Making a Difference
Sarah Hanen Bauer, with participants from a bio-construction workshop, packing earth into a recycled tire structure foundation, Saraguro, Ecuador.
Are you a potential expat, thinking about making a living or retiring in Ecuador, where you will finally be able to realize your dreams of a worry-free life and have the time to give back to your community? In this series of articles entitled Making a Difference, Lorell Stewart, a long-time Cuenca resident and host of the successful Spanish Immersion Homestay Program (information available on www.cuencaspanishclub.com) will introduce you to many like-minded North Americans, Europeans and Ecuadorians who will amaze and inspire you! Some folks are highly visible, contributing ideas and opportunities on a broad scale, while others are quietly engaged in helping in more singular ways. If you can imagine it, you too can make it happen!
Uniting Cultures Across the Americas
(An interview by Lorell Stewart)
In the second installment to this series, which introduces our readers to an incredible array of individuals who are Making a Difference in Cuenca, Ecuador, it is my considerable honor to present Sarah Hanen Bauer (Sarah HB), a woman whose decision to relocate here from Montana was indeed a calling, and a blessing for those of us who now consider Ecuador to be our home. And while most of us live lives that can be told in a somewhat linear fashion, the telling of Sarahs’ story is considerably more complex, as her life and her calling to Ecuador has taken a bit of what I can only describe as a circular route. And since Sarah wholeheartedly (and laughingly) agrees with my assessment, I am happy to present Sarah, and her circular journey, in her own words. As for now, please enjoy Part I of Sarahs’ Making a Difference, Uniting Cultures Across the Americas.
Part II will follow next month…
LS: Sarah, thank you, in advance, for sharing your stories with me and our readership! So to begin, and as you have so poignantly described…at the age of twenty-nine, you were living a life in Montana that many of us would characterize as the beginning of an ideal start to the “American Dream”, until an unimaginable tragedy struck, with the sudden death of your young husband. I know this must be difficult, but can you share with us a bit of what your life had been like and what then inspired you to completely change your life’s’ direction?
SHB: My life was normal. I had a husband, a toddler, a dog, a cat, and even a station wagon...well it was more of a really awesome Subaru Outback, but you get the idea. My husband and I had a catering company and we were a great team. He was an incredible chef and I was always good at making contacts and chatting it up with the clients. We were happy. Then it all changed at the drop of a hat and I was left with many big decisions to make and hurdles to overcome. And as is the custom, no one ever knows what to do or say when tragedy hits; so many people sent a card with a check inside. And when the moment came when I had to decide what to do with the cards, I figured I had two choices; 1.) The Rational Choice ... “Sarah, what you need to do is pay off your debts and start a college fund for your son.” or 2.) The Clear Your Head Choice ... “Sarah, you need to get away and remember how to smile.” Well, I chose choice number 2, which, after some plot twists and adventures, lead me to travel, to school, to learn Spanish, and ultimately to Ecuador.
LS: First, on a bit of a whim, you left Montana for an adventure through Western Australia and New Zealand, and made the decision to return to Montana, enrolling at Montana State University, on track to become a grade school teacher. Then, in 2006, you traveled to Costa Rica, and quite unexpectedly fell in love with the Spanish language and Latin culture, inspiring your course once again, as you returned to MSU and changed your major to Spanish. Please tell us a bit about that, and then, how did Ecuador come onto your radar screen?
SHB: I had one of those less than desirable educational experiences that many people have had, so I figured I better do something about it and what better way than becoming a teacher myself. I could kill two birds with one stone, support my family and make a difference! So, at 30 years old, I packed up my Jan Sport and headed to the Montana State University campus to get the ball rolling!
Now, I’ve always been a bit of an idealist, although when life comes smashing into your bubble, realism tends to take a front row seat. That was my mindset when I decided to get my degree in Elementary Education. I knew I wasn’t going to change the world, but I sure as hell was going to change the world for some of my students! While I was in my first semester I became intrigued by a foreign exchange program in Costa Rica and I didn’t hesitate to sign up. My son, who was 5 years old at the time, and I went to San José, Costa Rica for 2 months where I happily fumbled through my Spanish classes. I had three months under my belt when I arrived so my experience was pretty Zen-like...everything was in the now, if you know what I mean! I had no clue how to say anything in the past or future tenses! It was an incredible experience and I fell in love with Spanish, which ultimately lead me to the decision to narrow my focus a bit and become a Spanish teacher. I returned to Montana and changed my college major. And it was then that I decided I would have to study abroad again because, let’s face it, Montana isn’t really a hot spot for immersing oneself in the Spanish language and Latin American culture!
It was at that moment that I literally heard the word Ecuador in my brain. It was one of those otherworldly, you’d never believe it if it hadn’t happened to you type experiences and, surprisingly enough, I listened. I said, “Okay...Ecuador.... where the hell is that?!” I got out the map and couldn’t believe my eyes...I was going there?! Hahaha! It was both mystical and hilarious. Welcome to the human experience I suppose!
LS: Wow! So…I understand that when you first arrived in Ecuador, you immediately enrolled in an Andean Culture class, taught by Francisco Lojano, an indigenous man from Cumbe, Ecuador. How did that relationship evolve and when did you first recognize the link between your Native American friends in Montana and the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador?
SHB: Although I had arrived in Ecuador as a foreign exchange student, I always knew that wasn’t the real reason I was here. When I walked into my first class, the reason for my being in Ecuador started to become more and more clear. The class was absolutely incredible! I had never been so mentally and spiritually stimulated in a classroom before. I was learning things that really meant something to me and I was learning in an environment that was more concerned with teaching me something rather than keeping me ridiculously busy, tired and stressed out. I was relaxed. I was happy. I was finally having a great educational experience!
About a month into the semester we had a class that really woke me up to what my role in this life was meant to be. We were near Girón (just south of Cuenca), walking to a sacred lagoon to do a ceremony to help our energy start to move again because, as my professor Francisco put it, it’s not that we didn’t have energy, it’s just that it was kind of stuck, which was keeping us from our full potential as human beings. While we were walking to the lagoon, Francisco and I were discussing the nature and the essence of the color yellow (like I said, it was a class unlike any I’d ever experienced before) when, out of the blue, he asked me if I thought Native Americans from Montana would want to come to Ecuador to do a cultural exchange. I told him that I didn’t see why not, however, I didn’t really have any connections to funds nor to any Native Americans (but thought, anything’s possible I suppose!). We left it at that but the seed had already been planted. It was just a matter of time before it started to take root and sprout.
LS: You returned stateside and were soon introduced to Scott Frazier, a Native American from the Santee Sioux and Crow tribes, and began making plans to bring Scott to Ecuador to connect with his Quechua* brethren. Tell us more, por favor…
First Eagle & Condor gathering with Scott Frazier, Franciso Lojano & Rosa, Cumbe, Ecuador
Photo Credit: PĪEZA Media
SHB: So, when the universe tells you something and you decide to listen to the message and then act upon it, everything seems to find a way to fall into place. When Francisco asked me about doing a cultural exchange with his people and the indigenous people of Montana, the fact that I didn’t know anyone or have access to any money never once felt like an obstacle, it was simply a part of the process. I think we both knew it was going to happen, and that it was just a matter of when.
After the first semester of school, my son and I returned to Montana to be with our family and friends. It was a really weird experience for me. I felt completely out of place, awkward, uncomfortable and generally confused. It was the first time I had ever experienced what people call “reverse culture shock”. When I think about it now it’s kind of funny and not at all surprising. At any rate, as a result of this “reverse culture shock” I was able to notice things I probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Everywhere I looked I saw signs of Ecuador and the Andes. There was a documentary about a Peruvian family that talked about many of the things I had been learning in my classes with Francisco and watching the film rejuvenated me and reminded me that I was on the right path. I felt like an aspen tree that had laid roots in Montana but had healthy trees springing up all over the world...Australia, New Zealand and now Ecuador. It was time to nurture this Ecuadorian tree that was growing from the same root system that had supported me all of my life.
Then surprisingly, one day I saw an ad for a shamanic workshop with a man from Vilcabamba. I have to laugh now, knowing what I know now and knowing what I didn’t know then... Anyway, I saw this ad and knew I had to go. At the event the man had 7 different ceramic flutes and, according to him, each sound connected with a chakra. We were to play a flute and feel the chakra opening. I played a flute and went on a fun journey. I saw the Andes, I saw Francisco, I saw my family and I heard another message, “The time is now. We are the ones.” I probably sound like I’ll be offering to read your palms in a minute...hahaha! Anyway, the message that really became clear was what Francisco had been teaching me about community or llakta in Kichwa*. I shared with the class what I knew about the llakta and afterward a man came up to me and told me how touched he was by what I had said. I knew then that the time was now, so I told him about Francisco’s request for a cultural exchange between the north and the south. The man said, “I know the perfect person.” This was one week before I was leaving Montana to return to Ecuador and three days before I got on the plane I met this ‘perfect person’, Scott Frazier, and the rest, as they say, is history....even though it’s actually the present and, more importantly, the future!
LS: ‘The Eagle and the Condor’ program has become an important part of your social activism here in Ecuador. Can you tell us more about what has inspired you, how that connects to the Montana non-profit MUYU and its’ Ecuadorian sister organization Colectivo Madre Tierra, and how the Ministry of Culture in Quito got involved?
SHB: After that first trip back to Montana, Scott, Francisco and I got to work. We put together a wonderful cultural exchange program in Ecuador, whereby Scott and Francisco shared ceremony, stories and laughter and it really laid the groundwork for our future endeavors together. While we were putting together the final details of our second Eagle and Condor gathering, I met a woman, Diana Moscoso of Cuenca, who is one of the founders and coordinators of a Cuenca organization called Colectivo Madre Tierra. We realized that we were doing very similar work, so I invited her to be a part of our second cultural and spiritual exchange. She too was deeply touched by the experience and the two of us quickly got together and started planning a way to bring Scott down for a third exchange. Colectivo Madre Tierra was organizing a festival that involved a concert, an arts and crafts fair, and a ceremony with spiritual leaders from all over the Americas to help heal a public plaza that had been deemed the red light district in Cuenca.
For the first two exchanges, Scott, Francisco and I had basically paid for everything out of our own pockets. It was getting expensive and clearly it wasn’t a viable option if we wanted to continue. I had been thinking about starting a non-profit with my sister and good friend for a couple of years but the timing just hadn’t worked out. Well, it was time and MUYU Intercultural Exchange & Education was born. We had yet another serendipitous experience and quickly put together a fundraiser for our part of the exchange with Colectivo Madre Tierra. In Bozeman, Montana my sister and many of our friends and families organized a private house concert and silent auction to raise money for our third Eagle and Condor exchange. It was MUYU’s first event and it was a huge success! That was the first time MUYU and Colectivo Madre Tierra worked together. Since then we have worked on many other projects and have received funds from the United States State Department as well as Ecuador’s Ministry of Culture to help see our visions come to fruition.
LS: You and I have talked at length about breaking down cultural stereotypes, laws for rights of diversity, and Ecuadorian law vs. Ecuadorian movements. What are some of the challenges you have faced in changing the paradigms you have encountered here? Can you give us some examples of how you are breaking down stereotypes?
SHB: With the work we are doing we are breaking down a lot of stereotypes about indigenous people around the world. First of all, many of us see indigenous people as being trapped in time as though their existence is now a museum exhibit rather than an actual, present day experience. We have also helped to break down some stereotypes that all of us “North Americans” are from New York. Guess what, the US has indigenous people too! We are also working really hard to organize and facilitate events that allow the stifled voices in our Ecuadorian society to be heard. Indigenous people, teens, street artists, independent musicians, women, our elders...many of these people don’t usually fit into the societal norms that we are oftentimes forced into experiencing. Sometimes you have to really dig around to find the “weird people” or those who just don’t fit in. But, once you do, you realize how rich and diverse our communities are and that we have so much to learn from these people. This has become my classroom and I’m still the student...it’s absolutely incredible!
LS: Please tell us about some of your most current projects, and how those of us sitting on the sidelines can get involved. Do we need to know how to speak Quechua* or even Spanish to participate?
Lorell Stewart notes: To our readers, please check back with Retire-In-Ecuador next month for the conclusion to Sarahs’ adventures in Uniting Cultures Across the Americas. In the meantime, to see Sarahs’ recent Ancestral Technology in Today´s World video, please click the following link, and stay tuned for Part II of her story which explains the video, along with the story of building an incredible mosaic wall in Otorongo Plaza, advice for families moving to Ecuador, and much, much more!
LS: I am happy to report that you have recently created a simple way for those who would like to donate to your non-profit initiatives. Please tell us more about that and please share the link?
SHB: We have finally decided to enter the 21st century and go PayPal! (crowd goes wild in the background)
To donate to the group in Ecuador, Colectivo Madre Tierra, you have two options; Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for direct donation information, or go to www.paypal.com and use our email address email@example.com.
I want to thank all of you in advance for first learning a bit about the work I’m doing here. I’d also like to give a big shout-out to those who intend to donate to one or both of these organizations! We intend to keep innovating and being a part of inspiring and thought provoking projects and every little bit of collaboration helps! Muchas gracias!
* Note for inquiring minds: Quechua is a Peruvian language of the Incas. Kichwa is the Ecuadorian dialect of Quechua.
Sarah Hanen Bauer is La Presidenta de MUYU Intercultural Exchange & Education
~ construyendo puentes culturales atreves de educación, las artes y ceremonia ancestral ~ She and her son Leif live in Cuenca, Ecuador
We welcome questions, feedback and suggestions for a future Making a Difference feature! Lorell Stewart can be reached via her website, www.cuencaspanishclub.com, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Circle Dance, Ancestoral Technology, Cuenca, Ecuador
Jese Rae Growing Thunder, Native American participant in Ancestral Technology workshop, with two Indigenous women, Saraguro, Ecuador
Making a Difference
Are you a potential expat, thinking about retiring in Ecuador, where you will finally be able to realize your dreams of a worry-free life and have the time to give back to your community? In this series of articles entitled Making a Difference, Lorell Stewart, a long-time Cuenca resident and host of the successful Spanish Immersion Homestay Program (information available on www.cuencaspanishclub.com) will introduce you to many like-minded North Americans, Europeans and Ecuadorians who will amaze and inspire you! Some folks are highly visible, contributing ideas and opportunities on a broad scale, while others are quietly engaged in helping in more singular ways. If you can imagine it, you too can make it happen!
Collaboration, South of the Equator
(An interview by Lorell Stewart)
In this first in a series of our Making A Difference articles, we meet Clay Bodine and Laura Inks Bodine, who have brought their successful Santa Barbara Fishbon project to life in South America with Fishbon del Sur, and have additionally created the inspiring, nascent community group, LOVE Cuenca!
Sitting in an outdoor café on a sunny Saturday morning in late November, I have the chance to interview Clay and Laura about their vision to expand their Santa Barbara initiative “to develop a collaborative environment for artists, technologists, writers, designers, performers and other participants, to create unique, real-time aesthetic experiences that speak to contemporary audiences”. I know that’s a lot to assimilate, so let’s break it down;
LS: I have heard so many wonderful things about Fishbon del Sur, and in fact have enjoyed a few of your newly legendary artistic events! How does the “del Sur” experience in South America differ from what you originally created in Santa Barbara, and how have you cross-pollinated across the equator?
LIB: When Clay and I met in Santa Barbara, we were both doing similar things for a different audience. My business, ‘Arts Alive’, was housed in a 4,000 sq. ft space which included an art gallery, and classrooms for ceramics, painting, music, costume design and much more for children of all ages. Fishbon was Clays’ initiative, and he was basically doing the same thing for adults.
CB: Fishbon was created as an incubator for creative expression. The past 15 to 20 years has given rise to a paradigm shift, moving toward collaboration at all levels. These days, innovation is the only way that companies are getting ahead. Fishbon originated as a ‘container’ for collaborative expression for adults, and grew out of the many similar artistic endeavors which created ‘Burning Man’, in the Nevada desert.
LS: Are you going to be doing activities for children here?
LIB: Really, I am not here to re-live the same experiences we had in SB. Now, I want to be the kid! And with regard to cross-pollinating across the equator (and in fact, around the world), art is an international language, expressed in so many forms. It’s my greatest motivation to learn Spanish so that I can communicate and collaborate creatively with artists from different countries. Our creative expansion in Cuenca has been born from another culture. For example, Clay recently remarked that he is inspired to revisit an old play that he wrote, as he is now seeing its’ potential with new eyes, answering the question; “How would I do this here?” And as far as differences between the US and Ecuadorian artistic community, there really aren’t a lot. What I have found, however, is that the similarities are universal. The recent Cuenca initiative, ‘Cuarto Aparte’ (a Room Apart) was a reaction among many young artists to the older, more traditional government sponsored program, El Bienal. So these artists were, in fact, ANTI-Bienal. Artist issues are not very different here than they were in SB; How do we make a living with our art? How do we become more visible? How do we not sell out and yet still sell art?
CB: Artists here in South America are no longer provincial. In the US, we were involved in a more ‘local’ environment, in part due to the many issues with regard to zoning restrictions, political opinions, and neighborhood concerns. Here in Cuenca we find that the city is more than willing to work with us and help artists find expression. The arts are very important to South American cultures. Artists are able to do more edgy stuff, and are often influenced by what is happening in Europe. I find them to be more visceral. They have their feet on the ground.
LIB: Our upcoming project is a perfect example. ‘Cajas Magicas’ (Magic Boxes) is a series of peep-shows performed for one individual at a time. Each piece has an amazing array of elements inside small boxes, and the project features artists from Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Cuba, and Mexico.
LS: Graffiti art has exploded around the City, initially due to the encouragement and support of the Cuenca Chamber of Commerce. Now I see you two engaged in helping to further expand opportunities for local artists. Please tell us a bit more about that?
LIB: In SB, we initiated the ‘Graffiti Project’ as a way of giving local artists compelling alternatives for creative expression. We began by offering 20 large plywood panels on which to paint. Each panel was documented as a completed work of art, and then the next artist would come in and paint right over what had been done. We eventually used these panels to cover up a number of broken windows on an abandoned building in a highly trafficked tourist area of town. We essentially stopped all of the unauthorized graffiti in the neighborhood! Even rival gangs started painting together on the weekends! Our collaboration here in Cuenca will continue to expand on this idea of collaboration.
LS: In a broader context, we see some wonderful things happening with your heartfelt initiative, LOVE Cuenca! You have thus far organized three volunteer cleanup projects along the Tomebamba River, and have recently completed a volunteer taxi car wash, encouraging our expat community to show the LOVE and appreciation for our hard working drivers. I understand your volunteers washed over 20 taxis on a recent Saturday.
LIB: Our LOVE Cuenca mission is simply to have fun and show love for our new home.
CB: We need to remember that we are all immigrants and our hosts are deserving of our appreciation. It’s really a cultural tragedy that we (expats) often lose sight of our roots. My great grandfather, as an example, was an immigrant cabinet maker from Sweden.
LIB: Two other local residents, Cinza Bottaro Torres, Felicia Brings and I were talking one day about starting an initiative to LOVE Cuenca, and so we did. Anyone can come up with an idea and we make it a reality! And the idea for LOVE Cuenca was really a way to provide a platform for expats to get involved, with tons of support from like minded peopleOur December project has members creating dolls and puppets to distribute to disadvantaged children for Christmas. We can all enjoy a cleaner river walk and building relationships with local cab drivers seems like a good way to LOVE Cuenca. The feedback we received was genuinely warm and heartfelt!
CB: There are too many regulations in the US. Here, we are able to operate on a grass roots level. And getting back to the question about Graffiti, it is through LOVE Cuenca that we are now meeting with City officials about designating another entire street for art.
LS: I wish we had the time and the space to share more of what you are creating here in Cuenca! For those of us who are interested in joining your efforts, either now or in the future, is there anything else you would like us to know about right now, and how can we learn more about Fishbon del Sur and LOVE Cuenca?
CB: We would like for everyone to know that we are doing this, simply because we live here. That’s how scenes get started. Ideas bring people, and people bring more ideas. And when something is not profit motivated, all can either participate, or equally important, no one needs to feel guilty if they chose not to participate.
LIB: We are even finding that non-artists who support the arts are stepping forward to provide funding. As an example, many artists will need bus fare to travel here from different locations in South America. Local expats are stepping up with contributions, and many are also offering free housing. People are awake to what is happening!
LS: Thank you both for taking the time to meet with me and inspiring current and future expats and Ecuadorians, with your efforts, and for the idea that “if you can think of it, you can make it happen”, here in Cuenca, Ecuador! Anything you would like to say in closing? How can people get in touch with you to learn more?
LIB: I always come away from Fishbon event labs feeling smarter! There is so much to learn when we leave our comfort zones. We are also getting close to the day when those who we support from other countries will begin reciprocating and invite our Cuenca contingents to visit their countries and homes. We are open to hearing the ideas of others and in 2015 we’ll host a monthly Blues Lab for musicians to experiment. In addition, we’ll be having a number of events, workshops and festivals which will highlight artists from different counties.
CB: Our Fishbon del Sur creative lab is located in a quiet neighborhood in the north/west section of El Centro. It’s a 2 story Colonial building with performance space for theatre and music, an art studio, an artist residence on the first floor and our private residence on the second floor. Fishbon del Sur and LOVE Cuenca can both be found on Facebook and we welcome people to join us. We also have a weekly newsletter that people can sign up for by emailing us at: email@example.com
We welcome questions, feedback and suggestions for our next Making a Difference feature! Lorell Stewart can be reached via her website, www.cuencaspanishclub.com, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author, Billy Jack Sibley, reads from his novel and leads discussion.
Facade of Fishbon del Sur during Cuarto Aparte
LaKomuna artist LaKomuna, Elmo, wearing t-shirt he designed
Artist Ricky Nunuz, sits for a costume fitting
Laura with artist Ramona Garduno preparing for a Halloween event
Laura and Clays' first Christmas was a hike along the Tomebamba River
Bienvenido / Welcome to Retire in Ecuador. You have obviously come to the site because you are researching what is so great about relocating to Ecuador. Hopefully some of your questions can be answered as we have put a lot of work into the site to bring to you as much information as possible. So sit back relax and enjoy the journey.
Retire in Ecuador remains to be one of the most viewed websites for retirees thinking of relocating to Ecuador and was first founded in 2008.
Ecuador has become increasingly popular with young singles, going solo, and there is also seeing an increasingly large number of families with school aged children making the move.
Ecuador is located in South America and is bordered by Columbia and Peru. The equator passes through the city of Quito.
Ecuador still remains in the top ten best places to retire to. After being the number one spot to retire to for several years Ecuador has slipped into second place after Panama by a whisker.
Cuenca remains to be a place for retirees to relocate to with having over 7,000 expats. But besides Cuenca, more people are also relocating to other beautiful areas of Ecuador, as Retirement Cuenca Ecuador Cost of Living compared to the US or Canada is truly just a small fraction to have a standard of living in Ecuador fit for luxury in relation to the US or Canada.
The best part of checking out this beautiful but small diverse country is that you have a choice of where you may like to live, from the mountains to the coast or you may like a more tropical location.
Whatever your final choice make sure you do take the time to research and spend time experiencing the country first hand. It may not always be what you want it to be and for some it is quite a "Culture Shock" which they may not be prepared for.
SUBSCRIBE for your FREE Newsletter and read about our about our personal and business adventures in Ecuador.
RIE does not claim to be professional advisers and therefore please seek your own independent advice when using any of the services that are mentioned throughout the website. This website is FREE to read and also FREE for subscribers. SUBSCRIBE
To tour this site use the navigation buttons on your left. Once inside, click on the blue text links on any page.