Wow! Wouldn't you know it! The minute I leave Ecuador, and you all decide to throw a party, and not invite me to it. Imagine the stories I'd have to tell next week to my co-workers and students that I had survived the Earthquake of 8/11. I can hear them now, "and you want to move there?" Considering the level of fireworks that frequently go off in Cuenca, which generally sound like dynamite explosions, was the earthquake by any chance a cultural thing? I mean if 8/10 was the celebration of Ecuadorian independence, wouldn't a big holiday comparable to our 4th of July require something a little more significant to celebrate than Cuenca's everyday fireworks--like an earthquake? Well, I'm glad there was no serious destruction,that all of you were kept safe, and that you're just going to have to put a brake on all that excessive partying.
I returned home safely and without a hitch. There were only small delays, and short of human transporting, the flights could not have gone smoother. I only spent one evening in Quito. I did not get a real feel for the city, and only saw the part of the city that ran from the airport to the Quito Hotel. Obviously, like Cuenca, the city is not a high-rise density city like Chicago or New York City. However, it does have a greater sense of bigness and traffic that is missing in Cuenca. As soon as I left the airport, the fellow who put the bags in my taxi, immediately asked for a tip, and before we could get a block down the road, the taxi driver was approached by two beggars tapping on the window. Certainly it was a contrast to what was experienced in Cuenca.
The Quito Hotel was quite nice and very large. No water conservation here. When I took a shower, the water hit me like a fire hose and practically knocked me against the back wall of the tub. Needless to say, it made for a great shower. I was told the hotel restaurant was on the seventh floor. I made my way up the elevator. Took one look at the restaurant, which had white table cloths that extended to the floor. There were enough wine glasses and silverware on the tables, that I would have needed an etiquette class to know how to use all the cutlery. The scene was fit for the Queen of England, but with me in my collarless shirt and jeans, and a pocketbook that did not want to even anticipate the cost; got back on the elevator and decided to take a chance on what may be out on the streets of Quito. There was a gambling casino next to the hotel, so I assume gambling is legal in Ecuador, or at least in Quito. I don't recall seeing casinos in Cuenca. There was a South American chain fast-food restaurant across the street from the hotel. I ordered the Special Numeral Uno, which was some kind of personalized enchilada plate. It appeared to have been baked in a throw-a-way dish, and was quite good for fast-food. What I enjoyed is how the young man brings out the dish to you, and presents it as if I was about to dine on something special. I've experienced this in the hamburger chain just down the hill from La Cuadra II while I was in Cuenca. The other difference from fast-foods here in the states is that while people order at the counter, they do not pay the bill until after they have completed their meal. I wonder what that says about the basic level of Ecuadorian values that people can be trusted to pay in a fast-food restaurant after they eat?
I guess now that I am back in the states, I will have to get over asking every Hispanic person I see if they are from Ecuador. In the Miami Airport, a very attractive and classy woman asked if she could share my table with me, since the food court tables were occupied. I, of course, did the chivalrous thing and invited her to join me at my table. I asked if she was from Ecuador, but she said she was from Argentina, which would have given us endless options for discussion. Unfortunately, her English was limited. I couldn't let this opportunity pass, so I began whatever feeble Spanish I could muster just so I would have an excuse to look at her. She patronizingly incurred my miserable Spanish, and my mission was accomplished. After she completed her sandwich, she thanked me for sharing my table and moved on. Then a man managed enough English to ask if he and the two women with him could share my table with me, and I was much obliged. While he ran around getting their three orders filled, I asked the ladies if they were from Ecuador. No, they were from Bolivia. The one woman remind me of myself, and some of the grammatically-twisted and misused worded conversations I had with Ecuadorians. She said, "I am from San Francisco." Her sister said, "No, I am from San Francisco." She replied, "That's what I said, "I am from San Francisco."
I knew I was home, when I walked out of O'Hare Airport, and was smacked in the face with the humidity. It's been in the 90's all week in Chicago with at least two more days of 90 degree heat through Saturday. Today's heat index will be 100 degrees. Thank God, when school begins next week the temperatures at least as now reported will be in the low 80's and in the 70's. Our building is not air-conditioned, and the humidity especially can be killing.
Taking the regional transport bus to my hometown provided us with an Hispanic bus driver. Many Hispanics live in the Chicago area, but generally Anglos just see them as Hispanic, or assume they are Mexican or Puerto Rican, since these two groups have been the largest Hispanic groups with roots going back a hundred years in Chicago. I was surprised to learn that there are 400,000 Ecuadorians living in the Chicago Metropolitan area. Since I was sitting in the front of the bus, and the driver just seem too friendly and courteous not to be Ecuadorian. I finally asked him as he was driving, if he was allowed to talk to riders while he was driving. When the driver positively responded, then I asked the big question, "Was he from Ecuador?" Strike three, and I was out. He was from San Salvador. San Salvador! Jose Cortez, the computer guy, was from San Salvador! No, the driver didn't know him, but like Jose he had a great story to tell about how he came to America. We talked about South American politics and culture, while a crowded bus of riders grew quiet with their personal conversations and seemed to be listening to the two of us. When we arrived in Highland, Indiana; the driver and many of the riders as they prepared to disembarked gave the driver applause and thanked him for an interesting trip. He was a truly charming guy.
So I am home unpacked, paying bills, going through a month's mail, taking care of business, visiting family, and taking a trip to Chicago with friends this Saturday. All the time wishing I was back in Cuenca. Hopefully, when the time is right Cuenca is where I will find myself again. I will only blog in the future, as I talk about some of the topics I have yet to cover, and when things here at home relate to my move to Cuenca. Otherwise, I am going to be way too busy to blog as regularly as I have. Thanks again to all, who contributed to making my time in Cuenca so enjoyable and memorable.