House and garden

Dear Friends. I’d planned to write about Carnival, or Lalay Raymi as it’s called here, but for the first time since 2005 I skipped the event. Past years I’ve documented the hours-long parade as it winds through the villages and into town before gathering in a local field for more hours of eating, dancing and music. I’d always make a stop at home to download hundreds of photos, have a quick bite, then rush back out to take hundreds more, until the end the day when, totally exhausted, I’d come home. Despite being the best photo op of the year, after so many times and thousands of photos, my Lalay Raymi images are beginning to look much the same. Also, I had a mild cold this year that just wouldn’t go away and Michael convinced me to stay home. (Below, 2016, 2012, 2014.).

Instead, I thought I’d write about house and garden. So come on in… you’ll note that although the house looks much the same, the trees are growing tall, the lawn is established and there’s a line of flowers I faithfully attend while we’re here.

This month marks the twelfth year in our Cañar house, and it’s fitting that our talented architect, Lourdes Abad, is spending a few days with us as she presents a workshop in Cañar on construction and restoration of earthen buildings (e.g. adobe). On the last day she is bringing the participants to see our house and sample Michael’s canelaso (hot alcoholic tea).

So, a look back to March 2007: after two years of construction drama, we moved into our house with an traditional Cañari housewarming, or wasipichana, that included a night-time vigil, procession, blessing, southern cross placed on the roof, a roasted pig to feed about 100 guests, live music, dancing, and finally, fiery paper balloons called globos launched to float over the countryside. A wonderful day and a great relief when it was over. Since then, we have become la casa de los gringos.

In 2013, after I’d published a book about building the house and living half-years in Canar, (https://amzn.to/2ueNcvm), I sent an email to a journalist at the New York Times in the then Home and Garden section (I miss it still!) and in an act of shameless self-promotion, I suggested an article and attached some photos. Within a week or so, an editor had assigned a writer and photographer to come to Cañar. That’s how we met Tony Cenicola, this great photographer who spent a week with us and took the best photos of the house we’ll ever have by climbing a ladder in the garden to get the photo of the house lit up, and climbing a tree across the road to get the photo from the front, showing the rooflines. (And, despite having his rental car and some equipment impounded by the police in Cuenca for the entire week, he still came back a couple of years ago for another story!)

I was a bit disappointed, however, when the full-page article with a 23-image slideshow came out, to see that his editor had chosen many photos of sedums and other plain plants in the patio, and nasturtiums in the kitchen garden, rather than shots of the Cañari people, or the countryside, or examples of traditional adobe houses. And after I’d arranged for the writer to spend a half day with architect Lourdes, there was no mention of the importance of maintaining traditional architecture in Cañar. Here’s the article, “Up in the Clouds,” from June 2013: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/garden/a-second-home-in-the-andes-worth-the-4300-mile-trek.htm

And now to the garden. Our interior glass-covered patio garden has gone through several stages, from being the dusty dance floor and blessing site during the housewarming (see above), to early experiments with Andean crops (we came back one year to find our compadres had planted corn and peas), my endless flowers that dried up in the solar heat, a lemon tree that got whitefly, to gifts or purchases and exotic epiphytes picked up on walks and plopped down in an alien environment.

But plants know what they like best, so twelve years later we have a garden with monster aloeveras reaching for the sky, huge jade plants, aggressive creeping oregano that we keeping digging out, spiky things such as cacti, succulents and other desert-like plants without names (known to me) that tend to be slow-growing and do not require much care for the six months we’re gone. Then there’s that large spiking beauty from our friend Eduardo’s Vega’s yard in Cuenca that has gone crazy and neighbors keep asking for hijuelos – offspring- to take away for their own garden (photo: bottom center).

All identifying information welcome! One of my pleasures during a work day is to step out to the patio and take a short break to water pots or pull weeds and oregano, or watch the birds that come in and make themselves at home – even building nests when we’re gone. And my other pleasure is taking a longer afternoon break (between work and wine) to fiddle around in the kitchen garden. There, my talents are limited but not my enthusiasm for weeding, turning the soil – still finding construction nails and pieces of roof tiles – and planting seedlings (broccoli, chard, parsley purple cabbage, cilantro). It doesn’t matter if we’re not here to harvest the crop. Our compadres (who planted the corn in the patio and always plant vegetables in kitchen garden before we come) will be here to enjoy.

Well, dear friends, I’ve taken up enough of your time, and we’ll have to forego the book club this blog, but I promise another one soon once I emerge from my visa/vortex/ HELL that has kept me traveling a couple of days a week to Cuenca or Azogues to solve the unimaginably, endless, problems around having my permanent resident visa transferred from my old passport to a new. I’m now in the second year of tramites – red tape – and my only advice is to not stay in Ecuador beyond your 10-year passport expiration. (Just kidding.)

But I do want to end with an important announcement. This week, AILLA – Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America at University of Texas, Austin, launched the first archives from Cañar – the Peace Corps Collection.

AILLA’s newest public collection is the Cañar Peace Corps Collection, which features more than 400 photographs taken in the 1960s and 1970s by US Peace Corps Volunteers working in Ecuador with the Kichwa-speaking Cañari people on projects related to agrarian reform, forestry, and traditional handcrafts. Many photographs (some in color, others in black and white) are portraits of Cañari people or panoramas of the dramatic landscape of southern Ecuador.

I couldn’t be more pleased that we begin the first phase of this NEH-supported, three-year project with the work of these (then) young and idealistic men (and one woman) who came to Cañar in the 1960’s with cameras, typewriters and tape recorders, and once home, managed to keep their negatives, photos, cassette tapes and documents safe in attics and basements and boxes for 50 years until they reached retirement. Then, recalling this unforgettable time of their life, they scanned, copied, e-mailed and packed up boxes of documents to be a part of the Archivo Cultural de Cañar.

Participants in Peace Corps leadership training course, circa 1968.

I’ll end with Alan Adams’ introduction to the collection:

A bit about the Peace Corps in Cañar by Alan Adams: In the period of Ecuadorian agrarian reform from 1965 to 1970, we Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Cañar tasked with supporting the peasant population’s formation of agricultural cooperatives. Young and idealistic, we walked among the indigenous Cañari and we were astonished. We conversed with them. We listened to them. We desperately tried to help them. And if we provided a word of encouragement, fantastic. What we learned was invaluable. We volunteers participated on many occasions and in many ways, and some of us had the idea to take pictures. Mine were lost. Some thought to keep their photos, and now they are available as part of a historic visual archive of agrarian reform, a decisive period in the history of the Cañari people. It was not a reform that happened to the Cañari, but rather a movement that the people themselves took over, shaped, and created to turn the course of their history. We hope that these photos help communicate the admiration and reverence that we felt as we watched the agrarian reform unfold.

Mil gracias! Hasta la proxima. Judy




Migration is not a crime

I’ve had migration much on my mind these days – up close personally, through the media with the Trumpian wall hysteria, watching the crisis in neighboring Venezuela sending many migrants to Ecuador, and with two excellent fiction books I’ve just finished, Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, about African migrants in Germany (and so much more). And Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, which begins in an unknown country in the Middle East.

For the up-close and personal, I want to tell a Cañar migration story, (with names changed).

At 4:00 AM on a October morning we received a call in Portland from an acquaintance here in Cañar, Alejandro, an older man who had worked on our house construction and who became a “compadre de la casa, which means we are considered near-family. He called to say his son – I’ll call him Rafael – had left Cañar in September with his wife, Mariana. Both were picked up crossing the border and were recently found held at the Eloy Detention Center near Phoenix, Arizona. His son wanted to be in touch with us. Could we help?

This was the beginning of many collect calls from Eloy, and many letters on my part for Rafael: one saying we knew him as an honorable man who would not be a threat if released, another to a judge at Eloy, another to the lawyer who was “helping,” saying we would provide some support to the couple in getting settled if released (I don’t think Rafael ever realized we were in Portland, Oregon, not New York or New Jersey.) Meanwhile, I took an online tour of Eloy Detention Center by a local Fox10 TV station in Phoenix, showing a modern clinic, an exercise yard and a in-facility courtroom. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHsM2XADlSQ But make no mistake: this is a prison, a private prison owned and operated by CoreCivic, under contract with ICE.

Some quick facts on Eloy: 1,500 men and women are presently being held for various immigration violations, and after the Trump administration’s controversial zero-tolerance policy in 2018, the facility housed roughly 300 mothers separated from their children. People die here, primarily through suicides but also for lack of timely medical attention; since 2003, Eloy alone represented 9% of the total inmate deaths in all 250 detention facilities in the United States.

In our calls, with urgency on Rafael’s part, asking for yet another letter addressed to yet another official at Eloy, we didn’t talk much about his personal situation. But I learned later from his father (once we were back in Cañar) that he is an engineer by training, and that he and Mariana left four children with Alejandro and his wife, Leonor. Grandparents in their 70’s who thought they were done with child rearing, grandparents who surely sacrificed to send their son to university, grandparents who are really very poor, left raising four children, two of them still in primary school? I found this hard to comprehend, but asked no further questions the one time Alejandro came to visit – tired and worried – so as not to reveal my true feeling: How on earth could his son and wife leave their four children, knowing it will be years before they see, or care for them, again?

Fast forward to last week, when I ran into Rafael’s sister, Clemencia. As we walked down the road together, I asked if there was news of her brother and sister-in-law. “They were released last week!” she said. I asked if they had to pay bail (thinking of the letter to the lawyer)? “Oh yes,” she said, “they had to pay $15,000 for Rafael, and $20,000 for Mariana.” And on top of that, I thought, add the cost of paying coyotes to get them from Cañar to the U.S.: right now up to $12,000, probably more for a couple. “They are both in New York and working,” Clemencia said, “and They have a court date in three months.” (Or not, I thought. It’s common enough for migrants from Cañar to sacrifice the bail, be no-shows at court, and continue an existence as illegales, working for years to pay their debts.) A quick calculation on my part puts Rafael and Mariana’s debt, with bail, at about $50,000. I didn’t ask what their work was, but it is most likely construction and hotel cleaning. How many years will it take?

MIGRATION IS NOT A CRIME. The crime is a system of coyotes, money lenders, ICE, private prisons, lawyers, courts, bail bondsmen, draconian laws that will mean years before Rafael and Mariana see their children, and years that Alejandro and Leonor, grandparents too old for parenting, will be caring for young children.

OK, on to less fraught, domestic, news: We took a long hike a week or so ago that was the first serious walking test of Michael’s new hip. We hired a taxi to take us to the top of a mountain that looms over Cañar, called Tayta Bueran, then we walked down – about 3 hours. The tough part was wading through the paramo grass that grows above tree line – dense, knee-level, grabby and clinging, full of hidden holes,. But once through that – about 45 minutes – it was (sortof) smooth sailing, with picnic lunch and slipping and sliding on steep gravel road to the Pan American highway.

So far so good, so then yesterday, we tried it again, but on another mountain (taxi to top, walk downhill) and with our goddaughter, Paiwa, on vacation and spending a few days with us.

CANAR BOOK CLUB

Lots of great book suggestions came in from my last blog, and I was interested to see how many relate to migration in one way or another. – maybe it’s on all our minds. I’ve already revealed my recent reads, but I have to mention The Past, by Tessa Hadley, which I’m presently loving. And I’ll include another reader’s mention of Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck because Susan G. of Portland makes such a good summary: “Takes place in Berlin and portrays a retired professor’s encounter with the illegal immigrants there. Sounds like nothing but grimness, but it shows the transformative effect of empathy, and much more, and left me with a positive feeling.” She also liked Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, two titles I’ve put on my wish list.

My sister Sher in Santa Fe is reading Tana French’s new book The Witch Elm – “love her writing!” (Tana French can do no wrong.) Carole from Portland is reading Leavers by Lisa Ko – “hard read for me but thought provoking.” Suzanne from Cuenca suggests Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue, “a fictional story that embodies so many aspects of the modern immigrant story. And of course Becoming by Micelle Obama. Such a personal look at her life from childhood through the White House. I have even greater regard for this woman and her family, and she takes on the issue of race that is strangling this country.”

Pat from Bend is reading Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver, “a novel about two families living in the same shelter (a brick house) in two different centuries.”

Son Scott in San Francisco suggests Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, which Michael is presently reading and liking very much. Also, by same author: 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

Janice in New Jersey writes that she loved Charming Billy by Alice McDermott (in response to my reading of The Ninth Hour, her new book).

Judy in Batavia, New York is reading Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles (of A Gentleman in Moscow fame) and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. (One of the saddest books I’ve ever read.)

Finally, Rick – great reader and writer from Portland – recommends Valeria Luiselli, “born in Mexico, raised in South Africa, lives in NYC, writes in English and Spanish, worked as a translator for the juvenile courts for migrant kids and now teaches at Hofstra. The English book, Tell Me How It Ends, is an essay about the plight of migrants, what they overcome by leaving Central America,and their difficulties getting into the US.  It’s short, and so powerful that I bought a dozen copies for our political group. The Story of My Teeth, originally published about three years ago, got terrific reviews. It’s hilarious, and great fun to read.”

This virtual Cañar Book Club might be one of the best ideas I’ve ever had! I love all my fellow club members, and please keep your reading suggestions coming for the March blog!


Sleepless in Cañar

Dear Friends – sorry for the long pause between blog posts. Events since our arrival in Cañar on January 5 have kept me awake with worry (for some hours through some nights). For example, in my first week I worried if I would I be able to gather enough of the scholarship women to Cañar for a meeting with two important donors from the Women’s Circle of Giving in Bend, Oregon. They had long planned a visit here after their trip to the Galapagos. The problem: twelve current students are scattered in universities all around the country; twenty-two graduates, some working as nurses and a doctor and in emergency call centers with turnos – shifts – that wouldn’t allow them to come. To begin, I emailed or texted everyone…to almost no response. I left voice messages, using the terms “urgente” and “obligatorio.” I installed WhatsApp and called or texted again. Slowly, a few responses, some yes, some not able to come, some asked if they could send their mother or sister (yes!). Then it was the Sunday morning of the meeting, and I could only hope. How many will come? Did the Bend guests Helen and Laurel (with husbands Oscar and Owen) arrive OK in Cuenca from Galapagos and Guayaquil? Will their driver be able to find our place? And what will the weather be?

I should not have worried. The turnout was spectacular, the weather was beautiful, the women spoke eloquently of their experiences and the communal lunch pampamesa was an abundant success.

Helen and Laurel were very pleased with it all, including their new red bead necklaces made by a member of our committee, Maria Esthela, for all the women of the Bend Circle of Giving.

Only two days later came the visit of Allison Adrian, the ethnomusicologist from St. Catherine’s University in Minneapolis who, two years ago, spent six months working in Cañar, and was now returning to present her videos on Música Cañari, and to thank all those who collaborated on the project. My job was to coordinate the event at the cultural center here in Cañar, and help promote another event two nights later in Cuenca. For this, at least for the local event, calls and texts and emails won’t do. Only walking into town, or into the country, for several face-to-face encounters. First, present the idea, then clarify the event, then follow up, then take care of snafus, then send or call with reminders. The day comes and I hope for the best. Will Allison arrive from Guayaquil on time? She only flew in last night and is driving in a rented car, which always worries me. Won’t she be exhausted coming up to 10,000 feet and presenting a program within the hour? What will the weather be?

I shouldn’t have worried. Allison with her son Sevi (11+ years), pulled into the gate at 2:00. We got to the cultural center at 2:45, where a few chairs had been set up, along with an old-fashioned screen and projector. The main lobby of the cultural center is entirely a curved glass wall; the weather was brilliant and the room flooded with light. Allison and I immediately saw the problem – the videos would not be visible on the screen. (For once I would have appreciated dark clouds.) The small audience – only Cañaris, no townsfolk – politely sat through 30 minutes with occasional faint flickering images, and with tinny sound from the projector because the cultural center guy couldn’t find the cable to the speaker. Still, the audience was attentive, and after the videos several spoke, both about the importance of Allison’s work, and the fact that for the first time the town cultural center was welcoming the indigenous community. For that alone I felt the event was a great success.

Juan Carlos Solano, Allison’s co-presenter at Casa de la Cultura.

(Two days later we had another, video-perfect, well-received, presentation at Museo Pumapungo in Cuenca. With the approval of the Cañari community Allison has made the videos public on YouTube (with English subs – take a look here!):

The third event that had me worrying is nearing its end. Every year I manage the three-day visit to Cañar of students from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, doing a semester in Cuenca. After years of going the easy route – putting the students up in a nearby hotel, taking them to see Mama Michi and Ingapirca, arranging a fun dance and musical evening at our house (with beer) and finishing with a quick visit to the Sunday market, I wanted to plan something much more “authentic.” After all, the purpose of the three days is to learn about the Cañari culture. So I decided to use a Cañari community tourist center up the mountain in a small village about 30 minutes from here. Built and run by the community of Sisíd Añejo, one of six community tourism sites developed with the help of the government about ten years ago, this is the only one that’s made it work. A charming but rustic “lodge” sits alongside a historic church (circa 1605), which I had a chance to draw while local kids kept me company. Then they brought out their own works, a delightful moment.

I’d arranged for the Lewis & Clark students to spend two nights at the lodge, with day trips to Ingapirca and to Lake Culebrillas. Problem was, I didn’t want to spend two nights in the dorm-like setting of chilly lodge; I also didn’t want to keep up with 20-year olds on the breathless walk around Lake Culebrilllas, where I’ve been many times. (At 12,000 feet I worried obsessively about the weather; when rainy and windy and cold it is a miserable experience).

I shouldn’t have worried. A young(er) Spanish teacher and guide who works with the students at Fundación Amauta agreed to accompany them for the nights, leaving me free to go home to sleep with Michael. My job was to show up for dinner and evening programs, manage the budget, and join the students at Ingapirca on Sunday. The weather yesterday for Culebrillas was good, and the misting rain today at Ingapirca – where I duly made the full hike – hardly noticed. I’ve also put Fundación Amauta on notice that this is my last year. The community tourism center is an efficiently-run place that can manage next year’s group without me. Or someone such as Gabriel can take on my job. But I will miss the students who this year, as always, are wonderful and open to new experiences, such as volunteering for a limpieza (cleansing/healing) with Mama Michi that included some alarming moments.

Or dressing in Cañari clothing for the noche cultural at the community tourism center.

So this brings me to February and freedom. I plan to finish sending out the thank-yous to contributors to the scholarship fund, clear the weeds from the vegetable garden our compadres so kindly planted before we got here, prepare for my visa hearing next week, and finally get to the work of the archive. More on those last two items in next chronicle.As for Michael and domestic news, he played chess with a little nine-year old with lots of nervous tics, a national champion – and lost two out of three games. Michael was philosophical: “the kid’s a genius.”

Then he went up on the roof to clean the chimney with a wire brush, and help of a assistant.

Cañar Book Club

It’s only been a month in Cañar but my reading time has increased exponentially. Book buddy Lynn Hischkind, in Cuenca, loaned me Quicksand, by Henning Mankell, in return for all the Henning Mankell books on my shelves. Reading the last journal-like musings as he was dying of lung cancer at age 67, I mourned again the death of this great humanist, theater director and playwright, author of the great Kurt Wallander mystery series and many other books. Allison brought me two books: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (“best translated book award winner 2016”) and The Ninth Hour by one of my favorite authors, Alice McDermott. I was puzzled by Signs, and at barely 100 pages I’ve made a vow to read it in Spanish. The Ninth Hour I’m loving because it adds to my view of the unknown world that all of McDermott’s books so precisely circumscribe: immigrant Catholic Brooklyn, early 20th century, a young woman finding her way in the new world.

I’m happy to have heard from a few members. From Maggie in Toronto: A Disappearance in Damascus by Deborah Campbell, and All We Leave Behind : A Reporter’s Journey Into The Lives Of Others by Carol Off. “Both give rather frightening insight into & analysis of the terrible conflicts that made refugees of the protagonists & their families.” From Patty in Portland: A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen, ” It’s placed in present day Putin-time so very interesting, amusing and instructional.” Next up is Prague Spring by Simon Mawer. From Claire in London: “I’m half way through the amazing A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles. Her further explanation of the 100-page test (don’t give up before 100 pages) has convinced me I need to go back and again try reading this book.

Finally, from prolific reader Joanne in Mexico: I adored The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, really liked A Life of My Own by Claire TomalinIntrigued by Chalk (about Cy Twombly) and partway into Ninth Street Women by Mary Gabriel.

I love hearing from you all, so please respond in the field below or to my email: judyblanken@gmail.com.


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.

 

 

Goodbye Cañar, hello Spain

Dear Friends: Today is (was) May 1, International Workers’ Day, and an important anniversary for me as Michael and I mark 25 years since first arriving in Cañar, and twelve years living the “half-life” here.  So, to go back:  May 1, 1992, was my first real invitation to take a photograph in Cañar (see above) – it came from Mama Michi Chuma, who was president of her agricultural cooperative – unusual for a woman even back then. “You can take the photo after our march,” she told me then, “but only if you make a copy for every member.” I was thrilled. Mama Michi is in the center of the photo, looking to her right.
This extraordinary woman has been a part of our lives in one way or another since even before that day. Her son José Miguel was one of my first two photography students, and Mama Michi welcomed us on our first visit, she later said, because we arrived “on foot and without a bible.” (Michael, in fact, was carrying the high-efficiency portable wood stove he was promoting in those years.)

Mama Michi is now a well-known curandera, a native healer, and every year I arrange for a group of Lewis & Clark College students doing a semester in Cuenca to have a “healing session” with heri, a highlight of their Cañar weekend. Here she is with this year’s group:In other news, an article on the Cañar archive project just came out this week in Archival Outlook, publication of the Society of American Archives, with cover and photos from Cañar and text by yours truly and Natalie Baur, the wonderful archivist who first connected me with the SAA and who is supporting the archive project here as she pursues her PhD in Mexico.  The full article can be found here: http://bit.ly/2qA0DWy

 

The striking cover image is from a glass-plate negative of town photographer Rigoberto Navas (1911-2001). Most likely from the 1940’s, this ritual dancer is wearing a wig with long thin braids and headdress, part of a costume still used today by the few remaining dancers and musicians of “Mama Danza” in the Cañar region of Zhud/Suscal. (Another project that needs researching!)

The national meeting of the Society of American Archivists is in Portland this year (July 23-29) and although I don’t usually enjoy gatherings with 5000 participants, I’m excited to be a part of it this time: http://www2.archivists.org/am2017

Lastly, we are in the familiar process this week of packing up the house, wrapping up projects, cleaning like crazy, saying goodbye to friends and preparing to leave Cañar on May 15. But this year is different because we’re headed to Spain instead of Portland and because my passport has less than six months left on it, I cannot come back to Ecuador. So it’s a complicated dance – mostly for me – figuring out what to leave here and what I need to take – via Spain and New York- to the US (like a couple of hard drives, cameras, extra laptop and so on).

Meanwhile, Michael’s firewood supply is well under control for next year – and the next and next!

 

CANAR BOOK CLUB

We had a hurried meeting of the International Cañar Book Club this month, as everyone was busy with one thing and another, but there was time for a good discussion of what we’re reading.

From Liz in Toronto: “Euphoria” by Lily King, a novel loosely based on the life of the anthropologist Margaret Mead. (I read it last year and liked it). And Eva Stachniak’s “Chosen Maiden,” a terrific bio of Bronia Nijinsky.

From Pat in Bend, Oregon: Alice Hoffman writes historical fiction. I’ve enjoyed “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” (19th century U.S.) and “The Marriage of Opposites‘ (Caribbean). Another good read and important non-fiction book about the concepts of wilderness and the environment is J.B. MacKinnon’s “The Once and Future World.”

From Suzanne in Portland: Two good fiction reads, “Around the Next Corner” by Elizabeth Wrenn –  a woman examining her life as her children transition out of the house, by and thru deciding to foster a puppy to begin its first year of training as a seeing-eye dog.

Suzanne continues: 1,000 White Women tells the story of what could have happened if the US government had gone along with the matrilineal Cheyenne tribe’s suggestion that, to further the assimilation, the government should give the tribe 1000 women.

From Bruce in Portland:  Exit West  (Mohsin Hamid) and A Horse Walks into a Bar (David Grossman). Both quick reads with some good writing in parts but very lightweight literature. Currently reading The Sleepwalkers (How Europe Went to War in 1914) by Christopher Clark. A tour de force masterpiece of historical analysis and very relevant to the slow-motion train wreck currently unfolding on the world stage.(

He adds: (A Man Called Ove was a sententious book and a saccharine and silly movie.

From Nancy H in Portland:  Evicted by Matthew Desmond – a most compelling, authentically-told, story-based telling of the plight of those in poverty challenged by keeping a clean, safe roof over their heads. The characterizations are nuanced–including those of their landlords, often caught in tough situations themselves. I heartily recommend it!

Also just finished Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth. In an interview, she said shes decided to allow herself to write closer to home. With her sharp eye and ability to find both humor and grace in all her characters, I think this one is truly a great coming home. I have always preferred her nonfiction to her fiction, and this book seems to combine the best of both genres. In tone it reminded me of many of her wonderful personal essays, captured in another highly recommended book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

From Maggi in Toronto: I’m currently reading “Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary & Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva” by Rosemary Sullivan and finding it totally gripping.

Finally, from Judy in Cañar: I’m seriously worried about what to read in Spain. So far I’m taking: Madrid: The History by Jules Stewart, The Pyramid by Henning Mankell (“The first Wallander Cases,” meaning his publisher has scrounged around after this wonderful writer’s death last year to find short stories that had never been collected in a book. And In The Woods, by Tana French.  That’s it. I’m hoping to find a used English book store in Madrid.

Until the next time, keep in touch!