“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

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.





April: a month to remember!

Dear Friends:

What a month! Where shall I start?  With the tree that fell on our house in Portland? With the news of a three-year grant to UT Texas that includes the Cañar archive project? With the twinges on a newly-crowned tooth that indicate a root canal in my near future? (Here call “tratamiento de conductores,” which I much prefer.) With the hug from the woman at Relaciones Exteriores when I showed up for stage two of my visa transfer after a long wait? Or with the first visit to a notaria to make our Ecuadorian testamento (will) that began with: “You must bring ten witnesses.”  (below: Notaria Lila Jiménez and Lawyer Mercedes Guamán with Michael)

I’ll start with the last first. We are preparing to leave Cañar on May 2, first to Spain and Portugal, then to Portland. As every year when we get ready to fly back and forth over the vast Atlantic, we think about the “what if…” scenario that I wrote about in the last blog.

This time we decided to do something about it. Michael and I had already agreed – with our son Scott’s blessing – that our Cañar house and property will eventually be sold to establish an endowment for the Cañari women’s scholarship program. For this we need an Ecuadorian testamento, a will, to cover any circumstances where we both go at once – a plane goes down or the bus plunges off the side of the road, etc. But for the scholarship program to legally receive any funds generated by the sale, it must become an official non-profit entity within the Ecuadorian government – something we’ve avoided as it requires a crazy amount of paperwork and time, plus a monthly reporting of activities.

But before any of that, we needed a unanimous decision to go ahead with the non-profit year ago.)  Because time is short, I sent out an email requesting an emergency meeting and mentioned the testamento. Big mistake!  Everyone thought we were either (1) dying or (2) leaving Cañar for good. I allayed those fears in a second email, but once we were gathered for the meeting – where Michael and I each spoke of our decision – there were tears, tears and more tears. Testimonios de nostalgia and melancholia, as one member said. I was totally shocked. But when I mentioned that this is commonplace in the U.S., to make legal arrangements for possible future circumstances, it didn’t seem to matter. This was a cultural divide, and Michael and I could only respectfully accept the emotional response.

(I later learned that a will is usually a bedside visit to a dying person by a lawyer or notario – no one apparently does this in advance.)

The decision was quickly made, however, and the next day we met our lawyer Mercedes Guamán (an early scholarship graduate) at the notary – the public official who handles wills. There, in a loud staccato string of words, she told us we would need ten witnesses – five witnesses each – that the wills would be done separately, that because the law requires that 50% of an inheritance must go to a child or children, and we were not doing this: “You must bring photos of your other house (in Portland) to prove that he will not be left destitute by your will.”

Meanwhile, the next day, a tree fell on that house in Portland – Scott’s inheritance.  

We did not mention that to the notaria when we returned the following week. Though we certainly had plenty of time. We spent five hours in her small narrow office, with her three helpers on one side and, in a line of chairs along the other wall, supplicants and witnesses. During which time we witnessed and heard land transactions, whispered questions from an older man about getting divorced, water rights, and even an actual divorce of a young couple sitting mere feet from us. Completed, signed, stamped and paid for while we watched. (The “thawk” of seals and stamps was a daylong soundtrack…)Nothing was private, including our business. “Señora how old are you?” one helper yelled across the room at me while filling a form. Finally, our poor patient witnesses were called forward one by one to sign and make their fingerprints (Lila finally allowed us to share witnesses). The notaria put the two wills into two envelopes, sealed them with packing tape and said, “Now, these will stay with me!” What?

She did allow me to hold one briefly for this photo with our witnesses, and later her assistant did make us copies.

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On to the good news: The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded a three-year grant to AILLA (Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America) at University of Texas, Austin, that includes the Cañar archive project. We’ve been anxiously waiting to hear, since you-know-who-at-the-helm announced last year he might do away with both the NEH and NEA (National Endowment for the Arts). In fact, each was funded at the same level or slightly high than last year. Lucky for us. It means three years of support to digitize, create metadata and publish the photo and sound collections from the Archivo Cultural de Cañar. The University of Texas announcement is here).

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I’ll make the visa story short, although the wait has been long and aggravating.  My passport expired last year and I need to transfer my permanent resident visa into my new passport. Quick bit of paperwork and the whack of a stamp or two? Not on your life! Everything in government Ecuador is now online, beginning with making an appointment with Exterior Relations in Azogues, our provincial capital. That took almost three months. Then, at last, a first visit where I met Norma, this friendly woman who copied my passports and said she’d email when permission came from Quito for the transfer. “That may be as soon as Monday,” she said on Friday. Exactly one month later, after various visits and phone calls to Norma, with Michael fussing that I might not be allowed back into Ecuador as a resident if I left without the visa. Finally, an email from Norma. “Good news! Come with your passports!”  Michael had to provide all his paperwork also, as my visa depends on his – although we both own our property, the real estate visa is based on his name alone, and my visa is as his wife. OK, we’ll let that one go. M. and I showed up at Exterior Relations and Norma actually got up came around her desk to give me a hug. Would I get my visa today?  Not on your life!  Today Norma was only allowed to gather all our paperwork, then we would wait to hear again for the visa transfer. I asked for a photo but she said not allowed. So here’s a view of my paperwork (so far!)  I have a feeling I’m going to be traveling without the new visa.

Although, enough drama. On to bookish pleasures!

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Cañar Book Club

Well Dear Readers, this is our last Cañari book club for the year – or at least until December when we’ll be back to Cañar. But of course we’ll all keep reading books between now and then. For my part, I’m taking these few books for our month in Spain/Portugal: Baltasar and Blimunda, José Saramago. Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, María Rosa Menocal, and This Must be the Place, Maggie O’Farrell (thanks Claire).  Not nearly enough, and I still don’t use an e-reader, but sometimes I get lucky with a bookstore in Madrid.

For my Cañar reading, I’ve just finished and Michael is reading The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, by Andrea Wulf. I couldn’t say it better than what a Bend, Oregon member wrote: “This book has it all!  Big ideas, adventure, history, sumptuous descriptions of nature and a lot about Latin America, specifically Ecuador. He introduced the stunning natural world of northern Latin America to eager scientists in Europe as well as to our own Thomas Jefferson. Beautifully written and researched.”

I’ve also recently read The Sympathizers by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which I found riveting until 3/4 way through, then utterly boring. But I’d give this author another read. Also Victor: An Unfinished Song by Joan Jara about her Chilean husband, singer Victor Jara, who was so horribly tortured and murdered during Pinochet’s military coup d ‘etat in 1973.  I’ve read it before but it’s good to be reminded that this must never happen again.

On to recommendations from other members:

Two faithful readers in Portland recommended: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. “Tells the story of a Korean family through the generations that ended up displaced to Japan. Lee doesn’t make nice on how horrendous that experience was and to some extent still is for Koreans in Japan.  Also Manhatten Beach by Jennifer Egan.  It was great.

From a Toronto member: Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders and winner of this 2017 Man Booker Prize. It’s on my list for next year.

And another Toronto faithful:  I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad by Karolyn Smardz Frost. “To retrace the journey of a runaway slave …from the Ohio River Valley all the way to Canada is an immense challenge & a rare accomplishment….”  Winner of Governor General’s award, 2007.

From a literary friend in Mexico: The Wrong Blood, Manuel de Lope, set during the Spanish Civil War and The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border, Francisco Cantú.

From another Toronto reader. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman – if you haven’t dipped into his books before, Shaman is a good one to start with.  Robinson’s New York 2040  is heavy going – as most of his books are, where detail almost overwhelms the narrative plot – but there is always lots to think about that makes it worthwhile. Including Antarctica, and a trilogy set in Washington during a time of extreme climate events.

And from Norway: The Automobile Club of Egypt. Allaa Al Aswany. “A superb novel of a gentleman’s club in Cairo in the last days of Egypt’s colonial status, before Nassar came to power, and where King Farouk came to gamble. A delight, the same sort of detailed characters as in his earlier The Yacoubian Building”

And a faithful book club member reporting for duty from London!  The Power by Naomi Alderman is …”odd and underwhelming though very readable. It’s supposed to be a feminist book (if there is such a thing) but my partner quite correctly declared … that it’s ‘a girl-book for boys.’ I’d be interested to hear whether you agree.”

I’m afraid I’ve lost track of some recommendations that came in by email, so please remind me, and I’ll keep them in reserve for our next meeting.

Until then, books make life worth living!

Time Marches On….

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?)