small salad for Carolyn Anne, and chili for the both of us.  Last real American food for us for a while.  $18 and change for the tab, which is still more reasonable for food than anything LAX would ever offer food and drink wise.  At LAX two bottled waters cost $3 apiece.  Yikes!  ATL is even more reasonable on food in our recollection, where I got an Arby's Beef and Cheddar for $4, and Panda Express for Carolyn Anne for $8.

We boarded our IAH to UIO flight, which remarkably had half of its Economy Plus seats empty.  Our aisle and middle seat - together - seats were better than the lack of space we endured on the previous flight, which I remarked to our personable and perky flight attendant about as I made a polite request - considering all the monies we had already paid United for these flights.  I was hoping we could stretch out a bit in those vacant Economy Plus seats.

To her credit, upon learning of our original status as First Class passengers, she offered us complimentary alcoholic beverages of our choice.  Of course our answer was "no."  She then explained that due to the passenger manifest being closed, she couldn't allow us to change seats on the fly like that, even though entire rows were empty of passengers in that section.  (One such Economy Plus passenger stretched out and laid herself out to sleep since she was the only passenger for the entire row!)  In case of an accident, or psych case where they have to get the police to arrest the person, they need to know who is sitting where.  If I had made the request before boarding, the answer would likely have been "yes," by the way.  Understood.  She then commented, "But you're a cute sardine !" after I commented again about the lack of seat space in our Economy section.  The comment stuck with me, as I teased the flight attendants about the remark, said in a friendly way, of course.  These are after all still the Friendly Skies of United, even though they continue to offer less and less to the passengers.

Arriving at UIO, we noticed again we had deacclimated to the altitude.  Your heart works harder in an oxygen deprived environment like Quito, and the ramp to the terminal seemed longer than usual to Carolyn Anne.  We got to use our new Visas at Immigration for the first time, too!  So we got a "welcome back!" instead of the standard "!Bienvenidos!" that we always got before.  The Aduanas - Customs - folks were likewise accommodating, and they simply asked what were the contents of our luggage.  They waved us through.

A little slip up: no taxi sign with our name on it once we cleared Customs.  After telephoning our Hostel, Posada Tambuca, we came to understand they slipped up and didn't send anyone for us.  We ended up using the standard taxi service instead, managing to get all six large suitcases and our four carryons into a Nissan Sentra (Ecuador model).  Just enough room, too!  Ecuadorian can-do spirit at work.  Bedtime finally arrived at long last.

When you travel with a nonstandard amount of luggage in Ecuador, like we did with our six large suitcases, your suitcases dictate how you are handled at airports and other terminals, such as the well used and modern Terminal Terreste Quitumbe in the southern part of Quito - the southward destination passenger bus terminal.  We had to buy our tickets, then get our baggage carrier to come with us to the van driven by our Hostel's owner, and then proceed the back way to the terminal boarding area where the bus came to arrive for us as we unloaded the bags.  No time to do other things, even visit the restroom.  I had to stand a while and stop walking for a bit as all the walking was hard on my heart, and Carolyn Anne eventually realized that fact.  Then we continued to the boarding area. 

Due to us getting to the bus terminal earlier than our usual carrier of choice - Express Sucre - was open to sell tickets, we went with Super Taxis Cuenca, which has modern, spacious (for legs, especially) buses.  They didn't have windows that open, and the ventilation system wasn't turned on until four hours into the trip - we repeatedly asked for this to be done by notifying the asisente to the conductor in my perfectly good Spanish.  We didn't suffocate due to lack of oxygen, but it was on the stuffy side, and made me drowsy.  Not a good thing healthwise.

Our amount of luggage dictated what transport we had to take back to our condo upon our arrival at Cuenca's Terminal Terreste.  Space for a driver and two passengers, and the ten pieces of luggage - in total - meant that our luggage carrier had to go to the street curb and get us a large - for Ecuador - industrial looking truck.  $10 charge for its use to our location, which was not an unfair charge considering the size of the stakebed camioneta, and we were home at long last!

These "cute sardines" are snug in their own bed and just glad to be home again after almost two months of traveling and visiting.  Thank you one and all for your prayers for safe travels, and we'll unpack and restart life here again in short order.  Looking forward to meeting some new friends we have made on the 'Net lately, and inviting folks to supper in due time.  We'll keep you posted, as always, God willing of course.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Good News at long last: our permanent Ecuadorian Visas have been placed into our US Passports, and have been delivered to our law firm in Cuenca, where Merci faithfully expedited their delivery to us here in the USA via DHL Express Courier.  That was last afternoon, by the way.


At the moment, our Passports/Visas are processed at Panama City, Panama awaiting their next flight north to the USA according to the DHL tracking data.  Arrival to us here in Southern California is expected, according to DHL, to be end of the day this coming Tuesday, October 6th.  Our previous experience with DHL - sending these very same Passports *to* Ecuador from the United States was that delivery takes ~72 hours, excluding Saturdays and Sundays.  So it's quite possible to have received them by late afternoon Monday the 5th.  Either way, we're quite happy about it all!  You could say energized and jazzed, and you'd be right!

The temptation here is to call up United Airlines and make those flight reservations today.  Again, as we have so well learned from our previous experience written in previous posts here, it's best to have physical possession first of these critically important documents.  A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, indeed!  We'll wait, and be patient in it.  We've come this far, right?  What's a few days more, anyways? 

*THANK YOU* one and all, near and far, who have loved us and prayed for us in this long quest to obtain our permanent Residence Visas.  We appreciate you more than words can express. 

This is likely my last post Stateside until we arrive home to Cuenca and our home there in Ecuador.  FYI.  Once returned back to our usual residence there, we anticipate visiting Coloaustro, our law firm in Cuenca and working with Merci to obtain our Cedulas, or National Identification cards that the Ecuadorian Government issues to all permanent residents.  Those will - mercifully - take far less effort and time than the Visas did, and should take no more than two week's time from all accounts I'm aware of.

As I mentioned in a previous post, you cannot fly out of Ecuador without a Cedula card when you have in your Passport an Indefinite Residence Visa from Ecuador.  The official documents have to agree with one another.  That makes perfect sense when one reflects on the matter, of course.

We will, of course, commence with the work God has laid on our hearts to do with the Ecuadorian people.  Carolyn Anne will once again - in full health, btw - volunteer at Clinica Hogar in El Centro, the Historical Center of Cuenca in her capacity as a Registered Nurse, doing whatever needs doing at the moment, cheerfully and with a smile on her lips and a song in her heart. . . and a hug and a prayer to share. 

I, meanwhile, will start teaching three young female charges from our church there in Cuenca, Iglesia Verbo Cristiana, English as a Foreign Language.  New territory for me in a way, but not really, as I have been teaching Latino/a students in California for many years and will even be teaching from the same series of books I taught English for years in the Golden State.  So I will be teaching from very familiar material, instructional material called High Point.  The books cost me - shipping included while Stateside - around $200.  Still couldn't find one of the Teacher's Editions while here in California, but have all the rest of the materials save cassettes and CDs/DVDs and overhead transparencies.  I think I can make a go of it with the Lord's help, of course. 

Come January, 2016 I look to join the faculty as a profesor on staff of The Arco Language Institute, a ministry of Iglesia Verbo in Cuenca.  At that point I will be rather occupied teaching the three girls privately, as well as teaching adults for Arco.  But this is what we signed up for when we visited Cuenca last year, right?  Right!  (smile)

There's more besides these opportunities, of course.  God wants us to be yielded and pliable with soft hearts to do His important work as we seek to present Him well to the Cuencanos and Cuencanas amongst us. 

Please pray that we don't lose too much of our Spanish speaking abilities, too.  We have been practicing our Duolingo self paced instruction daily via the Internet, and I have been speaking Spanish wherever the opportunity lends itself, just to stay in practice.  Carolyn Anne also has been speaking the language as she has opportunity, which is even more helpful for her, being a newer learner of Spanish.  She is making definite headway, and needs the regular practice - while immersed in it in Cuenca.  Can't wait to go back for more!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Life in the United States. . . Then and Now

Before time slips away entirely during this vacation period we are enjoying, I want to say a few words about what looks to be akin to "the elephant in the room". . . the attitudes and outlook of the people in this once great land we are (earthly) citizens of.

There's something missing in the DNA of American society and culture, more obviously gone now than when we were last residents here in January.  There's an obvious attitude of not caring one for another, not looking out for the best interests of another, not loving your neighbor as you would love yourself. 

It pains me to say it, because that's not the country I was born and raised in.  Yet the evidence is all around me: the population has surrendered and given up, and they don't give a flyin' fig about anything anymore.  No one wants to engage in pleasant conversation - that might open the inquisitor up to an episode of misplaced, bottled up anger about something not even remotely pertaining to the conversation.  It could ignite an anger that might threaten one's life. 

So people oftentimes play it safe.  Not a peep from them as they go about their daily tasks.  Not if they can help it, anyway.  Not gonna get involved seems to be the new mantra of the American people anymore. 

Because I am not them, living in a foreign land where there appears to be more optimism and better human relations that is not so - ahem - illegal drug fueled, and because I genuinely care, I (still) try to engage certain folks in conversation.  Maybe I'm a risky guy doing risky things in the land of my birth and where I've spent most of my life.  I dunno.  A fool for Christ, to be sure!

Having been a retail sales clerk for many years when I was much younger, I struck up some conversations with the clerks that assisted us in our shopping forays yesterday.  Some were older in age - even approaching our ages - and most were much younger, of course, but what struck me terribly is that they were so thankful for our respect and kindness. . . what so many current customers in the United States today *do not* offer a retail clerk.  This actually led to us getting some (probably) internal discounts not ordinarily available to most shoppers, saving us money as they returned the respect shown to them back to us.  But the words exchanged showed that they longed for even a modicum of encouragement for an often thankless job done with little thanks in return.

I mentioned to a Costco employee at their Oxnard warehouse that her job of emptying out the trash barrels in the outdoor Food Court was just as important as that of Costco's CEO. . . and that one day, she might even be in that position by the Grace of God (and a good education) someday!  That made a visible impression on her as her constitution straightened up on hearing this encouraging news.  You could see her back noticeably aligning north to south, and her frame becoming taller.  Methinks this employee was actually starving to hear such kind words, so rarely are they delivered in these discouraging times. 

While waiting for my bride at this same Costco as she visited the restroom, I struck up a few conversations with the clientele as they were in cashier's lines.  One guy laughed at one of my jokes in English, so I proceeded to follow up with a similar joke en Espan~ol!  He understood that one, too, though it was obvious he knew not a word of Spanish.  I've found that the Bob Hope school of humor to be the best to use: laugh *with* the person, not *at* them.  Clean humor, not all this filthy language stuff that passes as comedy nowadays.  People seem to be even more reticent than previously, but I'm always game to change the equation - and the spiritual ambience - with a good joke in any language.  I guess it's yet another Gift from God. 

Talking to yet another clerk at a clothing store, it became obvious that what has changed in the US while we have been away is a sense of optimism and hope.  People have been lied to too many times by too many people in authority, and their lives are worse off, not better off, than before.  Makes me think of Ronald Reagan's 1980 Presidential Campaign question he posited to the American people: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?"  Nowadays, people are so discouraged, they don't even bother to go out and vote.  They have been lied to by the Ruling Class and the elected leaders so often so many times they apparently throw their hands in despair and. . . go into fetal position, I guess.  Or approaching that direction at the very least.  

California continues to have a serious drought problem.  Whole orchards in the San Joaquin Valley are dying off, and they won't be back.  Cambria, where my cousin Pam lives, is in a Stage 3 Drought Emergency.  It wasn't polite at the dinner table to announce what the tap water originally consisted of. . . I'll leave it at that.  Fines by government won't produce more water.  

The Once Golden State also continues its Grand Delusion it has no red ink in the State Budget.  George Runner, nowadays a member on the State Board of Equalization, regularly lets his constituents know this remains Sacramento's Great Deception: the State has been running a deficit for many years now, and despite a better economic climate than a few years ago, still has structural problems with how it spends the taxpayers' monies.

Nationally, the Supreme Court (but not of the universe) has decided that what is biologically unnatural between people ought to be affirmed and be given the now meaningless name "marriage."  The ACLU is acting as High Sheriff and ruthlessly forcing any opposed to its practices into jail.  So much for Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Conscience, and Coming to America to Escape Religious Tyranny as the Pilgrims and Puritans did centuries ago in this very same land.  Today the Tyrants rule, and that with an Iron Fist.

The Rule of Law has been replaced - courtesy of the Current Occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue - with the Whim of the Moment.  A once great Constitutional Representative Republic is more like a Banana Republic.  I oughta know, as I live in one now.  And no one has the guts, in terms of a governing body, to Impeach the Offender and to courageously call a spade a spade and take care of *the people's* business.  No.  Because the Ruling Class and the Lobbyists hold the Balance of Power, and they don't wanna let go.

*This,* Ladies and Gentlemen, is what has been so discouraging to the citizenry of the United States of America.  The people need to Repent before God and ask - no, beg - for His Mercy and Grace *now,* before even worse happens.  The people need to unite, and not be divided before God so that the Tyranny of the present day may dissipate. 

Just an expat outsider's view of what bedevils the United States of late.