Friday, August 28, 2009

Aug. 26. “El que tiene padrino se bautiza. El que no, se queda moro.”

We learned this phrase today from Rita, who said it came from her mother. Loosely translated, it means "He who has godparents, gets baptized, he who doesn’t, get’s screwed." In its literal sense, this is just stating the obvious, but in the context of Ecuardorian society, it refers to connections. If you’ve got the right connections, you can get things done. And we seem to have some pretty good padrinos.

The family we live with, Jaime and Rita, are amazingly wonderful. I wrote earlier about Jaime’s heritage as one of 11 children of a huge ancestral hacienda owner. That certainly places him in the upper middle class of Cuencan society, but he is not at the top of the social ladder, and he definitely works hard – he is a civil engineer. He also loves to tell jokes, and cares deeply for his family and anyone in his care.

Rita is talkative and warm and entrepreneurial. She has been so helpful to us, in fact, she actually found us the apartment we will be moving into soon. She was out for a walk with her granddaughter, and saw the "for rent" sign, and talked with the owner, an old acquaintance, and actually bargained the priced down for us – before we’d even seen it. Today, she took us to Coral Centro – a sort of Cuencan Target store, so that we could learn prices before we met with one of Jaime’s cousins, who has a bunch of kitchen items that she is willing to rent or sell to us. Knowing what new stuff costs, we will be in a better position to bargain with Gladys. She also took us to a refrigerator repair store that she noticed a few days ago, because she guessed, rightly so, that they might sell used refrigerators.

Their son and daughter-in-law, Jaime Felipe and Soledad, also blessed us with their connections. We been struggling these last few days about which school to enroll Mia and Nikki in. We thought we had a good school picked out, it was one that we had found thru the internet, that seemed to have a very progressive philosophy, a non-religious school named Santana. As we have talked with people here, we’ve learned that there are a couple of really renowned, top-flight religious schools, one for boys and one for girls. They are not necessarily great schools, but they have great reputations, and all of the scions of Cuenca go there. They are impossible to get into, and we wouldn’t want them anyway. Next are three or four lay schools, all with good reputations, of which Santana is one – the most expensive one. But Jaime Felipe and Soledad’s kids go to another of this group, Alborada, and they really like it. Additionally, our girls have become friends with their daughter, Valentina, and she is a sweet kid. What’s more, it is considerably less expensive than Santana. We agreed to take a look at the school, and we drove out to see it with Jaime Felipe and Soledad, and while we were getting a tour from Jaime Felipe, Soledad was registering her kids for the coming year, and bargaining for us. Not only did she get the price reduced, she also got us in – the 7th grade class was basically full. But Soledad said to the business manager, a friend of hers: “you’re not really going to say no to me, are you?!” After Debby and I decided that Alborada would be a better experience for our girls, Soledad called back her friend, and negotiated an even lower inscription rate for us!

We’ve also benefitted from connections we’ve made thru the Spanish school we’ve been attending. Along with providing us with good advice on schools and apartments, one of their staff, Narcisa, took a couple of hours to drive us out to some government office, and walk us thru the process of getting our “censo” – an identification card that we can get because we have a visa to allow us to stay for a year. It’s one of those bureaucratic exercises, like registering our visa, that probably would have taken us a couple of trips to complete, but she got us thru in just an hour and a half!

And speaking of blessings, I really have to thank my own padrinos, whoever they may be, for leading me to Debby, my wife for 15 years on the day this is posted. She is a great partner in this adventure, and I think she’d say the same about me.

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