About a year ago, the church we attend in Austin, United Christian Church,
began dealing with the problem of payday loan businesses in the state
of Texas. They did this through our Social Justice Committee of the
church. I’m not a member of either the church or the committee, but I
heartily agree that this problem needs to be addressed. It’s bad enough
that one would be expected to pay back $15 or so for every $100
borrowed over a two-week period. But, if it can’t be paid back in that
time period, the effective annual percentage rate can get as high as
3,690%! In my mind, this is legalized loan-sharking and is
unconscionable. It contributes to keeping the poor poor, and initiates
a decline for those “down on their luck” from which they may never
Sadly, the problem is not confined to rich countries like the United
States, Canada, and Australia. It has come to my attention that the
problem can also be found in Ecuador.
They are not called payday loans here, but the concept is the same.
When someone needs a short-term loan, they often have to resort to
borrowing at exorbitantly high interest rates. A bank I know of charges
6%. The cooperativas de ahorro y
crédito (savings and loan associations) are not much
better, if at all. One I know of charges 3% and another charges 9%.
You say, “3%, 6%, and 9% are not bad.” You’d be correct if these were
annual rates, but they’re monthly rates. That’s still not as bad as 15%
every two weeks, right. No, but if you don’t make the full payment
during a month, the interest for that month is tripled. At 3% per
month, compounded, the effective annual percentage rate is 42.57% if no
payments can be made for a year. However, if no payments are made, the
penalty comes into play each month, making the effective APR 181.27%.
At 9% per month, the corresponding figures are 181.27% and 1,660.53%.
It’s easy to see how people can get behind and never catch up. When
they default, as in the United States, their credit takes a hit and
it’s hard to borrow anymore until they can get their credit repaired,
if that can be accomplished. Most people in Ecuador are poor and need
loans, at least from time to time. Thus, the cycle of poverty
continues, and “short-term loans” are one of the contributing factors.
I have since learned that the cooperativas
have a one-time interest rate charge of between 6% and 9%. This
is divided by the number of months in the length of the loan and added
to the borrower's monthly payment. Therefore, it's not as bad as
I had originally been led to believe. However, the catch is that,
if a borrower is late with a monthly payment, the interest payment for
that month is tripled. I can see how it would be easy for a
borrower to get behind and end up paying way more than he/she
gave me my regular arm massage after breakfast. Marilyn and I had
learned a couple weeks ago that she does it because she thinks it will
“cure” me. Marilyn explained at that time that I am like I am because
parts of my brain are dead. Still, this morning she indicated that,
with one more week of massage, I’ll be eating with my right hand. I, on
the other hand, love the massages because they feel great. What will
happen next week? Will she be disappointed? Will she stop giving me
massages? Will she feel like she has failed me? Will her faith be
shaken? Actually, I highly doubt that that last possibility will occur.
Victoria has a great faith in Dios.
At lunch, Victoria almost cried when Isabel gave her another pain pill.
I asked Isabel why, and she told us that Victoria doesn’t like them
because they make her weak and dizzy. Some choice: don’t take the pills
and be in a lot of pain, or take the pills and feel weak and dizzy.
Today is Brayan’s ninth birthday. I sent him an e-card through Elvis
and Marilyn that he enjoyed. We’ll give him his gift this afternoon
after he returns from fútbol.
been in Ecuador for 16 months and really haven’t explored Quito very
much. In an effort to rectify that, the six of us went out on the town
today. Our first destination was the Jardín
Quito (botanical garden) in Parqúe
Carolina. As it was 2
weeks ago, Avenida 10 de Agosto
was closed for walking, running, and biking, so we had to find an
alternate route to get there. We figured they must close this major
thoroughfare every Sunday, at least during the summer (or winter, since
Quito is south of the equator.) Or maybe they just have a lot of fun
runs at this time of year.
Almost as soon as we got into the jardín,
ceremony that was about
to begin and went to see it. They first explained the Incan calendar.
Marilyn and I didn’t understand much, but I did get that the Incans
divided the year into 13 four-week months. That’s something I always
thought was sensible, even as an adolescent. They also had four major
fiestas a year, corresponding to the spring equinox, the summer
solstice (which we’re about to have), the fall equinox, and the winter
solstice. I guess this particular purification ritual was related to
the summer solstice. After a few minutes, Victoria, Isabel, and Marilyn
went on, but Elvis, Brayan, and I stayed to watch.
Elvis being purified
(2.6 MB movie)
Elvis ended up participating. They formed two concentric circles and
did some dancing and chanting. There was a small fire in the center of
the circles. The “purification rites” soon began. A person would stand
near the fire, with his or her back to the leader. The leader had a
bottle filled with liquid (it looked like a fifth of whiskey,
especially because it made the flames rise when some fell into the
fire). He would take a large swig and spray part of the swig, in a
mist, down the back of the person. The person would then turn around,
close her or his eyes, and the leader would spray more of his swig down
the person’s front and over each shoulder.
This was repeated for several people. It then became more elaborate.
One person straddled the fire while the leader blew the “firewater”
onto the fire to make the flames rise. Ouch! Not for me. He also kind
of whacked people all over with a bunch of something looking like
parsley and put it up to their noses so they could inhale deeply. Elvis
went through this. Isabel came back during the ritual and asked if I’d
like to be “cleaned”. Guess I’m not very spiritual. I didn’t like the
thought of someone basically spitting on me, even if it was with
Picnic in the park
After we left the Jardín
Botánico, we had a picnic under
a tree in the park. Isabel had made fried chicken and boiled potatoes
before we left this morning. Marilyn had made a Mediterranean salad
yesterday. We enjoyed eating it all and watching the people in the
park. A lot of them were families teaching their very young children
how to kick a soccer ball around. The sun went away after we started
eating and I was sorry that I had left my sweater in the car.
Next, we went to Iglesia La
Compañia, a very historic church and
the one that the Ecuadorian President attends. It was a trip and a half
getting there. Central Quito is like a maze, especially because many of
the streets are one way, with no discernible pattern to them. At one
point, I could have sworn that the streets were designed specifically
to keep us from achieving our goal. Maybe they were. (My brother, who
was once stationed in Japan, told me the roads there rarely went
straight to a town. The reason was so that the townspeople would have
ample warning of an enemy’s advance.) Finally, we found a parking spot
about three blocks away from the church and walked, instead of
continuing to try to get the car all the way to the church.
Marilyn read that it took 19 years to restore this church. It was
originally built in the 1600’s. It’s the best example of Spanish
Baroque in Ecuador, and seems to have gold (gold-leaf, I assume) on
practically every surface but the pews, floors, and canvasses of
paintings. This was Victoria’s favorite part of the trip. She loves
It was sprinkling when we went into the church. It was pouring when we
were ready to leave. Therefore, we did the sensible thing and waited
until the rain slacked off. It didn’t help. When we were half a block
from the church’s entrance, the skies opened up again. Neither Elvis
nor Brayan had coats. Fortunately, I remembered to get my sweater (with
a hood) out of the car because it had become chilly when we were in the
park. Elvis started running with me, shouting, “¡Ay-chi-chi!” an
expression used here when something is cold to the touch. That rain was
sooo cold. We all found shelter about a block from the car. The rain
didn’t let up, however.
Finally, Marilyn, Isabel, and Brayan went to get the car. They were
able to park it about 50 feet from our shelter and we all piled in.
When it rains, and it’s cold, Molly’s windshield fogs up (especially
with six bodies in the car) and the defroster only clears a small spot
at the bottom of the windshield. So Marilyn drove hunched over until I
finally suggested she wipe the windshield with a Kleenex. Then, three
people tried to give her different directions at once. She said, in a
commanding voice, that only Isabel was to give her directions. Isabel
started using terms like, “Por aca,”
“Por aja,” and “Abajo.” Marilyn
said, “¡Por favor, solamente ‘a
la izquierda,’ ‘a la derecha,’
and ‘recto’!” (Please, only left, right, and straight!) We
out of Quito’s downtown maze and safely back to Otavalo.
For the past two days, we had been driving. Pflugerville, TX, to
Urbana-Champaign, IL. One thousand, twenty-five miles, plus a few extra
miles to get around the flooding east of Little Rock, AR. About 16
hours of driving, more counting stops. This morning, we were happy to
be able to sleep in.
We were in Champaign-Urbana because, among others, the U. of I. was
awarding a scholarship bearing my name. This was actually the second
year it was awarded. We couldn’t make it last year because we were in
Ecuador. We promised we’d be there this year and were able to arrange
our schedules so we could fulfill that promise.
Our appointment with Brad Hedrick was at 11:30 a.m. Brad is now the
director of the Division of Rehabilitation and Educational Services
(DRES) at the
University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. They help students with
disabilities integrate into university life by
providing services from helping with housing, to helping with physical
therapy, to organizing
sports programs, to test-taking for students who are unable to take
tests given in the usual environments of university classes. (I
benefitted from that last service myself.) When I was at the U. of I.,
Brad was also a student, though I believe he was working toward his
Doctorate, while I was working toward my Masters. I had seen him only
once since our rabble-rousing days.
Jean Driscoll met us at Brad’s office. She was our “tour guide” for the
day. Jean is also a U. of I. alum. A few years after she graduated, she
was recruited to work in the College of Applied Heath Sciences. Part of
her job was to maintain contact with alumni and keep them apprised of
what the university was doing. Jean was a big reason behind my support
of the U. of I. We all reminisced and Brad told us about what was going
on in DRES. Marilyn and I noticed a stack of booklets on his desk. They
turned out to be architectural proposals for a building to house a new
program for returning veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with
complex, life-changing injuries. They
were evidence that the Division of Rehabilitation and Educational
was not standing still.
We then drove to Huff Hall, following Jean, and walked a couple of
blocks to see the Beckwith Program at Nugent Hall. It’s for people with
severe mobility disabilities, like me. The Beckwith program moved to an
old house called Tanbrier
either the last year I was at the U. of I. or the year after, as I
remember. It was in a building on the outskirts of campus. Now, it’s
housed in a centrally located dorm and the facilities are state of the
art. Pat Malik, the director, showed us around. She happened to be
married to Ron Malik, a fellow student when I was at the U. of I. There
are ceiling tracks in all rooms for carrying students with limited
mobility from the bed to a wheelchair, and even to the shower. There
are proximity card readers for opening and closing doors. The proximity
cards are attached almost anywhere on a wheelchair. They also teach the
students how to manage their attendants, including hiring and firing.
This was very impressive to us, and was something not available when I
matriculated. (Can I really use that word?) I had to hire people to
We then walked back to Huff Hall to meet with Dean Tanya Gallagher of
the College of Applied Health Sciences. She told us more about the
returning vet program. Returning vets feel most comfortable with their
“band of brothers”. Thus, instead of being housed with the general
student population (which is usually younger and possibly less mature),
they will be housed on the site of the former Beckwith facility. They
will receive emotional counseling as well as academic training. Because
many have had brain trauma, Dean Gallagher commented that the cognitive
disability scholarship that I also helped establish is particularly
We also met Sara Kelly briefly, who is responsible for recruiting Jean
to the College of Applied Life Sciences. In my opinion, that was a very
As we were getting ready for the Huff North Addition tour, we met
Bridget Evans because she was helping in Huff gym with the service dog
program she began this school year. I collected my hug that she had
promised me after winning the first scholarship for students with
mobility impairments that I helped begin last year. The group was
training three dogs at the time and we got to meet Coal, Bridget’s
service dog and the tallest lab I’ve ever seen, though probably not the
heaviest. Marilyn and I were really impressed with the program,
especially the fact that a board of directors has been set up to insure
that the program Bridget started goes forward after she leaves the U.
We were then given a tour of the nearly-completed Huff Hall North
Addition by Bill Goodman. Marilyn particularly liked the space set
aside for multi-disciplinary collaboration. We also liked the
flexibility of the building design and the integrated, ramped entrance
that accommodates people with disabilities as well as anyone else.
After the tour, we went back and talked to Bridget some more. I regret
not getting any pictures.
Bob Szyman and Glenn
Tim Nugent and Glenn
(I didn't have time
to sit up!)
Lastly, it was time to head over to the award ceremony. Before entering
the hall, someone got Stephen Fisher, this year’s recipient of the
scholarship for students with mobility impairments, and we took a
picture together. We sat with Bob Szyman who, I was told, came down
from Chicago when he heard Marilyn and I would be there. Bob was my
wheelchair football coach when I was at the U. of I. He was getting his
Ph. D. when I was there. Needless to say, we had a few brews together
during that time. Also at the table were Stephen Fisher, and two other
members of the men’s wheelchair basketball team.
Tim Nugent and Jeannette, his wife, were there also. Although 88 years
old, he is in good health. I was glad Marilyn had the chance to meet
him because, as the founder of U. of I.’s program for people with
disabilities in 1948, and with his efforts to keep the program alive as
well as expand it, he really is a legend.
All in all, we had a very nice time and were glad that we had gone. It
was really good to see how the university and the DRES program are
moving forward. Made me wish I were back in college. Not!!!
birthday, we gave Elvis, “our” 23-year-old, a trip to Quito that was to
include a movie and a meal. After 4 months, we finally fulfilled that
promise. Glenn and Elvis saw an X-Men flick and the rest of
us saw a children’s movie. Disappointingly, at the end of the
children’s movie, it said “To Be Continued”, leaving the whole plot
unfinished, expecting us to return to the next sequel to find out what
I’m thinking that is kind of how life is. We each drop into the middle
of our family’s story and most of us leave before it ends.
Which brings me to what has been on my mind of late: I have been
thinking about death ... and life. Looking at death has gone on for
centuries, but for me, now is the first time I’m observing it up close
and more personal: Victoria, our abuela,
long before we met her. In fact, one of her
adult children recently mentioned that Victoria has had cancer for
about 24 years and the family has expected her to pass on for a very
long time. (Early in her diagnosis, she was treated with radiation
therapy that seemed to have been effective for her). Each crisis has
come and gone and Victoria is still with them. At 87 years, they no
longer come running as quickly when she has another bad period.
As I look at Victoria and her current state, it seems that death is
more about life. Before our recent trip to the U.S., Victoria spent
some nights in the hospital here in Otavalo. Isabel told us that the
doctor reported the cancer to be pushing against both of her
elimination routes. A month later, when we returned in late May,
another trip to emergency let us know that her body now only has about
half the elimination space it had a month before. This tells me that
soon Victoria may no longer be with us.
Yet, every day that she does not have a lot of pain, Victoria is up
helping with laundry, giving Glenn arm massages, and laughing at any
jokes or making some herself. Whenever we go someplace fun, she’s there
with us taking part in the adventure. I never thought much about the
way life is so much more a part of us than death.
And getting back to the “middle of the story” idea, how is it that we
think it is with us that it all began and, after our parting, not much
more would/should/can take place. We are only a little drop in the
bucket of life.
Our parting will bring grief for a short time before life for others
continues on. And when Victoria passes, whether it be sooner or later,
it will bring deep sadness to me. Here in our family, we will all miss
the gift of Victoria’s life. But I know, after awhile, the hurt will go
away with us only remembering parts of her life with us. And we believe
she’ll be in a place where she won’t have the pain she’s been suffering
here and maybe she’ll be looking down on us, still laughing at our
jokes. Victoria will be gone, but the story will continue, having been
enriched by her life.