been looking toward the United States a lot lately. Actually, Marilyn
and I both have. There are things that we’re starting to miss.
Yesterday I wrote about my craving for fútbol americana. Day before
yesterday Marilyn discovered she couldn’t find any peanut butter in the
largest grocery store in Otavalo. We have been concerned about friends
who went through tropical storm Hermine. We have both craved a good
coffee cake on a Saturday morning.
My thoughts are also drawn to the U.S. because today is the ninth
anniversary of the most horrific event I have witnessed in my 61+ years
of living. I remember exactly where I was on 9/11. I remember watching
TV as the second plane appeared to come from nowhere and plow into the
second World Trade Center tower. It was then that no one had further
doubts as to what was happening. I remember watching one, and then the
other tower collapse and crumble upon itself. I remember breaking down
and shedding tears of utter grief at such inhumanity. I remember
commenting to Marilyn that our world had been changed forever.
And it has. There is more suspicion. There is more hate. There are
deeper divisions, from the U. S. Congress, to various religious faiths.
There is more need for security, from airports to drinking water
supplies. Even in Ecuador, seemingly far from the battle with
extremists that was joined on September 11, 2001, one cannot enter the
airport in Quito to see a relative or friend off. There is less
cooperation, caring, and respect between nations, between cultures,
between religions, between a lot of individuals. The world has changed,
and I can’t say it’s for the better.
I’ve leaned toward the Republican Party since I was 18 years old and
wanted Richard Nixon to win the presidency in 1968. Despite being
dishonest, he did many great things for this country, including getting
us out of what had become a mishandled and unwinnable war in Vietnam.
(There go my Democratic friends.) But that’s beside the point. The
point is that I’m almost ashamed to call myself Republican now. (There
go my Republican friends.)
After 9/11, say what you will about him, George W. Bush took great
pains to keep religious factions from descending into an us-versus-them
mentality. Where is a George W. Bush now? After 9/11, George W. Bush
took great pains to point out that the hijackers had hijacked Islam and
were in no way sanctioned by Islam, as peaceful a religion as
Christianity. Where is a W. now?
I watch from afar as controversy rages over whether or not to build a
mosque two blocks from Ground 0. I watch and am aghast that republicans
stoke the controversy in order to curry political favor. This is New
York. New York was one of the thirteen founding colonies of our nation.
History books taught me that our nation was founded on religious
freedom – the right to worship however you want whenever you want on
private property. Has that notion gone by the wayside? I’m not sure if
the constitution spells it out, but I’m sure that there’s at least an
understanding that worship should also not harm the public. In my view,
a mosque two blocks from Ground 0 would not harm the public. Would
there be a controversy if a church were being built on that spot? No?
Wouldn’t it be the exact opposite situation, since I understand that
many Islamists died in that tragedy? (Whoops. There go my Christian
friends.) Oh, you say it’s different because Christians didn’t fly
those plane-bombs. Well, neither did Islamists. They were radicals, not
true believers. Do you know of any Christian extremists? Would you call
them true believers? Today I read an article about a preacher in
Florida wanting to hold a Quran-burning. That’s pretty extreme, if you
ask me, and I would argue that his faith is woefully misplaced. It’s
also as offensive to me as burning the Bible, or burning our flag.
Some argue that it would be insensitive to build a mosque so near
Ground 0 because the hijackers that flew those plane-bombs did so in
the name of Islam. That argument is hogwash. It’s like saying it’s
insensitive for me to own a pet because animals have rights, too. (I’ve
just lost the Animal Rights crowd.) Charles Krauthammer pointed out
that even the Pope ordered that a convent built too near Auschwitz be
dismantled because it was somehow insensitive. Give me a break. I like
reading Krauthammer because he often has good points (there go my
Democratic friends, again), but he missed the mark that time. He’s
writing from a Jewish perspective. I think you could say the “Jewish
nation” is pretty mono-religious. Our nation has different religions in
its DNA. If the Pope wanted to play politics, so be it. (I may have
lost my Jewish friends on that one.)
When I was a youngster in school, I remember how everyone in the class
would get punished because the teacher couldn’t find out who was at
fault for doing something against the rules, or against her principles.
Do we really want to live with that kind of mentality? Do we really
want to shun entire religions or groups of people because of the
actions of extremists within their ranks? If we do, you might as well
discount me right now, because there are some pretty radical people
with disabilities out there. And I might as well cross you off because
I’m certain I could find an extremist in one of the groups you belong
Here we are nine years later, without a W. to calm the nation and tell
it to get a grip on itself. Here we are with animosities so deep it’s
heart wrenching, scary, and laughable all at once. What will the 10th
anniversary bring, aside from flag-waving, speeches, and photo-ops?
Please let us be able to say that our world is closer to peace than it
is today. As I look around, I see bleak prospects for cooperation and
understanding and respect. Without that tripod of values, can our
freedom continue to endure?
P.S. Reading over this post, I realize I didn’t say anything that might
want to make my Islamist friends desert me. That was not by design, but
maybe it was subconscious. Maybe they need a break more than most
groups right now.
ready for some football!!!? (I love that line by Hank Williams, Jr.)
I’m ready! But I’m down here in Ecuador. All they have is fútbol (soccer). And I have
unreliable and expensive internet service. What’s a body to do!?
Especially one that thrives watching fútbol
Of course, fútbol is a
great game, or so millions and billions of people claim. I got caught
up in the World Cup this year because, even though Ecuador didn’t make
the cut, EVERYBODY in Ecuador watched the games, unless there was
something urgently pressing, like a fire in the building. I even
learned a lot of the rules, and some of the strategies. After a month
of nonstop fútbol…, I
was bored. Even when I sided with people who picked the winner in the
final, and had cause to celebrate…, I was bored. Give me fútbol americana any day.
Months ago, I met a man from the U.S. who is now living in Quito. (If
you’re ever in Quito, by the way, stop at Confederate Books, the store
he owns specializing in English language books.) He told me there were
bars in Quito that showed fútbol
americana. However, not long ago he wrote and said that it would
be “problematic” this season because Ecuador passed a law closing the
bars on Sundays. That possibility was thus shut down, though I had
never seriously considered asking Marilyn to drive me the two hours to
Quito every week for Sunday afternoon football games. After all, she’s
doing the missionary work down here. I’m merely her assistant.
I thought about watching games over the Internet. It’s mostly free on
ESPN for college games, and you can buy a package for NFL games from
nfl.com. However, as I mentioned, my internet service is, in a word,
road kill. Okay, it’s two words if you’re not living in Texas, which I’m
obviously not doing. The best solution I’ve found is a USB modem from
PORTA, the largest cell phone company in Ecuador. However, I pay
$32/month for only 2,000 MBs of traffic each month. Luckily, the
application has a counter, so you can track the volume of your internet
traffic. Two thousand MBs a month sounds like a lot. Ever watch how
many MBs you’re using when you watch streaming videos? It’s like
watching an electric meter on a house that has two two-ton air
conditioners on a day when the temperature is 110 – the money just
flies away. So I knew watching games via the Internet was out of the
It's too cold to wear my Saints cap
very often here, but I wear it with pride!
But I figured, “Aha! Audio won’t use nearly as much bandwidth as
video.” Yesterday I shelled out $40 for a season audio package from
nfl.com before the first of my beloved New Orleans Saints games and
prepared to listen to the Saints hometown announcers. By watching the
counter, I soon calculated that, if I listened to the entire game, I’d
use up all the MBs allowed during the current monthly billing period
(which only started three days ago), and we’d be without the Internet
until October 7, unless we wanted to pay at the rate of $3/day. Marilyn
would not be a happy camper. Besides, as often happens, I kept losing
the Internet connection, which forced me to reboot my computer. The
audio idea fizzled. I didn’t try to get my money back because there are
times when the hotel’s wireless connection is working fine and I could
use it to listen to a game. I justify that by saying that going to a
single game, by myself, would cost way more than $40. Is that
justification or rationalization?
That left my fallback plan. Both ESPN and the NFL have sites I call
graphical sites. They show a football field and use various colored
arrows and symbols to indicate what’s happened on the field. They also
provide a short summary of what happens on each play. It’s definitely
behind watching streaming video or listening to streaming audio as far
as satisfaction is concerned, but, hey, it’s better than waiting to
read a report of the game after the fact. It’s especially so when
you’re craving fútbol
americana instead of plain vanilla fútbol. That’s how I watched
my Saints eke out their win over the Minnesota Vikings last night. And
that’s how I’ll follow the LSU Tigers, Texas Longhorns, U. of I.
Illini, and the rest of the New Orleans Saints games – graphically.
Of course, I write this tongue-in-cheek. There are problems much more
serious here than not being able to watch fútbol americana, like
having clean drinking water, or being able to afford sending children
to school, or having adequate shelter.
Still, I see many big-screen TVs around. They just don’t know what to
put on them.
are not expected to change the world. Their impact may contribute to
the wellbeing of some individuals or of some communities. At times they
make huge impacts like Mother Teresa; at other times, their impact is
much smaller. I know and understand all of this, but sometimes...well,
maybe a lot of times, I wonder what I’m really accomplishing here. I
suspect I’m a pretty average teacher of English. My understanding of
the spoken Spanish vocabulary I’ve learned in the past has gotten
better, but I still can’t understand many conversations (and I’m not so
great at explaining concepts of grammar or even giving simple commands
like “listen” or “sit down” or “clap your hands” with accuracy in my
English classes). I probably don’t pray often enough and I know my
daily reading of the Bible consists only of reading a daily devotional
I receive over the Internet that includes a short passage from the
Bible. I do care about people and I try to share what “gifts” I have.
So, does that make me a missionary? Really?
Then, every once in awhile I get glimpses of some little impact I might
The pre-school English class
(Juan David is sitting to Marilyn's right)
A week or two ago, when our car, Molly, wasn’t starting so well on cold
mornings, I took the bus to Caluquí to teach my English
pre-school class. The students have gotten used to my coming, making me
no longer this unusual occurrence that causes them to pay much
attention. That particular day, only half of the students were actually
following along; it was the day I decided I needed to be more proactive
in getting their attention as we explored this new language for them.
This latter plan filled my thoughts as I walked the 20 minutes back
down to the highway where I could catch the bus. About half way, I
passed a mother, her child, and an older child that seemed to be a
friend. I recognized the preschooler immediately as one of my students
and miraculously remembered his name. (I still don’t know the names of
all 30 students in my class.) I said “¡Buenos
dias!” to the woman and then, “Good morning, Juan David!” He
returned the greeting with “Gud mourning, teecher”. His mother beamed
Here, knowing English is perceived as a way to get a better job or a
way to bring in more income. Obviously, Juan David’s mother was proud
that her son had started learning English in his pre-school class.
One of the parishioners at Cachimuel
helps the Austin mission group wash
their hands after they finish painting.
Later that same week, I met with, along with Marlena of FEDICE's staff,
Agustine, the pastor of the church in Cachimuel, and a small number of
his parishioners at their church. Marlena and I were signing up
students for English classes that I will begin teaching next week. This
church has a wonderful welcoming spirit that the group from Austin
experienced last July when they came to help build a new second story
room to be used for children’s activities. Discussion also took place
about the times classes would be, on what days, etc. I will again be
teaching an adolescent class and a teen class. Then there was some
jovial encouraging that I initiated, trying to get the adults to take
an English class. Before long, it was decided that I would teach from
3:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, including an adult class
and a “homework help” period.
I left feeling very excited about this new teaching situation. There
was eagerness in the eyes of both the parents and the children as they
filled in their applications for the classes. In this location, it is
expected that my students are there because they want to learn, not
because someone has said that learning English is a good idea for the
future and has made them come to the class. And I really enjoy teaching
adults! Sometimes adults forget that they can still learn, as often
school learning situations have evaporated. That afternoon, I felt a
glimpse of what I might help my students accomplish in their futures.
What I do in Ecuador is what many individuals do in their hometowns.
One smile, one handshake, one welcome at a time is what I share with
others. Maybe a difference is that I have chosen to live nearer the
poor, and that offers me opportunities to get to know them and to
better assist where I can. I hope my smiles and handshakes and welcomes
are reflections of God’s spirit of giving.
Isabel and Family
Brayan on a Horse
Inside of the new cathedral.
On the slopes of Chimborazo.
Last week, we took Isabel and her family to Cuenca, a 13+ hour drive
best done over 2 days, for a vacation. They had never seen the city and
her mother, Victoria, wanted to see the cathedrals before she died.
Cuenca is said to be the most beautiful city in Ecuador. Victoria is 86
years old and has cancer so death is something she faces more
immediately than many of us. On the way back, all of us cramped in the
car after many hours, I asked what people enjoyed most about the trip.
Glenn mentioned that seeing Victoria walk up the center aisle for
communion, as well as kneel in the pew for prayer in the grand
cathedral in which we attended service on Sunday morning, was one of
his high points. Eight year old Brayan liked his first horseback ride,
which took him up into the cloud forest in the mountains near Riobamba
as his favorite thing...oh yes, and all of the food! Victoria said her
favorite things were seeing Cuenca and the wild animals on the
mountainsides of Volcán
Chimborazo, the tallest volcano in Ecuador and earth’s closest
point to the sun. She is sight impaired and the vicuñas let us get somewhat
close as they grazed on the very short vegetation of the paramo (a desert-like landscape
with little vegetation). Isabel said that she liked all of the week.
And I especially liked that Elvis, Isabel’s 22 year old son, was able
to join us for the weekend so the whole family could enjoy part of the
So, there you have it: another small glimpse into the life of one
trying to spread goodness and love. It’s probably not so different from
what many of you are already doing; I’m just doing it in what may
appear to be an exotic place. All of you, please keep up the good work.