Trust (Full Story)
"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." - Ernest Hemingway
We are leaving Zaruma tomorrow.
Arturo asks if I can come to his house for dinner. He'd like to say farewell before I return to The States. I ask Dr. Kiefer, the leader of the Mercer On Mission trip to Ecuador, if I can go.
He pauses, looks at me for a second, and asks, "Where does he live?"
I tell him that he lives up by the square - no more than a mile away.
Dr. Kiefer shakes his head: "That's pretty far and its late. I'm not sure if that's safe."
"Trust me - I'll be careful. What if I bring a friend with me?"
"Fine. Be back by 8." Z Beans Coffee, Ecuadorian Coffee, Coffee Ecuador
Not knowing what to expect, Andy and I leave with Arturo, a man we've come to know pretty well over the past couple of weeks. We get to Arturo's apartment after a 10-minute walk. His wife, Anita, and daughter, Roseangela, have prepared dinner. We sit down and eat - Arturo tells us jokes and stories about his childhood. I do my best to translate them to Andy, as my Spanish is still suspect.
After dinner, Andy and I sit on the couch, as Arturo sits across from us. He tells us story after story until we realize that we should be getting back. We tell Arturo, and he offers to walk us back to the hotel. But, first, Arturo asks us to exchange WhatsApp numbers with him. He tells us to stay in touch whenever we return. I assure him that I will.
10 minutes later, we arrive. Dr. Kiefer acknowledges us. We stayed true to our end of the deal. We were back by 8.
Arturo gives me a handshake. I see uncertainty in his eyes.
Before he leaves, he stares at me for a second.
His last words: "Please, stay in touch."
Mine: "I will. I promise."
He puts his head down and walks away.
"He who does not trust enough will not be trusted." - Lao Tzu
The farmer has yet to arrive. It’s 9:30 at night, and we are still stuck in Pinas – 20 miles away from home.
Arturo tells me not to worry – we will be heading back soon. The farmer will be here any minute now.
It’s 10:15. Arturo calls the farmer for the fourth time in the last hour, confirming his arrival. But, the farmer has a different story than the previous three: He’s not going to come - He can’t make it.
Arturo doesn’t say a word to me, as he hangs up the phone. He knows that I am well aware of what just occurred. In unison, we get up and head out the front door of the processing facility, looking for the nearest taxi.
“$4 to Portovelo. I’m not driving up to Zaruma tonight.” The taxi driver mutters.
Knowing Portovelo is a dangerous city at night, I don’t think it’s a good idea. I tell Arturo that we shouldn’t do it – not only is the city dangerous, but I still have the cash on me that I was planning to give to the farmer.
Arturo, looking at me with his pride dancing on his right shoulder, tells me not to worry.
We get in the cab.
An uneasy feeling sits inside me.
We pull up next to the famous miner statue located in the central park of Portovelo. I begin surveying my surroundings, looking for the nearest taxi and potential sign of trouble. I notice a young, maybe 15 year old kid, sitting on the street corner. I glance away, looking for real danger.
I tell Arturo that we need to get in the nearest taxi. I don’t care if I need to pay a few extra dollars. I want to get out of here. He pushes his right hand down three times, as if to say: “Calm down.”
A high pitch whistle pierces my ears.
I target the point of origin. It’s the 15-year-old kid. We lock eyes.
I look to my left. There’s a group of 6 guys talking. They perk up.
Arturo passes another taxi on the right, trying desperately to save me a few bucks.
But, desperation was all around. I felt it.
I pulled Arturo by his shirt. I opened a taxi’s door.
This is a true story that occurred one evening. It opened my eyes. I trust the people of Ecuador – each and every one of them, for they have always trusted me. However, as the cliché goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. A good man will make a poor decision if he is desperate enough. Since Arturo lives the desperation, knows that I am his good friend, and knows that I would give him the shirt off of my back – he trusts that I won’t leave him out to dry. But, this situation made me think, and so I ask you: if you were desperate – you had no money – you just lost your job – and your two-year old has gone to bed hungry the last two nights, and a beam of hope flashes in front of your face, do you take advantage of the opportunity?
Sure, you do.
Desperation loves hope as trust loves forgiveness.
Whatever the intentions may have been that night. I forgave because I understood.
"It is more shameful to distrust our friends than to be deceived by them." - Confucius
The region of El Oro, Ecuador, does not currently have any properly operating cooperatives (co-ops) for farmers. Unlike many other coffee producing nations in the world, El Oro has yet to develop a centralized selling platform that allows outside buyers to come in and purchase the coffees. The co-ops provide many things to the farmers, including fertilizers, financing options, expertise, and assistance. However, the most important offering of the co-ops is stability. While creating one of these cooperatives is a long-term goal of mine, I did not have the ability to do so during my initial purchase during the summer of 2017. So, I was forced to buy all coffee with cash. To avoid a bank fee, I decided to declare the largest amount that customs would allow when entering Ecuador. I wanted to be sure that I had enough to cover all the expenses that I’d incur on the trip…
My flight arrives in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, at 10:30 at night. For the first time, I get to the airport alone. I don’t have the security of knowing Mercer On Mission professors are accompanying me. I pick up my bags from the small conveyor built, proceed through customs, and move on. As I open the door to the lobby area of the airport, I see numerous taxi drivers standing, holding up signs. I see a short man behind all of them, holding up one with my name. That’s my cue. Diego, the nephew of Arturo, told me that he’d have a taxi driver waiting for me. I assume that’s him.
He shakes my hand and introduces himself. He tells me that he’s good friends with Diego. I know it’s him. We head down to his taxi, and I ask if I can borrow his cell phone. I give Diego a call, but it rings through. I try once more. No luck again. I had a feeling this would happen, so I played my backup card.
I called another contact that I had in Quito, Adam, who once lived in the U.S. I tell him that I have arrived and plan to stay for the night. He tells me to meet him in the city center, which is 20 miles away from the airport.
The taxi driver and I leave. We roll our windows down and enjoy the cool, brisk air. After a long day of traveling, I’m exhausted. I feel myself dozing off. I quickly come to, as my head falls forward. I can’t sleep; I need to stay alert.
30 minutes later, we arrive at downtown Quito. Music blares as lights flash throughout the city.
I call Adam. He tells me to meet him at a local restaurant.
The taxi driver isn’t familiar with the restaurant’s name. But, we pull up to a small pub. He tells me that this is the place. I get out and get my three bags. I look around for Adam. I can’t find him.
I’m standing outside of a closed shop. A pub is across the street. A small restaurant is to my left. An alley to my right. It’s now 11:15 at night. I call Adam but can’t quite describe my location to him well enough. So, I stand there – waiting.
A small woman comes up to me: “You don’t need to stand here with your bags. You can put them in my shop until you find your friend.”
I move my bags into her shop. I begin to ask for a water, but I see Adam.
He tells me that he has a place for me to stay. It’s a local hostel. We walk 3 blocks until we come to it. We agree to lunch tomorrow and say goodbye.
I walk into the hostel.
I have seen flowers come in stony places,
And kind things done by men with ugly faces,
And the gold cup won by the worse horse at the races,
So I trust, too.
- John Masefield
Adam meets me at 9 the next morning. We tour Quito. We walk the entire downtown area, visiting local shops that sell extravagant Ecuadorian coffees and premium chocolate. I spend time at Adam’s house, and we talk about his initiatives in Ecuador. He works with a small group of students, helping them learn English. We discuss the Ecuadorian culture as well. I bring up the idea of safety, as I want to trust that I am making the best decisions. He assures me that Ecuador is no different than The States. There are certain places that you must proceed with caution and be aware of your surroundings, and there are others where you can relax and let-go. I trust Adam’s judgement; he lived in the U.S. for most of his life.
I go to lunch with Adam and his wife. He takes me to one of the most popular restaurants in Quito. There is an immaculate view that allows you to see the entire city. - Quito is shaped like a bowl. The city is at the bottom and mountains surround it. - It’s beautiful.
Halfway through lunch, Adam asks me about my plans for the night.
I tell him that I will be taking a bus from Quito to Zaruma. It’ll only be a 9-hour trip with one stop – Zaruma.
He chuckles: “Shane, that bus isn’t going to stop one time. It’ll stop 40. It’s not going to take 9 hours either. It’ll take 12.”
He immediately asks, “Are you taking money?”
“I am. I’m taking the max amount customs allowed me to bring into the country. I have to pay the farmers in cash.”
“Shane, you can’t take that money on the bus. I don’t think anything will happen, but that isn’t a risk you should take. It’s not worth it.”
Adam offers: “Let me put the money in my account. We will transfer it to Arturo’s bank, and you can pick it up when you arrive.”
“Can you trust Arturo?” He says.
“Yes. I can.”
Without questioning Adam’s judgement or trustworthiness, I decide to give him the money to transfer to Arturo..
Night time rolls around. It is time for me to head to Zaruma. I meet up with Diego, and we take the train down to the bus station. I say my goodbyes and thank him for accompanying me.
It’s 8 o’clock now. I find my seat on the bus - third row – the column behind the driver.
I’m a bit nervous - not knowing what to expect. But, I want the full immersion into the culture.
I got it now.
At 8:10, the bus departs.
You may be deceived if you trust too much,
but you will live in torment if you don't trust enough.
- Frank Crane
I close my eyes. I’ve had a really long day.
I doze off, but I come back. I can’t let my guard down. I stick out like a sore thumb.. Or do I? I close my eyes.
Arturo and I are walking along the streets of Zaruma, doing our best to hitchhike a ride. We finally find someone willing to do it. We hop in the back of the truck and head towards Arturo’s greenhouse. But, I’ve been there before, and this isn’t the way. Arturo stares off in the distance, refusing to look at me. What is going on? The truck makes a right hand turn down a back road then comes to an abrupt halt..
I quickly wake up. The bus is stopping. The assistant comes in and says that everyone getting off in Tambillo should exit now. 10 people gather their belongings and exit. As soon as they leave, 5 new people get back on.. Adam was right. This isn’t a direct trip to Zaruma. We are 30 minutes in, and we’ve already made one stop.
The bus settles, the lights dim, and we depart. The man sitting next to me puts his head phones back in his ears and listens to music. My eyes get heavy once again..
“Arturo, where are we?”
“I want you to see this farm. He grows and processes sugar cane.”
“I thought we were going to the greenhouse?”
“We will later. I want you to check this out first.”
“You have to communicate with me. I’m trusting you, Arturo. I do not know my way around this city. Do not put me in a bad situation.”
“I wouldn’t do that to you, Shane. I’ll make sure you know where we are going from now on.”
The bus stops. The assistant flips on the lights. “We are in Guayaquil. You may exit now.”
20 people get off the bus. I do my best to get a glimpse of Guayaquil. It’s the port city where our coffee will depart. It’s pitch black outside though; it’s 3:30 in the morning.
As soon as the 20 people leave, 30 more get on the bus. A new person sits to my right. It’s an older gentleman. I notice is hands are worn. He has cuts and a few blisters. Perhaps he has been working in the ports without gloves.
The assistant dims the lights. He puts on an Ecuadorian soap opera that plays on the small TV at the front of the bus. Immediately, everyone cheers. It must be a popular show. As the movie begins playing, I can tell it’s be a comedy. The foolishness of the actors sends the entire bus into hysteria. The movie has subtitles, but I’m not paying attention. I’m just amazed by the appreciation the people have for the film. It’s incredibly cheesy, but everyone is locked in, as if they’ve never watched a TV before.
After 15 minutes of analysis, I shut my eyes once again, hoping that I’ll be in Zaruma by 8 am...
Arturo and I scout the sugar cane farm. It’s incredible. I have never seen anything like it. Arturo, like he always does, rips off a part of a sugar cane plant. He pulls off his knife and begins peeling it. He hands me a piece to try. It’s absolutely incredible. It’s the sweetest, most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.
Arturo tells me to come with him. We walk a quarter of a mile up the road and come to what looks like a peeling factory. There is a huge machine with a complex pulley system. Arturo yells for the farmer, and he comes out of the house. He sees me and smiles. He knows that I appreciate the complexity of his hand-built machine.
He tells us that he already has some sugar cane in boiling water, which serves as a cleaning mechanism. Arturo and I walk over to the big tub full of steaming water. I’m in awe. A thick substance has risen to the top. The farmer scoops a spoonful of it and hands it to me. I try it. It’s heaven.
I awake as I feel the bus stop again. We are finally in familiar territory. The assistant tells everyone that we are in Piñas. Our next two stops are Portovelo and Zaruma. The sun has already begun to rise, as its 6:30 in the morning.
I marvel, as I have so many times, over the countryside. I arrive to Zaruma’s bus station at 8:00 and Arturo has a taxi waiting on me. I head to his house at the top of the square. The familiar ‘Rocafuerte’ road is in my line of sight. I get out of the taxi and walk up to Arturo’s house. I knock three times, and a familiar face greets me the same way he always has.
“Buenas días, comandante.”