Cheese from Car Trunks and Other Adventures — in Quito, Ecuador

May the depth of my generosity never be swayed by the depth of thanks I receive.

~Prayer: Forty Days of Practice, Justin McRoberts & Scott Erickson

Living in Quito is a lesson in unlearning. Not that I was raised to be stingy, but I was taught to avoid peddlers, never give homeless people money (because obviously it will enable their bad habits of drug and drink), and certainly never buy cheese out of the backs of people’s cars.

Last week, I bought cheese out of the back of a couple’s car. I had just returned from a trip to Nayon, AKA “Plant City,” with my friend Cameron. As we pulled onto my street, she mentioned that the man and woman standing next to the open trunk of their vehicle were probably selling cheese. Cameron mentioned that because of the pandemic, more and more people are doing this to make ends meet. I asked if it would be OK to buy from people like that, and she gave a very confident “YES.” I’m not going to turn down some good cheese, so after she parked the car, we wandered over. They were very kind, and happy to be able to let us taste the different cheeses. I got a big ol’ block for $2.50.

It’s weird to think that buying cheese out of a trunk of a car is helping someone. More and more I am realizing that being in community here means buying products from people or paying for services. Donation is certainly a nice thing (and we continue to donate “stuff” left in our house by the previous owners to Education Equals Hope), but there is something dignified in getting paid for a service.

For us, it’s a win-win. We get delicious cheese, and we have the privilege of helping someone.

But, wow, what a shift for us. In Florida, my husband and I really watched our spending. If we didn’t really need something, we’d try to refrain from purchasing it. So would I have bought cheese out of a trunk in Florida, knowing I had cheese in the fridge already? No. But it’s different here. And I haven’t seen the cheese couple on our street again. (If I do, I’ll buy more cheese, because it was GOOD.)

Another time, we were with a different friend driving around, and when we were stopped at a red light, people wandered around our car, selling fruit, candy, masks, and all kinds of other things. Our friend told us to feel free to buy these items as it really helps to support the people selling them. This is not something I would ever do in the states.

So along with new adventures of visiting dormant volcanoes (Pululahua) and snapping pics at the middle of the world, we are buying things and services — like brown sugar off a guy’s cart on the side of the road. When we get our bank account set up here (processing services to make this happen from the states have been slowed due to the pandemic), we’ll get a cleaning lady coming in once a week. I never thought I’d utter the words I have a cleaning lady. But as I’ve been told, “If you do something that you can hire someone else to do, you’re part of the problem,” I know that having someone come in to clean my house once a week is actually a huge blessing for that person.

Another crazy shift for us has been to eat out more. In the states, we would eat out only if we had a gift card or a coupon. Here, we frequent the local restaurants about every other day. There are three restaurants within a minute (or under) walk from our front door. To feed all of us — Steve, me, Asher, Shade, and Memphis (he hardly counts, to be fair) — it’s about $9. Today, for instance, we walked over to Cha Cha Cha’s restaurant and bought three lunches, tres almuerzos, for all of us. Each one came with a soup (some kind of creamy potato with fried corn, a pork rind, and a slice of cheese on top), a meat (chicken, pork chop, or spaghetti bolognese), a salad (hominy & carrots, golden beets & peas, or tomatoes & lettuce), a side (fries or beans), rice, and a fried plantain. Oh, and with that, you get fresh juice (we chose blackberry — YUM) and a dessert (strawberry mousse). It’s a lot of food. But what we appreciate (being mostly vegetarians) is that the portion of meat is very small compared to what you’d get in the states.

We are enjoying this new life of walking from our front door to a frutería in about a minute to buy our apples, strawberries, tomatoes, bananas, granadillas, avocados, and whatever else we need.

We are enjoying getting to know “our lady” at the local mercado where we buy even more fruit, herbs, and potatoes.

We are enjoying knowing that if we separate out our recycling before putting it out to the curb with the trash, someone will have an easier time salvaging — because salvaging is something people do here to make a few bucks.

We are enjoying paying someone else to drive us around the city, especially knowing that we’re still paying significantly less than what we paid in the states for two vehicles and the insurance, gas, and maintenance costs that came with them. And let me tell you, walking out of the grocery store straight to a line of taxis at the curb waiting to take you home is pretty great.

We are enjoying being generous. It’s a privilege we have. Whenever people help us with something (baggers at the grocery stores will bring your groceries to the car and unload, parking attendants will help you find a spot, etc.), we tip them — and, full disclosure, we’ve been caught a couple of times without tip money because we are learning how to live here.

I can’t help but come full circle to how I was raised in the states to avoid peddlers, homeless people, and — while not explicitly stated — cheese from random people’s trunks. I have to wonder what Jesus would do. And I think he’d love all the people. Sometimes loving means giving and sometimes giving means spending money on things that may not be for our survival but may be for someone else’s.

Spending money to help people is easier here in Quito, I think, than in the states. Almost everything we purchase is from a local family or business. That’s neat. But it also means that when pandemics happen, these local small businesses are more likely to falter.

We’ve always believed in voting with our money. In the states, that meant buying the ethical brands at the store to send the message that this is something important to us. Here, it’s handing money directly to the person who needs it. If this is something you resonate with, you can donate through this link to help the people in Quito — via us!

So however you spend your money, I’d encourage you to think about where it’s going. Is it benefiting a billionaire? Is it helping someone pull themselves out of poverty? Is it doing something good?

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

Deuteronomy 15:11, ESV

Thanks for reading, Friends. We are sending love and generosity from Quito to YOU!

Pululahua Volcano
Middle of the World . . . AND COFFEE!
Some of the plants and pots I bought in Nayon, the city of nurseries lining the streets. I am excited to go back and get more plants and these gorgeous clay pots!
My girl, Cameron. And ice cream!
Quito, our city!
The view from Steve’s classroom — hopefully he’ll actually BE in his classroom soon. Currently, he’s teaching from a computer in the bedroom. Ah, coronavirus, you jerk.
A typical lunch, or almuerzo.
Oh, and “Caldo de Pata” from that menu? That was leg broth, more specifically cow ankle broth. We tried it. We did. And it was… not our favorite. That is literally a cow ankle in this picture.
Granadilla. My friend Jennifer calls this “snot fruit.” Yes, it is a bit viscous, but the flavor is great! I love adding it to smoothies.
Steve is thrilled to be able to play soccer with some local guys here! He played last Sunday and “held his own so he’ll be invited back.” Huzzah!
Bread is still happening. This is a chocolate chip loaf that we DEVOURED.

Your Dreams Are Not Your Own

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” — Hebrews 11:1 —

My husband and I have done a thing. A big thing. It’s exciting and scary, and I (still) have lots of questions about it. But the thing has been decided, we’re doing it, and our entire world is about to change. This week, I’m sharing a post that my incredibly talented and intelligent and philosophical husband wrote. So with my intro as a teaser, please enjoy my husband’s words as he reveals what we’re up to.

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How many dreams have you had? How many can you remember? The answers are probably not zero, and are likely numerous. Whether they were dreams while you were asleep, day dreams, or the figurative dreams of future achievements or adventures, they exist.

My wife planned a wonderful night for us to go out to eat with friends and then to a Drew and Ellie Holcomb concert. It is rarely my idea to spend money on such luxuries, but it was like a dream. Was it my dream or her dream?

As my training in philosophical writing* would have me do, let me briefly acknowledge many definitions of dreams, my delineations of them, and narrow the focus of the topic.

A dream of completing some banal goal is finite and cannot be undone. This is basically anything done in your past that you had dreamt of doing at some point in your life. If it is to run a marathon, once you’ve done that thing, your dream has been accomplished and cannot be undone.

Conversely (or should I say contrapositively — look that up if you don’t know the difference), if a dream can be undone, then it would qualify as not finite (or infinite). You might dream of having a house or a family. Both of those things can be taken from you in varying degrees of tragedy or negligence. To keep that dream a reality is a never-ending effort.

There is also a difference between material dreams, personal dreams, and interpersonal dreams.

No surprise, a material dream deals with some inanimate object that you desire. I have a bicycle. I dream of a better bicycle. One that shifts so smoothly it barely makes a sound. One where the brakes never screech and always work well. One that is lightweight for my wife to move easily on her own but can also have all the desirable baskets, bottle cage, bell, lights, computer and other accoutrements. I can acquire the materials to make that happen, thus dream complete…for now.

A personal dream is something you can, essentially, do on your own. (I realize I needed a mom and dad and food and shelter and whatever else to bring me to adulthood. It takes a village, blah blah, don’t get uppity.) If I dream of running a 6 minute mile, that’s on me. No one else can train or run for me.

As expected, an interpersonal dream involves other people, which can make it much more complex. I dreamt of dating my now wife, but before she was my wife or girlfriend, she had no intention of agreeing to my dream. So this includes all sorts of celebrity encounters, potential friendships, or joint ventures with other beings. (For the sake of argument, if I had a dream to wrestle a bear, that bear would also need to be a relatively willing participant.)

Complex dreams involve lots of the aforementioned categories. We have a house. I dream of making it better. I also dream about who could move into the house for sale down the street (or who of my current friends I could persuade to move there which would make living in my house better). That’s some material, interpersonal, and possibly both finite and infinite dreaming.

Other dreams are fanciful (or were) like playing in the FIFA World Cup. So much time and effort on top of God-given talent would have had to go into that personal dream much earlier in my life for that to become a reality. Plus, given its dependence on coaches or teammates along the way, this is hugely interpersonal.

Or a dream could be downright ridiculous. I dream of being a knight in King Arthur’s court but with modern amenities and the ability to fly in a rocket ship to Mars while eating dark chocolate peanut butter cups. 

And yet dreams for some people — graduating from college — are expectations for others. (I do not plan on unpacking that issue in this post.)

The problem with dreams for me is not if I have them or if I can remember them or how to define them, but can I stop them? People may not dream of moving to a suburb of Jacksonville like Orange Park. I get that. Once you’re there, however, you might develop dreams for your future there. I did.

If I am stuck** somewhere for any length of time (more than five minutes will usually do), I will dream of how it could be better. Imagine a waiting room, for anything. Hopefully I brought a book, but is the seating optimal and efficiently arranged? Sitting and writing at a cluttered desk — can I build shelves? Will that just invite more room for more clutter? Living in my house — what if we knocked down a wall, built an indoor laundry room, added a half bath…?

Some of the dreaming is not location dependent. My kids dream of going to a playground, but not usually one in particular. My wife may dream about a relatively close and not crowded beach, sitting in the warm sun, and reading a good book. I might dream about real estate investments locally or somewhere else which could also be done in that waiting room if I don’t have a book to read.

People, whether they be friends, family, or co-workers, may have dreams for your life. Parents may have dreams (or expectations) of their children to go to and graduate from college. I have dreams for my kids to be happy and healthy but also to be intelligent and kind (and successful, however you define that).

Since this may be more like an unkempt lawn growing wild, let me give it a fresh cut. (Note: I may still get caught on a section here and there just like my real-life mower does for various reasons.) So let’s focus on infinite, interpersonal dreams that are not location dependent and stay in the relatively rational realm. Mine will specifically address my family.

Twenty years ago, the expectation was to go to college, but my dream was to have fun and find a wife. Not incongruous, so all was well. Then, it turned into graduating, actually getting married, having a home together, and maybe more. Hold up. We needed jobs (let’s avoid all topics of dream jobs, it’s ridiculous). 

Twelve years ago, we needed new jobs (again, not dream jobs, just paid employment to thrive). Once settled with better jobs, a big house, and stability, the dream became filling the house with children (and stuff, kind of). With children, the dream quickly turned into wanting more time. Time for everything, the kids, each other, our jobs — life. 

Side note: what did we do with all of our free time before kids?

Six years ago, I stumbled across Mr. Money Mustache and had a new dream — retire early. That’s when we would have time for everything. So I ran the numbers and figured it would take ten years to get to a point of walking away from obligatory work.

Three years ago, well before we could actually retire, I stopped working to partially fulfill the dream of more time with my kids. I was a stay-at-home, homeschooling dad. I loved it. I also still loved my wife. (It’s an infinite dream, one that needs never-ending effort.) If her job was making her unhappy, I needed to at least provide a potential solution. Note: I had already told her to resign or quit or just leave, but that was not good enough.

About one month ago, I applied to teach again. Part of the reason was to provide her a way out without her deliberate resignation. This would serve the purpose of love and protection, too, which I vowed to do. Part of the reason was to possibly live out a dream I had — to live internationally, and potentially raise bilingual children. Recently, my dreams were coming true all over again. I was my wife’s knight in shining armor (see ridiculous dream above, double bonus). I was offered a job teaching math in Ecuador.

Dreams change and yet remain remarkably consistent.

My dreams are not my own, not entirely. And think about the dreams while you’re asleep. They are nothing but weird images and storylines unless you share them. Dreams are not meant to exist in isolation.

Odd note: I have been reading through the Old Testament. So many revelations came through dreams. While I am a skeptic as to the veracity of those claims, dreams can have that power.

Second tangent: I had a dream (while awake) to buy the property across the street from me so I could rent it to a friend before my parents moved down to Florida (my dream for them) to be close to their grandkids (and another dream for them). That dream came true, but is being undone as we are likely liquidating everything for our international move to Ecuador in less than six months. Oh well, dreams can be superseded by other dreams, I guess. 

And we’re back. Back to the Drew and Ellie Holcomb concert, almost. Drew Holcomb has a TEDx Memphis talk of similar nature to this post so I resonated not just with the beautiful music but also the message of a fellow dreamer. (John Lennon was also probably on to something.)

Because my wife shared her dream of a great night out with friends and a concert, we both got to live the dream. What happens when you stop dreaming? I’m not sure. As I mentioned, I can not seem to stop that part of my brain. But what happens when you stop sharing those dreams?

I applied to the school in Ecuador because my wife had a rough week at school and had gone to bed really early on a Friday night with no morning obligations. Normally, we might have just stayed up doing nothing together and loving it. The kids were asleep, too. So I was left awake and alone. Dangerous? I searched for my dream of living and teaching internationally. While I could have remained quiet about my pursuit, I told my wife the next day. My dream was not my own. I couldn’t dream without my family.

I can also tell you my wife dreams of me writing. She turned on her faucet of words months ago. Being so moved at the concert — a dream which was not my own — I felt the need to share her dream of writing. Is it also a Valentine’s Day gift? Bah…who cares; it’s too late anyway.

The dreams that really matter are not just about me. They are the dreams that never end, and I hope they never will.

-Steve

*I have limited the repetitive nature of philosophical writing in this post in hopes for a more readable blog, but if challenged to further develop my thoughts in an unassailable way, I may be inclined to expound on these ideas. For example, some may wonder what the differences between a dream and a goal are. I do not address goals directly in this post.

**Rarely would I consider myself stuck somewhere. It is mostly a choice to remain in that place for some end result or sheer inertia.

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