Daisy and I have decided to limit the nights we stay in hotels. We have elected to setup shop in local apartments where we can spread out. The kids can sit around the table like at home and complete school work. I can cook in the kitchen and Daisy can do whatever she does. She is pretty good at it I think. As a result, we tend to take a quick survey of what the apartments have to offer upon arrival. Is there a good knife? Is there extra toilet paper? Is there some device for making coffee? Once we have a handle on what we need to procure, it is off to the grocery store. This turns into “Where is the grocery store” and thus “Where is everything in the grocery store and how can you pay?” Needless to say, the first trip to the local homemaking supply shop can be complicated. Here in Quito our apartment host gave us quick directions to the MegaMaxi mart. A MegaMaxi mart is larger than a SuperMaxi and its superlative filled name was no exaggeration. Grant and Ashley wondered why it had taken us over and hour and a half to only return with 5 bags of items. If you have ever been so fortunate to visit a Super Walmart or Cosco, MegaMaxi is the amalgamation of the two. Ginormous.
Not only was the store big but it was packed with Ecuadorians. The store felt haphazardly laid out on our opening night of shopping there. They have large carts and small isles which creates the problem that many of the isles become one way streets. There are countless checkout lines and at least half a dozen carts in the queue for each. The enormity of the place is really overwhelming. Adding to the disarray, our minds struggle to piece together meal ideas based on the map of ingredients scattered throughout the store. Upon entering and exiting the store we noticed a corral of busy people taping and boxing items at a frantic pace. It was beyond my energy to fathom why this was happening and the noise of packing tape and cardboard folding just made me want to leave even more.
The next day we returned to the store to get among other things, more water. To our dismay, what had been previously a wall of bottled water options was now nothing but a mile or so of empty steel shelves. Tuna fish sandwiches sounded good, but what had been a sea of cans the night before was now only a sprinkling of the more expensive brands. The store was just as busy and I began to think that people might be hoarding supplies in response to the 7.2 earthquake that had struck coastal Ecuador only 48 hours before. Quito shook heavily during the forty second temblor so maybe they were scared something worse could happen locally. Again, there were people busy boxing items in the sectioned of area near the exit and again I was too tired to figure out what was going on.
Later that evening we strolled around Quito’s Parque de Carolina. On one of the main streets that borders the park there was a rather large and busy crowd of people with packages accompanied by a number of police officers. I could not figure out whether people were coming or going and could not grasp what the police were there to attend to. I focused mainly on getting my family through the crowd and wondered about the structure they were congregating around. It appeared to be a very large and long concrete set of bleachers. My thoughts were on why it was facing the street and not the park. Who wants to look at a street? Oh, and why do I hear the familiar sound of more tape and boxes?
My questions about the store, water and tuna cans began to mount, but I am not confident enough with my Spanish to engage in a conversation about something as sensitive as fear, panic or hoarding because of earthquakes. Yesterday we took a long drive into the country to Quilotoa lake with a bilingual guide. I talked to him about the store and how I had never seen such a place. We discussed other shopping options and made some small talk about traditional foods. Then I asked what he thought about the missing water and tuna. His response seemed obvious to me only after I heard it. “All of the water is being sent to the earthquake zone and canned food too.”
DUH. . .
Thereafter I began to think about the store, the boxes, the taping and the bleachers, the water, the tuna and the crowds of people. I did not understand that I was witnessing a humanitarian response by Ecuadorians to their fellow countrymen. Without sufficient grasp of the language I was not able to infer what was happening and my assumptions about fear and hoarding were clearly way off.
About a half hour later, our rural drive was blocked and scores of more indigenous dressed folks were flooding the road. The consensus in the vehicle was that an accident must have occurred. In response to our delay Danny, our guide, got out of the car and walked ahead to see what was happening. He informed us when he returned that a few bodies had been returned from the earthquake who were from the area. The locals were going to carry the bodies to the nearby village of Zumbahua and that a funeral would commence. Once the masses coordinated themselves behind the bearers, their walk began and the road reopened. We spent the next several hours at Quilotoa crater enjoying the lake there which was nice. Upon return we passed through Zumbahua and witnessed from afar what was a very large funeral attended by people of all ages including uniformed students from the local school. Ashley made the comment, “it is sad to see all these people at the funeral, but it is beautiful at the same time.” It is a usual occurrence that her words reflect well my feelings. The fallen belonged to the entire community not just one or two households and hundreds shared their respect and mourning just as hundreds made their way to MegaMaxi clearing the shelves of essentials to send to the Earthquake zone. The crowded bleachers at the park were used as a pickup zone for donations and the police were there for traffic control when trucks arrived.
Understanding the response to those in need and to those who have fallen has really warmed me to the Ecuadorian people. My early assumptions about hoarding and fear were misplaced and I am pleased to have been wrong. Today we went to the store and once again the shelves were stocked with a sea of water and all the tuna to swim in it. Once again, though, carts were being filled, purchased and emptied into the corral of boxes and tape. It was a good feeling to be able to join in.