May Day, Cañari Style

Jose Acero w flagIn the US we don’t place so much importance on May 1, but here in Ecuador as in many countries around the world, it is a national holiday to celebrate the “laboring classes.” In fact this year in Cañar it was a three-day school holiday, which my cynical Cañari friend suggested was a strategy on President Correa’s part so the students couldn’t get organized for a big opposition demonstration. (In fact there were for-and-against-Correa marches in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil.)marchers w bannerIn Cañar it is always a huge event, as the indigenous organizations have taken on the day as a their own, even though 80% of campesinos still work in agriculture and not for a wage. My own history here is related to May 1, going back to 1992, when we lived in Cuenca and I had barely begun my work in Cañar, with little success. Mama Michi Chuma, the mother of my first photography student, José Miguel, invited me to take a portrait of her agricultural cooperative after the march, “but only if you make a copy for every member.” I was thrilled. This was my first “public” photo in Cañar, one I would never have been able to make if not invited. I set up my big old Rolleiflex camera and took two shots: one post-march of the members relaxing on the grass with their picnic lunch, and a second standing at attention with their flag. Today I can only find the second shot. (And I recall that I did make an 8 x 10 copy for every person.) MM coop 1992

Last Friday, the march was organized to go from El Tambo to Cañar, a distance of about 10 kilometers. The idea, of course, was to block the busy Pan American highway for the duration of the march, always a strategy of Cañari organizations when protesting or sending a message to the central government. (You can see the line of parked cars below.) The message to President Correa on the placard: “Don’t insult the people; respect the people.”marchers w parked carsNormally I would not choose to walk this stretch of the highway, which runs down to the river valley from El Tambo and then climbs steeply to Cañar. But a colleague, Judy Goldberg, and I got caught up in the excitement of day – she is here for a few months coordinating our new story exchange project, Voces de Cañar/Cañarikunapa Raymi. So at the last minute we hired a taxi-truck and took along a bunch of other celebrants who had missed out on rides.anastasio + belisarioWe met up with the march just outside El Tambo – hundreds of people surging downhill, chanting, singing, carrying banners and placards, while the police directed all traffic to stop. The day was brilliant sun, not so good for photos or walking at the incredibly fast pace the Cañaris always take, but spirits were high and the police were friendly. Judy and I quickly separated as she took off with her recorder to capture sounds, and I did my usual thing of walking backwards while photographing, trying not to trip and fall on my butt while the the fast-paced crowd rushed towards me, and avoiding being run over by the pickup carrying the mayor and other municipal authorities.IMG_4657The walk downhill to the river was easy, but the fast climb up the other side on this hot day quickly wore me out and I fell back. I saw Judy once, fresh and energetic and ready to walk the distance, although she kindly offered to stop with me. But then a second truck came by, handing out water to the marchers, and I gestured to the “water men” that I wanted to get in. They hauled my camera bag, and then me, over the back of the truck and I took my place amidst the plastic bags of water and, increasingly, young children and overheated women carrying babies, until the back of the truck was jammed. But I was able to stand and get some great shots of the marchers and mountains, before resuming walking again at the top of the hill. (Michael, seeing all the rainbow flags when I showed him the photos, said, “Everyone in Cañar is gay!”) man on horse w flagI never saw Judy again until we met at home for lunch, but it turned out she had stayed with the march until the very end, when the crowd gathered at the UPCCC, the indigenous center in Cañar. I was there too, taking some last shots of the crowd,UPCCCBut once the speeches began, I knew the event would go on without me, with hours more of speeches, dancing, and music ahead. May Day in Cañar was a big success. The soundtrack of the event, edited by Judy, was broadcast on Radio Kichwa Hatari in New York this week, and you can see the audiovisual on our new website: Voces de Cañar.

Finally, because music is so important to any Cañari event, I can’t resist adding a gallery of photos of the musicians who didn’t make it into the blog. I love this guy on his horse with his on horse w violenman w round hornI don’t know the name of this spherical horn, but my guess is it’s made of plastic pipe…bocina…as is this bocina, an instrument traditionally made of thick bamboo with a cow’s horn for mouthpiece. red scarf w quipaThe quipa, or caracol marino (seashell) is traditionally used to call country people together for a meeting, or as an alert, as the sound carries over a long distance. We still hear it some days from our comuna, albeit over a loudspeaker. boy with quipa

And it’s wonderfully heartening to see young kids learning these customs and instruments.


This and That, Here and There

Dear Friends: I’m going to start with Michael’s tarta chaglabana because some of you have been asking what he’s been up to in the kitchen these days, and it will make a prettier opener than what follows. M with torta torta closeupThe name tarta chaglabana comes from our little community, Chaglaban, and the recipe from Michael’s head. He’s always trying to come up with dishes he can fix with local ingredients and this often involves pork, a mainstay of the Cañar diet. Inspiration struck one night when he had some leftover pork chops. OK, here’s Michael: “Basically it’s a British meat pie, or a giant Argentine empanada, or an Italian calzone – with no cheese. I made this Ecuadorian version with the same dough I use to make pizza, and it really works well in a spring-form pan… (Because this could get tedious for those of you who don’t cook, I’m putting the rest of  Michael’s narrative recipe at the end of this blog.

Next topic: Eyes & Kichwa lessonsmy eye001

I didn’t see any connection between my second multifocal lens implant last week and signing up for Kichwa lessons, but when I go to my first class it will be the first time since I was eight years old to sit in a classroom without glasses (or contacts). The motivating factor was a cataract in one eye (ñawi) and the incredible difference in cost between here and the U.S. for the second eye (insurance will partially reimburse for first but not the second). My eyes are still adjusting to the new lenses, but two weeks after the surgery my distance vision is perfect (for example, from our living room windows I can see the towers on the top of the highest mountain)…

long shot towers closeup

…and I can read books and iPad in good light. But working on the computer (at 20-30”) I’m using Michael’s reading glasses (amazingly, he doesn’t seem to need them). Hopefully this will improve within the three months’ adjustment period. (If you are squeamish about such things, don’t go here.)

In doing Internet research before the surgery, I came across an interesting connection that relates to my last blog. Remember Nestlé, the largest and most profitable corporation in the world, with 8000 brands (not 2000 as I wrote before)? nestle2Well, the giant Swiss firm once wholly owned Alcon, the source of my lens implants. Begun in 1942 as a small eye-care company in Fort Worth, Texas by two pharmacists Robert Alexander and William Conner (Al-Con, get it?), their first product was eye drops for tired eyes. The company expanded into other eye care products, including contact lenses, went public back in 1971, and was acquired by Nestle in 1977 – its second venture outside the food industry – then sold in 2010 to Novartis, now the biggest eye-care company in the world. Through it all, the name Alcon persists, still with an address at 6201 South Freeway in Fort Worth, Texas.

Point being:  while I was waxing eloquent about no global giants serving up hamburgers or tacos or pizza in Cañar, one was reaching deep into my own life. “Alcon” was on the brochure they gave me to start, on the blankets they wrapped around me the day of surgery, on the implant ID cards they gave me after, and on the eyedrops I’m using for the next few weeks (bringing me back to Alexander and Conner’s first product). So for the remainder of my days, I will carry around foreign body parts, complete with serial numbers, connected weirdly to Nestlé, just as this old man we visited last Sunday decorated his kitchen walls and shelves years ago with wrappers from Nestlé.

nestle 1

Lastly, I want to introduce a new project, Voces de Cañar/Cañarikunapa Rimay, a digital storytelling exchange between Cañar and New York City, developed with a colleague from Santa Fe, Judy Goldberg. We met by chance in Ecuador last year and clicked around a mutual love of documentation, oral histories, young people, and her desire to improve her Spanish. Once I knew the archive project was a reality, I invited her to come back and share her recording and video skills. (Judy was founder and for 11 years director of Youth Media Project in Santa Fe.) She is here for three months, coordinating the project. The media exchange is a confluence of my archive work, Judy G.’s work as media producer, educator and digital storyteller, and the interest of the University of Texas. And then an article in the New York Times told about an Ecuadorian radio station in the Bronx run by a man from Cañar, Segundo Angamarca. Every Friday from 6-9 PM the station broadcasts in Kichwa, the native language of many indigenous migrants on the East Coast. Early in the year Judy made a visit to New York to meet Segundo and his colleagues at Kichwa Hatari, and to propose an exchange of audio-stories with community and youth voices in Cañar and their migrant counterparts in the Bronx (now home to New York’s largest Ecuadorian community).website imageSeveral months later, with the enormous good will of Santa Fe IT genius, Greg Malone, we have a beautiful website that we hope will be the hub for the exchange. Go here to see our first effort – a 6-minute audio slideshow about Carnaval in Cañar, in Spanish and Kichwa, that is being shown today at the Bronx Rising! Hawari: Quechua Poetry and Music event. (Clarification: in Ecuador it’s Kichwa; in Peru and Bolivia it’s Quechua.)

OK, back to Michael’s tarta chaglabana:torta alone

So: roll out a big circle of dough and drape it carefully in the pan so it slides down to fill the bottom and sides and hangs over the edges. Make a filling of ground or chopped lean pork, some garlic, onion, olive oil, 3 or 4 liquified tomatoes, chopped green or red sweet pepper, fine dried oregano, spicy Spanish paprika, or ground New Mexico chile (to taste), and salt and pepper. Don’t forget the secret ingredients: raisins and chopped green olives.

Saute the meat and other ingredients (except the tomatoes) in olive oil in big frying pan. When almost done, add the liquified tomatoes and allow to reduce some. Dump the filling into the dough-lined pan. Trim the dough, leaving an extra inch hanging over the outside edge of the pan. Fold these edges over the filling. (Or if you’re really good, don’t trim the edges but artfully fold over all the extra dough to create the top.) In my case, I trimmed and rolled out the extra dough to cut a shape to make the top crust (see photo above). Brush the top with slightly beaten egg white. Bake at about 350 degrees until nice and toasty brown, about 45 minutes. The only other thing you need to make a dinner is a salad.

Hasta la próxima.


Market Town Cañar

wm w tomatoesIt’s market day in Cañar, and as I walk the streets with friends visiting from Canada, I realize one of the things I love about this place is that it has not been found worthy of global chains. Here, you’ll see nary a McDonald’s (35,000 outlets in 119 countries) or Burger King (13,000 outlets in 79 countries); KFC (18,875 outlets in 118 countries) or Pizza Hut or Taco Bell (also owned by KFC), as we did in Mexico last year. In many historic towns, hotel and food chains are wrapped in sheep’s clothing of a colonial-style exterior with a gutted and “standardized” interior. (Photo below: That’s a Burger King, close right, in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas).Burger King

Cañar is still a town of small independent businesses, many at street level operated by families who live behind or above. Tiny little storefronts, one after the other, line the streets, many offering the same things: shoes, soft drinks, videos, cell phones, soccer balls, gloves, and – always popular with Cañari women – knee socks that say USA with a little American flag. Why? No one knows, but I included a pair of these socks in my first Cañar photo exhibit in Portland, twenty years ago.

vertical 1 vertical 2soccer ball USA socks

Often, for the proprietors (most often proprietresses), these businesses serve a social function as much as, or even more than, an economic one, providing a venue for visiting with their neighbors and passersby. Many stores have a bench just inside the door where you can sit either waiting your turn to have an ID photo taken – at Estudio Inti for example – or just to chat with María Estela and catch up on the gossip. These benches also serve as a perch to keep an eye on the street. (The hand-painted blue bench in this store (unseen) belonged to Michael and me back in the 1990s, in our first Cañar storefront where we lived on weekends.)

estudio inti

In other cases, an older person might simply spend her last years sitting in her ancient store with her ancient merchandise, watching the world pass by. Customers are only a bother. For years I greeted this dour señora, who was obviously unwell, but she sat in her store every day until, one day, she was gone. Now her husband sits in her place. old couple

Cañar has been a trading center since pre-Inca times – strategically located in the sierra between the coast and the Amazon – and a market town since the Spanish conquest over 500 years ago. Every Sunday, people have come into town from the countryside to attend church, to buy and sell, to court, to get a change of scene from the monotony of daily survival by agriculture. The photo below was taken nearly 45 years ago by a Peace Corps volunteer, and the one below that by me a few months ago. Not a lot has changed.50000014market day

I read recently that approximately two-thirds of the world’s population still live on three dollars a day or less. While this region has been enriched by remittances from migrants in the U.S. and Europe, many folks living in the countryside could still fall into that category. The weekly Feria Libre (free market) means many people come to town to sell their produce “on the street” without having to pay any overhead. These three women from the same village (hats and shawls give it away) sell their cheese sitting on the curb. No matter that they sit side-by-side with competing product; more important is keeping one another company while awaiting customers.

3 women cheese

Or these men, who only need their trucks to display their wares:

clothes on truckred truck business

Jacinto, our favorite taxi guy, is the president of his cooperative. The drivers own their own cars and wait together on a particular street corner, with a telephone attached to a wall. We call him when we or visitors need to be picked up at the house, and he once drove us to Guayaquil. I know his backstory (I scanned his family photo album as a favor), and he knows about us and our visitors. He still asks after my mamacita, who visited eight years ago.jacinto taxi

What we do have here, and everywhere in Ecuador, are shelves and shelves filled with international brands: Nestle, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Doritos. One day I buy an orange juice drink called Del Valle, and see by the top that it’s owned by Coca Cola. Doritos is owned by Pepsico as is Tropicana. Ubiquitous Nescafe (hated by all true coffee lovers) is owned by Nestle, of course (largest food company in the world measured by revenues) as are Maggi, Cheerios, Carnation, and 2000 other brands, many named and targeted for Latin American markets. Our first little “super” market appeared at the same time as migrant dollars began to flow into Cañar.megamart

A collateral effect of migration – leaving children behind with elderly grandparents, and sending money regularly – has meant a degradation of the traditional Andean diet (potatoes, beans, barley, peas, favas, guinea pig) and the introduction of junk food, called chatara, meaning literally “junk.” Grandparents buy quick-cooking foods for growing children: noodles, ramen, rice, hotdogs. And kids buy all sorts of sugary drinks and sweets, with the result that nearly every child under five years has black stubs for teeth.

• • • • • 

And we still have this – every Sunday!big market shot

For Michael and me, shopping is personal, a pleasure, and a chance for a social transaction we would not otherwise have. During the construction of the house, the folks at Michael’s hardware store became trusted friends (with credit and discount): Gladys, Maria Elena, Klever. We invited them to the housewarming celebration.m. in hardware storeFor years I’ve bought roses from the medicinal plant woman in the Feria Libre, and although I don’t know her name, and she doesn’t know mine, she notices when I’ve been gone, and I ask after her family. Seeing her sweet face is one reward of my weekly routine.flower vendor meAs I finish writing this, it is another Sunday morning, this one gray and rainy. Michael is just leaving for the market, to check in on César and see what he has for fresh fish today. “Mira Miquito – pescados frescos!”

fish guy




Documenting + Digital + Dreaming = Archives

I haven’t written much about my work in Ecuador before, but the Cañar Digital Archive is so central to my life here, and so close to my heart- where it will remain for years to come, I suspect – that I thought I’d write about it. Also, I’ve just received a Fulbright grant for 2015-16, giving me a great boost of hope and enthusiasm for the project.

my scans 2013084 men with level  Early images, circa 1992

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