Jama-El Matal (Manabi Province) Ecuador
Having just returned from a visit to the coast (Jama) where the earthquake turned my friends’ worlds upside down then slammed them to the ground, I would like to share what burns strongest in my mind and soul. Yes, some friends cried when they shared their stories, but their tears also released a bit of grief. More than tears, I saw smiles. Proud brave smiles that burned as bright and strong as the brilliant sunlight on their altered landscape.
Esperanza – Hope. Without hope, people’s souls would atrophy. My friends and I witnessed esperanza in most every place we stopped.
A buzz of activity kept the center of town in perpetual motion. A steady stream of people puchased ten-cent servings of fresh rolls at the open-air panaderia, relocated only a slight distance from its original place on the block. The vegetable vendor location shadowed the panaderia, just like it did before the earthquake, and a second one held its usual spot on the other side of the one-way street. There was comfort in walking up to the glass-fronted bakery counter and requesting caramel-colored cubes of banana bread for my travel companions and me – and oh yes, delicate rolls of chocolate bread and — ‘look at those fresh orbs of bread that are still cooling – we’ll take some of those too.’
Many of those historic wooden two-story buildings are gone, but I was amused that one of those classic buildings still held its corner spot. I predicted that the building would fall years ago if there were a hiccup of an earthquake, yet it survived the earthquake and anchored the scene! A relocated fereterria/hardware store gave life to the old building, with the most-popular supplies displayed along its sidewalk.
There is comfort in familiarity, and those lovely vendors all play important roles in restoring the emotional health of the locals.
Later when working on photos, I often tried to decipher the scenes — “Where is this?’ Like a punch in the stomach, I realized the scenes were altered because the second stories of many buildings were gone, or else the buildings were totally gone. Looking toward the stadium, I recalled with bittersweet nostalgia the many times I’d feasted on ‘sidewalk encebollado,’ served out of a home that no longer stands.
Nearby at Playa El Matal, several young boys dashed to greet me as I walked the beach; the smallest child encircled my legs with an embrace that might strangle a bear! His face radiated pure joy, though he barely knew me – if he remembered me at all; it’s been about a year since I spent time on that beach. (On my last two visits, the ocean was too close to walk without risk of being swept away.)
As always, the sun nudged me into a photo session with the group of adults that watched with loving and unguarded eyes at the gringita who sometimes appears, interacts, photographs, then retreats to her base on the far side of the nearby river. For amost three years, I’ve witnessed and photographed the ocean’s advance on their turf. Who would have thought that while everyone kept the ocean-watch vigil, an earthquake would play a card that no one anticipated?
(Photos above and below) Look at the faces of those lovely people! Less – even after a devastating earthquake – can often be more.
Victor’s handsome restaurant no longer stands, but there is comfort in seeing a smaller and much-altered version in its place. Even after losing so much, the family projected genuine smiles (above) when we stopped to say Hello.
For the past year, I’ve lived in the cloud forest near Mindo, but I’ve known this beautiful country and it’s lovely people for about 14 years. If one can bridge the language challenges and adapt to cultural differences, life becomes much richer by getting to know the locals.
With my perch on the river facing a slow extinction to a sloughing-away of riverbank, people ask about my own plans. Those who know me well know that I need a dozen or more lives in order to pursue my many interests and dreams. We only have ‘today,’ so I’ll squeeze what I can from each day while Life tends to take care of the details.
Before I pursue more of my own dreams, my greatest wish is to help my friends who have less. How can one not add a few more threads of color to help repair the tapestry that binds this community together?
We’re partners in good times and in bad, and when all is well, I can quietly relax in the background. If my presence is capable of providing comfort to a token few, it’s my duty to step forward – if for no other reason than to give a small little boy a warm embrace.