Si desea traducir este blog al español, desplácese un poco hacia abajo, haga clic en el botón “traducir” en el lado derecho y elija “Español” en la lista de idiomas.


One of my goals for coming to live in Ecuador was to make a connection with the people.  In this very relationship centered culture, I have learned that before people are willing to share too much about themselves, there is a considerable amount of time spent on building trust and getting to know each other through conversation.  These conversations happen typically over cafecita, a daily ritual of bread and tea or coffee.  As my Spanish is getting better, I’m starting to have these very connecting conversations with new friends and members of my family.  And because their stories are so interesting, I decided that I want to write a few “biography” posts to introduce you to these beautiful people, too.

Biography: Carmen Lourdes Balla Carmilema

In my short time with my family, I’ve been lucky that so many of the extended members have welcomed me with open arms.  But Carmen, the owner of the “tienda”, and the one who initially trusted me enough to introduce me to this wonderful family, has made special effort to open up and share her stories with me.

I stop by the tienda regularly on my way home from school and if I have time, I buy a soda and sit in the back of her store.  Sometimes we chat for more than an hour, in between the comings and goings of her customers.  Think of this tienda as a convenience store and an old-fashioned general store, where you stand around and gab, and get the latest news about everybody’s life.  Although Carmen and I are about the same age, she told me that she considers me like a daughter or a niece.  I love how she dotes on me and always gets excited when I arrive.

Carmen is originally from Bacun, in the hills above Riobamba, 7 hours to the south of Ibarra.  She grew up in the stone house I visited during Carnaval and is the sister of Margarita’s dad.  Simon, who you met in my previous post, is her father.  Carmen was the middle of 7 children living off the land out in the countryside.  Her mother died of cancer when she was only 9 years old.  The mother’s death was really hard on the family, because it meant one less pair of hands.  Many of the children stopped attending school to help with all the cooking, cleaning and farmwork.  Carmen remembers carrying the laundry almost a mile to the river to do the washing.  After seven months, her father, Simon, remarried Nieves, but in Carmen’s memory, Nieves wasn’t so kind to Simon’s young children.  Nieves also didn’t know how to cook for a big family and Carmen had to teach her.  For three years, Carmen would rise at 5:00 am to start cooking breakfast for the family.  She missed a lot of school.

At the age of 12, after finishing 6th grade, Carmen decided to move to Quito.  She lived with her older brother who was already married and living in the big city.  Because they had no money to pay for the uniforms or books required in secondary school, Carmen had to start working to help pay her way.  She never returned to school.  Instead, she worked long days as a maid, washing, ironing and cleaning houses.  Her life was very hard.

At the age of 17, she met Wilo.  He was from Ibarra but was living and working in Quito.  After only 3 months of dating, they decided to get married.  Because Carmen was under the age of 18, she needed written permission from her father.  Simon’s decision to allow the marriage caused a big family riff for a few years, as her siblings did not approve of this marriage.  But Carmen and Wilo did get married in 1990 and they moved to Ibarra.  They lived with Wilo’s parents, while they built a small concrete block house on the neighboring land.  To pay for the wood and nails, they had to borrow some money, but since Wilo worked construction, they formed the 3,500 concrete blocks themselves.  In addition to building the house, Carmen spent her time helping with the crops, and all their animals.  In this country, it is not uncommon for a family to raise cows, pigs, chickens, cuys or sheep, and Carmen and Wilo have it all.  They worked very hard, and paid their bank loan off in three months.

Then the baby girls started coming, four in all: Jessica, Susana, Johana, and Margorie.  As the girls were getting older and more responsible, Carmen returned to work as a domestic servant to cook, clean and take care of other people’s children.  Usually she left her own family early in the morning and did not return until after they were in bed.  The girls each had specific responsibilities around the house: the kitchen, the laundry, the cleaning – and always, their studies.  Carmen loves learning and always impressed upon her daughters the importance of their education, and the value in believing in themselves and their dreams.

Now, years later, their hard work is paying off.  Jessica is a professional nurse.  Susana is finishing a degree as a Robotics Engineer.  Johana is majoring in art, and wants to be an art professor, and Margorie, who is still in high school, is interested in studying in Quito for a degree in forensic medicine.

Wilo, Johana, Carmen, and Marjorie in the bright pink
Susy and Jessy in the front.
There’s so much laughter in this warm and welcoming family! 

In the meantime, Carmen decided to buy this tienda and go into business for herself.  All the members of this family take turns and work here from 6am-10pm, 7 days a week.  I asked her about shortening her hours a little, and she worries that if she closes any earlier, she’ll lose some customers.  It’s true, she has quite a customer base of neighbors, being the only tienda up on this hill.  But she likes the extra income and is considering using it to buy a car, or perhaps pay for some private schooling for herself.  Her big dream is to take some math courses to help with her business, and finally graduate from high school.

I hope Carmen can someday reach her dream.  She is a strong and beautiful woman.  She’s very proud of herself and her family.  She credits Simon for teaching her to keep an open door to all people, and always enjoy life with a smile.

Thank you Carmen for your friendship, your love and your trust in me.