CHAPTER 1: JESUS IS CONDEMNED TO DEATH Truly, I have formed you, knit you, my people. Truly I know you.

I love you. I am your God. I am God. Be still and know I am God. - based on Isaiah 44, Listening Journal, Ecuador

Of Lives and Crosses Stories from the place called Duran

by Jill (Isabel) Rauh


Holy Encounter The first time we went there, the sky was blue over Duran but turned gray and hazy over the dump. A wall of flies as thick as the air bumped in hoards against the truck windshield. It reminded me of the Egyptian plague. I looked out the window. Then I looked at Alan, who was concentrating on navigating the dirt road which, due to large rocks and many cycles of flooding during rainy season followed by scorching dry summers, had the appearance of an undulating ocean, only dry, hard, and not moving. He stopped the car. I couldn’t say anything. Through the fly-inhabited windows, an expansive field of garbage lay before us. Car tires. Black plastic bags spewing rotting food, slimy packaging, soggy paper products. Plastic objects. Twisted metal. Hoards and hoards of all types of waste. Some trash, heaped in tall piles, was burning, with grey fingers of smoke climbing into the hazy sky. The smell of burning rubber mixed with the stink of rot. I fought an urge to cover my nose and mouth with my hands. Emaciated cattle with protruding ribs and backbones stood belly-deep in the trash, tails swishing constantly to ward off the buzzing flies. Birds of prey glided overhead in the haze, their beady eyes searching the waste for vermin or a piece of rotting meat. But it was the people who caused words to cling, unformed, deep in my throat. As they stood knee-deep in the garbage, the people, who lacked the swishing tails of cattle, slapped their arms and the backs of their necks to discourage the buzzing pests. Tall ones, short ones, skinny ones, frail ones, they stood knee-and –waist deep in trash. They wore handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses that were stained, like their ragged clothing, with wet browns and grays. Farther back in the garbage field, the bent backs and hunched shoulders of men and boys and women and girls picking through trash were only barely visible through the gray haze of smoking trash piles.

Two men did not sort through trash. They stood instead next to small, three-walled shacks at the edge of the garbage field. In each shack were stacked different types of items. Pieces of wood were piled in one. Aluminum cans covered the floor of another. Stacks of wood, sorted by size, dominated a third shack. The two men lounged on overturned crates, smoking cigarettes, rising only to trade the items found by garbage scavengers for coins. Beyond these commercial shacks were hundreds of cane houses, which extended around the periphery of the trash field. Each destitute shack of cane had walls barely longer than the length of a bed, covered with fragments of black, plastic bags to protect the shabby walls when rain pounded in during rainy season. Flies buzzed around doorways and slipped through the cane walls; women who knelt at wash basins in the doorways of homes brushed flies from their shoulders and legs and necks and fanned themselves with trash-stained newspapers in the scorching sun. Children played at the edge of the dump, rolling old tires or fighting with broomsticks salvaged from the trash, watched out of the corners of the eyes of the wash basin mothers and the scavenging fathers, sisters, and brothers. We stopped the car just past the garbage field and opened the doors slowly. Time stopped. The sickening stench of rot and burning rubber. . . overpowering. Dizzying. The eyes watered. The lungs froze. Breathing was like suffocating. The smell was like death. Some children who had been using a long stick to wheel a tire down the road we were traveling on, and the little ones who had run beside them, stopped playing. Their dark eyes stared at us as they stood silently. The men by the collection stands stood still, their gazes level, watching us. The vultures, and the workers with hunched shoulders, continued their activities, the dark shadows of the gliding vultures creating dark spots over the workers below.



We stood still outside the truck, unwilling to step away from it, our only solid reminder that life still existed beyond this wasteland. I raised my hand in greeting, but the men at the collection stalls only stared. We turned to the children but they scampered away. I wouldn’t be able to explain it to anyone, but later I would choose this place as my assignment. I couldn’t myself understand why I would want to go back to this desolate corner of the earth that made my stomach lurch, my skin itch, and my lungs tighten. I didn’t know why the kids who wore rags and smelled like spoiled meat would enter my thoughts during the day and haunt my dreams at night. There was only one thing I knew for certain. It was that, in the eyes of an old man standing knee-deep in the field—eyes that were as grey and desolate as the sky—I saw the humanity that was present in myself. I saw a suffering human being, I saw the suffering Christ. And once our truck rumbled and jolted back to civilization, for some reason, I only wanted to go back again.

Smoke in the Barrio Under the leaning, corroded, leaky-tin roof, the children turned their backs to the sun and jabbed fists of crayon between the outlines of waving people on their smudged white papers. Head, chest, arms, legs, they pressed their crayons hard and as they added this color and that, it all eventually became black and grey. This is how things were in the humble school at Veintiocho de Agosto that was built, piece by piece. First, the corrugated roof on four cane poles, a makeshift outdoor classroom filled with shaky, humble desks that were leftovers from don Italo’s other schools across Duran. Next, a leaning fence of thin, dirty-green, bending board was built to section off the area in which the children were to sit. In one corner of the new, square classroom, a heap of dirt waited to fill the low ground, to prevent flooding during rainy season. The fence formed only three walls; a fourth was not needed because the classroom was adjacent to a small, cement room with one window and a door. A moth-eaten bed had been found somewhere and brought in, a rusty little gas grill as well, and some dusty books and papers about matemáticas and el patriotismo for Ecuador. The papers and books were stored under the bed and the gas stove was shoved against the wall, a few feet away. There was room for nothing else; this would be a house for the teacher who would be hired after the hot winter vacation period to teach full-time in the school. As the hot winter weeks continued, more children came curiously, to explore and discover what adventures took place under this corrugated roof over four cane poles. Some children came with a notebook and a pencil; their parents had sent them to the school to learn. Others had come out of their own curiosity or had also been sent by their parents who had no



money for supplies, and they came without notebooks or pencils.

stopped its digestive processes and heaved, the lungs tightened in protest, wanting to repel the cancerous, diseased air. When the smoke took over, life seemed to go in slow motion. You waited for the seconds to pass, for the wind to change, and momentarily, you couldn’t tell if the child’s paper you were staring at was for math or reading class. On these days, the presence of the smoke from the burning garbage was so overbearing that the children were allowed to put their crayons back into the box so that everyone could go instead to the rocky field for gym class, if it, too, was not in the smoky wind’s path. Sometimes it was better in the field, sometimes it wasn’t. The smoke crept through every crack in every leaning shack in the neighborhood. It lurked above the heads of sleeping children. It hovered over mothers, giving them headaches as they scrubbed the wash. It’s wide, ghostly fingers spread over the trash and its houses. Of course, no one complained. Husbands and mothers and children and friends, after all, were rummaging, knee deep, and burning was the only conceivable way to prevent the dump and its sickness from overflowing into the houses. It was only smoke, after all. “Much better,” people said, “than diseases born inside old tires just sitting there filling with water and disease.” But the smoke was toxic. Smoke rising up in little devilish shapes; shriveled ghosts shivering and drifting away from the dump to the cane and cement that crowded near the garbage cauldron. Smoke on the roof, smoke through the fences, creeping crawling smoke on the ground and in through the door and the walls and the windows that couldn’t keep the smoke devil out. The air was smoke and smoke was air. Poison, it froze inside the veins and became part of you, in you, lingering in your chest and

Then the workmen came, men from the neighborhood hired by don Italo, to hammer logs of sugarcane into walls and roofs and more fences, and to build, little by little, a larger, wider, room of cement. The hammering and sawing and scraping became a constant companion to our learning about letters and numbers and art and song. But we did not mind: we knew it would be a classroom for us to use. Then the school’s final guest came. Though uninvited and ignored by most, I could never myself ignore it. It was the smoke: the black, toxic, thick smoke. The acrid smoke. My throat muscles tightened when I smelt it, and I marveled that the children did not seem to notice. On some days, the smoke came in the morning, before any of us arrived, lingered throughout the day, and stayed long after we leave. On some weeks, it was the school’s most consistent attendee. It was a horrible smoke. A thick, black, monstrous smoke. It was the type of smoke that it hurt to breathe. The throat, the lungs, the nose—they died a thousand deaths breathing that smoke, gasped to collect oxygen from the air filled with carcinogens. Breathing felt thick, the stomach



stinging and tightening and pressuring. You became black and grey and brown inside. Sick so sick you wanted to vomit but it was only smoke, only smoke, you remembered. It was only smoke. On my way in and out of Veintiocho, I tried and tried to keep the smoke out of the truck cabin—I rolled up the windows, sealed them tight to keep out the smoke that drifted over the hole-filled, trash-covered road next to the dump, where, on some days, flies flew thick like a plague and smoke and ash was strong and acidic, even blinding. On the road, I waited behind the cow herds that fed on the trash. The air outside the truck cabin was black and filled, I knew, with the foul smell of death and burning. ¡Goodbye! a man waved from his knee-deep position in garbage and muck. He wore a checkered handkerchief over his nose and mouth. I drove away to return to my own neighborhood, where a family I visited would offer an afternoon snack of cola in a plastic cup, poured from a yellow, plastic bottle. I would hold the cup in my hands and think of black, burning things. I would think of the smoke. I would think of my children, in their homes, breathing the smoke that ruled their barrio, their neighborhood.

With Strings from Your Legs Esteban, when I first knew you, you were showing your sister, crayon by crayon, how to color a house. You had drawn it for her, a box with a bed, a light, and a small stove inside, raised from the ground by four cane poles and with a flat, tin roof resting on top. “Look, this is the house we live in,” you told your sister. “Let’s color it!” You helped her choose the brown crayon for the cane poles, walls, and floor, black for the door, grey for the smoke in the sky, and blue for the hammock swinging underneath the house. Cynthia was not old enough for school—she was, perhaps, four years old—but every day you moved a desk close to your own, checked it for splinters and weak boards, and tenderly helped her into it, her tiny ears a whisper’s distance from your brotherly, comforting lips. You handed her crayons and drew new shapes and pictures for her to color, and whispered things that made her smile while at the same time you listened, wrote, read, and learned. You were one of the only students in the school who could read. You listened attentively and then always raised your hand. You used to take a bus to a school in Duran, your mother said, until the bus fares and the school fee became too expensive. Mercedes was happy that don Italo, the Ecuadorian from the other side of Duran who was the principal of three schools in other parts of Duran, had decided to build a school near the neighborhood where the smoke and the stench from the dump rose in a pungent haze over the houses that lined the garbage-packed road. In the meantime, while the school was being built by don Italo and Fundación Rostro de Cristo, she was pleased to send you and your brother here to my free vacation program for reading and writing and coloring and creating during the hot winter months when all the schools in Duran were closed. “My children,” Mercedes said, “will learn at school with the gringa during vacation.” “Esteban,” she said each morning with stern but loving eyes, “take good care of



your brother and sister.” And off you went, down the garbagepacked road, tightly holding Cynthia’s hand, to the leaning structure where I waited. The leaning structure was not much of a school at first, but I do not think you noticed. We gathered under a crooked, corroded, leaky-tin roof which was settled on four cane poles to form a protective roof against the scorching sun. The desks, unwanted donations from better-off schools in Duran, were rusty brown and creaky, with missing arms, loose, crooked backs, and some lacking even their writing tables. But, they were desks. As the uncompassionate sun advanced westward, you all moved your desks to scrunch closer and closer together in the diminishing shade. When the scalding rays became completely inescapable, Esteban, you never minded gentling settling Cynthia atop your knees, your dark eyes peeking over her ponytail to listen intently to every word being spoken, even as the sun scorched down on your own back. This is the type of student you were: when I asked for an assistant to pass out papers or pencils, to erase the chalkboard, or to fetch Señor Cristobal to kill a scorpion—or for anything else—you stretched your hand high, your eyes begging to be chosen. While the other boys were distracted, apathetic, or snickering in the back, you sat in the front so your big eyes could become bigger when you learned something you had never thought of before. When the wind blew in the thick, black, acrid smoke from the dump—a dizzying smoke, a suffocating smoke which caught in the throat and churned in the stomach—you never seemed to notice. Instead, you continued working intently on writing your sentences. Nothing could distract you. You made up games during recess and when Cristobel put up the six-person swing that don Italo donated from the technical school he directed, you made sure there was space for your younger siblings to ride. You loved to play soccer when

we could find a pair of shoes for you. You sang your mother’s church songs and you shouted the new Christmas song louder than all the other kids. Then one day, Esteban, while you stood next to my desk as I graded your notebook, I noticed your legs. They were dotted with oozing scabs the color of night. You didn’t seem to notice them, and I tried not to, either. Mosquito bites that you couldn’t keep from scratching? Mosquitoes were bad in this marshland, especially in this rural place on the outskirts of Duran called Veintiocho. Later that week, the scabs seemed worse. They were crusty knobs, with white goo at the pimpled point that topped each one, and what seemed to be a dark strings had sprouted out and curled around each knobs. These were not mosquito bites. But could something this ugly actually be a disease? It could not be. This must be man made. Perhaps these were instead nails puncturing the skin as sometype of decoration? Or gang piercings? Not you, too, Esteban, my angel! So I knelt down and I asked you, What happened here? Suddenly you could not look at me. You squirmed in your chair and you looked everywhere but at me, and I realized with horror that yes, Esteban, you had a disease. My soul shook inside me and I asked if you were sick and you said yes. I asked if your mom had taken you to the doctor and you said no. I asked if you were still working in the garbage dump while you were sick—but before you could answer, your big-brother ears heard the joyous scream of your darling, Cynthia, who was swinging much too high with the older kids on the six-person swing. Then you were gone. But not before the feelings of sorrow and disgust and horror had come over me. Esteban. The loyal son who accompanied your father and brothers to find rubber and wood and metal in the flyinfested, vulture-guarded garbage dump, where emaciated cows and pigs wandered among people, chewing on whatever they could find.



Esteban, standing waist-deep in grub and grime, with an old, stained cloth tied around your nose and mouth that could not keep out the suffocating smells of rot and death and neglect that were everywhere. Esteban. Perhaps a song could be heard from your lips while you worked, but as your mind dreamed of another place and time. Maybe the Christmas song, Noche de Paz, which you worked so hard to memorize for our Christmas play, rose from your innocent lips for God to hear—a prayer up to heaven like the long fingers of acrid, suffocating, black smoke from the burning of rot and rubber that stretched high into the sky over the dump. Esteban, so proud of the 10 metal scraps, five pieces of wood, and one pair of shoes that you had salvaged. The shoes, a pink pair of girls’ flip-flops with one strap broken, you would fix with twine and present lovingly to Cynthia. The metal and wood you would dutifully give to your father to exchange at the recycler’s shack for seventy-five cents. You would cradle the coins in a tight fist, close to your heart, thinking of how your mother would beam when she accepted the money and then she would send your brother Dairon to buy three potatoes and four carrots for the night’s dinner. Esteban. Scratching your legs, you would sit in the doorway of your family’s house in the evening while waiting for dinner, vigilantly watching little Cynthia play with a kitten below. The structure in which you sat was made of rotting cane walls and a corrugated tin roof, which all sat atop skinny cane legs. The hammock beneath the house was worn and threaded. The house’s walls were covered with pieces of black, plastic bags in an attempt to “water-proof” against the pounding rain that came each rainy season. They somewhat kept the rain out, but they could not prevent the mosquitoes and the flies from the dump from buzzing and biting all night and day. Esteban,

you must have known that your house was not as perfect as the one you helped Cynthia to color. Esteban. In the morning, you would go to work in the dump again before coming to school in the afternoon. With the hot sun that beat down on the dump and its scavengers, surely your body was tired at school each day. Surely your legs itched with the biting and burrowing of garbage insects that had attached to your body when your bare legs became covered with sticky grime. Yet Esteban, despite all this, you were still the best big brother in the neighborhood and the school’s very best student. Esteban, Esteban. God’s child, God’s beloved, Esteban.



Buenos Días, Señorita When the light came at 6 o’clock a.m., the roosters began to cry out, one after the other, as if part of a chain reaction of cock-a-doodle-doo’s that cascaded from house-tohouse across the sleepy city. Or perhaps it was only several roosters from a few different houses who called back and forth as a summons to one another, and to the world, that it was time. Either way, the locality’s inhabitants, most of whom owned no glass to put in their barred windows, heard the wake-up calls loud and clear. Through the screen window of my small second-floor room, I woke up sleepily, squinting my eyes at the light pouring in. What time was it? Six twenty-five. I put my head under my pillow. “Buenos días, Daniela. Buenos días, Juanito.” “Buenos días, Señorita,” the little voices responded. “Go over to the corner over there, with the Señora, who will read you a book while we wait for the other children to arrive,” the woman directed in Spanish. I crawled to the end of my bed, pulled my knees to my chest, and put my face near the screen to watch the children, whose arrival to the daycare, the guardaría, funded by the Nuevo Mundo Foundation, was becoming a steady flow. Fundacíon Nuevo Mundo, connected to a well-respected high school on the Puntilla, one of the richest areas of Guayaquil, was financed by parents of students at the school, who firmly believed that early and good education could make a real difference in the lives of children who grew up in otherwise quite hopeless situations. The Fundacíon also financed a guardaría in another part of Duran and two clinics.

CHAPTER 2: JESUS ACCEPTS HIS CROSS. Bring your brokenness to me. Where pain is, here I am. I cry too, I suffer with you. You are mine, your joy and sadness. So let us weep together. - Listening Journal, Ecuador



In one corner of the open area below, the Señora read a book about lizards to a growing group of attentive three and four-year olds. “How many lizards are there on this page?” she asked. “Count with me. Uno. . . dos. . . tres. . .” A tiny little girl wearing a pink dress and pigtails kissed her father goodbye at the guardaría gate and pranced past the stone wading pool and shelves stocked with books and other learning aids, then sat down eagerly with the other children, listening attentively. At seven-thirty, after a nutritious breakfast of rolls, plantains, and juice in the lunch room, the children would be sent to different classrooms, separated by age-group, to learn their numbers, become lost in the fantasy land of children’s stories, paint, laugh, and be children. *** Across the street from the volunteer house and guardaría was the school Oswaldo Guayasamin, named for the famous artist who celebrated native Ecuadorian culture in his paintings while also using his work to protest against social injustice. Every weekday morning, at about 7:30 a.m., Ecuador’s national anthem was blared for the school—and neighborhood—to hear by a red megaphone placed next to an old radio, cranked up to top volume, through which the words came with considerable static. In the dirt area in the center of the classrooms, the several hundred students assembled patriotically, in straight lines with their hands over their hearts, as the music began. With the woman on the tape player, they sang:
¡Salve, oh Patria, mil veces! ¡Oh Patria, gloria a ti! Ya tu pecho rebosa gozo y paz, y tu frente radiosa más que el sol contemplamos lucir. Los primeros los hijos del suelo que, soberbio, el Pichincha decora

te aclamaron por siempre señora y vertieron su sangre por ti. Dios miró y aceptó el holocausto, y esa sangre fue germen fecundo de otros héroes que atónito el mundo vio en tu torno a millares surgir.1

After the song and the morning announcements by megaphone, the children and teachers filed into the appropriate classrooms, situated around the perimeter of the lot where the students had gathered for the morning assembly. The classrooms had walls on the front, back, and one side of the classroom, while the other side was open-air, with only a threefoot wall that kept the students, but not much else, in. The sounds from each classroom were everywhere. At any given moment, teachers from each classroom shouted to keep the attention of their students above the background noise of teachers from other classrooms and the noisy cries of whichever class happened to be taking its recess break in the center lot area. The setting inside the classroom was simple: a desk and chair for each student; a larger chair and table for the teacher in front; and a chalkboard. The entire school was surrounded by a tall wall so that no one could enter or leave without permission. A guard at the school’s gate slid open and closed a huge, metal door to let students, teachers and visitors in and out. One mid-morning, I squeezed through the gate, attempting to be inconspicuous, but the little girls on recess
O homeland, we greet you a thousand times!/ Glory be to you, O homeland, glory be to you!/ Your breast overflows with joy and peace,/And we see your radiant face shining/ More brightly than the sun. /The worthy sons of the soil/ Which Pichincha on high is adorning,/ Always acclaimed you as sovereign lady/ And shed their blood for you./ God observed and accepted the sacrifice,/ And that blood was the prolific seed/ Of other heroes whom the world in astonishment saw/ Arising in thousands around you.



immediately ran over to me to hug my waist, fought to hold my hands, and touched my skirt and arms.

stared, sucking on a piece of candy. And why are you all alone over here? I wanted to ask her. “Elvmnln,” came her slurred response. Evelyn? She nodded and stared at me, unblinking and solemn. Nice to meet you Evelyn. Her eyes were deep and sad. I stepped nearer to her and rested my hand on her shoulder. At my touch, her mouth opened slightly and then her face relaxed, breaking into a goofy grin. She slipped her skinny arm through the nook of my bent elbow, and then rested her frizzy head against my upper arm. In the other end of the fenced-in schoolyard, little boys, and a few little girls, were chasing one another. Girls and boys took turns on the single slide. The group of little girls I had just spoken with were playing a hand game and giggling. I tried to imagine Evelyn running with the boys, her skinny long limbs flailing out everywhere, or whispering and giggling with the girls, her frizzy head trying to lean into their inner circle. I couldn’t imagine it. What grade are you in, Evelyn? “1st” I looked at her strangely. She was four feet tall, taller even than many of the oldest children at the school, who were in fifth grade. First? Are you sure? She nodded her frizzy head.

“Buenos días, Señorita,” they said in unison. Then a flurry of questions: “What is your name? How old are you? Are you from the United States? Do you have a car? Do you have a boyfriend?” I laughed and hugged them, asking them some of the same things: What is your name? How old are you? Do you have sisters and brothers? Estefania, Adriana, and Gabriela were seven years old, in second grade, and they all had sisters and brothers. They asked me to write my name in their notebooks. Then they all insisted on writing their names for me on a piece of paper. I waited until they finished, but it was clear that the visit was becoming just another distraction to the classes still in session: Other students were leaning out of their classrooms to call hola to the gringa. I said goodbye and headed toward the gate. What is your name? I asked the tall, bony girl with a big puff of frazzled hair who stood alone by the gate. Her hair was like her eyes—wild, unsure. She stood solemnly and



Who’s in your class? She pointed to the group of little girls playing hand games, and the small boys chasing one another. How old are you? “Fur.” Four?!? “Yup, fur.” I don’t think you are four. You are very tall. “FUR.” She said it emphatically, as if she really believed it. How many years have you gone to school? Her face was confused. Is this year the first time you have been here? She just looked at me. Ok. I gave up on that question. Do you have any brothers and sisters? Her eyes lit up. “Sí. A brthr. Great! Do you like to play games with your brother? A teacher opened the gate to her classroom and began yelling for the end of recess. Evelyn flashed her goofy grin,

then obediently began to hurry toward her teacher. Suddenly, she turned around and came back to put her bony arms around my waist. “Ciao,” she said, with her face crinkled into a smile. Then she ran on her long legs toward the classroom, awkwardly leaning into the secretive whispers and giggles of the little girls she followed, who ignored her.



Señora Blanca’s Special Ingredient Señora Blanca had smooth hair, always pulled back in a bun and she wore a celestial white apron wrapped around her large, womanly body. Each morning, she greeted several women from the neighborhood warmly before setting out the ingredients which would be added to the day’s steaming cauldron: 15 potatoes, peeled, sliced, and chopped 3 large heads of cabbage 30 carrots, minced into tiny pieces A yellowing yucca, chopped, with the bad pieces cut out 17 ears of white corn, cut into quarters A handful of chopped parsley Salt and Pepper Achote made of onion, garlic and aliño The final ingredient, the secret ingredient, was the perfect combination of love, sorrow, and hope. This last ingredient was unknown to all except for those lucky enough to notice Señora Blanca pause from her work, when her large eyes wandered compassionately and sorrowfully to the line of women with children and elderly which twisted out of the door and around the corner and along the front of the house and sometimes her neighbor’s house as well. The day’s cooking went like this: Señora Blanca and the volunteers first thoroughly washed their hands and arms to rid them of any hidden impurity, then just as thoroughly dried them so that no parasiteridden water droplets could infect the cooking ingredients. Once purified, they could continue their creative act. Vegetables were soaped, scrubbed, peeled, if necessary, and rinsed, then dipped in a basin of boiled water.

Señora Blanca held up each vegetable for inspection, before distributing it to be cut, chopped, or minced by the volunteer women who stood on both sides of her long, wide table. The spices and seasonings were minced and sprinkled in just the right proportions with the dexterous fingers of an expert until they became red achote in a large frying pan. The love, sorrow and hope were flavored and tested by time as the poverty never went away and the people—mothers with children, old women and men, children by themselves— kept coming to stand in line for the food. All this was mixed into the water that had boiled for twenty minutes—an important daily ritual so that no one would catch any diseases and everyone’s bellies could be fully nourished. When the soup was ready and the line was long, Señora Blanca and her volunteers scooped ladlefuls of nourishment into outstretched bowls and cups held by neighbors with hungry faces and crying children. “Thank you,” the recipients would say, bowing their heads. “May God bless you,” Señora Blanca responded.



Señora Blanca wished and hoped for healthy bellies and for a day, she said, when children didn’t have to lng for food or water while trying to learn to read and write at school, and when mothers didn’t have to skip meals in order to feed their children, then try to hide their hunger and weakness. “How,” Señora Blanca asked me, “can life get better when people do not even have adequate nutrition?” With her broad smile, hearty laugh, twinkling eyes, and confident disposition, it seemed that she must have come from another world—from somewhere, at least, other than Duran. Her upbringing seemed to set her apart from this dusty neighborhood, and the combination of sorrow and love that clouded her eyes at certain moments revealed mysterious and beautiful things about her soul. Her husband was a doctor and while they might have lived in a safer area elsewhere, they remained committed to their location and to hard work and service. In their cement house on the edge of the soggy marsh, Señora Blanca’s husband had put up a “Dispensario” sign and he invited the neighbhorhood’s sick into his own home long after his hours at other workplaces were finished. From his own house, he provided his poor and sick neighbors discounted medicines and check-ups. Señora Blanca organized the women of the neighborhood and started, in her own kitchen, a soup line, offering meals for ten cents to elderly men and women, mothers with their children, school children, and even unemployed young men, if they weren’t too proud to come. Those who came and stood patiently in a long line were given rich homemade soup, rice and vegetable refrito and oatmeal drink. Although the same people kept returning and the line seemed to grow longer every day, Señora Blanca was somehow blind to the hopelessness of the situation. Her eyes saw

differently. Her dream was to “take back the community” from violence and despair. She wanted her soup kitchen to eventually become a women’s cooperative, a transformative place where the women who worked at the kitchen could be paid for their services and where, some day, they could even start their own bread shop. Señora Blanca, why do you dream so big? I once asked her. Where did you learn this? How are you hopeful despite all the poverty and despair you see around you? Nothing, people say, has really changed all that much in the last ten years. How did such ideas, both revolutionary and simple, get a hold of you, Señora Blanca? Her eyes became big when you asked her, and she looked up to the sky. “Because God does not want this. Because people have rights—God-given rights.” The right to work and the payment of a livable wage. The right to access healthcare and medicines. A nutritious diet. Enough space to dwell in. The right to relieve oneself in a bathroom instead of a hole outside. Freedom from being infested by flies and insects and from contracting preventable diseases. The right to an education, to use one’s brain, no matter one’s financial situation, to gain skills to create, to participate in the world and its systems. For children, the right to a space to play. And, the right to not replace their childhood with the arduous work of adults. The right to be represented in government by someone who cares, and who advocates on behalf of the powerless. The right to breathe clean air.



The right to be protected from violence and not to live in fear. The right to live with dignity. “These are their rights from God,” Señora Blanca said, “and so I have to work for them. I have to work for them,” she said, and this priestess rose to gather the ingredients for the day’s meal.

A Flower Para Ti There was a little girl at Veintiocho named Mariuxi who always carried her young brother at her hip, and who was never allowed to leave the fenced-in area in front of her house, which was last in the line of houses before the dump. Each day as I walked past, she seemed to play nearer and nearer where the fence met the road I walked on. Hello, I would say to her. “Hola,” she would softly respond, shifting her barefooted young brother to her other hip, and looking away. Do you want to come to the vacation program? I sometimes asked her, referring to the program I had started at the makeshift school during the months when all the real schools in Duran were closed. I was trying to build a group of kids who would attend a real community school, if it could be established. She nodded, emphatically. You should come, then, I said. “My mother won’t let me. I have to care for my brother,” she always responded, but then continued to stand by the road, eager and barefoot, her eyes wandering toward the school. Once, her mother was outside the house scrubbing vigorously at some clothing in a bucket when I arrived. Hello! I called out. I introduced myself and told her about the vacation program in the school, where the children do art and read and learn about many subjects for which there isn’t time during the normal school year. Can she come to the program today? I asked the woman in a tattered T-shirt and shorts, who had dirt on her legs and her hair was tied back in a clumsy ponytail. It’s just down



the street, I said, and your daughter can learn so much if she comes. “Mariuxi doesn’t go to school,” she replied. “She is busy caring for her brother.” This was the place where smoke rose up on the other sides of houses from the burning dump where men spoke foul words and children rummaged through foul things, and during rainy season, where the road from the house to the school filled up with murky, stagnant water, and one had to walk over rotted boards that someone had put down in order to cross. Her brother could come too—as long as he is good, I said. We’ll help her learn how to read. And practice math and paint and draw— “Life is hard here,” said her mother, frowning disapprovingly. “There is no use for school for my daughter.” Mariuxi, who was standing behind her mother and whose eyes had widened hopefully at the mention of reading, looked at the ground. Maybe another day, I said sadly, trying to offer some consolation at Mariuxi. I continued on my walk down the garbage-packed street to the school. It was on my walk from Mariuxi’s house to the school that I had the idea: Pipe cleaners. Yes, I was sure than someone had included pipe cleaners in a package of school supplies that had been donated through a visiting group from the U.S. who came for a week or two to spend time in Duran. Children, I said, when Miguel Alfonso, Kenia, Yohannah, Darwin, Ronald, Yovanni, Esteban, Cynthia, and Stick were all in their seats. Today we are going to make regalos. Who can tell me. . . what is a “regalo”?

Kenia and Miguel predictably raised their hands and noisily waved them in the air. “Señorita!” they cried. Stick and Esteban raised their hands enthusiastically but quietly. Stick, yes? “A regalo is something you give someone.” Do you give it to yourself, or to someone else? “To someone else!” Miguel Alfonso shouted. So, do you keep a regalo for yourself? Ronald? Darwin? Yohannah? “No! No! No!” they all shouted. Of course, after we had cut the colorful petals out of pages of construction paper, glued them around a center circle, and poked the pipe cleaner through, the children all wanted to keep the flowers for themselves. Can you think of someone who is very sad? Or someone who is tired from working hard? Or someone you just really appreciate? We are going to try to make these people very, very happy today. Now, to whom are you going to give your flowers? “My mother,” Miguel said lovingly. “My brother’s wife,” Esteban said dreamily. “My little brother,” Kenia said matter-of-factly. Does anyone know Gladys and Jesus, the elderly couple who live a couple doors down? Who can give a flower to them? Darwin raised his hand. Does anyone know families with children who don’t go to school? Several students raised their hands. We want to stop and visit them too. Bueno, I said. Let’s go.



We stopped at Julia’s house, and Miguel Alfonso ran inside. We went to see Gladys and Jesus. We called out to Mariuxi’s mother, who came outside. Maybe Mariuxi can come tomorrow, I suggested. Her mother set down her wash, accepted the flower, and smiled slightly. Down the main road and onto side streets, to this house and that. The children rushed to give flowers to those they knew and those they didn’t. Ronald, I said quietly. Run and give your flower to that woman over there and tell her you hope she has a happy day. Say that we are from the school and ask her if her children can come to the program tomorrow. This is the beginning of the story of how we grew to love our neighborhood, tried to bring life to it, and how it grew to love us, too.

CHAPTER 3: JESUS FALLS THE FIRST TIME You feel how very wrong to the core are the protruding bellies and the stick legs of babies, children vending on streets, the dirty hand of a two-year old beggar, a mangy dog, a dead child, a dead spirit. By that wrongness you feel, you feel the presence that I Am, that I exist in perfection and that poverty is my opposite. I do not desire this that you see, and so your heart is heavy. Child, know the pain that I feel and be moved to do right. - Listening Journal, Ecuador



Invasion A dozen men with armfuls of cane and stick, tarp and tin, met on the dry, dead field. They said, No one helps us. Some say they will, riding in trucks and broadcasting promises. But in reality? No. They do not give us water or electricity or streets or jobs. We are left alone and so we will take this abandoned land which has been dry and brown for twenty years. We will build for ourselves a new city here. We will start new lives. We will become a community and make for ourselves what no one will give us. Each of the men went and sat on a plot of land big enough for a small shack to be built. With sticks or wood or rope or ribbon, they marked around them the perimeters of their new abodes, shook hands with one another, and went to work. With sticks and boards, tarps and tin, and gaps and holes all over, they began to put up houses—really, tents and rickety shelters—all over the dry, dead field.

Then, like children ready to race on the field to collect the eggs, the men with guns came. They were all dressed like matching children, wearing jigsaw grey and white, with little berets and beady eyes. They piled out and out of grey tanks and trucks, looking tense and ready to pounce on the fragile egg shelters, to gather them up and devour them. The grey men, after piling out, stood in two straight lines, tense and tall, with lingering fingers on guns, watching and waiting, peering and anxious, as the twisting and twining and building commenced below. The dozen men in the field continued building, glancing up nervously at the menacing grey and white, but less and less as the hours passed and no confrontation occurred. At night, new soldiers came, changing places with the grey men. Their new, pointy guns glimmered in the moonlight. In the morning, yet another set of soldiers came to watch. The people built and built, and when it became clear that the soldiers were only watching, the people said, they are only here to scare us! Then the cousins and friends and distant relatives, and those who had just heard rumors, came to claim their own plots of land in the field. As the days passed, the builders began to bring their things: a square radio; a moth-eaten mattress; a little gas stove; a ticking clock; a plastic picture of the president. The builders could soon construct while listening to Shakira on radios, eat arroz con pollo cooked in gas stoves, and when the sun got too hot, take naps in the shade of newly built walls, onto which were posted pictures of the president, his knowing and democratic gaze looking down on them, reminding them of the great promises he had made to the poor during his poor during his election campaigning. More things came: a wobbly wooden stool; a rice jar; a curtain to hang so that the hole for relieving oneself in back of

They were colorful, propped-up tents and carefully balanced shelters, and they speckled and freckled the field like a dozen Easter eggs, hidden but obvious in the scratchy brown grass.



the house could be more private; and a large barrel to carry out to the main street when the water truck came. All the while, the grey and white men watched, looking less interested and more relaxed as the days passed. Or, perhaps it was simply that the people grew more comfortable with their presence. After several weeks, hundreds of inhabitants to this infant village ate cooked meals and slept in beds and dangled high the flag of Ecuador out of windows. At night, small lanterns illuminated groups of laughing people gathered in front of one house or another. Radios blared static-muffled songs like “Fabula” and Bacilo’s newest hits. Extended families visited from town to see the new structures. Sometimes, sides of houses turned yellow or blue to demonstrate undying loyalty to the Barcelona or Emelec fútbol teams. This was home, sweet home. * * * One morning, on the twenty-seventh day of the new colony’s existence, the sun should have appeared in the sky at 6 a.m., just as it disappeared each afternoon at 6 p.m. But this morning it stayed low and the sky was dark, the darkness hiding the foreboding gathering that was slowly growing at the edge of the dreary field. A single sun ray finally shot out to illuminate the road above the encampment. Large, yellow, and terrible, the machine rolled to the edge of the field, moving its toothy head with a voracious rumble. It lowered its neck toward the shaking legs of the tiniest house on the farthest corner. Teeth ground against wood, and then the house legs quivered, swayed, snapped, and the house tumbled to the ground. The neighbors ran outside to see what had happened. Doors opened, babies cried, and women started to wail.

Mothers pulled their sleepy children from the houses as more machines appeared, and a crowd of yelling men and women challenged them. What’s happening? These are our houses! On whose orders are you doing this? The machine engines reveled and a grey man with particularly beady eyes under his beret ordered: Get out of the way. The destruction of these illegal structures has been ordered. Your invasion on this land was against the law. The crunching jaws of the machines came nearer, and the indignant inhabitants were forced to scatter. The roaring, rolling machines came through the crowd to the next house and the next, leveling them with a CRUNCH! CRACK! SPLINTER! a heavy roll, a contact with the metal teeth, and each house was gone. In one instant, chaos. Cane, wood, walls, blankets, dishes, food—all was devoured and spit up by the machines, machines with toothy mouths and a single rolling wheel that mercilessly razed as though people’s souls as well as their possessions were not inside these livelihoods. Plowed down, knocked over, flattened, and crushed, the houses were left in twisted pieces while the people stood there watching in broken groups, some weeping, some yelling in fury. Others, who lived in houses not yet crushed, raced to move their things out of the structures before the madness came. Anything that remained on the field would be rolled-over. Neighbors tried to help a woman whose husband was already at work that early morning. Mothers took their children into their arms along with pots, pans, blankets, flags, radios, and rice, and they wailed as they ran to safety. The people fled, shouted, screamed, yelled, glowered, fainted and then they could only sit and cry as the field they had made alive with their spirits and hope became once again brown, dry, and dead.



Ana and Her Baby Ana brought a baby one day to the after-school program in the part of Duran called Arbolito. Ohhh, Ana, how precious, I said, cooing over the child but also with a stomach of dread—hoping against all hopes that this tiny, newborn baby could not be the child of this skinny, tiny 12-year old girl with frizzy hair and wild eyes. It was entirely possible, I knew with a heavy chest. I had only met Ana last week. Your niece? I asked, wanting it to be true. “No, mi hermana,” and at the word “sister” I could breathe normally again. How old is she, Ana? “Just twenty days. Mama had her twenty days ago.” And what is her name? “She doesn’t have a name yet.” She held the precious, weak head of her baby sister tenderly, but she shifted back and forth on nervous legs. Ana! You are a good sister, but such a young baby needs her mother! What will you do when she is hungry? “Mama says it’s better if I hold her. She says I can just put my finger in her mouth, like this.” She demonstrated, and the baby began sucking her finger. “Then she won’t be thirsty, and I know how to do it real good, so mama can work. She says I’m the mama when she’s working.”

We couldn’t decide whether to let her stay or make her go. A child holding a smaller child, a breakable child, but to make her go away to an empty home? To rob her own childhood? Was it not robbed already by this premature, unchosen, yet graciously received motherhood? So we wondered for just a moment if we shouldn’t pretend like the baby wasn’t there, like it was only Ana, and that her mother was not so hardworking—or careless—as to hand over the newborn to a twelve-year old. But suddenly, while we were still deciding, she fell. Ana was giggling, trying to be a kid along with the others. There were building blocks on the floor and Ana, with her awkward skinny legs, screamed, and when we turned around, the baby was on the floor, with Ana crouched beside her. The kids stopped laughing and playing and teasing and smiling—they all looked at the baby and then us, and then Ana, and then the baby again. The baby lay silent and still. Ana, dark eyes wide with terror, huddled on the floor next to the baby and covered her face with her hands, eyes peeking out through the cracks between her fingers. The room was quiet. Kevin, the volunteer who was in charge of the program, rushed over and knelt down beside the children. I was close behind. Kevin gently examined the baby. Ana, I said, touching her shoulder. She would not remove her hands from her face Then the baby let out a little whimper and moved her hand toward Kevin. She gurgled and opened her mouth, breathing normally.



The Song that Everyone Knew It’s okay, we breathed. But still Ana would not move. Ana, are you all right? She shook her head yes, but remained frozen on the ground. She had dropped the baby. Ana, look. The baby seems okay. Parece bien. She remained frozen. Ana. I touched her arm again. She lurched suddenly toward me and fell into my chest. She hugged me tightly, hiding her face in my bosom. For a full minute, it seemed, she stayed there, her face hidden in my shirt and clenching my arms with tight fists. Ana, I said. But she would not look up. So we stayed that way for a little while, Ana hiding her face while I rubbed her back. Finally, we arose together and she awkwardly looked around. The other children had gone back to playing with building blocks and crayons. Ana agreed to accompany Kevin and the baby to the clinic down the street and she followed them slowly, looking back at us with the sad eyes of a broken, guilty child. Later, when they returned, Kevin said to Ana, Ana, listen. I’ll hold the baby for now. But tomorrow, your mother should care for her instead. Kevin gently rocked the baby in his arms. Ana gazed at him with a smile of pure delight, and then ran off to play with the Legos. The kindergarten kids, always on recess when I arrived to teach English class, loved to shout as I entered the gate, “Isabelita! Isabelita!” Some of the older students turned around in their seats to wave from their fenced-in sections of the school. I smiled and wondered why the teachers put up with my distraction. The little girls put their arms around my skirt, each reaching to hug my legs, making it difficult for me to stand steady in the midst of their affections. Odalis, Marlene, Genesis, chicas . . . como estan? Sientanse conmigo. I sat down on a small rock and the girls, instead of sitting beside me, decided to sit on me. Odalis nudged on to my lap. Marlene cuddled nearer to one side of me and half sat on my knee. Genesis crouched on the other side, half-sitting, halfstanding on my side. Their tiny arms smothered me with hugs. “Sing to us, Isabelita, sing to us,” they begged. I laughed. What was in the air today that these girls were so affectionate, so showering of love to this gringa who had not even been with them a year? I racked my brain for a song—one to which I knew all the words. . . The song that came to my mind was the second One morning, as I sludged and sloshed stickily through the mud that covered the shortcut path from the community called Recreo to Veintiocho’s entrance, I sighed a great sigh. I heavily lifted my legs and tore my feet from the sucking mud, tromping closer to the place with the oppressive, suffocating smoke, which seemed to always be following me, tormenting me wherever I went even as I tried to hold my breath or inhale very lightly, wishing the biting carcinogens away. It always surprised me that no one else seemed to mind, or even to notice.



part of the “Our Father” prayer, sung during every Mass to the tune of Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence.” En el pan de la unidad, (In the bread of unity) Señor danos tú la paz (Lord, give us your peace) Y olvídate de nuestro mal, (Forget our bad actions, our sins) Si olividamos el de los demás. (Just as we forget those of others) No permitas que caigamos en tentación (Don’t permit us to fall into temptation) O Señor ten piedad del mundo. (Oh Lord, have mercy on the whole world.) I don’t think the little girls knew the song. It was one sung often enough at the church in my neighborhood, but here, miles away, where churches were scarce and where time and rides were scarcer, they seemed only to enjoy the melody. They were quiet, listening to the peaceful melody, and they hugged me tighter.

Todo duerme en derredor. (All sleeps in calm) Todos tus ángeles que esparcen tu luz, (All the angels shine your Light) Bella anunciando el niñito Jesús, (Beautiful, announcing the birth of the little child, Jesús) Brilla la estrella de Belén, (Bright is the Star of Bethlehem) Brilla la estrella de Belén… (Bright is the Star of Bethlehem) . . . and Una canción para ti, para mi y que nos llegue al pensamiento para vivir. . . (A song for you, for me, that brings us thoughts about living . . .) and then: Pintarse la cara color esperanza (Paint your face the color of hope) After the very short and eclectic repertoire of songs I knew in Spanish, I turned to those I knew in English, but none I could think of did justice to the love for these children I felt at that moment, so I started to sing my own words and they poured out– My beautiful children, how I love you, you are so amazing and talented, beautiful children. If God could speak through my voice to you, he would say: Do you see I believe in you? Do you know you are beloved? How I love you, my children. They couldn’t understand the words, but they already knew them anyway. More kids came. They were all fighting to sit nearer. My legs were getting sore as I fought to stay seated on the too-small rock with children leaning in from every direction. But I didn’t care. These kids were beautiful and I placed my hands on whatever heads and shoulders I could reach. They were God’s children. They are my family.

“Otra, Isabelita, otra!” Ok, niñas, ok. I’ll sing another. Noche de paz, noche he amor, (Silent night, holy night)



Choices Imagined thoughts, real choices: CHAPTER 4: JESUS MEETS HIS SORROWFUL MOTHER Ecuador, what is your dream? Can it be for all to have enough? Can it be for the poor to dance with health and delight in bright futures? Poor of Ecuador, do you still dream? Do you believe it can be different? Do you long for it in the depths of your being, or have you learned to accept the small slice that has been given you? Rich of the World, what is your dream? Can it ever be unselfish? Can we ever sacrifice enough of our personal dreams in order to attain the dream of the entire world, for everyone to have options? God, what is your dream for this place, these people? What dreams would You put in our hearts when we look at this place? If what we feel in the depths of our being is that same as our calling, then what would we hear if we only listened? Would our world be different?” - Listening Journal, Ecuador A side of the house is rotting. I must choose either to fix it or to continue to send my son to high school. The electricity wires (though illegally connected, its true) have been cut. My love, you must reconnect them. Please be careful! You risk your life every time but otherwise we will have no light. There are insects burrowing in the skin of my baby. Pica! Pica! Oh how the bites itch as the insects move along. Oh mi hija, oh my dear child, as soon as there is money we will go to the doctor. (But how will we pay for the medicine . . . ?) My husband is still without a job. Either my children or I can eat—but not both. I can keep my children safe but hungry. Or, I can ensure that they are fed while praying that they are safe as they sell candies or water in the big city between lines of cars at stoplights or on dirty buses. Flooding houses, gun shots at night, parasites forever eating my intestines, this is daily life and I did not choose it. I did not ask for it. I was born to it and there is no way out. I do not choose it—the world chooses it for me. Yet to continue living every day is to choose it.



Don’t Hug the Children The doctors, when they arrived, were horrified by the haze of smoke over the burning dump, the houses around it, the cows and pigs eating it, the people rummaging through it, and the vultures overhead. “This is a health disaster waiting to happen,” they declared as our truck rumbled into the community called Veintiocho. Everyone had been glad that the doctors were coming. The people were asking about them for days. Fredis had a red mark across his face. Reina had itchy dots all over her arms and legs. Yovani had dark splotches on his neck, face, and arms. Esteban’s brother had broken his arm and the homemade splint had not healed it quite properly. Gladys had a film on her left eye. Many people were always hungry, had diarrhea, or their stomachs simply ached with parasitos. Inside the school room, the doctors tried to balance themselves behind teetering desks while several volunteers and I translated for the nurses, who brought each patient in one by one. Antibiotics for those with parasitos. Potent shampoo for lice. A special cream for the red skin rash, impetigo. Another cream for scabies, a condition in which tiny bugs burrow under the skin. Tylenol for many other things, like arthritis, improperly healed bones, and things the doctors couldn’t diagnose. The doctors, strong-stomached as they were, afterwards felt sick. "Did you see the impetigo on that child's

face? Untreated lice… they all have parasites. Is there an increase in malaria and dengue fever when it rains?” Yes, yes, and yes! There were caring warnings for me as well. “Did you see those marshes, absolute breeding grounds for disease? And there is stagnant water in the dump and many diseases. If the children work there, they could transmit them to you. Aren't you nervous about driving alone, being in the classroom alone, getting a flat tire out there? Scabies—you know, those red bumps and scabbing bubbles—it’s all over them, you might get it. Everything has lice—the chickens, the dogs, the kids. Watch out.” Don't hug the kids. Don't pat their heads anymore. Don't touch them. “Doctor Isabel. That is who you are now. We came for a week, but you are still going to be here. You have such a big job to do now. You need to change the way this community handles illness, teaching cleanliness and bringing medicines.” They don't know how to take care of themselves. *** On Monday morning, I was back at the dump, in the classroom, the children were chattering and happy and raising their hands and learning. Heeding the doctors’ warning about lice, my hair was wrapped up in a handkerchief. Josua raised his hand– Ooh, scabies down his arm. I have to remember to bring the medicine the doctor left.



Juan Carlos was off in another world somewhere, as normal, scratching his head. Scratching his head? Hmmm—maybe lice is affecting his learning. I should organize a parent’s meeting on preventative measures. I tried to concentrate on teaching, but the thoughts kept coming. Should we rearrange the way the children sit? Should we move children with infections that look contagious to a certain corner of the room? Perhaps we could create a selfcare class to teach about washing hands and shampooing effectively and how to treat a scraped knee or elbow correctly? “¡Isabel!” Kenia was tugging my hand. “Can you check my math problems?” My head felt funny and hot as I took the notebook and pencil from her. When the class was over, I walked heavily to the gate, where Maria Paola stood waiting. “Hello, Maria Paola. How are you?” She cradled the baby in her arms and her other youngest child stood at her feet. “I heard some doctors came,” she said. “My children all have this cough—do you have some medicine from them?” Cough! Cough! Hack! The baby’s body was wretching with a deep-throated gurgle with each breath. There was a pressure in my head and I felt dizzy. The other child looked ill as well, and she wrapped her arms around my knee, hugging me.

I squatted down to look at her, feeling dread in my heart. Then she said, “Isabella,” and I wrapped her in my arms.



A New World in the Afternoon An American nun and her Ecuadorian friend once had a dream. They dreamed that, in the slums of Duran, they would create a school. But this school would not be like all the other schools in Duran, which were understaffed, poorly resourced, and not well respected in the job market. Instead, their school would provide children with education good enough to belie the stigma of being from Duran and would be a gateway to attaining better jobs and ultimately, better lives. For several years, the nuns pursued their goal. They tried to secure funding from the U.S. They sought the support of their religious communities. But it was a failing effort. The stigma of Duran was too great. The resources were too slim. So they bought some land on the newly developing Puntilla, an island near the city, and set up a paying school for the rich, with longer range goals in mind. After several years of enrollment and growing respect for the quality of education provided, they developed a bilateral school system, in which two tuition-paying students in the morning school paid for one child to be bussed in the afternoon to the Puntilla from Duran and other poor areas. Technological resources such as computers and science labs, free healthy lunches, and beautiful green facilities sprinkled with trees, plants, and grass offered select children from Duran new opportunities. Two afternoons a week, I taught classes in the afternoon school at Nuevo Mundo, a name which means “New World.” Each time I arrived in my bright blue, polyester skirt and clean uniform shirt, I breathed the fresh air which smelled of plants and grass and trees, and the green growing things seemed to heal my soul, so thirsty from my time in Duran’s desert of brown, dust-filled streets and polluted, suffocating air.

In the orderly, air-conditioned classroom with large glass windows and broad dry-erase boards, my healthy, wellnutritioned students cried out in English, “Good afternoon, teacher.” Their eager faces and bright eyes focused intently on what I was saying and the light of comprehension that glowed on their faces after I explained a new rule was all the reward in the world. When I asked a question, the hands of several students, like Gloria and Katrina, always stretched to the sky: “Me! Me! Me!” There were students who needed more encouragement, like Ronald and Mariuxi. But they, too, were well on their way to basic communication in English. Juan, who sat still and concentrated, watched my lips, wanting so much to understand. A group of girls always stopped after class, wanting more practice: “How are you today, teacher?” and “What is the weather like?”



They always wanted to know if postcards or letters had arrived from their previous volunteer teachers. When classes were over, we teachers joined the students on Nuevo Mundo’s large yellow school buses and rumbled out of this green, life-filled sanctuary of learning and life on the Puntilla. The bus took the exit and crossed the bridge. At quarter after five, the sun was already setting; the sky was pink and yellow and orange over the river as we crossed the River Guayas to Duran. As we approached Duran, there was the abandoned shipyard. There was the dirty-white wall with painted red letters: “Duran, A Town that Progresses.” There were the bars on windows, the restaurantes with men lounging on green stools, watching the buses and cars. There was brown, brown dust that became a cloud in the sky when the buses rumbled by, then turned back into a dirty film over everything after it settled. Everything was brown and grey with dust, rust, and weather. The Nuevo Mundo bus crawled through Duran’s streets, buzzing with laughter and the light voices of the children, in their bright uniform pants and skirts, with their colorful backpacks and with exciting pieces of new knowledge to tell their waiting families. The bus slowed to a halt in front of the church. The children filed out with their books and knapsacks to waiting mothers and fathers. As I stepped off the bus, I asked Juan, one of my brightest high school students who was also a bus monitor, “Are you looking for jobs yet for after you graduate? I’m sure you’ll have lots of opportunities, graduating from Nuevo Mundo!”

The boy’s face was dark. “We are lucky. But many times they don’t care what education you have, just that you live in Duran.” “What do you mean?” I asked. “We are the poorest. They think we will steal from them, that it is our own fault we are poor because we don’t want to work for our money.” “I see.” A little girl with braided pigtails squeezed past me to exit the bus. “But I will show them,” Juan continued. “I will be different.” As the little girl leapt out the door, grasping her waiting mother’s hand, I wondered whether she might be one of those who, in the future generation, might be stained by Duran’s reputation, or whether she might, like Juan, be the one who makes the new world a reality.



White Do you have fifteen centavitos for my daddy to buy cooking gas? You are so pretty. I want to be like you. Please, can you teach me English?

Can you teach me to drive your truck? I wish I was white like you. Is your family in danger? Do you worry about them? Your country made a war and now many people hate the norteamericanos. If you miss your family, you can visit mine.

Hey baby. You are so happy. Is it because of where you come from? Can I live in your house? Can I only see the inside? Is that netting on your windows? Is your bathroom inside? Can you give me a job? Do you need a cook? Or someone to wash your clothes? A cleaner? I will do anything—wash floors, sweep, tidy up your things, anything. You wouldn’t understand. You don’t really know how it is to live here. Can I make you a meal? Please come to my house and my family will share with you. Tssssst. Tsssssst. Come here, beautiful woman. Please, I need medicine. Please, there is nothing to eat. Can you help me buy a house? Take my picture! Take my picture! Me, me! Do you miss your family? Why is your skin that color? You are white, you have it all. You have different clothes for each day of the week. You know how to drive a car. You know Spanish and English too. You eat well, you look healthy. You can go to the doctor and get all the medicine you need. You are friends with everyone. They all like you and want to help you. You are pretty, you are white. Will you write to us when you leave? Will you forget me forever? Can you change things for us? Can you do something? Look all around at the poverty. How big is your house in the U.S.? Do you have a car? Do you have everything you could want? We need changes here. There is sickness and hunger and thieves and violence and death. What can you do? Please, Isabelita, please. Can you please take me back with you when you go?



Instructions to a Woman Help your mother. Care for the children. Learn to cook. Eat last. Dance with your hips but at a safe distance from drunks. Never trust males who are not your relatives. Marry young while you are still pretty. Submit to your husband. Don’t waste your time pursuing an education. *** Julia, from her leaning house beside the school in Veintiocho, washed and cooked and listened and wanted. When the baby was sleeping, she put her ear to the cracks in the cane wall. She heaved the dripping wash across the dirt to the clothesline, hung each item without hurry, then waited too long before going back inside, where she pulled Damaris, who had awoken, onto her lap in a stool near the window. She sat on the stool, the only bright place in the wellshaded house, and rocked her baby and listened to the voices that sounded far away although they were only on the other side of the wall. Everyone, look up here and let’s sound out these words. Together now: Pa-pa co-me pa-pas. (Papa eats potatoes.) Four times four, what is that? Jisilla? Miguel? Andres? Kenia, good, yes, 16.

In Antarctica, it is icy and cold everywhere. There is snow. Who knows what snow is like? How is snow? Who can tell me how to say the name of this color in English? With the colorful paper, the markers, and the balloons that had been sent from the states, the vacation program was new and exciting: Building a solar system of paper-maché. Math contests. The ABC song. Writing a story. Practice for the Christmas play. Julia came some days to ask if I needed help. Yes! I cried, Will you teach the students about Ecuador’s history? But Julia would already be flipping through the old geography book I had found. “What is this? What is this? And that? Where is this place? What animal?” Julia’s sister-in-law, Yiseth, was 12. Pedro, Julia’s brother, a young man of 25, said that if Julia was allowed to marry when she was 13, Yiseth could enter into agreement with him when she was 12 because girls are getting more mature these days. “She wants to be my little wife and move here with us, no one’s forcing her. I asked her and she said yes,” he said. Julia sighed, “I was 13, it’s true, but I didn’t escape anything and I dearly love Miguel Alfonso and Damaris, but you know their father. Yiseth is going to be sorry and so are you, and I am 25 but I feel like I am fifty-two.” “You look like you are fifty-two,” lied Pedro, snickering, and he brought Yiseth, who adores him, to live in the house in a compromiso type of arrangement.



Julia said to Yiseth at the start: “If you are going to live in our house as Pedro’s wife, then you have to be a woman of the house. You have to do what I say and share your part of all the work.” “Come here,” Julia said. “Peel these potatoes. Throw this away. Chop these onions. Clean the floor.” But Yiseth’s eyes wandered away from whatever task she was performing in the dark, well-shaded house and out the bright window. They saw the blue sky and the birds and the marsh flowers and white butterflies, too. She heard some shiny song that was always in her head, and chop-chop, she cut off good parts of the potato along with the dark holes, while the rice cooked too long. Out in the yard she scrubbed and scrubbed Damaris’s dress even after the stain came off and after all that scrubbing, she wore the material thin. “Where is your head?” Julia said. “You aren’t a good wife, you’re just a baby.” Yiseth knew that Julia was just jealous, that Pedro is so much more handsome than the old scrubby man who drinks too much and beats Julia. Yiseth knew she was luckiest of all. And she wondered most of all if she would have a baby next year when she turns 13 like Julia did. The school days passed and summer time came, and there were long stops at Julia’s house as she called me in to tell me about the world. “You’re just a child,” she said. “Look at me—I’m twenty-five and Miguel is turning 12, and Damaris is 4. How are you a woman? You’re unmarried, so naïve!” And then Julia said, “Please, can Yiseth come to your summer program at the school? Can she come soon?” CHAPTER 5: SIMON HELPS JESUS CARRY THE CROSS. Listen in the silence. I have hope for this world. Will you hope with me? - Listening Journal, Ecuador



Work Day From the back of the trucks descended seven North American boys, tall and big and strong. With baseball caps, stiff T-shirts, tennis shoes with laces, and white freckled skin rosy from the sun, they straightened and stretched their broad shoulders which they’d had to squish together to fit inside the narrow truck, and looked around the place with eyes like mangos. Under their stilted houses, men sat up from their hammocks and women looked up from their scrubbing of shirts and pants over small basins of water. Miguel Sanchez slipped between two cane houses and stretched his arms as if he thought he could embrace us all: “Welcome! Here you are! Welcome to Ecuador!” Then as quick as he arrived, he excused himself to call the others, and the people began to come. With their soft, ragged shirts, their holy pants, broken sandals and tough, calloused skin, came: Gastón, Natividad, and Jenifer; Maria, Bienvenidos, and their four oldest children, Juan Luis, Yissila, Darwin, and Yohannah. Mercedes, Ramón, Esteban, Dairon, Cynthia, their two older brothers and the wife of the 15 year old who was pregnant and came only to watch. Jaime and Mirela came with little Elia; Dover and Sandra came with Mauricio, Juan Carlos and Paula; Carlota came; and her two grown sons, Fernando and Carlos, as well. Flora, in her fifties, had shovels and pick-axes borrowed from a cousin who works in construction. So many women! So many men! They came and stood shyly, politely nodding at our overeager expressions of how happy we were to meet them and to build something today. Miguel, president of the community of Veintiocho de Agosto, and Italo, director of the school, welcomed the group

of visitors profusely, using long, flowery sentences and beautiful adulations to thank them for coming to Ecuador, for their bountiful generosity, their care for this poor little community, and certain that God would reward them mightily for helping this humble neighborhood build a cancha, or playing field, where children and young men could play fútbol and have a bit of enjoyment in their lives. When the greeting was finished, Miguel Sanchez assigned the neighborhood volunteers to different parts of the field. “Dover and Gastón, over there,” he said. “Begin spreading flat that pile of dirt. Ramón and Mercedes, there. Bienvenidos, shovel there.” He paired the gringos with Ecuadorians, who showed them where to dig and how to dig like men. The gringos sweated and dripped and burned in the sun. The Ecuadorians sweated and dripped but their skin did not burn. The women and children picked up rocks from the field and moved them to the sidelines. Men without shovels moved stray trash—a boot, an old, disintegrating bag, a bent metal pole, a tire, and even a dead dog. Men with shovels used them to expertly distribute the dirt that Italo’s friend in a dump truck had dumped in huge piles in two corners of the field. Gaston had the idea to place the largest rocks on the four sides of the field to make its boundaries. Italo had extra boards from the school’s construction and instructed some young men to make a set of bleachers. Cristobal painted the rocks and bleachers blue, green, red, and yellow, like the Ecuadorian flag. Maria, Maria Paola, and Monica cooked rice, lentils, chicken, and hot quaker for lunch in the fenced-in school room outside the teacher’s house. Then one of the leaders of the American group approached me. “Wow. Everyone is very hard-working.”



Yeah, this day is going well! “But don’t you think we should do this a little differently? Isn’t there a more efficient way?” He had ideas and IDEAS. Hmmm. I said, trying to decide. “Don’t you think the strong men should all go in that corner. They could work together and have something to show for all the work?” he urged. Maybe, I said. “I’m going to get Miguel Sanchez, and you can explain this to him.” And he started to go. No, wait! A few moments passed. I tried to form words around the feelings colliding inside, things having to do with We the Powerful and Privileged always thinking we know something, from our earliest imprints on this continent until now. Something about someone sitting in an office somewhere who would make decisions affecting people he did not know and would probably never know. I would later forget the details, but only knew that we suddenly paused and asked: Is this their project or ours? Let’s just see. And it worked. Forty-five people from Veintiocho worked to build the cancha, with fifteen North American helpers. Johannah and Darwin were barely able to lift the shovels but I remember their little brows sweating beside their mother, Maria, and her husband and oldest daughter. I remember Esteban and his younger siblings, Dairon and Cynthia, looking longingly at the shovels the adults were using. “Are there any more shovels, Isabella?” they asked wistfully. “We want to shovel too.” But there were no more shovels. Instead, they used their little hands to scoop dirt into old buckets and carry it away from the pile to pour it into less filled-in areas.

Jose Castro, who is almost eighty, shoveled with iron arms: Dig, lift, toss. Dig, lift toss. The sturdiness of his beat could have kept tempo for a song. At lunch, Jose Castro packed his food between two plates, disappeared toward his house and came back empty-handed a few minute later. After lunch, we went back into the hot sun and we worked and worked and worked. The cancha was not completed at the end of the day, but enough dirt had been spread to play on. We decided on a soccer game as the victory celebration. Not everyone had shoes, so shoes were shared and players rotated in. Most of the women sat on the sidelines to watch. I felt smugly gleeful when I shocked the men by scoring not one but three goals against them.



I didn’t know how to explain the strange energy that made my feet quick and my legs light after a day’s work in the sun. It was an energy that I first experienced when the people gathered, when they spoke with one another, when a vision formed on their minds, and when they began to carry it out. The field, though unfinished and rocky, was full of the energy of vision and of changed reality. The determined vision of a people was forever imprinted in my mind that day, and it was a vision that sprouted something new inside me, something beautiful that made me feel as if something special was on the horizon for Veintiocho de Agosto.

Evelyn’s Invitation I was walking past the school across the street from my house, called Guayasamin, when Evelyn called out, “¡Hola!” from the creaking metal schoolgate where she was standing and sucking on a piece of candy. Hola! I called back. She beckoned for me to come nearer and when I approached the gate, she bore her frizzy head of hair into my shoulder and hugged me tightly around the waist. “Whts yr nm?” Isabel. “Isbl.” Right. Is-a-bel. “Is-bl.” Is-a-bel. “Is-a-bl.” I smiled. That’s better! She had to go back to her classroom. Evelyn, I asked her, do you want to come to the after school program in the casa comunal? “Yesss!” she cried. “I’ll arsk my mthr.” ***



Evelyn came to the after school program in our neighborhood almost every day. She dutifully brought her notebooks and then dutifully stared at them, concentrating hard but easily distracted as the kids on the other end of the table quickly completed their assignments, interspersing work with giggles, whispering and doodling. Evelyn, do you need help? I offered. Her eyes widened brightly. “Sí!” She leapt up and grabbed a green plastic stool from one of the other tables and pulled it close to her own. I sat down and watched her as she tried to concentrate on writing her name at the top of the page, staring at the giggling girls at the other end of the table. I watched her, then looked at the children she was watching, who were doing long division. “Isbl.” She poked my arm with her eraser. Yes? “Is this my name?” I looked at the crooked letters at the top of the page, which said, VLLYEB. Well, not exactly. I thought for a minute. Evelyn. What sound does your name start with? “E,” right? She nodded her head. What letter makes an “E” sound? Can you write that letter? She stared at me blankly. This was going to be difficult. I thought of another strategy: I wrote her name on another paper, then tried to help her sound out the letters.

What does this letter sound like? I pointed to the “E”. She stared at me blankly. I made the sound and she repeated me. I made her repeat it many times. Then I pointed to the “V” and made the “v” sound, which phonetically sounds like “bay” in Spanish. Do you remember this one? I pointed at the E again. But she could only repeat after me. We spent fifteen minutes trying to name the letters of her name and say the sounds. Evelyn, look here, not at them, I kept saying. But the younger girls on the other end of the table were practicing reading out loud and the story must have been interesting. We moved farther down the table. Evelyn, can you remember this letter? I asked. But the boy the next table over had a backpack with a picture on it. Evelyn, I sighed. Then we took a break and concentrated on numbers. She couldn’t copy a 2 or 3 correctly, so I tried to move her hand in the way it needed to go. She understood this a little, but when I said, Now you do it, she went back to her old crooked way. I sighed again. *** “Com to m house, Isbl.” I had been helping her a few times a week for weeks now. She always asked me this but I had always had something to do after the program. I glanced at her eager eyes. Okay, I said. “Isbl!” She wrapped her skinny arms around my waist. Then she kept asking me every 10 minutes until the end of the after school program: “Yur comng t m house, Isabel? Yur comng?” She couldn’t believe it and when game time came, she ran to tell her mother. ***



Hello! I had just entered the rusty gate, which I had closed quickly behind me to make sure the chickens didn’t escape. The frizzy head popped around from the back of the house. Is this your house, Evelyn? “No. C’mon.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me along the side of the house. The front house, the concrete house, was her grandparents’. Her family lived in back, in a small, raised house made of cane. Unlike every other house I’d seen, this one had no access to the street; no windows where one could peer out to see what things were happening in the neighborhood. Evelyn’s house was secluded, hidden, and could only access the street by a cane walkway around her grandparents’ house. “Hello! Come in! You’re Isabel?” The light-skinned woman with large eyes and a small child clinging to her breast stood in the doorway of the tall, shaky house on stilts, I climbed a ladder-staircase and pulled myself into the large box. One room with a small cooking stove was in front and a cane partition wall was near the largest bed. Chickens clucked around the legs and under the house and I thought I could see them through the floor. Evelyn was chasing one of the chickens behind or underneath the house. Yes, hello, I’m so happy to come. Evelyn always invites me. “Evelyn, I’m so happy she is going to the after school program, she needs so much help with school. She has never passed first grade, you know. Her mind is a little slow.”

She’s a very sweet child. We’re happy to have her. . . This is what I learned from Evelyn’s mother. Evelyn has a serious speech impediment, even worse than her father, who slurs all his words. Her impediment is likely related in some way to her learning disabilities. She plays well with her brothers, but she has a very difficult time learning in school. She tries very hard, but she is in first grade—a ten-year old in first grade; she has always been in first grade. The other kids think she’s strange. But she wants to learn—she has potential, I told her mother. With special help, she could surely pass the first grade. “Can you help her?” Evelyn’s mother’s eyes widened. We definitely are happy to have her for the hour after school, but I’m also thinking of programs for special children, I said carefully. Do you know of any special programs for children? Does the government have any special schools for children like Evelyn? “I might have heard of something like that, but they are expensive,” Evelyn’s mother said. “And in Guayaquil. And I think they are for younger children.” She did not sound very hopeful. I sighed. Really, I thought, what this child needs is a special school with special teachers and smaller classes. She needs a “Special Ed” education. She needs tutoring and patience. She needs mentors who are experts in working with children like her. But where, I thought forlornly, could these things be found for a poor family in the slums of Guayaquil? She also needs help at home, I said. Do you read with her? Work on her homework—her letters and numbers—with her?



In Praise of Sandra Her mother frowned, and then sighed. “I ask her brother to help her,” she said. I had seen her brother “helping” at the after school program; he had taken the notebook from her and begun doing the work for her. It is very good for Jhonny to help, I said, As long as Evelyn is really learning and doing the work herself. “Yes, I know that Eveyln is a different kind of child. But with this little one…” She looked at the baby in her arms, pulling at her breast, wanting more milk. “And she is a very difficult child to get to sit still. . .” She paused. “Truthfully, I’m not sure how many more times we can afford to enroll her in school. When her brother, Jhonny, who is 13, begins working after this year, she may also. It may be best for her.” Eveylyn’s frizzy head bounded into the room. She smiled goofily at me, then went to hug her mother’s waist. I wondered, sadly, what type of job she would find. Sandra, what happened to you? Why are you so different from these woman who Cower in their houses and wait for the Strong, hard, violent slaps of their drunken husbands who Return from drinking the money away and Come home with nothing Nothing ? A strong woman Proud Confident Sure of herself In charge and in control Wise When I asked you, Sandra, to teach the children I scarcely believed that you said yes! Sandra, Sandra! You carry the burden of The children The women This country On your soul You are Sandra and They see you While they wait for you to fall For you are a woman Only a woman Yet you stand in that classroom The children grow hushed You’ll never raise a hand against them yet you discipline While still you love them, encourage them You can because you believe You are confident



You are sure You simply do it And walk on Thank you, Sandra You are hope

CHAPTER 6: VERONICA WIPES THE FACE OF JESUS. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. - Ezekiel 36:26



Christmas at Veinitocho The air was hot and thick. It was almost Christmas, and despite the terrible heat and humidity, I was trying desperately to make it feel like that season. A few weeks earlier, I had bounced sweatily into the vacation school one morning and announced, Children, we are going to put on an obra de teatro about the Christmas story! They looked perplexed. “An obra de teatro?” Miguel Alfonso asked. “What is it like?” I explained that everyone would have a part. There would be narrators and scenery, and everyone would be actors to a story—the Christmas story. We would end with a song about Christmas. But first, I said, we must learn the Christmas song. I wrote the words on the chalkboard: Noche de paz, Noche de amor Todo duerme, en derredor Todos los angeles se esparcen su luz Bella anunciando al ninito Jesus Brilla la estrella de Belen Brilla la estrella de Belen “You sing, Isabella, you sing!” they begged. They did this every time I sang. They especially loved the long, drawn out words to the carol, which was the Spanish version of “Silent Night.” They loved my soprano singing voice which, although by no means excellent by U.S. standards, was

refreshing to children who rarely heard women sing in person; they were unused to the sound and thought it beautiful. Slowly, they learned the song. By the seventh time, they were almost shouting the words and I felt wonder at the lively chorus I had before me. They would truly be stars in this play. The kids colored and decorated. They cut and pasted. The biblical figures grew vibrant, colorful, alive. Not everything was perfect. Darwin, instead of gluing the cotton balls to the sheep, glued the sheep to the wall. Jenifer cut the points off the great star. Even so, it was all beautiful. I helped Esteban put glue on the roof of the stable we had drawn on a large piece of paper, and then we sprinkled gritty dirt on the glue to make the roof look rough and natural. Line up outside the classroom! I said, We are going to receive our roles. Who would like to read? Who will be my narrators? The few children who could read raised their hands. You will be the narrators. Who will be Mary? Joseph? The angel? This sheep in the stable? The kings carrying treasures? Their hands shot up eagerly and I handed each child the appropriate decorated paper character. We practiced entering the room at the correct time while the narrators took turns reading. Weeks later, we were ready. We had written special invitations to the parents in the children’s notebooks, the way messages are sent to parents in the real schools, so I was surprised when only a few parents came. Where are they all? I asked Julia, disappointed. “Probably working,” she said. I was perplexed. I knew that most parents did not have jobs. I corrected myself—yes, they did have jobs, recycling other people’s garbage from the trash field. I realized sadly that the



sacrifice for coming to the Christmas play may have been that night’s dinner. Kenia and Esteban, two of the narrators, also did not come, so Miguel Alfonso and Vanessa read instead in halting voices. “And the angel Gabriel appeared. He said…” Miguel read. The children were lined up outside the classroom, in the order that they would enter the room. While Miguel Alfonso read slowly, the angel, played by Juanito, entered, holding the colored picture of the angel in one hand and the star in another. He climbed up onto the chair, as planned, and waved the star around. Then, with a look of angelic serenity, he jumped off. He climbed on again, and jumped off. The parents laughed. Juanito! I hissed, giving him a stern look. He stood on the chair and didn’t jump off. Miguel Alfonso began again. “And the angel Gabriel appeared. He said, ‘Hark! I say to you that a child will be born to you according to God’s will.’” He continued in an exultant voice, “He will be called Immanuel . . .” Joseph came and Vanessa’s sweet voice, though stumbling over the longer words, told of their trip to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in the manger. Yovani and Ronald entered as a sheep and cow. Darwin, Byron and Jose came to pay homage as kings, with their younger siblings as camels. The narrators bowed, the people clapped and then our voices rose in a beautiful, discordant chorus, joyously singing,

over the dump, up into the smoky air, and to the worlds beyond, about the blessed night in which God came to a place not unlike this one.



Night Gathering It was after six—the sun had set, and in our second floor apartment seated around a table of fried plantains, red beans and rice, we told about the days encounters with both the beauty in people and the pain of poverty: An eight-year old from one of our classes had been spotted at a traffic stop downtown, selling water between idling cars. The church youth group had invited us to a music competition. Leonardo had been back again, begging. Then our chatter was interrupted: KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK-KNOCK! The night guard’s fist against the metal door was always this loud and he always seemed to knock during dinner. Alan sighed, arose and stepped heavily down the stairs to the door. Muffled voices exchanged words below as we continued eating. “Isabel!” he yelled back up to us. “You have visitors!” I took a last bite of rice, then slid out of my chair and down the stairs. Yes? I peered out the door, the light from inside illuminating the guard but nothing more in the blackness behind him. I squinted to see better into the yard. “You have visitors.” I opened the door wider and the light shot out into the silence of night to reveal a cluster of people standing timidly at a distance from the door. I flicked on the light and headed toward them, then stopped still. “Isabella, it’s us!” Sandra? I blinked and looked around. Monica? Gaston? Natividad? Mercedes? Ramon? Miguel? And others, whose faces I recognized from Veintiocho. But how are you here? I asked. It’s night—you didn’t walk, did you? It’s a dangerous walk, and the buses are so… well, you know you wouldn’t want to ride the buses at night. Did something happen? I was suddenly afraid. One of my students, perhaps? Or a fire? Had the burning trash been carelessly neglected, and perhaps the houses around the dump. .. Monica chuckled at my anxiety. “Isabella,” she said, “we want to finish building the cancha (soccer field).” “And then the school,” Miguel piped in. “We really want to finish it,” Mercedes said, “but we don’t have the materials.” We had started the soccer field as a community project. It seemed as though everyone had come out that day to build the field, digging, moving rocks, sweating all day long. But after the sun set, the project had lain dormant for the next week, and the next. There were no more materials, no more dirt to cover the rocky field. And I had been sick at home for a week with parasites. Do you have ideas? I asked.



“I have a friend who drives a bulldozer,” Miguel Sanchez said. “He says he will use it on our field for free, if we can pay for the gas. Do you think the foundation could help with this?” “We know some other people too. We have contacts in our neighborhood who know people who work in construction,” Jaime said. “We think Don Italo could get some more bags of cement,” Mercedes added. “But we don’t know when he is coming next.” “You see him at his other school, Isabella. Can you ask him about this?” Monica chimed in. “We’ll take care of it from there. We just need the materials,” Sandra concluded. “Then we’ll finish the field ourselves.” Italo had facilitated the building of the school thus far. He, too, was from Duran, but he had access to people with power, people in the government. He was a networker and his determination had helped him found several schools in Duran and had earned him the respect of the people—thus they called him “don,” a title of respect. The meeting flowed into the night. We circled up the plastic chairs. Alan came down with cups and water. Were there other ways we could think of to get the rock, the bulldozers, the cement? Who knew a connection? How could they get others in the community to help out? This night would waver in my mind for months, like a dream. What makes a community suddenly become their own leaders? I wondered. What drives people to, on one given night, come together to make plans for change?

I imagined how it could have begun, how the leaders of Veintiocho de agosto, the community proudly named for its date of founding, would have decided together to put on their shoes—or in most cases, their flip-flops—and march several miles from the dump through neighborhoods in which I hated to travel, even during the day, to my home. The project of building the community’s own playing field seemed so big, but with hearts—their hearts—that were bigger, it would be done.



Marta’s Leaning Outdoor Restaurant Andres, I said to my darling boy who always grins but who cannot remember his letters for anything. What is your favorite thing to eat for dinner? “Bread dipped in coffee,” he said. “With my mother.” I had visited the home of his mother, Marta, several times. I walked or drove past it every day, waving to Marta, who always seemed morose as she perched on the side of the abandoned concrete house foundation along the dirt road to the dump that she used as a restaurant counter. She would remain there all day, standing in the hot sun over a stewing cauldron of fish and a steaming pot of rice, while garbage truck drivers and trash pickers sat on plastic chairs under the shade of a tarp she had tied above four long sticks—the roof to her restaurant. Her skin was weathered and her hands were rough; I had never seen her husband.

When the first finger of grey smoke curled across the sky at first light, Marta quietly opened the door of her tilting home on the edge of the garbage dump. Through the door, down the crates that she used as steps, and past the heaping piles of collected treasures, she lugged a heavy gas canister. She wore a faded, sleeveless shirt and her muscles were tense as she pulled the canister to the concrete ledge that stuck up near the road. She set the pot down heavily. This concrete ledge, the abandoned foundation of a cement house, had been claimed many months ago as the counter for Marta’s restaurant. It was perfect for setting plates on and seating customers when there weren’t enough green, plastic stools. Next to the ledge, Marta set up a small, black stove, which she connected to the gas. On the stove, she set an immense pot. Next, she brought bowlfuls of water from the large barrel in front of her house, then a sack of rice. With the morning sun’s rays beating down on her back, she added rice from a sack and mixed. Andres! The small boy of eight but with the tiny frame of a sixyear-old torpedoed out the door, slamming it closed behind him. He scampered over the old wheels, broken chairs, and a twisted bicycle in the yard, past the metal parts all laid out in rows, halting before his mother at the concrete ledge, staring eagerly, with bright eyes. “¡Buenos días, mama!” Marta leaned down to kiss him on the cheek. Mi hijo, 2 pounds of fish, 1 large onion, 3 tomatoes, not too soft nor too hard, be sure. She reached through the neck of her shirt and smoothly pulled out several folded dollars bills. Andres soared away,



kicking up dust—on purpose—then ran at a vulture, startling it, and dashed toward the railroad tracks and the town and stores beyond. *** He bounded back when the rice was boiling. Marta had already washed and cut the vegetables.

“That woman in Recreo, she’s nothing compared to you, Marta, she should see you. Her eyes would be wide and she’d be jealous of that man of yours, for having you.” As wide as your eyes, Juan Luis? My man is going to be jealous if he sees you right now. “You need some company? I can come over, you know.” What I need is another serving spoon to whack some sense into you, if you don’t stop it. “Go ahead, I’d love for you to put some sense in me.” Juan Luis slapped his knee and the other men listening guffawed loudly. He turned to his cerviche and piled the spoonfuls into his mouth, looking smug. “Marianita, you hear what she did?” Rafael, another eating man, glanced knowingly around the circle of eating men. “She said in the Duran Press this morning that this dump is gonna be closed down. She says she came out here personally and it’s a ‘health risk’ to all the people of the city, she says. She says people like Marta there, who collect things, are a ‘hazard.’ She says she’s gonna close it all down. She’s gonna move the dump to a place where she can put a big fence around it and not let anybody in.” Marta looked coldly at him. A hazard? Who does our mayor think she is? Did she ever have her husband leave her for another family he had on the side? Did she ever try to look for a job herself? Does she know any of us who live here? Did she ask us? We’re better off here.

*** The cerviche was deboned, separated, and boiling in the pot when the garbage trucks began to rumble over the railroad tracks, their open doors overflowing with trash, which fell out the back and over the sides at every bump and jingle. They stopped in the garbage field ahead and excreted their stinking loads in front of small groups of waiting rummage collectors, who pounced on the piles like hungry vultures. Several drivers sauntered over to Marta’s leaning outdoor restaurant, shaded by a ripped tarp tied to cane sticks. “Marta, what do we have boiling in your tasty pot today?” Cerviche, Juan Luis, same as always. “Fill ‘er up, then.” He watched her scoop the rice onto the plastic plate and then the cerviche. “Marta, where’s that companion of yours? Haven’t seen him around.” You know where he is, Juan Luis.



Rafael’s dark, oily face glistened and he shifted his dirty work boots. “That’s what I like,” Juan Luis said slyly, “an angry woman. Marta, you— “She’s right.” Rafael cut him off. “I wonder where else they’re gonna put all this trash. You think it’s ever gonna happen?” CHAPTER 7: JESUS FALLS A SECOND TIME Juan Luis shrugged. The rest of the meal was eaten in silence. * * * At the end of the day, when the men had climbed back into their trucks and rumbled, scooped, and rolled across the dump, and the sky was beginning to grow dark, Andres rushed home from school and his friends’ houses, and leapt into his mother’s arms. Marta offered him the five spoonfuls of rice and cerviche that had been left inside the cauldron. They scrubbed the pot carefully and placed it in the center of the room to dry. Then Andres squeezed next to Marta in the ragged arm chair that had once been salvaged from the dump. They sat together with their steaming coffee and some bread to dip inside. Marta thought of the next day and the next and Andres thought of his mother, so nice and warm. He knew he would be safe forever with her. His heart felt warm like the coffee and he dipped her bread in the cup for her. She ate some and then gave him the rest. Andres, with his soft, dark coffee teeth, had lost one permanent tooth already at the age of eight. But he’d fall asleep in his mother’s arms and forget the sticky ache. Marta would hold him tight and later set the content, sleeping body on their bed before leaving the room to stare at the grey sky over the dump, living the pain and dreaming of something better. Words are your language, but love is my language. Watch how my people in Ecuador love one another. Watch how they love you, a stranger in a strange land. Child, see and hope in my future. - Listening Journal, Ecuador



The Phone Rings at 7:47 It was 7:47 a.m. I was about to tear a soft piece from the fresh, round, brown wheat roll that was my breakfast. The phone rang. Hello, buenos días. “¿Isabella?” Yes . . . “¿Isabelita? Isabelita, is it you?” Yes, this is Isabel! “¿Isabelita? ¿Isabella? I need you to help me…” Then it was dead. Hello? Hello? Nothing—only the dial tone roaring in my ear. But the child’s voice still haunted me. Esteban? Vanessa? Paola? You sounded so far away. Your high voice echoed eerily. You couldn’t hear my response. You said only that you need my help. Where are you? Where are you, child? If I knew, could I help you? Can anyone help you? Will anyone ever? I will help you if I find you, but what if you need help again, tomorrow? Who will help you tomorrow? Who will help you when you discover you cannot fulfill your dreams, not because of a lack of ability, but because

so many obstacles are in you way, such as lack of education, nutrition, or opportunity? Who will help you when you have a family and you want to move them away from this terrible place, but there is nowhere to go? And when you find that you are trapped and without hope? Who will help you then? Your little voice haunts me, child. Who can help you?



The Community of Acts 4 Rows and rows, and more disordered rows of shantytown, broken-down, hole-filled homes. They were: little homes bursting with people of many generations, homes trying to be houses as they leaned to the left or right, sinking deeper into the never-dry ground, but still standing and standing and standing amidst the pounding rains, the flooded streets, and the sunlight so hot that it bit like a dog. Until one day. One day it was standing and the next it was not. One day, four thin, shaky legs of cane supported a floor and four leaning, cane walls. A corrugated piece of tin settled on top as the roof. A wooden step-ladder invited you up to sit gingerly on the edge of a lumpy bed or to talk to a friend over the incessant chatter of a television. Through a barred window, a peering young girl longingly watched the lively world in the street below during the day. A piece of corrugated metal was placed inside the window bars at night, when predatory insects buzzed and scary things happened. On a particular night, darkness rested on the street, masking whatever inequality ultimately tipped the balance. It must have just suddenly come crashing down, they said, because in the morning, two of the legs, still stuck in the ground, leaned crisscrossed toward where the fallen floor, roof and walls lay in disarray on the dusty ground. The other two legs were still attached to one collapsed wall of the fallen house. A wooden picture still hung crookedly on one of the walls, but it was cracked and the frame, chipped. The scrap wood and cinderblock that had formed shelves lay in disorder. The plastic dishes that had been arranged upon them were scattered amidst the debris. The single bed was upside down

and pieces of clothing were strewn in the dirt. A plastic jar of rice had unlidded itself, the rice was everywhere, and two small chickens were now pecking at it. The antenna had snapped off the small television, which was lying face down on its rounded screen and dials. A plastic wash bin was upside down on top the portable stove and three crates that had been used as stools had tumbled under the neighbor’s house. One day, the abode of rotting cane was standing and the next it was not. Though this was surely not the first time something similar had occurred, everyone was shocked. In the middle of the night, there was a loud knocking at the door of the volunteer house. “¡Emilia! ¡Emilia!,” some men had called. They wanted Emily, who was the volunteer at the after-school program in the neighborhood and who had one set of keys to the casa communal, or community building, to let them inside. The youngest children and mother slept there that night, while Pedro, the father, stayed up whispering, worrying, and watching, with friends from the houses next door. When daylight came, the family and neighbors began to salvage what they could from the mess. Strangers who walked by spoke to one another in low voices, Too many people, too much weight on legs too weak. Too many years of rainy season makes the cane grow soft. Should have set it straight when it first started to tilt.



If there wasn’t enough money, he should have borrowed from friends. Should have sent the children to work if they needed money. Should have started building a cement house for the future around this one. At least they’d have something left. But soon the gifts began to come: scraps of wood, corrugated tin, cane poles that were extra from others’ building projects. A neighbor borrowed a truck from a friend’s brotherin-law’s cousin’s uncle and came back with a pile of wood. Women knocked on doors collecting donations from families, friends, and the parish house, and then they sat in the shade of neighbors’ homes to piece back together what broken things they could. Piece by piece, the home began to exist again, as the men worked together under the scorching sun. First they dug foundation holes, placed the cane legs in with a little cement. Then came the nailing and tying of cane and wood to make a floor, then walls. The roof of corrugated tin was set on top, and when the day was over, a new home stood. One day standing, the next day not. One day collapsed, the next day standing again amidst the rows and rows, and more disordered rows of shanty-town, broken-down, leaning, hole-filled shacks, spread along a dusty street of dirt and sometimes mud. The homes were not quite houses, but they were pieced together by the love of a life-filled community that, while wanting of wealth and health and adequate shelter, was thriving on concern for one another. The children at 28 de agosto say hello.

The grand opening of the school at 28 de agosto



Getting a drink of water.



A typical home.

Ecuador’s natural beauty.

Barrels to hold water from the Agua truck were the common way of storing water.

The majesty of Quito and surrounding hills.





CHAPTER 8: JESUS SPEAKS TO THE WOMEN OF JERUSALEM The deepest darkness is only a fingertouch away from me, for I am everywhere. - Listening Journal, Ecuador

28 de agosto



A Town that Progresses To get to Duran from the Puntilla island where the surgeons and businessmen and engineers live, you must cross the River Guayas, which stinks of dead fish, human waste, and rotting trash. The bridge over the River Guayas is full of potholes and deep cracks and the sidewalk is missing entire sections. The rusty cabs and roaring buses weave back and forth in a chaotic series of near misses, blaring their horns and spewing gritty clouds of unfiltered exhaust that turns black tears and mucus alike. Toward the end of the mile-long bridge, you see a yard of broken and rusted and abandoned ships in front of an expansive spread of one hundred thousand leaning shacks over hills and fields into the distance. Then you curve around the turnabout which sends you either to the paved road of “downtown” Duran, or under the bridge towards the residential parts of the slum. And you pass a sign that says: “Duran: A Town that Progresses.” You choose the route under the bridge. Over speed bumps on a stretch of paved road, you see crumbling concrete houses on one side and cane house on top skinny stilt legs on the other. A mess of wires sprawl from one main pole, tapping electricity. The children playing in front of the houses are small and skinny. You wonder if it is malnutrition, parasites from this diseased marshland, or both. Has this town progressed? I asked the question to Georgina as I sat watching the night come to her square cane house that had bars in the windows and whose floors and sparse furnishings suffered from perpetual “dustings” whenever cars or buses went by on the unpaved streets, and where her son returned, exhausted and sullen, each evening after looking for a job, never to find one.

“Si…” Georgina said. She told me how, twenty years ago, the first houses were built right on top of the marshland; the fill the government uses today to make swampland into building land had not been brought yet, she said. Twenty years ago, people just came and stuck cane poles into the slime, then built houses on top.

“Twenty years ago,” she said, “water was everywhere because we were building the houses on a swamp, and people made little cane bridges to connect the houses in long walkways over the marshland. The water trucks would not come here and so the men carried containers for a mile to fill them with water. No one had electricity, and the mosquitoes were thick like rain. There were many diseases. Everyone was worried about getting sick. Some did get sick, and some even died.” So today you are happy? I asked her. Today things are better? “Yes and no, Isabelita,” she responded. “It all changes so slowly. Some things are better, some things are worse. Time passes and things just get different. Now, to find a job? It is impossible. Now more children are in school, but for what



opportunities? There is water, but not everyone can afford to boil it. Everything is much more expensive: cooking gas, food, water. People are still sick, and now there are hospitals. But medicine is expensive and people die because they cannot afford to get to hospitals or clinics. But at least there are not as many mosquitoes.” How were the mosquitoes before compared to now? I wanted to know. The mosquitoes seemed terrible to me; it was hard to imagine living with worse. “When dusk came,” she said, “We made dinner and then we all sat on the bed—Norberto, Miguel, and I—and we ate together under a net. If you left the net, you would be eaten!” I could hardly believe it. Did people used to get malaria more often? I asked. “There is less malaria now, but you know people still die of that, and also of dengue and yellow fever,” Georgiana answered. “There are new diseases that weren’t around before. Diseases from mosquitoes, diseases from scorpions . . .” So Duran progresses? I wondered. Or does the sign lie? Is this a town that progresses? “Progress,” Georgina sighed. “Everything is so slow here. Es la verdad.”

Dirty Feet It is dusty in Duran. When you come home from walking and working and talking all day, there is dust on your feet, between your toes, lodged in your toenails, and smudged on your calves and sometimes even your knees. At first, we couldn’t stand the grime of dirtiness; at 9 a.m., having arrived at our workplaces, we wished we had water to wash it off, and a towel. We hated how it turned our feet yellowish-brown and was hard to pick out of toenails and prevented our feet from getting much of a suntan. When we finally, finally came home and washed it in the shower, our feet underneath were white and ghostly. As time passed, we forgot to notice our dusty feet. We went to visit waiting children in desks and hurried to arrive at friends’ houses for dinners abounding with rice and laughter, and we ran to hug little friends who called out our names on the streets. Our dirty feet just came along. The Ecuadorians, many of whom took the utmost care to wash and cleanse themselves before ever going anywhere, often noticed for us. “Isabella, your feet are so dirty!” But after a while, it always surprised me. My feet—dirty? Oh, they are! And when the day was over, with our dirty feet propped up on a green plastic chair or dangling over the hammock hung across the living room, we dreamed and dreamed about the day gone by and the one ahead, and where our dirty feet would take us tomorrow.



Concrete Blocks for Big Holes We alternately ignored and were annoyed by the huge holes that were like large, square pits lining the streets. They were dark, deep, and hallow—except during rainy season when they filled with deep, stale water. The holes were actually the first step in a new sewage system that the mayor had promised last May. She said that in order to improve the quality of life of all the residents of Duran, she would arrange for an intricate system of giant, hallow, concrete blocks to be inserted into holes in the ground, placed underneath the roads. She said that instead of sitting dankly on top of the thick, claylike, swamp dirt, the rainy season water would instead seep into the ground and be channeled away from the town through this grandiose system of concrete drainage pipes. Problem was, May had passed, June, July, September, all of rainy season, and now it was approaching May again. Huge holes had been dug on the sides of the dirt streets, but only a few concrete blocks had been placed inside, with eerie metal rods sticking up out of the ground. The rest of the concrete structures rested stonily on the sides of streets, next to the big holes, not in them. They had been that way since the project began. The large holes created problems for buses and cars trying to clank through at the same time, and for drivers who weren’t aware or who forgot, a car or bicycle could suddenly soar across thin air, to the driver’s terror, before clanking down into the big hole. Unlucky drunks who wandered down the wrong street in darkness were also in for a surprise. And, I was always particularly on guard when walking past these big, hallow blocks. Anyone, I had been warned, could be lurking in or behind them, and could surprise me at any moment. Our little friend David once played a trick on us: We were walking and the boy skipped towards us with a greeting, pretending not to see the huge hole in front of him. He fell in

face first and when we ran to the edge, horrified, he came up smiling, wet with the grimy rain water that had collected inside, and laughing his head off. Another time, the celebration of Carnival was at hand. Mary, another volunteer, and I conspired before leaving the house: This is our plan: Let’s fill these plastic bottles with water, poking holes in the caps, and we can squirt everyone who passes us, shouting, “Carnival!” We’ll play just like the Ecuadorians and they won’t even have a chance to surprise us—we’ll surprise them! We heard it up ahead as we walked down the street: the splashing, the animated screaming, and the cries of “Carnival! Got you!” Where drinking water was scarce, the dirty, stale water that had collected in the roadside holes during rainy season was abundant and splash splash splash the children were celebrating Carnival by making full use of the swimming holes. We ran toward them full speed, to take part fully in carnival, this day of water and fun. Carnival! We shouted, approaching the alreadysoaked children, squirting them with little streams of water from our bottles, totally unprepared for the wet deluge that came back at us as they brought their arms up and down wildly in the brown water, splashing. Splash! Splash-splash-splashsplash… Carnival! “Come closer,” said two dark eyes, peering out of the hole. “We want to tell you something.” Cristina! We cried. Is that you, all wet and dirty! We know better! You want to pull us in!



Her brothers appeared with buckets full of grimy water. Ahhh! We shouted as they came at us and we turned to run—straight into a pile of mud, where our feet got stuck. Soon we were soaked. Slimy, dirty, dripping, Mary and I looked at each other, and then laughed. This was the day to celebrate water and friendship and even half-finished projects that children creatively turned into swimming pools. This was Carnival.

The Sewing Cooperativa One day several years ago, Sonia, the Ecuadorian codirector of Nuevo Mundo, had announced, “This is the problem. These women are ruled by their drunken husbands who abuse them and waste money that should be spent on their families, and the women have no choice but to go along with it. All their potential gets buried down deep with their self-esteem and they see no opportunity to learn the skills they need to become independent.” “But it could be different . . .” Sonia said. This was when she decided to build the women’s taller, the sewing cooperativa. Women would come to learn skills from a trained instructor. They would learn how to sew and then they would sell their goods to the public. The money they made would be invested in fabrics to make more items and provide a small salary to the taller instructor, and what was left over would go home with the women as profit from their sold goods, an income into their homes that had been earned by women themselves. She named the taller, Taller Sofia, after her deceased mother. *** On this particular morning, Kary and I arrived at Taller Sofia with a bundle of fabric in-hand. The women, who we visited every couple of weeks, had urged us to bring some fabric to make skirts for ourselves. “It’s easy!” Delmayra had said, whose dexterous fingers flew with the rhythm of the sewing machine like the fluttering of a hummingbird’s wings.



Juliana, a large girl of nineteen with a wide smile and bright eyes, rose quickly when we arrived, happy for the opportunity to set down her iron. Steam continued to rise from the hot iron even as it was set on the board. She fanned her sweating forehead and came to kiss our cheeks. “Oh! What have you brought?” she inquired, fingering the fabric. “¡Que bonita! This will be perfect for a skirt.” Maria, who was less than five feet tall and had a petite frame, stood up timidly and approached behind Juliana, careful to stand back shyly. “¡Hola! Buenos días, Maria!” we exclaimed. “And hello, Stalin.” The young boy of four was peeking from behind his mother’s legs. Soon Gloria, the head sewer at the taller, was looking over our fabric with a ruler. She was quickly taking measurements of my waist, my hips, and the length of my legs, and making several marks on different parts of the cloth for each. “Here, we mark the width, and the height, and at this angle…” she was saying. Kary and I nodded gratefully, despite our lack of understanding as to how she knew exactly where the cloth should be marked and with which measurements. Next, the fabric was in the hands of Juliana, to be ironed, then Delmayra, who taught us to spool the colored thread and how to string it through the machine’s parts and the needle. “Sew like this,” she said, showing us the pedal beneath the machine and which way to move the cloth. “That is not a straight line,” she observed with a smirk, grabbing her scissors to cut the line I had sewn in the fabric. Then she took it and sewed the line herself. *** An hour later, the skirt was ready, and the women insisted that I change into it. “Oooooh,” they all aaaahed as I came out of the little room where I had changed.

“Now, it is time for class,” Juliana insisted, and I was relieved. Each time we visited, we brought with us a reflection book about women in the Bible. This was something we at least knew a little about. On days when the women weren’t very busy, we often passed around the book to read together a story from the Bible about Moses’s mother and Pharoah’s daughter, or Esther, or Ruth, or the mother of the Maccabee brothers, or Susanna, or Hagar, or Judith, or Mary, Jesus’ mother, or the sisters Martha and Mary, or Mary Magdalene and Veronica, or several other New Testament women, and a reflection on women’s dignity in God’s eyes. “What will we read today?” Juliana wanted to know as we entered the sewing taller one day. Juliana particularly looked forward to the readings from the Bible and the reflections in the little purple book. Today? Today we’ll read about strong women in the book of Exodus, we responded. Juliana stared intently at the page before her. In the first chapters of Exodus, the Israelites, then in captivity as slaves in Egypt, were becoming too numerous and the Pharoah felt threatened: he ordered the midwives to kill all the boy children born to Hebrew women. But the midwives, following the silent whisper of the Spirit in their hearts, disobeyed the orders of the Pharoah. When he discovered that his orders had been disobeyed, he ordered that the Hebrew boy children be thrown into the river. But one woman, with strength and God’s Spirit did not what was ordered but what she knew was right: she hid her newborn child, Moses, for three months instead of allowing him to be killed. When she could hide him no longer, she devised a plan to set him in the reeds, with his sister watching over him. He was set in the sight of the Pharoah’s daughter and servants, who found Moses



and chose to raise and then adopt him, disobeying the authorities. With inner-strength, the women saved the life of the helpless child, Moses, who would live on to free the entire Israelite people from their captivity in Egypt. The examples had become countless as our time in the taller continued. Delmayra volunteered to read. Maria would also read if encouraged, with a soft voice: Esther, an Israelite woman, exhibited confidence and boldness to stand up for the dignity of her people. When the king of Persia exhibited a decree to destroy the Jews in his region, Esther, who had been made his queen, asked God for strength and then devised a plan, using her words, beauty and strength, to convince the king otherwise, thereby saving her entire people. Ruth was the strong woman who refused to abandon her destitute mother-in-law after both her husband and her sons died. Humbling herself to work in a field to avoid hunger for both of them, Ruth’s faith, strength, and determination was rewarded. In the book of Maccabees, an evil king ordered the torture and scourging of a spirit-filled mother and her seven sons because of their refusal to follow customs that they felt were sinful. All seven sons had the strength to become martyrs, but only because of God’s words through the subversive mother, who encouraged her sons to do what is right, even undo death. When two elderly men spied on the beautiful Susanna while taking a bath, they schemed to force her to sleep with them. When Susana refused, remaining loyal to her own dignity and to God’s commands, the men made false accusations against her, but Susanna was in the end saved because of her faithfulness and strength.

Hagar, Abraham’s slave, was banished to the desert with her son, Ishmael. But Hagar remained strong and she kept her dignity through struggle, protecting her child and surviving in the wilderness, alone except for the power of God. The woman Judith became an Old Testament hero and leader when she, after chastising her fellow Israelites for their lack of faith, deceived their enemies, succeeding in doing what no one else could do: killing the leader of the enemy camp. In the New Testament, Mary, the mother of Jesus, allowed for the salvation of humankind through her “yes” to God despite social conventions by which her life and respect could be endangered as a result of becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Mary and Martha remained among the most faith-filled followers of Jesus throughout his ministry. Because of their faith, God’s power was demonstrated through the resurrection of their brother, Lazarus. Jesus offered Mary of Magdalene the words of everlasting life at the well, calling her from social condemnation and encouraging her to become a disciple—a light of the world to others. Later, she would be the only one willing to part with her worldly possessions to follow him, pouring out expensive perfume over his feet. Before his death, a woman became a prophet by anointing Jesus’ head with oil. Veronica, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, Jesus’ mother, were named as the few followers of Christ who



remained present and loyal through his death and the suffering that preceded it. After Christ’s resurrection, the angel appeared first to the women, who had come to mourn with herbs and spices at his tomb. The angel proclaimed to them the Good News of Christ’s resurrection and it was the women, who went to tell all the others. Finally, in Acts of the Apostles, women such as Tabitha, Lydia, and Prisca appeared as women leaders in the early church. The examples were many. This new way of looking at the Bible in the midst of a male-dominated society in which women often had little, if any, power, filled our stomachs with butterflies. What did it mean that brave, often faith-filled actions on the part of a woman in so many instances in the Bible stood as turning points in God’s salvation history? What of Esther’s and Mary’s and others’ confident, Spirit-filled action in the face of limited social conventions? What of Christ’s invitation to women to become his disciples or followers? How did these stories relate to the situation of women in Latin America today? Maria, our frail, shy, friend, with such skill and speed on the sewing machine, sorrowfully remained living with the father of her three children, despite signs of abuse, because she had nowhere to go and felt that she had no recourse of law behind her to take any action against the threats he professed he would carry out if she left. Juliana was a woman of inner strength and joy. A girl of nineteen, one wondered whether this

confidence would peter as she experienced a male-dominated world in which positions of influence in government, business, and everything else were largely filled by men. The highly desired jobs of Duran—the security guards and policemen, for examples—were filled by men. Construction workers and taxi drivers were men as well. Most working women ran makeshift stores out of a window of their homes. Juliana closed the book. Gloria announced: “Now we return to our sewing.” The machines began whirring, the scissors cutting, the iron sizzling. The taller was hard at work, these women a small presence of strength in a difficult world, trying to march forward with courage, confidence and Spirit. These were the Esthers, Marys, and Ruths of the present.



Fair When the buses roared by, the dust would rise in a thick, gritty, suffocating cloud. Pedestrians would stop to turn away, squint their eyes and cover their faces with kerchiefs or their shirt necks, coughing if, unthinking, they had actually inhaled the dirty, gritty stuff. CHAPTER 9: JESUS FALLS THE THIRD TIME Here I am. Here I long to transform. Here are my children, the ones you forgot about, world. I am here to work justice—to love both the rich and poor, not to hurt but to heal, to re-arrange, to redo, to guide and reveal love. - Listening Journal, Ecuador One hot morning, I stepped back from the road and turned too late as a bus flew by, shrouding me with a dust cloud and shooting pebbles at my shins. I could feel the dusty film settling between the sandal straps on my feet and I glowered after the bus, coughing. Five minutes later, the bus I was waiting for finally roared down the road and I stuck out my hand, hoping it would stop. It screeched to a halt, unsettling another grimy cloud of dust, and I ducked inside just before it pulled jerkingly away. The man with the money tray looked me up and down, took my fifty-cent piece, and beckoned for me to pass. Excuse me—my change? “What change?” Fifteen cents! I gave you fifty—you owe me fifteen cents. “Prices went up.” Prices did not go up. “They went up.” The price is thirty-five cents. Look at your sign. It says “thirty-five cents.” “It’s not correct.”



You know what’s not correct? You aren’t giving me my change. “Pchhh.” The change-collector turned his back to me and snickered with the driver, who seemed to be particularly enjoying the day’s adventures of raising huge clouds of dust as he pushed the pedal hard to go faster over speed bumps and screeched to a pause only at the last moment to let other passengers on. Bump! Screeeech! BUMP! Bump! I continued to stand—or tried to—in the aisle, behind the money collector, waiting for my change. Disculpa, Señor, I said, hoping that he would be more agreeable now that other customers were on the bus. I’m still waiting for my change. He ignored me and said something to the driver. They snickered. My face felt hot. What are you laughing about? About the fifteen cents you owe me? The money collector turned around and frowned, then made a point to look at every part of me except my face. I glared at him. I crossed my arms. I stared intensely. I wouldn’t let my eyes leave his face and they were not nice eyes. I tried to make my eyes fierce and angry like the white sun that had been giving me a headache all day. When my stop came, I squinted my eyes even tinier and walked past them tall and with straight shoulders, thinking smugly, I’m standing up against the corruption that nobody ever challenges. People steal all the time, following the

example of their government, like former presidents who ran off with billions. It isn’t any surprise that people think they have to steal to survive. I stepped off the bus confidently, but suddenly the driver made the bus jolt—perfectly—just as I was about to set my foot on the ground, causing me to trip off the bus and fall forward onto my hands. The bus roared away, covering me with a shroud of brown dust.



Ode to Guayaquil Guayaquil, oh Guayaquil, the city of two sides. Guayaquil, oh Guayaquil. There with your towering skyscrapers (across this smelly river). There with your green parks (and muggers). There with your corporate buildings (and little, leaning shacks against them). There with your bustling people (and tiny, grimy hands of children stretching up to beg: “please!”). There the Hilton has valet parking, tuxedos and silk (the food stalls for the poor are down the street). There with the whizzing buses (hold-ups too; also, streams of jobless people who get on-off-on-off-on selling candy and toothpaste and songs). Guayaquil, oh Guayaquil. Across the river which smells of fish rot and urine of chemical compost of floating bodies of sick stomachs of emptied latrines of neglect of ignorance. The river, to the poor farmers who row their boats from farm to Duran and back, and back again, endlessly, is both the burden that separates them from what they could be and their means of survival. To those in the fenced-in marble mansions on the other side, the river is the moat protecting their castle houses. On the Malecón, the boardwalk, the pride of Guayaquil, you see portrait painters, and Baskin’ Robbins, and glassed-in restaurants, and art exhibits. Down by the tributes to rich donors on pillars, an orchestra is performing by the water. Past this, you can climb the steps to see a lighthouse and stop in quaint, overpriced stores on the way up. When you reach the top and approach the railing to look down, you think the water sparkles and you comment on the towering majestic buildings of the city below. You are supposed to forget that there are Malecón police everywhere, and that the women wearing capris and high-heels with shining hair still clutch their purses tightly. You are supposed to forget that those from the pretty houses can buy the ice cream and sit in the fancy restaurants and pose for portraits, while those from the other side can only wonder what chocolate hazelnut ice cream tastes like, look in the windows of restaurants, or watch while the portraits of other people are painted. The building of the Malecón required the “relocation” of the slums that used to exist along the river. You are supposed to forget this, too. Guayaquil, oh Guayaquil. Most of the children I see every day in Veintiocho have never heard of the Malecón, and as soon as we leave its gates, the dirty child in pink rags pulls on my skirt and keeps pace with my walk. “Please, please, 15 centavos, please.” What’s your name, little girl? But she only stares at me blankly and repeats her request, one hand on my skirt and the other cupped in front of me.



¿Cómo te llamas, mi chiquita? What’s your name, little one? I repeat it gently, leaning down to her, but her eyes look empty and she will not answer, and she scampers away to someone else approaching, holding her hands out for change. I look around—where are her parents? Then I see her mother, dressed in rags, sitting on the ground by a fence, watching through the legs of businesspeople passing back and forth in front of her. She is suckling an infant who, I think, will some day likely meet the same fate as her dirty, desperate sister.

considering how the president might explain to the people why the cuts to social services are necessary. “We need to tighten fiscal spending.” They surely won’t understand this. The meeting room, though perfectly climate-controlled and airfiltered, suddenly feels as though the smog from outside has passed right through the windows. Guayaquil, oh Guayaquil.

She does not know--none of them know--that across the street and thousands of feet above her, in one of Guayaquil’s tallest skyscrapers, two men in fine business suits sit across from one another. The mahogany table between them shines with polish, reflecting the sunlight that pours through the wide glass window overlooking the city below. Two San Pellegrino bottles have been opened but barely touched. The darker man is sweating as he nods in affirmation of the white man’s insistence that the only way to gain control of Ecuador’s debt is to “tighten fiscal spending.” He is not thinking of the beggar-girl in rags. He is not thinking of the young boys who ride buses all day, trying to sell candies. The dark man is



Too-big Shoes Jenifer always wore her mother’s flip flops to school. Sometimes red lipstick, too, with rosy red cheeks. She pretended that pieces of string or twine were beautiful necklaces and that a string bracelet she found was a watch. She touched your skirt when it was long and flowing. She loved her mother’s flip flops most of all. They made a whop-whop sound on the dry dirt ground and she had to take big high steps to make sure they stayed on and so that she would not trip over them: everyone always knew when Jenifer was wearing her mother’s flip flops. When Jenifer wore her mother’s flip flops, she put her hands on her hips and tossed her head back and she giggled and giggled. She stared at the wasp darting up near the classroom roof, picked at the paint peeling off the sugarcane poles, and was mesmerized by the blue sky and its ghostly rising smoke. She played with her fingers and the ring she had made from twine, she kicked her legs around until a flip flop fell off, and then she crawled under her desk to retrieve it. Sometimes she even got up from her desk, wandered to the gate, and opened it to go where the swing and rocks waited. Jenifer, please work quietly, we are trying to learn our letters. Jenifer, are you listening? Pay attention. Look at me, not the sky. Jenifer, please sit down! It is not time for recess. Jenifer, please! Do you want me to speak with your mother? Jenifer! Jenifer! When she wore her mother’s flip flops, you knew her mother was no where to be seen; her mother didn’t have another pair of shoes. She didn’t have two of anything, really.

But Jenifer, she loved the flopping shoes, she loved to wear them big. They were big like her spirit: she loved to take things from boys and then scream while she ran, tripping over those flip flops. She loved to wrap her skinny arms around your soft colorful skirt and hug and hug and hug you. She loved to look at you with big, dark eyes that saw everything and to stare in awe at your watch, your skirt, and even the spiral notebook in your hand. She stared and stared, touching everything. Sometimes, it all was too much for Jenifer’s despondent mother, who sat still on the stoop of the house all day long to watch the sparse plantains she had put out to sell at her “store” counter, but which no one ever seemed to buy. Gaston was Jenifer’s father. Natividad, Jenifer’s mom, was his fifth wife and he liked to brag about it to his friends. An empty house, one room, with a bed in one corner, a rack with a few items of clothing in another, and an old, sweating refrigerator from the dump, empty except for a bottle of beer. Jenifer, your shoes are too big. You wear them half precociously, half because you have none of your own. Jenifer, your eyes are too big. You look around, half because your brain cannot concentrate and half because you had nothing to see before. Jenifer, your spirit is too big. You are half trying to grow up and half trying to be a little girl where everyone is too busy just trying to survive. Too big, Jenifer. Or maybe, little girl, your world is just too small.



Little Grains of Mustard On the way to Mass, walking down a dusty street without streetlights, trying to avoid trash and other rotting things on the road, Kary stopped dead in her tracks beside me. “Those girls. . . I think. . . Yeah, they used to be in my class at Huancavilca. I think it’s them… They stopped coming months ago because. . . I think it was because of some problem at home.” The two girls walked with swinging, miniskirted hips, baring their skinny abdomens, and shakily strutting one skinnyheeled shoe in front of the other while kissing the air with bright red lips. Their eye-lined, brightly-shadowed eyes looked too large for their faces. “Mariana? Katrina?” Kary’s voice sounded strange. “How are you girls? I haven’t seen you in school.” They froze, wrapped up their stomachs with their skinny arms, and nudged each other to speak back to her first. “Teacher. . .,” they giggled. They could look everywhere else, but not directly at Kary. “I miss you girls at school. What are you doing now?” It was obvious, but she asked anyway. “Well, you know. Our parents couldn’t pay for school. . .” Their voices were high-pitched and nervous. “Actually, we decided not to live with them anymore. They. . . We can take care of ourselves.” They couldn’t stand still, they shifted back and forth, their eyes looked both sleepy and wild and all the while—giggle, giggle, that nervous, high, girlish giggle.

“I’m sure they miss you,” Kary said. “We miss you at school. You should come back.” It was a plea. “We have to get going, Teacher.” “Where are you going?” Her voice was urgent. “To the city,” they said, tossing their hair back and giggle, giggle, giggle. “Bye, Teacher,” and they strutted off unevenly over ruby-red, skinny, spiked heels. “They think they are women,” Kary said with sad, sad eyes, “but they have no idea.” * * *

On Sunday evenings, the people came from all around the neighborhoods to the Porcióncula, the community church, coming in and in until the long blue rows were filled. The music leaders started the first song: Si tuviera fe, como un granito de mostaza eso lo dice el Señor Si tuviera fe, como un granito de mostaza eso lo dice el Señor Yo le diría a esa montaña muevete, muevete Yo le diría a esa montaña muevete, muevete Y la montaña se moverá, se moverá, se moverá Y la montaña se moverá, se moverá, se moverá Si tuviera fe, como un granito de mostaza eso lo dice el Señor In English:



If I have the faith of only a grain of mustard, this is what the Lord says (2x) I would say to this mountain, “Move yourself! Move yourself” (2x) And the mountain, it will move itself, move itself, move itself (2x) If I have the faith of only a grain of mustard, this is what the Lord says The woman in the old brown skirt held up her statue of the Divine Child as the priest entered. An elderly woman with a hunched back skittered to the altar and placed her bottle of water there, that it might be blessed and become holy. The little girl in a red dress danced and jumped next to her grandparents, who were clapping their hands energetically. The man in green trousers raised his hands. The people clapped and danced and shouted with their palms and voices and hearts, and the whole building seemed to sway with the singing voices, jingling bells, wooden flutes, guitars, and drum beat. Singing and swaying and hoping, the people thought of salvation from the things they feared, and they knew they heard God tenderly caring. I looked at Kary and we, too, thought of salvation, from the poverty that weighed down this people, this country, the world. We, too, thought that we heard God, not only in the spirit of the church but also in the giggles of the red-lipped prostitute girls. Enchanting giggles. Lost giggles. Hoping for confidence but instead yearning, pleading, crying, begging, for a moving of mountains.

CHAPTER 10: JESUS IS STRIPPED OF HIS GARMENTS Come here, where it is quiet. Ask to stay longer. Sit and see, come and be in me. Rest in my presence and you will be changed. Bring all these things to me and you will see differently, you will learn how. - Listening Journal, Ecuador



The Strangers Raise Only Their Cameras The rattly, old blue truck carried youthful faces pressed hotly against the dirty windows, closed tight so that the flies which carried diseases could not get inside and bite the passengers. The garbage searchers, upon seeing the truck of faces, stopped their rummaging and stood to watch the heads and shoulders that jiggled and bumped and stared as the truck lunged and rattled over ruts and holes, navigating through the metal-piles and wood piles and cloth piles with dirty children sitting on top. A cart blocked the road, or maybe it was a cow or a pile of clothes—I couldn’t myself see from my sideways seat in the closed-in cargo bed—and everyone waited in frozen silence while the old woman or man glacially moved the cart of collected things or persuaded the cow or placed the bundle of cloth upon her back so that the truck of faces could move by.

necessary to burn the garbage: don’t they know that it isn’t good for the village to breathe so much smoke every day? Are the shacks on the perimeter of the dump collection locations or actual houses? Do the cows that stand in the dump and eat the trash get killed for eating, or are they used for other purposes?” But they would ask these questions later, afterwards. One boy began to ask a question, but his voice sounded hallow against the shaken silence of the faces inside the truck and the images of the people outside. He stopped after, “I don’t understand. How is it possible. . .” Most of the visitors sat silently with long, sorrowful, compassionate faces and waited while the truck rumbled by the dump, then turned onto a garbage-packed “street.” A few houses in, the car stopped. The door opened to the brightness of the white sun and to the cry through heavy air of the children in the school with wide eyes and smiling cheeks, “¡Uaaaaaa!” “¡Los gringos!” “¡Mira!” “¡Isabella!” This is the school at 28 de Agosto, I explained to the visitors. A man from the other side of Duran, don Italo, has built several other schools, and this is his latest project. Rostro de Cristo is also helping with the construction, but don Italo is directing everything. These kids come from very poor families; some even work in the dump after school. Many of them didn’t go to school before these classrooms were built. The cries of the children were getting louder. The visitors tried discreetly to carry the brown bags of donated school supplies to the classroom shelves, but most were halted in their tracks by the children, who ran up and wrapped their arms along the white strong legs and put their hands on waists, and the little ones jumped up and down to be held. The gringos

The visitors wanted to know, “Why did the people choose the job of working here in the dump? What kinds of diseases do they get from all the flies and insects? Why is it



set their bags down and picked the children up and tickled and twirled and loved them, delighted to find beauty in such an ugly place. The teacher looked sternly at the children, and called them into a circle to sing for the gringos the English songs they had learned: “Hello Teacher” and “Old MacDonald.” Then the children shouted for a song to be sung in return. After several rounds of the Hokey-Pokey, we apologized for interrupting their school day and moved to walk around the rest of the neighborhood, but the children shouted, “¡Foto! ¡Foto!” Snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap snap everywhere and the children pushed and elbowed and tripped and jumped to have their faces in the view of the picture-taking machines. They begged the gringos for a copy, which the gringos promised, but the children knew would rarely ever come. The group of visitors left the school premises, with some children trailing behind. Through the neighborhood we all went, past Cristobal’s leaning shack, where a sleepy smile crossed his old wrinkled face and he stretched up a drunken hand from his hammock to say hello while Wilma, from her scrubbing clothes board, sternly whispered for him to rise and greet the strangers. She smiled much more sweetly than normal and offered juice to the visitors, which they could not accept, since people in this poor neighborhood often skipped the important—but expensive—step of boiling their water. Small, dark children disappeared inside Jose Castro’s house, pulled by their mothers, while Jose hobbled up to the gate and extended his weathered hand. The children in the tall house on canes shouted, “¡La gringa! ¡La gringa!” and peered out the windows. Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! went the picture takers. Over the neighborhood, this way and that—Hello! Hello! Hola! Hello! The faces smiled sweetly and graciously and Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! through this little, leaning, wretched, diseased town on the edge of the dump. One woman, though, she was quicker than they. She stood at her doorway and peered out suspiciously as the strangers noisily approached. The faces smiled goofily, the hands waved, and the picture-taker was raised, but snap- the woman ducked inside and turned her face away from the door. She was a pretty woman, with large, dark eyes and a slim, angular face that had glanced out the doorframe, only to pull herself back inside, hugging her slender frame with her long arms. “Ooohh, look,” one visitor cawed, “pointing to the green field, What is the name of that flower? What contrast! A purple flower in a grey dump!” and the gringos kept walking and snap-snapping. But I turned around to see her. Are you scared, cautious woman, of the camera? Of us? Do you know we are friends? Do you know we want to help you? Do we help you? Do we hurt you? Does the snapsnapping make you special, make you loved? Or are you



ashamed and humiliated and demeaned that these strangers come to look at you? Do you wonder why they stare at you? Or do you know, and are you ashamed?

Happy Birthday, Miguel Alfonso After Saturday soccer practice, I always looked forward to the moment when, freshly showered, I would collapse heavily into the porch hammock with a good book or my journal. In the serene quiet of the porch, only the occasional passerby or car would saunter past. Most of the neighborhood was resting or inside on the scorching Saturday afternoons and from my removed solstice, I could choose to forget where I was and become lost in the fantasy of a good book. Or, I could allow the images of the week to enter me more deeply: The scabies on Yohvani’s arm. The burden in Maria Paoloa’s eyes. A man bent down, his hands in the garbage. A child beside him. Vultures. Emaciated dogs. A child wife, looking longingly through barred windows. —and I would cry out to God to change these desperate situations—to change all of us who perpetuate this poverty together, actively and passively. *** One particular Saturday afternoon, I waited hotly on the main road, with sweat collecting beneath my neck under the front and back rims of my t-shirt and the fierce sun painfully bright for my squinting eyes. I sighed. Why had I said that I was free on Saturday and could attend Miguel’s birthday party? I checked the inside of the plastic bag I was holding— the cookies I had baked had slid and were bunching on one side of the metal plate. They would be melted together before the



bus came. I tried to arrange them. Crumbs were on my camera, which I had tried to place inconspicuously bottom of the bag. The bus screeched to a halt. I made a face at the dust cloud and heavily stepped onto the bus. I leaned my head back and, feeling sick from the heat, was tempted to close my eyes for the remainder of the bumpy ride. *** Julia looked surprised and tired when I approached the fence. She was dressed in a skirt and shirt that looked fresh and clean; normally her clothing seemed old and dust-stained. I could tell she has been crying. “Isabellita!” she called weakly, trying to smile at me and my bag. Pedro, her brother, was sitting on the stairs with his chin cupped in his hands and a dark look on his face. Julia’s husband was hunched over on an upside-down bucket in the shade provided by the house next door. His eyes were glassy and he was muttering something inaudible. “Pedro,” Julia said tersely as I approached, “Take it. Bring back a good cake. The borracho over there is too drunk to care for his children.” Pedro nodded once, his lips tight, and took the money; he strode off in the direction of town. Julia tried to smile brightly. “Welcome, Isabel.” Is everything all ri“Look, Miguel Alfonso! Isabelita is here. She came!” Julia interrupted. Yiseth, Pedro’s young wife, met me with a hug after I climbed the ladder-steps.

“Miguel Alfonso!” Julia pulled me inside the house where Miguel was slouched darkly on a stool, his chin in between his elbows, which rested and his gangly knees. Hello, Miguel! Happy birthday! “Hola, Isabel.” He said weakly, smiling a little. Miguel, I brought some yummy cookies, and my camera to take pictures of your special birthday, I said brightly, trying to cheer him up. He smiled wider. Julia ooohed and ahhhed the oatmeal cookies, delighted to eat something American. Then she insisted that at least five picture be taken before Pedro arrived with the cake. Darwin and Kenia soon peeked their heads into the house—Darwin in what looked like his father’s three-sizes-toobig, long sleeve, button down shirt, and Kenia, in a blue dress with ruffles that looked two sizes too small. Miguel’s face lit up and he got up to greet them. Minutes later, Ronald and Yohvani arrived, their patched clothing clean and faces freshly scrubbed. Yohvani wore an old red bandana around his forehead, looking something like a child bambino. I took a picture of the motley crew. “Now, for the first game,” Julia said. She placed in the center of the room the stool on which Miguel Alfonso had been sitting. Then she turned on her little radio. “When the music stops,” she said, “everyone sit in the chair. Whoever is on top of the pile loses.” Screams of chaos and delight filled the room, along with the flash of pictures from my camera, which Julia could not resist using at least every 3 minutes. The small-bodied children could easily slip into the pile of bodies scrambling to sit down and they also weren’t concerned about squishing



anyone. When I ended up the loser too many times, I switched places with Julia, so that she could also play. “Isabella,” Julia said, after many more rounds and pictures, “You tell us a game. What do people in the United States play at birthday parties?” I thought of the race with the spoon and the egg; I thought of the potato sack race; I thought of water balloon tosses. I thought of piñatas. Then I thought of the only game we had the materials for. Yovanni, I said, please let me borrow your bandana. I covered Miguel’s eyes with the blindfold and then spun him around. In a “pin the tail on the donkey” type of way, we played blind tag until the children were exhausted. “Cake time!” Julia yelled. She presented the beautiful cake that Pedro had brought back, with sweet white coconut frosting and Feliz Cumpleaños written in blue. I wondered how much it had cost and how many tears she had cried before convincing Pedro to use part of her savings to buy it. After we sang the birthday song, she lit several short candles, which looked as though they had been through many birthdays. Miguel quickly blew them out and then, with the expertise of an Ecuadorian mother, Julia swiftly pushed his nose into the frosting. Miguel, with a gleeful smile from ear to ear, tried to touch his tongue to his nose in order to lick it off.

From the Puntilla Juniors in the morning school at Nuevo Mundo were required to volunteer once a week after school at one of several locations in the poor areas across the river. Some days, I rode along in the van that Nuevo Mundo provided so that the morning school kids could travel safely from the smooth, black, paved roads of the Puntilla, where the school was located and the rich people live, to the yellow dusty streets full of humps and potholes that ended at the Arbolito after school program, called Semillas de Mostaza (Mustard Seeds). The first time I rode with them, it was immediately clear to me that these kids came from wealthy backgrounds. Light-skinned, dressed in the latest fashions, sparkling teeth, and carefully-styled hair, many of these kids looked as if they could have been on the cover of a magazine. The young men were clean and handsome, with pressed trousers and white, stainless shirts. The young women wore perfectly pleated skirts, their faces were perfectly made up, and their hair was cut in the latest styles and fashions. More than just their light skin and European features distinguished them from the dark, native look of the Arbolito children. An air of pride, confidence, and materialism made them seem foreign to me— quite un-Ecuadorian. I was annoyed that they laughed and giggled in the vans on the way to Arbolito and that they continued to do so as we entered the dilapidated community. I was scornful at the blonde-haired beauty in the back of the van who batted her eyes at the boy seated across from her.



I was exasperated when the highly educated students clumped together at the tables or talked with each other during the program instead of sitting one-on-one with a child. One day, toward the end of the semester, when the sun was hot and our shirts stuck to our bodies like wet rags, I exhaustedly stepped through the gate of the school where Semillas was held. Today I had walked from visiting Maria. The yellow-brown dirt was itchy between my toes and my eyes were sore from squinting through the hot sunlight. I was late for the program, and although I had told Kevin I would be there to help this afternoon, I felt more like taking a shower and a nap. ¡Goooooool! ¡Buen trabajo! Yeah!

said to Ricardo, a local Arbolito boy who was only five or six years younger and was wearing a tattered shirt and thin, canvas shoes. They slapped hands. Nuevo Mundo young women in their blue, pleated skirts were sitting on the sidelines with their arms around young children. Genesis nestled her face into the shoulder of one girl and held her arm tightly. Inside, books were being read, puzzles built, and games played. The blue-skirted girls were immersed in activity at tables of children. A child in the corner had wrapped her arms around the waist of a white-faced Nuevo Mundo volunteer, holding up a crayon drawing to the volunteer. Suddenly, I felt a rush of new energy in my heart and my eyes filled with tears. I had thought that I was angry at the rich students’ excessive self-absorption and apathy; really, deep down, I knew that I was actually enraged not at the students, who were the same as teens anywhere. My anger was rather at the fact that these students were privileged while the kids they helped were dirt poor; I was angry at the system; I was angry at the socio-economic gulf I perceived here in Ecuador and also the inadmissible gap between the relative wealth of my own country and the poverty of Ecuador and most of the rest of the world. But here—here I knew that something different was happening, some merge of dark and light, indigence and wealth, under-privilege and over-privilege. The prospect of a New World somehow, someday, suddenly no longer seemed wholly impossible.

The cheers were coming from the cancha, where the soccer ball was whizzing back and forth between tiny feet and sweaty shirts. The Nuevo Mundo teenage boys, in their white shirts, now smudged with dirt and sweat, were playing hard with furrowed brows. “Great pass,” one Nuevo Mundo student



Mauricio Unsmiling Mauricio, your arms are crossed on your desk each day. Your short, black hair with shaven, tight curls, makes your eyes look wide and your brows look angry. You are a panther, ready to pounce? Mauricio, why are you sad? What is this anger that you pound your fist on the wooden desktop in frustration? Mauricio, haven’t your parents taught a 9-year-old like yourself to control his temper and also to pay attention in class? A wind there, some smoke through here, a dog barking, other students whispering and giggling. You look around angrily instead of listening to me. Sometimes you rise from your chair and you refuse to sit down again. But when you want to, you are smart. You finish first when you want to. Then I see you one day as the truck bumps and bangs over garbage on the path that hangs out of the dump. You, Mauricio, at 9 years old, are looking for things there. The flies are around you, the garbage is up to your knees, the cows are eating beside you, and their dung is mixed with trash. The vultures swoop lower and lower, and Mauricio, you are digging below your knees because you have found something. Mauricio, Mauricio, unsmiling Mauricio, your arms are crossed and your panther eyes are wide and dark. Mauricio, are you tired of the flies from the dump that bite you day and night? Do you try to run and run but they follow you like all the smells and sights and sickness of this place that are everywhere you look?

Mauricio, have you ever left the dump village? Do you know what Guayaquil is, the large city that is only a short bus ride away?

Do you hate this place? Do you curse it, are you angry as you sit there so mournful? Do you want to punch your life, swipe away the image you see through the smoke, but it only reappears as the suffocating haze moves back and you can’t get away, so you run and run and still you know you’re here in this classroom where you can smell and see the dump, and where the tarped roof drips water through the holes—drip-drip—onto your desk, and the desk is falling apart, the half-seat sticks your sore back, and you don’t feel like studying anyhow after you’ve walked in the trash this morning to help your father? It is wet and it smells, like death and like dead living things, and like overuse and waste and thoughtlessness and insensitivity towards the people like you who live without so much. And do you imagine, Mauricio, the places where all these things come from? What would you think of the house where I live, in which someone is making a dinner tonight and the food will be overflowing and everyone will eat enough and we will have



leftovers? I will eat my dinner soon and I wonder what yours will consist of, Mauricio, and if you will eat. I hope that you will. I hope you aren’t thinking of me.

CHAPTER 11: JESUS IS NAILED TO THE CROSS I love this world more than you can know. I hurt more than you imagine. I call you to come. I call you to work for me instead of yourself. Come, world! Yes, it is time. Now, it is time. Say yes and we will go. I will take you along. . . - Listening Journal, Ecuador



Leonardo’s Family It was 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock or 7 o’clock or even midnight, and there came Miriam, with scared eyes and a sweet smile. Knock knock knock knock. . . . . Knock knock knock knock . . . . Knock knock“Miriam, hello.” Alan opened the door with tired eyes. “Señor Alan! Oh my padre—you are like my father, you know?–please, I beg you I ask you I need, please mister señor, padre… “Please, my children have no food tonight. “Please, Azucena and the two youngest, they have bumps all over them. Look at my babies here as they wail on my hip! “Please, it is hotter and hotter and the mosquitoes are here. We have no nets, can you give us one or two? “Please, I have been urinating blood. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I am so scared. “Please, my house is going to fall down! The men in the truck say that if I don’t fill in dirt beneath, the house will keep leaning and leaning and then fall. “Please, I’m sure my children are sick with dengue. They have fevers, they are delirious. I am so scared, please help. “Please, I have no money for school supplies. Just some pencils and some note books. Maybe pens and erasers too. “Please, Leonardo will be graduating. Can you give him some shoes? Or a clean white shirt at least? “Please, I cannot pay to fill our barrel of water. Without water we are so thirsty. “Please. “Please. “Please.

“Please. “Please.” Please . . . my house smells like urine and I don’t clean it anymore. My house and my life, they are both falling down and to care for any of it makes no difference. Please . . . I am so depressed that my children cook and clean. I send my children out to beg for food. Leonardo and Azucena are bringing up the youngest ones. Please . . . the fathers of my six children have never stuck around. The double standard here, it kills mothers like me, it kills our children, and every generation that learns and follows. Please . . . I am a woman and I have learned no skill. I cannot work now because I don’t know how. Please . . . there are no exceptions here for we who are mentally “slow.” We suffer even more than the rest and for us, there is no way out of poverty. Please . . . he came home after drinking. We asked, where have you been? Where is the food? Have you brought money? No, no, and no. He only wanted me. He left in the morning, still smelling of beer.



St. Lazarus Georgina’s family gave me a statue as a token to remember her sister-in-law on the anniversary of her death. Like most of the light-weight, plastic statues that are sold in the bazaars along the dusty streets of Duran, it was imperfectly painted in pastels with some of the paint already showing signs of chipping. But here was St. Lazarus, leaning on crutches and accompanied by two dogs that huddled against his skinny legs. Georgina, I asked, Why does Lazarus look so sick? Shouldn’t he have a great big smile and his bandages flowing off him? Wasn’t he the one resurrected by Jesus after Mary and Martha’s great faith? Shouldn’t he be renewed by strength and happiness after his resurrection? “This is the other holy Lazaro,” she replied. “See the sores on his body? See his thin arms? See the dogs? This is Lazaro who was poor and he waited outside the rich man’s gate. He went to heaven because he was poor his whole life. He was a santo.” Then I remembered the story. This was the other biblical Lazarus story. This was the Lazarus who waited at the rich man’s gate—emaciated, begging, withering away, and weak. When the rich man had leftovers, he threw them out to his dogs, but Lazarus could not beat the dogs to the scraps. With sores pussing on his skin and his hands forming the beggar’s cup, he sat on lame legs, and begged for the rich man’s help. The rich man shouted for him to go away. No wonder the other Lazarus—the resurrected brother of Martha and Mary—is more popular in U.S. “Lazarus, go away,” the rich man had said. “I do not want to see you there outside my gate. Go somewhere else.”

And he threw his scraps to his dogs but gave nothing to Lazarus. This plastic Lazarus wore a loincloth that could not hide the bones threatening to poke through his skin. The more robust dogs sat at his lame feet, licking his sores and waiting for the scraps from the rich man. This was Lazarus, the other Lazarus that is not so famous. I was not sure why Georgina had given me Lazarus. She may not have known she was doing so, because the statues were wrapped in paper and Patti, another volunteer, got St. Joseph. But later, when I was home and Lazarus was leaning on his crutches on my bed table, I felt an urge in my head to speak to him—that perhaps from in heaven he could hear my thoughts—and that I could tell him that I felt his pain, and that I was sorry. Lazarus, I know that we Americans are the rich man in this story, who died and was condemned because he failed to help you, his fellow human being. It is we who God must be upset with as we live our own lives, ignorant of the suffering of our neighbors—both because we fail to throw them even our scraps and because our policies sometimes deepen the poverty of our neighbors. I remembered, in the story, how the rich man, after his death, pleaded from Hell, “But cannot Lazarus at least go to warn my brothers on earth?” He could not, St. Peter said, who guarded the gate to heaven. Yet, it struck me as I held San Lazaro in my hands that this was my symbol of warning. I looked out my window. Who sits at my gate? Who sits at our gate? Lazarus, I don’t want to leave you out with the mangy dogs. I wondered again why Georgina had given me Lazarus, or why coincidence had landed this statue in my hand instead



of Mary or Gabriel or John the Baptist or Peter? Why Lazarus? Perhaps, I thought while gazing at the statue, it is because we do not like to remember this Lazarus. How we do not know Lazarus, neither when he is right in front of us or across the world! Lazarus, to you and your dogs, we do not hand even our scraps, I thought.

Smoke, Tires, Justice One afternoon, in the casa communal, the community building in our neighborhood, I was tossing a ball with the children when the sky turned black. It was not the entire sky, but a large area over the road to town where I saw the black, putrid smoke billowing in large clouds, up from an unknown source. Dread filled my heart. Something is on fire. A truck turned the corner onto the road and BEEPed its horn loudly several times. The children scattered as it screeched to a halt in front of the building. He spoke to Emily and Miguel Angel through the driver’s window and then sped off, leaving behind the type of dust cloud that pours in through the door, lingers suffocatingly in the air, and settles on everything. Was one of the children’s cane houses on fire? Did a burning garbage pile in someone’s yard get out of control? Had one of the old, rickety buses crashed, exploded, fallen apart? Was anyone injured? I rushed over to hear the news. Is a house on fire? I asked with fear in my voice. “No. It’s a protest,” Miguel Angel said. “The burning smell isn’t wood from a house, its rubber from old tires.” It was then that I noticed that the sickness in my stomach wasn’t just fear. A horrible, putrid smell was invading our happy little program. Every molecule of dusty air was being polluted by the sickening, acidic stench of burning rubber.



Who is protesting? I asked, And what are they protesting? “The people who live along that road are protesting,” Miguel Angel said, pointing toward the main road and repeating what he had heard from the driver of the truck. “Mayor Marianita paved the road, but only up to just past her house. They want the rest of it paved, too.” It was almost time for the program to end anyway, but even at home, a block away, the smell was still there, seeming to leak through the walls, trickling in through every crack. We tried leaving the house, but the smell was everywhere outside and it followed us wherever we went. The air was like a burning liquid in our throats and nostrils. It was toxic, suffocating, caustic, dirty. At first, we hid our faces in the necks of our shirts, coughing, trying not to breathe it. Then people began to walk in the streets with cloths held up to their faces, pressed tightly against their mouths and noses, trying to remain untainted by the burning tire air. My stomach felt sicker and I thought of devising a scheme to convince my housemates to visit the city tonight—or anywhere, really—to escape the horrid smell. The neighborhood began to whisper: Mayor Marianita had the road paved only up until her house, and then it stops and turns to dirt. “No dust for her but all of it for us?” The people said, “No! No! No! No! This dirt is like poison, it clogs our eyes, ears, nostrils, mouths, and our children’s brains, so that they cannot think at all. It brings uncleanliness and parasites. It is a poison, and we have to drink it until we die! It is killing us. Here is some poison for you, too.” And they burned the tires. Tires went into the streets, and tree branches that had washed up on the river shore were dragged there, and cement

blocks, too. They blocked the way that the buses came, and they held signs and shouted. They set the tires on fire and filled the air with a new poison. “And Mayor Marianita, she has promised us running water for years. She dug into the streets and put big blocks in front of our houses a year ago. But here they have sat, and the holes they dug are dangerous for our children! Robbers hide behind these blocks. Does Marianita have these blocks outside her house? No, she doesn’t have flooding in her streets. She has a drainage system and pipes that bring water into her house instead! Even if she finishes this construction project and takes flooding off the streets, it still will not bring running water into our houses.” The silky black ash rose up and fell down, onto the signs held in their hands, onto their unheeded speeches, making the people cough, muffling their shouts. They returned black and ashen, and came again in the morning, when they burned more tires and shouted more slogans. After a couple of days, the mayor sent trucks with sugar-water to the unpaved main street to make the dirt sticky so that it would no longer fly up in the air. “This is a temporary solution,” the mayor said, “but see? We are listening.” The people said, “Fine, then do something.” But on Monday, the people had to go back to work. We saw it all on Monday when we walked half a mile, past the burnt logs and tires that blocked the road, so that we could catch the bus that normally stopped on our corner but had changed routes to avoid the protests. We carefully stepped around the thready black pieces of charred rubber, the remnants of burned tires. Junky metal rims, cement blocks, and rotted tree branches were lined across the road, forming barriers which the buses could not cross. Ash



was everywhere, but it was no longer blowing or burning, sticky with the sugar water. A putrid chemical smell lingered in the air. Protest signs that said things like, “Listen to the people” or “Pave our roads” or “Justicia!” were abandoned on the sides of roads. No one was protesting any more. Everyone feared losing their jobs if they did not work. They did not know what to think of Marianita’s statement to them, which said, “Sometime in the future. I am trying. You have to be patient.”

CHAPTER 12: JESUS DIES ON THE CROSS My people are plowed down, knocked over, flattened, crushed, and left in twisted pieces by the powers that be. Oh child of the God of Justice, I tell you that if it is not right, make it right. I bless you with love, with support, with all you need. Go look for it, seek it out, I’m waiting to give it you. Listening Journal, Ecuador



Buses and Boys We were almost to the market where the people bustle and scurry with their fresh loads and piles, bellowing the names of fruits and vegetables with strong musical voices: ¡Limones! ¡Limones! ¡Tomates! ¡Pepinos! ¡Papaya! ¡Mango! ¡Sandía! Corn spilling from burlap sacks; piles of five red apple on each plates; stacks of peppers and cucumbers and tomatoes and sometimes a combination; plastic sacks of rice and beans and flour; tables presenting oval, golden mangos, yellow squash, and juicy papayas; hundreds and hundreds of round tangerines sprawled across a blue plastic tarp on the ground; carts with boiling locros and ladlefuls of oatmeal drink: this is the market. That morning the people seemed to spill from it, bursting from the congested square like tangerines from the sack onto the ground. The market sounds were everywhere: selling cries, bargained buys, and above all the hoooooonk and move it! of traffic stopped on the street. We were among the jam of cars, trucks, and buses, thick and tight across the road, inching and stopping, squeezing the space, and then still going nowhere. Hooooonk! Hooooonk! Move it! What’s going on here, come on! Let’s go! Go! Go! Go! Go!

I leaned my head out the window to try and see what was causing the jam. There was some commotion on the road up ahead. A stopped bus was blocking several lanes and cars anxious to get by were spilling onto our side of the road to get around the problem. The bus haltingly and indecisively screeched to the left, then the right until, in a burst of speed, it roared past–BLUMP BLUMP-BLUMMP, heavy and too fast over the speed bumps, its back tires leaping for a moment, almost onto the sidewalk near the market vendors, where they shouted and fell back in the other direction. A man from the watermelon stand leapt up, abandoned his produce, and tore after the bus, running, running, as after a thief, with wild eyes and a panicked cry, Stop! Stop that bus! Stop! Stop him! From our congested, inching space on the road, I turned to watch as he neared the bus a block behind us, which had slowed as it faced the congestion of cars which had passed it on the wrong side of the road but which but which were now causing another slowdown trying to get back into the right lane. The watermelon man, with long strides, approached the side of the bus, then grabbed inside the door and pulled himself on, still shouting. I watched him as the bus stopped suddenly, and then as the watermelon man yanked the driver out, throwing him onto the curb, yelling. They were both yelling. Then another man approached, also yelling. The driver crumbled, cowered to the ground. Perplexed, I murmured to my car mates, What is happening? Then traffic began to go, cars moving around some obstacle in the road. We turned our heads back around, chalking the strangeness up to the weird things of Ecuador—to some familial dispute or financial matter, but just happy to be finally moving and a little annoyed to be late to where we were going.



It was only later that we heard about the accident. It was only then that I could imagine it clearly—the smell of the market, the stopped cars, the short detour, and it all made sense. I could imagine him: the victim. The little lifeless body all twisted and tangled, his limbs in all the wrong directions, his dirty skin covered in blood and dust. Still. The women wailing. Then a crowd gathered. The merchants, with one eye on their tables, had the other on the little dead boy. The noise in the market place changed from the daily selling song to a nervous, distraught chatter: What happened? Oh, terrible day! Whose son is he? Where is that rascal bus driver? Just raced away, gone like this. Pity, pity, no one can control those buses. The bus driver, a block away, kept trying to turn away, to deny that it happened, but the watermelon man and another man had his upper arms in an iron grasp and kept forcing him to look back. He struggled, struggled, and then went limp, as if knowing suddenly that he would never escape this. Everyone whispered: Too fast, those buses go too fast. Pobrecitos. Poor boy, poor mother. I imagined that the mother came—wailing, that she gathered the small bloody body in her arms, that her heart felt shattered inside, and that she suddenly drank deeply of the pain of God.

Not me Me? You have got to be kidding. I didn’t go to college. I am a woman. I cannot speak well. These problems, they are too big for me to understand. It would not work. Change is quite impossible. Why don’t the rich help us? They have money and education. They have everything. Why don’t the poor help themselves? I work hard and what I have I gained myself. Those people are lazy. I will not promote their laziness and dependence. Change must be inspired, and inspiration is a woman’s work. I am an overworked man. I come home with an aching body and if I am to feed my family I must rest. I work hard enough as it is. Maybe tomorrow. Only a mamita, only a housewife, I am. My job is to care for my children.



We just need to accept that this is how things are, and then do our best to succeed. I am working too hard. I am young, I am still growing up. I do not know anything yet. I am getting too old now. I have never seen things change. Why should they now? I am old, let the young ones act. This heat, it’s terrible. No one else is doing anything, so why should I? And so it is. I am too busy with my career. I must work first of all to provide for my family. I will worry about those people on the other side of the river—on the other side of the world—later. I do not even know how to read and write. Look how my children learn—it is up to them, it must be. Resources are scarce and our country must keep its resources for itself. We cannot go distributing them overseas. Nothing will be left for us. I might be hurt or killed. What would my family do? Better to keep quiet and out of the way. Let the politicians decide what is best. That is their job. I do not know how to make things different. The government must change first and they are all corrupt.



Shoe-shine Boy At the Supermaxi, which is on the Puntilla on the way home from Nuevo Mundo, the polish-stained shoe-shine boy begged to shine my shoes. I’m sorry, I said, stepping out of the car, pointing to my sandals. He had better luck with Alan, who was wearing dress shoes. CHAPTER 13: JESUS IS TAKEN DOWN FROM THE CROSS. Turn your face away from this place of death and gaze on me. This is not the final end. This sadness, this suffering that makes you want to wrap your arms around your head and cry into your knees—this is not the final end. This is not my intention or dream. Turn your face away for a moment and see my dream, the renewed place where entire communities comfort mourning people and their sadness disappears because love heals. See my place where no one thinks as distanced individuals but as unique members of a united community where all are valued and connected, aware of one another as much as of oneself. So, then, I call you to be in the world of sadness, to deny that this can be the final world, to always hope, and to make my renewed world a reality. - Listening Journal, Ecuador He hunched over Alan’s shoes, his back curved, his eyes focused and determined. He plucked two brushes from his kit and draped a rag over his arm, and his hands began to move. Dexterous and skillful, they were hands made to fly. What technique! What efficiency! How he swifted the rag over Alan’s shoes with his dancing hands that barely seemed to touch the leather, yet made it sparkle and shine. He was a child with the eyes of an adult, and he wore the determined but tired expression of a desperate working father. What is your name, little boy? I asked when he was finished. “Jose,” he muttered, holding out his hand to Alan for the coin. How are your brothers and sisters? Alan asked kindly as he handed him the coin. Alan often saw this boy, and sometimes his siblings, at this gas station. He lived in Cerro Redondo, a neighborhood in Duran. “We are all fine,” the boy said, and then scampered away to the next car pulling up, his skinny arms and legs, which poked through his dirty, hole-filled shirt and shorts, flailing. I wanted to call him back.



Padre Nuestro Where has your childhood gone, little boy? How old are you? Eight? Seven? Where are your parents? Have they sent you here to work? Why aren’t you in school? What right does anyone have—does society have—to sentence you to this in exchange for your education? Doesn’t your daddy bring money home for your mother and brothers and sisters? Where are they? Working too? Do you have fun? Do you laugh and play as a child should? Do you tease your sister? Do you play soccer? Where are you, little boy? Are you a child or have you already graduated to adulthood at the ripe age of 8? Is your whole life destined to this? Do you have any hope? But he was gone, busy at work on a new pair of business shoes. The owner, wearing a dark, clean, business suit, was looking impatiently at his watch, with one hand resting on the hood of his shiny, black convertible. Alan and I drove away in the truck. I stretched my head out the window and watched the boy until he was little, like an ant, and then he disappeared. At every Mass in the big, blue church, the song was sung. The voices of common people— the voice of the man with the orange cart who wheeled his goods through neighborhoods all day, crying out “¡Naranjas! ¡Naranjas! ¡Veinticinco por un dolar!” the hoarse voices of teachers who yelled all week to be heard in overcrowded classrooms without walls the sweet voices of children the rough voices of taxi drivers the tired voices of construction workers the burdened voices of mothers —the disparate voices that were low and high, fresh and gruff, attentive and exhausted, and they sang together this Lord’s Prayer:



We do believe, we must believe, that this imagined world is the one you desire. We believe we can taste your peace, your justice. Please, let this will be done. Aqui en la tierra como en el cielo/on earth as in heaven. Such a world would mirror that of the heavens. Let us work to free all from the weights of poverty and hunger, social immobility, victimization, social discrimination, greed, inequity, and corruption, that our world here might reflect the one in heaven. Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día/ Give us today our daily bread Padre nuestro que estás en el cielo/ Our Father who art in heaven, Santificado sea tu nombre/hallowed be thy name. How can we praise you, God, when suffering and death are all around us? When children look in the garbage for food or beg on dirty streets instead of attending school? When fear and danger rule the night? Still we praise you. Still we thank you for life. Still we know that we are yours, and for this we praise you. Venga a nosotros tu reino/Thy kingdom come We imagine a better world: where our children can play in safety; where jobs are plentiful; where food and electricity are inexpensive; where families can remain together. Hagase tu voluntad/Thy will be done We are a humble people, God. We have lived lives far from privilege and we do not believe that we have what it takes. Daily bread is a lofty goal for hungry people. Yet, we have great faith, and we know that you can provide. Y perdona nuestros pecados/ And forgive us our debts Forgive us our neighborhoods. Forgive us the danger that lurks here in the night. Forgive us the hunger that lingers in the bellies of our children. Forgive us the corruption of our society and the feeling of powerlessness in the face of such great challenges. Como también perdonamos los que nos ofenden/ As we forgive our debtors. Forgive those who perpetuate the social sins of our world, gracious God. Forgive our rich neighbors in whose eyes we do not exist. Forgive them their policies, often selfinterested, that hurt us poor. Their social sins are barriers that



keep them away from you. Forgive our wealthy sisters and brothers, so lost, that they might be allowed to come near to you. Y no nos deje caer en tentación/ And do not subject us to the final test There is so much of which we are not in control. Transform our despair into hope. Make us able to overcome. Y libranos de mal/But deliver us from the evil one. We pray for ourselves, the humble poor, and also for our rich neighbors: From self-centeredness, deliver us. From caring only for our families and our own people, deliver us. From despair, deliver us. From our lack of confidence in your power and our own, deliver us. From the temptation to remain in the comfort of the status quo, deliver us. From complacency, bitterness, and anything but love, deliver us. From the many types of poverty that plague us, and from our acceptance, deliver us. Amen. The rough and tough voices, the sweet and high voices, the joyous voices, the pained voices, the hopeful voices, and the despairing voices—they all came together as one and rose up to the tall, metal rafters at the roof of the church and into the skies and the neighborhoods of Duran and beyond.

Tired Bones The old woman often came to our gate looking for Alan, the volunteer director who lived in a small apartment connected to the volunteer house. Alan had once helped her in some way which she never forgot afterwards. It sometimes seemed she had been waiting for a while, standing exhaustedly on tired, arthritic bones and leaning on a makeshift cane. When I approached the gate on this particular day, she limped haggardly toward me and then gripped my wrists with her thin, bony hands. She began to weep and her words came out in a whining, tortured, slur: “Hija, daughter, my hip is bad, I can hardly move, I am sick, I need help, I am in so much pain, hija—I hurt all over— please, please help me.” Her pained eyes were sad between the sagging skin around her lids. Her mouth grimaced in odd contortions. She was desperate, pleading, and inconsolable beyond reasoning. She was untouched by comfort, and far more wounded than simple compassion could heal. She did not seem to hear the words I spoke as I tried to console her. Only Alan, it was clear that she believed, would be able to reach into her heart and respond in a way that consoled her. Only he spoke her language. She would only quiet her desperate murmur when he came out to speak with her, and it is true that she often left with some money. I went to see if Alan was in. *** Another day, after I had rested for much of the morning as a result of an illness, I opened the door of the hot



house into the scorching sunlight and slipped through the gate to visit my favorite neighbors down the street, where Georgina would surely offer me a cold glass of water. A half dozen houses from Georgina’s, Señora Carmen was laboriously dragging her body down the dusty road, jabbing her cane in front of her to limp a few steps forward, rest, and then start the process over again. Sadness for her filled my heart. I paused, hesitating, and glanced longingly toward Georgina’s where a cold glass of water awaited me. But the pitiful cry came from Señora Carmen: “Mi hija, ayudame. Daughter, help me.” I approached her, obeying the tired eyes of an ancient mother, squinting through sagging skin. How could I help? I didn’t know. I stretched my arms toward her. She lifted her thin, bony arm slowly until her gnarled hand found my elbow, then grasping it tightly, she leaned all of her weight toward me, heavily. She was sweating, tired. We continued down the road slowly, belabored and with measured steps, one step at a time, together. ¿How are you today, Señora Carmen? I tried to sound cheerful. “Oh, mi hija, I ache all over. I am hurting, I have pains. I feel like I may die . . .” I tried to console her: I’m so sorry, Señora Carmen. Yes, life is very difficult. Sometimes all we can do is keep walking. Something felt strangely and completely normal about her hand tightly gripping my lower arm, just beneath the elbow. Something felt close about receiving her weight on me and hearing her woes and sorrows. I wanted to cry for this

woman who, at that moment, felt like my own great grandmother—whom I had never known—walking beside me with much difficulty, telling me her thoughts and struggles. She is the face of ancient Ecuador. The thought had just come upon me. I didn’t know where it came from. I clasped my hand over her thin knuckles. “. . . Oh mi hija, oh daughter, this life is very hard.” She stopped talking to catch her breath. It is too hot for you to be outside! I cried. Can I take you home? Is this where we are headed? “No. To the Church,” Señora Carmen responded, “for just a little food, una pocita de comida.” I remembered that there was a soup kitchen there each day, and suddenly, I felt relieved. But also unsettled. Soup kitchens were as common in Duran as they are in the U.S. In Duran, I knew of at least three. What is wrong with our broken world, our disconnected communities, that our elders, our brothers and sisters, are forced to open their hands and swallow their dignity for meals donated through the charity of churches and non-profits? I thought. In Duran, I had observed, families are more connected; they take in extended family; they share meals with one another; they never lose sight of their elders and bring them home to care for them. But what happens in a tight-knit place like Duran when entire neighborhoods are standing in meal lines? Family, relative, and friends are no longer enough. There is simply not enough to go around. Still, I wondered, what had happened to Señora Carmen’s family? Why was no one caring for this frail, aging woman?



We kept walking, slowly. Señora Carmen put one foot before the other and moaned all the while, until finally, after a short eternity, we were there. We entered the gate and I saw the table set up in the back with a large pot and some cups. Young men were perched on stairs, waiting. Children were playing around their mothers. And many, many older persons, like Señora Carmen, were hunched over and tired, waiting for food that would perhaps be the only meal of the day to strengthen their tired, hurting old bones. “Thank you. Goodbye, mi hija,” she said, as we approached the table. Goodbye, Señora Carmen, I said, feeling like crying for her, hugging her, waiting for her, and taking her back home with me, all at once. Someone can walk back with you? Shall I wait? “No, mi hija,” she said, patting my hand. “These people here—my family—they will help me home.” And with that, she sat down heavily on the stoop to wait for the food, like every other day. CHAPTER 14: JESUS IS LAID IN THE TOMB “Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it [in] clean linen and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock. Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.” - Matthew 27:59-61(NAB) “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end . . . Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. A voice says, ‘Cry out!’” - Isaiah 40: 1-2, 5-6 (NAB) I am powerful enough to raise the dead, to bring hope to despair, to summon in what you thought could never be. Wait by the tomb, but know that I will rise. I will rise through you! - Listening Journal, Duran, Ecuador



Ecuador Has Its Chickens Georgina and her sisters-in-law convinced their thin, thin husbands that it was about time for the family to visit the old farm. The gringos, they said, must come too. There was always room for everyone in the 20-person canoe that had been used for many decades to float produce down the long River Guayas from the farm to town and back. The next hot Sunday afternoon, the long thin boat, with all of us seated in two long rows inside, cut through the slimy brown water of the River Guayas. The water was low and an island of dirty sand, the river bed, had popped up in the middle of the river. “Do you want to stand on the river bed?” the thin uncles asked us. The uncle who was steering landed the boat and we stepped out to stand in the middle of the river, not wetting even a toe. They were all delighted to show us this opportunity. Soon we arrived at the farm where the plump, ripe, mangos hung off of trees and the rice water glistened under the scorching sun. The uncles offered their gnarled hands to pull us up onto the river bank, and then the women led us up, up, up, the creaking stairs of the tall farmhouse, to the room with chairs where the windows were large and a cool breeze blew through. We squished together on the couch and listened to the families’ stories of old days passed by and played slapping, roaring games of cuarenta until our stomachs felt pained by laughter and teasing. Big Aunt had been looking out the farmhouse window when she suddenly turned and announced, “It’s time to eat.” She looked sternly at the three boys, who were poking each other on the steps. “Bring me a chicken.” Her two sisters rose with the command as well, smoothed their skirts, grabbed aprons from the side room, and marched up the leaning stairs to the kitchen nook. Out the window, down below, the three boys and a chicken went this way and that, squawking, fluttering, just barely escaping the extended arms of the oldest boys who lunged and laughed and threw themselves on the fleeing chickens, while their little brother followed. Out of my sight, on the other side of the house somewhere, they caught it.

Sweaty, panting, they came to the door, and the tallest boy, with a wide smile on his face and droopy, crinkled eyes, held the flapping chicken out in front of him, enjoying its wiggling, desperate struggle. Big Aunt grabbed its neck with one hand and feet with the other and pulled. Pop! The chicken body went limp, its life-force gone. The water in the pot on the stove was already boiling. On the other side of the wall, the men and the guests sat, talked, and laughed. The boys sat in front of the television, their eyes fixated on some soap opera.



“It is good we have you gringos here visiting us,” one uncle mused. “We need it in this country with our estupido president.” “He is not doing anything better for us,” another added. “We are all still poor. He promises jobs, better roads, new systems to stop the flooding, a better quality of life. Do you think we have seen any of it?” Around the corner, the aunts were in aprons up in the kitchen and a tall pot of water was noisily rattling the stove, fingers of steam rising in fury. The second Aunt grabbed the chicken passionately, her large arms moving quickly and forcefully to dip the wing, the chest, the neck, into the pot and pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, out came the feathers. For the fine little hairs, in sensitive spots, Big Aunt used a razor. “Miguel, here, can’t even get a job,” the uncles continued, gesturing to our sweet friend Miguel, who lived down the street from us and whose Aunt’s house this was. “He’s going to come out here and work on this farm like his father, and I’ll bet on that. This new government is the same as all the others. They say a lot but boys like Miguel, here—he’ll be coming to the farm.” Miguel, who dreamed of being an artist, looked out the window and said nothing, but his mouth twitched slightly. The Aunts, with sharp knives, attacked the chicken carcass and slit, slit, slit, slit, out came the organs. Here, the intestines. Here, the liver. Here, the heart and many other body parts that mostly went into the boiling pot. Some parts, like the stomach, needed to be cleaned first, and the third Big Aunt scraped out the chicken-feed before adding it to the rumbling pot. “It’s good that you came,” said the uncle with three crooked wrinkles on his forehead. “We like to share with our

friends. We have enough on the farm. But we should remember the fathers who are still looking for jobs after many months and who still come home each night empty-handed, greeted by hungry faces who want to know if they’ve brought anything.” How is it ever going to end? I asked timidly, curious but aggrieved by their pessimism. “Who knows? I don’t. All there is to do is work hard and hope it is hard enough for your children to have something different some day.” But it’s a democracy, right? Most people have things bad. Can’t you all get together and change it? There has to be some hope, right? “No one listens. Besides, we are just a small country and a little people and the world doesn’t care.” The water violently cooked the raw chicken flesh. Big Aunt shouted out her commands. The second and third Aunts chop, chop, chopped at the joints and the vegetables with their thick knives. “What do you think of our country?” The uncles wanted to know. Well, the people, I adore the people. They are amazing, talented, so hospitable, the children are precious, I’ve met people who have great ideas– “Yes,” a younger uncle interrupted impatiently, “but what do you think of the country?” The country? I hesitated. The scenery is beautiful. You have mountains and beaches and jungle and-



“Right, but of all you see in Duran?” they said. “What do you think of la pobreza and the children begging on streets, the robberies, the gangs, and all of us who can offer you nothing more than a visit to our small, humble farm? And what do you think of our government?” The government, yes . . . the government. I guess I think that someone with inner strength, determination, selfconfidence, pride in their country, and charm, but who is filled with love for the people here, needs to change it. “Ha! Who is that person? He doesn’t exist.” The uncles grimaced wryly. All together in one pot, the aunts mixed it, and cooked it, and the scent was delightful, wafting from the kitchen to the sitting room so that the men and children and guests all smelt it and our stomachs rumbled and desired. The aunts called us and they smiled, they delighted, offering heaping plates of chicken and rice to the hungry guests. The blood and juices of the process had disappeared with their aprons. The stern expressions left their faces but they watched us very closely. “Papi, eat up. Don’t you like it? The largest portion is for you and you must eat it all. Boys, get up, show some respect and give those seats to the visitors. You can sit in the other room. Would you like to know about our farm? Do you want to hear little Jose recite a poem about Ecuador? I taught it to him for fifteen nights and now he’s learnt it. You will take some chicken and rice home to eat later, don’t offend us.” And finally,

“Be steady in the boat and don’t look over the side and hold on with both hands. Thank you for coming and go with the angels.” These were the women who folded us into their large bodies and hugged us warmly before we left, and who stood on the side of the farmland and shouted alternately love and warning as the boat pushed off. These were the women, the great big women, who bore heat and sweat and blood and guts and boiling water and great big knives with perfect control. These were the women who cooked the chicken.



Maria, Maria One afternoon during rainy season, the sun was hot and the sticky, stagnant water that lay on the street in front of Maria’s house stank like rotting fish. We parked the truck at the corner and in our knee-high galoshes, squished and sploshed down the road to Maria’s house. Maria! We saw her in the window; her tiny fingers which had so skillfully fed fabric through the sewing machine each week at the taller were now clenched around the window’s iron bars, and her small face was worried. Spotting us as we sloshed through the water below, she ran to the door and threw it open, gesturing for us to enter quickly. Inside, she shut the door tight behind us. “I don’t want him to follow me. I don’t want him to see you. He doesn’t know you’re here.” Kary and I looked at each other. All right. Let’s go, then, Maria. All of her things were packed: a basket of clothing, a small gas stove, two faded paintings, her sewing materials, and a blanket. It took us only two trips of slop-slopping in our galoshes through the murky, stagnant, water to load her things in the back of the truck. Back at the house, Maria locked the padlock on the outside of the door, led little Stalin down the stairs, then hoisted him up against her hip to keep him dry as she took large steps to the truck through the water. There was a sucking sound as she pulled each flip-flopped foot up from the mudwater.

We rumbled (sploshed) down the muddy road, turned, then turned again, and again, through the maze of houses. Then, at the end of one road, we could go no further. We were at the edge of Arbolito, where small shacks were being built. Here, the road became a pond, or rather a swamp of stagnant brown water, thick with mud and clay. In some places, thin blades of long-leaved plants stuck up through the water. It was difficult to tell what lay below. We turned the car off. We would have to walk. Driving farther risked being stuck for good in the muddy, slimy water. We slid and tromped, Maria with Stalin on her waist and Kary and I with her things in our arms through the calfdeep mud, past the rows of shacks on stilts, past two dozing pigs, past half-constructed houses with only two walls or missing a roof, until there it was on the end of the row: one tiny room on very tall stilts, one window, above one vast sea of thick, wet mud. He would never find her here. It was quaint, tiny, box-like, and suffocating. Four sticks for legs and a little room on top. A miniature porch, on which only one person could stand, would be her watchtower. I imagined her hugging Stalin and waiting, worrying, watching for him to come after her. A large padlock hung on the door in case he was. For now she would hide—she and her things and the child, Stalin. The basket of clothing went in one corner of the tiny room, the small gas stove in another. Her sewing materials we set in the third corner. The fourth, we left empty. She and Stalin would sleep there, on the wood floor, with the blanket she had brought; there was no bed. The sun was beginning to set.



Maria, we asked, Will you be all right? She nodded her head, but her eyes were fearful. We hugged her. We stayed a bit longer. It was getting dark and this was Arbolito. The name of the community, meaning “Little Trees,” sounded so innocent, but we knew what happens here after dark. We knew how, after dark, the men who ran the neighborhood stopped cars on the road to Duran. We’ll visit you soon, we said. “When?” she asked fearfully. Soon as we can. “I’m scared,” she said. “I’m all alone,” she said. You’re not alone. You have neighbors. They look very nice. “I’m alone,” she said. “Only me and my baby.” Maria, Maria. Suddenly, her face crumpled like he had already found her. “¡No puedo!” (I can’t do it.) Maria! Maria. Yes. Yes, you can. “¡No! ¡No puedo!” Maria, look at me. Maria, what have you done already? I know no other woman with the strength to do this, to move away. “Pero no puedo. No puedo.” Maria, you already did. Now all you have to do is survive.

She nodded. But we were worried—worried for her. How would Maria get around when the bigger rains came? How would she get water? We imagined that the water trucks, though bigger and tougher than our vehicle, would fear getting stuck in the mud and might not come down her street. How would she protect herself from the mosquitoes, thick from the marsh behind the house, that were sure to invade her little cottage that night and every night? If we came back to visit her, would she be in danger? Stalin’s father could see our truck and follow it, or someone could spot us and tell him. And how exactly was she paying for this new house? Where would she get the food for her and Stalin to survive? We turned back to look and there was Maria, holding Stalin close, in her tiny remote house on the edge of the village but high, high above the sticky, gooey mud that was everywhere on the ground. She stood on her little porch and watched us, waving slowly and looking scared, not knowing what would come next.



Carrots and Rights Marlene, who is five and who loves her mother, slid off the bed, picked up the knife that was lying in the bowl and said, “Mother, I am going to make our dinner now.” She crouched over the plastic washing bowl that held four rotting carrots and she began to gore out the spots of rot with the tip of the knife. She made light lines down the sides of the carrots just fine enough to brush away any bad soft spots. Some students were laughing noisily in the classroom and I hurried back over, calling back to her, Can you come back when school ends? He might come then. But instead she waited and waited in the hot sun for more than an hour, as if she had an urgent message and could not afford to miss him. I went to see her again when my English class was over. I think he won’t be here until the end of school, and I’m not sure he will for sure come then, I repeated, thinking she hadn’t understood. “I will wait,” Maria Paola said. “It is about the children’s school fees. I cannot pay them,” she said. I nodded compassionately. I knew that recently, her house had burned down, leaving her and her six children homeless until a kind nun offered them a small shack to stay in. Finally, the school day ended and the metal door on the preschool classroom opened, freeing Marlene and the other small children. Italo had not arrived and was probably busy taking care of matters at one of the other schools he ran. I will tell Italo that you need to speak with him, I told Maria Paola. I waved to her as the daughter, mother, and her tiny baby walked away together, trudging on the path of garbage and dirt in the direction of the smoke and dump. * ** Italo was able to work something out with Maria Paoloa, accepting her cleaning services at the school in exchange for enrollment for three of her children. But another time she came to the school gate, and then still another time and another.

Maria Paola, Marlene’s mother, was a large woman with sad, desperate eyes, who always had a sucking child hanging from one breast. I first saw her at the gate of the school and while the children were working on a project, I went to see what she wanted. “¿Y Señor Italo?” I’m sorry. I don’t know when he’ll be here. Maybe later today?



¿Y Señor Italo? This is what she always asked. There was always some pressing situation, it seemed, but I only learned her story little by little, not wanting to interfere in business she had with the school director. Instead, it was on a hot day, weeks later, that I visited her house. School had gone on vacation and I was woefully attempting a vacation art, geography and science program— subjects I thought were sorely missed in the regular curriculum. In an attempt to recruit more students, I announced to the children that I was going to stick around for “visits.” Anyone whose parents were home, I wanted to go and meet, just to say hello and to know their families, and we would also visit their neighbors and other students not present. We walked farthest first, because it was hot and we would tire easily, and visited first the house of Kenia, a cool concrete house on the edge of where Veintiocho met another community. There was a fruit tree near the door and the waiting children threw a stone to knock fruit down. We visited the house on stilts where Esteban and Dairon and Cynthia lived, where their brother’s very pregnant young wife and their mother were doing laundry. We went next to the tilting house of Mariuxi, who only came to school sometimes and cared for her younger siblings all the other days. We stopped in the residence of Yohanah, Darwin and Yissela, to say hello to Maria and Bienvenidos, their parents, their three older brothers, and their aunt, grandmother and cousins, who all lived in that same one-room house together.

Then, we ventured nearer the trash to visit the house of Miguel, my little artist who drew beautiful sketches for me daily and who had even asked for a photograph of me once so he could draw my portrait on paper. Finally, across from Tatiana’s tilting house on stilts, with smelling dump air and a rotting ladder, I noticed a tiny, tiny shack and Maria Paola was standing outside of it, speaking with a teenage girl who left a black bag at her feet. This was the tiniest, weakest, structure I’d ever seen trying to masquerade as a house. It was the size of a shack, really, or a bathroom. I was sure that not much more than a bed could fit inside. It was right on the edge of where flies buzz and the stench of the garbage dump reeks worst. I approached the leaning structure slowly and raised my hand. Maria Paola nodded her head and shifted the child on her hip. Is this your house? I asked. She nodded. I didn’t know what to say next. I was walking around with the children to meet their families. Then I saw you here. She nodded, still saying nothing. Her eyes were glassy, her mind lost somewhere else. Is Marlene here too? I asked. “She’s playing.” Where? I wondered. What kind of work do you and your spouse do? I knew the answer; probably they worked in the dump, yet I could think of nothing more to ask. “He isn’t here,” she said, and her face grew more tired.



She beckoned for me to come inside the house. I hesitated, looking back at the children, still playing at Tatiana’s. I went inside. Upon entering, there was no where to go. One could either stand in the doorway or sit on the old mattress. There was room for nothing else except a pot, with a few rotted vegetables inside. Dirt was the floor. Flies sat on everything. So this is where you live, I said, trying to sound cheerful. I have been trying to visit the houses of all the students. “It’s a nun’s house, a friend who helped us,” Maria Paola said. “We’re staying here.” Maria Paola had dragged the black bag inside, which the girl had left a few minutes ago. It filled up almost the entire space on the floor in front of the doorway. “Clothing,” she said. “Sometimes people bring us things.” She sighed, looking tired. An older boy who looked like Maria Paola, with fuzzy hair and large, exhausted bones, approached us. Two younger boys followed. Mama, the first one said, pressing something into her hand. She gave him back one coin. “Go and buy some more carrots,” she said. * * * “That woman, she’s from Esmeraldas,” said Julia, who lived next to the school at Veintiocho, when I asked her about Maria Paola. “In Esmeraldas, they’re all poor. Those AfroEcuadorians have it worse than all of us. The rains flood their houses every year. The thieves steal from all the people. There are murders, and babies die of hunger. No one helps them and so they come here.”

Alba, Italo’s mother, a social worker, who visited the dump one day a week, thought we should visit Maria Paola some day. Maria Paoloa’s husband, Alba said, was younger than she—quite a few years younger. Tatiana’s mother, who was friends with Maria Paola, couldn’t speak of the man without becoming infuriated: “The worthless man,” Tatiana’s mother said. “He left after the last child was born. Up and left her on her own with seven children. That was just after their house was destroyed in the night by a fire from the dump that leapt over the border of the dump and into her house while everyone was sleeping. She could barely grab the two youngest ones before the poor place crumpled and turned to dust. Ashes, only ashes, that’s what it is now. She’s living in a house a nun is letting her borrow. It is too small for that big family. But who can help her?” The city couldn’t. The non-profit housing organization couldn’t. Maria Paola’s house had been built on “invasion” land, like most of the other houses on the edge of the dump. It was illegal and so no one would help rebuild it after it burned down. Her neighbors were helping as best they could, bringing food and clothes when they could spare them, but it was not enough. “Those children are all sleeping together in one bed with their mother,” Sandra, the head teacher at Veintiocho’s school, said. “Just think of it, 12-year old boys sleeping in the bed with their mother in that tiny one-room house. Those boys, they are good, though. The oldest ones, the 12 year old and 10 year old are not in school but they work for their mother—they find enough in the dump to bring home a little food.” And Marlene, who loves her mother, helped to prepare the vegetables.



* * * One final morning she came to the gate. ¿Señor Italo? I inquired, presuming her question. He’s not here today. I’m sorry, he’ll come tomorrow. I did not know she was waiting for me. She didn’t ask for money. She didn’t ask for food. She didn’t ask for medicine. She asked if I could come later and if she could ride with her seven children in the bumpy back of the truck, just until some side of the road that was near where a doctor’s office was. Her children, she said, they were all coughing and withered with diarrhea, sometimes fever, and runny noses, too. They had been this way for weeks and she didn’t know what to do. “The little ones,” she said, “I’m worried for them.” I said, Yes! She looked at me with tired eyes. “When, Isabel, will you come?” Five thirty, I said, at the end of this road. I pointed to the spot. I even know a doctor who likes to help the people here in this community. He won’t charge you anything. She stared at me for a moment, then said, “Yes, five thirty,” and trudged down the road slowly with her shoulders slumped and her neck bent down toward the child on her hip. I came at five thirty. I waited near the field. I watched the last garbage trucks empty their loads. I watched the bulldozers rumble slowly back and forth across the field to crush and smooth the lumpy trash. I heard the bugs begin their nightly buzz. I slapped at mosquitoes. I thought I saw a butterfly in the field. I watched the vultures soaring eerily in the sky, which turned red and then navy so that the fingers of smoke looked supernatural over the trash.

Men walked across the railroad tracks, returning tired and dirty to their homes. Two teenage boys pushed a wooden cart with a few leftover vegetables. A man asked me if I wanted to buy some chicks. He showed them to me from his burlap bag. Maria Paola and her children didn’t come. It was too dark to navigate the garbage-packed roads to her shack, and dangerous. I couldn’t understand: Maria Paola didn’t come. Maria Paola didn’t come? Maria Paola, where were you? I would ask her later, exasperated, as I stood at the door of her house. “You really came?” She looked both shy and upset. Yes, I was waiting. “I had to make dinner,” she said, and would not look at me. But when she finally did, there was something different, something new, about the way her eyes looked that reminded me of Spring.



Stations of Lives and Crosses On Good Friday, when Jesus took his last breath on the cross and then the life-spirit left him, the sun is said to have eclipsed with the moon, the earth quaked in despair, and the thick woven cloth in the temple was torn in two. On Good Friday in Duran, Christ died a million deaths all over again. But only the thick swarm of mosquitoes quivered in the still, thick air. Only the emaciated dogs howled in the night, and only God looked upon Duran and wept at the degradation of human life and dignity that occurred on Good Friday, just like every other day. 1st station: Jesus is condemned to death. At Andre’s home of stacked tin things, his mother has found a special treasure for him: a rusted, crooked tricycle without wheels that he pushes around because it won’t ride. Yohvani and Ronald, the boys down the street, have wheels of their own: old, bent, dirty wheels that they roll, laughing, down the garbage-packed streets in front of their titling houses. In the home of Jenifer, who wears her mother’s flipflops, there is an open refrigerator but no food inside. Temporary fathers come and go in Leonardo’s home, and they never leave food nor money. “Condemned, child, you are condemned,” I think. “There are only two classes in this society and you will stay in the one to which you were born.” Forever. 2 Station: Jesus accepts his cross.

“But what can I do? I am only a mamita, a housewife and mother. I wouldn’t know how. I can’t even read that well.” “I am the overworked, overtired, man of the house. I work hard for my family. And besides, there is no hope. My government is completely corrupt. Every level of society is corrupt. Everyone knows that. What can I do? I just do the best with what I have.” “We cannot do much about the corruption and poverty; I will go along with the system while trying to maintain my own integrity. There is a limit to what I can do to help—I was elected to this government with certain dreams, but now I realize that in reality the problems in my country are simply too big.” “I am here in the United States and they live everywhere else. They have been unlucky. The world is full of poverty. It always has been that way. What can I do?” And so it is. 3rd Station: Jesus falls the first time. Jesus, here you struggle, here you falter and totter, and here you will fall. “There is only money for us to eat once today,” the solemn mother tells her children. “When will these gas prices stop rising? Soon I will be unable to cook,” she thinks. Weighing the options: the children’s school tuition, their school uniforms, a doctor’s visit, food, cooking gas, or repairs to the rotting house. Pick two and a half.



4th Stations: Jesus meets his sorrowful mother. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved, and he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” Behold, your mother. Behold, your son. Pedro’s house fell over—the cane poles just got too old, and it collapsed. Everyone brings food, clothes, and blankets to the community house until the neighborhood can rebuild the house together. Maria Paola’s house burned down and her husband left her with the seven kids, so a kind nun offers the floor of her a one-room shack for sleeping. Jenifer is thirsty but everyone knows the family can barely afford water. Little Paola takes her home to get a drink. But what happens when everyone’s dad and husband and son are looking for work with none to be found? And when the only living to be made is to pick alongside the dirty vultures in the trash that gets dumped and dumped and dumped there by the city? Aren’t we all the mothers and brothers to these daughters and sons and fathers and sisters? Are suffering people only statistics, or our family, too? 5th Station: Simon helps Jesus carry the cross. We always go along, as Simons. We have good intentions. We try to do what we can in little ways to help those in need with a donation, a pat on the back, or even direct service. The world would undoubtedly be worse without the

Simons in the world who lessen the burden of the suffering one. Yet, like Simon, we do not stop to ask, “But is this fair? Can the outcome here be different? Let’s not crucify him—free him instead! Why these crucifixions?” But this would have been uncomfortable; it would have been strange; and it would have been a challenge to the status quo. We are good at offering temporary alleviation of suffering; we are not so good at stopping the crucifixion of our poor and vulnerable in this world. Many are those willing to extend a helping hand. Few are those willing to dig deeply to the causes of your daily crucifixions, Ecuador, and even fewer, to challenge them. It is complicated, we all say. Who am I to decide who is right? And so we are silent. But how might the world be different if we did ask questions? How is this policy affecting the poor? We might ask. Are the voices of the most marginalized being heard? And more complicated yet, What role do have the powerful—the leaders of rich countries, institutions, and special interests— played, or do they still play, in perpetuating the poverty and inequality that exist? And what role do I myself play if I do not answer such questions, and if I simply trust those in power to do what is right? There are questions—complicated questions—about control of production by foreign companies, overbearing debt, lending decisions, trade agreements, and so on. But each of us are Simons, enabling crucifixion when we fail to seek out answers to such questions and the root causes of what is unjust. Simon, we can’t condemn you for agreeing to partake in this crime against the innocent. We allow hunger, poverty, and lack of education and development. We have failed to



partake in the creative process of developing alternative solutions for the good of all. We turn our eyes away from human rights violations; from situations that degrade the value of life in so many other countries. We allow starvation to exist for billions globally. We allow death from preventable diseases. We allow non-access to potable water. We are Simons all the time, carrying crosses instead of asking questions, and it always leads to death. 6th Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. She wipes blood and sweat and then cherishes that cloth lovingly in her hands—this is love. Are we willing to get this close? In our world of plastic gloves to change a band-aid and always “my safety first, my life first, my family first, job first, future first, comfort first, country first,” can we ever reach out with the hands of Veronica? If we don’t, we will continue to live in a disconnected, un-united, broken world of strangers where the meaning of “family” is too narrow and where suffering is neglected. If we do learn from Veronica’s example, love may really consume us. We may experience a miracle. 7th Station: Jesus falls a second time. Small children hold out their hands in the dirty downtown, in the city streets, begging, while their mothers look on. He falls. Muggings and gang violence are so commonplace that many people do not go outside after six p.m. He falls. Miguel graduated from high school. He looks for years for a job but can’t find even a single opening. He falls.

Young Erica’s thin legs carry a bloated belly. He falls. Mauricio stands in the garbage, picking with his father. He falls. Jesús, elderly husband of Gladys, cannot afford to pay to go to the hospital to remove what he thinks is cancer. He falls. Employment, health system, and education system disasters. He falls. The rich do not ask questions about why this is so; they simply accept it. He falls. 8th Station: Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children,” he says. Julio wants to know as I sit in his house, talking with him and his family: “How is your family? Are they safe?” “Safe? Yes . . .” I respond. I think, Why wouldn’t they be safe? His is the house in front of which a neighbor was robbed last week in broad daylight. “Because your country, rich at the expense of others, is hated by some. Because you do not care about the poverty in which so much of the rest of the world lives. Because you have started a war and innocent people are dying. Many people do not think these things are fair and just. This is why I ask if your family is safe.” “Weep instead for yourselves,” Julio says.



9th Station: Jesus falls the third time. “I am forgotten, out of mind like the dead; I am like a shattered dish.” Sometimes, the older children have the look of an old man in their eyes: Leonardo, you sit outside the gates waiting for Alan and eating leaves. You say you are too hungry. Jose Maria, the plasma has become a ball in your leg. In horrible pain, you finally went to the doctor, only to find that the medicine you will need will cost much more than you can afford. Ignatio, how does it feel to be the working man of the house, the provider, now that your father’s heart is bad? Kevin says you are depressed. You won’t show that side to the women. Andrea, why can’t you study? Maybe it is because your mother is urging you to quit school to make money for the family. Andrea, keep on! 10th Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments. “Even as many were amazed at him—so marred was his look beyond that of man, and his appearance beyond that of mortals—so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless; For those who have not been told shall see. Those who have not heard shall proclaim it.” Literally, they have been stripped of garments and figuratively, of their dignity. They wear stained or torn clothing they’ve found in the dump. They are deprived of basic nutrition, they are stripped of opportunity; they are sometimes

stripped of self worth, too. “Isabel,” they say, “you are so beautiful with your white skin and colorful clothing.” “Isabel,” Monica begs, “If there is any way, can you take Stick, the son whom I love, home with you?” But like Jesus, they, too, are incapable of having all their dignity stripped away. Like him, they know who they are. They know they have not been forgotten by you. They know, somehow, that this is not how it is supposed to be. They sing with the faith of a granito de mostaza. There are those like Sandra, the school teacher; Italo, the school builder; and Miguel Sanchez, community president. They know who they are; they must have seen glimpses of what you desire for this world so that although now stripped, they still believe. 11th Station: Jesus is nailed to the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” My God, must I die of hunger? My God, how could you have let her die of this disease, treatable with medicine that is easily available in rich countries? My God, my son lies in my arms, bleeding, knifed by gang members, can’t you help him? Yet, no doubt pollutes their minds. They cry out for God’s comfort, for more faith, for the strength to get through hard times, for the ability to love their neighbors, and for the conversion of their communities. They know well both the beginning and end of Psalm 22.



“For God has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out.” God hears them, of this they are sure. They are crying out from their crosses, all nailed in rows. God, you hear them, but we, the rich, do not. You love them, but we remain on the other side. We turn our eyes away from their crosses. 12th Station: Jesus dies on the cross. The sun goes away and the temple curtain splits in two. God is in mourning for his people. The rain is his tears, the aguacero his weeping bellows. God mourns for what we have done to each other and for what we allow. 13th Station: Jesus is taken down from the cross. But is there hope? We feel that all is dead, lifeless. It is all despair. It has already been done—what can we do? We clear away the damage in sadness. . . 14th Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb. We wait. We don’t yet know the solution, but we’ve seen the terror of the cause. We lay the crucified victims in the tombs. We hope we won’t forget them, that we’ll learn. Will we? Conclusion Good Friday, and it is time for the journey; for the enacting of the Passion of the Christ up and down the streets of our barrio. I play the role of a townsperson, dressed in sheets and shouting, “Crucifícalo! Crucíficalo!” It makes me cringe each time. I feel that as a gringa, I am a symbol of the judgment that we, the rich, make about the poor: that their daily

deaths are not of equal value to that of our own white people. Their suffering and misery, we somehow think, is worth less than the suffering of our own people. I don’t want to play this part, but this is my role: the role of a privileged person, very much responsible for the struggle of others and for allowing their struggle to be ignored. But Good Friday is not the end. Christ’s death is not the conclusion of the story. Rather, the Resurrection, our salvation, comes two days later, and we celebrate. Yet, I cannot help but think that our world today has not reached its grand Resurrection. Rather, we are stuck in an incessant Good Friday, waiting for someone else to go to the tomb, to play the part in the story that brings life for all. My prayer is that we can all discover our roles as Mary Magdalene, John, and Peter. We are called to go and discover the tomb; to be shocked, amazed and inspired by God’s own plan for the liberation—both spiritual and physical—of all humankind. Now, so many people wait. They wait for us to discover that they are our equals, real sisters and brothers and that their suffering is not acceptable. They wait for us to think critically about the policies that hold them down and perpetuate their poverty. They wait for us to challenge our leaders to make global poverty a national priority. They wait for us to play our part in proclaiming the renewal of the world in order for poverty, hunger, and disease to become things of the past. They wait for us to proclaim the Resurrection.



The people follow the crucified Christ in a Good Friday procession in Guayaquil.

“Resurrection” over the River Guayas.


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