I was chatting with my friend, German Zhina, the other day. He’s a taxi driver, and all around, “What else can I do for you?” kind of guy who has chauffeured me on numerous occasions, fixed an electrical connection in my oil heater, programmed my cell phone, performed bank transactions, and shopped for my groceries. He has become indispensable for support while I am laid up as well as for being an entertaining storyteller and all-around pal. Being the gossip that I am, I’m always interested in hearing about his clients and passengers he has recently carried.
“It was raining, I mean really raining,” he began his response. “I saw two women anxious to get into a taxi and out of the weather. I pulled over and brought them aboard. Jeez! They were like two chipmunks with bad methamphetamine habits, I mean they talked louder, or faster, but usually over one another as they bragged about their European vacations and recently purchased treasures. Finally, we arrived at their location, the fare was $2.48. I was promptly paid $2.50 and then … they paused. One of them asked impatiently, “Well, where is our change?”
“Of course,” I replied. “They were gringas.”
A home healthcare provider tells an even less savory tale. “I was hired to rehabilitate an elderly man who suffered a stroke. His wife had other plans. She interpreted my physical therapy duties as including scrubbing behind the refrigerator and stove — a job left undone for years. When she bitterly complained as to why I had not noticed that the lawn needs mowing and that the cat boxes needed a thorough cleaning NOW, I decided I had had enough.”
What happened? Why are these people acting so selfishly and with such abandon? And, whats up with all the throwing shade and nasty behavior we read daily in the comments section of CuencaHighLife and other expat social media? Is this how we misbehaved in North America?
I know one of the primary complaints gringos have when they first settle here is the inconvenient habit some Cuencanos practice of promising more than they can deliver. “I’ll have it for you tomorrow,” is relative, and I’ve come around to accept that a few folks are more comfortable using the Venusian standard of time, where “a day’ is 5,832 earth-hours long. But, what deserves greater attention is understanding the custom to never say, “No,” even when one’s request is far beyond the ability to oblige.
Ecuadorians are by nature eager to help one another and be welcoming to strangers, and I find it a little unsettling that gringos are surprised, or skeptical of the generous nature of folks here. These are a people steeped in the tradition of caste-dictated racism and realized early on the importance of caring for one another for survival. It created the community we know today.
Miriam tells of her husband collapsing on the sidewalk a block from their apartment. She rushed home to get his medication and by the time she got back to him a dozen locals were attending to his needs, an ambulance had been summonded, and a fresh glass of water was offered to him. She was astonished.
My friend, Sara, an elderly woman, told me she tripped and started falling while crossing Simon Bolivar. She never touched the ground. Two, and then many scooped her up and carried her to the sidewalk where they fussed over her for 30 minutes. She was overwhelmed by the display of kindness.
My personal favorite is what happened after I asked someone standing at the bus stop on Loja and Don Bosco, “Which bus do I take to El Centro?“ The following day I returned to the same bus stop and was amazed to see the person I briefly chatted with. She was waiting to give me her husband’s email address in case I had any other questions they might be able to help me with.
These simple stories are common in this town. They are brewed every day by our neighbors and served to us as a powerful elixir reminding us that kindness and consideration are much sweeter than an insistent squeal.
The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is a lesson the people of Cuenca practice every day. It is my hope that we all learn from their example.