Sunday, July 24, 2011

Learning and Adapting

For Linda and I, one of our many motivations for moving abroad was to experience and learn about new cultures and to learn a new language.  We believe that to move into a completely new language and culture successfully requires of us a "spirit of adaptation" and an openess and eagerness to learn.  I wanted to reflect here on some of our early "learning and adaptation opportunities" and how we have dealt with them. 

It is far easier to play the observer that sits back and passes judgements from the bounds of his/her current frames of reference rather than to adapt to another person or culture's frame.   We all have developed and own "personal frames of reference" for what we believe is acceptable or "proper" in a given circumstance.  We use these "frames" everyday to manage our own behaviour and sometimes (unfortunately) to attempt to manage the attitudes and behaviours of others.  In moving into a new culture and language there are many circumstances where our current "frames" simply don't fit.

I will offer a few simple examples of our need to re-adjust in our first few weeks:
  • When asking directions my frame of reference is that if the person you ask does not know the answer they will say so.  In Cuenca, a person that does not know how to direct you is just as likely to guess and give you a vague idea of where to go.  There is no point in our passing judgement, about whether that is good or bad, rather, we have to adapt by asking multiple individuals as we go along our way in order to be sure we are headed in the right direction.  We have now learned this cultural difference and have made the necessary adjustments to our frames of reference.
  • When Linda asked to buy wine in the supermaret last week we were told there was a three day embargo on liquor sales.   As it turns out several Ecuadorians had been poisioned by bad liquor.  As a matter of public safety, President Correa, banned all liquor sales in the country for three days to ensure the supply could be verified for safe consumption.  On refelction I thought how sensible that response had been.  In Canada, this may have led me, and many others, to respond with considerable indignation (huffing and puffing).  I can't imagine the hue and cry if PM Harper had done this.  My reframe is that we charge our governments with the role of protecting public safety - we may just have to put up without wine for a few days to allow that to happen.
These two simple examples are typical of the everyday adjustments and learning that we need to do in coming to a new country with a different language and culture.  We strongly believe it is our duty as guests in our new country to make our best efforts to learn and to adapt.

On a different note we are loving the architecture of our new city.  I have included a few photos below.

The food and the flowers are great too!

Lot's of love, Linda and David.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Early Impressions of Life in Cuenca

When we fly off to a new country and a new life, we are filled with the anticipation and anxiety that goes with that.  I am pleased to say that the dust has started to settle after our first couple of weeks.  We are beginning to enjoy exploring our new city and beginning to appreciate some of the cultural differences.

In our first couple of weeks, I have to say that there were moments that provoked some anxiety.  For example, we were buying some needed supplies at a local hardware store and the clerk at checkout asked me a question.  I had no idea what she was trying to communicate and neither she nor anyone else in the vicinity could reframe it to help my understanding.  Finally, a manager in the store was able to reframe it in Spanish so I understood that she was asking whether I wanted to buy the item on credit for one or for three months.  I was able to respond that I wanted to buy it right now.

We studied Spanish both in a class and on our own with an excellent software program, off and on over the last six months.  We are committed to learning the language as quickly as possible.  Nonetheless, there are challenging moments when we are unable to make ourselves understood or we are unable to understand someone elses communication.  So far, we have found the Cuencanos to be patient and helpful.  It is hard for them to slow their speech down to the pace of our understanding.

We stopped to have my shoes shined about a week ago at one of the many spots around Parque Calderon - the beautiful central square of the city.  The shoe shine and newspaper operation were operated by an elderly Canari couple.  The Canari are the aboriginal people from this area of Ecuador having lived here long before the Incan empire.  They looked like they were in their 80s but it is difficult to tell.  When I asked he said it was $1 to shine my shoes.  We helped him up from the sidewalk and he sat me in his chair and indicated for me to put my feet up.  When he saw my size 13 feet he started to laugh and said in Spanish that he should have charged $4 or $5.  We all laughed out loud.

This morning they were cutting the grass in the lovely Parque Las Americas beside our building.  Instead of one man on a large tractor they had about a dozen men with gas powered trimmers cutting the park.  At first I thought this was quite a curious practice.  On reflection, it was employing many people in a rewarding activity instead of employing one and having the rest on social assitance.  Perhaps we could learn from the Ecuadorians.  The building in the foreground of the photo is a community police station that is staffed 24/7.  The road to the right of the park is being newly constructed.  Almost all of the work is being done by hand and "wow" do they ever work hard.  I think about the number of times in Canada where we see 4 men watching one do the work.  It simply is not that way here. 

The park is used every day and night - they play soccer and volleyball with people of all ages involved.  The play equipment is used continuously.  In Kingston, our parks seemed to get little use and I often speculated that kids were inside playing computer games.  These Ecuadorian children and their families are very active and engaged in community life.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Our First Two Weeks in Ecuador

Again I feel I must apologize to family and friends for tardiness in communication.  Our first two weeks have been very busy, - mostly occupied with the activities of setting ourselves up in our new apartment in Cuenca.  I now step back to provide a bit of a chronology.

We lived in a hotel from June 14 -20 after the closing date of our house in Kingston.  We used this time to make sure we had all the things we wanted and to make final visits with family.  On June 18th I decided to confirm with our travel agent about baggage and other issues.  We had been told that we would be allowed up to 4 bags each with the appropriate fees etc.  Much to our dismay the travel agent checked again with Continental Airlines only to discover that they would only allow two suitcases each during the summer period from June 1 to August 31.  One can imagine our utter despair at the idea of cutting our belongings that we planned to take in half.  Linda put on a braver face than I and began to jettison things she felt she could do without.  It took me a while longer to overcome my frustration and anger at our travel agent for failing to advise us of this issue.  In retrospect, we feel blessed that for some reason I decided to check this on the 18th rather than arrive in Toronto and be told of this restriction.  That would have been devastating.  So that was our first wrinkle.

After a wonderful June 19th Father's Day breakfast and a walk along the beautiful Kingston waterfronton with my Mom, Dad and Jacob - early on the morning of June 20th we set out for Toronto.  We had arranged to meet the "Pet Shipper" at 8:30 am at the rental car check-in.  Unfortunately, he was held up by an accident on the 401 and by confusion in our meeting location.  We had Java all set to go but for about an hour we were in a bit of a panic because we could not connect.  Thank God for Sean and Joyti, our son and his fiancee.  They rescued us.  They took Java over to the shipping location and met with the Pet Shipper there.  Had it not been for them meeting us that morning to say goodbye and a final hug we would have been up the proverbial creek.    That was our second wrinkle.  Linda and I were so thankful for the support of our family that morning.

We flew to Houston that day and Java overnighted in the Continental Airlines kennel.  We flew on to Quito the next afternoon / evening.  We were met by a lovely lady by the name of Sandra Baquero.  She is an international shipping agent that has a special affinity for pets.  Sandra had arranged for a van to pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel.  It was so good to see her face in the crowd when we got off the plane.

On the morning of June 22nd we were geared up to get Java out of "lock-up" (customs) as early as possible.  Those that think that they can do this on their own should reconsider.  Sandra knows the system and the people that she needs to talk to.  It seemed like an eternity to us but we sprung Java by about noon that day.  He was a bit dehydrated but otherwise came through quite well.  We had been been told stories by fellow Canadian's in Cuenca, the Pangborns, that it had taken them three days to get their pets out.  We feel very fortunate to have found Sandra and thank her for her excellent service.  It was a very emotionally exhausting morning for us until Jav was released from custody.

We spent the day on June 23rd in Quito, unfortunately Linda experienced a bit of altitude sickness that day and needed to lay low for a while.  We were staying at the Hotel Cuba Vieja.  They suggested that LJ drink som Manzanilla Tea, later we found out that this is camomille to us.  It settled LJ's stomach distress and headache quite quickly and we were able to go out walking for awhile.  The hotel staff were very kind to us and Java and we were thankful for their hospitality.  The photo above is Java with two of the wait staff in the hotel.

On June 24th we were picked up by a gentleman by the name of Efrain.  He is the brother-in-law of our friend Alberto Ordonez.  He runs a tour company from Cuenca called Mio Tours but was available that day to come to Quito to pick us up.  Efrain spent 20 years in New York and is very capable in English and Spanish.  It was a long day of driving through the beautiful Andes and we we waited with great anticipation to see if the apartment Alberto had identified would meet our needs.  It was already quite dark by the time we arrived in Cuenca.  At the apartment was our friend Alberto and the landlord and our friend Guy from Oklahoma and his wife's Dad, Tom.  We met Guy and Shelley at Christmas and had the opportunity to develop a friendship.

The apartment was not particularly well lit, but the space seemed to meet our needs very well.  It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and an incredible terrace overlooking El Centro.  We spoke to the landlord and asked to stay there overnight and make a decision in the morning.  In the morning we realized that there would be quite a bit of cleaning and a number of repairs to do before we would be prepared to sign a lease.  We liked the space of the apartment very well so we decided we would move forward.  Over the last 10 days we have had a lot of cleaning done and the landlord with some prompting from Alberto has made most of the repairs.  We are very thankful for the support of our friend Alberto as we have gone through this process.  The first photo below is of our living and dining area as you get off our elevator.

This photo is of our kitchen.  You can see we have purchased a number of appliances.

This view of El Centro is from our terrace.  The terrace is huge and will give me lots of opportunity for growing flowers.  You can see the signature, blue domes of the "new cathedral"  in the heart of the downtown area.

Love to all of you and our sincere thanks for helping us prepare for this challenging and adventuresome part of our lives.  God bless, Linda and David.