My husband and I are closing in on our remaining time in Ecuador. Unfortunately, one of our last experiences here has been a burglary. The creeps took the usual stuff, TV, computers, cash, phones, appliances, and the unusual as well. For some reason, they saw fit to steal all of my shoes. ALL OF MY SHOES!!! The week has not been the best on record, but we are OK and thankful it wasn’t any worse.
As we often do when we are in a quandary here, we called on our good friend, Juan-John. Juan-John brought the police over and acted as our translator until it was very clear that our stuff is gone, just plain gone, and the police really couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything about it. Frustrating, but not uncommon.
So Juan-John said to my husband, “Oh, my friend, you will leave my country thinking very badly about my people,” to which my husband, Hugh, replied, “Don’t worry, Juan. There are bad people everywhere.”
Of course, I agree with my husband, but when I think back on the people of Ecuador in the future, I will think first of Maria, Monica, and Juan-John.
Maria Litardo Carriel
In July of 2013, we moved to Quito with four suitcases and a three-legged cat named Triplet. A former peace corps friend who lives in the country found us a very small studio apartment on the roof of a four story walk up (not easy at 9,250 feet) near the old Quito airport. The neighborhood was in transition because when the airport relocated it took some businesses with it and closed others. But it was a good neighborhood, we liked our landlady, and I always felt safe.
A couple of days after settling in we went to a little fruit and vegetable stand on our block run by an indigenous woman and her little girl. Our items came to $6.00 and Hugh, as is common in the states, handed the woman a twenty. We were ignorant of the fact that practically NO ONE in Ecuador accepts twenty dollar bills, especially small merchants and taxi drivers.
After the merchant shook her head several times at the bill Hugh was holding out, we began digging around in our pockets for any change, trying to understand why the woman wouldn’t accept our money, and not getting very far with our rudimentary Spanish. That’s when an angel in the form of Maria Litardo Carriel appeared.
Maria loved English and spoke it pretty well. She had a sister who lived in Texas and Maria had been to the states several times to visit her, so she even had a little slang under her belt. As we soon came to find out, all Ecuadorians take any chance they can to practice their English, which is probably why my Spanish is not as good as it should be!
Maria asked the woman in the shop what the problem was and when we explained to Maria that we only had about $2.00 in change she pulled $6.00 out of her pocket and gave it to the woman. We were shocked at the generosity of this stranger and asked how we could get her money back to her. All she said was, “Oh, we’ll run into each other sometime.” Then she disappeared.
About a week later we did run into Maria on the street and were able to pay her back the $6.00. Over our remaining five weeks in Quito she became a fast friend, showing us landmarks and out-of-the-way eating establishments, teaching us how to ride the bus, getting us set up with telephones, showing me her latest Salsa moves, cooking us native dishes, and going on frequent walks with me on the old airport runway. She even arranged transport for us when we decided to move to Cuenca.
We were able to stay in touch with Maria via Facebook, Whatsapp, and sporadic telephone calls after we moved, but shortly after we left Quito we found out that Maria had cancer. She lost that battle just this past week. I am sad, but also grateful that I had a chance to know such a strong, kind, and proud woman. My world is a better place because she was a part of it.
Hugh and I met Monica Crespo at a language exchange at a popular pizza joint soon after arriving in Cuenca. She had just graduated from the University of Cuenca and was one of 200 top students in the country who received an Ecuadorian government scholarship to study English in the states for nine months in exchange for teaching English in the public school system in Cuenca for two years.
Now in the language exchange sessions, you are supposed to speak ONLY Spanish for thirty minutes, then ONLY English for thirty minutes. But on account of Ecuadorians wanting to speak English as much as possible combined with the general laziness of English speakers in regards to other languages, those sessions reverted to English EVERY TIME. Except with Monica. She made us speak Spanish, even if it was horrible (which it usually was). No wonder she became a teacher!
Monica, now in her mid-twenties, has become one of our constants in Cuenca. She has helped us on many occasions, from arranging maid services to dealing with the bozos at the internet company. She has house and pet sat for us several times when we were in the states, and even has her own bedroom in our house just in case she has too much to drink when she comes over for dinner. We have met her family and have been around for the birth of two of her nieces.
One of the great things about becoming friends with Monica is that she was able to interject a little youth into our expat experience. The majority of expats here are retirees, and we have made many wonderful expat friends while here, but Monica brought a fresh energy into our house that cheered me on many occasions. And it has been such a joy to see her interact with friends her own age and to be able to get a glimpse of what young people in a different culture want out of life.
I never had a daughter, but if I had, I would have been so proud if she turned out to be like Monica Crespo. This young woman has shown me that many young adults really have their act together and maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t be so worried about the future, after all.
About six months after we arrived in Cuenca my husband was walking down one of the cobblestone streets near our apartment. Hugh was close to home when he heard a voice from across the street call out to him, “Hello there! Do you speak English?” Like I said, Ecuadorians always want to practice their English! Enter Juan Segovia into our lives.
We affectionately call Juan Juan-John, because even though he introduces himself as John to gringos, he really doesn’t look like a John.
Juan-John lived in California for a dozen years or so before moving back to be with his family in Cuenca. Many Ecuadorians moved to the states to work in the eighties and nineties because the opportunity spigot in South America had run dry.
Juan-John LOVES English. He carries around a little notebook and is constantly asking Hugh about funny, and often risqué, English expressions. He, like most Ecuadorians, loves beer. And family. And football…GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!
Juan-John has an old pickup truck he calls his “clunker,” and he has used that old vehicle to help Hugh bring in dirt for his garden, to move us from our first apartment in Cuenca to a house, and he is always available to just give us a ride. Juan has acted as translator for us many times, from our recent experience with the police to helping us with a notary we were having problems with when trying to draw up legal wills here.
One thing about Juan-John that I will never forget is his willingness to bring us into his family unit. Ecuadorians are pretty protective of family and rarely invite strangers into their home. One of my favorite celebrations we attended with his family was the fifteenth birthday party of his youngest daughter, Juanita (little Juan, he likes to tell us). A girl’s fifteenth birthday in Ecuador is the equivalent of our Sweet Sixteen and is a huge rite of passage. The evening started with an elaborate church service, horse and carriage rides, and a party that went well into the night. EVERYTHING was pink, and there was lots of Rum. We had a grand time.
So, my husband is right that there are bad people everywhere. But we know that there are also good people everywhere. When I look back on my experience here in Ecuador, it is not the burglars and petty thieves I will think of. Instead, I will remember with great fondness the goodness of our friends Maria, Monica, and Juan-John.
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. She also writes adult parables and short stories as well as books about yoga and meditation. Kris is a determined chess player, an origami enthusiast, a classically trained pianist, and a playwright. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.
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