Dear Friends – This is Semana Santa, Holy Week, the quietest weekend of the year, and we are just a month away from leaving the southern half of our bifurcated life. On May 2 we’re off to Spain and Portugal for a month before landing in Portland on June 1. If I count right, this is our 14th consecutive Easter in Cañar since 2005, when we impulsively bought a small piece of land, decided to build a house and return for six months every year. And so we have, without a hitch. (That’s Lourdes, our architect, in the foreground with an outline of the house. Yes, you really can begin by drawing lines in the dirt. The next two photos show other early construction stages, circa 2006.)
After so long, we’ve become a fact of life in Cañar. Small store owners send Michael home with tamales or a homemade pot of soup in a pretty container, as Doña Mila did yesterday with fanesca, the traditional Easter soup made of 12 grains to represent the 12 apostles. Market women give him “yapas” – that extra piece of fruit that says thanks for being a return customer. People we don’t think we know stop us in the street for an air-kiss, or yell hello in and out of cars.
(That’s Mila in her store in the photo below, bowing, for some reason…)Taxi drivers hear “la casa de los gringos” and take off without a glance or further directions to deliver visitors (or us) to the gate.
Speaking of taxi drivers, we’ve had many a conversation that starts with: “Do you have family?” Yes, they are in the US. “Do they come and visit?” Yes, sometimes. “Well….what are you going to do with your house when….” They needn’t finish as we know where the question is leading. Who will inherit our house and property? This is a friendly, not exactly rude, set of questions (although our Cañari friends are way too reserved to bring up the idea that we not live forever). But maybe these drivers do us a service by making us think about the inevitable. Will we continue to come to Cañar forever? Of course not. Michael turns 80 this year, and he’s still chopping wood and making fires and walking up into town, but slower, slower. We still take long walks, but cover fewer kilometers, and we generally walk down the mountain rather than climbing up (photo below – on a recent such walk, from a place called, appropriately, Jeruselen).
For my part, I can’t imagine not being in Cañar. My work is here. The Archivo Cultural de Cañar, after two decades of documenting work that continues, is just reaching the point of becoming readily available to local communities. This year I began transferring years of digital photo, audio and video files to a dedicated computer at the Centro de Memoria at Instituto Quilloac, an indigenous school and cultural complex. Here is my archive partner – Antonio Guamán, with a visiting PhD student from UPenn, Marlén Rosas.We get together every Tuesday afternoon for transfer and organization of files. I’m making schemata to keep it all straight, a 3-ring binder catalog, and also albums with printed photos so local folks can come in, look them over, and request digital copies or help us identify the people in the photos. The great advantage of this venue is that Antonio, the librarian, is there every day, ready to help the many adults who are not computer literate.
This is tremendously exciting to me and also a great relief because, to be honest, I too am feeling the press of time. Two decades of work are locked in numerous hard drives here and in Portland. What if… something happened to us? What if….something happened to the hard drives? What if….??
The digital archive project with AILLA at the University of Texas at Austin will continue over the next three years, but access to their website will depend on a good Internet connection. And although nearly everyone in Cañar now has a cell phone, good Internet in homes, and in the schools, remains a dream.
Speaking of dreams deferred, and unrelated to Cañar, a US publisher has requested an expanded book proposal for the “Ana Project” – the oral history of Ana Margarita Gasteazoro, who Michael and I, and my CUSO colleague Andrew Wilson, were good friends with when we all lived in Costa Rica in the 1980s. Ana was a political refugee from the war in El Salvador, where she had spent two years in prison without charges. Andrew and I transcribed, edited and organized a book manuscript around her recordings before Ana died at 42 years of breast cancer. After some efforts in the 1990’s to find a publisher, we let the project languish until a chance meeting with the director of the Salvadorean Museo de la Palabra y Imagén (Museum of the Word and Image) led us to resurrect the project, arrange for a Spanish translation, and re-edit and expand the chapters (thanks to Andrew, editor extraordinaire!). We hope the book, titled Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoirs of a Political Prisoner in El Salvador, will be published in both Spanish and English in the next year or so.
Actually, this project does relate to Cañar, for the scholarship program for Cañari women is named for Ana. During one of our recording sessions, she told the story of her father telling her he could not afford to send both her and her brothers to university because. “Your brothers will marry and they’ll have to support families, so I will educate them. But you will marry and your husband will support you.” Ana never went to university, she never married and she never forgot the injustice of her father’s decision. When Ana died, I started up the Ana Margarita Gasteazoro Foundation for Women’s Education (since renamed the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation), which has sent 31 indigenous women to state universities. Ana, would be pleased at that.
OK, enough for a quiet Sunday Easter afternoon. I’ve enjoyed putting this blog together, knowing (hoping) you’ll read it and respond. I love hearing from you all….
(Oops, book club on hiatus for Easter holiday. I promise one more blog, and a book club meeting, before we leave Cañar on May 2. Finally – any travel suggestions for Portugal?)