Tag Archives: black

Cuenca Day 5 – In the land of Spanish

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Interested in starting your own business and pursing dreams of entrepreneurship?  Cuenca may be the place for you.  Unlike the United States, there seems an economic renaissance in Cuenca.  Business seems steady, there are help wanted signs in windows and people seem to be living well. Today’s adventure in the Spanish was all about being the master of your own destiny.

Today was one of those days when we choose to be girly and get our nails done for $1.50 per person. My travel partner was excited since this is an activity we never engage in at home.

Here in Cuenca there are all sorts of businesses, from the extremely affordable to the “almost the same price as home”. That said, after are girly interlude, we were presented with the following proposition (in Spanish) –  “Why not start a new hostel?”

Start a New Hostel/Restaurant/Cafe/Shop!

  • There is a very strong tourist industry here and it keeps getting better as the reviews on Cuenca pile in;
  • North American (ex Mexico) travellers, in particular, tend to feel very comfortable and gravitate toward “American” owned businesses;
  • English speakers like to deal with English-speaking venues;
  • There is a large permanent community of expats that patronize attractive, well-run businesses;
  • Cuenca has visitors year round and profitable pricing for  you may still be affordable pricing for your visitors, relative to their home country.

Are you interested?  Well, these are the points that I was given, not by a real estate agent but by the owner of the property who happens to be one of the first Cuencanos I met here.  Now, to be fair, I have no plans on investing in real estate at this moment; nor do I have plans to become a real estate agent…just for the record.  But, I was curious.  I love seeing traditional architecture and the use of space and like, and he did make some good points.  Also, as the owner of the property, I think he was giddy about showing it to an “Americana/Gringa”.  (Yes folks, just proves the point that it doesn’t matter what color you are, if you are North American (ex Mexican) you’re a gringo…not pejorative, just a fact.)

So if you have ever considered running your own bed and breakfast, hostel, cafe, bar, etc., etc. – here are some pictures of what you can pick up for an asking price of $275,000 (which after negotiations and write downs, could be a bit less).

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Muy interesante! A little Spanish knowledge will get you very very far.

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Cuenca Day 2 – In the Land of English

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This afternoon was a real treat for us and speaks to the power of the internet and blogging, in particular, to forge new friendships and make connections all over the world.  In doing some research regarding what to expect when coming to Cuenca, the resource I relied on most was a blog run by a wonderful couple, Frank and Angie (click here).

One of the things I really value in their blog is their honesty, sincerity and willingness to share their day-to-day experiences.  I may not agree will all of their views but I certainly think they are valuable and add to the greater discussion.  In addition, I fundamentally belive that an honestly expressed opinion is a million times better than a contrived opinion to suit the masses. So, prior to coming to Cuenca I reached out to Frank and Angie and asked if they would mind meeting us.

I am so happy that they said yes because we had some wonderful conversation and I felt we were kindred spirits.  They represent the other side of the expat experience, which is one that is totally immersed in the local culture and keeping true to the concepts of frugality, simplicity and happiness.   We hit it off so well that I invited them for lunch tomorrow and they offered to take us on a walking tour of downtown.

Depending on who you are and your personality, you will find like-minded people who will become your friends in your new home.

The Flight Plan – Panama Stopover

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Our Chicago to Cuenca itinerary is straightforward enough.  Depart Chicago at 8am (CST) –arrive in Panama about 2pm (EST) – depart Panama at around 9pm –arrive in Quito 11pm (EST).  Why the long lay-over in Panama?  My thinking is, pay to visit one country and visit another one for free (excluding any departure taxes not included in your flight fare and the roundtrip cost of a taxi or bus into town).

Panama has been a destination spot for multiple waves of émigrés.  From those seeking employment along its shipping lanes, to those who flock there as an escape from their USA norms, for many, Panama holds a dichotomous image – at once utilitarian and exotic.  The pull for me is one of family history…lost and not yet fully recovered.  It is, to be more specific, my eldest daughter’s history.

Born to African immigrants, I have always found delving into the histories of black families in the United States a draw and when I became a mother, my awareness of the importance of family history became that much more acute.  As a result, I would often essentially interrogate my ex about his story of genesis.  It ends up that his is the story of migration: emigration, integration and immigration. On the first layer, he is from the US Virgin Islands (USVI), on the second layer; his parents are from Jamaica but moved to USVI, and subsequently the US, because of work and educational opportunities.  The third layer is where things become even more interesting and dynamic for my daughter:

  • One great-grandparent was south-east Asian – most probably part of the large southern Indian and Sri Lankan population who went to Jamaica for work;
  • One great-grandparent was born in Panama to Jamaican parents. She grew up there then moved to Cuba where she married and raised children, then moved to Jamaica where she remarried and had more children; and.
  • One great-grandparent was half Irish.

I love these layers because they point to the fact that “black history” and African-American history encompass a set of diverse and sometimes disparate experiences that are linked to a greater diaspora.  In our combined travels, we have touched on Ireland, southern India, and Jamaica. So to be in Panama, this land that is so personally connected to my daughter, and not at least attempt to “step into it”, if only for a few moments, would be tragic.  Perhaps a bit melodramatic…but I reserve the right to be occasionally dramatic, it adds texture and depth and it makes us think!

Positive thinking keeps the train from stalling but

Critical thinking drives it to be nimble, innovative, and a game changer.

You are the train.

African-Americans – The Retirement Challenge

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Now I am going to make a statement that may be controversial to some, but it rings true nonetheless. The retirement challenge for many in the black community is one of exuberant overconfidence.   How many times have we overheard our friends and family dream aloud about their plans for retirement?  Yet, how many times are we realistic about planning for that life?  In our discussions, we are relatively confident that we will meet our retirement goals and our families will be taken care of…but we are paralyzed by inaction.

This notion was proved out in a 2011 study by Prudential called, ‘The African-American Financial Experience’ (click here).  According to the report, the retirement challenges for black people in the United States can be summed up as follows:

  • We are very confident about achieving our dreams but many of us do not take the tangible steps toward reaching those dreams, such as creating a plan, actively saving, or working with a financial professional.
  • We may participate in employer based retirement programs but we contribute less often and draw on our retirement plans more frequently to cover immediate expenses, thus accumulating less wealth over the same amount of time as others.
  • We neither plan to be the givers or beneficiaries of inheritance. So a smaller percentage of us execute wills, plan our estates, or participate in IRAs.

Okay, so we have laid out the broader challenges…but is it all doom and gloom?  As a consummate optimist, my answer is a loud and resounding, “Of course not!”  No matter your income, your job or family situation, or your age, we can all take actions today that will move us closer to the expectations we have about our later years.

  1. Create a will and get it notarized. Now let me state, I am not an attorney and I do not purport to provide legal advice.  All I am saying is, get your affairs in order today, so your family will not have to suffer indignity later. And if you have no family, there is always a charitable cause that could benefit.  Also, make sure  someone other than yourself has a copy of whatever document you end up with…or at least make sure they know where to find it and they have access.
  2. Do not just commit to making contributions to a retirement plan (at work or through an IRA) – actually make the contributions on a regular basis.  The power of compounding interest means that over time even $20 per month is worth significantly more than irregular, small payments or no payments. Consider that money untouchable.
  3. Create a realistic plan for achieving your goals.  Consider where you are today and what you can realistically accomplish toward that plan in this month, this year, over the next 5 years, etc.  Then do it!  We may or may not all retire as millionaires, but with a plan AND action, you can be comfortable.

Over-confidence and inaction cause the death of dreams. 

 So stop dreaming and start doing. 

Why Consider Living Outside the US?

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One of the things that always perplexes people is why I travel so much.  The first thing people assume is that I was in the military (which 30 seconds after having met me, you would know could not be the case) and the second assumption is that I must be obligated to travel because of my “job”.   Neither one of these is the case.

I travel because I have a need, desire and passion to explore the world around me and to be reminded of its beauty.  And I travel to recharge my batteries and rekindle my hope in living a life beyond the daily grind and the routine rut that most of us fall into as adults.

So over the last 7 years, this rut has taken me and my family to:

  • China  (Beijing)
  • Sierra Leone
  • South Africa (Cape Town and Durban)
  • Senegal (Dakar)
  • England (London)
  • Nigeria (Kano)
  • Southern India (Pondicherry)

I am an unabashed adventure traveller, in that ‘taking the road less traveled’ is my preferred way to travel and live.  And each of these destinations have built upon each other – with new and unexpected discoveries and invariably the overwhelming warmth and generosity of the people we meet.

However, one of my central reasons for travelling is to discover a city I would want to live in with a community I and my children, would be active and happy in.  A place where the stresses of US life (financial, health, social, etc) melt away with a slower pace, lower cost of living, and friendly and embracing neighbors and friends.

We are not searching for a utopia, just a good place to lay our hats, unpack our suitcases and truly LIVE.