It's always been a point of contingency every time I have come to Ecuador.
In 2016, when I came to Ecuador for the first time with Mercer On Mission, Dr. Kiefer, an accomplished Chemistry professor and friend, warned us: "Do not drink the water!" He even warned us against using the water to clean our toothbrush before and after brushing our teeth.
I won't lie to you - I used the water to rinse my toothbrush. I even drank very little sips of the faucet water, thinking I would one day form resistance to whatever bacteria it has. Call it stupidity or call it cultural immersion - that's for you to judge.
However, out of all the trips I have taken to Ecuador, water has never been as big of a problem as it has this time...
It's January 17, 2020, Arturo and I are leaving for Quito, Ecuador. We are sitting on the bus, in Portovelo, and Arturo says to me, shaking his head: "We need rain." It hasn't rained since I got to Ecuador, 2 weeks ago. To make matters worse, we are in the middle of the rainy season - it should be raining every day.
Feeling Arturo's worry, I began thinking of not just the farmers of El Oro, Ecuador, that may be suffering from a lack of rain and inconsistent weather patterns, but those all over the world. Can you imagine - You not only have to worry about receiving unjust prices for your products, but you have to worry about your crops not developing - period. What about the farmers that don't have an insurance program to account for poor harvests? That's life - and on the other end of the totem poll, that's death.
I've refrained from ever making a political or religious statement on Z Beans' behalf, but I encourage you to act with empathy. If you could feel the angst in Arturo's voice - if you could see the worry on a farmer's face, perhaps you'd be compelled to at least do what you can. If you want to read more about what I am referring to, you can here: The Future of Coffee.
It's Tuesday, January 21, Arturo and I are in Quito, preparing for our trip to Tandapi. Doctora Mercedes, Arturo's sister, tells us it's time for breakfast. We gather around the table and pour ourselves a cup of coffee. I know the initial topic of conversation...
Last night, it poured rain in Quito - Arturo, Veronica (Arturo's niece), and the family were all on the porch, watching.
Arturo and Mercedes immediately jumped into it - "It's supposed to rain even more today." Arturo says, "I sure hope it is raining in Zaruma."
20 minutes later, Arturo and I are standing on the side of one of the busiest intersections in Quito, waiting for Milton to come and pick us up. After waiting for just a short while, Milton pulls over, and we jump in the truck - off to Tandapi!
As soon as we get to Tandapi, it starts raining - and it doesn't stop.
We meet with chocolate and coffee farmers, taste their products and build friendships.
After a full day of activities, we begin our 14 hour trek back to Zaruma.
As soon as we get cell phone signal, Arturo calls Anita.
"Did it rain in Zaruma?"
"Yes -- all day."
The following morning, we make it back home. But, the trip has taken its toll on me. Perhaps, the cold, rainy weather of Quito and Tandapi got the best of me, or perhaps, it was the water that I drank in Quito. Regardless, over the next 3 days, I lose 10lbs and any sort of appetite for food.
The morning of the 25, I wake up, finally feeling a little better. I grab my towel and head for the shower. Anita sees me, "Shane, we don't have water."
"Yes. We won't have running water in Zaruma until noon."
The trips to Ecuador have opened my eyes to the world around me. But, perhaps none as much as this one. I've read about issues with water supply, rainfall, and water contamination, but I've never experienced it first hand. The most basic necessity of life, something I, admittedly, take for granted, isn't always a given.
Water - wow.