By Jan Dynes
Four years ago, December 2016, I was in Urfa, Turkey. 112 miles from Aleppo, Syria to give aid, volunteering in the Syrian refugee camp. It was my first war zone. I cannot unsee what I saw there, it rocked me to my core, showed me that my tough times were nothing in comparison. If I cannot unsee what I saw, how do they unlive what they lived.
Now I watch in abject horror my own country, The United States of America at civil war over politics most insane. I watch the news, insurrection and sedition orchestrated by our own president. I am flabbergasted. I read of more to come.
I watch this insanity as an expat in Ecuador, removed yet still heartbroken. I am reminded of the Refugee camps in Urfa. I remember this president’s treatment of refugees who poured to the U.S. borders hoping for refuge, and received separation and families ripped asunder and children in cages.
In the last four years my country of origin denigrated into a war-torn nation, mass shootings, riots in the streets, unfair treatment of minorities, Proud Boys and race discrimination. There is so much hate and division, families cannot speak anymore, neighbors war and a pandemic reign’s both death and conspiracy theories. Truth is fundamentally extinct, lies, conspiracies and divisiveness run rampant. Where has my country gone? They need a gigantic mirror.
I decided to present, perhaps, a preview of what is to come, I might wake up a country falling into an abyss with an example. I can hope. So, let me take you all back in time with me through my journals of the day to day lives after the bombings and destruction of a country ripped to shreds. Please accept this as a cautionary tale to the United States from which many of us came, but where any country can make a wrong turn and arrive.
We all know Venezuelans who have fled here and none of us is very removed from the unrest and a decline in the world standards because of the pandemic we all have loss from and must mask for. It is a global time of turmoil and distrust and chaos. So, I ask you to actually go with me into the circumstances we are perpetuating and let us all please recognize the need to immediately, Right the ship before we sink it!
Come with me now to the war of Christmas past, Syria 2016. I think there is an especially important knowing that can heal. I offer you a mirror!
“To save one life is to save humanity”, the motto of the White Helmet first responders in Syria.
That sums up my whole reason for why I wanted to go; even hugs were valuable after war.
We must all share our “whatever we have to give” in love and peace with the world.
Never walk by anyone who you can help in any way and always truly see people, all people, for we are all one family of man and one humanity. Perhaps the worst thing we can do is to blind ourselves to others suffering. We must do something. We must care beyond our own limited vision.
This is the day-to-day Journal of a refugee camp in a war.
DEC. 7th, 2016
We arrived to a Half-moon over a razor and barbed wire double fence which was guarded by men with machine guns. There is even a tank. Surreal even though somewhat expected.
There were people all over sleeping or half-awake outside the fence and scattered as far as could be seen. Some in makeshift cloth draped on sticks in tent shapes. It is cold and windy.
The five of us had been joined with a group of 11 other women at the Istanbul Airport, they had come from Australia and New Zealand. We were all completely silent in the face of being processed through the gates. We stood in line, taken in one at a time and very slowly. We were treated respectfully with efficiently though very somberly. It was unclear whether we were welcomed or tolerated. It took almost three hours to process us. Now after 3 am, we were stiff and tired. The day had seen us thru three airports, a bus ride and check-in here. It is 39 degrees out and seven hours’ time difference. We were taken to the volunteer container for the night we would meet our host families tomorrow. Though only 8 p.m. my time, We were exhausted, somewhat deflated and numb from standing in the cold.
Offered tea and pita bread by Samane, (our hostess in this sleep container) we conversed softly as aliens in a strange land. Within less than an hour we were all quiet in our cots. Strangely I slept! Me (a lifelong insomniac) and judging by the breathing in the room so did all 17 women in our sleep container. Everything felt unreal even after all our preparation. Morning came all too soon.
A day full of heartbreaking and soul-soaring contrasts. Emotions too fluid to identify in any given moment. I asked where help was most needed and was told at the entry gates as a steady stream of war-torn survivors needed to be processed and assessed for most immediate needs. My host family are seasoned citizen refugees now after four years in the camp. They guided me, rather than me helped them. The grandparents Matia and Stran and the three children I would be sharing a tent with for my stay had been waiting four years for reassignment.
They regularly help at the gate, so I followed their generous lead. We helped entrants to find medical attention, food, baths and fresh clothing all day. Most were sort of in shock and exhausted from the over 100-mile trek. Some were badly injured, and all were malnourished. Though stoic all were grateful to be inside the gates. I understood truly little of what they said, but sensed their relief tinged with grief. Everyone had lost someone. I had nothing in my life to relate to the courage and loss I was witnessing all around me.
Twelve hours and hundreds of people later, it was 8 pm and my family and I went home to dinner and to sleep. We walked about 40 minutes to our house/tent. We made simple conversation and shared boiled potatoes and pita bread, cross-legged on a blanket. The kids asked me what it would be like when they left. I was struck by how little I was prepared to answer the questions when they had yet to be assigned to any country or time. I reflected on those I had just seen enter the camp and my family already there four plus years.
The grandparents were already nodding off. I asked the kids; Joe 10, Mia 8 and Jufah 6 if they would like to hear a bedtime story about many different countries far, far away? I made up a story that took 2 brothers and a sister on a magic carpet ride around the world and what they saw as they flew over each different country and peeked in windows at other children getting ready for bed. By 10:30 pm all three were asleep on the blanket, Mia’s head in my lap. I lifted her gently and covered them all. I went to my mat with the lantern and tried to journal the day. I have not the words…
I am humbled by their grace and personally bone and heart weary, I think I too will be asleep soon. Exhaustion will win over reflection.
Today looked very much like yesterday until about 4 o’clock when I left the gates to teach a group in our camp about transitioning and agency’s to be in touch with, to settle in wherever they were moved. I was finally doing what I had trained to do. In the process, I heard so many stories of how they had lived and what their lives used to be. The stoicism left them as they shared their lives before the camps. They described the neighborhoods they came from and friends and family then; so many scattered and lost to them now. They shared about bombing and fires and seeing normalcy turned to hell. The emotions went flat, and this part was stated in monotones. I can’t begin to share what I heard because I have no frame of reference. But the pain was palpable under the facts I couldn’t even imagine. Yet here they had made lives too and were prepared to go wherever they were sent and do it again. They had lost everything and had nothing, but they were brave and had waited a long time. Everyone in my group had been here approximately 4 years. Such a contrast from the newly processed of the day. Literally war ravaged and desperate upon arrival. Shock had matured into becoming volunteers themselves while being incredibly patient waiting for what came next. Most just wishing they could simply go home but accepting they could not. I wondered if I could bear this limbo, they lived in.
These were normal people, teachers, nurses, retail, and businesswomen. They had owned homes and worked and raised families. Refugee did not equal homeless because of being wrong in anyway, rather they were people just like us who had suffered bombs ripping apart their normal lives, landing them in a place they never imagined for themselves with fragmented families and not sure what would come next. By the way, everyone had mastered English very well. They were smart and resilient and amazing. No one whined and everyone helped everyone. Even more amazing they made me feel at home too.
Revelation, this is a community where I feel grateful every minute. I take so much for granted at home. The night ended much like last night; stories of different places around the world and what the weather could be and traditions. We even spoke a bit about their prayers and hopes. I fell asleep with the kids on the blanket and woke up with a sore neck and am now scribbling down the day before going back to sleep on my better than the floor pallet (all things being relative).
Such a short time here and yet it feels like some things are already normal when they couldn’t be further from any normal I have ever known. I cannot express in any way that makes it seem real what it is like to work the gate and see a never-ending line of suffering and in-conquerable spirits. The Syrian people are gracious and patient and carry burdens as if it is simply a natural order of things.
I checked in a widow this morning carrying the youngest child I have seen thus far: 11 days old. Born only one day before she began her exodus with the masses arriving daily. In Aleppo, she had survived a bombing that had killed 7 members of her family (Mother, aunt, 2 sisters and her other 4 children) the men had all died in previous fighting trying to find food and provide protection for them all. Their family had numbered 13 before. As the sole survivor with a broken shoulder and arm and burns all over her back she had self-delivered her own child alone surrounded by her dead family members. Then walked 112 miles here with a newborn, pushed the last two days in a wheelbarrow by a 64-year-old man who threw out his stuff to instead carry the woman and baby. He was the one who gave us her information as she arrived nearly in a coma with the baby so dehydrated it stared but didn’t cry. The man had heard her speak in the first three days after he rescued her but said she had been incoherent now for days. I lost it after this check in (not crying hard, just steadily with no ability to quit) while I tried to get a bottle of formula into this nameless 11-day old baby. There are no words….
The mother was taken to the medical tent, the gentle man; 64-year-old Moe (a shortened version of a name I couldn’t pronounce was taken elsewhere. Did I mention he had no right hand? I followed the mother with the baby; a very tiny little girl (I would be surprised if she weighed even 5 pounds and made no sound at all. but was successfully though weakly taking the bottle. I spent the rest of the day caring for the little girl as her mother had slipped into either a coma or a very deep sleep. No one attempted to take the baby away as the lines were long with those needing medical care. Among them missing limbs and awful burns and traumatic shock. side by side with patience and patients helping each other in hushed tones. In this makeshift hospital, I have never felt such humility nor could I take it in as a reality.
By rote, I concentrated on the child I was calling Hope in my head, because after bathing her and feeding her nearly hourly, not needing to change her because she had not ingested enough to create a dirty diaper, Hope was swimming in a newborn Pamper overlapped and reinforced with adhesive bandage and bundled up in a blanket like a little burrito then resting in a sling under my jacket for warmth; only her little pale face showing. Hope’s mother was still not awake and on IV’s and monitors and all staff were busy, so at the end of the day it was agreed I would continue to take care of Hope till the morning. I left to return to my group and family with her and a plastic diaper bag and bottles.
The evening was a repeat of the night before, only with Hope against my heart. Joe 10, Mia 8 and Jufah 6 were enthralled by baby Hope, stroking her gently yet begging for more stories. I thought of my grandchildren and looked around at them, their exhausted grandparents already out for the night, my energy lagging too. Today had felt like a week. My understanding was numb and I felt at a formidable loss. So instead, I asked them to share stories with me. So, they did. Joe was the only one to remember anything from the time before being a refugee. They had moved from another camp. But before that he remembered his mother and aunt taking him to the trees to get olives and said his father loved them all chopped up with cheese and bread. Also, that they had a goat. His father was an accountant and his mother a teacher. He remembered how soft his mother’s hair was. She uncovered her head at home. He said he had his mother’s eyes according to his father. His Dad liked to tickle, and his mother sang to them. There was a swing-set in their backyard his uncle built and his mother grew flowers. They asked if I knew any songs? I told them I did not sing very well or know any of their songs, but I tried; going from Broadway show tunes to country to Christmas carols because I knew them, Then Joe wanted to know more about Christmas. His brother and sister already asleep and my voice nearly gone, I tucked him in and kissed his forehead; so tired myself I had barely enough strength left to change the baby and offer one more bottle before I was fast asleep, Hope on my chest gave a gentle wiggle in her burrito wrap then was still. I fell into a deep dreamless sleep until I awoke in the morning and recounted yesterday quickly before breakfast and after tending to Hope. I woke her and encouraged her to take a bottle every hour and a half all night, so I am moving slowly. Thank heaven for strong Turkish tea. Soon I will go check on Hopes mother. Funny how attached I am already. I want her world to be better! I wish I had that power, unfortunately I am a minuscule cog in a monstrous machine. feeling impotent to do more than one small kindness at a time.
Ready to drop (so tired). Helped in the hospital all day, keeping Hope close to her Mother. We managed to have her nurse some, but I am still supplementing with formula. Her Mother (Susan) named by her English father; goes by (Saman) here. Her English is very proper, and she is generous with her gratitude that I am still caring for Hope.
She has not told me what else to call Hope, says she never had time to decide….so sure it would be a boy to name after his father. I have become quite used to the home tied Snuggly across my chest with Hope in it. It keeps her warmer than if she were in a crib. Funny how 33 and 40 years after my children; I still automatically sway and bounce when carrying her. She is still so small but has gained 8 oz. Yeah Hope! We stayed in the hospital for the day so every time Susan awoke, I was there to hand her Hope. With her injuries, she would not be able to use both arms for at least 6 weeks; plus, her burns were infected and very painful. They had debrided them and she was on an antibiotics regiment they said couldn’t hurt Hope when she could nurse. But when pain killers were administered late in the day, they told me she would be out till morning and not able to nurse, she seemed to have deteriorated throughout the day and was now fighting infection and over-whelming pain. They told me I could leave Hope in a group crib (a playpen) holding 5 babies of various ages, all older though. Here an aide only got to them every 3 hours in between patients to feed them. I couldn’t seem to let Hope go. They told me I was welcome to keep caring for her and refilled my diaper bag for the night. I had become quite used to my little burrito tied to my chest, she was a miracle of the will to live and I was determined to see her thrive. The rest of the evening was much like the last, it had warmed up to 48 degrees so wonderfully comfortable. The other children could play with Hope on the blanket while we had Storytime and a sing along. They had all learned Jingle Bells and Jingle Bell Rock and liked them the best. But Sound of Music; Doe a Dear was right up there too. I had told them the story of the Von Trapp family, and they had each seen themselves in the triumph of the story. I was fascinated that they adapted the story to their own situation. ISIS replaced the 3rd Reich in the way they translated it. So, we sang all the songs I could remember from the movie. while I told how all the children went on to freedom far away. Children learn songs so quickly.
I left home on the 5th; I have been gone a week. No News, no idea what goes on outside these gates and yet the Tableau of the lines at the gates, the pain in the hospital and the stoicism of those working in the camps are the World News. The news no one wants to see!
These are the people who have survived war crimes and unfathomable loss of all normalcy. They are unsung heroes who are simply a burden to the world they now have no place to go in. I am ashamed that we aren’t helping more. The Brits, Canadians, Australians, Kiwis, French and Germans are doing such outreach and are moving them kindly and welcomed into communities in their countries. These Muslims are not the scary ones, and many are now Christian Muslims (this definition means they are Muslims who have embraced the New Testament), many identify as respectful to customs but not religious at all, some identify with Christianity completely. There are many, many agnostics, people who no longer believe in anything religious, but still honor norms of dress. Then there are those who say, “I am nothing!” They are the faithless and willing to adapt to wherever they go, wanting to fully assimilate in new homelands. Most of them don’t know America has closed its doors to them. I am treated with such reverence for my help because there is no news here. They are in day-to-day-wait mode, that is their local news! It has become mine too. Like when I sail on a crossing, I am cut off from TV, I-Phone and internet. It makes your reality shrink to only what you see and experience. I have fallen in love with not having technology in camp life, these people are amazing and have taught me to live in the moment. They have so little, but they endure, and they wait. There are no politics here. Did I mention the camp and the people are immaculate? These are people with pride. Children are wise beyond their years and very responsible. No one walks by anything that needs doing, they are all volunteers for each other. People are teaching each other everything, they share skills and trades. There are many fine artists, some murals on tents and buildings, most unsigned group projects. There are writers and poets, singers and a few people who got out with instruments. Most speak at least 3 languages, all are terrified of the Islamic State, ISIS and ISIL. I now know the differences. Believe me no one here will be a terrorist! All I meet are people who want to live in peace. None want weapons. None hate us. In fact they revere us, this makes me ashamed.
The days are all so full, so busy, so meaningful. This is certainly not a Christmas of retail or non-stop holiday music. The manger scenes are real and in tents or containers without animals. This is one where a fig is a gift. Although a people who would normally consume many fruits and vegetables and lamb and goat, we are thrilled to get anything beyond; potatoes, eggplant and pita bread which is baked daily in camp and delicious. We just received figs, chickpeas, salt. grape seed oil and olives and rice. This is so gratefully appreciated; some people wipe tears discreetly. I am told it has been at least two months since any bounty beyond our staples of tea, pita, eggplant and potatoes. I am very at home all over the camp now. I wander among all my neighbors, teach and learn. They are teaching me much more than I them.
I have really fallen into the artist groups. I have met women who are doctors and scientists (even a physicist). Here they do whatever is needed. I have learned some Arabic, some Turkish, but their English is amazing (very proper and British), to me they sound like South African English. A South African may disagree, but it is my best description.
I still wear Hope close to my heart, both my little burrito and the hope that these people will all soon leave limbo. I walk to the hospital every morning and evening, I take Joe, Mia and Jufah with me, their grandparents work the bake tents now, responsible for the best pita bread on the planet. The kids love art now too. We are helping with murals all over the camp. Many I out line, what the kids want to paint. All the kids love the Frisbees I brought too. But play is not more important to them then work. These kids don’t whine or complain. It is an alternate universe; they have seen the worst so appreciate the little things. They have more hope than kids at home with everything!
I have now visited other camps too. I am never afraid; these hearts are open. More so then I see at home. I am embarrassed by how wonderful they think we must be….
I still can’t wrap my mind around the steady stream of humanity who reach our gates every day. How can Aleppo have anyone left???
This morning a young mother whose child died on the way was brought into the hospital and placed five beds from Susan who is more unconscious then awake this morning, she has an antibiotic resistant infection. Her burns were severe. This new woman is Saubine, she is a French woman who was married to a Jordanian professor. They had gone to help in Aleppo where he had family. He had been killed 6 months before her baby was born, then she couldn’t get safe passage back to Jordon so was caught in a war-zone. Her baby was two months old when she escaped to come here. Her husband gone 8 months, she was evacuating with her husband’s Aunt and cousin. The cousin carrying the infant while she supported the aunt who was leaning on her heavily. Behind them a detonation of some kind went off. They were all thrown to the ground. When she awoke from the blast, she was the only one alive. Other refugees made her keep moving and got her here alive. I stopped to offer her water after visiting Susan, Hope in her sling across me. The look of devastation in her eyes was something I will never forget. I had not learned her story yet. She stared at Hope. I felt her agony. “Can you tell me how I can help?” I asked softly. She asked if she could hold Hope? I do not know why, but I didn’t hesitate. While she gently held her; her story unraveled. I found myself completely mute and just stroked her hair as I would my own child. One of the nurses came over and asked her if she could nurse Hope? Just like that she joined a mother to a child and began Saubine’s healing.
I felt as if I had lost my baby for just a moment, realizing even as it hurt. this was an exceptionally good solution. The nurse very gently had Susan’s bed rolled next to Saubine explaining they were now sisters in mothering. I could not contain tears and mixed emotions, but it was time for me to go find another task that needed me more. This was a perfect solution for my beautiful now 6 lb 3 oz little burrito. Still, I had to wipe tears from my face. These were not stories, these were all real people. Good people just like anywhere else. The simple fact of geography had given people just like me such different lives. Here on the hallowed ground of Abraham and Job, people still suffered, and babies died all for the name of religion and totally without making sense. My small camp within the many camps is home to 23,000 Syrian refugees, It is now my home and it is one of 12 camps here; actually one of the mid-sized one. We are processing nearly 3,000 people a day as they arrive just in our section. No one has given me any idea of the populous of all the other camps. I can tell you that they go for miles in every direction. I see no end of tents and containers. Outside the gates so many keep coming.
But within its confines I only consider one heart at a time. Despite the magnitude of people, it is very personal. I am now regularly greeted with hugs, while at first I initiated them; now they abound. But they do not make up for the lost Hope…or hope that my own country will help these people. They have so much more strength than I believe I would have in their place.
There is talk today that there may have been a cease-fire in Aleppo. I hope it is true. But with no news or Internet it may just be gossip. Word of mouth starts with the guards and the newly arrived. Today we checked in a bus from Iblib, an area where some of the refugee prisoners were sent by Aleppo terrorists on to other terrorists. This is a particularly hard group to process, all women and children, so many burns and wounds, but the most awful part was 17 of these women were repeatedly raped by the Islamic State terrorists. Now having escaped with the help of sympathizers they have been brought here. They are not just in physical pain they are deeply depressed, and many are unable to even speak when we try to help. I was a rape victim advocate trained volunteer at home several years ago; however, I am at a complete loss as to how to best assist them having never dealt with more than one person at a time.
This is so much worse than anything I have ever witnessed. I am humbled by their situation and the atrocities they endured. Some of them were held for months, the youngest is 11, the oldest 20. This is a day of total despair and I am just trying to keep putting one foot in front of the other; but I cannot even imagine what is in these reports. These women are going to have a very rough time recovering, sadly I can only imagine some might not. Without going into much detail, I will mention some of these poor women have faced serious mutilation and now infections. Our little hospital is out of its depth given this huge intake all at once.
I was moved from intake to give first aide as our two nurses were overwhelmed and I did as they directed and bandaged and stitched and debrided burns as well as held hands and gave hugs while strangers sobbed or sat frozen not meeting our eyes. Not since the riots in Miami in the 70’s have I been in the actual middle of so much tragedy. I of course watched 9/11 on the News. But now I was in the middle of the legacy of the same kind of monsters. This should have never happened to anyone. How do these women and children ever regain trust? I walked very slowly back to my pallet after everyone was asleep. I will now quit writing and try to sleep and hope I awake to find this was only a horribly graphic nightmare…..
I can’t even pray for them because if men are this reprehensible in the name of religion, I opt out! My anger is all consuming when I think of what they have endured.
I started out the day so tired, the remains of what I witnessed yesterday had kept me from sleeping. I reminded myself that I was here to work and help. I had to get up. Joe, Mia and Jufah were ready for hugs and they patched my heart with their smiles. They wanted to take me to a mural project and with art calling through the voices of my kids in this place, allowed me to muster some stamina.
I went by the hospital later as the after-lunch shift was where I was most needed. That was the time for changing bandages and redressing wounds. Before heading for yesterday’s group, probably stalling a bit; I decided to check on Hope. Susan’s bed was occupied by a new patient. I turned to Saubine holding Hope; she gently shook her head. “She went in the night. She is home.” I was too sad to cry. I hugged she and Hope and went outside for some air and allowed the tears.
I had to pull myself together and go back in and work. I don’t know if I am strong enough anymore. How will I un-see what I have seen here. How will they un-live what they have lived here? Then where do they go? I did my best, I will not give any more details about the individual women I met in this group, I am overwhelmed, and they deserve privacy.
Too many big questions filled my head as I left the hospital and walked to the evening relocation class. Where would they all go, how would they all start over? Would I ever have survived what they have? How have I ever had a complaint about anything in my life, given theirs? Why don’t wars stop? Do we never learn?
Class, kid’s stories, some pita and tea and thankfully it is the end of this awfully long day.
“You cannot chase life or happiness or a home, they must be found exactly where you are for they shift.”
That is a loose translation from a Syrian grandmother I spoke to this morning doing a sand painting on the ground. It was so incredibly beautiful, and all the work would be transient, gone with the first big wind or shuffling feet. If it did get completed it would then be swept away. This may be the most profound description for their survival and ability to make this a home; not the way station I was seeing.
That revelation changed the way I looked at the entire rest of the day. Although today was very much like yesterday and all the days here now. It was also a place that for a short time had enlightened me. Yes, these people had enlightened my life. TV and I Phones, and Facebook weren’t living, living was living! I have been nearly two weeks without my gadgets, I haven’t thought one moment of our election nightmares. Real lives and authentic world News is ‘in my face’ every single minute. I am a miniscule part of something so much bigger than myself. I am a witness to the realities of greed and war and lessons never learned from the past.
At home I would be baking and watching Hallmark movies. Here I am watching life without my rose-colored commercial glasses. It is raw and yet they are so strong. They have changed my life, not I theirs. They have taught me about transition and grace and living in each moment.
I almost can’t conceive of a return to my pillowtop mattress, warm home, plentiful pantry, fridge, big-screen TV and a traditional Christmas dinner. Simply by being born where I was born, my life has been easier. How is that fair?
For reasons, I did not understand and without preamble, I was awakened this morning and told to pack up quickly. I am not supposed to leave for two more days. I quickly hug Joe, Mia and Jufah and their grandparents. I am then hustled to the volunteer tent where I spent my first night. ALL eleven of us are back together within the hour and then joined by five other women we had not met before. They are from England and arrived the day after us. We were all confused. We were loaded into a supply van at the back gate, not the place we had processed and entered. Within the hour, we were in the city, off-loaded and put in a tour bus! We erupt into a cacophony of questions. We are hushed by our tour-guide? She explains in very broken English we are to change into clothes provided to each of us in brown paper bags. We are hushed, but un-nerved. As we change, she explains we are moved off the schedule for our safety. Now we are to transition into normal tourists here to see the sites. We are to represent ourselves as Brits here to visit the city sites and then safely fly home. My time in the camp is ended, I am to transition and go back to the USA now. My heart breaks and then wonders how I can ever live unfettered by all I have seen and all they have to still endure. I am forever changed. _________________________________
Thank you for reading this and please let us all recognize the dangerous path of 2021 as a clear and present danger, an inauguration subject to terrorism, Capitols on guard against attacks. Please heed the lessons of history. I beg for a return of civility, truth and honor. Let us all propagate THAT, together and everywhere in everyway!!!
Jan Dynes, the author of Refraction, Dottie’s Gift, Jamal’s Story, The River and Hear Our Voices moved to Cuenca Easter two years ago and fell in love with the city and its people. She lives on a finca on a mountaintop 25 minutes out of Cuenca at 10,400 ft. She found her paradise!