The call came in on Sunday morning, interrupting the time honored ritual of newspapers, coffee and pastries in bed. The unfamiliar female voice asked in halting, heavily accented English, “Is you Michol?” It turned out to be a friend of a distant cousin of Norma Yvonne, who claimed she knew us when we lived in Guayaquil, and who now, apparently, resided in Orlando.
I vaguely remembered her. Short, dark and sweet, a description that could apply to 90% of Ecuadorian women. Married to a guy called “el Chino”, ten years ago they ran the snack bar on the campus of the Holy Spirit University, where the Dowbrigade was head of the English Department and Norma Yvonne was the University Registrar. In Ecuador, anyone with slanty or squinty eyes is called “Chino”.
In the intervening decade, el Chino died and Mercy moved to Florida, where she met a Gringo, got married, and now is thinking of moving back to Ecuador. She ran on and on, in Spanish, telling me her life story.
We thought, “Why is she telling me all of this?”
We said, “Would you like to talk to Norma?”
Meanwhile, Norma, who was traipsing around the apartment in a devastating crepe sun dress, was vigorously shaking her head and wagging her finger in the international gesture for “I’m not here!”
“No, actually,” stammered Mercy, “I wanted to talk to you. Or rather, I want you to talk to my husband. Since he’s a Gringo, and you’re a Gringo, I thought maybe you could talk to him and tell him about Ecuador.” She sounded strangely desperate.
We thought, “She wants to take him back to Ecuador but he’s scared of the jungle diseases and savage tortoises. We should hang up.”
We said, “I’d be happy to speak to him. Put him on.”
Best to bite the bullet and get it over with a quickly as possible, we figured. Misanthropic in general, the Dowbrigade regards talking to people he doesn’t know on the phone at the behest of relatives he barely knows as one rung above taking cold calls from script-reading Mongolians at dinnertime.
But Mercilessly, Mercy went on. “He’s really a very nice person. Although everybody probably says that about their husbands.”
We thought, “Why is she apologizing for him already? I haven’t heard anything bad yet.”
We said, “I’m sure Eva Braun thought Hitler was a wonderful fellow.”
She said, “Excuse me?”
We thought, “What am I doing? She probably thinks I’m talking about people we know in Guayaquil. The last thing we want to be doing on a Sunday morning is discussing the personal life of Adolph Hitler with this woman!”
We said, “Never mind. Let me talk to your husband.”
When we finally got him on the line, we got right to the point. “Mercy tells us you are thinking of relocating to Ecuador. What can I tell you about?”
“I was mostly interested in the job possibilities down there, and the cost of living. Stuff like that.”
“Well, the job possibilities depend on the particular area in which you want to work. What field are you in?”
“Actually, I have experience in many different fields. As my Grandfather used to say, a jack of all trades and master of none, ha ha.”
We thought, “Loser.”
We said, “That’s really useful. Where are you working now, if you don’t mind my asking, and what kind of work do you plan to look for in Guayaquil?”
He said, “Law Enforcement”
We thought, “Security guard”
We said, “We can’t really recommend public law enforcement as a profession in South America. They don’t receive much in the way of salaries and subsist on bribes and extortion. A lot of them make a little extra on the side working nights with the death squads. There isn’t a lot of job security, though – a lot of them end up in jail, the ones that don’t get shot because the drug gangs are much better armed.”
He didn’t say anything, which we took as encouragement to continue on.
“Of course, there is always a market for private security and bodyguards. Especially right now, since the big kidnapping gangs from Colombia have started to branch out across the border into Ecuador. Those guys are really savage, they usually cut off the victims left hand and send it to the family to show they are serious. If you don’t pay, they cut off the head and send that. Just about everyone with money has a few bodyguards with them at all times these days. Most millionaires keep a few guards at home as well, since the big gangs sometimes attack their mansions with battering rams to smash the steel doors and heavy automatic weapons to discourage resistance. There are usually a lot of openings since turnover is high. Are you good with a gun?”
“Wow,” he sounded stunned, “I didn’t realize things were so out of control down there.”
“Yeah, well, there are a lot of guns and violence, but the people really like Americans, and the cost of living is quite reasonable. You can rent a house for $400 or $500, and you can’t spend $20 in a good restaurant, unless you drink.”
“Sounds like you’d need a drink, once in a while.”
“Too true, but you’ve got to be careful because the muggers can smell the booze a block off and congregate like piranhas smelling blood in the water.”
“Well, thanks for the info. I’ll put Mercy back on.”
“Not necessary. Tell her to call back some evening. We’re sure Norma would LOVE to hear from her.”