Thank you once again, San Clemente, Ecuador for providing a local experience that curated lasting memories! We just can’t get enough of the party-for-anything mentality. Lately, every weekend has felt like a holiday and we have been enjoying every ounce of the festivities. Much of the time, we honestly have no idea what the party is about..but, this time we did!
The lovely collection of expat residents that live in our tiny fishing village organized this event. It was put together in response to the ongoing need for respite to the earthquake affected families in our community. It has been over 7 months since the 7.8 earthquake rocked our world, and the world of everyone on the coast of Ecuador and beyond. Unfortunately, there are STILL families who have not received the aid that they so desperately need.This event was a collaborative effort to finally get the remaining local families out of tents and back into their homes.
The day was one of hope and good vibes, and a playful energy resonated in the streets. We shared in the moments of youthfulness that bring hope for the future. It was a time of jubilation rather than of a somber mood. The events were built from simplicity and memories of the good ol’ days. What a pleasure it was to see the generations joyfully colliding for a good cause!
Another wonderful art project to benefit the earthquake victims. These artists are painting stunning scenes onto actual pieces of rubble that have been collected from earthquake debris sites.
They are being sold for no profit to the artists, but to raise money for victims of the earthquake.
Just another wonderful example of the good hearts of Ecuadorians and an incredible testament to the importance of art in this culture.
There is an artist, by the name of Edison “Javier” Santacruz, who is traveling around to many of the areas effected by the earthquake.
He is a friend of my husband’s and we have learned about his mission and had the opportunity the capture this photo before he began one of the paintings.
He is a graffiti artist and he is a part of this incredible project called “Art on the Rubble”. He and a few other painters on his team are helping the community to heal.
With so many homes being demolished, the painters are on a mission to bring beauty to the rubble.
We had seen and posted photos of a few of his murals, prior to the earthquake and even before we knew of him or that he had painted them.
Our admiration for his talent began long before we learned of the goodness of his heart. Javier is an accomplished painter and has previously been commissioned to paint murals throughout the community, including for the Natural History Museum.
However, we believe that this project is coming to life through no monetary compensation, and only out of the desire to bring joy and beauty to the community.
A painting on the remaining walls of a fallen building.
There are many, many more murals than I have photos of. It seems to us that at least 1 mural per day is being completed.
I’m looking forward to visiting the area again soon (with my better camera), as I’m sure there are hundreds of these paintings available now.
Yesterday we took a trip to our old neighborhood. We had to go to the Civil Registry office, which has finally just re-opened after the earthquake. We are still working to complete all of the requirements for us to get our Cedulas. These are government issued IDs that are important in gaining assimilation into society here. They are needed for everything, like getting a back account, a membership at the grocery store, school enrollment, voting, opening and running a business, to get a driver’s license and likely employment. Ironically, they make it very difficult to obtain these… and through this strange world of politics and secret alliances, we are trying to navigate the red tape. Alas, we have been here for 10 weeks and we still don’t have them in hand!
Anyway, since we were in the neighborhood, it was good opportunity to see what had become of everything and everyone. For me, it was largely unrecognizable… as many of landmarks that I used to navigate myself are now missing.
Any people who were there a few weeks ago are gone now. It seemed that we barely saw a few hundred people in this former society of nearly 20,000 residents.
Block after block, showed vacant lot after vacant lot..residential homes and shops that have since been demolished. All that have been marked “uninhabitable” are now being removed by the local government. The owners have no say or decision in this. It will, however, be up to the landowners to rebuild if they are fortunate enough to have the funds to do so. Keep in mind that most people do not have home insurance here, and if so, rumors state that most of them are denied their claims on the basis that the properties were compromised before inspection. (If anything was touched or removed… it was deemed not inspect-able).
The first phase of demolition is to clear all of the uninhabitable homes and small businesses, and 2nd is begin removing the numerous high-rise condominium buildings.
We were told that there is a photo floating around, of this neighborhood in the early 1940’s. It is expected that when the clearing is completed, the area will be visually reminiscent of that time…nearly 80 years ago, with somewhere between 5-10% off the previous establishments still standing.
We took a pedal taxi to go to see our previous residence, and we confirmed the rumors… the adjacent hotel to the home has been deemed unstable and irreparable, and it also set for demolition.
Carlos was approached on the street by one of the “soccer kids”. He told us that everyone is well, but struggling financially. Most locals made their tiny incomes (of less than $10 a day) off of tourism. Needless to say, there are not any tourists anymore and probably won’t be for a very long time. It is sad to wonder what will become of these locals. They have survived an earthquake, and in turn will endure an unfair economic downshift.
Most of the parks have been cleared of their temporary residents. We understand that most people who were living in them were taken to survivor camps just a few days after we left. These camps are located elsewhere, away from these devastated areas. The people who have stayed in the area, are mostly living in tents near their former homes or even in the vacant lots of where their homes once were.
The few businesses that are determined to thrive, have set up “shop”in a line of tents along the street of commerce.
We walk away from this, again… so thankful that we have come away from this with so much luck. It is something like “survivors guilt”, to try to understand the how and why and who are more and less affected than others. The best we can do to honor the rest, is to live in each moment with the memory of those who will not. And to use what we have, to support those who need it the most.
Our reflections continue to be in amazement of those that push on…undaunted by what has passed, and only determined to move forward against the odds. It is remarkable to witness the drive and ambition of those who have and had nothing in regards to material goods and corporate success. But whom have everything in terms of character, determination, resilience, independence. Here, there is no such thing as welfare, food stamps, or unemployment. We can’t help but wonder if the lack of that type of government aid is exactly the reason why the people are so strong. They have never been taught to expect something from someone else. They have not been conditioned to sit back and wait for an outside influence to magically change their circumstances. They do what they need to do, take responsibility for themselves, and most of all… they work hard for their accomplishments.They show their pride by teaching, sharing with, and showing others how to do the same.
The world, and particularly Western civilizations, have so much to learn from them.
Today marks 3 weeks since the night of the Earthquake. Life is slowly moving forward for us, as we learn to cope with a changed landscape and society, as well as an enlightened mental awareness. We have now resumed our reflections on the beauty and wonder of this unique and wild place once again.
Through our experiences, we continue to discover and admire the resilient and appreciative nature of the Ecuadorian people.
Since before and after the earthquake, we have noticed a vastly different kind of people here. The self-sufficient and independent natures of these spiritual beings are significant factors in our belief that they will not only recover, but will revitalize and improve upon what was lost.
These are a people who are proactive. They will not wait for the actions of others, nor particularly for the aid of the government. While they will genuinely cherish and accept anything that they receive, they will honor these gifts with respect, admiration and gratitude… but they will not come to expect them, and you can be sure that they will waste nothing. They will not find themselves to be above or below anything, anyone. They will not wallow in puddles, waiting for a hand to pick them up. They will not step on their brother, to greedily rise above him. Instead, they stand together.. linked by the chain of their hands joining forces. Together, with no one left behind. They embrace the differences in us all, in what makes us each unique and special. They are the descendants of a civilization that still recognize the value in collaboration, teamwork, unity.
With the explanation of the society here, we hope that it is obvious why we have to chosen to stay. This is the perfect relief from the typically American way of life, the ideal exposure for our impressionable, young children.
Despite this being a 3rd world country, and acknowledging that our material possessions are nothing compared to what we once knew, despite the language barriers, despite the lack of western comforts, despite the struggles of illness and immersion…we LOVE it here!
The devastation from the earthquake, is in our minds, only superficial. What has been lost are only creations of modern society and undoubtedly will have no bearing on the heart and soul of the people here.
From this day forward, we can only humbly hope to achieve assimilation into this beautiful society.
The sun greeted us with the same hustle and bustle that it had left us with the evening before. Large military vehicles, utility trucks, and heavy machinery hurried around with big agendas and even loftier ambitions. Volunteers from out-of-town, with shiny new trucks and spotless clothing marched expectantly through the streets. It was an odd scene and everything seemed out-of-place. Our neighborhood, as unrecognizable as it become in the last week…was now full of sights, scenes, and sounds that were unfamiliar.
We sat on a concrete wall across the street from our house and the hotel. We absorbed everything that was happening for one last time. We were waiting for our taxi driver to come pick us up and take us to our new place.
As regretful as we were, it felt like the right day to move on. We felt a tie to the community and a part of us wanted to stay and participate in the rehabilitation process. But, it was becoming more obvious with each passing moment that there just wasn’t much we could do. And there definitely wasn’t anywhere for us to “live” here. It wasn’t going to be an ideal place for children and dogs to run and play, and probably wouldn’t be for a long time now. It was time for us to start over, with the few things we had recovered. What we had wasn’t much, but it was enough. We had each other and we had a safe place to go. We believed we had enough water and rice to survive for however many more days it would take to regain electricity.
In the 10 minutes before we left, we watched a news crew arrive and set up in the street. They interviewed the owner of the hotel and took videos of the damage. We never saw this footage or the interview, but I would be curious to know if the owner was still under the impression that the hotel was safe at this point.
Carlos had chatted with him a few times over the past days about his plans for repair. The hotel was around 70 years old and the current owner had been its host for the past 50 years.
Photos below are the last shots of the damage around the house, before we left.
Front view of the falling hotel next to our house.
The back of house, next a partially fallen building
Another view of the wall falling against the back of the house.
We loaded into the car and started the journey to our new town, about a 20 minute drive to a smaller village outside of the city. I was excited to move to a more rural area, but found it surprising how nostalgic I felt about our earthquake home and neighborhood.
We had just begun to settle in here, we were just starting to feel familiar, make friends, and beginning to plan for the future. It had been a long journey, hauling our family so far from Iowa. We had lived in 3 places over the past 8 weeks, we had been sick for over half that time.
We had made this move, primarily to be closer to my husband’s mother. She had not been well in recent years and even more so in recent months. She had not previously met myself or our two children. She had not seen Carlos in a number of years. She was not able to travel to the States. It was time. I couldn’t help but think that our “timing” had been quite terrible. I desperately hoped that our new home would be a long-term one. As we headed there, I clung to all the good moments we have had here. Meeting and knowing my mother-in-law has been irreplaceable. Seeing our children get to know her and many other members of his family was enough reward in itself. This chapter in our life has not been easy, but it has been worth it. As we arrived to our new destination, a feeling of hope washed over me and I felt more determined that ever to make this life work. We chose this and we are choosing to stick it out. We will recover here and we will continue this journey, stronger than ever.
… as we crept along the dirt road that is the path to our new home, I saw a light. Yes! A light! I had to look again, 3 or even 4 times to be sure that it wasn’t a figment of my imagination.
Just one tiny, unexposed light bulb….hanging in the doorway of a vacant home. What an incredible beacon of hope.
Hallelujah! We were arriving to electricity.. and with electricity is the guarantee of running water. And with those two simple amenities, the beginning of a return to normalcy. What a fortunate surprise!
We woke up on this Thursday to news that a small “tienda” or store had opened it’s doors. As soon as we heard of it, we knew we had to act fast. It was a small store and we figured that it would sell out of everything quickly as the news spread. We needed water, diapers, and enough rice to feed us and the “soccer kids” at the very least. Carlos ran the few blocks to the store… and by the time he arrived, they were already sold out of all of the water except for some bottles of carbonated, mineral water.
He bought it anyway, after all water was water! We really didn’t have any room to be picky. He hauled home as much water as he could carry, a pack of diapers and a 25 lb pound bag of rice!
When the soccer boys came by later that morning, we were able to give them so much rice to eat… that they actually left some in the bowl and couldn’t finish it! It was a wonderful feeling to know that they were actually “full”. We sent them away with some uncooked rice to take their families for cooking. We had sent them with only 2 small bottles of the mineral water, but we knew it wasn’t enough for their family of 30. Carlos called them back and offered to take them to the “tienda”. They seemed hesitant at first, not quite realizing that Carlos intended to pay for it. We watched them walk home, smiling as they struggled to carry more water than could really fit in their arms.
That afternoon, the quiet turned into an abrupt onslaught of a city suddenly discovered.. as if the world had woken up sometime that morning, and realized just what kind of brink we had been living on.
It seemed like the military force had multiplied 5 fold, and volunteers flooded the streets to offer help wherever it was needed.
Men in hard hats scribbling notes, nodded and scowled at the standing but damaged buildings. They were engineers, who had arrived to make more accurate assessments of which buildings could be revived and which would be demolished. Some people hung at their heels, in tears and outrage, begging them to revoke their statements.. to let them try to make amends. These people had undoubtedly just had their worst fears confirmed, their greatest denials rejected… they had lost EVERYTHING.
In other areas, the people had already scattered elsewhere to make room for the heavy machinery.. they had been busy since sun up, clearing away the rubble of places that were obviously already “gone”.
The local phone service was back too, and with it rumors of free Internet and charging outlets at one 1 specified location. One of the first messages we received was from the realtor, saying she had a place for us go if we wanted to leave…ironically, it was a location vacated by a couple who had fled immediately after the earthquake.
First order was to reach our taxi driver, to get us to the rental property for viewing… and to get us to the place where we could contact my family (in the USA) by Skype via the internet connection. We were successful in reaching the driver, but we were only able to get enough internet signal to send a quick message and post online about our well-being.
We made arrangements to view the rental apartment later that day. We were satisfied with the location and almost non-existent earthquake damage to both the home and the town. It was a tough journey, the road to a neighboring town almost 20 minutes away. We had to stop a few times to navigate through construction zones, where they were making repairs to the twisted and cracked asphalt.
The road is one that winds through rural areas of ramshackle housing, where we are aware that the poorest of the poor live. It was interesting to see, that many of their bamboo huts and wooden shacks… were barely phased by this earthquake. But, they too were out of potable water and any type of modern amenities that they might be used to (like lights and refrigeration for example). People of all ages, stood at the end of their dirt lanes or beneath the palapa roofs of their fruit stands… waving around empty water bottles and holding up signs written in broken Spanish. They needed water, possibly even more than the rest of us. A remarkable image remains in my mind, of a barefoot woman, standing with her toes curled over the edge of the pavement. She carried a tiny baby, not more than a month or two old. She held the baby securely in one arm as he/she nursed and she waved the other arm in the air, shaking an empty water bottle over her head. Behind her was a melon stand, with several hundred fruits piled one on top of the other.. and three small children running and digging in the dirt.
We saw many variations of this as we drove through the area. Every half of a mile or so, there would be another family, child, teenager, or even elderly people.. standing at the edge of the highway, begging for water. It felt like we were the first car they had seen in a week. I choked back the tears, as my mind swirled in every direction trying to figure out how these people could get the water they needed. At this point in time, it wasn’t possible for people like us to get enough volume to serve that number of needy. And even if it was, we surely would have gone broke trying to do so. But, none the less.. it was impossible to ignore the urge to help.
On the way to and from the next town, we scoured the route for any stores that might be open and that might have any water. Unfortunately, on this day… the owners of these small shops were afraid to open. We could see them inside, behind steel bars with heavy-duty padlocks. They were terrified of being robbed blind by people in desperation. Or maybe they were hoarding, trying to reserve what they had for their own families and friends. And even more possibly, a little bit of both. We were disappointed to travel the same route, returning without a single bottle of water to offer anyone.
Fortunately, about 5 miles into the country.. we caught sight of a single relief truck parked in a dusty lot alongside the road. They were giving the people sealed bags with supplies and BIG bottles of water! For the next several miles we would see people scurrying from their humble dwellings and running alongside the highway to reach the truck in time. There was one woman, balancing a full 5 gallon bottle on top of her head, securing it with just one arm and holding the fingers of a tiny toddler in the other.
As we drove back into our own humbled city, we were shocked and relieved to see a repeating pattern. On every street corner, at every park, and near the front doors of every church were the signs of a community being revived. Alongside the backhoes, loaders, and dump trucks… were relief trucks. Outsiders stood at the back of open trailers and lifted down sacks of non perishables, supplies, containers of water, and small mattresses. The streets were filled with more citizens than we knew were still around. They flocked arround the trucks like bees to a hive, the troops stood by… trying to keep order and calm. They attempted to form lines but it seemed like a futile task. No one was taking a chance, that they would be the one to walk home empty-handed. Luckily, it appeared that there were plenty of trucks to serve the needs of the people.
Not long after we arrived home, Carlos learned of a private relief truck that was servicing a nearby condominium building. We were asked if we needed anything. We only asked if they could bring us any surplus, for us to give to the families of the soccer kids. About an hour later it was our pleasure to send 5 boxes of instant noodle soups (similar to Ramen noodles) home with these young men and their wives. It would be enough to feed all 30 of them, 2 meals a day for approximately 8 days.
It was wonderful to see them leave, smiles from ear to ear… with a sense of confidence, that they could survive for another reasonable amount of time. Water, rice, and noodles were an equation for happiness.
We returned home and pulled our chairs onto the sidewalk, to sit in the same space that we had been on the night of the earthquake. Well, the same sidewalk about 5 yards down from the hotel. Just in case…
That evening, for the 2nd time in a day we would be approached by a passing engineer, whom would suggest to us that he did not feel the hotel was stable. He was free to elaborate on his concerns and kindly urged us to reconsider remaining in the house. He suggested that this hotel would definitely crumble right on top of our house, should a large.. or even small.. aftershock occur.
I tried not to panic, and thankfully Carlos is the calm and rational mind that talks me back from the edge… but even in the calm, I was sure that I did not want any of us to continue living in that house. And Carlos agreed . He made a quick phone call, to find out if we could move to the new apartment the next day, rather than in the 5 days that we had planned for. It was agreed that we could move early the next morning.
For the night, we pulled out the mattress from the living room floor and laid it on the sidewalk. It was odd, like reliving the night of the earthquake over again. We laid the kids down to rest, and the dogs at their feet. And then Carlos and I, sat in lawn chairs between them all and the street. We stayed awake talking for a while, and decided that the neighborhood was safe. … there were too many people around for robberies to be a legitimate threat. We decided to close our eyes and try to sleep.
And then it happened…AGAIN! It felt like merely two minutes had passed since we had closed our eyes! I sat straight up, expecting to be jolted awake from my dream at any second. But it wasn’t a dream, and my worst fears materialized as I realized that the ground was indeed shaking again. I screamed for Carlos and we scrambled to grab both the kids and the dogs. We ran only to the opposite end of the adjoining house before we realized that it had stopped. We stood there for a while, cradling our sleeping kids. There had been no further obvious damage and the people in the streets had huddled back into their groups and chattered excitedly. Most of these people were various sorts of volunteers or workers who had just arrived that day. They had most likely not lived what we had lived through just 6 days before. In fact, they did not seem to feel the fear at all, that I felt. They just went back to their apparent partying and chalked it up to a little extra excitement to write about in their mission notes.
For us, it was no joke. With the help of a few sober volunteers, we packed up our little makeshift camp and moved it across the street. We preferred to be nowhere near the buildings at this point. The kids barely even woke through it all. We stayed awake most of the night, once again. We talked in-depth, about so many things. The end of the world, detailed evacuation plans, how to die together if it was inevitable. If we should leave or if we should stay, where we would go. And once again, as if it couldn’t and shouldn’t ever be said enough… of our love for each other, for our children, even for our dogs.
The lessons we have learned about life and death, living and surviving… are hopefully lessons that won’t be forgotten when the shock has been relieved and life has regained its normalcy.
Sometime in the middle of the night, we were informed that the big shake we had felt earlier, was not an aftershock at all… but had indeed been identified as a brand new earthquake and this time we had only been a few miles from the epicenter of a 6.1 on the Richter scale.
The next day would take us away from the center of the earthquake zone, but still a far leap from the life we had known before.