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..

 

 

 

“No hay novedades”

Dear Friends:  I just re-read my very first Cañar Chronicle, written after our arrival in January 2013, and I was struck by how it reads much the same as the first post I wrote three weeks ago: house dusty and cobwebby, dogs and chickens occupying the yard, neighbors plowing the field below…This expression – “no hay novedades” (no-i-nov-e-da-daze) means, loosely, “nothing new,” and Michael and I always laugh at it because, every year, after six months away, when we ask José María, our taciturn compadre who takes care of things while we’re in Portland, he always answers the same: “no hay novedades,” even if the sky has fallen. Then he sits quiet for a long while before spilling out all the news of family, house, neighborhood, town and country. But we’re always happy to hear his sotto voce response because it means that nothing bad has happened – no one has broken into the house (it happened once), his daughter Lourdes with transplanted kidney is doing well, he still has his job as garbage collector with the municipality. In other words: all is well. And so it is with us – even with the chickens trying to join us inside the house.

My main focus these next few months will be recording oral histories of those who remember the hacienda period in Cañar, which didn’t come to an end until the late 60’s/early 70’s, with the agrarian reform. These interviews will be part of the larger Archivo Cultural de Cañar. I have long been interested in the history of the vast hacienda that dominated this area because our property is near the site of the Hacienda Guantug house, now a Catholic school. Picture a plantation of 116 square miles (30,000 hectares), with hundreds of workers/peones – near slaves – that extended through three climate zones. Each zone produced products for the hacienda owners: horses and cattle in the highlands (12,000+ feet); barley, wheat and potatoes in the region area around where we live (10,000+), and sugar cane and fruits in the lower sub-tropical areas.

Now, picture that all this had been inherited by a very wealthy, devout and single woman in Cuenca who, at her death in1956, left it to an order of nuns, Las Madres del Cristo Rey. In the photo above, by town photographer Rigoberto Navas, date unknown, you’ll see a few nuns among the hacienda workers. This week, I had a great start on the oral history project with three interviews – one with a woman whose father was a townsman (e.g.”white”) and administrator of the highland hacienda. Lolita provided an unfiltered child’s view of life on the hacienda when she described the twice-yearly visit of the nuns, who rode in on horseback with rolled-up sleeping mats to oversee the roundup and branding of cattle. They stayed a week to count their cattle. A second interview was with Antonio, who in the late 1960s was a young fired-up indigenous activist fighting to create agricultural cooperatives from the hacienda lands. Finally, I interviewed an ex-Peace Corps volunteer, George, who worked here in the late 1960’s and knew Antonio when he helped survey the highlands for the agrarian reform. George is visiting Cuenca, and so I grabbed the chance to hear his memories from 45 years ago as we viewed his beautiful photos, part of the archive. The first image is of the highland hacienda, Chuchucán; the second of Cañari comuneros working with George on the survey.At home, domestic life goes on. Michael is out planting our kitchen garden this morning, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do about the rooster and three hens, standing by and waiting to scratch out the seeds. (Later, when he goes to Cuenca, my job is to keep an eye out and shoo them away with a broom. I laugh as I watch them squeeze under the gate and indignantly march up the road. We’re hoping we can train the chickens to stay out of the garden – does anyone have advice on that?)We took our first long walk in the countryside around Cañar, and Michael couldn’t resist asking directions, even without a common language. As this old woman passed me by with her flock of sheep I think I heard her grumbling in Kichwa, “crazy gringo.”

And a final shot of M’s cook shack at foggy dusk, grilled pork chops coming our way….

The Cañar Book Club

Girls in Juncal reading the book about their community.

Thanks to all who responded to my first book club meeting with recommendations of your own. I’ve already started a list for 2017 and will post it soon.

As for my own reading, a quick report:  I have loved Oliver Sacks ever since The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and over the years have read most of his books and articles. I mourned his death in 2015 at age 82 – still vital, still writing, giving radio interviews, newly in love with a life-partner. So I was anxious to read On The Move, his autobiography. Turns out along with being a brilliant neurologist, he was a biker, weight lifter, serious amphetamine user, as well as a compulsive scribbler – exciting stuff. I will always miss him. Then I moved on to gentler territory with Family Album by Penelope Lively, a writer I’ve also much read and loved. But with this one I felt as though trapped in a 1950’s, starched BBC drama. This might be my last Lively book. Staying with families, I read My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout. I must confess I did not understand the tremendous silence between mother and daughter, unable to communicate day in and day out while in a hospital room. Oh well, I would read anything by Elizabeth Strout after Olive Kittridge. I’m looking forward to The Burgess Boys.

Finally, I’m well into All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and find it riveting. Please keep your reading lists coming! I pay attention!  Regards to all, and Happy Holidays.