Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Stupidity Always Costs, No Matter the Country

I realized something today.  Stupidity costs.  I know - It’s basic, but I am a basic guy so stick with me here.  
I understand that all costs in life aren’t directly correlated with stupidity like when I purchase a sandwich it costs money, but it isn’t a stupid decision.  When my car tires wear down and I need to purchase new ones, they cost money and that isn’t a result of my stupidity.  There are costs that are associated with living, and then there are costs that are associated with stupidity.  And stupidity always costs something.  The cost might vary depending on the offense, and the costs aren’t always produced in monetary amounts.  But stupidity always costs nonetheless.  

Where is this recent pondering over stupidity coming from, you might be wondering?  Or you might be shaking your head in agreement as you read these words, knowing that I have much experience with this topic.  If advanced degrees in stupidity could’ve been earned, then I would have earned at least one – a long time ago.

My most recent awareness into the costliness of stupidity came when my engine blew.  Yup, you read that right.   My engine blew.  And it wasn’t because it was overused or time for a replacement.  It was a direct result of my stupidity.  And it is going to cost quite a bit.  I have owned a lot of clunkers in my day, going back to my 1989 Plymouth Voyager Van that was reconstructed with a varying color of patchwork panels from multiple reckless teenage accidents.  Even that car’s engine never blew.  But the engine of the car that we purchased 4 months ago while living in Ecuador did.  

I will spare you the many events that led to the final stupid conclusion of my engine blowing, but there were many.  Stupidity doesn’t just happen, appearing out of thin air, ex nihilo.  There are internal and external factors that cause stupidity to bubble to the surface.  There were many of these factors at work in my situation, causing me to walk down the path towards stupidity.  But, these factors no matter how much they blurred my vision or made it difficult to see around or through didn’t force me into stupidity.  I had to take the plunge.  I had to cross the line on my own two feet.

Have you ever been there?  Have you ever found yourself influenced by an internal or external factor leading you towards stupidity and then finding it difficult to step back and evaluate the situation with a clear, stupid free, mind?  And then in the end you commit the stupid action that these factors were guiding you towards.  Can you relate?  

Back in Philadelphia my trusty mechanic saved me from many costly stupid mistakes, but he refused to fly to Ecuador with us, no matter how much I begged, in order to prevent expensive car damage from occurring.  My trusty mechanic left me alone in a foreign land unable to speak the language, which was one of the factors that led to my stupidity.   But even without him, there were many chances along the way to escape the costly stupidity of my engine blowing.  I continued moving forward, and I crossed the line.  

It could have been worse, one might say.  Or another might add, at least you learned something through this process.  I listen and nod to those well-meaning remarks, but I don’t think either of them is where I want to rest my hat.  

What do I do in the wake of my stupidity?  There is not a simple answer to that one.  An answer that will allow me to sit back, exhale, and feel good about the stupidity that I just committed.  Although I don't have the answer, there have been a couple of thoughts bouncing around in my head since seeing that smoke rise from the car's engine and its wheels coming to a halt.  One thought is that I need to examine the factors that led me into stupidity, and hopefully be on guard against those in the future.  Another thought that has come to mind in the aftermath of my stupidity is that I need to acknowledge that the burden of responsibility is upon myself, no matter how influential those factors were.  Finger pointing will only cause stupidity to grow.  A third thing that has come to mind is that I need to remind myself that there is hope, especially after a stupid action takes place.  Wallowing in self pity will not help.  Hope is essential if the fight against stupidity is to progress.  As wisdom continues to grow in this life, stupidity will diminish.  But although hope exists, the reality is that no matter how much stupidity decreases in this life, it will never evaporate.

Unlike the water that caused my engine to blow.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Thanksgiving in Ecuador

It was an interesting experience to celebrate Thanksgiving in a foreign land, and there were many unexpected hurdles that had to be bypassed in order to make it all happen.  

Thanksgiving Day craft by Eliana and Anaiah.
The first hurdle was the all-important turkey.  It was easy purchasing the turkey, but the problem was a capable oven to bake it.  Ovens aren’t that important in Ecuador as most of the food is either sautéed, fried or grilled.  So while we have an oven, we didn’t want to test its ability to maintain constant heat with our prized turkey.  So we outsourced the cooking of it to someone in the town who cooked turkeys, for a small fee, in a wood fired grill.  It was arranged, the turkey was stuffed, and they picked it up to cook.  Done.  

Finished turkey

Won't find the turkey foot inside of the turkey back home.

The next hurdle was getting pumpkin filling.  We couldn’t find it anywhere.  No grocery stores.  No tiny tiendas.  Nowhere.  Until we talked to some friends that worked at the U.S. embassy.  U.S. embassy employees have a perk of being able to purchase anything that they desire from Amazon with the same shipping fees as if they were living in the U.S.  They purchased us a can of pumpkin filling, so that we could make the essential Thanksgiving Day pumpkin pie.  Complete.  

Apple crisp and pumpkin pie

The next hurdle was cranberry sauce.  I could have lived without it.  But Rachel’s family has a Thanksgiving Day obsession with cranberry sauce that equals the importance of the turkey.  We had one can by accident.  While shopping at a grocery store a few months before Thanksgiving, someone tossed a can of cranberry sauce into our cart thinking it was theirs.  We purchased it unknowing, and were surprised and delighted when we unpacked our grocery bags back at our house.  “Great, we can get some more cans of cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving the next time we go to that grocery store.”  We said to each other.  We went back to the same grocery store the following week to procure a few more cans, and there were none.  And we went back every week after, and there were never any more cans of cranberry sauce, which gives a brief insight into how things work in Ecuador.  One can was better than none.  Finished.  

The next hurdle was the sweet potatoes.  Ecuadorian sweet potatoes have a purple color and are not as sweet as the yellow variety from back home.  It would feel odd to eat a purple sweet potato casserole, so we went on a mission to find the yellow variety.  A friend heard through the grapevine that yellow sweet potatoes were sold at a tucked away produce market in the center of Quito.  We found the market, and then searched and asked and looked till we finally found them.  There they were, all beautiful and yellow.  Rachel started clapping and jumping up and down at the sight of the yellow coloring.  The vendor gave her a curious and slanted look at the over excitement.  Crazy gringos, clapping for yellow potatoes, she probably thought.  Got 'em.   

The preparation was complete and dinner was served.  The wood fired turkey was delicious along with fresh green beans, stuffing, gravy, sweet potato casserole with melted marshmallows, one sliver of cranberry sauce per person, and pumpkin pie for desert.  

Picture of my first serving.  Yummy!
We had a full house.  The Spanish speaking table was made up of Hugo, Rachel’s uncle, Christian, Rachel’s cousin, Ronato, Rachel’s uncle, Rachel's dad, Gisella and Jackie. 

And the English speaking table had myself, Anaiah, Eliana, Rachel, Rachel's mom, and Rachel's grand mom. (Matthew was sleeping, giving us uninterrupted eating and another thing to be thankful for.) 

Everything about the meal and the day were exceptional, until I almost threw it all up after watching the Eagles get destroyed by the pathetic Lions.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Trip to the Quito Zoo

We visited the Quito Zoo with some friends that we have met during our 13 months in Ecuador.  It was a relaxing and enjoyable day checking out plenty of animals like condors, lions, cheetahs, pumas, and a neat house of owls that we were able to walk through and observe them moving their heads in that interesting circular formation as we passed by.  It was also nice to be in a zoo that was far less crowded than the jam packed Philadelphia Zoo.  
Eliana told me that her favorite part of the day was seeing the frogs.  Anaiah said her favorite part were the handsome boys, the sons of the family that we were with.  Rachel said hers was the peaceful drive home where she was able to get some much needed sleep.  The most exciting part of the day for me, I would never call it my favorite part of the day – even if it was – was when we took this picture.  

Notice the llama in the background focused on Rachel and ready to spit.  Anaiah is striking her lion pose.
 I wanted to get the perfect picture, so I asked them to move into different poses and snapped picture after picture.  The llama in the background got ticked off at us taunting him with the carrots that we were supposed to be feeding him, and hocked a huge spitball that landed in Rachel’s hair.  That was one nasty llama with some serious Ecuadorian attitude.  

After the llama spitball.  Rachel is checking her shirt, the girls are shocked, and the llamas are laughing.
 Next time, if there is one, we will make sure to feed the llamas first before trying to snap a picture. 

The girls feeding the rabbits, the only animals they were brave enough to feed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Día de los Difuntos "Day of the Dead"

There was no passing out candy or dressing up in costumes for Halloween this year in Ecuador.  Instead, we hung out in the cemetery and celebrated Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Dead), a national holiday where people have off from work to remember loved ones who have died. 

Rachel's family mausoleum where her grandfather is buried, and there are spots reserved for everyone else, including me - I think.  Or maybe that is only if I die while I am living here.

 For weeks leading up to this holiday, which is the same day as All Saint’s Day (November 2), the cemeteries were bustling with families beautifying the grave sites.  They weeded, painted, repaired any damage that had occurred over the past year, and made improvements that they had been saving up for like new tile work to the exterior.  
View of cemetery. 
An example of what most of the graves looked like.  Bodies or ashes are placed in the openings.

On the big day, the cemetery was packed.  Families gathered around grave sites to talk and eat and drink.  They brought chairs to post up next to their represented grave site or sat on the grave stone itself.  It was like an all-day tailgating party for the dead.  Ice cream vendors navigated through the crowded cemetery selling refreshing treats, and the street leading into the cemetery was lined with people selling varieties of food for the belly and flowers for the graves.

Pork was one of the foods sold outside of the cemetery. 
 On Día de los Difuntos it is customary to drink colada morada, a traditional drink made up of mora (berries), pineapple, strawberries, peaches, cinnamon, and a mixture of other fruits and herbs, and to eat guaguas, a donut like bread made in the shape of a little child with guava paste in the middle.  Not sure why either of these items are eaten or drank on this specific day, and amazingly no one that I asked knew either.

One of the many guaguas that we bought.  Yummy.

The day also gave our girls a chance to pay respects to their bisabuelo (great grandfather).

Anaiah and Eliana with their flowers and cards for their bisabuelo.