Each day in Cuenca brings something unplanned and unexpected - whether it's a new and interesting place we discover as we walk along the cobbled sidewalks of our city, or perhaps another precious Ecuadorian person or family that crosses our path. It's the best part about being in another country for us - not a boring moment because we're ready to up and go and discover, and we're ready to open our hearts and door to the next person or family we're supposed to meet and KNOW!
Our landlady sent a painter to our "departamento" (apartment) yesterday - and throughout the day, Giovanni began to ask me questions about how long we were visiting Ecuador for, if we liked his country, and what it was like in the United States. He respectfully asked how much my apple computer cost, what Bo and I did for work, if we had children, and on and on. I never viewed this young Ecuadorian's questions to us as an intrusion or invasion of our privacy. I enjoyed being completely honest with this gentle and humble young man of 22 years old, wanting to give him a complete picture of who we are, why we are here, and what his people and country mean to us.
Because I can speak his language fairly well, Giovanni and I were able to communicate back and forth as he worked throughout the day, and by early evening, at the end of his work shift, he was sitting at our dining room table having a cup of Bo's cafe fuerte con leche y panela. Around 6 pm, he politely thanked us and rose up to leave, only to return at 8 pm with his wife, one-year old daughter, and 14 year old sister. He had humbly asked me in the course of our conversation if he could return with his family so they could meet us.
How did this transpire? Why would a 22-year old young Ecuadorian man want to come back to our apartment with his family so late in the evening to sit with us again after already talking to us and having so many of his questions answered. We are Gringos, estranjeros (foreigners), and from different worlds, much older and certainly not people most young Americans today would want to hang with. Why would his wife, after working all day as a fruit vendor with a baby strapped to her back want to take a taxi late at night to meet two Gringos who live nothing like she does?
During the hour Giovanni sat with us sipping Gringo coffee, it was obvious he was genuinely interested in us. He wanted to know so much, and his questions (which he asked respectfully) continued, and my honest answers followed. He wanted to see pictures of our home in Oregon, the inside and outside. He asked how much we rented it for, and he asked how much we paid rent at our current place. His eyes popped when I told him our "departamento" here was $500 a month (so inexpensive compared to what one pays in the US). He began to share with me that he and his wife paid $80 a month for their one-room home. He quietly shared, "We're poor."
Giovanni had now opened the door for me to enter in, and now I began gently questioning him and inquiring about his life. I was just as curious about him as he was about us. I asked him about his wife and daughter, which caused him to light up as he humbly yet proudly shared his love for his family and how his daughter was the joy of his life. He shared with me how diligently he and his wife were both working so they could better their life for their daughter. His family is very close, and he has 7 brothers and sisters, and his wife has 9 siblings. I continued to inquire and learn all about his parents, his home life and on and on.
As he shared, I began to see and express to him how rich he was. He looked at me visibly surprised and stunned to hear this. I began to tell him how being rich has nothing to do with money, and that there are many rich people in the world, especially the United States, who are miserable and unfulfilled in spite of their wealth. I told him that truly he was richer than Bo and me because he had a beautiful daughter which was God's gift to him. I pointed out to him that though he did not make much money he had work, that though he only had one room he had a home, and that though he did not see the monetary aspect in his life, he had the day's provision for his family - food, shelter, and love. He smiled and quietly thanked me. He told me that sometimes he lost sight of what really was important because their life was a such struggle but that my words meant so much to him. He told me that he was an Evangelical Christian and believed the Word of God. He asked me about my faith. He said that my words had truly blessed him.
It was at this point in our conversation that he said he would like to have Bo and me come to his home. I told him we would be honored. Then Giovanni asked if he could come back tonight with his family so we could meet his wife and baby girl. At 8 pm, they returned, and he also brought his 14-year old sister. It was like watching a family going to Disneyland for the first time. They were in awe of our apartment. Now mind you, Bo and I are living in a very small and humble place, USA standards, but to these young Ecuadorians, it was like sitting in a mansion. I'm not exaggerating! Giovanni told me that his family had never been inside a Gringo's home before. He has because he is a painter and works in this complex.
He wanted me to show his little sister and wife pictures of our Oregon home and land. He wanted me to tell them about our life. His wife, Maria, began to ask me specific questions about our life, not intrusively, but with a genuine curiosity and a careful respect - yet I knew she felt safe with us and able to be real and transparent also. By the time our two hours of visiting had passed, this sweet family had shared with us even more about their lives. Giovanni's little sister, Michael (Mee-Shy-El), who kept looking around at our place as she quietly munched on the sweet granola before her, shared with us how she works from early morning until 6 pm with her mother selling produce at the large mercado, then goes to colegio (school) from 6 pm until 10 pm. This is her typical day, Monday through Friday. She was at our home this particular evening only because it was a school holiday.
As Maria fed her baby (Ecuadorian women breast feed their little ones openly and publicly) and sipped her coffee, she shared with us how she rises every day at 6:30 am and goes to the market where she buys her produce to then turn around and resell at another location for her profit. She works from early morning until around 6 pm. Giovanni also rises early and works until around 6 pm. He said if he doesn't have a full day's work, he has to hang around in order to be paid. His wages are minimal and only enough to feed his family and pay his rent. They were enjoying sipping coffee and munching on healthy granola with us, looking at some of our photos, and laughing with us as we (Bo especially) struggled through our Spanish and said words that made Michael giggle. She was so shy that she would pull her brother towards her and whisper to him if she wanted to ask about or know something.
At 10 pm, we finally embraced each other goodbye, then we walked the family downstairs to open the iron gate and let them outside. We handed them cab fare, and they gratefully accepted. As Bo and I held hands and walked back up to our modest apartment, we were overcome with gratitude - not only for what we already have back in the US, above and beyond where we now live - but for time spent with this young precious family. Once again our eyes have been opened, our hearts overwhelmingly touched, and our lives forever changed.
For us, being here is truly about the wonderful people we are continually blessed to meet!