Guayaquil, Ecuador. It is the largest city in the South American country of Ecuador, over 2 million people. It is a port city on the Guayas River some 35-40 miles from the coast. The climate there is very hot and tropical. It is an exciting city in which to live. There is always something going on.
My family and I lived there for four years. The city literally attacked your senses with its multifaceted environment. First, there were the people, people everywhere. The street cleaners and vendors would be out early in the morning moving their carts on squeaking wheels, sometimes on metal wheels raising such a clatter. Each was going about their own way, the sweepers to their assigned streets to clean and the vendors to their chosen spots to set up and sell their wares.
Then there were the food vendors who would set up their carts and sell everything from shaved ice drinks to grilled chicken, or steaks to hot dogs. There were those who sold only drinks, Coca-Cola, RC Cola, or Inca Cola among many others. The myriad fresh fruit drinks were everywhere. We North Americans would not buy those. Once you saw that they only had a hand full of glasses which they placed in a bucket of water to soak until the next customer came by, whereupon they would pull it out of the bucket and ladle the drink into it and serve their customer, one seemed to lose his thirst. The customer would stand there and drink it and drop it back into the bucket for the next customer’s use, never mind the impure water from which the drink was made.
Bargains abounded everywhere with the street vendors. The Guayaquilians love to bargain. The city residents would find what they wanted and negotiate a price and walk away happy. The tourists would find an item from a street vendor and dicker over the price and walk away content with the wonderful bargain they had found, never mind that it cost them twice what any self respecting Ecuadorian city resident would have paid. Everyone is happy.
Many of the happiest people I have seen in this world live in Guayaquil. The vast majority of the people of the city are poor people. The street vendors are among them. They make enough day by day to put food on the table for their families and not much else. Yet they are happy. Our poor in this country are not poor compared to the poor in most third world countries. Yet some of the people whom I knew in Guayaquil, though among the poorest, had a joy for living and a happiness that expressed itself in just such a simple way as a smile at their child playing on the sidewalk next to their cart, or the hearty laughter among themselves with other vendors lined up selling their wares in competition with one another.
From our North American materialistic view point, we would think that they had nothing to laugh about. I know personally, that were I to take their place, I would have a very difficult time laughing and enjoying myself. Or at least I think that I would, though one can never really be sure about such things. For us, our happiness is tied many times to “materialistic things.” The poor of Guayaquil tie their happiness to “things” that really matter: family, relationships, friends and most of all their children.
Yes, Guayaquil, has many faces which it presents to those who go there. The faces of her people. They are a hard working and industrious people. Yet a people who though their day may begin at five in the morning and not end until 10 or 11 at night, always find a way, and make the time for the people in their lives — their friends and their families. Maybe, just maybe it is the people of Guayaquil that are rich and it is we who are in many ways much poorer than they. How important are your children and spouse to you?
Who we relate to says much about who we are as a people. 1 Kings 10:1 says, “When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the LORD, she came to test him with hard questions. Praise be to the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king, to maintain justice and righteousness.”
Laugh with your family, laugh and enjoy life with them. If you have little material wealth but you have your family, you are indeed rich.
Brad Morris, a retired minister, originally from Georgetown, served as a pastor and then as a missionary in Costa Rica and Ecuador, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has been in ministry for 49 years and a columnist for 16 years, 11 of which have been for the Times.