News from Cañar (and all over)

Dear Friends:  Well, the very first news is that the weather has improved! (see header image) Days now in the 60’sF instead of the 50’s, and nights in the 50’s instead of the 40’s. No solid rainy days for a while, and we once again luxuriate in summer temperatures in our glass-covered patio – today a high of 77F.  Here’s Paiwa, studying for her geology exam next week.Next news is that Lenin Morena, the ruling party candidate, won the run-off election on April 2 by a very thin margin that I hope he will act upon in his next four years as president of Ecuador (and as the first head-of-state in a wheelchair, a paraplegic after being shot in a robbery years ago). Our indigenous and town friends voted largely for his opponent, Guillermo Lasso, attracted by his campaign promise of “CAMBIO!” Change. Sound familiar?  The indigenous movement has been vastly disappointed with President Rafael Correo and many voted their sentiments. Correo had turned increasingly authoritarian in his ten years in office, allowing mining in sensitive areas, oil drilling in the Amazon, censoring the media, and gutting the bilingual (Kichwa-Spanish) programs.

Then, yesterday I saw on Facebook that Mercedes Guamán (right), one of our scholarship graduates, now a lawyer and an alternate member of congress from Cañar, was in Quito with other indigenous leaders, to meet with the “virtual president” Moreno and with (here) the virtual vice-president Jorge Glas. Both apparently promise to do better serving the indigenous populations of Ecuador. We’ll see.In home news: I’ve just been through the busiest two weeks of my Cañar year, with the simultaneous visits of two “dream teams” I was thrilled to have come work with me – I just didn’t expect to be coordinating their visits at the same time. Two Peace Corps volunteers from the 1960’s, Jeffrey Ashe and John Hammock, came for a week to make oral histories with those they knew 50 years ago, around the issues of agrarian reform. Both have continued to work for social justice and world poverty reduction since they were idealistic young men clambering over the mountains of Cañar  – Jeff (on left) with small savings and credit groups in Africa, Nepal and Central America (http://amzn.to/2oASEFj), and John (with umbrella) at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative in the UK (http://www.ophi.org.uk/)   Jeffrey with Pio Culala and Antonio Quinde, leaders in agrarian reform era 1966-1972).

At the same time, a team of tecnicos from the National Instituto of Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) came from Quito for three days to scan the negatives of the photo collection of Rigoberto Navas (1911-2001). While I was in Quito in February I visited INPC and proposed they acquire the collection of the images I’ve been working on for three years, but they counter-proposed to come to Cañar and scan the negatives.  (http://bit.ly/1fZGUXB) I couldn’t be happier to have these new colleagues. (L-R) Carolina Calero, José Rubio, and Marta Navas with paintings by her father, Rigoberto Navas, on the wall.  (A third tecnico, Nicolas Cascante, missed the morning flight but came later in the day.) They found such a large and rich trove of negatives in the Navas studio that they are planning a return visit, hopefully in May.

Both teams were warmly welcomed by those of us in Cañar who feel we are a culturally significant but largely forgotten corner of Ecuador, and I personally am grateful for the materials generated and preserved for my digital Archivo Cultural de Cañar.

 

Cañar Book Club

I’m happy to report the Cañar Book Club is alive and well. We had a virtual meeting recently and our members reported in on recent reads and recommendations.

  • From Joanne in Mexico: Hasim Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance is not as good as The Return, but enjoyable. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West is fabulous. Also read a surprisingly interesting bio, Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles by Francine Prosemaybe not so surprising given his wild and wooly life.
  • From Poppy in Portland: I am 2/3 the way through the photographer Sally Mann’s memoir/autobiography, Hold Still. I absolutely loved the first half. She is a skilled writer as well as a photographer.
  • From Allison in Minneapolis: wasn’t A Hologram for the King the pits?! Read Homegoing instead if you can find it.
  • From Patty in Portland:  Evicted by Matthew Desmond and The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.
  • From Carole in Portland:  The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee; the history of eugenics here in our country prior to the rise of Hitler is chilling. Also started White Trash by Nancy Isenberg, the 400-year untold history of class in America – my personal attempt to understand the undercurrents to our current social/political situation.
  • From Michael in Cañar: I’m reading The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen, and I’m loving following the saga of this heroine of Civil War emancipation.
  • And from Judy in Cañar:  A week ago I was in a literary slump. Read A Man Called Ove and found it insufferably boring. I’d bought the book before we saw the movie, and realized it was essentially the script. So I turned to another book I’d started a few months ago but laid down because I just wasn’t in the mood to learn about hawks, I guess: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I’m happy to say it’s all the cover blurbs attest and I’m totally absorbed: “beautifully written, fascinating, dazzling,” though maybe not quite “breathtaking.” And now I have two more months to go without a single new book on my shelves. Please advise!

Mike Has a Very Bad Day

Years ago, when Michael and I first met in Costa Rica, we did a series of tongue-in-cheek fotonovelas about our new lives: How Mike and Judy Met; Mike and Judy Get Engaged; Mike and Judy Contemplate Marriage, and so on. In those days I shot in black/white, developed the photos in the darkroom, designed and photocopied the booklets, hand-colored the photos, and sent the novelas off to friends and family with the postal service. Remember those days?  When we left Costa Rica (Mike and Judy Consider a Change of Life), we gave up the project. However, when Michael lost his keys this week, which led to a series of unfortunate events that added up to “a very bad day,” we thought we would resurrect the form and have a bit of fun…It all began as a regular day, Michael left early for Cuenca for his usual weekly grocery shopping at the SuperMaxi. Judy left soon after for appointments in Azogues and Cuenca. Michael was to come home early, and Judy later, closer to dinnertime.The downward spiral begins when Michael returns to find his keys gone – no doubt lost in a taxi or bus when he pulled out coins from his pockets. The gate was locked, but he’d hidden two keys for just such a disaster – one for the gate just inside the fence – reachable from outside – and another deeper inside for the front door. What? The gate key is gone! Our compadre who takes care of the property while we’re gone must have used it and did not put it back.

So now Mike has to get into the yard. This requires climbing the 8-foot metal fence – luckily one without spikes on top like all our neighbors – through thick bushes.

On the other side, Mike goes looking for the hidden front door key. What? No hidden key?? El compadre must have used this one too and did not put it back. Chuta! (a favorite Cañar expletive.)

Now the only thing to do is to break into the house.  Judy’s darkroom window seems a likely place.

Mike forces the latch and climbs over my darkroom sink. Ah, in the house at last, and ready to relax, make a fire and have a beer. That will put everything right.  But….what’s this?? No beer??? Oh NO!So it’s back out to buy some beer. Still no gate key, so Mike finds the ladder, luckily left outside behind the house. So it’s up, fiddle the ladder to get it on the other side, climb down, go buy beer, then up and down again….


 

Judy comes home at last from a busy day in Cuenca. By now Mike has crafted his very bad day into a good story. And he’s brought a special treat for dinner in that little red cooler he took to Cuenca  – sea bass fillets!  Now to just find the breadcrumbs….

What? No breadcrumbs???

Well, that was the end of Mike’s very bad day. He breaded the fish in cornmeal, and it was OK. At the time we didn’t know we would do this fotonovela, so I didn’t take a photo. But here is my sea bass sandwich next day, on our walk into the country… …enjoyed while watching an alpaca make friends with a pig. Which rather put things in perspective…That’s all folks!  Next Cañar Chronicle back to serious things. National runoff election this Sunday, April 2, that will determine the next president of Ecuador. Stay tuned and be sure to write. I love hearing from you.

Elections!

Presidential candidate Lenin Moreno.                                      Photograph: Henry Romero, Reuters

Dear Friends:   The U.S. could learn a few things from Ecuador when it comes to national elections. To start, the political campaigning for a new president lasts officially one month – if this happened in the U.S. think how many gazillion dollars would be saved and spent on important things. Two days before voting (on February 19) all campaigning must stop: no TV ads, no noisy trucks with banners and flags and blaring speakers, no candidates making last-minute flights on private jets to far-flung corners of the country (that would be the U.S., again). On the day of voting, no publicity materials of any kind are to be displayed, and no public meetings are allowed, including church services (?). (Also: no liquor sales for three days before polling, though I easily bought two bottles of wine the day before.) Yesterday, as Michael and I walked into town to vote, we ran into a friend scraping a political sticker off his windshield. “I don’t want to be fined,” he said.

Voting is compulsory from age 18-65, and citizens can be charged a fine for not voting -$44.80 according to one headline. Turnout for the last general election in 2009 was 91%. Michael and I are eligible to vote (but not required) by virtue of our permanent residency status and ten years living here, plus we had to register for our voter’s cards.
Here’s Michael lined up at a local school for his first time voting. Polling sites are designated schools, with tables manned by university students who are obligated to serve and paid $20 for the day – presumably with a bit of training and supervision. (For reasons I don’t clearly understand, men and women vote at separate tables.) One young man checked off Michael’s name from the voters’ list and had him sign in, while another
handed him the paper ballots, called papaletos, large sheets of paper with color photos of candidates. There are no primaries in Ecuador to sort out presidential favorites, so we had our choice of eight candidates, pictured here with their vice president choices. The system allows for a run-off election if one candidate does not receive 40% of the vote with a ten-point lead.The presidential ballot is not too confusing – you simply put a vertical line in the box above your choice. The two top contenders this election are: Lenín Moreno (far right) and Guillermo Lasso (second from right). More on them later. In addition, we had to vote for about 140 asemblistas – members to the national assembly, and five Andean Parliment representatives (member states: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile). This ballot was a lot more challenging, especially for those such as the elderly and illiterate Cañari woman beside me when I voted, who understood little and certainly needed a Kichwa-speaking helper – nowhere in sight. Michael was handed his papaletos, stepped into one of the two cardboard voting booths, and made his rayas – vertical marks – with a blue ballpoint attached to a string in the booth – ink color matters here).

Feliz Año 2017

Dear Friends:  Well, Año Viejo made up for all we missed at Christmas. At least that was the case for me, as Michael decided not to make the long, panting hike up the mountain to join the end-of-year procession that lasted all afternoon and into the evening, through heavy fog and sprinkling rain, and finally included about 1000 folks (almost all in incredible masks and disguises). Michael and Paiwa, visiting for the holiday, stayed happily by the fire, but I joined them later for an important event at our house.  It was a wonderful experience! This annual celebration on the last day of the year is apparently unique to the community of Quilloac, made up of about eight or so comunas – distinct hamlets, each with a theme they were to act out with disguises and masks. We hiked to each comuna, where a stage was set for a short program before we marched on with those comuneros joining. I confess I couldn’t tell one theme from another, but the masks and costumes were very funny – many men dressed as women and maybe women dressed as men – harder to tell. Those in disguise stayed in character all day – giving speeches at each comuna – (someone dressed as an elder speaking in high, quivering voice, for example). Many jokes in Kichwa passed me by, but the crowd loved every minute, and for me the visual spectacle made it all worthwhile. This guy below pushed a stroller with two “babies” the whole day.  

But by the end of the day, after climbing up over 11,000 feet and shooting all day, I was too tired and cold to wait for the performances at the end point- the Quilloac school complex – and to hear who had won prizes for the best themes.     

I have to give credit here to my excellent assistant, godson Luis Gabriel, ten years old, who took charge of my pocket camera and charged up the mountain ahead of me to shoot photos as I was left breathless on the roadside.. (That is his mother Mercedes behind him on his right – an old friend, early scholarship graduate, lawyer, with other community leaders who invited me for this event. What I missed later was the burning of the giant effigies at midnight, after the performances and music and dancing. Earlier I’d seen students building them.

  

But then we had our own event back at home. Paiwa had found a small monigote in town (a cousin of Spongebob Squarepants) and brought it to Michael to make an effigy. It worked perfectly with the Trump mask he’d found last week. They dressed him up with my garden gloves and made a bonfire ready to light when I got home about 7:00.

 We were in bed with our books by 9:30 or so, but awakened abruptly at midnight with volleys of bombas – some sounding as though on top of our house – and fireworks near and far that went on for about 15 minutes. Then all was quiet and we knew 2017 was here…

Peace on earth?

Dear Friends: I’ve had a hard time coming up with a holiday message this year, so I’m going to start with a huge thanks to all of you who’ve donated to the Cañari Women’s Scholarship Fund. In my November fundraising letter, I noted that we have twelve graduates. But once back in Cañar, I went through our files and discovered we have, in fact, sixteen graduates – in fields from medicine, law, nursing, accounting, dentistry, psychology, nutrition, tourism, to communication. (You can read the letter here.) Plus eleven women are currently studying at state universities, including in architecture, engineering, gastronomy and medicine. (Official thank-you letters with tax # go out later this week, but it’s not too late. If you’d like contribute, you’ll find that information below).

One of the hopes for our program was that graduates would return to their communities or the region to work as professionals. And it is a great satisfaction to see this has happened. (Cañari women tend to stay close to home and marry within their communities.) In my daily rounds in town, I might walk by Pacha’s dental office (left), or run into Obdulia who works as a psychologist at the nearby Asilo de Ancianos (home for indigent elderly)
(right) or see Mercedes’s white hat bobbing in the window of her law office off the square. Luisa, recently graduated as a physician, is working at the local hospital. Here she is with her first post-delivery exam.

Juana, a 2015 graduate in veterinary medicine, has just won a scholarship for a master’s degree in Mexico. She leaves in a couple of weeks and it will be interesting to see where her life takes her. The fund supports our graduates in master’s degree programs up to $3000 over two years. Juana marks the third scholarship women to take advantage of this benefit.

(OK – If you’d like to contribute, you may send a check to: CWEF at 2147 NW Irving St., Portland, OR 97210, or use PayPal here.

Christmas in Cañar

This being our first time to spend the holidays in Cañar I didn’t know what to expect: relief at being away from the U.S. Christmas hustle? (Not to mention the year’s disappointments and fears for the future?) Pleasure at being in an environment we know well but with new schedule and customs?  We don’t count ourselves as Christians so the holiday has no religious significance for us. But the experience has been decidedly mixed. Although we enjoyed the quietness we craved on Christmas Day, I was surprised to feel a bit bereft as I walked into town and heard fiestas and family gatherings going on around me. I’d neglected to arrange anything or let friends know we are here, so we were not invited to anything and no one stopped by. Rather pathetically, we marked the day with Michael rearranging his wood pile and I completing (not very successfully)  an on-line sketching exercise.

 Skype calls to my sisters and son and grandsons helped, and emails from friends in Portland and elsewhere, but I’ve learned a few things for next time. (Note: Michael will have a hard time signing off on any of these.)

  • Make definite plans for Christmas Day
  • Make the rounds of friends in Cañar to let them know we are here
  • Do something thoughtful for others, such as make cookies (ha! – that’ll be me)
  • Invite folks to our house
  • Take a trip to the coast or Amazon, like so many others
  • If we choose the above, make sure we have bus tickets ahead of time, as travel is difficult during the holidays.
  • Maybe stay at home in Portland.

We do have a big event coming up that I will write about next week. Año Viejo (New Year’s Eve) will be a festival of processions and masks and effigies and bonfires to burn all the rubbish from 2016 and prepare for 2017. We’ve already bought a Trump mask and Michael plans to make a monigote – an effigy. You can guess his subject.

The Cañar Book Club

I’ve received many great reading suggestions from friends I want to pass on, along with their comments. If I’ve forgotten any of your titles, please send again. Also, combing the end-of-year “best of 2016” books has provided ideas for my 2017 wish list.

YOUR LIST

  • Once Upon a Time, Marina Warner (the history of fairy tales)
  • Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
  • Even Silence Has an End, Ingrid Betancourt writes about her six years as captive of FARC in Colombian jungle.
  • All That Man Is, David Szalay (beautifully written fiction on nine different men in various international locations)
  • Unseen City, Nathanael Johnson (intense exploration of how nature flourishes in urban habitats)
  • The Sympathiser, Viet Thanh Nguyen (the story of end of Vietnam war and lives of refugees in years after fall of Saigon)
  • The Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi (confronts us with the involvement of Africans in the enslavement of their own people)

2017 WISH LIST. Looking it over, my guess is I got the majority of these titles from the New York Times list or Guardian Bookmarks (in blue).

  • Days Without End, Sebastian Barry
  • Commonwealth, Ann Patchett
  • Before the Fall, Noah Hawley
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
  • The Gloaming, Melanie Finn
  • Iza’s Ballad, Magda Szabo.
  • Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, Arlie Russell Hochschild
  • Climbing DaysDan Richards
  • THE LIFE-WRITER. David Constantine. 
  • THE NORTH WATER. BIan McGuire
  • REPUTATIONS. Juan Gabriel Vásquez. A slender but impactful Colombian novel about a political cartoonist who re-examines his accusations against a politician
  • STILL HERE, Lara Vapnyar.  follows the intertwined lives of four immigrants in New York City as they grapple with love and tumult, the challenges of a new home, and the absurdities of the digital age.
  • THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. By Colson Whitehead. (Winner of all sorts of award and birthday gift to my son Scott)
  • THE VEGETARIAN. By Han Kang. This novella in three parts is both thriller and parable. The winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize.
  • WAR AND TURPENTINE. By Stefan Hertmans. A masterly novel about memory, art, love and war, based on the author’s grandfather’s notebooks.
  • WEATHERING. By Lucy Wood. This poetic debut novel, set in a damp house near a roaring river, explores the relationship between mothers and daughters.
  • IN THE DARKROOM. By Susan Faludi. … a rich and ultimately generous investigation of her long-estranged father, who suddenly contacted her from his home in Hungary after undergoing gender-reassignment surgery at the age of 76.
  • WHEN IN FRENCH: Love in a Second Language. By Lauren Collins. New Yorker staff writer married to a Frenchman, writes a very personal memoir about love and language, shrewdly assessing how language affects our lives.
  • WHITE TRASH: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. By Nancy Isenberg. A masterly and ambitious cultural history of changing concepts of class and inferiority..