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.


24 thoughts on “Sleepless in Cañar

  1. More amazing adventures. Thank you for sharing. I think at our age we do worry more because our life experiences have shown us all the things that can go wrong. That is why older mother’s seem to worry more than young ones.
    I was so happy to read how well everything turned out for you. Jon and I send our love and I am looking forward to your next post.

  2. Judy,

    What a wonderful chronicle – I so enjoyed reading it.
    Two years ago, Susana K brought my husband and I to visit, and we all accompanied Alison while she recorded music at the festival. It was the most marvellous experience, and we so enjoyed learning from you all.
    We are here in Uzhupud until June 1st, when we depart for our annual sojourn in Maine. if you are in Cuenca again, we’d love to see you, and the invitation to Uzhupud remains forever open ! abrazos to you and Michael, Sue & Edward (Uzhupud)

    • Thanks so much for the invitation, Sue – we need to make a time to come with Susana. YEs, that must have been Carnaval when you came, and Allison was working. Her videos (with English subtitles) are here on YouTube if you’d like to take a look. She did wonderful work.https://youtu.be/OQi58bti8_M Abrazos, J.

  3. Jude, mi hermana, loved your blog as usual.
    So full of life at 11,000, and Michael playing chess with a 9 year old.
    More on gmail.
    Love Char

  4. Hi Judy,
    Loved reading about your adventures, and remain in awe at your ability to move among the cultures with ease and grace.

    I, too, was somewhat mystified by “Signs, ” which I read last year. I finally concluded it was like an allegory that personifies abstract entities virtue, vice, states of mind and types of characters. Could be the translation? Pat in Bend

  5. Judy (and Michael):
    What a wonderful post! Sleepless in Canar matches sleepless in Toronto for Jennifer.
    Estan tan insertados alla, solidarios en lo mejor sentido de la palabra.
    Y sus companeras alla, y sus hij@s responden con todo su amor.
    Gracias por compartirlo con nosotros un poco en nuestra visita, y en una forma continua con sus blog-posts.
    Donald

    • Thanks Donald. TEll Jennifer I visited the honey man today. Hasn’t harvested yet so came home empty-handed. How are her bees doing? Abrazo, J.

  6. Ali punja mashi Judy: Just about to leave Vashon island for 2 months of Kichwa study in Quito and Otavalo so I sent the You Tube video on ahead to Indigenous social activist friends in Otavalo. What a wonderful project. The “One Dimensionality” that results in a loss of culture is evident all over the world. Sustaining the unique richness of individual groups and their culture enlightens and enriches us all. Preaching to the choir. Keep up the good work! Abrazos, Ed

  7. For your book club. “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 thru the White House. I have even greater regard for this woman and her family than I already did. And she takes on the issue of race that is strangling this country.

  8. Hi Judy ! Siempre es un gusto leer tu Blog. Love to see Michael playing chess with the little kid ! Se ven geniales ellos dos.
    Muchos besos desde aquí, hacia alla. Guido

  9. Hi Judy
    You’re amazing. If you didn’t worry you wouldn’t be so successful with all you do. Details do matter. I’m glad it all worked out so well. Congrats!
    I’m headed to Bolivia again. I’m going to an indigenous celebration in Tarabuco, a town of about 2000 – Pujllay (play in Quechua) celebrates defeating the Spanish, change of season, and carnival – every 3rd Sunday of March. This area is known for hand woven wall hangings. I think I gave you a little purse or glasses case from this area.
    I’ll spend much of my time in Sucre which reminds me of Cuenca.
    Hello to Michael!
    Hope to see you both when you’re back in Portland.
    Thanks for all you do.
    Connie Whelan

  10. Hello Judy (and Michael, too). Your indefatigable immersion in Canar culture is a legend before its time. Congratulations on weathering all worries, puzzling your way through a thicket of thorny problems, and masterminding such beautiful experiences to share with others. Your astonishing and unvarnished observations remind me (counter-intuitively) of Linh Dinh’s writing, the award-winning author of “Postcards from the End of America” and many other works of nonfiction and poetry. He also has your gift for peering between the cracks of different worlds.

    • You are brave to take on such a big trip (again). I’ll be anxious to see your photos and hear your experiences in Bolivia. Buen viaje!

  11. I am glad to hear that you are finally finding some time to read after all your hosting! I loved “Charming Billy” by Alice McDermott and I look forward to reading “The Ninth Hour”.
    I also watched and enjoyed all the episodes of Allison’s documentary on Cañari music. I forwarded it to Cisco as well.

    • Thanks Janice. I loved Charming Billy too. You say you forwarded the video to Cisco. Is he already in college somewhere?

  12. Boy, I wish all my worrying turned out as well as yours did! 🙂 But I agree with Connie Whelan, obsession over details is usually a good idea to fend off the specter of chaos that always lurks. I’m so impressed with your work.

    I recommend Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. 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. Also liked Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and The Paris Wife by Paula McClain.

    We’re in Winter Wonderland here in Portland.

    • Thanks Susan. I’ve got Go Went Gone on my shelf, and one other by her: Visitation. Looking forward to those. Also, I’ve noted the Manhattan Beach and The Paris Wife for next blog, and next year!

    • Thanks Susan. I’ve got Go Went Gone on my shelf, and one other by her: Visitation. Looking forward to those. Also, I’ve noted the Manhattan Beach and The Paris Wife for next blog, and next year!

  13. Whew!! You wore me out reading your Chronicle…..how do you do it all…..and at 10,000 feet? As always, very interesting and enjoy reading about your life there. Your photos are spectacular too! Hope to see you this summer in Colorado.
    Colleen

  14. This post made me laugh – knowing all has turned out well.
    Now it’s all R&R from here on, right?

    Love these book recommendations that keep pouring in from your readers and friends.
    I’ve got the Spanish version of Signs sitting beside me – kicking myself for not bringing it for you.

  15. Love reading about your life there –
    I enjoyed the You Tube video by Allison – enjoyed the voices from the female perspective –
    noted many books to add to my list –
    I read the Leavers by Lisa Ko – hard read for me but thought provoking.

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