April: a month to remember!

Dear Friends:

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.”

Meanwhile, the next day, a tree fell on that house in Portland – Scott’s inheritance.  

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?

She did allow me to hold one briefly for this photo with our witnesses, and later her assistant did make us copies.

  •  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

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).

  •  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

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!

  •  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

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!

2017 Cañari Women’s Scholarship Foundation Annual Letter

Dear Friends: It’s been a great year for the Cañari Women’s Scholarship Program. Thanks to so many of you, nineteen indigenous women have earned professional degrees from Ecuadorian state universities. Two others will graduate in 2018, and we’ve accepted four new scholars to keep our roster at twelve.Graduations are the most exciting times, as all our women are required to complete five years of coursework and a thesis or internship, at great sacrifice to them and their families. The 2017 graduates pictured below are Nelva Solano, standing proudly with her parents and a diploma in communication, and Maria Esthela Chuma with a degree in nursing. Maria is a single mother with a 12-year old (center photo below), and she’s had a long hard road getting to this point. But now, as a registered nurse, she can look forward to financial security for herself and her son and being able to help her mother and grandmother, pictured below at her graduation.

Three years ago we began offering our graduates financial help for advanced degrees, and two have just finished: Pacha Pichisaca (l) with a specialization in dentistry, and Veronica Paucar (c) with an MBA in international business. Both are mothers with full-time jobs, so they completed low-residency degrees, traveling on weekends and evenings. Juana Chuma (r) is a first-year graduate student in Mexico in veterinary medicine. Our first international scholar! We will continue to offer a helping hand of $1500 a year to up to three graduates a year to pursue advanced degrees

. OK, let’s meet the “newbies.” As I wrote last year, a 2008 education reform law made state schools tuition-free, but students are now offered admission according to their test scores and chosen fields – in schools often far from home. Elizabeth is studying “food engineering” at University of Carchi, near the Colombia border and a 14-hour bus ride away. Maria, civil engineering at the University of Guayaquil; Gladys, human nutrition at University of Milagro, and Nube Sumba in economy at University of Chimborazo in Riobamba. These women have been carefully selected from a pool of financial-need applicants to receive a $160 monthly stipend for five years, plus a $500 bonus to cover costs of their last year and graduation.

For those of you who are new supporters, I want to revisit our “origin story” and give an update. The first version of the scholarship program was established to honor the memory of our good friend, Ana Margarita Gasteazoro, whom we met in Costa Rica while I was working there. A political refugee from El Salvador, Ana was active in the violent conflict that roiled her country in the 1980s, spending 18 months in prison without charges before being released in a general amnesty in 1983.  Ana told such incredible stories that we spent the next five years recording her oral history. The key story: when she finished high school, Ana’s father told her he had to send her three brothers to university because they would eventually need to support families. But he could not afford to send Ana because, he said, she was a woman, who would marry and be cared for by her husband. Ana never married and she never forgot this injustice. In 1993, when she died in El Salvador of breast cancer at age 39, we were living in Ecuador and the idea for a women’s scholarship program was born. All these years later, her oral history is finally being published in Spanish in El Salvador by MUPI (Museo de la Palabra y Imgén), and an English version has been submitted to the University of Texas Press.   Que viva Ana!

Every year we have an all-scholarship meeting for graduates and current students. The latest meeting in May 2017 (photo at top of page) represents our selection committee (3 graduates, two outside members, myself), fourteen current students and our nineteen graduates in law, medicine, accounting, nutrition, natural resources, economy, nursing, veterinary medicine, dentistry, business, agronomy and psychology – an impressive list! In the photo above, we are sharing the communal pampamesa lunch after the meeting.

A new member of our education foundation family is the Women’s Giving Circle of Bend, Oregon. This group learned about us several years ago when one of their members visited Cañar. In July, Michael and I went to Bend to meet this group of seven wonderful women. Every few years they choose an organization to support that is making education possible for women and girls who would not otherwise have the opportunity. Luckily, they have chosen CWEF to support with monthly contributions for the next few years. Bienvenidas Círculo de Apoyo, and I hope you all will come visit us in Cañar!  (Note: Michael and I are off to Ecuador on November 28 and I’ll begin my regular Cañar Chronicles in December.)

The Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501(c3) nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have zero administrative costs other than this mailing, so every dollar goes directly to the women. You can donate through PayPal with the  “donate” button below. If you’d like to make a direct bank transfer email me at judyblanken@gmail. (Finally, forgive me for cross-posting. Some of you will also receive this letter by snail mail and others by email. I haven’t yet figured out the perfect system.)

Best wishes to all, and again – heartfelt thanks for your ongoing support,   Judy B.




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…

Cañari Women’s Scholarship Foundation

scholarship meeting boost

Dear Friends: Without looking at the calendar I seem to have an internal clock that tells me the day has come to write the annual fundraising letter for the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation. So let me start as I did last year, by introducing our scholarship women. The photo above was taken at our June meeting, right before I left Cañar, when the gathering brought together both our graduates and present scholars – an amazing group of women!

2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the scholarship program in Cañar, and we are thrilled to have twelve graduates and ten women presently studying (I count and see not all are present). I’m particularly pleased to report that every graduate is employed, almost all in their chosen professions and in their home communities: lawyer, agronomist, nurse, economist, dentist, psychologist, nutritionist, veterinarian, and more. In many cases they are the first indigenous woman in their fields.

overview meeting croppedOne purpose of the meeting was so our graduates could inform and inspire incoming and present scholars: to urge them to keep studying no matter what (marriage, childbearing, failing to pass courses); to keep their eye on the prize of becoming a professional indigenous woman; and to describe life in the post-graduate, working world. It was a wonderful celebration that began with a communal lunch, followed by testimonials (a tradition in Cañari meetings) and a few tears (also a tradition).paiwa sara meeting copy

Three years ago, President Correa’s government announced that higher education at state universities would become tuition-free. This was the good news. The “bad” news was that every student aiming for university had to pass an exam similar to the SATs in the U.S. The law took effect suddenly, and Cañari students, along with rural students everywhere in Ecuador, were ill-prepared to take these exams, as were their teachers to meet new instructional standards. Chaos ensued, with thousands of students failing to pass the exams, and more applying for “free” education than places were available.three in a row copy

Our Cañar board of directors considered options. Even the best students at local high schools were not getting into university. We thought about giving stipends for prep courses, but were stumped at the thought of trying to decide who should receive such help. But we did agree to give a scholarship to any woman applicant who was accepted into a university, rather than require that they complete the first year (our previous rule). For two years, as young women came knocking on my door, I listened and made notes as they told stories of failing the exam multiple times, feeling adrift and out of school when all they wanted was to continue studying. It was heartbreaking, but slowly the situation resolved: teachers learned to instruct toward the exams, students learned how to take the exams, and market forces weighed in with a new industry of test-prep courses of varying qualities named for Albert Einstein, Copernicus and Stephen Hawking.

This year we have ten women holding scholarships. Some had begun courses before the exam requirement and applied mid-stream in their studies. Others took the exam two or three times and finally got a score that allowed them to enroll. (Different degree programs require different scores.) And others benefited from the higher standards demanded of teachers (while raising their pitiful salaries so they didn’t have to work second jobs), and passed the exam in their last year of high school.

Vicenta & mom copy

Families are crucial to the success of our program, and they support their daughters in many ways: sending food, giving encouragement, babysitting. Most scholrship women are the first in their family to go beyond high school (or 8th grade) and you can imagine the tremendous pride at the moment of graduation. P1060156

All the women study full time at state institutions, most at the University of Cuenca or the Technical University in Riobamba. They live away from home in rented rooms with shared kitchens, coming home on weekends and holidays. The Foundation gives each woman a monthly stipend of $100 or $120 to help cover fees, room and board, travel and other expenses for the five years of most undergraduate degree programs. We also provide a one-time $500 to each woman for thesis and graduation costs, which means our support for each woman averages about $1500 a year, an amazingly low cost for a university education in any country. Since 2012 we also offer our graduates a stipend for master’s degrees.

A huge thanks to all of you who have supported the scholarship program over the years. We are proud that the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the U.S., which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have no administrative costs other than this mailing, so every dollar goes directly to the women. I would also like to thank our Portland board members Charlotte Rubin (our trusty treasurer), Francie Lindner and Laura Foster. In Cañar our board of five is elected from the women graduates, with a token (very good) man, the husband of one of our earliest graduates.

Please make your checks to CWEF and mail to 2020 SE Ash Street, Portland, Oregon 97214, and you may request a thank you letter with IRS receipt.

You can also donate through PayPal, by clicking the button here:


Best regards, Judy Blankenship,

President, Cañari Women’s Education Foundation

Cañari Women’s Education Foundation

November, 2013.  Every year at this time I send out a fundraising letter for our Cañari Women’s Education Foundation, a 501(c3) non-profit program supporting university education for indigenous Cañari women. Some of you will receive the letter via postal mail; some through my e-mail list, and others will learn about it through this blog – so please excuse the duplication of efforts. If you would like to contribute, contact me for further information: judyblanken@earthlink.net. (Or reply to this blog.) Your donations are tax deductible.

present studentsDear Friends:

It’s that time of year again! Thanks to all of you, the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation continues to thrive, with twelve graduates working in professional careers, seven full-time students, one master’s student, and many plans for the future. In the above photo you’ll meet our present scholarship women, at various stages of their university courses: (from left to right) Juana (veterinary medicine), Luisa (medicine), Maria Esthela (nursing), Nelva (social communication), Mariana (public health/nutrition), Mercedes (laboratory clinician), Transito (nursing), and Mercedes (accounting). Pakarina, not pictured, started in September in architecture.

All the women study full time at state institutions: the University of Cuenca, or the Technical University in Riobamba. The Foundation provides a monthly stipend of $110-$120 to help cover fees, room and board, travel and other expenses. (President Correa’s government eliminated tuition in state schools in 2012, making our dollars go further.) Undergraduate degree programs usually last five years, and the women must live away from home while studying, most in rented rooms with a shared kitchen.

Our program also provides $500 to each woman for thesis and graduation costs, as the universities try to squeeze every penny from students as they get closer to finishing. This means our support for each woman averages about $1500 yearly, an amazingly low cost for a university education in any country.

It’s always gratifying to check in on our past graduates, so I’ll give you a few updates.

CarmenCarmen Loja, with a degree in economics from University of Cuenca, is now director of her hometown branch of the oldest savings and loan cooperative in Cañar. She heard about the job on the radio, sent in her resume, and was interviewed by members of the coop, competing with several others. She won the position “on her merits,” the executive director told me (significant in a country where indigenous applicants are almost always at a disadvantage when competing for jobs with non-indigenous). Certainly the fact that Carmen is a native Quichua speaker gave her an advantage (all our scholarship women are bilingual Quichua/ Spanish). Before I left in July, she proudly told me that she has brought 400 new members into her branch.

pacha 2Pacha Pichisaca now runs her own dental practice in Cañar, and here she is attending to a woman from her village. I was amused on the day I took this photo. After tentatively knocking and asking if it was okay if I photographed her and her patient, Pacha said, “Yes, yes, come in!” Her patient sat up and grinned at me, and the patient’s husband, sitting nearby, recognized me and asked if I would come photograph their five-day San Antonio fiesta next year. So unlike a visit to the hallowed dentist’s office in the U.S.!

lunch

This is the eighth year of our program in Cañar, and many of our graduates are the first indigenous women in their fields. Last January, some of them gathered to throw a welcome-back lunch for me. Pictured above are (l-r): Pacha (dentist), Obdulia (educational psychologist in hometown high school); Mercedes (first Cañari woman lawyer); Alexandra (agronomist and teacher, bilingual school); Mariana (literacy teacher); Veronica (bank customer service representative); Maria Chimbo (certified public accountant); and Margarita (eco-tourism in rural communities).

kids in patio

Meanwhile, the next generation is coming up fast. Here, the sons and daughters of some of our graduates amuse themselves on our patio during our lunch. The women and I had a good laugh, remembering the early days of meetings trying to talk over the cacophony of crying babies; then, chaotic gatherings with laughing or screaming toddlers running around. Now, those babies are sedate little primary school students. One excellent ripple effect of our program is that our scholarship women tend to marry fellow students, have smaller families, and are committed to providing their children with educational opportunities unknown to them.

Veronica Paucar

An innovation this last year: the Foundation voted to support our graduates gain master’s degrees. We offer up to three scholarships a year in the order of graduation. Verónica Paucar (r) is working on an MBA at the University of Azuay in Cuenca, and Alexandra Solano and Mercedes Guaman have applied to programs in Quito. All are low-residency courses, lasting two or three years and requiring the women to travel to Cuenca or Quito once a month for weekend classes. As in the U.S., our graduates find they need more than a B.S. or B.A. degree to get ahead in their careers. The master’s courses are very expensive and wouldn’t be possible without our help. The Foundation provides $1500 the first year, and $2000 the second.

A huge thanks to all who have supported the scholarship program over the years. Every woman knows that it is you – friends, neighbors, family, contributors, champions – who make their educations possible, and each one feels a personal connection of gratitude. They welcome you to visit Cañar to meet them, and I to visit Michael and me in our “house in the clouds” – any year between January and July.

We are proud that the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have no administrative costs other than the postal mailing, so every dollar goes to the women’s education. You will receive a warm thank-you letter with your IRS receipt.

Judy Blankenship, President, Cañari Women’s Education Foundation