2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage


My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Poverty in Cuenca

I had been told by friends that there was an open market close by about a mile from where I am staying at La Caudra Dos, about five blocks south of SuperMaxi. Therefore, I decided to explore that part of town yesterday and see if I could find the market. I had a choice of two directions to follow at one juncture. I decided not to follow the "straight line is the shortest distance between two points" philosophy, and instead took an around-a-bout path that looked like it would allow me to explore more of what seemed like a business district. This was probably the least affluent area of Cuenca I had encountered thus far. The population appeared to be primarily indigenous. My round-a-bout walking pattern surprisingly led me directly to the market. The market was more impressive than the one I had visited in El Centro, because it more reminded me of the open-markets I visited in India, Bangkok,and Hong Kong back in the 70's. However, even this market was not like the open-street bazaars where vendors were stationed under canopies of canvas like years ago.

This market was semi-housed in a building with the meats and all of the other manufactured items on the inside of the building that had only partial walls, while all the vendors of fruits and vegetables ringed around about half of the exterior of the market, sheltered in the open air only by a roof . The market vendors also appeared to be a totally indigenous people. The sounds of language, the haggling over prices, the smells and odors of every fruit and vegetable imaginable, the olfactory onslaught of freshly slaughtered meats of every kind, the aromas of newly picked flowers mixing with that of variously cooked meats, combined further with the smell of live-stock and pets, and finally the garbage and sewer odors--all effusively swirling in a mixture of sights, sounds, and smells rarely experienced in the states.

There were live chickens, roosters, geese, rabbits, and guinea pigs. All of which would be purchased, fattened up, and eventually eaten. Yes, guinea pigs are considered a national delicacy in Ecuador, and they are served under the name of cuy. No, not yet, and yes, maybe. As long as its not served to me with its feet and head still intact.

Of further interest were the large variety of dogs that could be purchased. I assume for pets. There was a multiplicity of breeds, all placed together (numbering six to twelve) in make-shift cages of wood frames and chicken wire, while resting on areas of straw waiting to be adopted. Obviously, there is nothing I have described to you that remotely would ever meet the standards of any Board of Health back home. The closest I can recall to an open market experience anything like this in the United States beckons back from my experience as a child and a very young man during the last of the hey-days of the old Maxwell Street market in Chicago, which was also known as "Jew Town" back in the 50's and 60's. I have memories of that time period that remind me of a familiarity of what I described to you above, except that on Maxwell Street every ethnic group imaginable was represented among the vendors and customers of a by-gone era.

I was amazed at how healthy the dogs in the market looked, and how well they seem to get along with one another. Dogs are numerous in Cuenca. They appear to me to have homes, and pretty much a free "come-and-go as you like" attitude by their owners. What I love about Cuencano dogs is that thus far not one has barked at me, and I have walked past many dogs. In fact, there was an enormous dog yesterday. He was just lying on the walk on his side. I, of course, am looking up and I don't spot the dog until the very last second. I almost fell full-body over him. Damn, the dog didn't even react. I must say, however, that there are times when I will hear what sounds like a large number of dogs barking. Sometimes it sounds as if two dogs or two packs of dogs are snarling and barking at one another, which is always quick and short-lived. Other times it's just dogs barking for a period of time. This serenade generally happens at night, and last night was the first evening were the dogs were howling and barking in unison for a period of time. I saw an almost full moon rising early today, so we must be in a full moon period. Hopefully, there are no vampires in Cuenca.

Cuenca, by world standards has what one may call "genteel poverty." The city has proportionately the largest middle-class of any large city in Ecuador. From what I have read, and from what I have heard from visitors, and from what I have observed to date; unlike Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador's two largest cities, there is no begging on the streets in Cuenca. Unlike from my own experiences in India, Cuenca does not have a homeless population. I have not to date found people sleeping on the sidewalks, nor sleeping on the stairs and in the hallways of tenements and high rises, nor sleeping in public buildings like the railway stations as was and is the case in India. Nor have I seen make-shift homes of refrigerator crates or tin roofs simply providing the semblance of a shelter as is still so common in India. If any of these activities are happening in Cuenca, they are very rare and not prevalent as these activities are in numerous cities in the world like a Mumbai.

Additionally in response to another one of your questions from back home. The Ecuadorian people for the most part are quite warm and friendly, as were the Indian people. I did have the advantage in India of being able to communicate more easily with more Indians, because more of them spoke at least some English, and the Indian middle-class spoke English quite well. However, I find people have been quite patient in trying to understand me in order to provide me with information or a service. Ecuadorians who approach me to possibly practice their English or just to help me out when they speak a little English, are quick to say not so fast, speak slower please. So yes, if someone has some understanding of English it does make sense to speak the language slowly enough for the other person to comprehend it. People who only have some familiarity with another language are still frequently translating in their heads. They have not reached the point yet, where they think automatically in the second language.

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