Sunday, April 16, 2017

Anniversaries: Celebrate, Commemorate

We celebrate anniversaries. Marriages, years on a job, years living in a particular place, years of causes, charities, beliefs, countries.

In the English language, we also use the word Anniversary to remember different types of events. But we use the verb commemorate - remember. Anniversaries of terrible events. Plane crashes, deaths, wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters.

 One word. So many conflicting emotions.

For the last three days, Christians around the world have commemorated the crucifixion of Christ and celebrated his resurrection. 

Today marks another Anniversary. Today is the date, that one year ago at 6:58 pm local time, just after dark, the northern coast of Ecuador was shaken by a horrific 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

The magnitude of the devastation wouldn't be known for hours.  The ripples and waves from that event wouldn't be known for months.

The coastal areas of Ecuador are some of the poorest areas in the country. Poverty is the norm rather than the exception. And the culture isn't what we are used to in North America. Building inspectors turn a blind eye to the man building his own house bit by bit to shelter his family. It's better to not see how he builds that structure than for the family to be living on the street, right? Insurance isn't even really a thing in Ecuador. Yes, it's available, but for one it's extremely pricey and virtually unobtainable by a family earning the minimum wage of just over $300 a month. - Yes, a month. And insurance companies generally go out of business every couple of years. Taking your money and protection with them. They aren't considered trustworthy or reliable by citizens here.

There were hundreds of lives lost that day. Complete towns leveled. People who lost everything. Jobs gone. I want to make all that very clear before I make this story about me.

I was miles and miles away. About 6-8 hours away by car. But I felt that earthquake. It was my first big one.  At first, it was a bit of novelty, and then I realized what was happening. And then it got scary. Real scary. Because the shaking went on for several minutes. What felt like about 5-10 minutes, but was actually 2-3. And even when the shaking stopped in my second-floor apartment, 8400 feet up in the Andes, the light fixtures still swayed back and forth. That's when I realized, that we don't really get earthquakes up here. And this must have been really BIG somewhere else.

The emotions, the actions, the time it took for us to realize how bad it was, to find those missing, whether they survived or not...all of that has been detailed in previous blogs. But today, we celebrate and commemorate. We commemorate the losses and celebrate the resilence and determination of the Ecuadorian people.

My life changed that day. Not in the terrible ways that those who live on the coast did, but in very unexpected ways. Throughout the next few months, those of us not physically affected, but mentally affected by the devastation sought ways to raise money to help those who now had nothing.

My friend Sara, who has spent her entire working life as an architect, rebuilding disaster areas, relocated to the coast with a project called Proyecto Saman. They established a camp for the now homeless, one with proper bathrooms and a community kitchen and tents for shelter. They provided safety and security to those who needed it most. And the rest of us tried to figure out ways to help support them financially.

Many of us in the early days had friends and family who sent money and we used it to buy bottled water, diapers, food and transport it to the coast where there was none. There were concerts, t-shirts, dinners, lunches all to raise funds. Restaurants and hotels put out extra tip jars and donated part of their proceeds.

I wrote a poem. My first poem that wasn't a writing assignment in high school or college. It was translated into Spanish and I read it to a packed crowd at the Noche de Poesia Y Arte- Night of poetry and art- another fundraiser. And then I decided to pull together my writer friends and publish a book- a book that would help the coast.

And that's when my life really changed. Friends in Foreign Places: An Expat Anthology features 37 writers, 45 stories. Writers and stories from around the world- not just Ecuador. We held a big launch party, by big I mean close to 150 people, the book hit number 1 in two Amazon categories that day. And we still sell copies. We need to sell more. 100% of the royalties from this book go to Proyecto Saman. Because here's what's been going on this year at Proyecto Saman in Canoa.

They developed an education center, they designed a jobs training program with a local university. The residents at the camp are learning to read and learning new job skills. They have secured land on which to build permanent houses and the construction on those homes has started. These homes are being built with bamboo, designed to withstand future quakes, and the future owners are helping with every step of the process. But they still need money.

If you haven't read Friends In Foreign Places: An Expat Anthology, it's heartwarming and funny. Stories about friendships, when you've left it all behind to live in a foreign country. Or friendships with those who left it all behind and came to your country. Some are fiction, most are not. Get your copy today, because ALL royalties go to help rebuild on the coast. We are working to translate the book into Spanish and that work is almost complete. Then our friends on the coast can read our stories too. Sandra Materi is handling that project and if you would like to help, please let me know and I'll put you in touch with Sandra.

Ebook: Amazon link to ebook
Paperback: Amazon link to paperback

Come visit. The coast is healing, and is beautiful, and needs your tourist dollars.

Or donate directly to Proyecto Saman. Go to the website. See photos and videos of the volunteers, the families, the progress. The celebration of life. On the top right there is a black button to display the page in English.
Proyecto Saman Website

Happy Easter, Felices Pacua, Happy Anniversary, Feliz aniversario, We Remember, Recordamos

Scarlett Loving life in Cuenca!

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