2019 Cañari Women’s Scholarship Foundation Update

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I begin this year’s update with exciting news related to Ana Margarita Gasteazoro, the original inspiration for our scholarship program. Ana was a Salvadoran friend from my Costa Rica days, a political refugee after years of resistance and imprisonment during the El Salvador civil war (1979-92/75,000 lives lost). During the late 80’s and early 90’s, with friend/colleague Andrew Wilson, we recorded, transcribed and edited Ana’s oral history. But before we could make a book together – our original plan – Ana died of breast cancer, at age 41, in 1993. Just before, she had visited Michael and me in Cuenca, Ecuador, and we had a chance to spend a night in Cañar. On hearing the news of Ana’s death, I established a women’s education fund (that later became Cañari Women’s Education Foundation). A born teacher, feminist and organizer, Ana fervently believed that women’s education was one of the most important tools for social justice and political progress in Latin America.

Twenty-six years later, we not only have thirty-four university graduates and current scholars, but we have a book! In October I was in El Salvador for the launch of Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoir of a Political Prisoner, based on Ana’s oral history. Many dedicated volunteers helped bring this Spanish edition to life: from translators, transcribers, editors and artists to the director of MUPI, Museum of the Word and Image, in San Salvador, publisher of the book. The banner/poster pictured above was presented various times during the visit to El Salvador, along with the story of Ana’s scholarship. I heard so many of her family, friends, and others who had known her, say – “Ana lives again!” And that is never more true than in our Cañari women’s scholarship program. Stay tuned for an English edition that we hope will be published in a year or two.

Book presentation at MUPI in San Salvador, October 8, 2019

Our early graduates are now mid-career (a term their modesty would never allow), but I thought it would be fun to do some updates – where are they now? – along with before/after photos.

 

Alexandra Mariana Solano (2006/Cuenca/Agronomy) is the new director of CENAGRAP, the potable water organization that serves rural regions of highland Cañar. Here she signs a convenio with city officials. Alexandra is also midway into a new master’s program at University of Azuay in Cuenca: “Climate Change, Sustainability and Development.” (Our program provides $3000 over two years for master’s degrees for our graduates.

Mercedes Guamán (2006/Cuenca/Law) represented Ecuador at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2019, as she had in 2018. She is president of her local community of Quilloac and, as a lawyer, serves a wide contingent of Quichua-speaking clients. She is also our first graduate to receive an honorary degree in jurisprudence for her service to the community and social justice.

Pacha Pichisaca (2011/Cuenca/Medicine) has just finished an advanced diploma in dentistry. Pacha has established her own clinic in Cañar and told me recently that she has added a “second chair” (e.g., business is good). She too serves her neighbors and others as one of the only Quichua-speaking women dentists in Cañar.

Juana Chuma (2015/Cuenca/Veterinary Medicine), finished her master’s at UNAM in Mexico in 2019, and is charging ahead for a PhD in the same program. Although CWEF is not able to support doctoral studies, we are so proud that Juana will be our first graduate to get a doctorate. Juana appears in the photo above with her fellow graduates (first row, far right, white blouse). And on the right, her proud parents in Cañar. Juana has several younger sisters yet to be sent to university, but in order to serve a wider population of young Cañari women, CWEF has a policy of one scholarship per family.

 

In January we had two special visitors to Cañar from Oregon, representing the Bend Giving Circle, a group of six women (now eight!) who have chosen CWEF for monthly support. We had a great gathering of the scholarship women, past and present, and families to meet Helen and Laurel. Maria Esthela, our board treasurer, made red bead necklaces for the group and I recently received this photo taken at their October meeting, showing off their Cañari jewelry. We are so grateful to them – as well as to all of you – for sustained interest and support.

So – a quick recap: the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation has 21 graduates, 13 current scholars, and an amazing board in Cañar that we couldn’t do without, but that could manage very well without me. We meet two or three times a year to look over applications, assess where each woman is in her studies, and decide how many spaces we have to fill. We keep the current group at about 12, which makes the accounting and monthly payments easy to handle. We pay stipends in cash so as to have personal contact with each scholar on a regular basis. Charlotte Rubin, our treasurer in Portland, keeps track of contributions and manages the banking. Michael and I have willed our Cañar house and property to the program – a long time off, we hope – in a move that will help insure long-term sustainability.

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 a yearly 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.

Last note: We are returning to Ecuador on December 16 and the regular Cañar Chronicles will begin in January, along with the Cañar Book Club. I have missed you all, and we will have so much book news to share!

“Indigenous Ecuadorians Too Strong to be Ignored After Deal to End Protests”

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Dear Friends: We are not returning to Cañar until December, but I wanted to post blogs on current events: the recent protests in Ecuador (and resolution – with headline from The Guardian, October 16), and my recent trip to El Salvador for the launch of a book that was inspired by Ana Margarita Gasteazoro, for whom the Cañari Women’s Scholarship Program is named. So…first the protests and the resolution, in an online article published by my good friend Alan Adams, a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador in the 1960’s who has rekindled his Canari friendships in retirement, working with Mushuk Yuyay, a local community development organization and reconnecting with those local indigenous leaders he knew back then. Thanks to Alan, and thanks to his editor at https://www.esperanzaproject.com for allowing me to reprint the article. (I have edited lightly and added a few extra photos from various sources). Next chronicle about El Salvador coming soon…

UPDATE, October 12: At publication time, the Cañari caravan was in Quito joining the throng of demonstrators in a victory celebration. The Moreno government agreed to rescind the austerity decree and has promised to rewrite it with input from the people. Nicolás Pichazaca of Mushuk Yuyay wrote me: “Our work and strategy have not been in vain, not only for the Indigenous people, but for all Ecuadorians. It is one more story.”

Superheroes don’t wear capes. They wear ponchos and sombreros.” The phrase is often repeated in the Andean highlands. And now as they see their lands and their culture under increasing threat, the Indigenous people of Ecuador are employing that phrase once again, as they go out into the streets in the face of danger, as they have many times during their history.

High in the Andes of southern Ecuador live the Cañari people, who have been struggling for their freedom and for Sumak Kawsay, a good life, for thousands of years. Their present challenge comes at the hands of the President of the Republic who made a pact with the International Monetary Fund and expects the poor of Ecuador to pay. When Lenín Moreno Garcés took office, the Cañari people were cautious, hopeful, and patient because he promised to break with the extractive policies of his predecessor, Rafael Correa. He humbled himself before Indigenous people in a solemn ceremony where he accepted the blessing of the many nations that comprise the State of Ecuador.

Lenin Moreno becomes president, February 2017, Reuters.

Slowly it became obvious that the winds in Quito had shifted, as the President began to move in a different direction. I often describe Lenín Moreno in Shakespeare’s words, “Commanded always by the greater gust…” The greater gust these days was coming from the IMF, which demanded austerity, and Moreno decided to find cash by removing fuel price subsidies that have been in place since 1970. Fuel prices shot up by a dollar a gallon, enough to wipe out the budgets of most small businesses as well as of most families. In addition to the gas prices going up, the IMF is requesting an increase in fees for all government services and for utilities, a new value-added tax, a consumption tax, and an increase in the ceiling on interest rates so that banks can charge whatever interest rates they want.

Immediately, the Cañari people responded with peaceful, but vocal, demonstrations throughout their communities. They joined in support of labor unions and other groups, but mostly in collaboration with other indigenous communities and organizations of Ecuador. They blocked roads and joined the general strike. They requested dialogue with the government. Violence began to erupt in the protests — which some, in civilian as well as governmental sectors, suspect was being incited by infiltrators paid by Correa. President Moreno declared a State of Emergency to quell the violence, which only increased the people’s determination to find a solution that would benefit all and lead toward a more secure future for the country. 

President Moreno responded that the austerity policies would not be changed. He said that the demonstrations did not originate with the people but were encouraged by the former president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, working with President Maduro of Venezuela. The statement only fanned the flames of resistance. However, there is evidence that Correa and other actors are taking advantage of the situation to sow doubt and suspicion. The Indigenous organizations need to weave through this confusion cautiously to keep the issues in focus.

Disrespect is not new for the Cañari people. After centuries of being used as beasts of burden, as the Cañari poet José Buñay put it years ago, they are determined not to go back to the abuses of the hacienda days. Last week, as the protests continued to escalate and began to grow violent, Moreno took his government from the capital of Quito to the coastal city of Guayaquil. When the demonstrators set out to meet him there, the mayor of that city stated bluntly that “Indians” are not welcome in her city. They should go back to the páramos, the high mountain grasslands. 

Mayor of Guayaquil Cynthia Viteri in her signature white shirt. Photo El Universo

But Cañaris will not be humiliated. Indigenous people don’t take abuse lightly. A movement was launched to withhold  food from the highland farms to Guayaquil. Several Indigenous people posted photos of their páramo homes with pride. They also posted the reminder that Indigenous peoples can be found in the universities, the professions, government offices, elected positions, and everywhere in Ecuadorian society. They even live in Guayaquil.

The declarations that I read over and over again from Cañari friends are not simply that the price of gas should go down, but that neoliberal policies must end. The IMF must go. What they are demanding is a complex set of changes, each affecting the other, that cannot be oversimplified. There is no simple fix. They are proposing a comprehensive solution on the other side of the insults and accusations that will insure that a way toward a peaceful and lasting social and economic system can be secured. This solution will be sought by large numbers of determined and united people.

Faced with this necessity, the people of the Cañari communities, both those in Ecuador and those who have emigrated, decided to add their voices. Truckloads of people departed. They made laughing videos of people climbing aboard moving overcrowded vehicles. Wave after wave of men, women, and children declared their determination to protect their rights as Ecuadorian citizens.

The last trucks to departed Cañari on Saturday morning. It was not lost on anyone that this was Columbus Day, the day set aside to commemorate the beginning of the struggle that they have been involved in for over 500 years. They drove slowly over roads that had been blocked and made contacts with others along the way. On Saturday evening, the caravan announced that they had Puruhua People in their company now. They are the Indigenous Nation to the north of the Kañari in the province of Chimborazo. On Sunday they set off again in trucks, cars, buses, and on foot on a cold and cloudy day.

Photo by Kusikayo Naula, Zhud.

The plan was to arrive in Quito in time to lend force to the words of the leaders in a meeting with the President, to show the strength of a united people and to prove that hardship and danger will not deter them. We remember, too, that over the recent Ecuadorian history, Indigenous demonstrations have led to changes of government and policy changes. What sets this demonstration apart is its spontaneity and comprehensiveness.  The people responded immediately to a threat with thought and care to find a solution consistent with their goals. To get elected, President Moreno said and did some things he seems to have forgotten, but the people didn’t forget.

This is but one more chapter in the history of the people who developed their science and art over the millennia, resisted the Inca, survived the haciendas, rebuilt their lives through the Agrarian Reform, ended the agro-chemical-based Green Revolution, confronted (and continue to confront) climate change, and now are dedicated to help redesign the social and economic institutions of Ecuador. The significance of this continuing struggle cannot be overemphasized.

ALAN ADAMS

The Winds of Change

We came back from Spain on June 1 to Cañar’s equatorial winter – unrelenting wind and cold and rain with night (and sometimes day) temperatures in the 40s. No heat other than the fireplace, which Michael keeps going all day now.

Three sweaters, wool cap, and boots, trying to work by fire.

We’d forgotten that we like to be in Portland by June, but our house was firmly rented until July 1, so here we are. I’d picked up a respiratory virus the last days in Spain and the first couple of weeks here were devoted to following everyone’s home remedies: milk with garlic before bed; tea made of violets; ginger, garlic, honey and rum hot toddy; Hedera helix (ivy leaf) extract expectorant; and so on. But with a virus like this you just have to ride it out…

Meanwhile we fall back into our usual routines. Market on Sundays.

My herb and flower vendor in market. “Drink the violet tea three times a day.”
Cesar, Michael’s fish guy: “Bring me a hat like yours next year!”

Our near neighbor Magdalena, after years of living in a near hovel with several children, is building a mega-migrant house, two-and-a-half stories flush with our property line, as is the practice here. We have tall shrubs and trees that mitigate the view somewhat, but we can only be happy that Magdalena – and it appears new daughters-in-law and babies and maybe a new son-in-law – have a house. Magdalena’s husband has been in the U.S. as long as we’ve been here. We assume. Magdalena is rather fierce with us – guardedly friendly but no exchange of information. Probably because we share a property line – a very delicate business here and we did have a few issues years back when she insisted her property line was “where the rock used to be.” But someone has obviously been sending money and Magdalena has had a pile of bricks waiting for years for this important moment in the lives of migrant families: pay off the debt, send a son or daughter, then begin saving money for a truck or house.

We see these houses everywhere – oversized, mostly badly designed, made of concrete block or brick, but the source of great pride with the family. Then they sit empty for a few years before a For Sale sign goes up. I don’t really understand all of this.`

Then there is my gardening, or my “zen” gardening as I think of it, because no matter how many weeds I pull, how much I prune, plant and plan, when I come back six months later everything has returned to its original state. The kikuyu African grass has invaded the flower beds, the fuchsia bush outside our bedroom window – that I cut back every year before we leave – is as bushy and invasive as ever. The vegetable garden, planted by our compadres who watch the house, is overpopulated with way too much cabbage, onions, cauliflower and lettuces. More than we can ever eat, and they refuse to take the produce to market, insisting it for us. So, a lot goes to waste, but before we leave, I usually do the same – plant vegetables for them (not this year, too cold!)

Another part of our agricultural cycle happens in the back field, where our compadres plant. The corn and beans are done, the field is covered in sticky weeds and two days ago we looked out to see two bulls and two sheep at work, eating all that remains. Such an efficient system! They fertilize while they eat, of course, and once the field is cleared – in a week or two – Jose María and Narcisa will till the field using the same bulls yoked to a wooden plow. And, I suspect, those same sheep will be chomping on the grass around the house while we’re gone.

Finally, this particular June will be memorable because, after 18 months of frustrating paperwork, innumerable trips to Cuenca and Azogues (regional capital) to a horrible building called “Center of Citizen Attention (see above image), several moments of my head-on-desk in front of a government agent – “no es possible…” when I was turned down once again because of an error made 10 years ago at an airport in my passport, or a mistaken date in an office in Quito – I HAVE A NEW VISA! I didn’t cry during the process, which has taken such a chunk out of my time here in 2018 and 2019, though I was tempted at times. When I told the agent this past week that this has been the worst experience of my 15 years living in Ecuador, she didn’t blink. Then, because it had just happened as I was waiting, I said – “And a man just walked by sobbing!” “That’s different,” she said, “he’s from Venezuela,” as though that made a difference. (There has been a huge waves of Venezuelans coming to Ecuador, trying to work and make new lives.)

Anyway, three days ago I had my last interview when I knew I’d cleared all the hurdles. I gave the agent my two passports, old and new. She asked me to go into the waiting room while she processed the visa. I asked if I could observe. No. She called me back in a few minutes, handed my the passports and said, “Your visa is in an email.” I couldn’t believe it. Do I stick it in my passport? I asked. “No, no just carry the paper with you as you leave and come into the country.” Here it is

An interesting update to my last post about the Jewish community in Gerona, Spain from my favorite daily blog, Spitalfields Life. “Built in 1901, the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London is the oldest synagogue in the UK, and it has been continuously in use for over three hundred years, … Its origin lies with Spanish and Portuguese Jews who came to London in the seventeenth century, escaping persecution of the Catholic Church and taking advantage of a greater religious tolerance in this country under Oliver Cromwell’s rule. When war broke out between England and Spain in 1654, Antonio Robles, a wealthy merchant, went to court to prove that he was Jewish rather than Spanish – establishing a legal precedent which permitted Jewish people to live freely in this country for the first time since their expulsion by Edward I in 1290.”

The Cañar Book Club

Coming back from Spain, my worst reader’s fears were realized when I saw I was out of books. I had loaded one on my mini-iPad for the trip – my first ever ebook – and I turned back to that source out of desperation. That took me down the rabbit-hole of Amazon’s 1-click buy (click-bait?) and I haven’t stopped ordering books since, and reading at a much faster pace, for some reason (partly, all the bus reading time for visa business). So, graded by stars: The Hand that Held Mine, Maggie O’Farrell (****), West by Cary Davies (***), Educated by Tara Westover (****), The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai (**), Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (****), and The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (*). This was getting expensive and I had to stop. It occured to me I could order ebooks from my home library and I put in a couple of titles. Normal People by Sally Rooney – over 500 holds!

So, now I’m back to re-reading “paper” books from my Cañar shelves, The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor, a favorite author, and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, a prequel to Anything is Possible. Those’ll take me home to Portland, next week, June 30, when I’ll start stockpiling books for next year’s trip to Ecuador.

Meanwhile, some faithful book club members have stayed active through June. Here are their comments.

Irene from Salem sent my all-time favorite title:.  The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Author?

Maggi Redmonds from Toronto: The End of Days: A Story of Tolerance, Tyranny and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, by Erna Paris,

Patty in Portland: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez and Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck.

Joanne in Portland read The Great Believers on the plane back from Philly and loved it; also started The Ninth Hour – a bit dark but excellent writing. Before that she read Say Nothing, which was really compelling and she loved Milkman. (Not everyone does.) And like me and hundreds of others, she’s on the list at the library for both of Sally Rooney’s novels.

Mel in Vermont is reading Michael Ondaatje’s Cat’s Table.

My sister Sherry in Santa Fe: reading the best book! The Night Of The Gun by David Carr

Who sent this? I’m sorry to say I lost track, but it goes so beautifully with my previous post and the update above. The Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish. This is about descendants of Portuguese Jews who escaped the inquisition by moving to Britain, and how modern-day researchers uncovered this history through 17th century manuscripts found in an English home.

Fond regards to all.

Girona, Spain: two peoples, a thousand years apart, each calling for autonomy

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We have landed in the small city of Girona in the far northeast corner of Spain, part of the Catalonia region. It’s a city we’d never heard of but chose because (1) we wanted to avoid the madding crowds of Barcelona, (2) it was near the Pyrenees mountains and good for scenery, and (3) it would be a good base from which to explore the nearby Costa Brava, where we’d take peaceful walks along the spectacular Mediterranean coastline and visit the Dalí Museum.

None of that happened once we realized that the tourist crowds of Barcelona were heading to or coming back from the Costa Brava, with the Dalí museum a de rigueur stop.

WHERE WE DID NOT GO….

But in Girona we found a beautiful medieval town with two intriguing chapters of human history, a thousand years distant, with each group wanting only self determination to maintain their culture, language, rights, customs, and rituals: a Jewish community that thrived here for 600 years, from the 9th-14th century, and a 21st-century Catalonia community with its own unique identity, including a language that is not related to Spanish.

The juxtaposition of these two histories marked our visit to Girona: the Jewish community that was destroyed by extreme persecution, the Spanish inquisition and eventual expulsion from Spain, and the Catalans who are still here and fighting for autonomy and independence from the rest of Spain..

The walled city of Girona, as with so much of historic Spain, changed hands regularly with invasions, wars, regional conflicts, the inquisition, immigration and emigration. The first inhabitants were prehistoric Iberians (migrating Celtic peoples), then came the Romans (4th century), followed by Visigoths and Moors (8th century), and in the 9th century Christians wrested the region of Girona from the Moors in a re-conquest at the hands of a local called Wilfred the Hairy (really! Guifré el Pilós). He re-populated areas the Moors had left, established laws of inherited titles and land, and is often credited with being the founder of independent Catalonia. Here is here below fighting a dragon.

In Girona, we found the remains of the Jewish community in a puzzle of labyrinthine streets in the old town and an excellent new Museum of Jewish History built on the site of an ancient synagogue and mikvah (ritual bath). https://bit.ly/2w1ml6F

The Jewish Quarter (aljama) in Girona, which dates back to at least the 9th century, grew up in the old town around the Cathedral, with synagogue, baths, butcher shop, book binders and sellers, shoemakers, tailors, weavers, midwives, and money lenders. For 600 years the community thrived, as Jews became a prosperous and influential part the city’s life, although always ruled over by – and in alliances with – the Christian rulers.

In the museum we saw original documents such as elaborate marriage agreements (if one was destroyed by fire, the couple was no longer considered married until a new one was drawn up,) massive medieval gravestones with Hebrew text that we couldn’t believe they moved into the space (we later saw a photo – power lifted through an opening in stone walls) and archeological finds such as 13-14th century ceramic jugs and silver earrings,

Michael in courtyard of old synagogue

All this changed in the 14th century, when the Jewish quarter became a target of racist attacks, then an isolated ghetto with Jews banned from the rest of the city, and In the year 1391 a violent attack wiped out half the Jewish population and ordered those who remained to convert to Christianity. Those who refused to convert, or were suspected of following their religious rituals or practices, were denounced, imprisoned for life, or burned alive. The Inquisition destroyed any remnants of the aljama and in 1492, as Columbus sailed for the New World, all Jews were expelled from Spain. Our time in the museum and after, walking the ancient streets of Girona as the city prepared for its annual flower festival, it was hard to grasp the inhumanity and cruelty of human beings to one another…

“629 were burned alive and and 609 who had fled were burned in effigy.”

Leaving the Museum of Jewish History we saw everywhere pro-independence banners and flags (with a single star) and the ubiquitous yellow lapel pins. Photos of political prisoners hung large on buildings with signs like the one below.

The leader of one of two pro-independence parties, Carles Puigdemont, a journalist and politician, is from Girona. Two years ago the Spanish government forcible removed him and others from office in the Catalan parliament after an unofficial referendum in 2017 – when 92% voted “yes” – and the parliament declared independence from Spain. The leaders were charged with rebellion and misuse of public funds. Puigdemont fled the country, lives in exile in Belgium, and last week was re-elected in absentia as president of his party.

Two activists and seven politicians remain in prison. We saw banners and their photos here in Girona and all over in Catalonia – including yellow ribbons strung along highway fences.

We were ready to leave Girona and politics behind and travel to the beautiful village of Besalú. There we stayed five days and found an HBO film crew preparing the historic center for a shoot of the third season of Westworld (??): sand bags (filled with nut shells), barricades, vintage clothes hanging from windows half-covered with wooden planks. I think there’s a Spanish Civil War theme going here, but we didn’t ask.

Cañar Book Club

Spain reads! There are bookstores in every town, large magazine stands on the streets, and in Catalonia free books exchanges in the bus stations. Our Cañar book club had a short meeting this time, but I’m happy to pass on some comments and recommendations from some of our most active members, and a report of my desultory reading in Spain.

Patty from Portland writes: “Brother by David Chariandy was suggested by your book club. Very good and you will recognize Toronto/Scarborough – all places are accurate. Maggie O’Farrell is new to me but what a storyteller she is! On my third novel and I can’t put her down.”

And Claire from London: I can’t remember who mentioned the book, West by Carys Davies, but I wanted to thank them as I’d never heard of it – or indeed the author before. She writes extraordinary prose, taut and concise but at the same time incredibly descriptive. It’s a thin book which could have done with a few more pages to flesh out some of her descriptions and ideas! Never mind, I still wanted to turn the page to find out what happened next and I did feel transported to late 19th century U.S. 

Claire goes on to add: Now here’s a weird thing that happened. I was finishing the book on a bus home one evening and a man approached me to ask if he could take a picture of me reading it to share with the author who, he said, was a good friend! I declined. I’m not of the selfie/instagram generation and found it a bit uncomfortable, even more so when he then confessed that he had two copies of the book at home but hadn’t yet read it! 

And from Arlene in Toronto: Yes, I am the one who recommended Carys Davies. I think her book The Redemption of Galen Pike is even more exhilarating to read than West.

Alan in New Jersey is reading Klondike Fever by Pierre Berton. “He goes into great detail about a lot of boys on a mission and what greed can do to them. I read Berton’s two volumes about the War of 1812. That’s when I found out that the oral history we have about an ancestor of ours in that war is about four thirds untrue.”

From Pat in Bend, Oregon: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver about life in precarious times when the foundations of the past fail to prepare us for the future. It’s a story of two families in two different centuries that live precariously on the corner of 6th and Plum in Vineland, NJ, a former utopian community.”

Laura in New York recommends The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.

From my sister Char: The Principles of Uncertainty, written and illustrated by Maira Kalman. “I’m sure most of you have read her, but this book is a real journey. Just the title made it relevant for today: the eternal question of who are we and what are we, with a touch of the Holocaust, growing old, fashion, hairdos and dogs.”

And finally, from Patricia in Cuenca: The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison. “A new collection of essays and lectures spanning four decades of the author’s career that cements her status as an unparalleled literary innovator.”

My own reading during this past month: Voices of the Old Sea, by Norman Lewis, based on his memories of post-WW II Costa Brava and the book that made me want to visit the area. It was as enjoyable a read this time as it was a few years ago, though I was shocked that he described Besalú (the village we loved) as …”an unattractive town built round a hundred yards of third-class highway.” I think he got it confused with somewhere else!

A Penelope Lively book I found in a thrift store in Madrid, How it All Began, a sweet and wry novel that starts with the street mugging of an older woman and the “butterfly effect” as lives around her intersect. I’ve always loved Lively and this felt like we’re old friends growing older together. I note her new book is Life In the Garden – now on my list.

There were a couple of other forgettable books as I ran out of reading material, but I have a prize in my carry-on bag for the 12-hour flight back to Ecuador tomorrow, given me by my sister before she left Madrid: Warlight by Michael Ondaatje – another writer that’s been a part of my life since I read The Collected Works of Billy the Kid while doing a typing stint in Toronto at Coach House Press, his first publisher.

Well dear readers, that’s it for now – it was not such a short meeting after all. Keep the book club recommendations coming and I’ll make one final Cañar Chronicle in June before we return to Portland in July.

Of “Dioses y Diablos” (and visiting angels)

Dear Friends: I love it when things turn out the way you’ve hoped and planned. A couple of years ago, I came across an article published in 1984 by an anthropological linguist from England, Rosaleen Howard, “Dyablu Its Meanings in Cañar Quichua Oral Narrative.” I took note, as published material on Cañar is rare, and when I later came across her book, Dioses y Diablos: tradicion oral de Cañar, Ecuador, (Gods and Devils: Oral Tradition in Cañar, Ecuador) with more than 50 Cañari myths and legends, recorded in Quichua and transcribed into Spanish, I knew I had to find her and invite her back to Cañar. So I began to search by the Internet and email…and searched, and searched. No luck. Finally, about a year ago, my contact at University of Texas gave me Rosaleen’s correct address. Success! She answered immediately, delighted to have been found.

She is Director of the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Chair of Hispanic Studies – School of Modern Languages, at Newcastle University in the U.K. She wrote that she’s now doing research primarily in Peru and Bolivia but was already planning a trip back to Ecuador. I described the Archivo Cultural de Cañar, and the great importance to the Cañari community to have access to these stories, in live recordings and written text. Could we find a time to work together in Cañar? We began to compare our schedules and plan.

Spoiler alert: she’s here! Barely a day after she arrived last week, she gave her first talk on Cañari myths and music to an audience of bilingual (Kichwa/Spanish) teachers, administrators, students, and one of the original narrators from 1976, Pedro Duy (on her left in photo). Everyone loves that Rosaleen speaks Kichwa. And I was so pleased to present her in the name of the Archivo Cultural de los Cañaris, and just that morning had delivered our new banner with the name in Kichwa.

Rosaleen was in her twenties in the 1970’s when she came to Cañar to do her doctoral research, when this was a dark and dreary place with no electricity in the villages, no roads, no amenities such as potable water. The agrarian reform had barely begun, this was pre-migration, and the people were poor. In our working visits to villages to interview those narrators still alive, she marveled at the changes.

Our first visit was to the village of Juncal to speak to Gerónimo Guasco Guamán, one of Rosaleen’s original narrators 43 years ago, and whom I know from my work with the book of Danish anthropologists Niels Fock and Eva Krener, which we published in Spanish as Juncal: Una comunidad indígena del ecuador in 2016. Tayta Gerónimo wrote the introduction that edition. It was a gorgeous day when we took a taxi/truck about 20 kilometers away to a spectacular mountain valley that has changed little, geographically speaking (sheep are still there too).

Since we published Juncal in Spanish, I’ve been working with three bilingual educators to translate it into Kichwa and the day of our visit I took a mock-up of the new version to show Tayta Geronimo and his wife, Rosario María. After the family gathered around for a look…

…Mama Rosario took possession of the book and worked through every page, identifying people and places, including a photo of herself in a distant field. She couldn’t have cared less about the text; it was the images that transported her back almost 50 years. A wonderful moment for me as a photo archivist – I only wish I had recorded her information.

Rosaleen waited patiently to talk to Tayta Gerónimo. Although he can’t hear well, she wanted to play one of his recorded stories, so he held two little speakers to his ears and was delighted to listen to a long story he’d recorded with her in 1976.

Next day we made a visit to the village La Capilla, near Cañar, where we met two original narrators: Pedro Duy and Segundo Avelino. After a tasty lunch of fried trout (it was Good Friday), Rosaleen took out her computer to show photos she’d taken in 1976. Suddenly, Segundo said, “That’s me, joven!” as he pointed to a young man in the back of a truck dressed for a fiesta.

And there he was, as a young man, 43 years ago (back right, with banner across chest, holding hat). Very excited, Segundo said he had to have a copy of the photo, and we sat there for a moment, thinking. Then – this being 2019 – he took his iPhone out of his pocket and made a copy from the computer screen.

That led to reminiscing, which led to the proper moment for Rosaleen to take out her recorder and ask how things have changed since 1976. It was a mostly a sad litany, with some nostalgia: “We’ve lost our language, our traditional clothing, our agricultural practices, our music (Pedro gave up the accordion ten years ago), and so on…

But then we look around at Pedro’s and Laura’s large and comfortable house and enclosed patio. At 71 years, Pedro still works on the mountain with his animals and crops. His daughter, Laura, has just graduated from the University of Cuenca. Segundo mentions his horses and cattle, and shows us his Borsalino cowboy hat (he’d given up the white Cañari hat from the photo). In this particular community it appears there has been a shift from Cañari culture to a mestizo life, but these folks are vital into old age, tending their crops and animals, educating their children, living in good houses, and they are no longer poor.

After, Rosaleen and I took the long way home, walking along unknown roads that dead-ended in steep pathways, to finally reach our house in time for wine, the fire, and Michael’s dinner of BBQ’d pork chops and mashed potatoes, plus salad with homemade pickled beets. Ahhh…

Rosaleen will present her work this week at two universities in the area, then head back to Guayaquil, Quito and Newcastle. But I’m happy to say she’s already planning her next trip back to Cañar. Yupaychani, Rosaleen, and come back soon!

The Cañar Book Club is BACK!

Two young women in Juncal perusing their new book, Juncal, una comunidad indígena en Ecuador, March 2016.

Many of my dear book club members were outraged that we skipped a meeting of the Cañar Book Club in the March blog, and I apologize. One should never be too busy to pass on recommendations of good books. So here they are a month late – and I promise never to miss a meeting again (except for next month, when I’ll be in Spain).

From Claire in London as she was leaving for a holiday: Tangerine by Christine Mangan that was strongly recommended by the cashier at bookstore. And I’ve just started The Capital by Robert Menasse. She adds: “anything by Maggie O’Farrell, my go-to when I can’t think what else to read; I’m going to run out soon.” Judy’s comment: I agree on Maggie O’Farrell. She never disappoints.

And from my great archive collaborators, the Peace Corps guys who served in Cañar in the 1960s. Alan, in New Jersey, recommends: The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. And Dan, in Florida: “The Woman in the Window,” a novel by A.J. Finn, Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, a nonfiction work by Grace Humiston, set in early 20th century New York, about the city’s first female detective. Finally, Gringolandia by Matthew Hayes, a Canadian sociology professor who writes about the ex-pat community in Cuenca, Ecuador. “He’s not exactly an Oscar Lewis but some of his interviews with expats are very illuminating.” 

From Sandy a reader in Portland of serious books: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore, and Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. ” I still find myself reacting to Citizen. Partly because I had to read it multiple times to even come close to understanding it all. I really do think it is one of the best books I have ever read.”

From Pat in Bend, Oregon: Daring to Drive by Manal Al-Sharif:  “A Saudi woman who suffered the culture of her country, worked to reform the treatment of women, ended up in prison, and eventually emigrated. Her answers are ambivalent; she loves her country, but her country’s culture brutalizes women.

From Arlene in Toronto: Brother by David Chariandy: “beautiful short novel that won the Toronto Book Award and Rogers Fiction Prize about two brothers of Trinidadian descent growing up in Scarborough.” The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: “a feminist rewriting of The Iliad from the point of view of the Trojan Women.” (Judy’s note: I love anything by Pat Barker; this one goes on my list.) The Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach Us about Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski, the founder of the Zen Project Hospice in San Francisco. Women Talking by Miriam Toews (See the recent New Yorker profile here: https://bit.ly/2Frwe3a.) And The Redemption of Galen Pike a book of short stories by Carys Davies. “I think her work is spectacular. I roll her sentences around on my tongue as though they were delicious food. Am reading her West: A Novel right now.” (Judy’s note: I don’t know this writer but reading the rave reviews and awards, I certainly plan to bring her with me to Cañar next year.)

From Patty in Portland. “Just finished Becoming and loved it. Michelle’s story is amazing Made me miss the Obama White House even more.”

From my sister Char in Santa Fe: Figuring by Maria Popova. “It will take me all year to read it, but every page is wonderful. I’m also reading The Wife by Meg Wolitzer, which is well written with a sense of extraordinary observation. I like it. Haven’t seen the film.” (Judy’s comment: Glenn Close certainly should have won the Oscar for the film. See if if you haven’t!)

From Nancy In Portland: Pig Boy’s Wicked Bird by Doug Crandell about life with his sharecropper parents and four siblings (Derrick, Darren, Dina and Dana) during one particular year in childhood, 1976. Poe Ballantine (one of my favorite Sun essayists) wrpte Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere. Takes place in Nebraska.” Judy’s comment: After this I get to say that my birthplace (Nebraska) was the ‘howling plains of nowhere.’

Phew! That was a long meeting with lots of good book suggestions. So I’ll keep my part brief by saying my greatest fear has been realized: I’ve run out of books and it’s only April! My last good read was The Company You Keep by Neil Gordon, a writer who died too young after producing two other great books: Sacrifice of Isaac and The Gunrunner’s Daughter. All complicated stories that require a lot of attention, but my favorite was the last as it deals with the underground life of Vietnam War protestors from the famous Weather Underground. A lot of factual info intertwined around fictional characters. A riveting read. After that, my friend Lynn in Cuenca loaned me two Henning Mankell books. An author I’ve loved over the years with the Wallander mystery series, since his lamented death two years ago it appears his publishing machine has gone into overdrive, scouring anything not yet printed. So skip An Event in Autumn (written for a Wallander give-away in Holland many years ago), and After the Fire, a novel without Wallander but with a protagonist I heartily disliked. Desperate, I asked visitors from Portland to bring me, The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry, which I’ve just started and am enjoying getting my feet into the deep dark mud of the Blackwater Estuary in1883 Essex. Stay tuned for final report on that one.

Until then, keep reading and sending your recommendations for the next Cañar Book Club, in June (May club meets in Spain….)