We are back in Cañar after six months in Portland, and although I always claim to be one of those people unaffected by seasons, I have to say I really felt the contrast between our two climates this time. On January 5, in the winter dawn darkness, we left Portland, where days are short and gloomy, and 48 hours later we woke in our Cañar bedroom at 6:30 AM to sun streaming into our windows. Later that day, at 6:30 PM, we watched our first gorgeous sunset reflected on the Andes. I’ve come to fully appreciate what living on the equator means: twelve hours of sunlight, year-round.
Back in Guayaquil, where we landed after the usual 24-hour ordeal, we spent a steamy but pleasant day recovering with friends of friends from Canada who coincidently had arrived at Hostal Tangara hours before us: a visit to a museum, a walk and beers along the riverfront, our usual dinner of crab soup at the outdoor place (not as good as I remember). The next morning we hired a car and driver to bring us to Cañar, and in three hours flat we were at our gate, a guiltless luxury we allow ourselves as this is a trip that has taken up to six hours on the bus due to bad roads, terrible weather, frequent landslides, and long delays.
The house is pretty much as we had left it, albeit with a scruffy yard (there’s been no rain for months) and dust and cobwebs inside, along with a sprinkling of feathers. As I open the door into the interior patio, a small bird flies out the narrow space between the glass structure and tile roof. Flies with confidence, as though it knew the way, not fluttering against the glass as birds usually do. This one is at home in this place, I think, confirmed when I find bird droppings in my studio and seeds sprinkled on my long table. Then I see the 100-pound sack against the wall, and I know this must be quinoa from the harvest of our back field after we left in July. It’s the long-held custom here for partidarios – those who sow a field they do not own, to share the harvest. So José María, who plants our field and watches our house, has left us our share of his first quinoa crop. No matter how many times we say we are only two people, and cannot consume our part of the harvest, we get only a friendly nod in return – and piles of potatoes, corn, beans, or peas. So we will accept this quintal of quinoa with good grace and give it away to all who come visiting, one small bag at a time.
While I open some of the 18 window shutters, Michael fires up all his systems: water, gas, hot water heaters, pump. Only thing not working is the phone, which means I have no Internet service. No matter; for the moment it’s nice to enjoy the quiet: no calls, no news, no radio, no TV, no traffic noises. Here’s Michael that first day, having taken off the rest of the shutters and looking pretty pleased with his mechanical triumph.
I never want to leave the house the first couple of days. After gloomy Portland, the bright sunlight hurts my eyes, and going into town requires finding a cap, sunglasses, sunscreen, jacket, extra sweater, cell phone. Then there’s the sudden change in altitude – 10,100 feet takes getting used to after six months at sea level. I feel lightheaded, with a slight headache for a couple of days. Also, I have a horror of running into someone I know well but whose name I’ve forgotten. For this I always bring last year’s agenda and, depending on where I’m going, look up people I might run into. So it’s easier to stay at home and unpack at a leisurely pace, cleaning and ordering as I go, with no interruptions other than Michael calling out the temperature and humidity on the new digital thermometer he’s brought and hung in our bedroom, punching a hole in the thick wall for an outside sensor. “It’s 59 degrees outside, 63 inside, humidity at 56%.”
In contrast, Michael charges out immediately, walking into town with his shopping bag to the MegaMarket, our little excuse for a supermarket. (Just as in Portland, within the first hour home, he jumps into the car and drives to Zupan’s, his favorite grocery.) He returns to report that shelves at the Mega are nearly empty. There is no granola, no wholegrain bread, and my acceptable $4 red wine from Argentina is no longer available. “Christmas and Año Nuevo holidays,” the owner’s son told him. “We’re cleaned out, but we’ll be restocking this week.”
By the second day I am forced out by the lack of phone and Internet service. Huffing up the dirt road to the top of our hill, I see that our street has a new name: Calle María Inga Gañalshug. There it is on a official ceramic plaque neatly attached to the street-level wall of a house above us. Who on earth was she, and why did they change our street from San José de Calasanz, named after the order of the priests who live across the streets? (Before that our official address was calle sin nombre. In any case, I’m pleased to live on a street named for a woman, in a country where nearly every street, monument, plaque, statue, building, and even towns, are named after men.
At the phone company I’m told that the home number we’ve had for ten years has been changed. No explanation other than, “Oh yes, all numbers with 237 no longer exist. Your new number starts with 236.” And lack of phone service? “We’ll call the técnicos,” the white-haired woman I’ve known for years tells me. “What is your name, address, cell phone?” (Turns out the line had fallen to the ground.) And to restore my Internet service? “Well, for that you’ll have to come back with an oficio (letter of solicitation) and copies of your cedula (national ID) and carta de votación (card showing I’ve voted) and talk to the person in charge. Some things never change.
On Sunday Michael goes to the market, taking with him the two big chef’s knives competing fish mongers have requested he bring from Portland. They each pay him, he goes shopping, and returns with his bounty. The cost of everything in the photo below: $8.00, and that includes a pound of langostinos. Michael’s so happy to be back in the land where three papayas cost a dollar and a pound of giant shrimp goes for $5.00.
Finally, a great thank-you to all who donated to the Cañari Women’s Scholarship Fund this year in support of indigenous women earning university degrees. Please know that every dollar is appreciated. The mother of Luisa, our scholarship women in medical school in Riobamba, came by today to pick up her daughter’s monthly stipend. She told me she was illiterate, but that she and her husband have struggled to educate their four children. “Every one of them graduated from secondary school,” she said as she laboriously signed the receipt with a signature learned in literacy class.
If you didn’t get a chance to contribute and would like to, there is a PayPal “donate” button on the “SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM” part of this website (at bottom of post). Also, our lovely tenant in Portland has offered to deposit any last-minute checks.
Again, Mil Gracias! And remember that I love hearing from every one of you.