First, though, the fun stuff.
People here have far fewer inhibitions about asking quite personal questions. The first one that surprised me happened not long after I moved here. Several people wanted to know how much rent I pay. These weren't friends or even acquaintances possibly on their way to becoming friends. No, they were local people I would meet and strike up a (very limited) conversation with.
When I was at church last Sunday a man sat down in the row in front of me and introduced himself and shared that he was trying to learn English. We had a lovely conversation until it was almost time for the service to start. One of the first questions he asked was, "How old are you?" I thought perhaps his English still needed a little work so I asked him to repeat it. Nope, he was serious, he wanted to know how old I am. After I told him, I discovered that he is 56 years old.
Today, on my shopping trip (I went to a tienda, a grocery/department store, and the fresh foods market), I realized that many people openly stare into my cart to see what I have in there. I had seen it before but hadn't taken much note of it until today. It's very interesting that there isn't any sense that what I have in my cart might be none of their business. Of course I don't mind, it's just different than what I've experienced in the States.
By the way, you may have noticed that I use "the States" rather than "America" when I'm writing here. I do the same in all other areas of my life as well. Here in South America there are many people who find it a wee bit arrogant to refer to one portion of North America as "America." There are also any number of Canadians here and I've never heard them make any mention of it but I try to be considerate of what they might find less than respectful. At any rate, I just thought I'd share with you why it is that I have changed how I refer to my home country.
Now for the less than happy events.
About a week ago a woman in our community wrote an email about having been burglarized and gave a great many details telling how a local had scammed her and was able to get a copy of her house keys and used them to burgle her home. I want to be very clear right up front that I don't believe for one minute that this man is representative of the rest of the community.
He's a con artist and they live in every part of the world. This one just happens to live here in Cotacachi. The part of the following email that moves me so much is how this has drawn together not just members of the expat community but the police and prosecutors as well. If we are to live in harmony with one another, this kind of coming together is so important. I have included the entire email from the person who wrote it but I have italicized the parts that speak to this coming together and growing understanding we have of one another. By the way, the man who wrote this is a local man whose English is superb. He frequently provides translation services for our little email list so we can know about something that is originally published in Spanish. We are all so grateful for her help with this.
A few hours ago a woman in Cotacachi whose house was burglarized had me translate into Spanish the letters she received from people who had also had bad experiences with this same guy who does odd-jobs for gringos- coincidentally right before their house gets emptied of valuables. She received so far six responses from people who all named the same guy they all suspected and I am now helping her with the process of prosecution.I hope you find this as encouraging as I did. My heart goes out to the people who have been bilked by this con artist. At the same time, I'm thrilled to see how the various members of our community are coming together.
The process for getting an arrest warrant and also for a search warrant starts with the prosecutor reviewing the police preliminary investigation. The cops find as many people as possible who suspect the guy is doing something bad to people and all of this accumulation of suspicions is brought before a particular type of judge and then if the judge agrees there is reason enough to really investigate, s/he signs these two warrants and the detectives can then enter the suspects home area and ask questions of his neighbors, friends, etc. and also get him to come in to the station and face the accusations of the original person bringing charges.
The preliminary investigation includes signed statements from people who suspect the guy but this does not mean that these people will have their own suspicions investigated further or that they will stand as witnesses- unless they formally ask to be part of this legal process for their own reasons. The signed statements are not part of the case as evidence- they are only to be seen by the judge to help decide if the police can look for real evidence; material witnesses, stolen goods, alibis etc. I hope that if you have reason to suspect anything that may help find more leads in this case and you have just five minutes, you can stop by the Community Police station with me soon to let Detective Valenzuela witness you sign a copy of the notes you sent to this latest victim of a "Delito". I have already translated these notes and will help as much as is necessary. Not everyone is in town now so don't count on anyone else doing this so you don't have to. Please do the right thing.
This particular suspect may seem charming but he has too often been "the only one who could have possibly" stolen, borrowed, taken advantage of, whatever you can call it, ending in his possession of valuables from the half-dozen neighbors of ours who so far have come forward enough to express their suspicions. What will push this investigation forward now is your signatures. You do not necessarily have to do anything more- but this small gesture, for the sake of everyone, could help us a lot.
This suspect now has the nerve to not even bother at least smashing a window on his way out of a burglarized home. He even uses the key to lock the door behind him since he figures gringos will never do anything to stop him, could never be helped by the police and prosecutor, but worst of all, will never work together to protect each other or to pursue justice. This behavior is arrogant and contemptuous and treats us as if we are the arrogant and contemptuous and as if we deserve this- like he is not the bad guy.
The police and prosecutor's office are being far more compassionate and helpful than I would have expected considering my personal experiences in the states and all the old stories I had heard here in Ecuador and maybe it's just because we are all getting better at dealing with each other. One of the chiefs at this office also speaks some English.
If, however, we don't come together and learn to use whatever systems are available here to stop this, then maybe this thief would be right. Maybe next time the victim will be someone even closer to you. Just imagine coming home to find everything gone or to find someone undesirable there in your home.
I hope you will call me the next time you will be passing near the Matriz (big church) park where this Police Detective office is and I can introduce you to the guys who we hope are always there when we need them. They can only help any of us if we are willing to act now to help each other.
Thanking you also for all of your expressions of support.