Those who know me, also know that the April 16th Earthquake here touched me in an inexplicable way. Many have asked me why. I don't know. I just know it did. I want to help. It was during this time that I realized Ecuador feels more like home to me than any place I've ever lived. So friends and I jumped in and helped by doing what we could from the altitude of the Andes, hours and hours away from the destruction. Literally, hundreds of truckloads of water, medical supplies, diapers, and food were rushed to the coast in those first weeks.
But then the clean up and reconstruction began. I physically am not able to help on the coast. So what could I do from here? I started a project and then another just kind of happened. If you would like more information about the relief effort, Proyecto Saman, or to donate click HERE.
Most of my expat friends here are writers. So I hatched a plan. What if we put together an anthology about friendships as expats? And what if we dedicated it to the Earthquake relief with all royalties going to the rebuilding effort? I began questioning people I know who have been involved with anthologies and set out a project hoping to avoid the most obvious pitfalls my friends experienced. Did I think this project would roll along with no hiccups? Of course not. Some of the obstacles I've experienced so far I'll admit I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. But the bottom line is, Friends In Foreign Places: An Expat Anthology migrated from an anthology of Cuenca writers to writers from all over the world. It grew from our impressive Cuenca community writing about being expats in Ecuador to include our new Ecuadorian friends writing about being friends with us, and then expats from other places, and U.S. and Canadian citizens writing about friendships with immigrants and refugees in their own countries. We now will have between thirty and forty writers from amateurs to professionals sharing beautiful stories and woven tales about cross-cultural friendships from corner to corner of this ever shrinking world. Even before publication, the project is exceeding even my wildest dreams. And I am thankful. I'm especially thankful that I didn't listen to the people who said it couldn't be done.
For the next part of this story, I will say that in my public life, in my social media, in particular, there are two things I never speak of. Religion and Politics. Many of us have adopted that philosphy because if you don't want to spend all your time arguing your opinion or listening to someone else's it's just better left unsaid. I'm about to break that rule, just this once. Because I stumbled onto a hotbed of crap that you just won't believe.
In the Southern U.S. where I was raised and raised my son, we had t-shirts and baseball caps with the saying, "American by birth, Southern by the Grace of God." I decided I wanted a shirt that said, "American by birth, Ecuadorian by the Grace of God." Some friends said they wanted one too. But they wanted their shirt to say they were Ecuadorian by choice.
Okay, I'm aware that it's not cool to say, "God" anymore. I'm also acutely aware that many people don't think God has a single thing to do with where they are, how they got there, or the many blessings in their in lives. Yep, some of us earned what we have and we made our own choices. I have friends that bridge all different types of religions and beliefs and even a few who profess to not believe in anything. That's cool. We don't talk about it. They don't try to sell me their doctrine and I'm not peddling mine either. So I find someone to create the artwork, (thanks, Sebastian) and someone to help me get the shirts made, (thanks, Sebastian, Olivia, and Agosta). I put the shirts up online and said hey, if you want a shirt, I'm adding $5 to the cost and it goes to earthquake relief.
Well, as they say in the south, (I don't think it matters your religion), Oh My Lord in Heaven, I opened a cesspool of opinionism. The first objection, of course, was not wanting God on a shirt, but I expected that and had already addressed it with an option for your shirt to say by choice if you desired.
But then. Then. I discovered that I can't call myself an American anymore. What?!?!?! Yep. The term American is apparently a one-word oxymoron. And to top it off, it's offensive to the nationals of my new adopted country. Or, at least, so say some fellow expats. So, not believing this could possibly be true I set out to clarify in my mind what I was being told. First I apologized publically for the short sightedness and insensitivity of our forefathers to call us Americans and I pleaded for help in reversing 240 years of tradition and habit. (Yep, I can be a smartass when it's warrented.)
Yes, I understand that there is a South America and a North America and that the term American COULD be considered ambiguous. It could mean either one. I get that. But there is no flag for North American, I didn't get here with a North American passport. I began asking all the Ecuadorians I came into contact with if it offended them if I called myself American. Those I know personally and those I don't. Like the taxi driver, the shop keeper, the restaurant owner. My first belief was confirmed rather quickly. No. Ecuadorians are not offended by this. Because mostly they are not offended by something so inconsequential. Then the virtual online fight broke out about what people around the world call the citizens of the United States of America. Americans. No. Yes.
I did get in a discussion with a new friend from Belgium about the upcoming election in the U.S. He says, "The Americans..." Hold on. Wait a minute. Go back. When you say Americans, who do you mean? Yep, you got it. Because my readers are smart and worldly. Will I ever win this debate? Nope. Cause I'm not going to engage. I now call us United Statesians. Feel free to use the phrase if you find you need it too. Maybe in another 240 years it will catch on and no one will ever have to compromise themselves by being called an American.
And then on my way home today I saw a sign. Plastered to posts down the street. Down a street in Cuenca, Ecuador. It said: "Gran Vende de ropa de Americano! Sabado y Domingo." Translation: "Big Sale of American clothes, Saturday and Sunday." I have no idea if those are South American clothes, or North American, Central American, Latin American, oh my. I wish I had thought to take a picture to include here so you could see it too. But I was just too perplexed as I continued my walk down the street trying to ascertain the actual origins of said clothes. I would have gone to the sale to see for myself, except it was last weekend. I missed my chance.
I apologize for a negative blog, but when I did a search for the word "opinion" on my photo site, "Blog" came up. Now you know my opinion. And so far we raised $150 for earthquake relief from the sale of t-shirts and polos. Thankfully it's not nearly as confusing to be Australian, British, Belgian, Canadian or Ecuadorian. Will $150 build a new home on the coast? Of course not, but every little bit helps and there are some really cute shirts being worn in support of Ecuador.
We hope you will support our efforts further and plan to buy a copy of our anthology. It will be available in September and if you follow my blog, facebook or newsletter, you're sure to see more about it!
It's all a sign of a worthy mission.
So that's what I'm up to here in the Andes, in case you've been wondering. Keep smilin' ya'll. Love wins.
Scarlett, Loving life in Cuenca!