Editor’s note: This is the fourth in an ongoing series that looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the lives of Cuencanos and Cuenca expats.
By Robert Bradley and Sylvan Hardy
A 35-year resident of Cuenca, Karen Kennedy personifies the heroic adventurer who abandoned a mundane life in the U.S. and immersed herself in a culture steeped in a tradition that honors family, faith, and artistic expression.
Kennedy married the renowned Cuencano artist, Boris Ordóñez, who she met at her church in New York City. She has loved him and Cuenca passionately ever since.
She is undeterred by the pandemic. When asked how she is enduring it, she said, “It’s true that it’s causing some disruption but it also provides an opportunity to imagine the world with fresh priorities. I am developing new ways of communicating without the restraints of expecting perfection. I have renewed my appreciation for the sublime expression of everyday life, doing the best that we can and dedicating ourselves to work for peace in the world.”
Under the banner of the Corporación Cultural Diego Zamora, Kennedy, is continuing to offer classes in voice and playing the ukulele, using the online application Zoom.
With her deep roots in the community, she stays busy with her cultural and social projects, including work with the Cuenca Symphony Orchestra and with campaigns to help the less privileged. Her reputation as a major force for peace and goodwill continues to bear fruit and shows no sign of diminishing.
New business models, strengthened relationships
Although the pandemic has proven devastating for some local businesses, it has opened new possibilities for others.
Lenny Charnoff, owner of Cuenca Salmon and sometimes referred to as the “salmon man,” has made big changes to his food sales business and is very pleased with the result.
“Before the pandemia, I had handled most of my distribution through Sunrise Café on Calle Larga but that was no longer possible when things shut down in March,” he says. “I had to change my business model and I had to do it in a hurry to stay afloat.
The solution was to go to home delivery of his growing list of fish, meat and other products. Lenny updated his website to reflect the new reality and hired a bi-lingual delivery man, since the majority of his customers are English-speaking expats. “It was a quick pivot to a new system but I’m glad I did it,” he says. “I see home deliveries as a permanent solution. This might change when an effective Covid-19 vaccine is released but, at this point, I don’t see going back to the old system.”
He adds: “For many of us, reinventing ourselves has been a positive process that will have long-term benefits. It’s forced us to rethink how we do things and to come up with new solutions.”
In his personal life, Lenny says he and his wife are careful to maintain social distancing and follow the health protocols to stay safe. “We have ruled out one of our favorite restaurants because it’s small and doesn’t have outdoor seating.” On the other hand, he says spending more time at home has proven a blessing for the relationship. “After almost 30 years of marriage, my wife and I are enjoying our time together more than ever.”
Concerns for the pandemic, happy to be in Cuenca
Andre Laporte is concerned about the coronavirus but not for the reasons one might imagine.
Laporte retired in Cuenca five years ago after spending nearly his entire career away from his home country. His position with the Canadian Diplomatic Corps required that he be stationed in a new country every three years, almost always far from North America.
He met his wife of 26 years, Nancy Galloway, while he was stationed in Istanbul. Galloway, who worked for the United States Diplomatic Mission, was stationed in the U.S. Embassy next door to Laporte at the Canadian embassy.
In retirement, the couple traveled the world together before deciding that Cuenca was the best place to settle. Asked how the pandemic has changed their lives, Laporte said they have hardly noticed the hardships at all. “We have three dogs that need twice-a-day walking, so Nancy and I never felt the burden of being housebound. We would take turns with the dogs so we had plenty of opportunity to be out in the fresh air, to listen to the flow of the Tomebamba and take advantage of the sunshine.”
Laporte’s current concern is for Nancy who had to make an emergency return to the U.S. to care for her ailing mother. “The reckless attitude of people in the U.S. about wearing masks and social distancing and the poorly planned approach to contact tracing is a real worry for me right now,” he says. “The people of Cuenca are a lot more responsible about caring for those they come in contact with, so we have always felt we were safe here.”
He is anxious about his wife’s safety for another reason: the violence-prone political climate in the U.S.
Galloway will return soon to Cuenca and Laporte is counting the days. “I won’t stop worrying until she’s safely back home and away from foreign dangers. Being apart has been stressful.”