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This past week was probably the most unnerving and challenging period of time during my stay in Ecuador. Consequently, I’ve learned a lot.
Every Tuesday and Thursday I’ve been attending sessions for “Twenty-somethings” at the English Language Fellowship church in Quito. I was introduced to the young adult groups through friends in the BCA program and this church has been a good way to meet and fellowship with Ecuadorians. We speak in both English and Spanish and every last member of the group is so welcoming and kind that I often feel undeserving of such effortless friendships.
Thursday night, after the small group sessions, a member of the group invited us all over to his apartment to watch the end of the Liga fútbol game (Liga advanced 5-4 over a team from Bolivia). The game had just ended and we were chatting, learning new steps to merengue when a fellow member of the church burst into the apartment panting and frantically retelling a story.
I caught the words “se robó” (robbed her) and “se secuestró” (kidnapped her), neither of which seemed to be positive signals. Piece by piece we (the non-native members of the church) learned that Alejandra (one of the most positive and kindest women I’ve ever met) had been kidnapped. While ringing the doorbell to the apartment two men in suits had approached the group of three (Alejandra, another Alejandra and a male from New Jersey who doesn’t speak much Spanish) and demanded their money. They approached the estadounidense first, but as he didn’t understand them, they quickly moved to Alejandra. They threatened her at gunpoint, demanded the keys to her car (which she quickly gave up) and then proceeded to take her with them in the car.
Members of the church split into groups to search for her in the city (there are deserted areas of the city where it is common to drop off victims of kidnappings) and called the police. All the rest of us could do is wait and pray for Alejandra and her kidnappers. Soon, Germanico, another member of the church drove all of the United States citizens home to make sure we arrived safely. I requested that he call me if they found out anything and about ten minutes after entering my room, I received the call that Alejandra was safe and at home.
The following Friday I was fortunate to see Alejandra alive and well at Café Libro where church members went to listen to live music and dance for the evening. It was so good to give her a big hug and know that she was safe, but the true gift was to hear her story. She said that at first when the kidnappers had sequestered her, they said that she was going to be dead by the end of the night.
After forcing her to withdrawal money from several different banks, the kidnappers had a change of heart and left her in a deserted area of the city–they even gave her $10 to find a taxi home. Luckily, there was an old man on this abandoned road that helped her find her way safely home. Alejandra said that the thing that stuck out to her the most was a quote from one of the delinquents, “You could die tomorrow. You never know what day will be your last.” With this in mind, Alejandra is committed to live each day to its fullest, and I hope I can follow her passion as well.
Although I was never really in danger, this entire experience was incredibly unnerving for me. I’ve heard the statistics about Quito, about all big cities, and I know that they are dangerous. But statistics and news stories never sink in until it happens to you.
That night and the next day were all somewhat a haze for me, as I slowly began to realize the frailty of life and the reality of desperation in society. The fact is that the crime rate in Quito is growing because of unemployment. This very morning I saw a news story about the rise in delinquencies and the insecurity of students in colegio against robberies. Tonight I saw footage of an attack on a hacienda in Esmeraldas. One-hundred and fifty persons stormed the hacienda to support the notion of redistribution of wealth. All of these events together make me wonder about the roots of all sorts of injustices–I think a lot can be traced to poverty.
Saturday Sarah and I traveled to a parque and just as we got off the bus rain started to pour. We stayed under the roof of a public restroom and chatted with some people for about an hour or more over religion, politics, education, the constitution, homosexuality and all sorts of interesting issues. One of the gentlemen owns an internet cafe and we have their email addresses, so there might be more on this discussion later.
The next painfully eventful item in my weekend occurred on Sunday during our BCA group’s trip to South Quito–the rapidly expanding and more impoverished side of Quito. This was an incredibly informational and enjoyable day (please watch the video I’ve posted. I never thought I would see Michael Jackson’s Thriller performed in Ecuador. And really, the Michael Jackson impersonator is quite a good dancer). However, I did make a grave error that day.
As I’ve been in Quito for over two months, I figured that my stomach had adjusted to the bacteria. Being the brave Thresher that I am, I decided to try some food from a street vendor. I enjoyed some wonderful lentil-type things with tostados and a topping of tomatoes and onion.
All of which I saw again last night when I realized that apparently my stomach had not yet adjusted to all the bacteria in Ecuador.
So between a kidnapping and a night of regurgitation I would say that it’s been a fairly eventful week and a good reminder to take nothing for granted–neither safety nor bacteria.
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