A pen pal of mine recently moved to Cuenca. We have been chatting via email for over a year, ever since he wrote to comment on a column I had written.
A few months after he made the obligatory exploratory trip, he made his decision and then made the plunge.
This is his story.
“My parents did not prepare me to live in the United States.
“Instead, they instilled in us to place trustworthiness, honesty, and above all else, kindness, as the fundamental responsibility of mankind. And it was this very belief that led my sister and me into years of heartache and disappointment. My parents set their children adrift without the benefit of developing skin like an armadillo, or the propensity to question people’s motives at every turn.
“For years I endured my homeland embracing money as the greatest of Gods, and that, again and again, I would be deceived, short-changed, and callously cheated by both strangers and people I considered my friends. I now know they were all doing no more than what was expected, ripping off and tearing away whatever they could, like the hyenas that they became — and what they were bred to be.”
He plowed on, asking if I knew that the most decorated person in the history of France is Paul Bocuse; a chef, and that France defines itself through its love of good food and a nurturing environment. Thailand observes the Buddhist traditions of reverence for ancestors, and humbleness. Iceland is defined by its love for elves and fairies. The U.S., on the on the hand, is the embodiment of commerce — at any cost.
He wanted me to answer how anyone could successfully explain the U.S. government’s insistence, in opposition to the entire global scientific community, that stories of environmental degradation and extreme weather volatility are somehow unfounded — fake — and that ‘jobs’ — commerce — is of greater concern. Instead, they suggest that free enterprise would need to be unhinged from almost every major regulation before they would be able to come to the rescue with a solution, if and when the time should ever come.
“What nonsense,” my friend announced. He was becoming more agitated, more insistent.
“The very corporate culture that polluted a nation’s water, and stayed silent as people sickened, who fouled the air, and strong-armed even looser standards through Congress, and trampled on the sovereignty of aboriginal treaties without a moment’s hesitation, hardly seem the best candidates for protecting the future for all of mankind.
“How is it that incarceration is a for-profit business in the U.S., and that lobbyists are successfully promoting longer sentences by insisting that rehabilitation or flexible sentencing guidelines would adversely affect the security of prison guard jobs?
“How is it that justice is weighed against wealth, and comes in last?”
Although he is not an economic refugee, my friend said he suffered a poverty of conscience, truthfulness, and concern for one’s neighbors. He bemoaned that his old homeland is so obsessed with politically motivated hatred, that it has become a colony of lemmings rushing towards its own destruction, unaware or uncaring for a future in their blind quest to harm others.
“I had had enough,” he said. It was finally time to let go.
When I asked him to tell me of his memories of the fertile farmland of the Midwest, he said,
“I suppose there will be times when I will miss my old home. The seasonal visit of birds going elsewhere, willows waving while shading my pretty little creek, brilliant spring sunshine, and even whiter falling winter snow. All will be left behind and missed forever. My garden will wander beyond the once neat rows. Routes as familiar as the lifelines in my palms will fade away.
“The tethers that bound me for so many years are already lying at my feet, a twisted coil of time and fate.”
He chose Cuenca because of the beautiful colonial architecture and a thriving arts scene. He likes the fact that people who come to Cuenca do so intentionally, it is not a place you pass through on your way to somewhere else.
He enjoys the challenge of tightly wound streets and alpine travel, loves the vestige of an age-old culture and the ever-present evidence of re-birth.
At last, he took a deep breath and finished,
“I have deep respect for the value people here place on family and faith. I am humbled by the mountains and energized by the ever-rushing rivers. And, I am hopeful that I will find my niche in the community, surround myself with good friends, and if I am very lucky, I’ll fall in love, and live happily ever after.”