Using words to rebuild Canoa, Ecuador

Sep 25, 2016

By Scarlett Braden

I spearheaded a project to let authors and writers do what they do best to help the rebuilding efforts following the April earthquake.

complete-cover-for-grThe project is called Friends in Foreign Places: An Expat Anthology and though it began as a Cuenca writer’s project it grew beyond the Andes and reached around the world. Writers from Canada, Ecuador, France, U.K., Thailand, U.S.A. and Venezuela combined forces, writing about friendships as and with expats. The collection includes two stories from Cuencanos.

Thirty-seven writers, one famous printmaker, four proofreaders, a cover designer and a publisher all came together and donated their expertise to the project. The book, available in ebook and print format at Amazon.com, goes on sale September 25th. All royalties from the book go directly to Proyecto Saman in Canoa. Click here for the Amazon link to buy the book.

The stories include fiction and nonfiction from bestselling authors to debut authors. But all the stories are about friendships and span many concepts from the burgeoning new acquaintance that promises to be a new friend, relationships with animals, and deep kindred spirit friendships that we’ve come around the world to find.

There is an Asian proverb called the Red String of Destiny and it’s a motto for the anthology. According to the proverb, at birth you are connected to another person by an invisible red string. This person is someone you are destined to meet. It is said the string can bend but will never break.

The Omnibus edition includes all forty-five stories. Here is an excerpt from Friends in Foreign Places: An Expat Anthology called An Unlikely Posse by Scarlett Braden:

Sarah Frances Newsome never thought about moving to a foreign land. At least not beyond the fanciful daydreams of living in some exotic location like a mountain villa surrounded by the ocean with only helicopter access, or maybe a moss covered chalet on vibrant green turf in the countryside of Ireland. She certainly never dreamed of living in Ecuador.

Through unfathomable twists of fate, she found herself plopped into a land she was finding exotic in its own way. Sarah Frances fled New Orleans following the recovery of her kidnapped daughter and the murder of her ex-husband. When she boarded the plane bound for Ecuador she didn’t intend to stay gone forever. She actually didn’t have a plan at all beyond putting distance between herself and her daughter and those who wished to harm them. She fled to Ecuador because it was easy, it was a decision she didn’t have to make. It was made for her. She could have disagreed, but why would she? Where else would she go? It was easy to get on that plane to visit her college friend a world away and in the sanctuary awaiting her, hidden from those who were intent on her demise.

Sarah Frances never thought she would become someone totally new at the age of fifty. She admits, she never really thought about it though. Why would someone spend time daydreaming about what they would do or who they would become if everything changed? No one expects to lose everything familiar, all their possessions, their home, their security and life style. Especially not in a matter of days or hours. Sure, those things happen gradually over time, as one ages, but then you’re too old to make drastic changes, right? Old dogs, new tricks. It didn’t take long at all for Sarah Frances and her daughter Lily Grace to decide they didn’t want to leave Ecuador. As the days and weeks flew by filled with new experiences, new wonders and new friends, Sarah Frances realized that she wasn’t so much changing, as something that was always inside her, something unrecognizable and unexpected was bursting to come out. This is her story about the new and improved Sarah Frances, her glorious new life and the friends who make it possible.

“Hello, my name is Sarah Frances and I was a technical writer in the States. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I decided to come to this meeting of a writer’s support group. I saw the announcement in the Expat Times and felt like I should come. So, if it’s okay with you, can I just listen today?”

“Of course you can, and we are happy you came. We all started somewhere, and we are still learning together.”

Well, that’s how it all started. I went to a meeting. I didn’t even know why. Now I know that I have things to say. I have stories to tell. I didn’t know that back then. I truly didn’t have any idea that deep down I wanted to write a book. But it must have been in there. Because once I started, I couldn’t stop the words from flowing. I sat at my computer and my fingers seemed to caress the keyboard like a piano — unleashing a torrent of words. And that was amazing. A little freaky, but amazing.

But it’s arguably the least important thing that happened to me following the meeting that day. The most important thing is after the meeting, a Canadian couple stayed behind, we drank coffee, ate pie and talked. And they became my friends. Just like that. Over the months that followed, I became close to more people from the group. And more friendships grew. These people I barely knew became my cheerleaders, my coaches, my mentors, my support group. Having lived a fairly charmed life before the incidents that precipitated my escape from the U.S., I had never joined a support group of any kind. I was amazed at how many different ways we found to be there for one another.

I published my book. I wrote it as fiction, but it’s the story of the terrible tragedy my daughter and I went through. The awful, soul bankrupt individuals who stole her and our subsequent rescue and escape. But it was our story none-the-less. I never dreamed those morally deficient creeps would read books. Out of the millions of books on Amazon, a criminal would somehow choose mine? That kind of thing happens in movies, but not real life, right? Wrong.

And when some shady looking character no one knows starts asking questions about me in one of our favorite gathering places, I start getting calls. And invitations. Lily Grace and I are begged to stay at this friend’s house, and that friend’s. And then my Ecuadorian friends hear what’s happening as I cancel plans and we go underground.

For the past two weeks a whole community of people, my new friends, are hosting us and we change locations daily. They are circulating all over town, trying to catch a glimpse of the mysterious stranger looking for me. My Instant Messenger is dinging right and left with reports of who, saw whom, where and who said what.

The story is that I’ve returned to the U.S., or was it the U.K.? Or possibly I’m visiting friends in Croatia. But by any account, I’m not in Ecuador. No one has seen me in quite some time, the story goes. And I’m thankful. I’m so thankful for the tribe of friends who think nothing about putting themselves in danger, talking to this murderous man.

And suddenly the man is gone. Disappeared into thin air. Everyone is asking about him. The lady who grooms my dogs tells me her husband’s cousin works for the city. Let her make a call. She wants to help too. The cousin’s brother-in- law is a policeman. The policeman goes to the hostel where this secretive man is reportedly staying. His bags are still there. But he is not. The hostel owner says he hasn’t seen the man since breakfast the day before., so the policeman starts asking questions around town. Word travels fast that there’s a missing gringo. Everyone is concerned and worried and as this one talks to that one, it becomes clear that the missing man is the man looking for me.

A body is pulled from the rushing river. The water is dangerously high from the previous day’s rain. A crowd gathers. This is an all too common occurrence after a heavy rainfall because the usually gentle river full of beautiful boulders where the indigenous still wash their clothes, becomes angry, fast and rabid as the water slams into and over the now submerged boulders. But the body isn’t a gringo. The crowd weeps and prays for the soul and the family.

The next day I read in the Translated News reports, that the government is concerned with what appears to be another abduction by the United States government. The Ecuadorian government says it always cooperates with other countries looking for criminals here, but recently the U.S. federal authorities have plucked U.S. citizens right off the street in broad daylight and stolen back to the U.S. without alerting the local authorities of their actions. And now it’s happened again, this time in Cuenca. As I finish reading the story, and I wonder how they know the bad guys are here, my Instant Messenger dings. “Sarah Frances, it’s safe to go home now. Would you like to have coffee tomorrow?”

I wonder no more. I love my new country, my new life, and the people that make it rich beyond any imaginings. I’m extremely thankful for my unlikely posse and my cache of new friends. I know without a doubt, it’s been proven; that I can trust them not only with my life, but with my daughter’s life as well. And that is beyond priceless.

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