2022 Cañari Women’s Education Foundation Update

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Dear Friends:

I never tire of seeing the faces of our graduates, and I thought you also would enjoy being reminded of (some) of the results of your generosity.  Thank you!

I wish I were writing this letter from Cañar–we don’t leave until December 1–so I could describe what the “new normal” looks like. This fall our scholarship women returned to in-person classes after two years at home, struggling to carry on with their courses despite unstable Internet, cranky cell phones, and isolation from fellow students. Still, they did well. In 2022 we had three new graduates, bringing our number to twenty-eight, along with four graduates with master’s degrees, one in a PhD program in Mexico, and our first potential Fulbright scholar for a master’s in the U.S.

 Our latest graduates are (l-r) Paiwa Acero (2021, civil engineering); Sarita Duy (2022, economics), and Nube Sumba (2022, economics).

As for our new scholarship women, I want to tell a story related to Nube (above, right). She showed up at our house with her mother about five years ago, coming from a poor farming region more than an hour from Cañar. Nube was timid and hardly spoke. With a gift of fresh cheese, her mother explained that although illiterate, she was determined that her two daughters get educated beyond high school. We did give Nube a scholarship, and on the first day of every month – when the scholarship is paid in cash – her mother showed up at our house with fresh cheese or eggs. Meanwhile, Nube charged straight through university in Riobamba, with excellent grades, to graduate this year with a degree in economics. Her sister is now studying at the same university (but without our scholarship, as we award only one per family). Still, that’s multiplication! And Nube’s mother has achieved her goal of having two daughters educated as professionals. On their last visit, Nube and her mother brought their neighbors, Kuya Killa and her mother, who is sole support of her four children, one with a serious medical condition. Kuya (who also barely spoke) graduated high school three years ago and passed the university entrance exam with high marks, but the family could not afford to send her to university. After our talk, with her mother’s encouragement, Kuya completed all the paperwork to renew her test scores and was accepted by the university in Riobamba. She is now enrolled in our program, and in the next five years I look forward to watching Kuya bloom, as did Nube, into a confident young woman. These two young women would never have known even the possibility of a university education without word of mouth of our graduates and friends, and without your support. Thank you!

A few updates on our graduates.

Dr. Luisa Duchi reports that she is now clinic director in the community of Huayrapungo, where 90% of her patients are Quichua-only speakers. This community, site of an old hacienda about an hour from Cañar, is famous for not allowing visitors into their territory. Michael and I ventured walking there once, and quickly left. Luisa is our first physician, but we have another one close to graduation at University of Cuenca.

Carmen Loja (far left), (economics, 2011) has made a success of her a community-based tourism program, Kinti Wasi, in her village of MilMil. Along with her cousin and another partner, Carmen hosts high school and gap-year groups to learn the Andean worldview in “agroecology, gastronomy, architecture, ancestral medicine and spirituality”. And I see by the website that Kinti Wasi is an Amigos de las Americas partner for 2022. Congratulations Carmen!  (She also welcomes individuals and small groups if any of you are contemplating a trip to Ecuador.)

Pacha Pichisaca, our only ondontóloga graduate so far, has expanded her dental practice, on the main shopping street in Cañar, by adding a second chair. She was one of our early graduates, and with CWEF support she continued with specialist courses in oral surgery and orthodontics. Each time I walk by, I glance up at her windows. After giving up on my dentist in Portland, I’m getting up my nerve to make an appointment with Pacha.

Finally, a dispatch from our first PhD graduate, Juana Chuma, who is at UNAM in Mexico, where she did her master’s (with help from CWEF). Earlier this year, she did a residency at University of Georgia, where she writes that her biggest challenge was understanding the southern English. She’s now back in Mexico working on her thesis, “optimizing the genetic selection of milk producing bovines in Chile,” (where she did a previous internship).

As you know, our foundation is managed in Portland, Oregon with a treasured treasurer, Charlotte Rubin, who takes care of contributions and banking. In Cañar, we are a busy committee who meets a few times a year to monitor the scholarship women’s progress, review new applications, and manage finances. But this year we had an additional agenda item: to complete our application for NGO status in Ecuador. This has been a multi-year project with lost documents, a change of presidents, a new ministry handling our application, and more. After a couple of marathon meetings in 2022, with the help of our lawyer in Cañar (Mercedes, far right, one of our first graduates) and our “man in Quito”– Segundo, husband of another first graduate (Alexandra, 3rd from right), we have shepherded our application through the byzantine process of becoming a legal non-profit foundation in Ecuador.

Here we are after a 5-hour meeting in May. The main benefit of our new status will be that it clears the way for Michael and I to leave our house and property to the program for an endowment. We made a proper will in Cañar years ago, which required six witnesses, several days, a lawyer, accountant, and $500. But no transfer of property for the benefit of an organization can be done without a government NGO designation. Flash: Today, I talked to lawyer Mercedes Guamán (far right) and she said she’d just received the final certification from the government.  Hurrah!

To conclude: Cañari Women’s Education Foundation (CWEF) is an official 501(c) 3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible, and every dollar goes directly to the women. Here you can donate through PayPal by using the DONATE button below. Many thanks for your continuing support and please stay in touch.  I love hearing from you all. (You should see a new reply field below).     Judy Blankenship

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The Time Has Come to Talk

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Well, the time has come, as they say, to talk. Last week, on a late afternoon walk in the countryside near our house, enjoying the cold air on my face and the good feeling of simply moving after a day spent at the desk, a neighbor called out,”…y  Señor Michael?” He leaned on the entrance to his earthen patio, watching me. I didn’t recognize him, but called back, “Michael’s at home, by the fire. He doesn’t like to walk as much as I do.”

“His health is good?” he asked. Yes! I called back. “Gracias a dios!” he said, making a subtle prayer gesture. Walking on, I thought about this exchange. He was not the first neighbor to ask about Michael when they see me on the road, or Michael about me as he walks into town. People are watching and wondering about us, still the only two extranjeras in Cañar, living alone in that big house. No car, no obvious family. “Do you have children?” they often ask. Then, “Do they come to visit?” Then, maybe, the bolder ones: “How old are you?” The subtext is always, What’s going to happen to your property when….?

I know they are especially interested in Michael – watching him over the years as he grows more stooped, his pace slower as he trudges into town daily with his Orvis shopping bag. He usually takes a taxi or truck back, so all the drivers know him and with affection will ask me the next time I grab a ride: “Where’s Michael? What’s he doing?”

“At home, fixing dinner,” I love saying.

We’ve lived in our little comuna of Chaglaban for 15 years now, and longer than that in the town. I know that our neighbors are watching us grow older, and are thinking – how much longer will they keep coming to Cañar? That’s a question I ask myself sometimes, but mostly we – Michael and I – simply carry on with the assumption that we’ll keep living indefinitely in our “house in the clouds.” Witness our running list of items to bring next December, when we expect to return: larger chimney brush, arugula and cardamom seeds, yeast for popcorn, Earl Gray tea, 1 ceramic knife.

Besalú, Catalonia, May 2019

No question, however, that we gave a nod to age this year when we canceled our trip to Spain. Once we really talked about it, after we’d let our plans float for a few weeks, Michael said he just didn’t feel up to lugging around his bags on buses and trains for a month, (our modus operandi after we stopped driving in Spain), changing hotels every few days. Then there’s getting through airports, Covid tests, and the 10+ hour flight from Guayaquil to Madrid. Last time we were in Spain was 2019. The following year, we’d already paid for tickets, made reservations, and then…. well, you all know what happened. 2021 was also a bust. So, as I regretfully cancelled the hotel reservations I’d made this year, I felt a moment’s sadness thinking this might mark the end of our serious traveling days.

But then….Michael suggested we take a mini-vacation in Ecuador, as long as we could travel slowly by bus a few hours a day. So I started planning again, made hotel reservations for two nights between Cañar and Mindo, and three nights in Mindo, a bird/butterfly reserve/resort northwest of Quito. Smooth, yes? Well, not so much. I hadn’t remembered that the buses blast non-stop movies with sound so loud that those at the back won’t miss a single shot, scream, or car chase. Imagine passing through this magnificent landscape with sounds of an explosion or machine gun in your ears.

I wondered what the nuns thought, though Michael hardly seemed to notice. But by the time we got to Mindo after 12 hours on three buses, (broken up with two overnights in hotels), slogging through one interminable bus station and waiting in a tiny one at opposite ends of Quito, plus two long taxi rides, I was already planning to convince Michael we had to return by plane.

 

Mindo itself was a sort of mixed-up-mishaps-mess, but in the end it seemed the more setbacks we had the more cheerful Michael got. A small resort town mostly aimed at younger travelers with tours for night bicycling, “canyoning” the rivers, rappelling waterfalls, zip lines, and 6:00 AM treks for bird watching. We stayed near town in an “eco-lodge” made entirely of concrete, including the bed, side tables, floors and benches, with bamboo details. It was hot, and rained torrents every afternoon, so we stuck with one activity a day, walking into town for meals. The food was not good, Michael complained.We did enjoy the butterfly garden…

   

and watching birds  from the bird watching tower…

 

But the day before we were to leave Mindo landslides closed the road to Quito. By then I’d talked Michael into flying and bought tickets, so we hired a truck driver who promised to get us through to the Quito airport. We were there in plenty of time, but as we tried to check in for our afternoon flight, the agent wouldn’t let us pass because our national IDs were not “legitimate.” They were photocopies in plastic; same with our passports, which I had thoughtfully brought. I protested, I begged, and then I pulled out my Oregon driver’s license. The agent grabbed it and said, “Now THERE is a legitimate ID!” But Michael hadn’t brought his so….back to Quito to the office of a mini-bus we heard about from the taxi driver that serves Quito – Cuenca – Quito, where we made a reservation for the next day. “Let’s check out this Hostal Caribe,” Michael said in surprising good spirits as we walked a couple of blocks into a down-at-the-heels part of the city. That’s how we ended up enjoying a good sleep at a $15/night/per person, flocked wallpaper, leopard-print blanket, master-bedroom of a long-ago elegant mansion on the last night of our misadventure-some mini-vacation. Which gives me real hope that our traveling days are not over yet.

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C a ñ a r   B o o k   C l u b

Dearest readers:  I’ve thrown caution to the wind lately and started paying for kindle books instead of waiting for the library. Most of these titles hooked me with the “look inside” or “sample” from Amazon, which offers about 20 pages before turning blank. That’s how I ended up with These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, one of my favorite essay writers (her fiction not so much). I’ve read some of these essays before, but still enjoyed sinking into her perfectly constructed sentences. Reminding me of when she appeared at Literary Arts in Portland a few years back, pacing the stage in front of about 3,000 people telling without prompts a complicated anecdotal and meandering story that she brought to a perfect conclusion. I also bought the novel Free Love by Tessa Hadley, a favorite short-story writer I read in The New Yorker. This one set in 1960’s-70’s London, and I know from the acknowledgements that Hadley did a lot of research but I found myself saying, “Did that really happen? Could that character really have made such a radical change in her life?”  My feeling after finishing the novel is that I prefer her short stories.

Found books in English are a special treasure in Ecuador, and whenever I end up in a restaurant or hotel with shelves of books left by travelers, I make a beeline. That’s how I ended up with The Witch Elm by Tana French. I’ve read her before, and was reminded with this one that her set-ups and characters are brilliant. You can’t stop reading (in the beginning). But then I find myself flipping pages as her characters’ conversations go on and on and on, wanting to get back to the action. I can’t say more without a spoiler, as I’ve just loaned the one to a friend, but I think my Tana French days are over.

So, on to suggestions by club members.

Mel in Vermont: This Tender Land, by William Kent Krueger about the odyssey of four young kids who run away from a school for Native Americans and their adventures along the way. It takes place in the time of the Great Depression, and is a thought-provoking read.

Sandy in Portland: “Damon Galgut’s The Promise won the Booker and I think he deserved it. It’s about a South African family during and after apartheid. Beautiful, original writing. (I also read this book and recommend it.)

Portland’s “Everybody Reads: this year is Mira Jacob’s Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations, a graphic novel. She’s an Indian American whose life is crowded with micro-aggressions and whose primary-age, mixed-race son asks hard questions about race, Trump and other related subjects. Eula Biss: Having and Being Had, short essays on trying to live ethically, understand and survive capitalism. Wonderful and LOL funny.
Jia Lynn Yang: One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration – excellent, good writing, interesting subject with great political details, a story I didn’t know and prompting a number of epiphany moments, including how ill prepared, inexperienced and ineffective Kennedy was despite the myth of Camelot.

From Patricia in New York. Francine Prose Sicilian Journey, a delightful essay by this excellent, insightful writer, a novelist as well as essayist. A personal, quirky, insightful and thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone contemplating a trip to Sicily.

Edmund DeWaal’s wonderful tale of The Hare with Amber Eyes, about a collection of Japanese netsuke and their history within his family and their journeys from Odessa  through Vienna, Paris, Tokyo and now London as this hidden inheritance tale unfolds. (I also read this one and loved it.)

That’s all for now, folks. If I missed anyone’s book suggestions please send again. There will be one more Cañar Chronicle before we leave on June 1 for Portland. Until then, I send fond regards and remember that I love to hear from you at: judyblanken@gmail.com.

Ana’s story is published – thirty years later

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Dear Friends: Thirty years ago, on nearly every Sunday in a small house in San José, Costa Rica, Ana Margarita Gasteazoro and I sat side-by-side at a desk in my office/darkroom, a Sony recorder and a couple of glasses of wine between us. We were chronicling her life story, along with sounds of Michael in the kitchen, banging pots and pans and occasionally singing. Ana was 36 then, beautiful and vibrant and full of colorful tales of growing up in El Salvador as a rebellious girl in an upper-middle class family. But a more serious tone and melancholy pervaded at times. Ana was in Costa Rica as a political refugee, having spent nearly two years in prison in San Salvador.

She told of being violently arrested by the national police at the height of a bloody civil war that would cost 75,000 lives. After being “disappeared” for 11 days in the clandestine cells of the police, and repeatedly threatened with death, the first title of the book – Tell Mother I’m in Paradise – refers to Ana’s answer on the day she was delivered to Ilopango women’s prison, and the intake officer asked if she wanted to send a message to her family. Paradise, in this case, meant that she knew she was going to live, unlike so many of her colleagues and friends, but she was also already thinking about how she would continue her organizing work with the women political prisoners. (Header image above of women in Ilopango prison.)

Ana was an “organizer” at heart beginning with her teenage years, when her conservative mother sent her to Guatemala to a Catholic girls’ boarding school to “straighten her out.” Instead, Ana found herself surrounded by a group of Maryknoll nuns involved in resistance to Guatemala’s regime through liberation theology. The nuns didn’t tell her exactly what they were up to  – later Ana learned that one, Sister Marian Peter, became the famous antiwar activist in the US, Margery Melville. Ana was encouraged to volunteer in poor neighborhoods after school and on weekends, and it was here in Guatemala that her social consciousness began to take shape.

Ana went on to describe her young adult years as a rising star/activist in a legal political party in El Salvador, trips to Europe with Socialist International, a few affairs with famous men along with many unwanted advances from other famous men. There were some attempts to settle into a work and domestic life, and then, as the war escalated and she saw her political comrades and friends kidnapped, horribly tortured and left dead by roadsides, she made the decision to go underground and become a militant, while continuing to work “above ground” with her legal party. A very dangerous decision, as it turned out.At some indefinable moment on one of those Sundays in San José, I said – or she said, or we said together – “This should be a book!” With our mutual friend, Andrew  – who had introduced me to Ana – we worked together transcribing, editing, adding extra recording sessions to fill in gaps. Ana was eager but always ambivalent. This was 1988 and the war was still on in El Salvador. Should she be revealing all this?  And if a book came out, shouldn’t it be in Spanish? (My Spanish then was rudimentary; her English was perfect after years in the American School in San Salvador). We carried on, piece-meal, as I worked full-time with CUSO, and Andrew who worked with same Canadian NGO, returned to Canada.

Then, on a holiday to the Caribbean coast, Ana met Smokey. Always passionate and compulsive, she announced on her return that she had decided on a new life to realize a long-held dream. She and Smokey would open a bakery and cafe in Puerto Viejo. Ana had always loved to cook – she and Michael had quickly bonded over food – and Smokey owned land on the beach where they would build an open-air cafe with living quarters above. Michael contributed his labor with plumbing and electrical work; Andrew came back to Costa Rica, did more interviews with Ana and loaned her funds to buy a pizza oven. I stayed in San José working, and visiting when I could.

Cafe Coral was an instant success, with Ana’s granola (which I still make), and Smokey’s green-peppercorn-and lobster pizza. Within a year or so, Ana was chairwoman of the community of Puerto Viejo, promoting ecologically friendly development in the fast-growing tourism scene on the Caribbean coast.

There is so much more to this story, both sadness and joy, in Ana’s ebullient voice, but I hope you will buy the book so I’ll stop here. But with one more photo. In 1992 Ana and Smokey came to visit us in Cuenca, Ecuador. I took this photo of the two of them in the back yard of our house on the Tomebamba River. Another day, after we two went shopping and Ana bought a string of red coral beads, I took the cover photo in my upstairs studio. It was the next-to-last time I saw Ana.

In 2019, realizing Ana’s hope, the book was published in Spanish in El Salvador by the Museum of the Word and Image (MUPI) (with excellent translation work by her cousin Eva Gasteazoro), and on April 19, 2022, University of Alabama Press will officially publish the book in English. (pp 4-5 in catalog)

For those who like instant gratification, the book is already available on Amazon, but I’m hearing from friends who are getting it from their local independent bookstores such as Powell’s Books in Portland, Barnes and Noble and others. (I also hear that it is a beautiful hardback with dust jacket, cream-tone pages, and good photo reproductions.)

One last note. When Ana died prematurely at age 40 of breast cancer, I was still in Ecuador. Grieving, and remembering how much she had wanted a university education, like her brothers, I started the Ana Margarita Gasteazoro Fund for Women (now the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation). Since then, 38 Cañari have received full scholarships to state universities in Ecuador.

Any royalties from Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoirs of a Political Prisoner in El Salvador will go to a similar fund in El Salvador. Ana Margarita would be pleased; she believed strongly that the education of women was one of the most important avenues for social and political progress in Latin America.

C a ñ a r  B o o k  C l u b

Well, unlike past book club meetings, I’ve had some good reads lately, and they sync nicely with recommendations from our members. The Wrong End of the Telescope by Abih Alameddine is about a transgender doctor, Lebanese in origin, who goes to the island of Lesbos with several friends to help support the immigrants arriving there. Interesting parallel with a book recommended by Chris in Ottawa: What a Strange Paradise by Egyptian-Canadian Omar El Akkad: “More bodies have washed up on the shores of a small island. Another over-filled, ill-equipped, dilapidated ship has sunk under the weight of its too many passengers: Syrians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, all of them desperate to escape untenable lives in their homelands. And only one has made the passage…”

I read recently Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar and I’m still deciding what I think. Part novel, part memoir (now called autofiction), I was deeply drawn in to his life story, but put off by some of his long discourses on politics, art, money, sex, religion, and prejudice.  I say read it, and get back to me on what you let think.

A friend visiting from Mexico, Natalie, left her book with me: All the Frequent Troubles of our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler by Rebecca Donner. What a pleasure to hold a beautifully produced hardback book after months of Kindle reading! Incredibly well documented and written, a terribly sad book that reminds us how important resistance is to autocratic regimes, whether in the US, Russia or El Salvador.

Allison in Minneapolis has read and liked Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. “An immigrant family from Ghana settles in Huntsville, Alabama in hopes of a better life in America. … a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut, Homegoing.”

Joanne in Mexico has recommended Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan, and after Michael and I listened to her read her short story, “So Late in the Day,” on the New Yorker podcast last week, I ordered her book on kindle and finished it in a few short hours. I agree with Joanne: “This beautiful, spare little book I read on the plane was so wonderful I wish it had been longer. Set in an Irish village at Christmas time, a local man confronts his past and the scene at a Magdalene laundry.”

Charlotte in Portland recommends Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain. “… a very readable 80 Black-authored essays and poems giving the reader a broad picture of how enslavement of Africans essentially built America (and Western civilization) and how those Africans managed to fight and keep fighting through the entrenched hypocrisy that is still very much with us today.”

Shirley from Cuenca: The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate. “Real page turner based on  three women in 1875 post civil war trying to find lost relatives, and current day teacher trying to bring history to life in a black southern community.  Did not want the story to end.”

She carries on the “book” theme with:  The Book of Lost Names by Kristen Hamel. “A historical WWII novel about a Paris student who uses her artistic talent to forge documents to help Jewish children cross the border. How she saves all the names in a book in code is amazing.”

And now she is reading How the Word is Passed about slavery. “Author Clint Smith visits important sites like Montecello, Whitney Plantation and a Louisiana prison to interview workers, visitors and inmates to see oppression past and present.”

Did I miss anyone?  If so, please remind me what you are reading, with a comment a two. I always love hearing from our Cañar Book Club members.