ZERO Magazine/Cuenca: A Community of Neighbors, a Fellowship of Friends

I was against it from the beginning—

–the notion that we should start an English-language magazine for Cuenca.  Print–of all things!

I was against it from that very evening back in October, when Sara returned from work, lugging bags and boxes of office supplies, personal photos, a framed collage that I’d created, one that featured an antique Vietnamese coin and the phrase, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams”—words whispered toward tomorrow, then echoed back to us, like a sigh.

“They don’t need me anymore,” Sara said.  “Can’t afford me.”

“Those bastards!”  I spat at the popular online site she had worked for (though Sara still insists they were not that).

Moments later, we were sitting on the ugly, gray sofa in my studio, the most uncomfortable this side of zero latitude.  Sara’s office was disassembled on the floor in front of us, our white dogs sandwiched between us.

”Maybe this is an opportunity,” Sara said.  “You know, I’ve wanted to start a print magazine since we moved here.”

“But we have no experience with publishing.  I have a book to write.  AND, by the way, print is dead.”

By this time I was crying.  We both were.

“You’re an architect.  You do disaster response.  You build houses for poor people.”

“I build communities,” she reminded me.

This was when I realized—Sara was going to take this trip toward print whether I wanted to or not, whether I welcomed the idea, blessed it, or embraced it.

Then I knew!  I DARE not interfere, when, the next week, Sara “happened” to meet a publisher from North Carolina who was visiting Cuenca.  Dave wanted to start a magazine.  In Ecuador.  Was Sara interested?

Silly question.  Since it had already been decided.

So Sara and David’s partnership was conceived, and the notion of Zero Magazine/Cuenca was born.


These days, even as this community-based magazine is being launched in less than one week, I’m realizing that my own community has been rebuilt and reimagined over the past few months—that preparing this publication has helped me reconceive a few of my personal relationships, as well.

For example, it’s shown me how I can partner with my youngest sister Lynn to create a photo essay for the magazine.

Kathy and Lynn when they were kids, when Kathy was tall and Lynn was small.

Kathy and Lynn when they were kids, when Kathy was tall and Lynn was small.

Kathy is the smaller, older sister.  Lynn is the taller, younger one.

Kathy and Lynn as adults.  Kathy is NOW the smaller, Lynn , the taller.

Lynn captured the sisters' trip to a rose plantation near Quito.  Here Alvaro Munoz, owner of Blooming Acres along with wife Marisa Arroyo, explains composting to Kathy.  (A photo essay about that visit will appear in the premier issue of ZERO Magazine/Cuenca.)

Lynn captured our trip to a rose plantation near Quito. Here Alvaro Munoz, owner of Blooming Acres along with wife Marisa Arroyo, explains composting to Kathy. (A photo essay about that visit will appear in the premier issue of ZERO Magazine/Cuenca.)

It’s shown me I could rely on my nearing-ninety, dancer-Godmother to help me edit the premier’s cover story, the one I wrote and rewrote, agonizing over—


Kathy and Madrina (Estrellita Izquierdo), more than 30 years ago--

Kathy and Madrina (Estrellita Izquierdo), more than 30 years ago–

Until I realized that my “Madrina ” could still stomp out the excess words that litter my limping sentences and poorly choreographed prose.

Madrina's editorial comments on Kathy's draft of cover story--

Madrina’s editorial comments on Kathy’s draft of cover story–

After all, she and husband Raul (my “Patrino”) had literally danced Flamenco for decades.

My Godparents, Estrellita and Raul Izquierdo.  Look at Madrina's shoes--wicked when applied to text!

My Godparents, Estrellita and Raul Izquierdo. Look at Madrina’s shoes–wicked when applied to text!

But I know my Sara in a new way, as well.

Sara and Kathy in 2006--

Sara and Kathy in 2006–

She was dropped by UN helicopters into post-tsunami Sumatra, where hundreds of thousands were lost, the beach littered with the remains of a community, swept away by a single wave, everything from ships to shoes cast back ashore at odd angles to a razed horizon.

She tells the story of being in India, meeting families who had lost everything in that same tsunami.  During 2006, she stopped in a small village outside of Pondicherry, and at dusk, visited the home of a disabled man, whose entire sea-side community had been wiped out by the tsunami and relocated the length of a soccer field from the beach.  Not much more than a meter tall, the man in his twenties, who supported his extended family by making and repairing nets for nearby fishermen, proudly showed Sara his new house.  Built of reinforced concrete, his entire home, elevated above the flood plain, was no larger than the average American living room.  As he spun around that single room, delighted to open his home to her, his crutch slid out from under him, and he collapsed flat—face to floor.  But Sara says he immediately sprung up off the tile, laughing in undeterred delight.  At that moment and others like it, Sara insists, human resilience looked like the eyes of God smiling—the cleanest, clearest face of grace imaginable.

She says that this is the gift her former work offered—the opportunity to watch real people recover, despite disaster and seeming defeat—smiling though they had lost everything—their homes, their families, and sometimes nearly their own lives—grace in the face of it all.

So, yes, I think this same Sara can help strengthen the community we already have in Cuenca—

And it’s in this spirit of ongoing and growing community that Sara invites anyone in Cuenca to join us at ZERO Magazine’s launch party this coming Monday evening, February 23rd, 6:30 to 8:30.  The event, free and open to the public, will be held at the Museo Municipal de Arte Moderno, Mariscal Sucre 15-27 and Coronel Talbot (across from Parque de San Sebastian).  Guests will enjoy music by the Jazz Society of Ecuador and food catered by the Black Olive Bistro.

Launch Party Invitation zero magazine

So, Sara Coppler, business partner David Johnson, and I extend our hands to each of you.  Please join us on Monday evening.  Just as Cuenca has been good enough to welcome us to its community, ZERO Magazine welcomes you to its launch party.  We welcome you as neighbors.  We welcome you as friends.

And remember– ZERO Magazine/Cuenca is, also, an expression of Sara’s own resilience.  She sees job loss as opportunity.  She sees defeat as more than destiny.  Like that little man in India, she mends nets, so that casting them wide brings together a community that is, at once, broadly international and deeply intimate.   Here, the disparate many are united in a single catch.  After all, at zero latitude, the equator embraces the entire planet.  Here, everyone is welcome.  Here, expats becomes locals.  Here, foreigners become friends.

Note:  If you would like to attend ZERO Magazine’s launch party, please RSVP by email to –and be sure to tell us the number in your party.

Forgive me for turning off comments on this post. We are so busy preparing for the magazine launch, I don’t have time to respond.  Please share and comment on social media.  I love you all.  Thank you!  I will be back soon, I promise.