After we finished working in Quito, the main group left and we stayed and headed south to Cuenca, which in my opinion is the most beautiful city in Ecuador. Here we visited my long time friends and toured in and outside of the city. There are over 60 catholic churches in the city of Cuenca, but only one main cathedral, noted for its majestic blue domes. Construction began on the the cathedral around 1885 and was completed in 1965. Actually, the church was never completed. Running down the front facade of the building there is a large crack and the builders feared that placing the last 2 small domes and bells on the top would make the structure crumble. Since the City of Cuenca is a world UNESCO site and the church itself was delcard a landmark, nothing about the original construciton can be changed. To maintain the historical designation, the domes and bells cannot be placed on the church, even though with today's techonology the repairs could easily be made.
All of the cathedrals around Cuenca are beautiful. all are flanked by amazing gardens with local species of flowers and fauna. Ecuador is home to over 1,000 species of hummingbirds, many which can be seen in the gardens in the city of Cuenca. I took a lot of pics of flowers in front of the San Sebastian Cathedral.
We continued on our tour to the Panama Hat factory in Cuenca - Homero Ortega - one of the most well known and respected producers of the panama hat in the world. And incidentally, the panama hat was invented in Ecuador and not Panama. The mistaken name was given when the hats were being exported to Europe, the final place of departure from South/Central American was Panama so that is where the name was derived. The original hats were actually made in Jipijapa and Montecristi. All hats are handwoven by local indians - no machinery makes a single hat. The weave comes from a plant called the Paja Toquilla, it is cut and dried in the sun and then delivered to each weaver for a hat. Every weaver has their own style and design. The more times the leaf of the paja toquilla is split, the finer the hat will be. Hats range in price from about $15 up to over a $1000 for the finest weave. Once the hats are nearly done the indians ship them back to Homero Ortega for bathing and drying in the sun. The hats are then molded and pressed into various shapes. They can also be dyed prior to this for varying colors. The excess paja toquilla is removed from the edges of the hats and sent to the sewing room for the finishing touches. The excess that is removed from the hats is used to make pins, flowers, jewelery, etc. Nothing is wasted. They actually are now making purses as well, and there was even a wedding dress that was made.
Our final stop of the day was to the lookout Turi for an overview of the city. Another place that has changed dramatically in 15 years. There used to be just a church on the hilltop but now a whole village has moved in with small shops and restaurants. The views from Turi by both day and night are amazing.
We visited with my friends Sonia and Esteban in Cuenca, and their 2 daughters, Marisa and Paz. It was amazing to us how even though my kids didn't speak spanish they could communicate just fine with all the kids in Ecuador. That is what world harmony should be about. We could really take a lesson from the kids.
Some of the local foods we ate: llapingachos (potato or yuca pancake with cheese), Mote Pillo (hominy with eggs), Mote sucio (hominy with pork, onions and herbs), Locro de papa (potato soup), Habas (beans and cheese) and carne asado (beef or pork, smoked). good stuff.
Continuing on our day of touring around Quito we went to the Mitad del Mundo (center of the world). This place was discovered in the early 1700's by some french explorers, who, using the instruments of the day, located the line of the equator. A huge monument was erected, and since I was last there in 1987, a whole tourist trap village was built around the monument - shops, restaurants, etc. One fascinating thing here that we learned was about the vegetable ivory nut - Tagua Palm. there is a picture of the nut ball in one of the photos. One the nut is ripe it falls from the tree, is dried out and then the seed can be carved just like regular ivory - beads, jewelery, instruments, etc. It can also be died into some beautiful colors.
After we had a fantastic lunch at one of the restaurants here (Locro de papa, churasco de pollo) we shopped and then left and went to the REAL center of the world. This was found about 2 miles from the original place (not too bad for the french guys) by military GPS. This place was fascinating because here they do zero gravity experiments on the equatorial line. You can balance an egg on the head of a nail, watch how water flows in different directions on each side of the equator (and straight down on the center, no gravity, no swirl). We watched demonstrations of strength excercises on and off the line (my big burly husband was a weak as a flower right on the line). They also have great museums of the local indian tribes, demonstrating the cultures of each, including how to shrink a head. You can find the instructions in 2 of the photos. Sorry, don't know the secret herbs that go into the boiling process. No one but the Huaoroni indians know. This tribe still uses the process to this day, just not on a people since the government passed a law that said no more people shrinking, they only do monkeys now.
Traveling to another country brings on feelings of excitement, the sense of a newness of being someplace else. For me, it was going home. Well, my second home. It was 15 years since I was last there and it amazed me how many things had changed and how much had not changed at all. The purpose of the trip was threefold - 1 week missions, a couple of days visiting and exploring and a day to visit the child we sponsor through compassion international. Overall the trip was amazing and I am not sure how to put in to words all that happened.
Our first week we spent in the city of Quito - the capital - to work in a town outside of there called Carapungo with the missions team. The team from our church were the most amazing people - we came from so many different backgrounds, ages, family lives, and came together as a team to minister to the folks at Espiritu Santo Church. The people of the church greeted us warmly and with love. Never have we met such humble and thankful brothers and sisters as they. Hermana Norma has such a love for the kids of the school and the people in the community. Their 3 beautiful daughters were just a gracious and kind. The Pastor was soft spoken and a true man of God.
We spent Saturday seeing the sights aroudn Quito - the center of the world - old and new-markets, eating great food. Sunday was church with the people of Espiritu Santo and touring the facilities. It was eye-opening to see the meager condition of the school and what little they have. We complain in our schools because we don't have newer computers or good basketballs. These folks are happy to have just one basketball, and small plastic chairs and wood tables for the kids to sit at during the day. Pencil sharpeners, the kind with the crank handle, were the most recent greatest gift the school received. Our job was going to be huge during the week - running a VBS, painting a mural and building steel framing for a second floor on the school. God has blessed them enough that they are adding an addition. Praise the Lord!
On Monday, most of the group set to work preparing the second floor. We ran through songs for the VBS, tried to get the plan ready, the painting folks primed the wall, we ate lunch, and then at 12:30ish the kids started rolling in. and rolling in. We had over 200 kids the first day, far more than we were told. It was chaos. We were not prepared, but we made it through by the grace of God. We gathered together that night and regrouped and prayed for the rest of the week.
On Tuesday it was a complete transformation, we had even more kids, but the sense of calm that we all felt as we approached the day, and started out to work - was amazing. Again, everyone just fell in where they needed to be. The kids came out in droves starting at noon, even though VBS did not begin until 3pm. They walked, came by bus - they just came and came. Some kids came from more than an hour away which just left us scratching our heads in wonder. Our crafts went well, the story time was a smash, outdoor activities abounded and the beginning and end singing of the 4 songs we had were awesome. The favorite song was "tengo gozo gozo gozo" ( Ihave the joy joy joy down in my heart). We made it through the day with much more confidence to make it through the week.
This week we said goodbye to amazing woman who touched the lives of literally hundreds, if not thousands of people. Joyce added so much joy to our lives, even though our time together was seemingly short, we shared so many life experiences and joys and sorrows. Brain cancer took her from us too soon, but we know that for those of us who are in Christ, we will be reunited with her again in eternal glory when God calls the rest of us home. This is the hope to which we cling.
Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," delcares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
The following is what I speak from my heart for the celebration service in honor of Joyce.
March 6, 2009
When I remember Joyce two words come to mind – grace and dignity. Webster defines grace as elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion, or action. And Dignity - bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation. This was her approach to everyday tasks, and the attitude with which she embraced all that she did.
I had the honor and the privilege of working with Joyce at DCAA over the last four years. When I first started with the agency she was my mentor. Not just my mentor at work, but also my mentor, in many ways, for life. She was like my big sister, in whom I could confide and share. We compared our children, expressed joy in their new discoveries with each passing day and year – through preschool, baseball, swim clubs, the silliness of having to arrange playdates when, as kids, we could just run to a friend’s house whenever we wanted. Found it funny how two of her children are name Kelly and Kevin, and in my family – I am Kelli and I have a brother named Kevin.
She loved her children with a mother’s love – one of deep devotion, sacrifice and pain. Johnny, Kevin and Kelly – you guys were her world and when she would talk about the three of you, she had an extra sparkly glittery look in her eyes. She gave me a new perspective on motherhood one day when talking about all of the stuff we do for our kids, and she said “yeah well the work is worth the payment of pure love.” Grace and dignity, that was Joyce.
One funny conversation about our kids revolved around the silliness of the beginning of each school year, and the lists – those dumb long, laundry list of things that we have to buy for our kids. My approach – just not do it. But Joyce, no, she would just say, “You are crazy and you can protest, but I will buy everything because that is what I do. But when toilet paper goes on the list I will call you to go and beat up the school administration in Cherry Hill for me.” And she would just laugh and smile with that little twinkle in her eyes that she would get when she smiled. Always the peacemaker, always acting in grace and dignity.
When it came to work, she was no different. Tom and I were on the same team with Joyce and shared close quarters in our office. For any of you who know me and tom, well, we fuel each other’s fire at work. Joyce was kind of the referee. I would come in ready to hammer and beat up the contractor and she would laugh at me and say, “Why do you get all worked up like that just sit back, relax and we will work through it and find an answer.” When it came to our employer, and yes we love DCAA and all of you, but sometimes policies or decrees would get the two of us going. Tom would usually start and then I would jump on the bus with him. But Joyce, nah, she would just sit back and listen, and watch our little stress card light up, and shake her head, and then start to giggle. Then the words of wisdom would flow and rationale would come back in to the office, and all would be calm until the next round. Because that was Joyce - Grace and dignity.
We talked about our families the most. We loved that we could share about our husbands – yes men that is what we women do, it is what keeps us sane. We had so many similar stories about our husbands, and sometimes experiences we shared ended up being advice one for another later on about how to deal with you guys. But John, she loved you with a fervent unconditional love. You were her best friend – she told me she knew when she met you she had found her soul mate.
Our family had the pleasure of cruising with the Stankiewicz clan in 2007 and we were able to meet all of the people she and I had talked about in the office. Incidentally, we did not plan that trip together – but found out several months after we booked our vacations that we booked the exact same ship, exact same hotel in Puerto Rico, and chance would have it, we ended up on the same flight down there. That trip was 2 weeks after Joyce’s second surgery and I just remember her smiling that entire week celebrating having her whole family around her. And afterward she would say that she didn’t remember much from that trip, but she did remember that crazy van ride we took in Barbados to Malibu beach – all 22 of us in a 14 passenger van. And it was on that beach, when Kelly was having her hair braided, that Joyce was talking about her mom and dad, Sandy and Wayne. Sandy, she so admired you for your resolve and determination in tough situations, and your ability to go and get the job done with what seemed to her to be effortless ability. And Wayne, she shared with me how she drew much of her strength from you, especially during your drives down to NIH. She told me how she loved that time with you, what seemed like dreary hours sometimes in the car back and forth, but it was precious time with her dad.
You know I have heard people say over the last two years and through this week, that this whole situation is just not fair, how could God let this happen? And I have really thought about that, and even wrestled with those same questions myself. But I have come to understand that those questions are not fair questions because we base them on our standards of fairness, and we assume that God has the same standards that we do. But the fact of the matter is that He doesn’t have the same standards. I can look back over my life and see so many times, tragic times, when I thought God was not being fair. But I can also see how His plan is bigger and better than mine, even though I may not always like it right in those moments. Those are the times that he uses to shape us, and mold us, and prepare us for what lies ahead. And I truly believe that this is one of those times. You know, the book of Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I may not necessarily like this plan right now, and I do question it because I do not fully comprehend it, but I do not blame God. This has not taken Him by surprise and He knows what He is doing. And I know in my heart that God has something great that will arise even from this.
I could go on and on with so many treasures I have in my heart about Joyce, but I have to give other people here a chance. But I do want to close with this poem by Henry Van Dyke, and an old friend from high school referred me to this, I saw it and thought it was a perfect picture of this experience that we all now share.
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says;
"There, she is gone!"
Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad
"Here she comes!"
With grace and dignity, Joyce has gone on to Glory, and the angels have received her with shouts of joy.
So. We have this 55 gallon tank with a lemon tetra, 5 neons, 2 platties, 2 black mollies and 1 dalmation molly. Oh and a sucker catfish. So I bought the platties and the mollies because they were cheap and I never owned them before. One day while feeding the fish, a new small black fish appeared at the top to eat, and I thought, "hey, where did that fish come from?" So I am looking in the tank and see two teeny tiny little fish hiding, which turned out to be another molly and a platy (recently born). And based on the size of the one that came up to eat, and the two little ones I saw, I had to say that birthing had happene twice without my knowledge. So these fish give birth. Mind you this is like 4 months after I bought them. So I started doing research. Well don't you know, these stupid fish are in the same species as guppies, which if any of you have ever owned a guppy, the reproduce like wildfire. So those little new fish appeared about 2 months ago. Oh, and they don't need a man. Nope. The girl fish, being the geniuses that they are, can store up the sperm for like 5 months and just use it when they are ready. Talk about being industrious. So this is why I had babies, because the ones that I bought were all females who must have been storing up the sperm just waiting. And all of them are born female and will eventually change sex depending on the "needs" of the community. I am guessing now that at some point I will have males in the tank and there will be some inbreeding going on.
The other day, we had new babies, looks like the dalmation molly was the culprit based on the coloring of the new babies. It looks like we have 5 that have made it for a week, there were about 12 but they must have become scooby snacks at some point along the way.
Funny thing is, I can't tell when these things are pregnant. They always look fat to me. And they will reproduce pretty much every 30 days. This is the third time that I can tell that they have had babies. They are live bearers so most of the babies are eaten upon arrival, you know, like pac-man in the tank. Fish gives birth, other fish hang around and wait for the "food" to appear and suck them up. I am actually thankful for that because otherwise I would have about 100 fish in the tank right now if that were not the case.
So that is my random baby fish story. The black mollies are still fat. maybe because they ate all of the other babies. I don't know. I have to try to take a picture.....later
This morning we, as a family, participated in the Race for Hope 5K in Philadelphia to support Joyce in walking for a cure for brain cancer. We were talking this morning, this is the first time that we have ever done something like this, don't know why we have never done anything like this before. I mean, we certainly care about other peoples problems, but I guess we are caught up in our own lives and are so self-focused that we don't pay enough attention.
What we witnessed today was an amazing event, people from all walks of life out to support friends and loved ones who have succumbed to this disease, and those who are still surviving. I am so thrilled that my kids were there to see this, and to explain to them why we were doing this - for Joyce, for the thousands of others who may fall victim to brain cancer. Maybe through this small effort we have made some sort of difference for someone else in the future. We may not see any direct benefit today, in a society where instant gratification is the mantra of life it seems. But we may know that down the road, we might have helped.
It was a beautiful, albeit chilly, day for the walk. Amazing. Simply amazing. This we should do more often.