About 30 months ago, my husband and I set out on an incredible journey – to move from the US to live in Ecuador. We wanted an adventure in our retirement. We wanted to live in a new culture: to learn Spanish from native speakers; to explore bits of geography of South America; to be “the minority” after living with the golden advantages of being among “the majority” for 60 years; to delve into the incredible story of human lives over centuries in the magical Andes Mountains.
We knew we would be foreigners, strangers to many people here who had not been around many folks from North America. We worried about the unknown, we expected big bumps in our new journey. And we thirsted for new experiences.
So here we are, almost 2.5 years into our adventure. I can say that it has turned out far better than we had hoped. People in Cuenca are hard-working, loyal, family loving and kind. They are quick to be helpful, curious about those extrajaneros (foreigners) who move here, eager to ask questions about our experiences in life and content to listen to the occasional story about a grandchildren and haunts we left behind. Unexpectedly, I was asked to sell every quilt I had completed. More about that later.
In this blog, of course, I speak specifically about my experience. Yours may be very different. Moving to a new culture where you do not know the language or common practices is not for everyone. I recommend only moving here if you have a thirst to be “the stranger” in a new land. If you have longed to see what it is like to live where YOU are the one struggling to understand rather than expecting a different country to accommodate your every wish.
Believe it or not, some people come here expecting everyone to wait on them, with no plan to learn the culture or speak the native language or practice social customs. What a sad waste of a beautiful opportunity! But enough of that for now.
I marvel frequently at the life my esposo and I have built in a short time. Lenny, my husband of 20 years, has found new activities and made friends everywhere he goes. He helps people with IPad issues, plays bridge after a 35 year lapse, walks 3+ miles every day, and speaks to everyone he encounters – a great way to practice Spanish.
I enjoy every day of retirement. I have lovely long hours to quilt and a great studio to help that hobby. I have time to play with the two young cats we rescued, and time to study Spanish if I can make myself work on my own. I have tried having an instructor come to the house. This worked well for awhile but the instructor got to know me and began to talk more about her family and less about teaching Spanish. Next, I tried a conversational class at a local school but the level of class was more advanced than my skills. I have two programs on the computer which are helpful but I have to MAKE myself open the program and study- duh! And so…next week, I go back to basics with a beginning class in El Centro to begin anew.
I have noticed some things about myself: although I was once a great student who worked hard to be near the top of every class, I now have less motivation for that and want to enjoy life each day. Spanish classes need to be my first priority to get those brain cells firing so that new words stick in my 64 year old brain. Studying is still important but I learn most from practice speaking with other Spanish-speakers.
The ex-pat community is made up of all sorts of people but most are retired and therefore also eager to find ways to recreate in common. There is a fly fishing group, there is a raw food group, weaving classes, activities where one can sew with others or visit villages to shop or see the countryside…all without ever speaking a word of Spanish. So one has to push to practice that new Spanish with each other but also with Ecuadorians, Colombians and Cubans – any Spanish speakers in this rich culture.
I have had the pleasure of meeting another quilter here who is a Cuencana. Quilting is not common here like it is in the US. However, there are many ex-pats who know how to quilt. Some have chosen not to quilt at this time in their lives. Some quilt quietly and do not want to commune with other quilters. However, I am hearing from larger numbers of quilters moving here that they would like a guild or some sort of regular contact. This is something to pursue further in the next months, so that perhaps by January, 2014 a quilt guild could emerge.
When I first moved here, I met a couple of women who were very interested in buying my quilts. I had been quilting 3 years at the time. In the US, I am a moderately talented quilter. Here, in Cuenca, I seem to be the quilting queen! So I made and sold 7 quilts. This was thrilling – a rush and an ego boost to have other people show tremendous interest in my creations.
However, then I realized I have lived in our home a year and only have one of my quilts on the wall. I want the beautiful walls to be covered with my quilts. I have many quilt kits planned on my “queue” to make. So I am now busy completing several projects to decorate different spots in our home.
I have such fond memories of running around the last months I lived in the US, buying just the right fabrics for various quilt projects. My dear friend, Cindy, was my guide and support as I put together those kits. I now keep them in storage here in my lovely sewing studio, ready to be made when the time is right. Currently, I have the joy of unboxing one at a time to be made and hung in just the right spot. My current projects are:
A) to complete layering and quilt/bind the Crazy Cats quilt to hang on a yellow wall by my sewing machine;
B) to make the 27 block queen size caramel-cream-burgundy “flower baskets” quilt to hang in the lovely stairwell – it is just begging for this quilt to be warming the walls there. I have 9 blocks finished so there are still plenty more to piece together in this traditional quilt. See photo of the first blocks at the top of this page.
I know that I am a fairly slow, deliberate quilter but I am in a life stage where rushing is not necessary. I know that I am generally good with color and contrast but I always learn more from each new project. I LOVE learning in its many forms – it keeps life interesting and one’s brain stimulated.
People ask: do you buy your fabric in Ecuador. My personal answer is no, not in general. There is no 100% pure cotton fabric here and I prefer working with cotton. So every trip back to the US to see family includes fully loaded bags on the return to Ecuador carrying all the cotton fabric I can squeeze in within the weight limits. Crazy? Maybe…but it has become a challenge of its own – to find ways to bring in the fabric I long for. More about that another time.
So in 2 years and 4 months, I can say that I have adjusted to life here quite well. I love practicing my basic spanish on the people I encounter in taxis, shops, at restaurants. I spend a lot of time with new friends, most of whom are ex-pats with some common interests – this is both wonderful, to have attentive new friends, – and difficult because it makes speaking only English all too easy. One goal I have for this next year is to speak Spanish in social times with my US and Canadian friends. First I need more confidence, a lot more verbs and nouns plus some courage to achieve this. I’ll let you know how this goal progresses.
Another post will talk about gardening which I had given up in the US due to fibromyalgia pain being too much to garden. The great difference for me in living at this high altitude (8,300 feet!) and having time to exercise is that I can garden again with a few limitations. Yahoo!!! That will be a different post with photos to show my succulent collection.
How do you prioritize your life? Do you have hobbies you’d love to have time for that are waiting for retirement? My suggestion would be to develop your hobbies so you can pursue them with gusto once you are retired. Try some new things. Give it time. Having a happy retirement hinges on having some things you want to pursue and interests you love. The responsibility for finding this list is yours. Take a risk and try something new this week. Stretch your mind to think outside the box – you may find something wonderful and challenging to love.
Have a terrific week in this new month of September, 2013!
Thank you for reading my blog!