Three expats who triumphed over hardship to find fulfillment in Cuenca

Sep 12, 2021 | 2 comments

David Williams

The painter, David Williams, arrived in Cuenca in 2015 after suffering a debilitating condition that all but claimed his eyesight.

This condition would be devastating for anyone, but for a visual artist it is life altering. He credits two significant factors that helped him to accept his fate and see life more clearly. First, he read that Claude Monet, a key figure in the Impressionist movement who transformed French painting in the second half of the nineteenth century, was inspired by his affliction of cataracts. Monet recognized that due to his condition he saw the world in a new way.

The other was moving to Cuenca. Williams was inspired by the leisurely pace and deep family ties he learned to appreciate here. He spoke glowingly of the exuberant colors of traditional dress, and is thrilled by the majestic mountains tracking shadows pushed aside by the legions of clouds that march across the afternoon sky.

As a young man, Williams developed a fondness for Italian frescos. His employer, a painting contractor in Texas, urged him to pursue the craft, adding a new dimension to his job that required studying extensively in Europe. He eventually settled in China where he spent many years before making the leap to the pastureland of Ecuador.

Williams wakes early. He appreciates the slanting light of sunrise, the bustle of children running off to classes, and watching folks walking briskly to work in the cool morning air. He spends most afternoons standing in front of his easel, perfecting a more personal style of painting; what he sees through eyes that are changing with age.

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He too is now seeing the world in a new way.

Carlos Vuegen’s Jodoco Belgian Bistro on San Sebastian Plaza.

Carlos Vuegen has a steady hand. His business, Jodoco Belgian Bistro, on the plaza of San Sebastian church, has been an anchor for over seven years, serving European-style food and brewing old-style beers that have the same depth and character as the finest beers produced in the Flemish Region of Belgium. He supports a staff of 15.

Vuegen reflects on his restaurant and the difficulties the hospitality business in Cuenca suffered during the peak of the pandemic.

“Of all the hardships we all endured during the height of the pandemic, uncertainty was, by far and away, the harshest. Staffing was always an issue; trying to support our workers was a real challenge.”

There were weeks, end on end, when no one could open the door, or with restrictions so ill-suited to his business that he had little option other than keeping the lights out, and the ovens cold. Carlos said that business at Jodoco was down at least 60%. Although it was a struggle, he kept his promise to his employees to keep everyone on the payroll during the entire ordeal.

Now times have changed.

Jodoco is thriving once again. Vuegen informed me that his business has never been better, or more consistent. Due to popular demand, he is now open for breakfast, as well as lunch and dinner. The early morning strollers of San Sebastian are now rewarded with the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee and savory offerings just like the folks who wander the cafes that adorn the medieval city of Bruges, Vuegen’s hometown, or the metropolis of Antwerp.

Arturo Paz

Arturo Paz is an expat from Venezuela. His girlfriend Julia and he raise two children, a boy and a girl. He is 31 years old. His ancestors were German and English settlers who sought refuge in Venezuela between world wars one and two and settled in Caracas to rebuild their battle scarred lives.

Paz was not allowed to finish his education in Modern Languages at Universidad Central de Venezuela because the political turmoil was too great, as was the escalating violence that would soon ignite the sulfurous society that now smogs the future. He has, however, managed to achieve a measure of success translating documents from German to Spanish, and offering fluency classes in three languages.

When I asked Paz to tell me about his journey to Cuenca, be began by saying his principle desire was to distance himself from defeat. He felt that too many of his compatriots fell victim to “the narrative” foisted upon them at home — that their plight was exclusively due to the evil intent of others, that they were powerless to combat the nefarious interests influencing their lives, and that they deserve to be compensated for their suffering. He said the socialist government of Venezuela stifled innovation and discouraged hard work. He needed to break the chains of torment, so came here, repeating a pattern of untethered searching that his family has carried on their backs for generations.

Paz is hopeful his education will come to good use. He said learning multiple languages gave him an insight into the philosophical underpinnings of different cultures. He hopes to incorporate what he has learned into a more wholesome understanding of the world and his place in it.

He wants to find his home.

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