Expat Life

Limosna: Giving to the poor sustains us all

Alms is a word seldom used today. It is better relegated to another era, many of us might think. However, set against a backdrop of poverty, it is a word and concept very much alive to Ecuador. I see it often in the cities, towns and hamlets I visit.

In my travels, I have seen various degrees of everything and poverty is among them. The manner it is dealt with varies widely around the globe. Ecuador is a country that has a seemingly unique approach to this age-old problem.

It’s very cool because it’s very simple. Everyone gives. That’s it. Nothing fancy. All people step to the plate and give to the needy. Everyone gives something, even if they seem to be in perilous need themselves. And, that’s where it starts eliciting that humbling feeling for me at about a million miles an hour.

In Ecuador, it’s pretty liberating to be able to pass out a little cash here and there. I see others helping others all the time and it’s great to be in the game.  It doesn’t take much to help. But, like anything else, I let my heart be my guide and my head serves as a good tempering agent. Spreading any goodness you have will put help in more places. It’s simple enough.

Just so I’m clear, here’s what I’m writing about. The toughest vendor in the mercado who can’t ever find you any yapa or a nickel discount will be quick to reach in their pouch and hand over fifty cents to a needy person asking for help. Yeah, I know, the first time I saw it my jaw dropped too.

As would be expected in this culture, it is almost exclusively the extreme elderly, the physically handicapped or tragedy stricken refugees who ask for help. However, everyone who asks seems to receive something from most people.

She was waiting outside on the steps of the church like many others; waiting, hoping for something, such small change can mean so much to the quality of a life that’s been torn asunder.

A great spirit resides in the hearts of Ecuadorian people. The spirit of giving shines forth as a bright light pouring from a beacon of hope. It’s on the faces of the people I see, and I hope to mirror it back to them. And, as I shared, it deeply humbles me. Perspective begins to write on the heart. Its instrument of recordation is sharp and it slashes deep into the emotions. No blood springs forth from this cut though, only the compelling desire to reach more folks in the streets, under the bridges, but above all, on their turf, that’s where I go to meet them because that’s where they are in need.

If you come across the truly needy, please feed them with good thoughts and in good spirit, supplementing that cheer with a little jingle from your pocket.  I’m thanking you in advance for your kindest of gestures, your smile and good words are highly valuable, they will spend a long ways.

Brian Buckner

Brian Buckner

After a successful career in manufacturing, Brian Buckner sold his commercial window fabrication plant and now makes his home with his wife, Edie, in Cuenca. He is a photojournalist and... Read More

  • BJW

    I presume you’ve seen this, Brian, since it’s clear you pay attention, but one of the things that has made me a whole lot less cynical about people seeking a little help from my pocket is the routine giving that I’ve seen at certain businesses downtown. Little shops, these, and on what appears to be a a particular day at a particular time, a few people will gather outside of them and wait patiently while the proprietor (I assume) comes out with a cup of change and hands it out as I might distribute candy on Halloween. Given the current business climate in Cuenca, particularly along the Tranvia route, I have to believe that it goes on during both good and bad times for the business. The poor are always there, so the business-owner is, too. Nice article. Thanks.

    • Brian Buckner

      Hi BJW. Well, I understand your words. Cynicism is a hard feeling to overcome, I have certainly experienced it myself! However, as you point out from your observations, open sharing from businesses in all times, good or bad, definitely goes on. Yes, I see it also. Onetime when I saw it, I put my money in the business owners cup. That raised some eyebrows and then everyone realized what was up and there came the big smiles. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • StillWatching

      You have added to my day. Thank you.

  • lt1216

    Thanks Brian! Your photos and commentary are always insightful and a great way to start my day.

    • Brian Buckner

      Well, that starts my day off great also since I am having that effect on others. Thanks for letting me know! And, thanks for stopping by to comment!

  • StillWatching

    Buck! I know that lady just as well as I know the lady selling candles in front of the New Cathedral and Elizabeth, my favorite student (I teach street kids English on the steps of the cathedral) who sells spumilla under the same arch. I befriended Elizabeth about 7 years ago and she’s still there, every weekend, selling spumillia. I know her whole family because I had them over to my place for spaghetti on Elizabeth’s 12th birthday. It was the first time Elizabeth ever had a Birthday Party, and a Birthday Cake and she had never had a single piece of new clothing until she put on the jeans, blouse and chaleco I bought for her.

    Many ex-pats work with the charities I support here and in the orphanages I have taught in and this is one of the reasons I get so sensitive about those that rag on expats in this community and try to tell us how we should behave. By and large, expats are good people that contribute much to our City and country, regardless of what the nay sayers insist.

    I love BJW’s comments about the proprietors of the business in el centro as well. I have noticed that the restaurants do the same thing, for the most part, freely giving food to the hungry that come by every day. Orlando at Sunrise Cafe is one that comes immediately to mind and every time I’m there I see him giving food to the street people on Calle Larga. One day, I saw a lady that comes by regularly and I grabbed Frank, the waiter and told him to bring her inside and sit her at a table and give her anything she wanted to eat and I would pay for it. My only caveat was that he couldn’t tell her that I paid for the meal. The hamburger she ordered was way too big for her to finish and the look on her face as she got to take the rest of it home was priceless. So is the joy I get from doing these little things.

    Brian, you, too bring joy into my life with virtually every picture you publish and every story you tell along with it. I’m glad you’re here.

    • Josh Tyler

      Whoa! Mr Grammer nazi (StillHiding) takes a tumble.

    • Brian Buckner

      Hey Still, Those are powerful words you’ve been writing here and I like ’em…all of ’em. Helping feels great to all involved, givers and recipients. The givers need to help and are served by their actions and of course, the recipients are getting goodness too. All in all, a fantastic arrangement! Thanks for saying you appreciate my photography and writings, that’s a large part of the way I serve. In closing, you can shoot me a mail sometime if you like, up to you.

      • StillWatching

        Hi Buck,

        I have a very strong feeling that you and I both know that we get more from our acts of giving than the recipients. I have some really cool stories to tell you in that regard and one just happened the other day. I’m just an innocent third party in this one, but it really brought tears to my eyes because of a similar experience I had 50 years ago. The one that happened all those years ago was life changing and I was the beneficiary. I’ll tell you about it over lunch. Details to follow via e-mail.


        • Brian Buckner

          Great, I look forward to it!

  • Frances Knighton

    What a wonderful article. When we were visiting Cuenca last summer I saw the ladies with the hornado (at the market) freely giving food to some people who obviously were hungry and poor.

    • Brian Buckner

      Hi Frances! Yes, everyone gets into the game. Lot’s of helpers here in Ecuador. Thanks for coming by and commenting! Brian