Jama Ecuador – When Hurricane Katrina slammed into Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, I was living in a remote area of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province. A slow internet connection allowed me to watch the eye’s path, although no one can predict the temperamental whims of a hurricane and it’s final choice for landfall. As with the earthquake in Ecuador on April 16th, gathering information was painfully slow via internet news stories of Katrina’s destruction. The first time I saw live television coverage of Katrina’s wrath, I watched for about thirty seconds before bursting into tears. For that story, see: Ode to 668 East Beach
As the days and now weeks go by after the earthquake ripped through a section of “my” beloved Ecuador, I am often reminded of Katrina. I wonder when it will be possible to return, to see the destruction, to visit the many loved ones, hear their stories, give them comfort as they salvage what’s left and bravely move forward. I also have my own personal inventory to face – of all of the items in Casa Loca, most people inquire about ‘the floor.’ Who knows how that Magic Carpet endured the stress of the earthquake and its aftershocks. When I am able to return, I will share those stories. I assume that the exhibition scheduled to open at Museo Bahia de Caraquez in two weeks will be postponed until much later in the year.
Most likely every single person that experienced this earthquake can recall minute details of the moment the earth began to grumble. As each day comes to an end, I take a fast inventory in my mind, “Where’s the flashlight? My basic essentials? -Contact lenses, saline, hair brush, tooth brush, passport, camera, laptop, chargers…” and I wonder if everyone else anticipates that 7:00 PM hour of remembrance.
The earthquake left one legacy trapped in a loop cycle in my mind; I was sitting at the computer and working on photos when the windows began to rattle. Jewel’s song, Hands, was playing, and those lyrics now float through my head most every day.
“In the end, only kindness matters.. In the end, only kindness matters….” and she’s right. When news of a disaster reaches us, we immediately think of those we know, those we love, those we might not know at all, but via stories from others, we feel as if we know them. For me, I think of how sweet, kind and unselfish the Ecuadorians are, and how they opened their hearts and befriended the gringita that weaned into their community. Many did not know me at all – but they saw me walk to town and sometimes walk back. “Gringita!” one said, “It’s too hot. Sit. Here’s a yogurt…” or “Gringa – It’s too hot – Here’s some peanut candy. Sit.”
Most of those people seemed to be exceptionally poor, material wise, but were exceptionally rich in character. Their random acts of kindness displayed a concern for their fellow man (or woman!) that unfortunately is a vanishing art. I wonder how they fared, if their homes are still standing, if anyone is being kind to them.
For the past two years, the residents of nearby Playa El Matal have faced their own private challenges thanks to destructive tides and waves and beach erosion. Already sufferering from battle fatigue, they were operating on reserve strength when the earthquake hit. They deserve triple empathy as they adjust and move forward. I wish I could be there to offer my —- words fail me —what exactly can one do, except to show support?
I’ve often mentioned my dear friend Lettie (“Dady”) Quadrado Chang. Sometimes Dady or her cousin would drive along when I was walking from Jama to Casa Loca. Dady would smile and say, “Leee-sah! Come. Get in. My mother wants you to come eat with us. She says you’re too thin.” (From the 2nd-floor view in her home, her mother sometimes saw me heading out of town.)
“Dady! I just had lunch!” I would exclaim, but she had ‘Mother’s orders,’ so back to Jama we would go, and they would watch as I ate whatever delicious lunch was on their menu, plus dessert. Quite stuffed, I was then allowed to be driven home by dear sweet artistic Dady!
As the days and weeks pass, I often think of Dady and her beautiful family. One of her sisters is especially sensitive, and my compassion soars in her direction. I wonder about their home in Portoviejo as well as their home and businesses in Jama. They are surely working hard to help as many people as possible.
When dengue and chikungunya kicked down many of us (in Jama) a year ago this week, the local Doctora ordered, “Lee-sah! No walking! Not even from here to the corner!” The technicians at the clinic checked my blood count sometimes twice a week, and through that critical period, dear Dady often showed up at the clinic and kept me company as I waited my turn.
My friend Xavier Cevallos often adjusted his schedule to drive me to town in the early morning, then took me home in the afternoon. His brother Cesar was equally helpful. There was about a four-hour wait between having the blood taken and retrieving the results. Xavier insisted that I stay at their family home in town. He said, “Here. Sit. We take care of you.” He escorted me to the hammock on their 2nd floor terrace, where he and his family doted on me until time to return to the clinic. His sister Ximena gracefully shared their daily lunch with their guest patient on the upper terrace! Of that immediate family, I think of Ximena’s two precious children and how the earthquake experience affected them. As with the Quadrados, most likely the Cevallos family is helping salvage what is left of Jama while finding ways to move forward.
On normal days, I often used Chana’s corner tienda as a base and then spidered in different directions to do my shopping. When finished, I usually hired a mototaxi, and we’d retrieve my things from Chana’s then return to Casa Loca. Those unhurried jaunts across town were easy ones and were sprinkled with impromptu visits with the locals throughout town. I think often of dear Chana and how her death affected her family. What a tragic experience that dark night must have been for all of them.
Before the earthquake, before dengue and chikungunya when life in Jama was idyllic, Fernando Cevallos – 1st cousin to Xavier,Cesar, Ximena (and Emily) – would sometimes quietly pull up beside me on his motorcycle. With his always-present and genuine smile, he would ask, “Leee-sah! Where are you going?”
Some days he would say, “Come. Mother wants you to have lunch with us.” One learns quickly in Ecuador to allow the detours to route you in new directions. His mother, Nieve, has not been well this past year, and I especially hope that she’s better.
Once I was going to a carpenter’s shop to inquire about some custom frames. Fernando pulled along beside me and asked where I was going. He replied, “Hop on – let’s go!” and drove the three blocks, only to find that no one was there.
“Let’s go to another place,” he said, and off we went to the other end of town (he is a safe driver!) where he introduced me to a maestro carpenter who specializes in cabinets and custom-built items. Washington and his wife are now great friends of mine, and his prices for the gringita are extremely fair. Washington was building a new 2-story home and future restuarant beside his workshop. I hope that they are OK and the new building is still standing.
Fernando and his brother Luchy are like nephews, and it’s always rewarding to spend time with them. Luchy’s artistic talents are exceptional, though he has little time for art. Every so often we find time for a custom project, (It Started with One LIght Post) and it’s always a joy to work with them. Their mother and Xavier & Cesar’s mother are sisters, and their Sabando family embraced me like an additional limb on their family tree. They are all so very kind, and I hope that their homes, businesses and families are all OK.
As the pelican flies, Nely and Ramon are some of my closest neighbors at the nearby community of La Division. Friends since I first rented in that area in 2007, they extend warm hospitality every time I drop by their beach-side restaurant and tienda. Although I usually time my visits around early afternoon to give them a little lunch business, she insists that I eat with them – always a surprise menu and always delicious – and she refuses my money. Before leaving I spend a few token dollars at the tienda and amble back home. Their restaurant and tienda were built from natural materials, so hopefully the structure still stands. Their two-story home is built of concrete block, and I fear it might have some damage. Nely is surely cooking and extending her hospitality as she and Ramon help the neighbors in that petite community.
Verdum! I wonder how my friends at Verdum are doing, and if their little home-tienda survived the quake. When I see her, she will most likely say, “Oh Lisa! I’ve been so worried about you!” Always worried about everyone else, she and her family are in my heart, and I look forward to reciprocating those words to her.
There’s Iris and her helpers at the corner mini-super and Gloria and staff at Hostal Ciragan and Ivan and his family incuding precious daughter, Ivana, at the little restaurant across from Ciragan —and the list dominoes in all directions. Rycardo! I hope that his unique home and museum survived the quake.
Anyone who changes latitudes and cultures might agree, there are moments of frustration – sometimes extreme frustration, but those negative issues vaporize when a crisis hits an area. “In the end, only kindness matters.” We are now witnessing the kindness of strangers who are pooling talents and resources and supplies to help those in need.
Last week I went to Quito and met three police-escorted convoys on their way to the coast. The final one displayed foreign signs in a language I did not recognize. Seeing each convoy triggered tears, and I was touched by the outpouring of compassion and help from the outside world. Even local groups are helping; my multi-talented friend Peter joined a volunteer work crew out of Mindo a few days after the quake. One who is rich in character and talents, he is surely making a difference in Pedernales.
The experience must be heart wrenching, and knowing he is joined by other compassionate people, I am comforted. Don’t the volunteers need care packages as well? Who provides their food, water and a place to sleep? (Postscript: While I was writing this, Peter came into the restaurant! He spent ten days in Pedernales, said that he slept on the sidewalk with many others, and he ate very little. He shrugged and said that he had little appetite, and others needed the food more than he.)
Thank you for enduring my rambling about a community that’s exceptionally special to me. Thanks, also, to many of you who have contributed to the Go-Fund-Me site for the community of Jama. Those of you in the medical fields, look at the wish list on the above GoFundMe site. Perhaps you can help with some of those items.
It took over 7 hours to upload a video about the people of the Jama area (Youtube) – and so far there’s no trace of it! Will share it next time online.
As you go through your day, your week, this month of May, take time to display a concern for your fellow man – or woman. In the end, only kindness matters.