I retired in 2012 and moved to Ecuador from the United States. Ecuador is in South America and is a small (about the size of Colorado in the U.S.) poor country. Since I live in Cuenca, the third largest city with the highest per capita income in the country, I am insulated from much of the ravages of poverty that exists in the country. Yet, real poverty is always just around the corner.
There are three life lessons I witnessed from the peasants that humbled me to the point of tears many times after moving here.
Happiness and contentment
When my wife and I moved here in 2012, our house was just being completed. The foreman for the construction crew lived in a construction shack across from our house with his wife. The foreman and his wife had lived there for over four years while homes were being built in the subdivision. The shack had no water, electricity, bathroom or kitchen facilities. The shack was constructed of used timber. The cracks and holes in the walls were covered in fiber board from used boxes. The washing was done by hand every Saturday morning … rain or shine. Meals were cooked over an open fire outside the shack.
Even under these living conditions, we never saw them without a smile. We never heard an angry word. We never witnessed any attitude or behavior other than happiness and contentment.
This is not an isolated situation. It is the norm throughout the country and is especially prominent in the rural, most impoverished areas in the country.
Lesson: Money and material possessions aren’t the root source of happiness and contentment.
The country that smiles
Ecuador is known as “the country that smiles” and it’s true. It has to be one of the top places in the world where a smile and friendliness is normal — even in the large cities. People are always offering a helping hand to my wife and I even though we are gringos that are still learning the customs and language. Though we live in a city with thousands of other expats from the U.S., Canada and Europe, the vast majority of our friends are Ecuadorean.
Lesson: Some countries and populations actually welcome — in speech and actions — immigrants.
Sharing and caring
Since we live in a poor country, beggars are commonplace. One of my very first observations was that most middle class and upper class people frequently shun the beggars while the poor always give a little bit of money to them … even if they need to cross the street to do it. It may only be a quarter buts it’s a quarter given by someone who is poor and in dire need themselves. Nothing in my life has ever touched me like this. After eight years of living here, I still tear-up when I see this.
The peasants take care of other peasants in time of need without fanfare or publicity. No glory or public acknowledgement is sought or accepted. It’s simply a matter of sharing and caring for those in need.
Lesson: But for fate of where I was born, live and social class I was born to, I could be the beggar on street in dire need of help, compassion and empathy. Whether we admit it or not, we need each other.
Have you had life experiences in living with the poor that impacted your life? I would like to hear about it.