If I could describe Cuenca in three words: cobbled, cute and quaint. When we started telling friends that we could be visiting Ecuador, EVERYONE recommended we visit Cuenca, even if for a few days. Before meeting up with our friends in Guayaquil, we planned to explore Cuenca for four days.
Remember how a few days before leaving Quito, a brother texted me saying that he would pick us up? Well, he did. It was just him picking us up in his truck. He took our luggage and had even brought us each a chocolate cookie snack. I thought that was a very kind gesture. This brother (Iet’s call him Brother H) seemed a bit shy in the beginning, but there was something that I wasn’t understanding… something neither of us were understanding, so I began asking him questions about the empty brother’s (call him Brother L) apartment where we were going to stay for those few days, while Brother L was out on a trip. I gotta say, there was something that felt odd right off the bat, but me being the doubtful intuitive (doubtful as in, I doubt my own gut feelings to give other people a chance), I decided to keep analyzing the situation and taking things as they came.
“So this apartment, is it close to some of the cool places?” I asked. Brother H kept his eyes on the road, “Yes” he said. I felt like he wasn’t being completely direct with me, I asked him a few questions but his answers were all vague. Again, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Okay, I thought, It’s all going to be alright, right? I then asked him how he knew my friend, the one who had gotten us in touch, “we’ve actually never met before” he said. That response shocked me a bit. I didn’t know my friend didn’t know Brother H in person. Then he added, “…but she knows Brother L and his fleshly brother, Brother M”. The truck arrived to these two-story gated homes. We got out, and we went inside. We got our luggage from the truck and and we set them in the living room. He showed us around and I was amazed that Brother L lived in that apartment. “Does Brother L live here by himself?” I asked Brother H. Brother H looked away again and vaguely responded something like “Yes, he lives alone (in Cuenca)”. Brother H then said “I’m sorry if this place isn’t big enough”. We looked around and found three rooms! What was he talking about? This was better than what we expected and definitely more than enough rooms.
There was, however, a tiny tiny detail that three of us missed. BG heard Brother H say about one of the rooms “that’s my room”. She told us what she heard but we were like “nah, the arrangement were to stay at Brother L’s apartment. Brother L is out of town anyway so this must be his place”. “Oh okay” she said, “maybe I heard him wrong”… We should’ve listened to BG.
So brother H said that we would go meet Brother L’s brother (let’s call him Brother M). Okay, so just so no one is confused: H picked us up from the airport and we’ve been with him this whole time until this point in the story. Brother L is the brother we never meet because he was out of town but offered his empty apartment while he was out of town. Brother M is L’s fleshly brother. M and L are related, H is just their friend.
Brother M and Brother H would take us to a Chinese Vegetarian restaurant where we would be able to eat because at that point, we were starving!
So we get there, we all sit down and begin to eat. Now, I’m going to be completely candid here, I didn’t want to include these details, but I think they’re important to the story. Brother H and Brother M were acting a bit strange around us. I can’t explain it, but it was making me uncomfortable. Note, these brothers were single and much much older than us. At this point we had already met many brothers and sisters when we were in Quito, and neither of them had given us any odd feelings as much as Brother H did. There was something that felt off about him and he was really coming out of his shell at restaurant. He started joking around and, along with M, both kept staring a bit too much at our faces, to the point where I just looked down at my plate for most of the time, or would look at the girls. Alarms abounded in my head. I was both irritated and uncomfortable but kept a smile that could win The world’s most fake smile award.. WHAT WERE THEY STARING AT? WHAT COULD HAVE POSSIBLY BEEN SO FASCINATING THAT THEY HAD TO STARE SO BLUNTLY AND SO OBVIOUSLY? HOW RUDE! *clears throat, fixes hair, gains composure* Where was I? Ah, yes! It was during this time that H and M (lol H&M was unintended I promise) tell us what was actually going on.
Brother M starts with “We weren’t able to find the keys to my brothers apartment, but we also felt like his apartment may be a bit too small for you girls so we thought you’d feel more comfortable staying with brother H since he kindly offered his home as a last-minute decision”. We were not expecting that. This sort of put us… no, not “sort of”, it very put us in an awkward situation. Let me explain:
Brother H was a single brother, probably in his late 40s, living alone in that house where we were now due to stay. We were four single sisters (all in our 20s). Although we were going to have our own room, it is still beneath the same roof. You see my point? Now, some friends probably have absolutely no problem with this because they reason that it’s multiple people, but even Bethel advises against this sort of set up! However, given that Brother H was a single older brother, we all knew this would not sit well with neither of our parents. It would be no problem if he was there with his wife, or with his mother and sister… etc. and given his odd behavior at the restaurant, it was definitely not going to sit well with us either.
I really really really wish I had been notified of the situation beforehand, so that the four of us could make other arrangements on time. When H texted me that he would be picking us up from the airport, he completely excluded the part that said we would also be staying with him because such and such happened. I completely understand that they were just trying to be extra helpful and I know sometimes It’s not always easy to find accommodation therefore it’s always very appreciated when someone is willing! For staying at a place when it’s all single sisters, it’s totally fine when there’s a married couple, another sister, or family members that live together (a mother and her daughters, or a mother and her sons, or two sisters etc…), basically anything that will continuously motivate virtues and separate from even the slightest possible situation that could be lead by the struggles of imperfection. I think it put us all in a very awkward place.
Back to the story.
Tiff thanked the brothers for trying to be considerate of us and for picking us up from the airport. We finished eating but felt conflicted inside. How do we tell them? How can we tactfully handle this peacefully? The first task of the day: speak up. We get back in the truck and the four of us sit in the back. This is where ASL comes in handy: we started signing to each other. “What are our options?… We can’t stay at his house…” We started praying internally. We all had very bad gut feelings at this point.
Tiff took the lead (girl, you rock!) “I have a question” this is it! We held our breaths “While the four of us stay at your place.. uh.. where will you be staying?” Both brothers laughed at the question and Brother H said, “there, of course”. Tiff nodded “Got it… I’m afraid that will not work out”. My stomach dropped. What is about to happen? We are not the ungrateful type I promise!! Please don’t hurt us! They told us “Well, if it was a single sister and a single brother, we know that would be wrong, but since it’s four of you, we figured it would be fine…” Brother H didn’t seem happy. Perhaps he was upset to have set up his home to be ready to welcome guests, but at the same time, we had absolutely no idea the plans had changed for us either.
Brother M was more understanding and luckily had a Wifi Cafe. We were left at his work and he let us tap into the Wifi. Immediately we began contacting everyone we knew who has been to Cuenca. The girls ask their friends who had already been to Cuenca, I asked my friends the same and also start browsing through AirBnBs that may be available that night. It was about 3:30 or 4pm. We texted any need-greaters, or anyone who knew need-greaters out there. We had to sit down and figure out where we would be sleeping that night.
Ok so a few backstories:
As we planned our trip, a friend told me that her aunt and uncle live in Cuenca. She said I should try to contact them. Tiff and Bree already knew them and agreed it would be a good idea to contact them. However, for whatever reason, we never did on time. Tiff and Bree would mention other need-greating couples here and there and eventually my mind associated them with my friend’s aunt and uncle. At one point, Bree and Tiff mentioned a couple they knew who lived in Cuenca, but they recently moved back to America. For whatever reason, my mind thought it was the same couple and thought “oh darn, they moved back”. Thankfully, It wasn’t the same couple.
Another backstory, we have an INCREDIBLE friend named Michelle. We all LOVE this woman. She’s considered “older” but we all feel like she’s lying about her age. She’s gotta be in her early 20s. She’s always been so joyful and happy. I think we all agree, that if this system continued for longer, it would be an honor to be like her when we are her age. Anyway, more on Michelle another time. Before leaving on our trip, she gave us an envelope. What was inside? A cute note along with $80! It was completely unexpected and a very kind gesture. We all agreed to save the money in case of an emergency…
…This was an emergency.
Some time had passed and Brother M gave us tea and cookies while we kept up our search. We remembered my friends aunt and uncle from that backstory! (let’s call them Brother and Sister F), who I thought had moved away, but I was wrong. Tiff and Bree were trying to get in touch with them. At the same time, BG and I had found a really nice AirBnB near downtown Cuenca. This was going to be our backup.
Tiff finally get’s their number and leaves Brother F a voicemail. We wait a bit and he calls her back! He tells her that unfortunately they have guests but the sister that lives next door might be able to host us! He needed to check in with her first. A few moments later, he gets back to us with the unfortunate news that the sister is very sick with a bad cold and doesn’t want to get us sick. Brother F said that he would try one more person.
At around this time, we felt it was time to make a decision soon. It was about to be 5:30, and I had the AirBnB listing ready for booking. The four of us sat there, trying to figure out what would be next. We were waiting for Brother F’s phone call, but were afraid we’d lose the BnB listing if we waited too long since I had already lost another one that also looked good. We decided to make a prayer. It was a specific one and we asked Jehovah that if by 5:30, we didn’t get a phone call from Brother F, we would book the BnB. However, we also included that if the BnB was NOT the right choice, to block the payment; not allow the payment to go through, in any way. “Amen”.
We were stressed out during this whole thing, but we kept our spirits up. We felt like we were about to hit a breakthrough. At one point we all stopped and laughed at what was happening to us. There’s no point it being bitter about anything really, these sort of things are expected to happen at some point. We knew this would be a story we’d remember. “Remember, remember the 3rd of September” we chanted to each other on that September 3rd, 2018.
5:30 came along. No phone calls yet so I clicked on the “Book” button. Immediately after I did this, Tiff’s phone rang! “It’s brother F!” She answered. We all look at her, intently. “ah huh… ah huh…” I can’t remember exactly what happened, but, at one point I looked at the BnB listing and I realize that the payment hadn’t even began to process! In the meantime Brother F had given us a contact of a family from Michigan that had moved to Ecuador and they had a large house. It sounded perfect because they enjoyed hosting brothers and sisters from all over! This was a clear sign that Jehovah approved of our choice to spend the night elsewhere!
We did have to go with Brother H one more time to pick up our luggage. He came back after a few hours because he had to run some errands, but when he was back, it was only to get our luggage. The sister came to meet us right away! I can’t even begin to express how great we felt with her. It was as though all discomfort was wiped away. We loaded our luggage and drove off. She expressed to us that Brother H looked rather off to her too which was nice because it felt like we weren’t crazy! This was the last time we saw him. (I’m sorry, but the truth is that there are creepy people everywhere, even within the organization, why? Well, no one is perfect. Everyone has their struggles that we fight, but sometimes you just gotta go with your gut).
So this story was a long one. It’s one we tell often, not because of the awkwardness of the situation, and not to make others feel uncomfortable, but because of the wonderful series of events that followed and what it all lead to. Quite honestly, it lead to one of the best experiences from the entire trip! Because I am taking you on this journey with me, the result will come in a later post. Still, a good chunk of it still happened in Cuenca, and it was clear that the uncomfortable circumstance ended up turning our time in Cuenca into a HUGE blessing!
To be or not to be?… That is the question! But, what is the answer? The answer is, to be continued…