I was spending time with the gringo facilitator, German Zhina. He chauffeured me, accompanied me to appointments to accurately translate medical terminology, fixed an electrical connection disrupting my oil heater, programmed my cell phone, performed complex bank transactions, and shopped for my groceries. Most recently he orchestrated my move from Cuenca to a tiny village 15 minutes above Paute. He has become indispensable for me and many other expats for his professional support, attention to detail, and caring demeanor.
German is also an entertaining storyteller and all-around fun man to chat with over a coffee con leche in the comfort of the café, Casa Azul, on the plaza of San Sebastian Church. Being the gossip that I am, I’m always interested in hearing about his clients. He told me this story:
“It was raining, I mean really raining, I saw two women anxious to get into a taxi and out of the weather so I pulled over and brought them aboard,” German said. “Jeez! They were like two chipmunks with bad methamphetamine habits. I mean really, they competitively talked louder, faster, but usually over one another as they bragged about their European vacations, crypto-currency investments, and recently purchased treasures delivered to them courtesy of Amazon. 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?’
It is what I have learned to expect from far too many self-entitled suburban gringos.”
A home healthcare provider tells an even less savory tale.
“I am a certified physical therapist who was hired to rehabilitate an elderly man suffering from a debilitating stroke,” she said. “His wife had other plans. She interpreted my medical duties as including scrubbing the floors, dusting her precious furniture, and cleaning the kitchen. When she complained that the cat boxes needed cleaning RIGHT NOW, I decided I had had enough. I felt sorry for the old man, but would not be bullied; I felt pity for his wife, but not enough to stay.”
What is happening here? Why are these expats acting with such hubris and crass abandon? And, what is up with all the shade-throwing and nasty behavior we read daily in the comments section of CuencaHighLife, Gringo Post, and other expat social media? Is this how our parents taught us to behave in North America?
Of course not.
Fortunately, many of the most adamant hate-mongers do not live in Cuenca, or even in Ecuador. They live someplace far far away and troll the internet for small-town newspapers around the world that will succumb to their rages and print their hysterical ranting. So, take heart. Most of the worst offenders you read here do not live in South America, Ecuador, Cuenca or your backyard. They are merely interlopers who, despite their insistence on “independent research,” or “critical thinking” deserve no attention other than a warm bath and a pleasant electro-shock therapy session in the early afternoon — but even that is dicey. Any commenter on CuencaHighLife who thinks they are intellectually on par with Marie Curie, or Anthony Fauci is beyond redemption.
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 to accept that a few Cuencanos are more comfortable using the Venusian standard of time, where a “day” is 5,832 earth-hours long. But, what requires greater attention is understanding the custom to never say, “No, I cannot help you,” 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 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, a gringo from Texas, 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 returned to him a dozen neighbors were attending to his needs; an ambulance had been summoned, a fresh glass of water was offered, and halting expressions in English were offered to them both. She was astonished.
My friend, Sara, an elderly woman, told me she tripped and started falling while crossing Simon Bolivar but never touched the ground. Two, and then many locals scooped her up and carried her to the sidewalk where they fussed over her for 30 minutes. She was overwhelmed by their display of kindness.
My personal favorite is what happened to me as I stood at the bus stop at Av. Loja and Don Bosco two days after my arrival. “Which bus do I take to El Centro?“ I asked the passengers as they passed by. A young woman and her son were climbing aboard one of the old-style blue buses, certain to induce kidney failure, when I heard, “Take number 5.”
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 answer.
These simple stories are common in this town. They are brewed every day by our next-door neighbors and served to us as a powerful elixir suppressing the evil notions of others and reminding us that kindness and consideration are much sweeter than an insistent squeal.