My Father’s Memory


“Don’t forget to bring the camera, Senor Leo,” Senora Luci called out from her room.

“Juanita has it,” I said. “I loaned it to her yesterday.”

A pregnant pause.

“Are you sure?” Senora Luci asked.


We were about to take a motorcar to the Plaza de 28 de Julio where Juanita’s school had been selected to lead twenty other schools in a parade celebrating the death of one of Peru’s war heroes. “Just to be sure,” I said, I’ll look for it again.

During the next ten minutes I turned my room inside out searching for the camera. “It’s not here,” I called out, not trying to hide my annoyance that she didn’t believe me when I’d said I had loaned the camera to Juanita yesterday. “I’m sure Juanita took it with her when she went to school this morning.”

Sighing, she said, “She must have forgotten that you gave it to her.” Was that a note of doubt in her voice?  It seems that lately she and the girls have been doubting my ability to remember things.

Sure, I told myself. I forget something every now and then. But, for the most part, my ability to remember things hasn’t changed much over the past two decades.

Senora Luci and I arrived at the plaza minutes before the parade was due to begin. Just enough time to ask Juanita if she had the camera. “No, Papi,” she said.

“But I loaned it to you yesterday. I’m sure of it.”

“Papi,” she said, “yesterday I reminded you to bring the camera today.”

“That’s not true,” I growled. “I gave it to you yesterday.”

Upset over not being believed, I turned and starting walking to our house a mile away. I know I’ve been forgetful at times during the past few years. But I’m absolutely certain I gave the camera to Juanita yesterday.

She’s lost it, I thought. And she doesn’t want to admit it. I can forgive her for losing the camera. But lying to me about it is something else. Once I reached our house, I dragged a chair outside and waited for Senora Luci and Juanita to arrive.

I was still upset when Juanita got out of a motorcar an hour later and marched past me into the house. She went straight to my room. Less than a minute later she called me inside. When I entered my room, she stood in front of my desk—the camera in her hands.

“Where … was … it?” I asked.

“Where it always is,” she replied. “In one of your desk drawers.”

I had looked in the desk drawers three times searching for the camera. Sighing, I went back outside and dropped down in the chair. I thought of the many times my two brothers and I used to make fun of our father for being sometimes forgetful when we were boys. One day he overheard us. “It’s going to happen to you boys one day,” he replied in a patient voice. But we didn’t believe him.

Gazing up at the heavens, I muttered, “As always, Dad, you were right.”



The Devil And I


I love to walk.

I usually walk from forty minutes to an hour daily. Unless, of course, it’s raining. One day last week it rained from sunup to sundown. I’d only left the house to fetch something from a family operated bodega two houses away. The woman who runs the bodega out of her living room is one of my favorite neighbors.

A stout middle-aged Chinese-Peruvian—she reminds me of Aunt Bee of the old black and white television show—“Mayberry. Her hair is dyed brown and is wound atop her head like a turban. Her wide girth and cheap spectacles adds to the image.

“Not going to walk today?” she asked in a high-pitched voice.

I nodded my head at the rain pelting the pavement. “Nope. Not today.”

She knows I like to joke. So, giving me a wide smile that showed a gold front tooth, she asked, “You’re not afraid of melting, are you?”

Grinning, I responded, “Nope. Just afraid of rusting.”

I thought she would bust a gut laughing. But she didn’t. Just gave me a quizzical look, the kind of look Aunt Bee would give Andy Griffith when she caught him sneaking in her kitchen to raid the fridge of a slice of her apple pie.

Back to my love of walking.

In addition to strengthening my back, walking helps me to “drain my brain.” Before you scream, “Drain your brain, of what?”Allow me to explain. Just about all my life I’ve had a problem with not letting go of negative thoughts. Sometimes I’ll hang on to a slight somebody had done to me—and just wouldn’t turn it loose. It’s as if I’m experiencing a masochistic pleasure of playing the scene over again in my mind.

Sort of like pushing the reset button endlessly.

In case you, dear reader, have never had this problem, allow me to share with you something I read in a self-help book years ago.

A middle-aged man was traveling by car down an isolated road about midnight. Then one of his rear tires blew out. He got out and checked the car’s trunk. As you may have guessed, the spare tire was also flat. He was so angry he kicked the rear bumper. And bruised his right foot.

“Woe is me,” he moaned. “What am I going to do now?”

He knew he was about four or five miles from a main thoroughfare—a place he’d likely find someone to repair his tire. So he set out walking. An hour later he spotted a farm house up ahead. As he drew nearer, he noticed that the porch light and living room light were on. Somebody’s watching television, he concluded. I’ll go knock on the front door and ask for help. Just this side of the house, though, he began to have second thoughts.

“With my luck,” he mumbled, there’ll be an old Scrooge living there. And he’ll refuse to help me.”

When he reached the driveway his left foot was killing him. He stopped and looked at the house. Illuminated by a full moon, the shutters were dangling askew, and the bottom step was missing. “This guy will refuse to help me,” he thought. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that a confrontation would take place. A confrontation that would anger him.

So … yeah … you guessed it: the stranded motorist kept on walking.

That’s how I think when negative thoughts insist on living inside my head.

“How do you combat this, Leo?” you may ask.

Here’s something that always work for me when I’m walking and the Devil takes control of my mind. I count the many ways God has blessed me. Good health. Good friends. Four precious girls I adore.

Sometimes when I’m walking and the man with the pitchfork pops into my head—I start counting my blessings. Sometimes, without knowing it, I count my blessings out loud.

More than once I’ve seen locals shake their heads and say to a friend, “That crazy old gringo is talking to himself again.”

I just smile at them.

Remembering Pierre


I visited an old friend yesterday.

Actually, I didn’t visit him. I visited his grave site.

I’d been planning to do so for months. Months? Actually, it has been at least a year since I last went to the cemetery where he was buried fifteen years ago. It had been raining all day. By the time my motorcar  braked to a stop in front of the cemetery, though, the jungle sun had broken through the dark clouds.

The weather down here usually changes gradually. Giving you enough time to ease into the change. Other times you get no warning. Sometimes the sun will be blistering the asphalt. Then suddenly rain clouds will appear out of nowhere. And dump buckets of water on you faster than you can say, “Jimminy Cricket.”

Today it changed from rainy to sunshiny faster than my mind could compute it. Like God suddenly grabbed the sun with an angry hand and hurled it at the dark clouds. Parting them with a “whooshing” sound.

Peering up at the orange ball of flame, I mumbled, “Thanks.”

I passed through the wide gateway, made a sharp left, and headed for Pierre’s triangular shaped headstone. The ground had been settling slowly over the years, and the spot under which his remains lay was now inches lower than the ground around him. For some reason, it reminded me of the sunken chest of an old man.

A young barefoot boy eased up beside me.

 I looked down at him. His dirt-smeared face and aged clothes reminded me of a London urchin from the Charles Dickens classic, “David Copperfield.” He thrust a handful of flowers up at me. “For your loved one,” he said, nodding his head at the headstone. Taking the flowers from his hand, I plucked some coins from my jeans pocket and stuck them into his dirty hands.

“Gracias, Senor,” he said. Then he left me with my thoughts.

Placing the flowers next to the headstone, I stepped over to an ancient mamey tree. Stood under the shade of a knotted limb. And thought about Pierre. He’d been my best friend before I moved down here sixteen years ago. He died a year after arriving in Iquitos.(To learn more about our relationship, please click “Under The Mango Tree” at the top of this page). At the time I wasn’t aware of his failing heart. Nor was I aware that he was in the mid stages of dementia. Mystery still surrounds his demise. The manner in which he passed away still stabs at my heart.

I still miss him.

His friendly smile. The generous way in which he demonstrated his love for the children in Iquitos. But mainly because he was the one most responsible for me remaining in Iquitos. I peered up into the heavens. In my mind’s eye I could see him smiling down at me.

I can’t think of a good way of ending this blog, dear reader. Other than to say that God has blessed me with many dear friends in my lifetime. So many that I’m afraid to try and mention all of them—out of fear of not mentioning some. But one thing is certain: Pierre Boulonge  was one of them.

Oh, Susana


Her real name is Senora Olivia Milagros Jiminez.

She’s the eighty-five year old mother of Halton, a forty-five year old motorcar driver who used to coach my boys’ soccer team when I first arrived in Iquitos. She lives with her ninety-one year old husband in a modest home on the outskirts of town. Every afternoon about five she lugs her satchel full of gum, small pieces of candy and cigarettes to the corner—where she sells them.

She is truly one of the town’s most fascinating characters.

Everyone calls her Senora Olivia.

I’ve always called her “Oh, Susana.” Before you accuse me of being disrespectful, allow me to explain. When she was young she dated a man who had spent some time in The States. He taught her some songs in English. And she had remembered these songs over the years. She enjoys showing off her singing voice. Which is still pleasant to listen to despite her advanced age.

I used to visit her several times a week.

When she spotted me heading toward her she would start singing old songs like, “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain When She Comes,”” Camptown Ladies,” etc. Her favorite song was” Oh, Susana. “Oh, Susana,” she’d sing, “don’t you cry for me/I’ve come to Alabama/ with a banjo on my knee.” Then she’d pretend to pluck the strings of a banjo. After finishing the song, a toothless smile would explode across her wrinkled brown face.

The other day I decided to visit her and her husband.

Her husband answered the door. The moment our eyes met I knew something was wrong. “Come in, Leo,” he said in a tired voice.

I entered and dropped down on an old sofa that had seen better days. “Is there something wrong?” I asked.

He took a wrinkled white handkerchief from his shirt pocket and dabbed at his moist eyes. “You came to see my wife, right?”

I peered up at him. He has been a little stoop-shouldered since I first met him fifteen years ago. Today it was more pronounced. “Senor?” I asked.

“Si, Leo?”

“Is something wrong with … you know … with …”

He walked slowly to the wall where an old black and white television sat on a wobbly cardboard table. Above the television was a photo of his wife hanging from a nail driven into the wall. He plucked it from the wall and brought it over to me. She was a young woman in the photo. To say that she was beautiful would be putting it mildly. She looked like a young Anjelica Jolie.

“She’s gone,” he said softly.

“Oh, amigo, I’m so sorry.”

“She died last week.

I thought about asking how she died. But I wisely decided not to. It wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.

“Senor Leo?” he asked in a tearful voice.

“Si, Senor?”

“Would … you … do … me … a … favor?”

“Of course.”

“Olivia loved to sing. Especially in English. I miss listening to her sing her favorite English song.”

“Oh, Susana?”

He nodded.

I looked down at my feet. I wasn’t so sure if I was up to it. “Uh …”

He plopped down on the couch next to me. “Please.”

I sang: “Oh, Susana/don’t you cry for me/I’ve come from Alabama/with a banjo on my knee/it rained all night/the day I left/the weather it was …”

When I finished, he asked me to sing it again.

And I did.

Sometime later we both stood and hugged. Then I left and went in search of a motorcar. During the ride home, my mind was filled with one thought: “I miss you, Oh Susana.”



Forgiving Isn’t Easy



I fly backwards.

I try to brace myself for the impact with the ground with my left hand. But I land awkwardly. The last thing I hear—before losing consciousness—is the sickening sound of bones breaking in my left wrist. I don’t know how long I was out. Probably just seconds. When I open my eyes the lanky son of a neighbor stands over me. A malicious grin plastered on his face.

“My Dad warned you about giving those Indian girls water,” he growls. Then, spitting on my chest, he parades back to his house. His father standing in the doorway gives him a thumbs up.

That’s when the pain hits me.

It radiates up my arm like lighting.

Senora Luci arrives a minute later. A neighbor had told her what happened. Helping me to my feet, she hails down a motorcar. “La Clinica de Anna Stahl,” she tells the driver. “Rapido.”

Motorcars are not built for comfort.

Mainly they’re built to last for years.

The young driver does his best to avoid the ankle-deep potholes as he flies up the street. But it feels like he hits every one. And each one he hits brings a scream of pain from me. Operated by the Seventh Day Adventists,  La Clinica de Anna Stahl  is considered the best clinic in town.

Expats call it the “Gringo Clinic.”

During the five minute drive I think about what brought about the attack. There is a spacious open field in the street where we live. The father of my assailant has been in a legal battle with his sister as to who is the owner of the land. The dispute has been going on for years. Recently, indigenous families from a nearby community  invaded the land.

Two days before the assault on me three small Indian girls dressed in rags came to my house, begging for water. So I gave each one a glass of cold water. I was warned by my assailant’s father not to do that again. The next day the same three Indian  girls asked me for water again. The sun was bearing down with a vengeance. So I couldn’t turn them down.

At the clinic’s emergency room my wrist is set as well as the local doctors are able to do. And a cast is placed on my wrist and lower left arm.

The attack on me happened four years ago. Weeks after the attack we moved to a safer community. And we’ve been living there since then.

I was raised in a Christian family. And was always told that God wants us to forgive those who harm us. One day I’m going to visit the young man who assaulted me. I plan to say to him, “I forgive you for attacking me.”

One day.

But not today.

Talk A Walk With Me Down Musical Memory Lane


I love music.

I’ve always had an eclectic taste in music. When I was boy my favorite singers ranged from Sinatra and Crosby, to Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, to the fabulous gospel group, The Chuck Wagon Gang. I can still hear in my mind this group singing “Church In The Wildwood.” I had other favorite singers in between, of course, Hank Williams, Patti Page, Jo Stafford, even the old jazzman himself, gravel-voiced Louie Armstrong.

When I became an adult my taste in music switched almost exclusively to pop and classical—with a little country-western thrown in. (Alabama is the only country group I recall listening to). You can have your Rolling Stones. All  those young Brits with their funny haircuts. And especially  those  stoned-out-of their-minds-groups with goofy names. Names like Grateful Dead, Alice Cooper, The Doors.

The Eagles were the best.

Not just the best group of the seventies and eighties.

They were the best.


It’s funny how, as I recall the Eagles songs, one of their songs invades my thought—“Lying Eyes.” Years ago  I was at my home in Atlanta, studying for a history exam while enrolled at Georgia State University. The names of dead people and long forgotten events were beginning to run together. So I switched on the radio. “You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes,” the Eagles crooned in their distinctive harmonious voices. When the song ended, I left the house, drove my old Pinto to the nearest record shop, and bought the album.

(This has nothing to do with the above paragraph, but a scene I’ll never forget just wandered into my head. So I’d like to share it with you. I can’t remember the singer’s name. But the name of the song was, “Whenever you go, you take a piece of me with you.” At the time this song came out my youngest son, Greg, was five years old. The above mentioned song was also his favorite song. I say this because he used to go around singing, “Every time you go away, you take a piece of ‘MEAT’ with you.”

Just thought I’d share that with you.

Now where was I?

Oh, yeah, I was reminiscing about “Golden Oldies.’

As I’m writing this blog, dear reader, I’m lounging under the shade of an umbrella-shaped mamey tree in front of my house here in Iquitos. Music from a combination pool hall/bar is wafting from the bar and drifts (whenever a squadron of those giant motorized insects we call motorcars doesn’t drown out the music as they roar by) over to me. It’s a song from one of my favorite international pop groups years ago, “ABBA.” The song playing is “Chiquitita.” A heart-rending song about a father’s love for his baby girl. Talk about a heavenly song. Hearing it moves me to tears.

Music, to me, is a gift from God.

And I’m so thankful He has blessed us with it. Plus … wait a minute … there’s another “Goldie Oldie” playing. The Righteous Brothers are belting out, “You’ve got that LOV-ING’ FEEL-ING,’ OH, OH, OH.” I smile. When that song first came out, I’d just met a special …

Wait a minute.

Better save that thought for a future blog.

My Special Father’s Day Present


Sunday morning started off on a bad note.

For one thing, I awoke with a bad taste in my mouth. I mean a really bad taste. Like a rat had crawled into my mouth during the night and died as I slept. Maybe that’s a little over the top. But my tongue was so dry it felt like I’d mopped the floor with it.

I know what you’re thinking.

The last time I was inebriated happened during my first weekend pass during Basic Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina many moons ago when I was just a pup. (No, Bill Crawford, it wasn’t during the Civil War).

. It had been a bad dream that’d invaded my sleep Saturday night. I don’t remember exactly what had happened in the nightmare. But I vaguely recall a three-headed, dinosaur-size, fire-breathing dragon chasing me through the streets of Iquitos.

“Was I wearing any clothes while the creature was after me?” you’re probably asking yourself.

Of course not. It wouldn’t be much of a nightmare if I’d been wearing clothes. (Okay, you Freudian wannabes, make of this what you will).

“Stop beating about the bush, Leo,” my inner voice is telling me, “And get to the point.”

I was lying in my bed Sunday morning. Trying to decide whether to get up, go the kitchen and wash the sandpaper out of my mouth with a glass of water. At the same time, attempting to analyze my weird nightmare. That’s when I heard a rap on my bedroom door.

“Who is it?” I growled.

“It’ me, Papi, Juanita.”

“What do you want, Juanita?’

“We’ve got a surprise for you.”

“Tell me something, Juanita.

“Si, Papi.”

“How did you get past that fire-breathing dragon?”

Silence. Was that three teenage girls giggling? I asked myself.

Finally, Juanita replied in a confused voice. “What?”

“Nothing,” I replied, sliding out of bed. Slipping on a pair of jeans, I stumbled to the door—swung it open.

Surrounded on both sides by Erika and Iveli, Juanita thrust a wrapped present toward me. “Happy Father’s Day, Daddy,” she said in Spanish, kissing me on the cheek.

Erika and Iveli pecked me on the cheek. “Happy Father’s Day, Senor Leo,” they said in unison.

I tore off the colorful wrapping paper. It was a coffee mug. Next to a picture of yours truly were the words painted in red, “Feliz Dia, Papa.” Happy Father’s Day.

After thanking them, I closed the door and stepped over to my bed. Suddenly, a bubbling mountain stream was bathing the Sahara Desert in my mouth. And the nightmare I’d experienced last night was replaced with the smiling faces of the three teenage girls I take care of in my house here in Iquitos, Peru.

I couldn’t wait to get to church so I could tell everybody what had happened.

Baby In The Creek


“You found what?” I asked

The question was directed at a sixty-two year old expat who had just made a startling statement. Gary Stephens fixed steely gray eyes on me. Though I’d met him just a half dozen times since he retired from his accounting job in Seattle and moved here a few years ago, he and his Peruvian wife were well liked by the expat community here.

“A baby,” he said. “My wife and I found a baby.”

He went on to explain that he and his wife were fishing on the banks of a creek near their house just outside of town. The fish weren’t biting. And the mid-day sun was bearing down on them as they gathered up their fishing gear and began the ten minute hike through waist high vegetation back to their house. At a bend in the creek they heard a sound coming from underneath a bush by the creek.

“At first we thought it was just a small animal,” Garry said. “But my wife said it sounded like a baby crying.

“Obviously, it wasn’t,” I replied.

“Thank God my wife insisted that we investigate.” He went on to explain that the moment they parted the waist high grass they spotted it—a new born baby tangled in some vegetation near a bend in the creek. “I can’t tell you how shocked we were,” he continued. “The baby’s head and torso was on the ground. But its legs were dangling in the water.”

“How do you think the baby got there?” I asked.

He thought for a moment or two. “Probably abandoned by a young mother who wasn’t able to care for it. Well, we took her home with us and cleaned her up. I wanted to name the baby Moses. You know, like the Moses from the Bible. But my wife insisted that we couldn’t give her a boy’s name. So we named her Angelina.”

“That’s an amazing story, Gary.”

“It’s more than just amazing, Leo.”

“How so?”

“Think about it, Leo. What’s the odds of an old guy like me, an old guy who has wanted a child all his life to raise?”

“So you think it was …”

“…a miracle?” he finished for me.

I nodded.

“No doubt about it. It was—without a doubt—a miracle.”

I couldn’t argue with that.







The Value Of A Smile


“Are you Senor Leo?”

The question came from an attractive slender Peruvian woman sitting across the aisle from me. I’ve become so forgetful of faces and names that it’s embarrassing. Before answering her, I studied her face. She appeared to be in her early twenties. About the same age of someone who attended my waw-awasi (free daycare center for Indian children) years ago.

“That depends on who’s asking,” I said playfully. If I stall for time, I thought, maybe her name will suddenly pop into my mind.

She laughed. The sound came floating up her through her throat and out her mouth like velvet fog. It was a happy laugh. Smiling, she said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

I glanced around at the other eighty or so passengers flying from Lima to Iquitos. As if somehow one of them might come to my rescue and shout out the young woman’s name. “Of … course … I …do,” I replied. “You’re …”

“Yes?” she asked, her brown eyes dancing in delight.

Finally, I said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t—“

“Want a hint?”

I said I did.

She began singing the “Butterfly Song.” A song Senora Ramiriz, the retired school teacher who used to operate the wawawasi years ago taught the children. Her voice was so beautiful the other passengers stopped chattering and listened to her sing. As the last word of the song passed her lips, both the passengers and the two stewardesses applauded.

“Jahada!” I exclaimed.

She struck a theatrical pose. “In person.”

Jahada attended my wawawasi when I first started it sixteen years ago. Back then she was a shy five year old girl with a deformed left leg that caused her to bob up and down when she walked. I was concerned that the other children would make fun of her. And give her a cruel nickname. Instead, they labeled her “La Voz Del Angel.” Angel Voice.

“Are you returning from a trip to your country, Senor Leo?” Jahada asked.

I said I was.

“Was it a good trip?”

I thought about the good times I experienced while visiting good friends in North Carolina. Then the drama I’d experienced at my younger sister’s house invaded my thoughts. It had left me in a bad mood. “It was … uh … okay.” Then I asked, “What about you, Jahada?”

A Pepsodent smile creased her brown face. “I’m working in Lima now. Singing in a swanky restaurant. I’ll be visiting my family a few days before returning to Lima.”

We talked about old times until our plane made a bumpy landing at the Iquitos Airport. Then we went our separate ways. After collecting my luggage, I met Senora Luci and the four girls I take care of in the parking lot. As we headed for a motorcar to take us home, Juanita asked, “Did you have a good flight from Lima?”

I smiled. “It was a great flight.”

Good Deeds


“What goes around come around.”

That was one my deceased brother’s favorite sayings. To be honest with you, dear reader, it never made sense to me. What happened Tuesday, however, changed my mind.

Now that old saying makes a lot of sense to me.

After clearing Security  in the International Terminal at the Atlanta  Airport, I ecountered a slender young mother experiencing a minor crisis. She was trying to contact her husband, who was waiting for her and her two small children in Lima, Peru. She, like me, thought that the International Terminal would have Wi-Fi available to passengers. To our surprise they didn’t. When I met her she was trying to explain her problem to the middle-aged airport employee manning the Information Desk. The man was polite. But the only language he spoke was English.

How can it be that an International Airport doesn’t have a Wi-Fi in its International Terminal?

Also, why can’t this airport employ someone to work at the Information Desk who speaks another language?

If any of the few readers who follow this old geezer’s blog site feel the same way—then perhaps you’ll help me find the answer to the above two questions.

I’ll cut to the chase.

I had about sixty minutes left on my cell phone. So I tried to help her reach her husband. She was Italian. But she spoke fluent Spanish. We tried for an hour to contact her husband in Lima. To let him know that his family had arrived in Atlanta from Italy. And was waiting to board the Delta flight to Lima. I speak passable Spanish, and the mother and I had little trouble communicating. But we were unable to reach her husband in Peru. Still, the mother was very appreciative of my efforts.

When we arrived in Lima—after collecting her luggage—the woman thanked me profusely. I offered a handshake. Pushing my hand aside, she stood on tiptoes and kissed my left cheek. I was about to stand back when she pulled me down to her level and kissed my other cheek. As she and her two children left, I turned my attention to the conveyer belt. Not one of my two beat up old black suitcases was in sight.

Then I heard the young mother call out to me, “Gracias, Senor por su ayuda.” Thanks, mister, for your help.

A wide smile creased my face.

Ten more minutes passed without me spotting my luggage. Five minutes later a young airport employee advised me there were no more luggage from my plane. I plopped down on the now immobile conveyer belt. Feeling sorry for myself. In my mind’s eye I could see my luggage standing in the Atlanta Airport storage room. I would have to wait for at least another day before my suitcases would arrive in Lima. I hated the idea of having to stay in Lima for an extra day.


I looked up. A twentyish-looking airport employee stood grinning down at me. “Are these yours, senor?” he asked, pointing at the two beat up black suitcases beside him.

“Si,” I said, smiling. “They’re mine.”

As I dragged the luggage through a wide doorway that led to the terminal where I would purchase a plane ticket to Iquitos in the morning, I thought: It really doesn’t matter what you call it, “What goes around comes around,” or even “Karma”—when we help others in need, God always rewards us.