Back to Cañar 2019

Hello Friends: 

Three days, delayed flights, missed connections, two hotel nights, $12 food vouchers for 24 hours in Miami airport, a taxi from Guayaquil and we are finally here in Cañar, on January 5. Below is Michael blowing his $12 voucher on a Cuban sandwich and guava cheese pastry in Miami Airport at La Carreta, one of our favorite layover stops.

If I count right, this is our 25th year of knowing this chilly, homely, lovely place; our fourteenth year living here half-years, and twelve years in our house. Which, amazingly, stays safe and sound for the time we’re gone. Perhaps because this guy was guarding it?

At least he was on duty the day we arrived, cropping and fertilizing the grass. It’s obvious from the droppings all around the house that our compadres José Maria and Narcisa and family and animals have been an effective security presence around the property during the eight months we have been gone. Inside, some dust and spiderwebs but otherwise dry and ready to settle in. It takes a couple of days (with altitude headaches, me) to open the shutters, uncover the furniture, unpack the sheets, towels, pillows and such, before the house begins to look like home. We uncover San Antonio in his nicho and take a look at the plants

Michael finally agrees that we have to do something about the massive macho aloe that is taking over the interior garden; in a couple of years it will reach the glass ceiling. From the time we moved in I have tended my (low) side of the patio, and Michael his. Many of the flowers I planted early on died during our times away (although volunteer geraniums are thriving along with a variety of sedums). But slowly, M. has invaded my side by planting cacti and jade and that big spiky blue-green creature a friend gave us years ago that keeps producing hijuelos. We’ll wait to see how things get resolved on the pruning issue.

Staying with the patio, a few days after we arrived I was crossing it to the living room with a large 3T hard drive in my hands, when my foot slipped off the brick edge and I went flying. Trying to hang onto the hard drive, I landed nose-first in the garden (hard drive went flying anyway), exactly between a rock and an watering spigot. Either would have done terrible damage, though my face still left a clear impression in the ground. We had no ice yet, but Michael had frozen two pork chops, so those went onto my nose in the first few minutes. After that, things got very ugly with purplish black eye and cheek and scrapes and scratches (no photo please!). During this past week I’ve had to explain over and over why my face is such a mess. Today I’m entering the bluish-green stage with patches of white skin showing through. (In photo below: I landed just to the right of the rock you see at knee-height.)

On to Michael – who is delighted with the result of his hip replacement in September, which means he can climb the hill into town without pain for his daily shopping. At home: cooking, chopping wood, building the fire, cleaning the chimney, hauling the propane tanks that give us the luxury of hot water. He’s so happy to be back in the land where a pound of large shrimp at the Sunday market costs $5.00. He’s in the kitchen now, cooking them along with camote (sweet potato) for a Peruvian-style ceviche tonight.

This is a short chronicle because I want to get it out before a busy week begins. But I must end by thanking all of you who contributed to the Cañari Women’s Scholarship Program these past couple of months. (Thank-you letters will be going out soon.) Gracias to our faithful contributors, we had a successful fundraising campaign to continuing support eleven women in universities full-time, two doing their masters, and various applicants waiting in line. Next Sunday will be our first meeting, with special visitors from the Women’s Circle of Giving in Bend, Oregon.

Cañar Book Club 2019

Finally, I’m anxious to hear what you all are reading and what books you have on your lists for 2019. For my report, I can say that the three-day trip to get here seriously cut into my stash of books. I finished The Gunrunner’s Daughter by Neil Gordon (fascinating, complex, still haven’t figured out all the twists and turns), The Rules Don’t Apply memoir by Ariel Levy, a New Yorker writer who must be one of the world’s most neurotic but charming journalists. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (hmm, no comment; found in a sidewalk library in Portland), and I’ve begun A Place in the Country by W. G. Sebald (a favorite writer but I believe these linked essays were pulled together and translated after his death and I’m not yet engaged), and a book by Paulette Giles, whom I knew as a writer in Canada but turns out she’s an American now living on a ranch near San Antonio, Texas. In News of the World she has written a lovely account set in post-Civil War Texas of an itinerant older man who makes his living riding from town to town to read newspapers aloud to live audiences, and the 10-year old Kiowa captive girl he agrees to return to her family. Reading, I cannot help but think of my mother, a great reader, who would have loved this book. Tomorrow will be her 99th birthday, and I dedicate this meeting of the Cañar Book Club to her memory. I miss her every day.

Please leave a reply here or email at: judyblanken@gmail.com. I do love hearing from you.

Cañari Women’s Education Foundation Fundraising Letter 2018

Dear Friends: I’m so pleased to report we now have twenty-one Cañari women university graduates, with professional degrees ranging from agronomy to veterinary medicine. Two of our alums have finished master’s and two are currently studying, one in Mexico and one in Ecuador. Our current scholars number twelve, and as they graduate we carefully review our pool of applicants and select new recipients. The scholarship is for five years, the usual time for an undergraduate degree in Ecuador.

Since 2005 our program has “lost” only two scholars; each suspended her studies for personal reasons. But we have a policy that they are welcome to return if we have a place. In other words, it’s almost impossible to fail in our program. Once a young woman is accepted as a scholarship holder, we make sure she succeeds by accommodating pregnancy and childbirth, childcare, family crises and other problems – a policy that has paid off with our high success rate.This year we had two graduates, Vicenta Pichisaca in gastronomy and Mercedes Chumaina in accounting as a CPA. I add the photo of Mercedes receiving her diploma in her white hat because, as is usually the case, she was the only indigenous woman in her group (and maybe her class).

Mercedes was special in another way. Through a Christian organization in the U.S., Tom and Kathleen Easterday have sponsored her education since primary school. When I heard about Mercedes through her sister, Margarita, one of our scholars, I wrote to to ask the Easterdays if they would be willing to sponsor Mercedes through university. They were, and they did.

They had hoped to attend her graduation in October, which was not possible, but they sent a generous gift and they are pictured here wearing embroidered shirts from Mercedes in thanks for supporting her education for over 15 years. In the photos below, Mercedes stands with her husband Noe and son on graduation day, and with her proud mother. 

So with two women graduating we welcome two “newbies.” Sara Duy is studying economy at the University of Chimborazo in Riobamba, and Lourdes Pichasaca in medicine at the University of Cuenca. Both have exceptional stories. Several years ago, Sara’s older sister had the rare chance (in Ecuador) for a kidney transplant after years of dialysis. Sara left her secondary studies to accompany her sister in dialysis and recovery from surgery, and they both lost two or three years of high school. Sara finally graduated this year and passed the exam to be admitted to university.

Lourdes Pichasaca showed up with her mother at my studio several years ago. She had taken the entrance exam and passed high enough to get in to university, but not in the field she wanted: medicine. She decided to wait to apply for a scholarship and retake the exam. After that, whenever I ran into her mother in town, she would report that Lourdes was preparing to take the exam yet again. After three tries, she scored a place in the school of medicine at the University of Cuenca, one of the best!

Now for news of some older graduates. Mercedes Guamán was one of our first scholars. She famously became a lawyer and a mother within hours (rushing from the podium with her diploma to the hospital to give birth) and since then has served her Cañari community with legal services and our program as president of the board. Under President Correa she was elected as an alternate to the National Assembly. After six years I think she’s a bit burned out on politics, but one perk was her invitation this year to the United Nations meeting on indigenous peoples in New York. In 2018 Mercedes also received an honorary degree in jurisprudence for her service to the indigenous community.

Carmen Loja went in another direction. After graduating in economy at University of Cuenca, she had a stellar few years in finance, managing a credit union and ending up as comptroller for her hometown of Suscal. Then she left it all to create an organization promoting Andean culture through native agriculture, architecture, food and ancestral medicine. Kinti Wasi invites groups and individuals for stays long and short. (That’s Carmen- our favorite entrepreneur/ innovator – second from left.) Check out her website at: (https://www.facebook.com/kintiwasi.ec/

Juana Chuma is our first to pursue a master’s degree outside the country, in Mexico, where she won a scholarship to UNAM in veterinary medicine. (We subsidize master’s studies at $1500/year for two years, or $3000 total). In the photo at left, Juana is in Puerto Montt, Chile with her research group. She writes that her thesis is focused on a cooperative of cattle producers in the south of Chile.

The Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have zero administrative costs other than this mailing, so every dollar goes to the women’s education. Please make checks to CWEF and send to Charlotte Rubin, 2147 NW Irving St., Portland, OR 97210 (some of you will receive this letter by snail mail with return envelopes), or you can contribute through PayPal with the secure “DONATE” button below.

A final note on this subject: A couple of weeks ago, CWEF treasurer Charlotte Rubin and I visited the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) to talk about the idea of an endowment for our program. OCF has a plan for 501(c) 3 foundations such as ours that looks really good. It’s too soon to launch a campaign, but I would appreciate a note or call from any of you interested in discussing, or helping, with “succession planning.”  I’m a novice!

Heartfelt thanks to all for your ongoing support, and don’t forget that you are invited to visit us in Cañar, any year between January and June. In a couple of months we will welcome two contributors from the Women’s Giving Circle of Bend, Oregon. And earlier this year we had a visit from Portland photographer Rick Rappaport, who took a bunch of beautiful photos during our annual all-scholarship meeting in April.





Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Dear Friends:  Our Cañar world seems very far away these past months in Portland, but I was happily reconnected this week across generations, geography and cultures, and I thought this post would be a good excuse to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, (October 8). Created as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day in – where else? – Berkeley, in 1992, the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas, Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been adopted by many cities and some states as an official holiday (including, I’m happy to say, Portland, Oregon).

Anyway, our story came together around Lucinda Duy, whom I first met years ago as a teenage ñusta, or queen, of Inti Raymi, the summer solstice fiesta. Here she is a few years later, promoting quinoa, one of the traditional Andean crops that many of you know and love by now.  And again, a few years later, married and with two boys, working in primary schools promoting nutritious lunches based on Andean heritage crops. (Thanks to Nicolas Pichisaca for the photos.) …and closer to the present, poised and fully professional, appearing at conferences, giving talks, and selling cookies and cakes and other products in the weekly Friday market, where I often see her, promoted by Mushuk Yuyay, the cooperative of native grains and seeds producers where she works. Lucinda was recently invited to the First Global Conference of Amaranth in Puebla, Mexico, this coming week.

Anxious to go on her first trip outside Ecuador, but neither her family nor her organization had the funds to send her. And here’s where our story brings in the other players. (This is not a fundraising pitch, so please read on….)

(But first, a couple of words about the amazing amaranth, quinoa’s cousin. A leafy plant that blooms extravagantly into long cascades of tiny protein-packed seeds, it contains more than three times the average amount of calcium and is high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. In other words – a powerhouse of an edible seed  (That’s Lucinda in a field of amaranth in the above banner). Our compadre José María grew it several years ago in our back field, with technical advice from Mushuk Yuyay, and while I loved watching and photographing the crop, I found the tiny seeds frustrating to use – tried popping them, and cooking like quinoa, but never got a handle on it. Lucinda and her team, however, teach others how to use the seeds in soups, stews, cereals, cookies and cakes. (The spinach-like leaves are also edible, apparently.)

So back to our story…

Last year, Alana Mockler was a gap-year student in Cañar with Global Citizen Year (great program!), when she lived with Lucinda and José. Alana’s now at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and it was she who contacted me last week to say she was creating a GoFundMe website to help Lucinda get to Mexico. Fight Child Malnutrition in Ecuador https://bit.ly/2C3dOEr

Add into our generational mix Alan Adams, a Peace Corps volunteer in Cañar in the1960’s who, since his retirement as a teacher, has reconnected with the people he knew back then, and helped Mushuk Yuyay write several winning grants. He also helped Alana create the GoFundMe site (which met its goal within the week!), and used his own contacts to make sure Lucinda gets to Mexico. Alan has also been a creative partner of the Cañar archive project in gathering the Peace Corps materials and connecting me with other ex-volunteers. That’s him in his Cañari poncho, a gift from Nicolas Pichisaca of Mushuk Yuyay on a visit to New Jersey a couple of years ago.

Finally, to the mix, we add Juana Chuma, one of our scholarship graduates now studying for her master’s in veterinary medicine in Mexico at UNAM, and Skyler Narostky, another amazing gap-year student, also at UNAM, who helped with fundraising. These two will meet Lucinda as she arrives in Mexico City and make sure she gets to Puebla. Thanks to all these folks, Lucinda Duy will represent Cañar and Mushuk Yuyay in the First Global Conference of Amaranth.

 

 

It’s a small world

Dear Friends. I miss you!  I miss writing. I usually only send blogs during the months we are in Cañar or traveling, but this year I’m going to try writing from Portland on ideas that relate to our connected worlds – Cañar/Portland, North/South, immigrant/traveler/ home. The light went on a couple of weeks ago when I was walking to meet a friend not far from where I live when I came across these murals on a commercial building.I immediately recognized the graphic style of Guamán Poma de Ayala,16th-century Peruvian artist whose illustrated chronicle depicted the ill-treatment of his people by the Spanish conquistadores. Below is an example of Poma’s illustrations. The foot plow is still used in Peru and back strap loom weaving is still common in both Peru and Ecuador.

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. A few years ago, this building was such a wreck that one wall detached and fell down the ravine towards Interstate I-84. Even though repaired, it’s been empty for ages. I went back the next day and was lucky to find the artist, Jahmal Landers who filled me in on what’s happening…

Jahmal was hired by Gabriel’s Bakery to create branding and design for their new space and a coffee shop. Previously a teacher in Portland and in Taiwan, Jahmal works now as an independent creative consultant/art director/ designer. He said he’d come up with the designs working with Gabriel’s owner, Almicar Alvarez, who was inside making bread, so I got to meet him too and hear his story. Almicar immigrated from Peru to Portland in 1979, when he fell in love with a traveler from here. He started out at a small french bakery in Portland, then in 1987 launched his own business named for Gabriel, his new-born son. Thirty-one years later, the family business includes a second son, Sandro and is a Portland institution. (http://gabrielsbakery.com/) Promising to come back once the coffee shop is open in a couple of weeks, I walked around the corner to my favorite tea place, Jasmine Pearl Tea Company, and found this young man. When I mentioned I’d left all my good teas behind in Ecuador he said HE was from Ecuador – his father from Otavalo (an indigenous area in the north), his mother from Portland. (http://thejasminepearl.com/)

So there you are! In one day, in a couple of hours – two connections between two worlds. That was a week or so ago, and I got no further with this blog until yesterday, when Michael and I and our friend Joanne met downtown at the Families Belong Together rally. There, a gathering of many worlds – thousands of us – toddlers, kids, parents, oldsters, workers, politicos, Latinos – everyone came together to peacefully protest Trump’s immigration policies. The crowd was so large we couldn’t even see the stage, but I was able to grab a few photos, beginning with Michael with his Guadalupe shirt alongside a young protester, and a woman with her “The Supremes” t-shirt: Ruth, Elena, Sonia and Sandra, the 5 women supreme court justices.

 

That’s it for now dear friends. I’ll try to write another Portland blog in a couple of weeks and maybe we could even convene a PDX virtual book club. I know I’m certainly overwhelmed with books now I’m back in the land of public libraries. Until then, stay in touch!

Spain May 2018: following the conquistadors and Cervantes

Dear Friends: A week or so ago we were in Cuenca, Spain, where I looked for a trace of the Spanish conquistadores who in 1557 gave Cuenca, Ecuador its name. According to legend, those guys were marching north after conquering the Incas in Peru when they got the order to establish a city. They came to a place that reminded them of home (which most would never see again) and called it Cuenca. But here in Spain, in this gorgeous UNESCO city, I find nothing that connects the dots other than dramatic landscape and converging rivers (and the unrelated fact that the very modern archive is in the medieval inquisition building, with torture cells in the basement. That’s the archive in the photo above. It is an entirely different matter in the small hill town of Trujillo, a few hours to the southwest and variously described in the guidebooks – without a trace of irony – as: “where twenty American nations were conceived,” and “the cradle of the conquistadors.” A little over 500 years ago, a young man called Francisco Pizarro left Trujillo on his first trip to the New World. He was somewhere in his 20’s, the illegitimate son of an infantry colonel and a “woman of poor means,” but acknowledged by his father. After several expeditions around Panama with Francisco de Orellano, another homeboy, Pizarro landed on the coast of Peru in 1528 and began the terrible business of conquering the Inca Empire. He died in Cuzco in 1541, but Trujillo has never forgotten their local “heroes.” The town is choc-a-bloc with plaques on stone buildings that say “Palacio of Francisco de Orellano, discoverer of the Amazon,” and the “Museo de Francisco Pizarro, discoverer of Peru.”

I was particularly interested in visiting Trujillo because Orellano and all four Pizarro brothers were born here. All left for the riches of the New World and one of them, Gonzalo, ended up “owning” our land in Cañar for his services in helping conquer the Incas. His older half-brother Francisco made him governor of Quito and gave him extensive land grants, among them “the territory of the Cañaris and all the natives within it.” I’ve actually seen a facsimile of the document (not it below, but maybe one like it?)

Gonzalo’s putative job was to convert these “natives” to Catholicism, of course, but according to history he was one of the most corrupt, brutal and ruthless conquistadors. And like all the Pizarro brothers but one – he died a violent death, beheaded in 1548 by the Spanish king’s forces in Quito when he refused to support new laws to protect the indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, Francisco lost his head in Cuzco, the result of infighting with another conquistador, Diego de Almagro (not from Trujillo, apparently.)

Today, this small city of less than 10,000 is a lovely tourist destination largely because of the conquistadors’ grand palaces (now museums, municipal buildings, and hotels), and churches still gilded with gold beyond belief. All built on the fabulous riches plundered in 16-17th century South America. (I should also mention that Trujillo has amazing cheeses and chorizos and wines, located as it is on the dry hot plain of Extremadura.)

Here we had a wonderful 3-night stay in the small Hotel Baciyelmo owned by a delightful Dutch and Brazilian couple, Herman and Carla. It took a few discussions and additional reading to figure out that “baci-yelmo” is a compound word referring to a debate in the book Don Quijote where the beloved main character insists that a basin (baci) is a helmet (yelmo) to keep out the rain, while other characters insist it is nothing by a basin. Don Quijote’s sidekick Sancho Panza tries to settle the argument, and thus the word, baciyelmo, has come to be “a symbol of a courageous … attitude to unite two opposing worlds: fiction and reality.”

There it is! I’ve had a really hard time writing this blog, working off and on and giving up, but this quote perfectly captures my dilemma: I’m trying to reconcile the long-past reality of the violent invasion and subjugation of entire New World cultures – the effects still very much felt today – while we enjoy the lovely open-hearted generosity and beauty and gastronomy of present-day Spain (and now Portugal, where I’ve finally had a free day to struggle to the end with this blog).

It was Carla and Herman who told us about O Facho, a hotel in a tiny coastal corner of Portugal where we are the only guests in a 40-room hotel built in 1910. O Facho (or lighthouse back when it was actually a fire built on the cliff that served as a light beacon for ships) owned by Jorge and Elsa, a taciturn couple who mysteriously glide along the hallways turning on a wall sconce at exactly the right time, adjusting the classical music in the dining room or appearing by the fire in the bar to offer a beer or wine. Jorge – many years in Canada as immigrant Portuguese family before coming back 38 years ago and buying “this ruin” and restoring it while keeping its old-world charm. And Elsa – who reveals nothing but is younger and serves breakfast without a word. Pure peace – no credits cards, no TV, no shampoo, no body lotion, no website… (But I will happily reveal the email address for anyone who asks…)

 

In between Trujillo and here we have been to Evora, Portugal, a gem of a small city with loads of Roman ruins, where we had a wonderful meet-up with my sister Char and husband Fred. And then Lisbon, where we coincidently and briefly met up with good friends Andrew and Claire from London. But in Lisbon, what I think of as the “Seville Syndrome” happened: we just never got our bearings. Wrong hotel in a shabby neighborhood, confusion on the Metro that left us on opposite sides of the turnstile (“one person, one ticket” the guard kept saying as I gestured desperately), train tickets out of a diabolical machine that took too long to get and took us too far, a closed museum after a long bus ride on the evening of “International Night of Museums,” and missteps in finding good food. Oh well, this happens once or twice every trip and we are accepting (which is  not to say that Michael doesn’t complain…)

Now we ready for the last stage of our month’s travel on our way back to Madrid for our flight home to Portland on May 31. Two nights in Viseu (“one of Portugal’s best-kept secrets”), and in Spain a stop in Salamanca (“most magnificent main square in Spain”). Then we will be will back to Madrid and at our beloved Hostal Dulcinea on Calle Cervantes, down the street from the house where Miguel Cervantes died in 1616, and around the corner at the  where he was interred at the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians, with morning coffee downstairs at the cafe owned by Alfredo from Peru who will greet us with a kiss on each cheek. It all comes together in wonderful ways.