Guayaquil: A Divided City

By: Fr. Eduard Fugoso, SVD

A young Filipino priest struggle with the problem of division in a burgeoning Latin America City

Buenos Dias, Padrecito
I am four months in Guayaquil, Ecuador now I feel like a member of our parish community. In almost every block, adults and children would pause and greet me with their warm “Hola, Buenos Dias, Buenos tardes, Padrecito.” There have been times when I nearly fell into the wide street canal with my rickety bike while waving back at them.

Ecuador was not spared by deadly cholera epidemic that hit South America. Fortunately, only four of our parishioners were affected last April and are now well. Nevertheless, our parish Youth Group staged house-to-house anti cholera campaign, distributing and explaining the information materials we got from the Ministry of Health. What is basic is to boil our drinking water. However, more basic to this even have this essential liquid. . Oftentimes, the tanqueros (water trunks) would not bring in the daily water ration. Ironically, the rich people who live in the North side of the city actually pay less for their adequate piped in supply of the water while we, poor inhabitants of the southern suburbs pay more money for less water.

Drinking Monkey’s Blood
Our parishioners are mostly factory workers, fishermen, small store owners, street vendors, housemaids and numerous vagos (unemployed). I usually do my house visitations in the morning paying special concern to the old and the sick. Last week, I visited a bedridden man sick with tuberculosis. Upon entering his room I noticed at once a very strong foul smell. I thought it could only happen in “Indiana Jones movies”, but I was surprised to know the special local treatment he was undergoing. This consist of killing a monkey right there inside the house, drinking the monkey’s blood (two cups) and placing over his back fresh peeled skin of the animals. It was started three days before my visits so you can imagine the terrible odor. I overcame my feelings of nausea. I forced myself to approached the bed and pray for the sick man.

Making Ends Meet
Aside from our parish responsibilities my parish priest and I have accepted extra jobs. The former works in the Archdiocesan Curia all mornings from Monday to Friday. He receives 40, 000 sucres ($40) monthly as honorarium. I myself receive 20,000 sucres ($20) monthly as a chaplain every Thursday in a nearby school. With these modest compensations plus the mass stipend we receive we are able to support our personal and pastoral activities.


Baker Saying Mass
The pastor in the neighboring parish supports himself by baking soya bread and making soya milk everyday. He starts his kitchen work at 5 a.m. and sells his wares at 7 a.m. along the streets of his parish. One time I asked this friendly priest, “How goes the business?” “Fine”, he said. But as it happened, one time a newly arrived member of the community brought bread from him in the morning, and seeing him inside the church in the afternoon exclaimed, “Look, the baker is celebrating the mass”

Overflowing City
As one of the fast growing metropolises in Latin America, Guayaquil is bursting at the seems as many desperate and unemployed migrants continuously flock in from the neighboring provinces. Thus, aside from the lack of jobs, mass transportation and garbage disposal have been regular headache for almost everybody. In order not to “curse the darkness” we organized last June two big “minggas” or parish community works with community works with the objectives of minimizing the cause of many diseases. We cleaned the streets and clogged canals. With the help of two big garbage trucks borrowed from the Departamento de Aseo de Calles we didn’t have much difficulty in collecting the gathered filth. So far, we have also pressured the municipal government to put drainage tubes in those wide and dangerous canals that are normally filled with foul water and garbage. Many times I have accompanied our parish representatives to different government offices and have experienced the harsh bureaucratic process. Normally, they would respond with an initial work but which is left in promises. That is also present pitiful case of our official request for more public buses to ply routs in this poor southern sector of the city.

Breaking Down Walls
But being involved in the struggle of our parishioners for better environment and better services, I can also notice the clear division among them. Some of the obvious factors are political affiliations, color of the skin and religion. As a missionary I had to initiate activities that can unite them or at least minimize their differences so that the words of the Acts of the Apostles can be fulfilled: “Now the Company of those who believed were of one heart and soul....” (Acts 4:32)