What’s in YOUR suitcase?

This week, over on Velvet Ashes, the theme is “suitcase”.  As global nomads, suitcases are a necessity, and it’s amazing how something so simple can get so many feelings rolling around inside of us.

Oliver, my dachshund and favorite child (he doesn’t talk back or ask for money) hates our suitcases, because he knows that it means we’re leaving.  When we pull them out, he gets nervous and goes and sits in them, hoping that we’ll take him along.  When Patrick was a baby, pulling out the suitcases made him jumpy and whiny, as though he knew that we would be going somewhere and he would be tired and confined to a carseat (we had him fly in his carseat until he was four).

Suitcases also mean new things, adventure and excitement.  Packing to go to the US for a visit, packing to go on vacation, packing to go home to Ecuador…all of these things are exciting.  When we moved here, packing our suitcases was the subject of endless debate.  What to bring, what not to bring.  Velvet Ashes asked this week for a packing list, and it got me all nostalgic, thinking about our first few times back and forth.  So, in no particular order, here are the things that I would recommend that you pack in your suitcase if you are moving to Quito, Ecuador.  This list is based on moving here from the US, since that’s where I came from.  I can’t speak for moving there from another country.

-Clothing.  Finding good quality clothing here is next to impossible, especially if you are tall or wear a larger size.  And although we do have “US” brands such as Levis, the clothing is CRAZY expensive and very limited in selection.  For children try to anticipate their growth and bring a couple of sizes up.  Again, the options are basically either very cheaply made or crazy expensive.

-Shoes.  Goes along with the clothing.  My husband wears a size 11 shoe, not terribly large by US standards.  Finding shoes for him here is ridiculously time consuming.  The last time he had to have tennis shoes, it took us three months to finally find a pair in his size, and we paid about four times the amount that we would have in the US.  And shoes for children are readily available, but either very cheaply made or very expensive.

-Electronics (computer, laptop, cell phone, e-reader):  Electronics are available in Quito, but prices are two to three times higher than they are in the US.  An unlocked cell phone can be used as you go back and forth between Ecuador and the US, and plans are ridiculously cheap.  Also included in this would be accessories such as power cords.  When the cord on my husbands’ MAC went out, we went to every MAC store in the city, only to be told that they don’t sell the power cords–just the computers.  There is currently a 35% duty on electronics (you are allowed to bring in one personal computer, phone, etc. and the duty is charged on subsequent items) but often the cost of the item plus the cost of the duty is still less than the cost of buying it in Quito.  Example:  The Apple TV unit is $99 in the US.  Add in the 35% duty at customs and you’re paying $135 to bring it in.  A new Apple TV unit in Quito?  $400.

-Toys.  We have toy stores, but they fall into one of two categories–either very expensive or very cheap.  There is no middle ground.  If you have a child who loves Legos, Transformers, Barbies, etc. you should consider bringing some with you.  Legos run an average of three times what they do in the US–that’s a lot of money for something that you’re going to step on in the middle of the night!  Selection is also pretty limited, except around Christmas.

-Car seats.  If you have a baby, you need to bring car seats with you.  They are available in Quito, but are very expensive for a reputable brand.  Other baby items such as cribs, strollers, highchairs, etc. are available and the cost is relatively reasonable.

-Medications.  Bring at least six months of any medication that you take on a regular basis.  Most medications are available in Quito, and the cost is much lower than in the US, however the brand names and dosages are not always the same.  Having a six month supply on hand will allow you time to get settled and find a doctor who can help you figure out what meds you will need, what they are called and what the dosage is. If you have small children, consider bringing Benadryl and children’s cold medicine.  Neither of these are available in Quito.

-A Magic Jack unit, or something similar.  This device hooks into your wireless and allows friends and family to call you with a US phone number.  The cost is something like $35 a year for the service, and is well worth being able to stay in contact with your loved ones, make necessary phone calls to US companies, etc.

-Craft supplies.  If you are crafty, bring your supplies with you.  There is very, very little available in Quito.  If you like to sew, bring patterns with you, as they are not used or available in Quito.  You can purchase fabric, notions and sewing supplies.  If you have a machine that is anything other than a Singer or Brother (Bernina, Pfaff, Janome, etc.) bring accessories that you think you’ll need.  None of these machines are sold in Ecuador and there is no service or support for them.

-Homeschool curriculum.  If you are a homeschooler, bring all of your curriculum with you, as there is absolutely nothing available in Quito.  There are a couple of homeschool co-ops where materials are exchanged, however you’ll need to plan on bringing the bulk of what you need.

-Your Kitchen Aid mixer.  This is the one household appliance that you need to bring with you if you own one.  They are available in Quito, but are VERY expensive.

-Sheets and towels.  There are sheets and towels available in Quito, but they are quite expensive, and not very good quality.  At present, the highest thread count sheet that you can buy is 300, and a King size set will cost you about $250.  The same goes for towels–a medium quality bath towel will cost you between $25 and $30.

-A grill.  If you can swing it, and you like to grill out, bring one with you.  The majority of grills available in Quito are poorly made and very expensive.  There are some very high quality grills available at some of the high-end decorating stores, but you’ll need to be prepared to pay thousands of dollars for them.  And if you want specialty grilling tools or spices, bring those as well as you will not be able to find them.

-Seasonal decor, other than Christmas.  Quito does not have a seasonal shift, so there are no fall decorations, etc.  You’ll find that you want to change your house, even if the weather isn’t changing with you.  Bring Halloween (if you celebrate it), Thanksgiving and Easter decorations.

What you DON’T need to bring…

Sometimes it’s helpful to know what you don’t need to bring.  Here is a list of items that are readily available in Quito:

-Kitchen supplies.  This includes dishes, baking supplies (The one exception to this is a donut pan.), cookware, kitchen utensils…all of these things are available in Quito, and there is a pretty wide selection.

-Decorative items.  If you have a favorite item, by all means pack it, but there are home dec stores with a good selection of decorative and functional items.  We have a store that is very similar to a Pier One that has a delightful selection of household decorative items.

-Small appliances.  Again, a large selection is available (see note about Kitchen Aid mixer above).

-Bedding (other than sheets).  Comforter sets, pillows and blankets are available in Quito and for the most part are very reasonable.

-Cosmetics.  Most major makeup brands are available in Quito.  They are somewhat more expensive, but not enough to justify taking up precious luggage space with products from the US.

-Christmas trees.  These are available in Quito, and the prices are usually pretty reasonable.  We also have an abundance of ornaments and other decorative items available, so just plan to bring the things that are special to you.

The grocery store is always a challenge.  While we can get some US products, such as Aunt Jemima syrup and Hershey’s products, it’s not very reliable and things have been known to disappear and reappear with no rhyme or reason.  You will most likely be able to find just about anything you want in the store, but it may be an Ecuadorian brand.  Most of us have things that we bring back because we prefer the US brands.  Ours personally are Peanut Butter M&M’s, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Hunts Ketchup, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce, Jif peanut butter and random grilling seasonings.  For almost everything else, we have found that the Ecuadorian brands are not only acceptable, but in some cases better than what we get in the US.  So my advice would be to bring one or two of the things that you really, really like, and then take the time to get to know what’s available here.  We also have Asian grocery stores and a couple of high-end specialty stores that carry hard-to-find items.

This list is by no means complete, and I’ll call on my fellow Quitenians to add to it all of the things that they have found helpful in the comments.  And if you’re heading to Quito in the near future, let me know and I’ll try to answer your questions about our beautiful city!

Hope is the thing…

Sometimes “walking by faith” is just hard.  Actually, most times it’s just hard.  My “Type A” personality wants all of my ducks in a row, preferably wearing matching rain jackets and quacking in unison.  Living on the mission field means that my ducks are usually scattered all over the place, wearing nothing at all and quacking randomly in several different languages!

The past several weeks we have been crazypants around here.  Arriving home after 8 very long weeks in the US, finding out we had to move just five days later, actually moving just 10 days after that, having our girls come for Spring Break (don’t get me wrong–I loved that part!), getting back into our routine in a new apartment…and that’s all just on the homefront.  Our ministry has had it’s share of crazy as well.

I will try to keep this short…wish me luck!  Our recyclers have been experiencing a very difficult season in life right now.  Due to a change in leadership, both in their “association” (like a union) and at the top–the government entity that oversees the transfer station and all of the activities that take place there–they have found themselves with little to no work (they were actually allowed on-site for about four days in February) and are facing the aftermath of this situation.  These are people who typically earn between $50 and $80 a month, and barely get by.  There is no money to put into savings (it’s not a “saving” culture anyway, but that’s a topic for another day) and so when they don’t work, there is nothing to fall back on.  Our organization has done three food distributions to try and help them, but our resources are limited, and as well there is always the danger of creating dependency, which is not a good thing, even with the best of intentions.  The current word on the street is that they will be allowed to return to work on Wednesday, but this is the fourth or fifth time in as many weeks that an agreement has been mediated, only to fall through within a day or two, so we are understandably pessimistic.

During all of this, I find myself asking a lot of “whys”.  These are people who are unemployable in every sense of the word.  Many, if not most, are functionally illiterate.  They have no job skills training.  They really don’t even have “life skills” training.  When you must begin with why it’s important to bathe on a regular basis, you’re starting at the most basic level.  That’s hard.  So my question is “OK, Lord.  You KNOW all of this about them.  You KNOW that even to get them to the point where they could get a job at McDonald’s or KFC would take years, and resources…and a willingness on their part to learn!  So WHY is all of this happening.”

I wish I could say that the answer showed up in an email, and I forwarded it to Dan and he implemented all of the suggestions and we’re all good now.  I wish.  But the reality is that the answer is somewhere in the muddle.  He calls on us to trust Him.  To believe, even when everything is falling down around our ears, that He has everything under control.  That while I feel like my ducks are deliberately staging a riot, they are actually HIS ducks, and they are doing just what they are supposed to be doing.

So we press on.  Looking for the good.  We were able to provide food for our recyclers, to help see them through this hard time.  Our family resource center is open and busy and Pastor Jose told Dan the other day that one of the unexpected joys that has come from all of this is that he has found open doors with people who wouldn’t even look at him before.  Our monthly “family night” saw 40 adults and more than 30 children packed into the center.  Even though the adults are not working, they are still sending their children to the center for after-school tutoring and a hot meal.

On the homefront, we are settled into our new apartment.  It’s warm and safe and dry, and when Dan travels to the US for 10 days next month, for the first time in over 11 years I will not fall apart because I am so terrified of being here alone.  I feel secure, and that changes everything.  We’ve established our routine and things are quiet and semi-normal.  (I gave up on normal a long time ago.  Semi-normal is as good as it gets!)

One of my joys over the past few weeks has been a new devotional that I found called “Writing to God:  40 Days of Praying with my Pen” (Paraclete Press).  I do my best thinking with my pen and to be able to use that in my devotional time has been a true blessing.  One of my favorite days so far was called “Ashes to Ashes Confession”.  It speaks so pointedly to this season.

I am worn down today, fatigued in every muscle.  I am not whole, not even halfway.  It is brilliant, thrilling to be human…oh but I strain against the ashes…the limits.  Heal me, Jesus, with the scars of your own brokenness.  Heal me…not to strength or perfection, but to togetherness.  To gentleness.  To taking care of these ashes.  Be the wholeness that I am not, and remind this body of ashes to rest my scars in yours, to live my broken life fully.

It’s Easter week.  And I think the sun is about to come out.

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
Emily Dickinson