Don’t Mess With (Little) Texas!

I’ve been a bit behind on chronicling my recent life events, so just like my last post, this one is over a week past the incident.  But I could not let it go by without sharing it with you.  Warning: it’s not for the squeamish!

Some time back, a friend of Bill & Elaine’s came to visit.  Her name was Samantha and she was from Texas.  We became friends too, and so some other friends here nicknamed her “Feisty Texas” and me “Little Texas.”

Not long after that, I met my friend Terry, and in our times of running around together, I kept telling him I wanted a machete.  I was a woman living alone (still am) and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have such a thing handy.  He kept telling me he would get one for me, and eventually presented it to me for my birthday.

So now you have the background for this story…

I was coming down my stairs first thing in the morning, and paused at the first landing to open Charcoal’s bay window.  Just then I looked out in my yard to see this:

A snake slithering in and out of my bamboo fence.  I froze and my mind went through a list of several possible actions.  Finally, without taking my eyes off the snake, I called my neighbor, Ed, and asked, “Can you come kill this snake in my yard?”  “I’ll be right there,” was his response.  However, it became apparent as the minutes passed, that Ed’s “right there” was based on Ecuadorian time.  As I waited, I continued to watch this thing slowly slither its way around and across my fence, and make a turn towards my house.  It wasn’t going to be long before I lost it from my sight line out the window.  Knowing there were some potted plants, large rocks and various other spaces there that it could disappear into, and still seeing no sign of Ed’s vehicle headed my way, I did the only other thing I could think of.  Go back up to my bedroom and get this:

I paused at my front door to consider whether flip flops were appropriate foot wear for snake killing.  I took a look at the length of my machete and decided time was of the essence, rather than appropriate footwear.  I carefully rounded the corner and found the snake was halfway under some large rocks next to my house.  Only its back half was showing.  I knew everyone had always told me you were supposed to cut off the head.  But with a thought of what I would have to do to get at its head, and wondering how swiftly it would move once I disturbed it, I decided the best course of action was surprise attack wherever I could.  I raised my machete over my head and brought it down as hard as I could across the snake’s back (if there is such a thing).  Unfortunately, it didn’t have the result I wanted.  Apparently, when they sell you a machete, they leave it rather dull for the store and sale handling, and expect you to sharpen it later.  Rather than severing the snake, it merely injured it.  After one more whack, the snake brought its head out.  I then attempted to chop off its head, to no avail.  It took numerous hackings to get the thing dead.  When it was all over, with heart racing and hands shaking, I looked at the bloody machete – it felt like a scene from a horror movie.

I then called Ed to let him off the hook.  He scolded me for not waiting and said he’d be down anyway.  When he arrived, I explained that the snake was on the move and headed for my house.  We then found a new hole, just under my window next to my house.  Apparently the snake had recently made it his home and was headed that way.  Ed then said I did the right thing.

Ed and subsequently several others (my friend Terry, our gardener Jaime, and my Ecuadorian friend Luis) identified it as a boa constrictor.  They tried to convince me it was a “good” snake.  I felt a little guilty for just a moment, but then remembered that the Bible never calls any snake good.  I am a redeemed daughter of Eve and I HATE SNAKES!!!

There is a snake here in Ecuador, called the Echis, that is one of the most deadly in the world.  A bite from one will kill you in ten minutes.  I encountered one at my first rental, just a few months after I arrived, when I opened the door to find it on the door frame!  Its head was eye level with mine.  I slowly stepped back and called upstairs to Bill on their balcony.  When he came down and saw it, he took a step back in astonishment.  The goal was to get it gone without damaging the door.  After some thought and little weaponry, he hit it with a broom and it fell off and disappeared in an instant.  I suspected at the time and later identified what it was.  Since then, some of my volunteer workers recently made another suspected siting of one in our development.  So my reaction to snakes is to kill first and ask “what” later.  Fortunately, constrictors move slowly and are harmless.  Echis are very fast and highly aggressive.  So I take this all as a lesson to sharpen my machete!

Did I happen to mention that I HATE SNAKES!!!

Christmas Presence

My little tree I bought my first year here, decorated with all the favorite ornaments I'd saved and brought from home

My little tree I bought my first year here, decorated with all the favorite ornaments I’d saved and brought from home

This year I had the best Christmas present I could ask for – the presence of my very best friends in Ecuador, in my home on Christmas Day.

I’ve not hosted any real gatherings here, much less a holiday.  As I’ve mentioned before and the rest of my family can attest to, my mother was an amazing cook and consummate holiday hostess.  Although I know I shouldn’t be, I’m still a bit intimidated living in her shadow and knowing I could never measure up.  That is coupled with the fact that my goal in life is to make it to the end without ever cooking a turkey (and with 51 years under my belt, I think I’m going to accomplish it).  So I’m not super confident about hosting holiday gatherings.

Bill, Rick, Elaine and Mesfin - all very dear friends

Bill, Rick, Elaine and Mesfin – all very dear friends

But this year, our friend Rick is here for his first Christmas in Ecuador, having finally retired and completed his house in Mirador San Jose.  He just moved here “permanently” last week (other than making annual visits back to Canada).   That, along with the fact that Bill and Elaine have hosted me for countless (and I do mean countless) gatherings and meals over the past three years, I really wanted to make their Christmas special.  So I invited them for a non-traditional (although hopefully tasty) Christmas lunch.  I included our former neighbors Mesfin and Sam, although sadly Sam couldn’t attend because he was hosting guests at his bed and breakfast.

The spread

The spread

Everyone arrived about 1:30 and after a small gift exchange, we feasted.  Elaine brought raw veggies and two dips, as well as her famous pickles, pickled beets and pickled green beans.  I made “angel” eggs, tomato and mozzarella salad with fresh basil, broccoli chicken devan, and my mother’s & aunt Dora’s famous “nilche” recipe (an Italian dumpling made with flour, eggs, butter and Parmesan cheese).  For dessert we had chocolate, peanut butter and oatmeal “no-bake” cookies.

After our meal, we just sat around talking, telling stories and laughing (and Mesfin even took a little snooze).  It was a quiet, relaxing and pleasant Christmas Day with the ones here who are nearest and dearest to my heart.

I have had several behind the scenes challenges to deal with in my life lately.  But one of the things I love most about this time of year is the chance to stop, put it all on pause, and focus on the most important things in my life – faith and friendships.  I wish for all of you peace on earth and good will towards men – and may God bless us everyone!

It started out to be a “routine” day…

I’m sure all of you have had days like that – when life was going along in its normal “routine” and suddenly a watershed moment alters everything.  I have certainly had a few others in my life.  Last Saturday was a not too busy bee call day for me.  Some friends stopped by for a little while and I did some routine chores around the house.  In the evening, I piled my dirty dishes on the counter to prepare to wash them and sat down on my sofa just prior, in order to work on my weekly Bible study lesson – it was just a little before 7:00 p.m.  Charcoal was there with me.  Suddenly the house began making that familiar shaking that I have grown accustomed to here.  It starts out feeling like a large truck passing on the road (but trucks don’t have that affect when they pass by here).  We both sat frozen for a moment as I waited to see if it was going to dissipate or escalate.  After we began experiencing occasional tremors about a year ago, I figured I’d better look up on the internet and see what I should do in an earthquake.  I discovered the “stand under a doorway” was false.  They also say not to run outside because of toppling buildings or power lines, although I could get away with that here.  But the real issue is time – you just don’t have any when it starts.  So the “get under a strong piece of furniture or against an inside wall” became my plan.  Almost every other tremor I’d ever felt, happened when I was in bed.  Some were so light I wondered if I’d really felt anything (although you feel them more when you are upstairs).  But most are so fast, they are over before you even have time to realize it.  Only one has happened while I was downstairs and was enough to make me get up and start for my desk, only to have it stop before I got there.

My earthquake "safe place."

My earthquake “safe place.”

But this one was different.  After just a few seconds, I realized this was going to be big.  I bolted from my sofa just a few steps away, threw my chair aside and made it under my desk that’s in my kitchen (and on an inside wall), just as things really started to shake.  Charcoal bolted at the same time and I called to her, but had no idea where she went.  Then things went crazy – drawers started opening, items started falling from shelves, I heard a huge crash of glass and then the power went out.  The news said it was 40 seconds – it felt like much longer.   I just prayed and asked God to help and protect me and Charcoal.  But I wasn’t afraid.  When it was all over, I waited a few moments to see if it had stopped.  My heart wasn’t racing, I wasn’t panicked – I was totally calm.  I reached up into the desk drawer where the flashlight was.  Then I immediately checked my cell phone to see if I had data to be able to reach anyone back in the U.S. to let them know I was OK.  I had no data or even cell coverage (I could see the light was out on the tower on the hill just outside my house).

I knew I didn’t have shoes on and was mindful to check the floor for glass and walk carefully to the sofa to retrieve my flip flops.  I had no idea what might be broken or damaged.  I walked through some water and checked with the flashlight to determine it was a mixture of a large plastic bottle of mineral water that had fallen from the top of my fridge, and a vase of flowers that had toppled over on my table and spilled (but amazingly did not roll off and break).  I immediately began calling and searching for Charcoal.  My biggest concern was that wherever she had gone she’d gotten injured.  As I cautiously proceeded up the stairs, I heard water running.  When I stepped into my bedroom my foot sloshed in it.  I still kept looking for Charcoal and couldn’t locate her anywhere.  I finally went back to my bedroom and tried opening the bathroom door and could not.  I ended up having to force it open and discovered this:

I realized this was where the water was coming from that was flooding my bedroom.  I calmly prayed and asked God what to do, while trying to remember where my contractor had told me my master water shut off was.  Fortunately, I realized there was a toilet shut off (I know that is a no-brainer for some, but not this maintence challenged girl).  Believe it or not, I remember this being an after-the-fact thing that was pointed out for me that my builder didn’t do, and I made them add it in later.  Thank God it turned easily and the water stopped.  I listened for other leaks, but didn’t hear any and checked the other bathroom to find it still intact.

I finally located Charcoal cowering under the guest bed.  I’d missed her on the first pass, because she was way at the head of it.  I then began the process of mopping up the water in my bedroom.

Shortly after, I heard a horn honking and looked out the window to see my neighbor Ed’s car at my other neighbors Mark & Diane’s house.  I figured I’d better check in, so I went with my flashlight to meet up with them and find out if everyone was OK.  Our little volunteer Workaway couple showed up shortly after – they were at the hotel bar next door when it hit.  We were relieved everyone was OK.  We had no idea whether we just experienced a “direct hit” earthquake right under us or what – we tended to think we were the epicenter of say, a category 5.0 or so.  Little did we know the extent of the devastation and that what we had just experienced was mild in comparison.

We all had our respective messes to clean up and my house had the most urgent damage.  Ed offered a battery operated industrial light and wet vac to help with my cleanup, but we quickly realized the wet vac would not work without power.  I fully expected we’d be without for days.  Ed took me to his house to get the light, brought me back to mine and came in to help me do a “second eyes” walk through to make sure there was nothing big I’d missed.  After he left, I continued mopping.

Shortly thereafter, Diane came to my window and said a tsunami alert had come through on her phone.  Although it didn’t list our area specifically, they were going to go ahead and take our volunteer workers to higher ground.  She offered for me to come, but said it would be about 6 hours before it would arrive.  She said Ed & Jo were staying for now, so I asked her to let them know I’d like to leave with them later if need be, but I wanted to get the water up first, since my wood closets, bed and nightstand were standing in it.

When I finally completed that chore, I went back downstairs to see if I could get any cell service or data.  I had weak data and then suddenly all these texts and messages flooded my phone from people here who were checking on me.  I responded to all, especially Bill & Elaine, who had sent several messages and tried to call – they were quite worried.  By this time it was an hour and a half after the earthquake.  I then immediately published my blog post, knowing if word was out about the earthquake, that people would be worried.  Then I managed to have enough data for a call off my Vonage extensions app (thank God for T-Mobile international cell data plan and Vonage!).  I called my “spiritual twin brother,” who had yet to hear about the quake.   I filled him in and he prayed with me.  I told him I was going to shut off my data service after we spoke, because it eats battery faster and I had no idea when we would have power restored.  He said he would check the internet and send updates for me to look at when I got back online.  After we hung up, I checked my earthquake website and saw there had been 25 quakes at that point, their magnitudes and where they were located.  I realized this was a major deal.

I figured I’d better pack a bag in case we had to evacuate.  I got Charcoal’s carrier out and readied it.  I retrieved my passport, bank card and cash and put them in a safe spot in my bag.  I got out Charcoal’s tracking collar that I had stopped using, loaded it with a new battery, tested it and put it on her.  I then gathered a pair of tennis shoes and socks (that I never wear – flip flops are everyday footwear here), a 1.5 liter bottle of water, my Bible, a photo of my mother, my iPhone and iPad and Robert’s dog tags and heart rock.  That was all I needed.

It was very still and warm without the a/c or fans, so I went up to try to sleep in my rooftop hammock and keep one eye on the ocean.  But despite applying natural mosquito repellant, I was getting bit so I came back inside.   I looked up on the internet and discovered the tsunami threat had been lifted – at the most we would get a 3-4 foot wave, which wouldn’t affect me.   I slept in my guest room and Charcoal stayed under the bed.  I think I finally fell asleep about 12:30, but still continued to feel some slight tremors.  However at 2:30 a.m. I was awakened by a significant aftershock that sent me heading for the stairs to get under my desk again, but it stopped before I got down.  I looked at my phone and returned what I thought was a call I’d just missed from Elaine, but it was one they had placed earlier.  They were awakened by the shock too.  To my grateful surprise, right after we hung up, the power came back on!  I quickly set up a fan in my bedroom to help dry out under my closet and turned on the a/c for its dehumidifying feature.  I still didn’t have internet, but used data to respond to some messages I’d gotten from people who don’t get my blog.  I then began recharging my cell phones.  I finally fell back asleep about 4:30 and awakened at 6:30 sunrise.

The following morning I slowly began the process of adjusting to what had happened.  I touched base with neighbors again and cleaned up the mess in my bathroom.  Bill & Elaine had previously planned a patio party for that night (Sunday) at their house.  I messaged her and she said it was still on.  I had made my food the day before and had planned to ride the bus in early and hang out for most of the day, taking Tag to the beach, swimming in the pool and visiting with our friend Rick, who is here from Canada for a month.  However, I was no longer up for a full day of those kinds of plans.  My new friends Kelley and Jeff from out there were still without power and came in to the hotel next door to charge phones and use internet (I still had none).  They emailed to let me know they were there having a late breakfast.  I suddenly realized it was noon and I had not eaten dinner the night before or breakfast that morning, so chef John’s French toast sounded really good!  I walked over to join them and they offered afterwards to wait for me to get my stuff together and give me a ride out to Mirador San Jose (their development).

It felt surreal and almost selfish to be floating in the pool when we knew just an hour north of us in our weekly shopping town of Manta, there was total devastation.  But it was good for everyone to gather, share their stories and reflect on how very blessed we felt to have been protected as we all were.  It finally hit me this morning that had it been a week day, I and/or many of my friends would likely have been in Manta or Portoviejo, two of the most devastated areas, doing routine weekly shopping.  But because it was on a weekend just after sunset, most everyone was in their homes.

The unsettling aftershocks continue.  At last count we have had 371 earthquakes and aftershocks since this all started.  Make no mistake about that word – “aftershocks” are still just smaller earthquakes that keep happening all over.  In fact, I just had one a little while ago right offshore from me as I was writing this post.  It was a 4.7 right off the coast almost due west, between me and the island.  It had me heading for my desk again – I guess this is my “new normal.”  Charcoal is practically living under the guest bed now. 😦

Here's the latest earthquake I just felt. It was due west of me - I am at the top I-15 mark.

Here’s the latest earthquake I just felt. It was almost due west of me – I am at the top I-15 mark.

In my next post, I will tell about the devastation we are hearing about firsthand from some of our friends who live in Manta, including Jim and Jane.  One English speaking Ecuadorian friend who formally lived in the U.S., lives in one of the hardest hit (and poorer) neighborhoods.  Thankfully he and his family are all OK, but his home and car (which was his livelihood) were demolished.  Edwin is a strong and faithful Christian and a few of us are working on a GoFundMe campaign to help him recover.  So if you want a place to give funds to help someone near and dear to my heart, please stay tuned!

I’m OK

I don’t know if the news reported the earthquake I was just in the middle of, but I want you to know I’m OK. We are in crises with no power and limited cell coverage.  My glass blocks in my bathroom fell and busted my toilet, flooding my bedroom before I could shut water off.  I got under my desk as things started shaking and just before things started crashing and breaking.  It took me a while to find Charcoal and she is very scared but OK.  Please don’t expect me to respond to messages because I don’t know when I will have power again and we are waiting to daylight to deal with things.  But I’m OK and never was afraid.  Prayed all the way through it and knew I’d be OK.  I will update when I can.  Please keep us in your prayers.  

For Your Viewing Pleasure

So this evening, I was up on my deck in my hammock reading a book and for some reason, I looked up at just the right moment to see this:

Rainbow over the mountains

and then I looked over in the opposite direction and saw this:

Sunset over the ocean

A rainbow over the mountains and simultaneously a sunset over the ocean!  It was like God said, “Here you go, my dear – For your viewing pleasure.”  He is SO good!

Oh yes, and someone else was pretty bowled over by it too!

Wow mommy - look at that!

Mucho Trabajo!

As reported in my post The “A” Team, my new friends, Ali & Aileen, stayed with me for three weeks to help me get some much needed work done around my house.  They literally hit the ground running and knocked out much more off my list than I anticipated they would be able to do.  Not only that, but they completed several other projects that weren’t even on my list (including repairing a leaky toilet in my bathroom).  Here is a link to Aileen’s blog post where she details (including pictures) much of the work they did for me:  “Hello Again Mary”

 

In addition to their hard work, we spent a few shopping days in Manta together, Aileen and I enjoyed a few movie nights (on my computer) and they introduced me to some of their South African cooking, as well as taught me how to make popcorn on my stove (I know that sounds pathetic, but I never knew how).  We also shared times of varied conversations and prayer, and took communion together each Sunday.  They left this past week to journey on to Cozumel, Mexico, where their youngest daughter is due to give birth to her first child (number six grandchild I believe).  But their long-term prayerful hope is to work towards obtaining an Ecuadorian residency visa (no easy task, I can assure you!) and return to be the full-time resident caretakers for my housing development.  They, like I, truly feel the Lord brought them here by no accident and want to be faithful to follow His lead and be used for whatever purposes He may have for them here.

So until we meet again, whenever and wherever that might be, vaya con Dios my friends!