Friday, July 15, 2011

What Must They Think?

When you come to Cuenca, you will notice that family takes precedence over everything. They live together—sometimes three generations in one house; they eat together and they play together. It’s how they were raised. In fact—walking through the neighborhood—it’s hard not to notice how Cuencanos purposefully plan for everyone to be under one roof.

Sometimes you will see homes that stretch an entire block or "compounds" with separate homes for each of the family members. So when I’m asked how could I leave my family to come to Ecuador, I’m very careful how I answer that question because I don’t want them to think that I don’t care!

Today I answered that question with eyes brimming full of tears! I’m sure the taxi driver wasn’t expecting me to blubber on and on about how much I missed my family; he was just asking a simple question with a not-so-simple answer. In fact, when I started pulling out pictures of our boys, my son and his wife, and my family in California, I’m sure he was thinking to himself, This poor señora needs to get a grip!

After a year in “paradise” you start to reflect on what brought you here in the first place. For us, it was simple; we came here for the excellent and affordable medical care. In fact, we aren’t the only ones. It’s becoming a common theme among expats looking to retire in Cuenca. Retiring overseas—once considered to be a luxury—is now becoming a necessity.

When I try to explain that concept to our Ecuadorian friends, they just shake their heads! That’s because it’s inconceivable to them that family doesn’t take care of family—especially when it comes to medical care. In fact, one of the things you will see missing in Cuenca is a lot of rest homes—“asilo de ancianos.” That’s because in Ecuador, the family is the single strongest unit—they take care of one another.

In America, we are taught to have an independent spirit: raise the kids, send them away to college and lock the door when they leave! And when the parents get old, just send them away to a nursing home and let someone else take care of them. Very few families in the U.S. take care of their elderly parents—in their own home. In Ecuador, it’s that great respect for the elderly—passed on from generation to generation—that keeps them all living under one roof.

We have many expat friends who are caretaking from a distance and some who have chosen to bring their parents with them. There are no easy answers and no simple solutions. If you’re planning a move to Cuenca, remember that you will have days --  like I had today -- wondering, What must they think?

Until next time…hasta luego!

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Sue and Pat said...

Connie, I know that my sister and I struggled with that same issue four years ago when our dad fell and fractured his knee. (He was not a small man). He also had congestive heart failure and only lived another 6 weeks in a nursing home and he was almost 80 years old. We discovered that we were not physically able to take care of him--not without hurting ourselves. Plus you have people who have to work every day and can't stay home and take care of their parents. It is a real dilemna. Sue

TravelPhotoWriter said...

Thanks for this heartfelt and thoughtful post. We North Americans are the true minority on this mindset, not sure why we think nest-busting is better. In our travels, in Asia, much of Europe, So. America, Egypt, So. Pacific, Mexico, and more, we have noticed familiy being together and caring for both the children and the elderly as a team. It is also still the case in many of the tight sub-cultures that immigrate to N.A. (like for ex the Asian, Italian, Hispanic etc. communities within the U.S.). Although I too was raised to get out after H.S. and "make my life", I'm not impressed with the long-term effects of our western "independence" (and WHY and by WHOM were we as a culture influenced to think this was better?!). Statistics show more depression, disconnect, focus on filling the gaps with material wealth/"stuff", distractions of pop culture/media, in many cases kids being more influenced by FaceBook and YouTube than their family(NOT villifying the influences, just noting the balance of influential power). Reports are that the upside to this financial crash in the U.S. is that many families are once again sharing one roof, spending time together with simple (cheap) entertainment, finding a refreshing value in relationships, and QUALITY over quantity. Hm. Are we circling back to balance?

Gerard said...

This is very true about family here in Ecuador. Although from California, in 1994 I married into a very large extended Cuencana family, and know and love the culture very well.

But there is a tragic contrary to the family being together. There are entire villages out in the "campo" (country side) of Azuay and Cañar provinces where there are no men, no fathers, only a few old "abuelos" (grandfathers). The men out of desperation of poverty have emigrated illegally to the promised land up north, and send money home every month. Some have been away for 10 years or more.

Connie Pombo said...

Thanks everyone for your thoughts! And thank you, Gerard, for bringing up the matter of the "fatherless." We know several Ecuadorian families who are in that situation right now. Why is having a house and car more important than having a father around? Did we as Americans set that standard as well? I certainly hope not!

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