Editor’s note: This is the third in an ongoing series that examines how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the lives of Cuencanos and Cuenca expats.
By Robert Bradley and Sylvan Hardy
Jeff and Joe Fithian are “freshies”: twin brothers who moved to Cuenca less than a year ago. After each racked up over 20 years in “guest services” on cruise ships, visiting over 100 countries along the way, they decided that Cuenca was the place to settle down and establish roots.
Asked how the pandemic has changed their daily routines, they say they’ve been busier than ever. “We’ve spent time painting our apartment, gussied up the window boxes, decorated as best we can, and watched the world go by from our terrace,” Jeff said …or was it Joe. It can be hard to tell the twins apart and it usually doesn’t seem to matter. They regularly finish each other’s sentences and always seem to be tuned to what the other is thinking.
Prior to the lockdown, the brothers enjoyed long walks with their adopted rescue dog during the day and hanging out in live music venues at night. Although the pandemic put the kibosh on these pastimes, the Fithian brothers keep busy helping people who require assistance — including this writer, who they helped move upstairs.
The international clientele they served on cruise ships, as well as the world of cultures and politics they encountered on their journeys, established the ability of taking unforeseen events as they come. The brothers’ easy-going manner is a joy to behold as is hearing their colorful stories of bad actors, foul-mouthed celebrities … and moments of observing the simple kindnesses of people around the world and the astonishing beauty of the sea.
A time of desperation
The Covid-19 pandemic has not been kind to Edgar Yepez Angulo. Like many other Ecuadorians, he has found his income and work opportunities diminished. Today, he even worries where he’ll find his next meal.
In his early 40s and a transplant from Esmeraldas, he admists he is losing hope of his dream to live out his life in Cuenca.
A carpenter by trade, he was let go from his job as tile layer when the construction project he was working on was mothballed. When the foreman called his crew together to deliver the bad news, Edgar realized that it was not just the paychecks he would be missing but also the friendships and relationships he had built with fellow workers.
Even before the layoff, surgery to repair a meniscus tear caused him to spend what free time he had icing down his knee and desperately searching for another line of work that would be easier on his body. He looks for employment every day but, so far, with no luck.
Edgar Yepez Angulo is confronting hard choices. He can return home to the coast and care for his mother or remain in Cuenca to face an uncertain future. “I have some decisions to make and none of them are very good,” he says.
Expat couple takes Covid health precautions seriously
For many years, Jackie and Markku Sario were the dynamic duo of John Day, a town in the wide-open and sparsely populated region of eastern Oregon. Markku was the public defender, Jackie his assistant. Today, they take a keen interest in their new hometown of Cuenca, observing how the pandemic is reshaping their community and affecting lives of its residents.
Markku spends a lot of time, researching, reading and baking bread. His wife, Jackie, is knitting shawls for friends and creating fiber art pieces to decorate their home of five years.
Both have underlying health conditions. And, both are apprehensive that a tiny viral bug will smother close family ties and the daily expressions of affection that they so dearly love.
Wearing a mask and social distancing are second nature for them by now. They do their shopping only at the earliest hours to avoid crowds and the unfortunate few who lack the wisdom or concern to protect themselves and others. They take it personally when others don’t follow basic health precautions. As they see it, scofflaws are jeopardizing their health, even threatening their lives.
Markku recently received an email from his son in the U.S. inviting Jackie and him to visit for the holidays. The Christmas present thrilled them but they will celebrate with family via Zoom, instead. They feel it is just too risky to fly.
They are hopeful that a vaccine will be available soon and that the virus will no longer dominate their lives. They are anxious to resume working on behalf of the downtrodden in their adopted country, many of whom they have fed and housed. For now, all they can do is wait.