My host family consisted of Flory and Pancho, Flory’s mother, Richard, Ines and Monica. Flory’s mother was from Vilcabamba, said to be a place of longevity because of the extended lives of those who lived there. I visited Vilcabamba’s clean air, the water streaming down from the mountains, and spoke with the aged, sun-baked farmers. We lived in Portoviejo, 30 miles from the coast. Literally translated, Portoviejo means ‘old port’ and was relocated, I understand, because pirates kept chasing the inhabitants inland. Flory, who I still refer to as my Ecuadorian mother, was a very good conversationalist, eager to discuss the news - such as the cause of government protests that sometimes happened in our town - as she prepared meals of rice, the ocean fish picudo, fried plantains and soft rubbery cheese. Pancho was a taxi driver who complained about the dust and the fact that he was working so much. Ines would escort me around the university (the Technical University of Manabi) where I taught English. Ines, Flory (and sometimes Monica, who also worked excessively) helped me to see the beauty of the culture, and Ines introduced me to some of my best friends there. We would sit around the dinner table discussing the day’s events. I told them that the town of Portoviejo was the same size as my home town of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
How did all of this parlay into fiction? Well, I moved there to have time to read. I was working 18 hours per week, mostly teaching night classes. I therefore had a great deal of time to travel and to read. Flory said that reading too much means you think too much, and I did both. I read works such as Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, one of the best books I have read, which I lent to a Peace Corps volunteer. There were many others, the ones I can think of being One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez; Anna Karenina and “What is Art?” by Tolstoy; Boccaccio’s Decameron; Great Expectations by Dickens; The Good Soldier by Ford; James Joyce’s Ulysses; Metamorphosis and other stories by Kafka; Plato’s Republic; Hemingway’s Moveable Feast; Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray; Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac; Crime and Punishment, Poor Folk, the Gambler, and other stories by Dostoevsky; others by Turgenev, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Fitzgerald among others. I only read the classics, and my writing reflected that. So I had to work hard to get rid of that voice and obtain my own style. All of these influences, and what was happening all around me in Ecuador, inspired me to write. I hadn’t planned to write, just to read.
I was hard at work, but enjoying life at the same time. Which is a tenet I still live by today.