I have been spending a fair amount of time at Hospital de Especialidades José Carrasco Arteaga (IESS) of late. The trip is now a well-oiled track. I walk from San Sebastian Plaza to the headwaters of Calle Larga and catch the #13 bus. After a mere twenty-five minutes of serpentine turns, boisterous honking, and stop-‘n-go jitters topped off with a, “Boy! That was close!” and we are there.
Everyone gets off the bus; we are all relieved to know that a hospital is nearby.
I have come to accept that it will take numerous trips over many weeks to have even the the simplest procedures at the hospital, but I am rewarded with dozens of stories while I wait for my appointments.
A bundle of relatives from the highlands are huddling over where to go — a first grandchild will be born soon — but no one knows where.
A knot of folks just received some very bad news.
A bouquet of others is jubilant.
Of course, I do not really know the tales of those surrounding me, instead, I make up stories where I pretend they are central characters in a high octane drama as intricate as Game of Thrones.
But, they already were.
These people who surround me already earned great honors and exalted recognition. Decisive battles were waged, lives spent, and monumental suffering was endured for generations by this proud community that would not bow their collective heads. Heroes ascended, villains were vanquished, and a glorious city was built in a cradle provided by a great mountain range.
After all of this and countless years later, I arrived to sit in a chair and make up stories about them.
Look! Beautiful wraps of exquisite wool are piled nearly to her eyes. Look! A finely woven hat is perched on a man’s head like a yellow warbler.
Fashionable handbags are slugging the unsuspecting as tony women hurry past to their appointments, company issued jackets with prominent logos declaring perfection are proudly worn. A few are wearing suits, fewer yet have calloused indigenous bare feet, unfamiliar with shoes.
The air is pressurized. The people are drawn together — sharing warmth cooled by tears. While we say we are here for answers; what we receive is awareness. A visitation from a great spirit dispersing titles of ownership in the sprawling states of Joy and Despair.
This random selection of folks sharing what we have in common — our frailty — are facing monumental external changes, as well. We are all moving at whiplash speed. I asked around to better understand how our town is coping. My answer may not be surprising.
I spoke with Dr. Rene Cabrera, Ophthalmologist Surgeon, SOI Opticas, about the dramatic generational change Cuenca is experiencing. He is enthusiastic and confident.
Dr. Cabera is an accomplished man. He built a successful practice and attendant support services in Cuenca and is deeply invested in the city’s future and wellbeing. He is also a frequent traveler both for business and pleasure and as a result, has seen much of the world. Why, just last year he visited my hometown in Alaska.
It was a pure pleasure listening to him lie to me about what a fine place Juneau is when I could sense he was thinking, “What in God’s name would possess anyone in their right mind to voluntarily live immersed in all that ice? And, whatstup with all the rain and cold weather in mid-summer?”
I loved it.
It is when I asked how well Cuenca will survive the onslaught of global influence, he turned thoughtful.
He said it has been well established that gringos are of periphery interest in the growth pattern of Cuenca, and I agreed. Although a few persist in demanding otherwise; we are but a small margin joined by French, Indian, Chinese, and a world of other nationalities in a melting pot of little overall consequence to most Cuencanos.
The most influential population in Cuenca is the returning Cuencanos who endured leaving home to be voluntarily bound in the ligature of racial prejudice and disdain for the opportunity to earn the funds required to fundamentally improve the lives of their families. These returning sobrevivientes are the ones who are rebuilding generations-old family homes and renovating the city in fresh and exciting ways.
Dr. Cabera also offered this assessment. He told me he just returned from Mexico and was profoundly distressed by what he saw. “Everywhere you turn you see another McDonald’s, or Burger King, or Walmart.”
He is correct. The traditions of Mexico are being bleached. Only a few hundred scattered villages remain that are steadfast in adhering to the principles and morality of faith that once defined the country.
He continued by expressing confidence that this will not happen here. “How many McDonald’s do we have?” He inquired. “Those returning are not wagering on the stocks up north. They are investing in the bonds of home.”
He enthusiastically endorsed the proliferation of family restaurants, new art galleries, and ever bolder undertakings by the symphony concertmaster to build on the repertoire of contemporary works of South American composers. He believes the tranvia will fundamentally change how people who live and work in El Centro conduct their daily lives — and all for the better. He too is anxiously awaiting the new fleet of electric buses, and roundly applauds the youthful vitality generated by the many universities.
Dr, Cabrera believes that the people of Cuenca are the cornerstone of a firm foundation built with deep family values. He is very pleased with the progress he has seen and has faith that his hometown will continue to flourish.