By Dave Nelson
When I take my Sunday walk on the Tomebamba River, it is not unusual to see people I know or to spend a bit of time talking to someone I don’t. But this Sunday was special.
Near the beginning, I poked my nose into a new hole-in-the-wall restaurant to ask if their Italian wine had come in. The place is run by a couple of enthusiastic young Italians who speak Italian and Spanish and have a very limited menu of spaghetti, served several different ways, plus a chicken dish. It’s right on the river, the ambiance is rustic, and the food is good.
The first time there, Tom, David and I showed up and learned they had no wine. Well, no vino, no stay for food; a pause and a hand signal to wait, a trip upstairs and back down with a bottle of wine. Their story was that the Italian wine they had ordered had not come in yet but will next week. So Tom and I went next week and, just in case, I bought along a bottle which we drank – their wine still had not come in. So the stop today and no, no wine yet.
On up the river and near my turn-around point were three guys sitting on the grass talking. One looked familiar, he looked at me and smiled, and it was the son of a man who lived two doors down from me when I first moved to town. I have seen him a couple of times and he speaks some English. I got introduced to his friends with smiles and handshakes, chatted about how great Cuenca is, told him I had seen his sister Lorena recently, found out his dad is doing ok (he now lives on the coast) and went on my way.
On my return trip I saw three people on the sidewalk (the word “trail” can mean several different kinds of material under your feet) at a bus stop and as I got closer the young man looked familiar and as he looked at me he acted like he knew me, so nothing to do but stop. All in Spanish, he said we had met about five months ago and all I could do was say I was sorry but my old brain (cerebro anciano) didn’t remember, but it was all smiles and a handshake as I left. I do wish I was better at remembering where I saw the familiar face.
Back on the cobblestone trail I stopped at a favorite bench under a tree to watch the river below. A young man and younger boy (maybe 6 or 7) went down the steep slope to the river where the boy took off his shoes, rolled up his pants and was soon sitting on a rock with his feet in the water. While he was doing his rock-sitting, the man looked up, saw me, gave a wave and a “hola” and motioned for me to come down. I answered with a “no, anciano”, pointing at myself. He then pointed at his head and yelled “viejo (another word for old) is here”, and then scrambled up the bank.
His name is Damien, knows some English which helped a whole lot, was full of smiles and radiated happiness. He has been in Cuenca for two months, is an immigrant from Colombia where, I understood him to say, he carried sacks on his back (narcotics, I wondered?), has a wife, a four-year-old daughter, as well as his son, and is very, very happy to be here. He has no papers yet, looks for work but when asked for papers and can produce none, gets turned down, but he is positive and knows that God will take care of him. He had learned that I am alone so when we parted I got the normal male response of “you need a novia”, (girlfriend) as well as handshake and huge smile.
Ecuador, with the northern Colombia’s drug fields on our border, has taken in thousands of refugees as those drug wars slowly wind down, for good we hope. And what Damien will learn is that the Colombian immigrants are the lowest of the low, with even more discrimination heaped on them than the indigenous Cañari, who are at least making progress in being accepted.
It was a fine afternoon.