Fiesta de Wafleta & Residency headaches

Last Saturday morning we had the opportunity to bring breakfast to an elderly sister who had fallen and was bedridden. Chet decided that waffles would be great to bring since we weren’t going to even try and duplicate any Ecuadorian dish. By the way, breakfast (desayuno) is not a big thing here, the big thing is lunch (almuerzo). Most people get off from 1-3 from work (2 hours, yep, try it sometime) and so lunch is a big meal, including sopa (soup, some rice, chicken or meat grilled or bbq’d or vegetables, fresh squeezed juice and dessert) all that can be anywhere from $2 to 6 depending on where you eat it. Anyway…

Later Saturday morning everyone who was out from our service group (about 10-12 people) stopped at her house to see how she was. It was really neat to see everyone crowd into her small sitting room and they just sat and talked…and talked. She really enjoyed it you could tell and it obviously was not a singular occurrence. Then someone asked her how was her breakfast? Well, that led to a whole discussion on waffles and how we found such a deal at the local Coral (remember Walmart on steroids?) on a waffle maker. Then the sister’s wanted to know how to make them. I said “Oh, well my husband will show you sometime”. He thought it was funny of course my volunteering him, but hey he is the Waffle King! Next question immediately from them was “When?”. The long and short of it is we had a waffle party the next day, Sunday, at Sister Piedad’s house (her first name), with Chet at the helm.

It was fun, everyone talking at once, laughing and of course we just kept nodding and saying “Si” or “NO, NO…don’t put that in…Yet!”, in English, not Spanish which got more shouts of laughter and generally being ignored. There were lots and lots of waffles because they brought their waffle irons too. Plain waffles, waffles with strawberries and waffles with chocolate chips, waffles with all three of the above plus whipped cream and Sister Piedad made an amazing vegetable lasagna! They don’t put marinara sauce in their lasagnas here, it is very, very good and I love sauce in my lasagna. They also sat and made homemade tiny empanadas with queso (cheese) while the waffles were baking. Piedad finished up the menu with a homemade passion fruit cake, yeah, yummy. We had a feast and a fiesta.

Waffle Party at Sister Piedad's house
Waffle Party at Sister Piedad’s house

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The gathering was a nice break from the headache of my residency issues. Not Chet, just me. My name has undergone at least 4 changes since birth. They put the wrong last name on my birth certificate, then when I was 5 my dad changed our last name to be what my great grandfather’s surname really was. Then I started changing the spelling of my first name in high school when I took French. Then I got married…and married again. Then I legally changed the spelling of my first name to the way I had been spelling it in high school. Result: One big headache. We visited the immigration office 2x in one day last week and the Office of Foreign Affairs with our attorney. Next day, off to get fingerprints which have to be sent to the FBI to prove that A. I am not a criminal B. I am who I say I am and C. that Chauntai, Chaunte’, & Chante’ are one and the same person.

The FBI won’t send us or our attorney the fingerprints here, they have to go to an address in the States, then they have to be ‘apostilled’ by a federal agency and then sent back here. It’s a tense waiting game. The FBI usually takes 6 weeks to return reports but I am using a FBI channeler which supposedly guarantees to speed up the process. I have about 40 days left here before I have a real problem on my hands. We may have to either apply for a 30 day extension of my visa or go to Peru or something for a little bit. Hmmmm, I would like to see Machu Picchu…just trying to keep it light as Chet likes to say.

I was able to get fingerprint cards from a sister in the English congregation who had to go through the same thing, for different reasons. She was very encouraging though as she, her husband and 4 young children (2 sets of twins, all below 10 years of age) recently immigrated here from Michigan. It wasn’t easy for them either but they have their residency now. The brother who is our attorney brought tears to my eyes when he told us he doesn’t normally pray for his clients in the world who are immigrating here, although he works hard on their behalf, however he constantly prays for us and for Jehovah to help us. Isn’t that sweet? Very heartening. Especially as we have a few more hoops to jump through. Lesson: Make sure if you change your name you think twice because one day you may want to immigrate!

 

 

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Short and sweet (that’s the gelato talkin’)

I am supposed to be painting my chairs I bought from the indigenous market today. So this is really going to have to be short. Some friends have asked for us to estimate roughly how much things cost. Excellent question, hard to answer for at least 3 reasons.

Cuenca has the highest per capita income in Ecuador, the cost of living is higher & rising in Cuenca because of and/ more gringos, etc. (read Cubans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, etc.) are moving here. That is not all bad news, because the standard of living is great overall and well, more people recognize that and want to live here. With that being said the super cheap rents that you may except to find may be the proverbial needle in a haystack. I could not begin to address how much rents are. I know of some friends who are paying $170 month for an apartment however that is NOT the norm. Those places are found by word of mouth usually and again it depends on what you are willing to accept as a standard of living. Advertised rents I’ve seen run from about $250 up to $1000! Yep, and some gringos are paying it! Water, gas and electric are much lower than in the States, we paid $21 for our first water and electric bill and $2.50 for our first tank of gas, we just don’t know how long it will last. Lol.

Groceries depend on what you eat and again where you want or are willing to shop. We get all of our fresh veggies and fruit from the indigenous mercados and that is maybe $8 per week,  but not meat, we aren’t big meat eaters and we don’t want to chance it anyway. We like natural peanut butter, well that runs $6 for a small jar at the Supermaxi. We pay it, someone else wouldn’t. smile. Chet said that you have to consider household items, we don’t spend more than $20 per month we guess on that, however some items we are used to in the States are much higher here. (canned soup, diced tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, unsweetened cocoa, some varieties of nuts, and so forth). I went to get a exercise/Pilates ball the other day because mine didn’t make the cut at the airport. I paid $10 for it at TJ’s. Here it was…wait for it….$99! No, you are not going blind, and NO I did not get it!  That is an example of the extremes in prices. Anything imported is MUCH more expensive. A nice cone of gelato though is only $1.20 or so. Yay! and dessert places abound, open late into the evening. One place even has Red Bull and Whiskey flavored gelato. Just sayin’.

A great post to read is on Gringos Abroad, they are actually a Canadian brother and sister who write for a living. Here’s the link… http://gringosabroad.com/ecuador/live-in-cuenca-Ecuador, the article is “What it’s like to live in Cuenca, Ecuador”.

Hope this helped and looking forward to seeing you in Cuenca!

Newbie advice

So one of the friends asked me recently for advice regarding coming to serve where the need is great. Well, we are very new ourselves however we have learned a lot already in our few weeks spying out the land and then our subsequent move. My husband is really the one writing this post and I the SCRIBE! haha, so here goes, not necessarily in order of importance and a caveat, please remember that our experience is and will always be unique to us and your experience may be completely different. However, there may be some commonality in experiences that you may draw benefit.

1. Serving where the need is great and retiring here and vacationing here are 3 different things, so have clearly in mind and be honest with yourself regarding what you are capable of doing and why you are coming. Not that you won’t take advantage of the beauty Ecuador has to offer, of course!

2. It helps to shop local and live locally if you can. There is a “Gringolandia” to live in here, we didn’t want that, some people do. However, living among the locals helps you master the language and get to know people and they you. I hope to get a Bible Study from just meeting and greeting the women in the marketplace where we get vegetables, or the fish market where we made friends with 2 young ladies. We live near so many of the friends in our hall it’s great. Plus the rent is a lot lower!

3. I took Spanish lessons via Skype before I came and had tons (yes 2000 lbs. of books, lol. ask my family! I had to donate them to the library.) Yet, there is nothing that substitutes for getting out and talking to people. Immerse yourself as much as you can in the language. Try to learn a few new words every day or at least every week and then use them! So while you are in the States, get out to the local Spanish (or whatever language you are interested in) markets, shops, etc. and meet and greet. Go out in service, invite people over who speak the language and just talk! So what if your tenses etc. aren’t perfect, they will correct you. Don’t be shy, use what you know. I wish I had done more of that. Once here take a few classes and that will help with your ability to use the language more fluidly because now you are surrounded by it you want to continue to learn how to pronounce things, why it’s that way and how the tenses change. One of the missionaries said that being with the friends helped more than their classes so you do have to find what works for you. If you have children they will soak it up and help you. Que Bueno.

4. Things take longer here. So it’s adjusting expectations, taking it slow yourself and being patient with yourself and truly respecting cultural  and country differences.I went into a mega Coral store today (think Walmart on steroids, ugh!) because I had to get a few things. Namely, a humidifier for one because there is very little humidity and although that may sound great I am getting dried out because my husband has a cold and needs to sleep with the heater on in our room. Thus, the humidifier. Anyway, I was informed this store had one. Nope. 2 floors and no can do, and the other 4 simple items on my list took about 1 hour to get. Chet says 1 hour and 15 minutes. What would have normally been a 15 minute deal at Walmart…you get the drift. But check out is a process of checking passports and etc. Long lines and people just wait, very patiently for the most part. So do you or you stay home until you are up to it!

5. Related to #4. We made a mental list of what we would miss and believe it or not Walmart, Publix, etc. was on our list because we knew we took for granted how easy it was to just stop and get something. In, out. quick easy. It helped us to make that mental list before we left because we were able to  savor some of the stuff we liked i.e; consignment shops, frozen yogurt self serve shoppes, Talenti Southern Butter Pecan gelato, the J.Crew outlet, TJMaxx, Hostess snowballs (all me) and Chet says multiple options, being understood in most situations, the speed in which things are done in the States, Fairhope’s Goodwill Store and fried Basa (a fish). What would be on your list?

Random Tidbits: You will have days when its just tough so find a “comfort station” for us its a couple of small English speaking cafes. Be realistic about critical issues, like living in an apartment vs. buying a house, same with having or not having a car, what standard of living you can comfortably accept. Be prepared to have plan B and C. we planned to sell our house before we came, didn’t happen so we may have to rent the house. Everything takes longer, as we mentioned and things have a way of changing so get things in writing ( we had an anxious hour today that could have went badly but we had our contract in writing) and it’s helpful to have someone who can facilitate for you in Spanish (or again whatever language you are considering serving in). I hope this helps, that it was more realistic than negative because truly our experiences have been very positive. Everyday it’s feeling more and more like we are home!

Hasta Luego to friends and family & would you believe…

–First off excuse me if this post is a bit all over the place because I am dog-tired, really! I haven’t completely adjusted to the altitude and we have been running non stop since we left the States last Wednesday, July 30. We arrived home, in Cuenca, on Thursday evening because of a layover in Quito. A bit of a mess but more on that in a minute. Uno minuto. I am thinking a little in Spanish, I guess that’s a good thing except I tend to get my tenses wrong…a lot!

There were a few tears shed by me… well a lot actually because I said see you later to very dear family and friends in our congregation and elsewhere. See you later because we will see each other again, I know it!  My son and daughter…mi bambinos! My girlfriends, including one of my best friends of 36 years, who lives outside Chicago. We drove to see her and her family before we left. She reminded me I’ve wanted to serve where the need was greater in a foreign country since we were teenagers! I tried to get her to go but life took us down different roads. She is busy pioneering now in Illinois and her daughter (where did that cute chubby baby go?) is a beautiful married woman and has a wonderful husband in the truth. It is so good to be with old friends who are going strong and serving Jehovah, eh?

The friends in our congregation had a nice sendoff for us and we got to spend some time with them, one young brother, Mason even had fireworks for us, super fun! My son and daughter can attest to the fact that I love fireworks! Thanks again, Mason!

 

As far as the trip over, before we got to the airport we called and double, double checked (yep 2 doubles) to make sure we could have extra baggage. If you know my husband you know he does not like surprises!!! We were prepared to pay of course for the extra baggage. So off we go with 8 bags to the airport, 2 a piece extra. Big bags. Weighed and everything, each 50 lbs. NO BUENO!! After much hemming and hawing by the reservationist or whatever you call the person who checked us in a supervisor comes over after about 20 minutes or so and abruptly tells us there is an embargo in Quito (the embargo comes and goes by the way, one person got in a while ago with 17 bags) and we can ONLY take 4 bags total. She will let us take up to 70 lbs in 4 bags but no more. YIKES!! we are flustered, irritated and bewildered. We had already packed and unpacked 10 times and given away every non essential item we could. Short, aggravating story made shorter. We called the secretary of our congregation who lives about an hour from the airport (as do we) and asked him to come get 4 suitcases and in the meantime we go over to the waiting area and with 1 hour to spare before departure we proceed to unload all the suitcases, jettisoning anything extra and cramming the other suitcases as full as possible…so 1 set of sheets instead of 3 (sheets and towels are very expensive here remember?) Chet’s shoes and extra jackets, his robe and a couple of suits (it’s cold here remember?) extra cosmetics including his stash of shaving cream (it’s $6 here) desktop computer and monitor, sewing supplies, etc. We were a little harried so we were just getting rid of stuff, I even gave some things to nearby passengers. All was not lost though, I heard Jeannie and Andy liked the Chicago Mix we gave them. If you don’t know what it is you can buy it by the case on Amazon, it’s addictive!

We had a 23 hour layover in Quito, and because of that we had to check our baggage all over again there. Yep, you guessed it, there was a problem with the baggage being too heavy there even though they told us (American airlines) that the bags would be checked through and have no problems. Not so. Avianca (who we flew with from Quito to Cuenca) charged us but the cost was only about $70, for all 4 bags. It just took them 45 minutes at the counter to finally tell us that. Bienvenidos to Ecuador! We get to our gate and we are there for about 1/2 hour and security calls us. I have to open my bag and let them see what’s in my small carry on (I had to check it, too heavy for Avianca they only allow 10kg.) anyway they thought I had a bomb or something…it was my juicer. yea that’s right I could not jettison my juicer, so what I gave up an extra warm pair of pajamas (it’s cold here remember…especially in July and August). Fresh juice anyone? Lesson? Later someone told us, don’t fly American. We had a wonderful experience flying Copa into Guayaquil and we will go with them next time. Definitely.

Lest it sound awful the good news is this…we saved a whopping $700 on luggage fees by downsizing even more, and really you can only sleep on one set of sheets at a time right? Chet is going to have to replace his clothes but in service today I met a tailor that is a return visit of a sister in our hall. He makes nice suits and jackets at reasonable prices. So that’s an option. Plus we got to our apartment safe thanks to the brother who is our residency attorney arranging for the husband of a sister to pick us up. He was right there at Cuenca airport when we got off the plane, along with his daughter and possible future son-in-law. They took great care and delivered us and our 300 lbs. plus of luggage to our door. The friends who had the apartment before us left it immaculate and nicely set up for us. We made the bed, turned on the portable heater we bought when we came in May, dove under a pile of blankets and slept. Ahhhhh, so good to be home! The friends in the congregation are so warm and are glad for us to be here and we feel the same. Igualamente.

 

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Chet signed us up for 3 classes per week of Spanish, Monday, Wednesday & Friday afternoon after service. He is eager to be effective in the ministry and the congregation, as am I. The cool thing is our instructor the first day we walk in has a Bible Teach book in English on his desk. He said “Oh, yea I am helping a young man learn English and this is what he wants to use, we’ve been through the book already and we are going through it again. He is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, you must be also?” We agreed and he in turn agreed to help us put our comments into Spanish for the meetings each week, isn’t that cool? Que Bueno!

Did I say I was tired? I took 2 aspirin with caffeine to knock my headache out and well I can see my son shaking his head, he knows caffeine gets me WIRED! anyway enough…Hasta Luego Mi Amigos. Ciao!