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.

"Plan A" Travel Preparations: Back to Cuenca Soon!

We received word via email Monday September 7th from our Visa Facilitator, Joseph Guznay of Quito, that my Permanent Visa is now approved.  Carolyn Anne's was already approved late July.

What remains is the process of getting them placed in our US Passports.  Joseph also informed us that he will present the US Passports to the EC Ministario de Relaciones Exteriores in Quito on Wednesday September 16th.  On this date the new Visas will finally be affixed into the Passports.  On this same day Joseph assures us he will courier our Passports/Visas to our abogados in Cuenca - per prior agreement - and Merci, our bilingual receptionist will immediately send them out to us via (prepaid) DHL international air courier to the USA at our specified address.

Looking at the calendar, I can see this is - once again similar to how we reobtained our US Passports to fly out of Quito - a "tightrope" of a schedule to get our US Passports with newly installed Visas back to us here in California.  On Wednesday 9/16 the items are to be in country couriered using Coloaustro abogados' in house courier service.  I'm hoping they use air service for that.  Conceivably they arrive to Merci at Coloaustro in Cuenca Thursday 9/17, and she sends them out the same day or possibly Friday 9/18 at the latest.  We already know that DHL is capable of delivering documents from Cuenca, Ecuador to the USA in 72 hours or less and vice versa.  So that would mean a delivery date of Monday 9/21.  Our airline tickets are set for a redeye hour of Tuesday 9/22, end of day before midnight.  So not a lot of room for error on anyone's part - Joseph, Merci, or DHL.  Just in case, I will have to be ready to "pull the plug" and call United Airlines and reschedule our flight back to Quito. . . but I pray that won't ever be necessary.  Lord knows we need for this whole situation to be resolved, on time rather than with yet another delay. 

All that said, we have been operating as if and preparing as if we are to leave the USA on schedule beginning Tuesday 9/22 from LAX.  So visiting friends has been going on, making certain strategic purchases of items sold here in the USA and California has been done (yep - goods from China are still plentiful here as they are back in Ecuador) and our last activity will be to see how it all fits as planned in our suitcases.  We bought one more large size suitcase from Costco in Oxnard for a very reasonable price, so our additional costs to ship some additional desired goods will be the $200 extra baggage fee United will charge us, plus the cost of the suitcase ($89.99 plus tax).  Not too bad in terms of additional costs for what we will bring back. 

Our health is better too from my cold and Carolyn Anne's pneumonia.  One fly in the ointment for her is that she seems to have misplaced one prescription drug she started taking over a week ago.  She probably left it at my cousin's in Cambria.  Carolyn Anne is taking another over the counter (USA style) drug to replace that one.  It alleviates cough symptoms she is still suffering from.  I asked her if she wanted to go back to the LA County health clinic in Lancaster where they prescribed her misplaced prescription drug.  She says she doesn't want to wait the three hours - again - for getting the doctor to write another prescription.  In Ecuador, she'd have it in a jiffy by visiting any number of farmacias, with little to no wait time.  Something she fumes about in the USA, and something she is grateful for back in Ecuador.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Getting Home to Cuenca

Now that we are Stateside, we need to be mindful that we are here on a visit only.  We have a new home that we appreciate even more than our former one, and our Earthly home is there in Cuenca, Ecuador. 

Of course our Citizenship is in Heaven (according to the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:20) and we are therefore representatives of the place we are citizens of, even Ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).  Imagine that: we are ambassadors of Heaven visiting the United States!  How does such an ambassador act in a country not one's own, where "they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one." ( Hebrews 11:16)  Important considerations to reflect upon in the midst of changing one's temporary earthly home, indeed!

But back to practical earthly considerations.  We were able to board our flights to the USA only because we held US Passports, which we reobtained from our Visa Facilitator in Quito 24 hours before boarding our flights.  That was cutting it close to the wire so to speak, but we were able to board with Passports in hand.  Quite a relief that was!  Upon arriving in California, we immediately sent these US Passports back to our Visa Facilitator in Quito via DHL, and he received them timely and in good order.  While he works with the Ministario de Relaciones Exteriores again on finishing the processing of our Pensionado retirement Visas, we are without the ability to travel internationally until such time we receive our Passports back, which is the plan, anyways. 

The above is *NOT* the usual way one travels from Ecuador to the USA as a US expat, by the way.  The glaring omission of the finished granted Visas is what's missing here.  They will get finished, but your guess is as good as mine on when that will be. 

As a result, we have to live our life with an expectation - however slight - that Ministario will complete their work in time for us to return to Ecuador as originally planned (late September).  We have our doubts, as they were supposed to have our Visas finished in May (not true), June (not true), July (not true) and definitely August (assuredly not true).  Ministario's word and credibility is not given a lot of credence by us as a result.  But there still is that slight chance of them getting out of their "Man~ana Syndrome" and actually delivering the finished Visas to us in time for us to leave in late September.  We have to live in between the Now and the Not Yet, as Amy Grant once so famously sung.

And so we do.  A more likely scenario at least in my mind is that Ministario fails to deliver in all respects, and we return home to Cuenca with our US Passports stamped with yet another 90 day T-3 Tourist Visa at EC Customs.  Ecuadorian law currently provides for this scenario.  You are required to be outside of Ecuador for 90 consecutive days, and afterwards you are allowed reentry.  We, not having received any permanent Visa, would be eligible to return just as any garden variety tourist would. 

Yet another scenario is where Ministario finishes delivery of the completed permanent retirement Visas in the "in between" time of the two extremes above.  We've already checked with our abogados, and they confirm that we are allowed reentry with Visas and without Cedula ID cards, but that *exiting* Ecuador without a valid Cedula ID card is not allowed.  Important detail to know.  OK. 

You can only imagine the contingencies and flexibility demanded to make this particular trip.  On one hand, pack as though you will return in about a month.  On the other hand, pack as though you will return after three months.  Our approach is to travel light, buy items here Stateside we have to use and consume, and - the goal, anyways - bring back items we deem important in our suitcases for when we are ready to travel back. . . whenever *that* will end up to be. 

Some other things we did to allow for all possibilities of return dates above: paid landlady rent months in advance, as well as utilities.  Purchased prescription drugs in advance and visited our doctors for a written prescription for them (should the authorities want to know why we were traveling with so many drugs, as well as a way to verify our prescription drug current Rx list with any Stateside doctor we needed to obtain any refills for).  I did a good job of this save my Xarelto supply, which was only for a sixty day amount.  Xarelto can be expensive on a cash basis in Ecuador.  I have no idea what the cash (no Medicare Part D coverage) price for Xarelto might be Stateside, but I'd say it would be a high price.  Ouch!  One small mistake in planning. 

We also conferred with our dogsitter friend from Iglesia Verbo on the contingencies of our return dates.  She understood completely (and my Spanish is now good enough to have that kind of conversation in a confident way).  She will likewise take a vacation in October.  Should we not be home to Cuenca then, she knows that our dog goes with her dogs with her dogsitter until such time she returns.  So all the bases are covered. 

In the meantime, there's family and friends to visit, stores to (strategically) shop at, and - oh, yeah - curriculum for my future English as a Foreign Language students to locate and purchase.  Thankfully Pastor Felipe at Grace Chapel in Lancaster has good contacts on how to get the appropriate materials, according to him.  I've got a couple of other angles to pursue should it become necessary.  Neat to be complimented on my Spanish on my visit to him, as English is his Second Language.  Thankful to God that the language aspect is coming together for my wife and I so much better than it was.  This will, of course, allow for better communication and ministry opportunities down the road while in Cuenca.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Return to. . . Palmdale and the Antelope Valley

We returned to the Antelope Valley after 32 hours of waiting for flights, and taking 'em.  Delta Air Lines can certainly get you where you wanna go, but the flexibility required for the late flight scenario, combined with the extra lost sleep upfront, made for two very tired puppies when we finally crashed on our long awaited pillows.  If we had to do it over again, we would have gotten a room in ATL before continuing on with our Stateside travels.

Waking up at the very motel we had last used here locally, we could see that the resident guest yahoos were as boorish as ever.  They even tried to bully me as a group in a staredown of sorts in the (free) breakfast room there.  I am not afraid to call wrong behavior what it truly is, and stood my ground to these thugs.  Ugh.  What a way to start the day. 

I immediately traveled to the local Social Security office in Lancaster our first full day back in the area, as I received earlier a Request for Information letter that needed to be sent ASAP.  Social Security can send one of these letters at any time, and at least I didn't have to pay extra for courier service back to the States this go round.  I was early in the outside line, too, which helped me get in and out of the office and deal with the desert heat better than if I had waited later in the day.  I was glad I had stopped off and got a diet iced soda to drink - I drank the whole thing standing outside in the head of the line while waiting around 90 minutes.

My Spanish was up to snuff, too.  A few parties at the head of the line were speaking it, and I joined in as appropriate to provide information on office hours, etc.  One veteran I was speaking with seemed to take offense that his English speaking buddy was suddenly bilingual en Espan~ol, but he reconciled himself later to the fact I wasn't the bad guy in line here. 

After attending my high school reunion, we returned again to the Antelope Valley and were warmly welcomed by our fellow Grace Chapel fellow believers in Christ David and Jodie Fuller.  They now live in a 2 bedroom apartment in a very nice complex in Lancaster, not far from Grace Chapel and weekly shopping and such.  We are grateful for their opening up their home to us as a place to live while we are here visiting.  I know Carolyn Anne appreciates visiting with the diminutive pooch Molly, who is adorable and so well behaved.  Cupid is doing well back in Cuenca, advises our friend Chio via email.

Everyone I see who remembers me remarks on how much weight I have lost.  Forty pounds, for the record since arriving in Cuenca.  They see that "The Cuenca Diet" of higher altitude, less food intake, healthier and organic food, and more walking daily has a cumulative good effect. 

That brings me to a comment or two on food.  At first I was looking forward to eating my first (fill in the blank) since returning Stateside, but the more experiences I have with restaurant and fast food, the less I am enthralled with the cuisine in general.  We've been to Arby's (good but darn expensive @$9 a combo meal), Panda Express (wife), and Subway (higher Stateside pricing than before) and have generally enjoyed these offerings.  I went to (Der) Weinerschnitzel for a chili dog and I was disappointed in the now obvious to my Cuencan taste bud sensitivities sugar content of their otherwise one of a kind chili con carne (light on the carne, sad to say).  It simply tastes too sweet to me now.  I went to Costco's Food Court for my old standby of a hot dog with soda and found Costco, at least, doesn't go the cheap sugar thrill way.  An honest, original bun length dog spiced nicely and topped just the way you like it (they need to get their second condiment stand to fully function, however. . . only one working spigot for ketchup).

You can now swipe your ATM/Debit card at Costco at the Food Court!  No more having to have a supply of cash for a bite to eat.  Good decision on their part.  Sam's Club has been like that for years. 

We have been so used to the "free air conditioning" of the Andes Sierra mountain climate found in places like Quito and Cuenca that we probably developed congestive head colds on our first full days back here in the Antelope Valley post high school reunion.  In my wife's case, it developed into pneumonia - not good.  We have seen our respective doctors, and have gotten the necessary antibiotics (and in Carolyn Anne's case, shot) to get us back to health.  The temperature extremes of going outside in the heat in the day after being inside in the air conditioning probably added to us getting sick. 

A good thing: Carolyn Anne was still in the LA County Health System records.  We're still US Citizens, and though we no longer live in the USA, we need to take advantage and access the medical care system here when necessary on a visit.  My Medicare works just fine as before.  Soon enough, Carolyn Anne will also have her Medicare card and not have to go through the County system anymore.  We could go to the same Urgent Care locally and even see the same doctor!  That would be good progress for the future.  We sure didn't plan on being sick for days while here.  Still have more visiting and shopping to do before we return home for Cuenca.  More on getting home in the next post.