Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Tangling with Technology

Ecuador isn't much of a high tech country. Sure, we've got WiFi and ATM's, but a lot of things you take for granted in the U.S. simply do not exist in my world. And since I'm not exactly a high tech kind of guy, I often feel like Crocodile Dundee in the most common situations when I return here.

It starts in the airport where after a long flight I head straight to the restroom. God forbid #2 is required, when an accidental movement can turn the toilet into a bidet or I find myself wildly gesticulating to activate a motion sensor that's playing hard to get.

Washing my hands afterwards is a supposedly mundane activity that reduces me to looking like one of the kids in Grease "Doin' That Crazy Hand Jive" to get the water flowing and the paper towels expending. My hands are waving everywhere. In front of? Under? How high? How low? Who in the hell decided all this no-touch stuff was a great idea? The whole concept of motion sensing makes no sense to me.

Of course I could opt for one of those Xlerator hand dryers. Never have a problem getting one of those bad boys to turn on. What a macho product. I remember the first time I experienced this ridiculously powerful apparatus. It was after a movie when we lived in Vegas and of course everyone had to pee afterwards--those mega-sized $6.00 soft drinks show no mercy. So maybe six of these beasts were roaring simultaneously and it was like standing on the tarmac behind a jumbo jetliner. These contraptions blow air so violently there should be a warning label about traumatizing small children. Or unexpecting adults---.

But I digress. I buy a few things at the grocery store and swipe my card to make the purchase. Believe it or not even this Flintstones transaction has not made it to Ecuador, which helps give you my perspective on this whole post.

The card doesn't work. Sigh-----. I convey this to the checkout girl and she asks, "Do you have a chip?" I comment that I'm trying to buy some chips but other than that I don't what she's talking about.

"On your card."

"I have no idea." I show her my card. "Do I?"

"Yes, it's right there."

Long silence-----------. "OK, now what do I do?"

"You insert it on the bottom."

"There's a place to insert the card on the bottom?? When did this happen? Why did this happen??"

I think that's the end of it, but the machine has questions of its own for me. "Is ______ the correct amount?" Huh? I hope so. Was I supposed to be following along with a calculator? "Do you want cash back?" Cash back? In Ecuador the clerks actually ask if you have the exact change to give them. I'm just trying to make a simple purchase and this is turning into an interrogation!

I took my daughter to the oncology center for one of her chemotherapy infusions and didn't fare too well even there. The floor she visits has a refreshment room with a refrigerator, water dispenser, coffee maker, and ice machine. After careful reading of the instructions I actually produced a cup of coffee. I know that sounds lame but I was quite proud of myself.

My interaction with the ice machine wasn't as successful. I lined up my drink cup under the spout and pressed the bar above it. Ice comes out. Great. I take my hand off the bar. Ice comes out. And comes out. And comes out. I panic and don't know what to do except yank my cup away.

The ice stops coming out. Seems the machine is activated by--you guessed it--a motion sensor, my new arch nemesis.

So later I'm with my daughter at her station where she's receiving the infusion. This place is set up with recliners like hers all around the perimeter of a large room with everyone facing the center. Which is kind of a shame because through the big window right behind us is a lovely view of the Manhattan skyline.

Given the nature of what's going on here you shouldn't be surprised to learn that the atmosphere is, shall we say, subdued. Most patients and companions say nothing and those that do generally speak quietly like in a library. Adrian and I accumulate some trash with drinks and snacks that I dispose of in a large receptacle in the middle of the room. I step on the pedal and the lid of course rises. I take my foot off the pedal and figure the lid will gently descend.

I figure wrong. It drops like a stone with and goes WHAM!! A grumpy guy says, "Hey, buddy, can you hold it down?" I meekly mouth, "I'm sorry-----."

I don't even want to get into my trials and tribulations buying train and subway tickets. So many screens. So many choices. So many opportunities to screw up, especially when you can just feel the frustrated energy of impatient regular riders behind you who are thinking, "Come on, you moron!"

Or trying to hold said tickets against the glass readers correctly to get through the turnstiles. One employee gave up explaining the proper technique and let me go through the handicap gate. That was a definite low point.

I truly love visiting the U.S. but I'm glad I live in a simple place where you pay cash for almost everything. Where you make coffee in a coffee pot and drink water from the tap, flush the toilet and turn on the faucet with a handle. Where you walk almost everywhere and take a 25 cent bus ride almost everywhere else. Where people don't seem to be in such a hurry to go nowhere special and do nothing important.

And I'm especially happy to be far, far away from every sort of motion sensor.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

It has been over two years since I’ve written about Hearts of Gold, a non-profit charitable foundation here in Cuenca. When I learned they had recently celebrated their third anniversary I decided to visit their offices to check in with Executive Director Natasha Verkley.

I remember when Natasha’s dad, Richard, started Hearts of Gold as a gesture to give back to the local community. He held a raffle for a gold coin in a now defunct restaurant during Gringo Night to help some small cause that had come to his attention.

From that modest beginning Hearts of Gold has certainly come a long way. What began as a simple desire to help impoverished children has grown into a locally recognized foundation that works tirelessly to support “boots on the ground” efforts in poor communities.

Since its founding, Hearts of Gold has been able to increase its total aid output by 698%, impacting the lives of over 3500 children and their families. This remarkable achievement is primarily due to the incredible generosity of Cuenca’s expat community.

Natasha explained to me that Hearts of Gold’s success is based on partnering with compassionate community leaders who recognize problems in their neighborhoods and courageously create organizations to solve them. Hearts of Gold’s commitment to local organizations and their leaders has shown that these groups flourish throughout the years with programs growing and stabilizing through collaboration.

Hearts of Gold has also been able to increase its impact by partnering with both the Province of Azuay to open the first food bank in the province and the Municipality of Cuenca in creating a language exchange program.

This year has been another busy one for Hearts of Gold. In addition to maintaining its regular partnerships, the foundation also responded to Ecuador’s devastating earthquake in the spring, collecting and distributing over $55,000 to ongoing recovery efforts.

Plans for 2017 are focused on a two-pronged approach with Hearts of Gold’s Community Assistance Program. In addition to continuing to help local organizations receive the administrative support and funding they need to carry out their missions, next year there will be a focus on empowering community leaders with the knowledge and skills required to become increasingly self-sufficient. Successful implementation will allow Hearts of Gold to further broaden its assistance efforts.

Based in a country where charity and philanthropy are not heartily embraced, Hearts of Gold is truly an amazing success story. Staffed by four dedicated young women, the organization has positively impacted the entire Azuay province.

And with a look of steely determination in her eyes, Natasha tells me they’re just getting started.

PS. Hearts of Gold wants you to join their team of global givers! Make your holiday donation count this year and support a small grassroots organization that empowers local leaders to enact community change. Readers in the U.S. who would like to support Hearts of Gold with a tax-deductible contribution before the end of the year can do so online at their website.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Time for Thanks

This has been an unexpectedly challenging year for the Staton family. No patient anticipates a devastating diagnosis from one’s doctor, and no parent can ever be prepared for that phone call from their child saying, “I’ve got cancer.”

The earthshaking developments of the last six months, which came ripe with opportunities to wallow in despair and negativity, have instead fostered for me an increased awareness of wonderful blessings that have revealed themselves during this journey--some surprising, others obvious, and a few hidden in plain sight.

So in the spirit that defines the holiday season here’s what I am most thankful for:

While I am pretty diligent about exercise and diet, our daughter’s battle with cancer has given me newfound appreciation for my own excellent health and the well-being of the rest of the family.

How wonderful that I have three families to cherish--my immediate family with four beautiful grandchildren, my family of close friends at home in Cuenca, and my global network of International Living associates. All add such richness to my life.

I am pleased that Cynthia and I have created a lifestyle that allowed her to be at our daughter’s side within days of the diagnosis, and for us to be able assist our loving family as long as we are needed.

It’s impossible to describe how proud I am that Adrian, upon learning that she would immediately be undergoing a debilitating chemotherapy regimen, said, “Well, then I’m going to be the best chemo patient ever,” and then proceeded to do exactly that.

I am encouraged that through the combination of early detection, an excellent medical team, aggressive treatment, and positive intention by everyone that Adrian’s prognosis is extremely optimistic.

I am blown away by the incredible kindness and generosity of so many individuals who have sent cards and flowers--opened their homes for playdates--picked up from school and driven Adrian to appointments--donated money, meals, and supplies. Some are our friends from Ecuador, classmates from high school that I haven’t seen in years, even total strangers. The basic goodness of people that we have experienced firsthand literally brings tears of joy to my eyes.

Most of all I am eternally grateful for the incredible woman with whom I have had the privilege of sharing almost my whole life. Cynthia is the unwavering rock of our family. Her boundless energy and indomitable spirit are truly inspirational, and by her very presence she makes everyone, especially me, better.

Above our picture on this blog I write, “Life is good!! Be happy!!” After almost seven decades on the planet I thought I knew what that meant. The events of 2016 have expanded my understanding of these words to both a higher and deeper level than I imagined possible.

This is what I know--live with love and kindness in your heart and you will never experience regret. Be grateful for every moment, for each one is unique and precious. And take time to be thankful for everything in your life. Life truly is good!