I have decided that I absolutely love Guayaquil. Of course, I have not been robbed yet and everyone I have encountered has been kind and helpful. The 'hostal' was comfortable and a little funky. The bathroom was behind a glass enclosure, which during the day obscured the actions of the bathroom user, but when it was dark, the glass was see-though and all was visible. Rebecca and I shared the double bed. We piled up the duvet between us and slept well, despite our room being right on the Malecon, with cars booming by all night. The drapes would not close entirely, so I was up with the sunrise, wishing I had slept a little longer. On the other hand, watching the city wake up was entertaining. We had our breakfast on the balcony overlooking the Malecon and the river, and ate granola with yoghurt and fruit and watched the cars whizzing by.
I am not sure whether we are just so relieved to be treated with decency and respect that we are over enthusiastic about our experience here. In truth what we saw today was both inspiring and devastating. The good part was seeing what the charity, Children International, actually does with the donations it receives. I am often cynical when I hear or see an advertisement about 'saving children' in a third world country and expect that someone is pocketing the money and not distributing it to the supposed beneficiaries. I learned today that in fact, the children, at least those involved in this organization, are truly taken care of. We visited the main office and then one of the five sites directed to providing medical and dental care, and gifts, scholarships, activities, and direction for the young people involved.
The area we visited was called 'La Colina Florida', and when we arrived at the neighbourhood there were long lines of mothers and children waiting to receive a gift of jeans for all those children involved who had birthdays in January, February or March. They all appeared pleased with the quality of the jeans. We met the two dentists and the pair of doctors taking care of the children, and checked out the medications provided. We were informed that there are many parasites and worm infections and mosquito borne diseases which required treatment in the tropical climate, and that was a priority at the clinic.
Ducks for Lunch!
Many mothers of children in the program work as volunteers at the centre, and there was a roomful organizing the gift giving. We met the parents of Chriss, the seven year old child that Rebecca sponsors. He does not get money directly, but the $350 a year that Rebecca sends is used to fund the centre and the clinics and the gifts. We went to Chriss's house and sat in his living room. His house was made of cement with a corrugated tin roof and a small space between roof and walls. It was neat and clean, with a sheet separating the kitchen and the one bedroom. There was no running water. Water trucks came by daily to fill huge tanks which were kept on the roof or in the small yard near the houses. There was no sewage system, but each home had electricity and a television and everyone had cellphones. The dirt roads were full of huge troughs where cars had driven after the rain. There were no sidewalks. Some houses were cinder block, some cement (Chriss's father was a construction worker), some wood walls and sugar cane stalks and corrugated metal or whatever was useable to encircle the home. There was garbage everywhere, and it appeared that no waste disposal system was in place. It was shocking that all around the Children International Centre, garbage piled up and was not removed.
Chriss's family raised ducks, and cooked a duck for us and served us duck with rice and tomato and onion salad and 'Fioravanti', which is Eric's favourite drink, but so sweet it is undrinkable for me. Chriss was shy and said little.
Jose, Chris, and Rebecca
We then drove to the home of 'Jose', who was Rebecca's former sponsored child. He lived on a paved street, but still there was no sewage or drainage system and no running water. He joined us on a drive to a mall, where Chriss chose a remote control 'Toy Story' car and figures and Jose could not find anything he wanted. It was awkward, knowing how limited the lives of these people were, to watch them choose $50 toys. I wonder how the parents of Chriss felt, in that they could not provide such things for Chriss, and perhaps $50 could feed them for a week or two (Rebecca was not allowed to give them money directly, but later, through the program, left them $50 for groceries). Jose appeared to feel pressured to buy something, anything, and he clearly wanted nothing in the shops we visited. It turned out that since Jose was no longer part of the program, he was allowed to receive the money.
We all had ice cream and sat together in the food court with little to say to one another. I did not feel quite right in the situation, but reminded myself that I was there to support Rebecca, so that is what I did. We returned to the centre and then drove to Chriss' and Jose's homes to drop them off.
Our bags were at the 'Children International'offices, which were across from the Mormon temple, which was shockingly modern and opulent and out of place with the garbage on the street. I recognized the angel 'Moroni' at the top of the church, and the mini 'Temple Square' between church and office building. The Mormons are the fasted growing religion (cult?) in the world, and they have a significant presence here.
Entering the clean crisp modern airport was a jarring contrast to the slums of Guayaquil. The people were dressed well and walked with presence and confidence and appeared to have nothing in common with the crowds we had seen during the day. Our flight was delayed several hours, so I sat with a coffee and cruised the internet and tried to absorb the contrasts of the day. Rebecca was thrilled with what she had seen, reassured about what was being done with the money she had been contributing for over 20 years. I felt shocked and sad and very aware that the average income in Eucador is less than $300 a month for a family of four.