Tag Archives: African-American

Step 1 – On Moving to Cuenca

Standard

Where do I begin?  I mean literally, where do I begin to unravel the litany of things that I need to accomplish to make this move?  If I over analyze, over think, over strategize, it begins to get complex, quickly.  Schools, homes, cars (or not), things in my apartment here, things for my apartment there, visas, adjustment period, culture shock, and other “stuff”.

Just listing these things down makes me anxious….then I realize, who am I kidding!  The only things that really matter are the plane tickets.  The beauty of a ticket is it automatically streamlines and simplifies everything.  You get a specific date when your place “here” needs to be empty, you get 2 suitcases to back your stuff in, and really…what more do you need?

  1. I am renting, not buying, so if my friends are not able to help me find an apartment before I get there, I will surely and quickly find an apartment once I arrive. Check
  2. We are getting there in the summer, so school will be on vacation.  And I made the decision to homeschool for the of this school year.  So for now we have got school down to a science (literally, plus Latin, Spanish, math, grammar, history and geography). Check.
  3. With bus rides for a quarter and taxis between $1.50 and $2.00, who needs a car!  Definitely not me. Check.
  4. I am selling, giving away, donating, or putting in storage, everything in my apartment here and I am getting everything new for the apartment there (I’m really zen about home furnishings anyway). Check.
  5. We will extend the term of our tourist visa for 6 months before we leave the US and I will figure out the rest while I am chillin’ in a relaxed pose in Ecuador. Check.
  6. Adjustment period?  Culture shock?  Seriously, it is Cuenca, Ecuador not Timbuktu, Mali.  Visit the Latino neighborhoods and businesses in your town, imagine it significantly cleaner (because Cuenca is cleaner than the vast majority of American cities) and in a valley surrounded by mountains.  Adjustment finished.  Check.
  7. There is no other “stuff”.  And if there is, it will be taken care of at some point, while in my relaxed Ecuadorian pose. (There is the issue of closing down my business, that but requires a whole post of its own.)

So the biggest step is to purchase our tickets and I already told my oldest daughter we are making two stops immediately after her high school graduation in June,

  • Grandma’s house – to drop off all of her boarding school stuff; and
  • JFK airport, to catch our flight to Quito.

And like the awesome daughter she is, she is right on board (pun intended).

Step 1 – Decide the specific date we are leaving and buy airline tickets.

Advertisements

Starting A Business Abroad

Standard
“Hi I enjoy your blogs, I am African-American from the States and would like some information about your experiences in Cuenca and if it is a big challenge for blacks to start a business over there. You stated your experience and I thought that was great. I want to experience the life of Ecuadorians and especially Cuenca, what must my expectations be? Is it really true that $300.00 can get you a nice place to live?  Your help will be greatly appreciated.”

__________________________________________________________

I am one of those people who does not know how to take a true vacation. Laying around beaches or passing the days completely self-indulged is an absolute challenge for me (which is one of a number of reasons why I hate cruises).  While my travel may seem random to an outsider, those in the know, know that there must be a specific interest I have in that country or city and that it is in some way tied to a business idea.

So when I travel to a new place, be it in the United States or anywhere else, I always have an eye out for the business environment and opportunities for entrepreneurship.  I also have a personal principle of not wanting to work for anyone other than myself and my clients, so I definitely try to consider all the possibilities.

That said, over the years I have realized some universal truths for doing business abroad:

  • Take your time. Doing business abroad can be a slow process and you want to make sure not to sink everything you have into a business proposition that is unteste;
  • Travel with an open mind and have no preconceived notions, because they are probably wrong;
  • Get to know a place before you start thinking of business there because what may work where you currently are, may not be feasible in another environment (this requires time);
  • Get to know the people before you put plans in place because their needs and desires may be completely different based on culture, religion, region, etc. (this requires time);
  • Keep your ears and eyes open and your mouth closed (regarding business plans).

On this last point, the minute you voice that you are interested in doing business in a place, everyone will (1) immediately know that you are not from there i.e. you are a “gringo” and (2) everyone will present you with a “great” business proposition.

On the challenge of being black and starting a business in Cuenca –  No one cares what color you are…black, brown, purple, neon blue. As a North American foreigner your money is green (yes, you too Canadians), and that is all that matters.  Anyone who runs a business has to hustle and take care not to be hustled, especially when working in developing countries.   You could be in the blackest country in Africa, surrounded by folks you think look like you…but they know you are a “gringo”, “toubab”, “pumoy” foreigner from the West, and trust that they will be first in line to take advantage of any naiveté.  Now that I think of it, that sounds just like New York.

So are there any particular challenges with being a black, North American, person, starting a business in Ecuador? Not particularly because you are essentially a black gringa/o.  What will present a challenge is language.  You will always fare better if you know the language enough to get around and to ensure surrogates are not leading you by the nose. The second challenge is finding trustworthy surrogates, which takes time because everyone has their own agenda.

Next, travel with no expectations, just go… you will never be disappointed and will almost always find something joyful.  Okay, correction. I had no expectations when I went on that cruise and I was still thoroughly disappointed…actually revolted.  So maybe “never” is too absolute, please substitute, “almost never”.

Finally, yes it is possible to find a place in Cuenca that I think is nice for $300.  The operative phrase being “I think”.  I like to be comfortable  but I have simple tastes, I appreciate zen decor and I like living with locals, like a local.  Yes, I have been known to hand wash the family laundry, but  I also require things to be clean, secure and welcoming.    Normal Cuenca apartment pricing means not living in the expat buildings or neighborhoods, negotiating stated prices, and having the ability to speak just a wee little bit of Spanish (you’ll have more leverage).

In the immortal words of Jay-Z and Pharrel (yes..I am going there)

“I’m a hustla baby, I  just want you to know –
It ain’t where I been, but where I’m about to go…”

The Verdict – Cuenca, Ecuador

Standard

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Our trip to Cuenca reminded me of a couple of rules to live by:

  1. Always decide for yourself what a place is like, because one person’s Shangi-la may be another person’s Detroit (no offence if that’s your town);
  2. Always travel with an open mind and open heart; and
  3. Always be open to making new friends.

For some, being in Ecuador is about as exotic a place as they can imagine living and everything seems foreign.  For us, it was basically just like home except in Spanish.  Now to be fair, our reference points for “different” are Senegal, China, India, etc., so comparatively, Cuenca is pretty 1st rate and was more like travelling to western Europe than an “exotic” destination point.

For the most part, everything we currently do at home can be done in Cuenca. Again, Cuenca is a 1st rate – 2nd tier city and for a family with young kids, it has most of the amenities you want except for ice skating rinks, McDonalds, and little league baseball (though I may be wrong on that one). Good private schools around the world will beat any US public school and many US private schools 6 out of 10 times, so a good school combined with a Spanish tutor (for my soon to be 4th grader) should meet and hopefully exceed, my expectations.

Based on the above, Cuenca was not an especially impressive city for us in terms of the man-made cityscape, but this is not to say it is not a beautiful city.  It is a nice, peaceful, livable, walkable, temperate, enjoyable place to be.  What impressed us were:

  • The beauty of the mountains and hills that surround the city;
  • The people we met.   Cuencanos (expats and locals) were very nice and welcoming. We started our week not knowing anyone and having some online blogger contacts.  We ended the week having made friendships that I belive will last a lifetime.
  • The extremely low cost of living well; and
  • The abundance and variety of food, extracurricular activities and artistic event options.

So, for now I can say that we will be returning soon, to spend at least 2 months in Cuenca and we will see if we use the other half of our return tickets.

Relax and Follow the Paths Where They May Lead

Aside

This is the question that each of us is faced with when we stand at the cusp of change.  How do you determine the answer?  How much time does it take you to decide?  My own process is random and spontaneous.  I find the more time I spend ruminating and debating a decision, the less likely I am to actually make a decision.  And indecision equates to remaining in the status quo.

That said, the question of whether I should stay in my country of birth and venture forth into the world, is one that recurs every time I am required to use my passport.  That fantastic little blue book, with its battered and worn edges, that allows me, without prior approval (visas), access to so many parts of the world.  It is the only asset I own that I can not do without, the one document that I can locate no matter how disorganized my space may become.

When I travel, the pull not to return to the US is strong if:

  • I am surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes and joyous and happy people;
  • I feel relaxed and the pressures of work melt away;
  • My greenback dollar bills actually have significant buying power; and
  • My travel partner is not protesting for a quick return home.

This time around however, I have a specific goal in mind and if I find the spot that meets my few requirements, then I am there.  That simple.  Of course my 24 year-old sister thinks I am experiencing a mid-life crisis and my mother thinks the same, but I just think that I am unafraid of change.  In fact, I crave it.

What about you, would you stay (where you are) or would you go? And what would be the triggers for making that decision?  Inquiring minds would like to know!

As a side note – I was singing this title song in my head this morning, when my 8 year-old started singing it in the shower.

“Should I stay or should I go now. If I go there will be trouble, if I stay it will be double. So come on and let me know. Should I stay or should I go!” – The Clash

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Cuenca – The People

Standard

Looking over the posts from the last two weeks, I feel as if I have neglected to discuss the most important part of our journey to Cuenca; that is, how we found the people.  I tend to be a rather goal oriented individual and too easily get lost in the “nuts and bolts” of providing functional and practical information. However, the essence of why I travel, why I like some places more that others, why I, at core, do the things I do, has more to do with intangible and wholly subjective, feelings; rather than, practicality.  In fact, those that know me well would say I will usually do the opposite of what is practical.

The challenge with every journey I venture, is communicating to others the great joys and highs to be had by going forth into the unknown and finding laughter, warmth and kindred spirits.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The people of Cuenca were fun, welcoming and  full of laughter, cups of coffee and cocoa.  People were helpful, mellow, and relaxed.  And the small stature of the majority of the people made me feel like a runway model in 2 inch heels.  Sweet!

Ecuadorians were not as curious as Indians, or as gregarious as the Senegalese.  Instead they are even keeled, soft-spoken and really not that different from home, except:

  • language, of course;
  • Cuencanos are very family oriented and prioritize spouses and children;
  • they take their Catholicism very seriously; and
  • they do not mind being stuck in a perpetual autumn.