Outcasts of the islands

Apr 21, 2019

My first contact with Jack and Diane was by email. They were planning a move to Cuenca, were daily readers of CuencaHighLife, and asked if I was willing to answer some occasional questions if the need arose.

“Of course,” I said.

When I asked where they hailed from they replied, “We have already been there. We’ve not settled long enough to make more of an impression than footprints in a long time.” Instead, they were buffeted by the slipstream, searching for a place to call home in a land their families had settled and flourished in for generations.

Their luck ran out and their country discarded them.

You might remember them. Diane was the chatty one who checked your groceries, or recorded your water meter, or maybe drove the school bus. Jack was not so memorable, but he was dapper. He had quite a number of jobs over the years, each, at the time, promising to be “just the ticket,”  but, it never worked out.

I learned of their all too common fate, and other stories, from folks whose numbers are far too great to be ignored.

I heard anxious stories of scrimping and saving, oceans of last-minute considerations, and wading against the tide of skeptical friends and neighbors; but I listened more often to tales of dreams. They did all of this and more while carrying less — these refugees seeking a better life.

There is a glaring difference between these refugees and the many sweltering on the U.S. – Mexican border. These were cast aside as surplus by the wealthiest nation on earth, the “shining city upon a hill whose beacon guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

It is here where most learned over the years to believe that light has wounds, and memory is measured by misgivings; here is where they learned that they are mere chattel, no longer of use.

The nails in their houses of the past slowly rusted into flakes of despair.

I met with Jack and Diane shortly after their arrival. They were already constructing a blockade against perceived injustices in Ecuador — being gouged in the mercado, suffering traffic that would not stop to accommodate them, and most of all, bitter disappointment; contrary to their assumption, many of the locals do not speak English. Jack was the most upset. He said Ecuador was no different than the U.S. His frustrations would occasionally bloom with outbursts and rage.

These two patriotic people from the American Midwest were felled by a culture that came to confuse wage and celebrity with desirability, regardless of cost. They were expelled from a once shining refuge now tarnished to dismiss the necessity of contributions to the arts, and ridicule efforts to cleanse at-risk communities of smearing despair, as useless excesses of time and money. They were deemed unfit to serve a festering society that condoned decades of epidemic grade addiction as it was foisted on the unsuspecting by a machine that profited by the billions.

What tragedy.

I do not know if Jack and Diane will succeed here. I doubt there are many more places they can wander. But, I do know this; by fortune or an unseen hand, they landed in a country that will embrace and comfort them if they allow it.

The opportunities for personal growth and active community involvement abound in Cuenca and throughout all of Ecuador. Art classes in many permutations exist in neighborhoods and villages throughout the country.  Adventure awaits in the Cajas and reassuring symphonic music soothes many an evening from several beautiful concert halls in Cuenca. It is free of charge, compliments of a culture that reveres art, science, and family.

Jack and Diane arrived in a city spiced with fresh energy and simmering a stew of expats from around the world. Those who melt into the arms of this culture will be relieved to find that they are…well, relieved — relieved of a lot of baggage way past its usefulness. The bloated diatribes of the north become jibberish muffled by miles and miles and fresh Andean air

I hope Jack and Diane will find peace here. I hope the memory of a harsh and unforgiving landscape will be replaced in the glow of friends and family. We all deserve this, each and every one of us.

To those fresh to Cuenca, welcome. You arrived at a place where many just like yourself have gathered. They too came to settle into the landscape, and hope to flourish for generations.

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