My first apartment in Cuenca was across the street from the old Patrimonial Cementerio, four blocks east of El Centro. Everyone made the same joke: “At least you have quiet neighbors!” However, I found out that the cemetery was one of the busiest places in town.
The entire block across from the cemetery was lined with flower stalls that did an active business every day of the week, often into the early evening hours.
Weekends were always busy with the streets lined with parked cars while whole families visited. The cemetery was especially busy on Mother’s Day. The night before, the gates remained open after dark to accommodate the crowds, which arrived to the accompaniment of very loud music.
When I heard the music, I would rush to the window to see a procession of mourners dressed in black parading down my street, turning to enter the cemetery’s double main gates.
Music would be provided by a boom box for smaller groups; larger groups might have between one and six musicians depending, probably, on their budget.
All holidays were an opportunity to remember the dearly departed, but the biggest celebration was Dia de los Difontos, or Day of the Dead, on November 2. The holiday includes the word “day” but the festivities, in fact, last for several days with picnics and music which could go all night, in true Cuenca tradition.
The 10 to 12 foot walls around the cemetery were always a target for graffiti artists. In preparation for November 2, the city would repaint the walls a sparkling white. I watched to see how long it took for that blank canvas to tempt the artists again, which was usually a couple days for the first tag to appear, marring the pristine whiteness.
I always say Cuenca’s motto should be “Any excuse for a Par-tay.” I learned that that sentiment extends to the cemetery!
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Little miracles happen on the streets of Cuenca every day.
My friend BB was having vision problems and for a while could not see out of her left eye. One day, she and her husband were in El Centro, trying to navigate the “el loco” traffic at a busy intersection. Hubby dashed across the busy street, but BB’s visual uncertainty made her hesitate. As she frantically looked left and right to find a way through, she suddenly felt a little hand take hers. When she looked down, there was a little three-year old boy holding his mother’s hand on one side and BB’s on the other. When there was a break in the traffic, the three crossed the street together, safe and sound.
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Harry Pearson went to his son’s football practice in Phoenix, Arizona in 1988 and his life changed.
When he arrived, the Pop Warner association president came over to the parents and said “we need a coach”. The eyes of the other parents all turned to Harry, naturally enough, since he was the only father in the group.
Harry raised his hand and volunteered to help. He coached his son’s team through four seasons and when his son moved on, continued to coach other kids until 2009. When he moved to Prescott, he volunteered again with the local Pop Warner federation.
When I asked him why he continued to coach, he got a gleam in his eyes and said, “It was so much fun coaching!” He not only coached the boys (and cheerleaders), he was part of their lives, often the only male influence they had. Harry’s voice drops as he says he knows of nothing else better than football for teaching young men critical three-steps-ahead thinking and how to live their lives.
Coaching football required getting certified, taking first aid classes, and attending seminars, sometimes conducted by NFL coaches. He bought the uniforms and helmets for the boys simply because he thought it was important for the kids to look good on the field, and let them keep the jerseys at the end of the season. Coaching was not only a commitment of time but of money.
This was not Harry’s first exposure to football (and I mean “football Americano” as it’s called in Ecuador). He played in high school and during his military career. So, when he saw the ad in a local Cuenca publication asking for help forming a new American football team, Harry checked it out. He came back from the meeting to tell his lovely wife, Lynn, “They don’t have any coaches!”
Well…where have we heard “we need a coach” before? Harry was “in!”
The newly forming Ecuadorian National League of American Football has four teams. One in Santo Domingo, two in Quito, and the one in Cuenca, who go by the name Condors. The players in Cuenca aren’t children. They range in age from 16 to 30, and rumor has it one of the Quito players is an “ancient” 35! They have come together to form the league out of a passion and love for American football.
Imagine being able to get in on the ground floor of developing a new sport for an entire country? That is one of the things I especially like being in Ecuador. When do we have the opportunity in the U.S. to get in on the ground floor of creating a new movement?
This league needs help in getting started. It costs $300 per player just for pads and helmets. The teams needs help with coaching, a place to practice two evenings a week as well as for Saturday games. It also needs organizational help, sources for obtaining old equipment from the States, and all the other things that go into starting a new sport.
Calling all football fan(atic)s! Harry invites anyone who would like to support the team with things like coolers, ice chests, paper cups and towels, not to mention helping on the sidelines. Contact Harry for more information, game times, and how you can help at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll write a follow-up about the cheerleaders. Once the local young ladies see the outfits American cheerleaders wear, (cut up to here and down to there), and the provocative dance routines, I have no doubt there will be a Ecuadorian League of American Football Cheerleaders.