Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Music Box

A love story.

As the night fell
We sat on the piano bench
side by side
Picking out whatever tunes came to mind
From Christmas songs to pop melodies
We don’t know how to play, but we know how to try
We know how to laugh while trying

“You can have the piano with the house,” she said
It was her husband who played
Chopan and Mozart and Andrew Lloyd Webber
He filled the house with music,
She filled it with roses and macaroons

We bought the house on Penny Lane
Nickle and dimed to afford it
Like children playing dress-up
We felt so much older than we were
I thought we would never tire
of walking through the front door
Into our very own house

When morning comes
We will wake up side by side
We will cut the grass and clean the rooms
In our not-so-new house
I will dust the piano
Wondering if it will remain for the next residents
Passed on and on

If I could
I would play the keys backwards
Telling their stories in song
From now to the beginning
and back again

Saturday, April 11, 2015

These Streets

"I'll show you a place
High on the dessert plain
Where the streets have no name."
 -  Where The Streets Have No Name, by U2

I leave my apartment at 7:30, unlocking the front gate before tying my keys securely to my running shoes. In a moment I am off, running down Villalengua, the street I walk every day. I cross a couple of blocks south and wait at the intersection until it is clear. A bus passes, and I cover my nose and mouth as a cloud of black exhaust rolls through.

It's a mile from my home to Parque Carolina, a large and beautiful city park. There is a river with paddle-boats in the center, a botanical garden, and plenty of trails, playscapes, and fields for soccer and volleyball. The perimeter is about 2.5 miles and has become one of my regular running paths. There are plenty of other runners, bikers, and walkers out and about. While the city awakes, a homeless man, possibly drunk, sleeps in the shadow of a large sculpture. He has long, matted hair and dirty clothes. He sleeps in the grass which is verdant and inviting. The rainy season just ended, and everything is green and fresh.

I finish my run and hike back up the hill. Mount Pichincha rises before me. To me she seems like a sentinel, watching over this fault-lined city. Back home I shower, dress, make coffee, eat, and gather my things to head to Casa Gabriel. On Tuesdays there is a staff meeting and I type up meeting minutes in Spanish. As I head back down the hill and cross the intersection of Calle America, I note that the entertainers are already out. At one intersection there is a man who is riding a unicycle and juggling. At another, a man blows fire by swigging a mouthful of gasoline and spitting it towards the torch he carries, causing flames to shoot upwards inches from his face. Before the lights turn green, each man bows and walks between the cars, asking for change.

I pull out my key-chain, which is one large, clinking collection of metal for five places and about sixteen different doors, and open the huge metal door outside Casa Gabriel with a shove. After the meeting I head home to eat lunch and get ready to go to a Foundation for girls rescued from human trafficking. My roommate Rachel goes with me. I will lead a devotion with the girls, and she will teach an art project. To get there, we walk down the hill once more and wait for the right bus which will take us into South Quito, a poorer part of the city where everything is a little more dilapidated. The bus is crowded, and for the first fifteen minutes we stand, holding on as the driver lurches down the street as though he just learned how to use his brakes. Once off, we walk uphill about five blocks, the back of El Panecillo, the famous winged Virgin Mary statue, visible in the distance. The door to the Foundation is nondescript, hidden in plain towards the end of a street like any other. I ring the bell and we are soon ushered in. The cement courtyard is sunny and friendly, though the girls prefer to meet indoors, so we pull out plastic chairs and sit near a window to read, talk, draw, and play several games of SPOONS.

We leave after 4:00 and take the bus home. I need to buy some groceries, so we walk to Santa Maria, the closest supermarket. There's a corner I have to pass to get there which always smells like piss. Men urinate in public here, simply finding a corner or a tree and turning their back to the street. I'm used to it, which doesn't mean I like it. It simply is how it is.

"A three-hill day," I remark to Rachel as we walk back home, referring to the fact that I'm going up Villalengua for the third time. We each have a reusable grocery bag slung over our shoulders, full with fresh produce and basics like milk and eggs. You might think that over time, walking back up that hill would get easier and seem shorter, but it doesn't. In the thin air and high altitude, each block seems longer, the bags seem heavier, and the sun is absolutely brighter and stronger. At home, we each drop the bags and head downstairs to get water. The kitchen is cool, feeling wonderful for the moment though it will be downright chilly when the sun sets. I like to say, "If you can't stand the cold, get out of the kitchen." Or, you can do as I do and simply wear a sweater and slippers.

I'm a country girl at heart. I've adapted to the city, it's true: the buses, pollution, homelessness, public urination and street entertainers. Sometimes I long for the country. Sometimes I get to visit another ministry site called El Refugio, where for a little bit I can trade the noise and bustle of the city for the peace and beauty of nature. Yet even though the times spent outside Quito soothe my spirit, I've come to love this city as well. Each day I walk out onto my terrace and look over the sprawling metropolis of colorful cement buildings which is hemmed in my Mount Pichincha on one side, and Cayumbe and Cotopaxi on another. There's a wonder to having so many people all together, all calling this city near the equator home. These are the streets I walk on, and some of the things I see. These streets and everything good and difficult and different about them are, for now, home.