What a month! Where shall I start? With the tree that fell on our house in Portland? With the news of a three-year grant to UT Texas that includes the Cañar archive project? With the twinges on a newly-crowned tooth that indicate a root canal in my near future? (Here call “tratamiento de conductores,” which I much prefer.) With the hug from the woman at Relaciones Exteriores when I showed up for stage two of my visa transfer after a long wait? Or with the first visit to a notaria to make our Ecuadorian testamento (will) that began with: “You must bring ten witnesses.” (below: Notaria Lila Jiménez and Lawyer Mercedes Guamán with Michael)
I’ll start with the last first. We are preparing to leave Cañar on May 2, first to Spain and Portugal, then to Portland. As every year when we get ready to fly back and forth over the vast Atlantic, we think about the “what if…” scenario that I wrote about in the last blog.
This time we decided to do something about it. Michael and I had already agreed – with our son Scott’s blessing – that our Cañar house and property will eventually be sold to establish an endowment for the Cañari women’s scholarship program. For this we need an Ecuadorian testamento, a will, to cover any circumstances where we both go at once – a plane goes down or the bus plunges off the side of the road, etc. But for the scholarship program to legally receive any funds generated by the sale, it must become an official non-profit entity within the Ecuadorian government – something we’ve avoided as it requires a crazy amount of paperwork and time, plus a monthly reporting of activities.
But before any of that, we needed a unanimous decision to go ahead with the non-profit year ago.) Because time is short, I sent out an email requesting an emergency meeting and mentioned the testamento. Big mistake! Everyone thought we were either (1) dying or (2) leaving Cañar for good. I allayed those fears in a second email, but once we were gathered for the meeting – where Michael and I each spoke of our decision – there were tears, tears and more tears. Testimonios de nostalgia and melancholia, as one member said. I was totally shocked. But when I mentioned that this is commonplace in the U.S., to make legal arrangements for possible future circumstances, it didn’t seem to matter. This was a cultural divide, and Michael and I could only respectfully accept the emotional response.
(I later learned that a will is usually a bedside visit to a dying person by a lawyer or notario – no one apparently does this in advance.)
The decision was quickly made, however, and the next day we met our lawyer Mercedes Guamán (an early scholarship graduate) at the notary – the public official who handles wills. There, in a loud staccato string of words, she told us we would need ten witnesses – five witnesses each – that the wills would be done separately, that because the law requires that 50% of an inheritance must go to a child or children, and we were not doing this: “You must bring photos of your other house (in Portland) to prove that he will not be left destitute by your will.”
We did not mention that to the notaria when we returned the following week. Though we certainly had plenty of time. We spent five hours in her small narrow office, with her three helpers on one side and, in a line of chairs along the other wall, supplicants and witnesses. During which time we witnessed and heard land transactions, whispered questions from an older man about getting divorced, water rights, and even an actual divorce of a young couple sitting mere feet from us. Completed, signed, stamped and paid for while we watched. (The “thawk” of seals and stamps was a daylong soundtrack…)Nothing was private, including our business. “Señora how old are you?” one helper yelled across the room at me while filling a form. Finally, our poor patient witnesses were called forward one by one to sign and make their fingerprints (Lila finally allowed us to share witnesses). The notaria put the two wills into two envelopes, sealed them with packing tape and said, “Now, these will stay with me!” What?
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On to the good news: The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded a three-year grant to AILLA (Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America) at University of Texas, Austin, that includes the Cañar archive project. We’ve been anxiously waiting to hear, since you-know-who-at-the-helm announced last year he might do away with both the NEH and NEA (National Endowment for the Arts). In fact, each was funded at the same level or slightly high than last year. Lucky for us. It means three years of support to digitize, create metadata and publish the photo and sound collections from the Archivo Cultural de Cañar. The University of Texas announcement is here).
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I’ll make the visa story short, although the wait has been long and aggravating. My passport expired last year and I need to transfer my permanent resident visa into my new passport. Quick bit of paperwork and the whack of a stamp or two? Not on your life! Everything in government Ecuador is now online, beginning with making an appointment with Exterior Relations in Azogues, our provincial capital. That took almost three months. Then, at last, a first visit where I met Norma, this friendly woman who copied my passports and said she’d email when permission came from Quito for the transfer. “That may be as soon as Monday,” she said on Friday. Exactly one month later, after various visits and phone calls to Norma, with Michael fussing that I might not be allowed back into Ecuador as a resident if I left without the visa. Finally, an email from Norma. “Good news! Come with your passports!” Michael had to provide all his paperwork also, as my visa depends on his – although we both own our property, the real estate visa is based on his name alone, and my visa is as his wife. OK, we’ll let that one go. M. and I showed up at Exterior Relations and Norma actually got up came around her desk to give me a hug. Would I get my visa today? Not on your life! Today Norma was only allowed to gather all our paperwork, then we would wait to hear again for the visa transfer. I asked for a photo but she said not allowed. So here’s a view of my paperwork (so far!) I have a feeling I’m going to be traveling without the new visa.
Although, enough drama. On to bookish pleasures!
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Cañar Book Club
Well Dear Readers, this is our last Cañari book club for the year – or at least until December when we’ll be back to Cañar. But of course we’ll all keep reading books between now and then. For my part, I’m taking these few books for our month in Spain/Portugal: Baltasar and Blimunda, José Saramago. Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, María Rosa Menocal, and This Must be the Place, Maggie O’Farrell (thanks Claire). Not nearly enough, and I still don’t use an e-reader, but sometimes I get lucky with a bookstore in Madrid.
For my Cañar reading, I’ve just finished and Michael is reading The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, by Andrea Wulf. I couldn’t say it better than what a Bend, Oregon member wrote: “This book has it all! Big ideas, adventure, history, sumptuous descriptions of nature and a lot about Latin America, specifically Ecuador. He introduced the stunning natural world of northern Latin America to eager scientists in Europe as well as to our own Thomas Jefferson. Beautifully written and researched.”
I’ve also recently read The Sympathizers by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which I found riveting until 3/4 way through, then utterly boring. But I’d give this author another read. Also Victor: An Unfinished Song by Joan Jara about her Chilean husband, singer Victor Jara, who was so horribly tortured and murdered during Pinochet’s military coup d ‘etat in 1973. I’ve read it before but it’s good to be reminded that this must never happen again.
On to recommendations from other members:
Two faithful readers in Portland recommended: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. “Tells the story of a Korean family through the generations that ended up displaced to Japan. Lee doesn’t make nice on how horrendous that experience was and to some extent still is for Koreans in Japan. Also Manhatten Beach by Jennifer Egan. It was great.
From a Toronto member: Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders and winner of this 2017 Man Booker Prize. It’s on my list for next year.
And another Toronto faithful: I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad by Karolyn Smardz Frost. “To retrace the journey of a runaway slave …from the Ohio River Valley all the way to Canada is an immense challenge & a rare accomplishment….” Winner of Governor General’s award, 2007.
From a literary friend in Mexico: The Wrong Blood, Manuel de Lope, set during the Spanish Civil War and The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, Francisco Cantú.
From another Toronto reader. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman – if you haven’t dipped into his books before, Shaman is a good one to start with. Robinson’s New York 2040 is heavy going – as most of his books are, where detail almost overwhelms the narrative plot – but there is always lots to think about that makes it worthwhile. Including Antarctica, and a trilogy set in Washington during a time of extreme climate events.
And from Norway: The Automobile Club of Egypt. Allaa Al Aswany. “A superb novel of a gentleman’s club in Cairo in the last days of Egypt’s colonial status, before Nassar came to power, and where King Farouk came to gamble. A delight, the same sort of detailed characters as in his earlier The Yacoubian Building”
And a faithful book club member reporting for duty from London! The Power by Naomi Alderman is …”odd and underwhelming though very readable. It’s supposed to be a feminist book (if there is such a thing) but my partner quite correctly declared … that it’s ‘a girl-book for boys.’ I’d be interested to hear whether you agree.”
I’m afraid I’ve lost track of some recommendations that came in by email, so please remind me, and I’ll keep them in reserve for our next meeting.
Until then, books make life worth living!