Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Day in the Life

One of the things many friends and relatives wonder about us expats is, "What do you do all day?" We reside in a faraway foreign country, and it's hard for people back home to put themselves in the picture of what our daily life is like.

One might envision exotic experiences and amazing adventures. Hate to burst your bubble, but our lives aren't all that remarkable. Let me share with you what the world of Edd and Cynthia looks like.

Cynthia goes to yoga practice on Monday and Wednesday mornings: I go to the gym Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings. That's it regarding our weekly "schedule." It seems like we talked about having more structure in our lives a couple of years ago but couldn't really see the point.

Most mornings for me when I'm not at the gym involve writing of some kind. That's when I'm most alert and energetic. The rest of the day and evening are put for grabs.

Afternoons are when we often meet friends for lunch or take care of errands. More and more, evenings are spent at home with meals we prepare (always from scratch--there are very few processed foods here). We go to bed and get up when we feel like it, but generally we're asleep before midnight and up by eight.

Even though we've scaled back our social calendar from the early days we still seem to "go out" three or four times a week. That's still a dramatic increase from the 3-4 times a year in the States. This week Cynthia met a friend for lunch yesterday. I met a friend for lunch today. We're going to dinner with a couple tomorrow night, to the symphony Friday night, and attending a birthday party Saturday night. Oops, that's five things and three evenings--maybe a bad example.

My day today was as "typical" as any, so I'll quickly describe it. I wrote for International Living early, then, noticing what a gorgeous day it was, laid in the sun for awhile. It's summer here and today we enjoyed exceptional weather.

After showering I walked into town and met my friend for lunch. Two hours later (we take our time here) I walked to a leather store for measurements. You see, I fell in love with an awesome jacket in a store at the Miami airport last month but the price of $1095 was WAY outside this retiree's budget. I'm getting it custom made here for $120. Holla!

I then walked to the grocery store, picked up a few items and carried them home. After recovering from all that walking I'm now back upstairs at the computer.

We'll be eating our New Year's day meal of blackeyed peas and cabbage shortly (Hey, it's Ecuador--so what if we're two weeks late----!). Then after cleaning up the kitchen we'll probably read for awhile and hit the sack.

Exotic? Amazing? I don't think so.

But you know what? It's our life, and we love it!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Bombs Bursting in Air----

As we exited the Guayaquil airport the smell of what seemed like burned gunpowder hit our nostrils. Loud explosions were going off all around. Although it was late at night, riding in our van to the hotel Cynthia and I observed that the streets were filled with people. And everywhere we looked the darkness was illuminated by burning fires. Our driver had to divert his route to avoid several of them.

What was happening? A riot? A revolution?

We laughed as we listened to loud salsa music on the radio and watched a panorama of fireworks across the harbor. It was New Year’s Eve in Ecuador and we had by chance emerged from the airport at the stroke of midnight.

Talk about an exciting welcome home!

Seeing fireworks was certainly not a novel experience. In the US such displays are only enjoyed on New Year’s and the Fourth of July. From our windows in Cuenca there is hardly a week that goes by that we don’t observe fireworks in the night sky somewhere in the city. Another holiday we don’t know about? Perhaps a wedding celebration? We’re never sure.

And those fires? Effigy burning is a major part of celebrating New Year’s here. The idea is that the effigy contains all the bad things from the year just passed, and burning it ensures that they won’t happen again.

You see effigies for sale throughout the cities of Ecuador for days prior to the big night. They are filled with sawdust and newspaper plus a few small fireworks. It is important that they burn completely or the negative mojo will continue to plague you in the coming year.

Many Ecuadorians jump back and forth over the burning effigies 12 times for luck. Others hope to increase their luck by throwing coins (for wealth) or rice (for plenty of food) into the fire.

In addition to anonymous effigies you may see the likenesses of political figures, Homer Simpson, or the Smurfs. And some of them are surprisingly well-dressed. One of my fashion-conscious friends bought one last year that had on a snappier outfit than what I was wearing.

I was like, “You’re burning that shirt?? What size is it?”

I relish many things about living in Ecuador. One of them is the unabashed love of life here, and the energy put into New Year’s Eve festivities is a great example. Ecuadorians’ enthusiasm for their many holidays and festivals is a reminder to loosen up, have fun, and be active participants in our lives.

What did you do on New Year’s Eve? Attend an over-priced event at a restaurant or club? Watch “The Ball” drop on TV? Go to bed early?

Sounds like you need more fireworks in your life. Maybe next New Year’s Eve we can jump over your burning Papa Smurf together here in Ecuador.

No, get Homer Simpson instead. The Smurfs didn’t wear shirts.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Please Accept My Apologies

Cynthia and I went to a party recently. We knew a few people there but had never seen, much less met, most of the guests. This isn’t unusual anymore. So many new folks have moved to Cuenca since our arrival over 2 ½ years ago that we just can’t keep up.

Upon introduction several people who are new to the city realized I am Edd of “eddsaid” and shared how much they enjoyed my writing. One even said she had gone back and read every single post I had written.

While such compliments were humbling and deeply appreciated I was also a bit embarrassed because lately I haven’t blogged much. This hasn’t happened due to lack of desire. The truth is I’ve been frustrated that it hasn’t seemed like there’s been anything interesting to write about.

When we hit town one comical episode followed another as we tried to adjust to being strangers in a strange land. After as long as we’ve now been here, you either have sort of figured things out or you’ve gone back home.

So what to write? I bought groceries at the Supermaxi and we watched a movie? I went to the gym and ran some errands? Sometimes our days are no more interesting than that, and I just can’t bring myself to chronicle such mundane “events.”

But reflecting on the comments at the party I realized something. While I’m no longer like a character in a sitcom or reality show, I now have a perspective to share with readers of what expat life looks like after several years.

The initial buzz of energy that accompanies showing up in a foreign country makes for exciting writing, and readers enjoy vicariously stumbling and bumbling along. Expatriation, however, is truly more of a marathon than a sprint. Deciding to move all the way to a place like Ecuador and leave your old world behind isn’t exactly a casual decision. Deep soul searching and extensive preparation precede taking your seat on the plane.

Life happens moment by moment and it’s easy to overlook how things change. When I think about it our physical surroundings are the same but so much is different. We came to Cuenca with no grandchildren; in a few weeks there will be three. The exotic travel we had planned is currently on hold with more trips back to the US to visit family.

We were social monsters for the first year; now our evenings usually end early after a meal prepared at home or a dinner with friends. I planned to retire; I’m currently a partner in a tour company, correspondent and speaker for International Living, and a freelance writer.

And Cuenca itself continues to evolve as well. As opposed to the continued doldrums in the US, this place is absolutely booming. New construction and important infrastructure improvements are evidenced everywhere. So too I observe a different attitude with many of the expats arriving now.

Gosh, there’s a lot more to write about than I realized. I apologize to faithful readers for my woeful lack of production on this blog, and thank you so much for hanging in there with me. I’m not really a New Year’s resolution kind of guy, but I promise to share with you the perspective I now have in 2013.