Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Random notes, 23, Nov.

Long time, no blog. Well, here is some of what's been going on with us lately.

A sad story. On our 2nd or 3rd weekend in Cuenca, we were invited by Rita and Jaime to visit their "quinta," or country home, in Susudel . Since that time I've been talking with them about the house, and Rita's desire to rent it out more, as sort of a retreat center, or a B&B. We had talked about a web page, and I had created a flyer for them to use to market it as well. A couple of weeks ago, while talking with Rita, I learned, through many tears, that they had decided to sell it.

I knew that Jaime had not been fully employed for a while, what I learned during our talk was that they had taken out a $35K loan, for which the property at Sususdel was used as collateral, and for which they hadn't been able to make a payment on since Jan. (Not all of this came out during our first conversation, but rather over the course of many conversations with Rita, Jaime, and their daughter Fernanda, over the course of the past couple of weeks.) The loan was with a private person, a friend of their son's, and he was calling it in. At the time of our first conversation, she thought she had a month or so to sell it, and I offered to help by creating a quick and dirty web site, and talking it up to the gringo community here. A few days after our first conversation, I learned that they had to give up their car, to resolve a work-related lawsuit that Jaime was involved in, so things were starting to spiral down. I also learned about this time that a maquilladora-style sewing project I was trying to set up with her, sewing pants for a friend's new business at home, wasn't going to come through, because in our global economy, she just couldn't produce them at a competitive price and still make any money. I couldn't bring myself to tell her this directly - too much piling on of bad news. Anyway, she was pretty wrapped up in the need to sell Susudel.

Last Thursday, while walking home from La Fundación El Arenal (see below), I got a call from Fernanda, asking if I knew anyone who could buy the property - today! Apparently, they had been talking with the owner of the debt, and he needed to collect his debt - which was now $45k (they hadn't factored in the interest they owed, which they hadn't realized was 5% per month, not per year) - immediately. Having already, finally, come to the realization they would have to sell it, now they were just trying to make a little money on the sale, enough to purchase another car, and to cover daily living expenses until Jaime can get a good job. They had put a price of $60k, although the property is easily worth 2 to 3 times that, but only if they had some time to find a buyer, which they didn't. So Debby and I did what we could. I created a little flyer with some pictures I had and some facts about the property, we emailed it to our gringo contacts. I also created this in Spanish, and gave Rita some copies to give to their friends. I also created it as a web site and sent out the link, and we went to "gringo night" at a couple of local bars to talk it up. We found a couple of potentially interested folks, but the time and the questionable title were issues. Luckily, they were also pushing it to friends, and as of yesterday, it looks like they have a buyer. Debby went up with them to serve as translator to the 3 gringos we had rounded up, and during this "open house," it turned out that one of their Cuencano friends had been looking for something just like this. The deal is not done yet, and they ended up forgoing a lot of money due to their failure to face reality soon enough, but it's better than just giving it up to the owner of the debt. No moral to this story, it's just quite sad.

Drought. Cuenca's, and all of Ecuador's rainy season usually starts around Oct., and runs through March or May. But this year, after a moderately rainy week in mid-October, the rain stopped, and the country, which relies on one major hydro-electric plant for about half of its energy needs, has been experiencing an energy crisis. Ecuador only produces about 48% of the energy they use. They typically import a lot of energy from neighboring Colombia, but Colombia is also experiencing a drought, so has cut back its energy exports. Starting around Nov 5, when we returned from Baños, there have been daily, rolling blackouts, or "apagones" and "cortes de luz" where the power is shut off to various sectos for 3 or 4 hours at a time. This has caused considerable inconvenience to people and businesses, with some stores buying small gas generators to get through it, while others just do what they can. The good thing is we know when the electricity will go out the next day so we can plan ahead. But it's killing the small businesses. Last we heard this will continue to March unless the rain really picks up. Surprisingly, no one seems to complain at all; they just put up with it and recognize it's just part of daily life here. In reality, there haven't been cuts like this for about 10 years. It reminds me of Cuba. I tell you Americans would never put up with this.

Hike with Club Sangay to Cajas. when we first got here, we learned about a hiking club called Club Sangay, which is like Cuenca's Mountaineers. since we got here in August, we've wanted to go on some trips with them and we finally were able last weekend. Not knowing how hard it would be, we decided to leave the kids with Fernanda's family for the day. One nice thing about the drought is the sunshine. This made our first hike with Club Sangay, up to Cajas (actually an area just outside of Cajas) quite pleasant. In fact, people on the hike commented that no one would believe they had been to Cajas, which is usually shrouded in mist, unless they splashed some water and mud on their clothes! Cajas is a national park about 45 minutes outside of Cuenca, quite high (we were hiking at about 12,000 ft), and starkly beautiful. We plan on returning to another part of the park with this group in December.

Paute. We have been a lot more social in the past month, both with Ecuadorians and gringos. We had our first party in our apartment and invited over Fernanda's family and an Ecuadorian/ Cuban couple we met through a Seattle contact. They stayed late and seemed to have a great time and we're ready to have more parties!

The weekend before we spent the weekend in a little village outside of Cuenca called Paute. We were invited to stay at our friend Ron's hacienda and it was gorgeous. Turns out Ron is from San Juan Island. He came to Cuenca about 10 years ago to live with his kids and teach English for a couple of years. 10 years later, with his kids in college and having recently split up with his wife, he decided to move back to Cuenca. For a long time, he was a DJ at a local radio station and how he volunteers at an orphanage, works on his fruit trees on his property and recently married an Ecuadorian. We LOVED his piece of paradise in Paute and will definitely be back. The next day we met up with an American/ British couple that also teaches at the University of Azuay and spent the day at the pool near their house. The best part of the weekend was the Sunday market and eating roasted pig for breakfast. I guess we are no longer vegetarians this year...

Fundación El Arenal. Part of my coming to grips with the fact that the Municipio is probably not going to take advantage of my offer to create a bus map for them, is that I needed to find something to do, (although doing nothing is becoming a lot easier with time!) Debby and I finally visited La Fundación El Arenal, a few weeks ago, and I have decided to start volunteering with them twice a week. This foundation works with the school age children of people who sell in the biggest open air market in the city, El Arenal. They help the kids with their homework, counsel them and their families, and make sure they get at least one good meal a day. I'll be working with the older kids, improving some basic computer skills such as Word and Excel, and even basic Keyboarding. I found a good, free, typing program through the internet, and the staff, mostly hunt and peckers themselves, are excited about it.

Bus Map. I haven't actually completely given up on the City, and in fact, in my last conversation with the Director of Mobility and Transportation, he told me that he had talked with the mayor about me, and although there wasn't any money in the budget to pay me for my efforts, if I was willing to do it completely voluntarily, they be willing to take me. I said I was, and he said he'd start to pull together the materials and resources I'd need, and have me sign something to make it official. In the meantime, I'm trying to see if I might be able to get some recompense for this work through Peace Corps Response, a program which places ex- Peace Corps volunteers in short term assignments in their areas of expertise. Stay tuned....

Thanksgiving. Although the 4th Thursday in November is just another day in Ecuador, we´ll have a Thanksgiving meal with some gringo friends on both Friday and Saturday. We hope those of you who read this will be enjoying a wonderful meal with your friends of family, and that you have plenty to be thankful for. We certainly do.

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