My Sisyphus Garden

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Dear Friends – Sissinghurst Gardens in England, made famous (for me) by Virginia Woolf’s love affair with its owner and author, Vita Sackville-West, has nothing in common with my Sisyphus Garden in Cañar. But I like the sound of the two names together (and the coincidence that Sackville-West wrote a novella called Seducers in Ecuador). And another coincidence I just discovered: today, January 25, is Virginia Woolf’s birthday.  So I thought I’d start with that and see where it takes us….

I’m calling my Cañar garden the Sisyphus Garden because no matter what I do one year to the next to improve it, I come back to find it exactly as it was before – new flowers gone, same weeds back in force, kitchen garden eaten by the neighbor’s chickens, trees trimmed further up by the bulls brought in to plow the back field, scrubby grass front and back full of sheep droppings, and the aggressive vinca major (periwinkle) and bushy fuchsia voraciously covering the side yard, even though I cut them back severely before we left last June. And there’s the hedge of quinoa (a native bush, not the grain) that has grown to over 15 feet and blocked our view to the west.

When it comes to my Cañar garden, I start over every year, just like Sisyphus endlessly pushing that stone up the hill.  (Forgive my co-opting a suffragist image; couldn’t resisit.)

The fact is, we are living on a working farm operated by our compadres Jose Maria and Narcisa. It is their sheep that trim and fertilize the lawn while we’re gone, their bulls that eat the lower branches of the trees, their irrigating the back field that floods the front yard. But they have contributed so tremendously to our experience living in Cañar, and as compadres we are considered extended family, with responsibilities that go both ways.

As I write, I hear the pump, drawing from the irrigation canal that runs in front of our property. Yards and yards of black pipe snake around the house to irrigate the potato field behind. Jose Maria has access to the canal only today – it has been released from above – and there seems to be no control. Water gushes out of the pipes and into sprinkler heads in the field, soaking the back lawn, the kitchen garden, the back of the house, the neighbor’s clothes hung on the fence. In front, water overflows the canal and runs down the hill, creating rivulets in the dirt road that will become ruts, and creeps along the pathway up to our house and threatens to dampen our adobe walls. Jose María runs back and forth from the pump in front to the field in back; It appears to us that he is flooding the field. Yesterday, the canal was blocked, and we regularly saw neighbors in the yard, looking down into the canal and poking it with a long stick, trying to unblock it. For farmers, water is life and livelihood –  and in this part of the world as hotly political as property lines.

 Which is not to say that I don’t love things as they are in my Sisyphean garden. First of all, since I have no talent as a gardener – unable to plan or imagine or create a white garden, as Vita Sackville-West did at Sissinghurst – there’s little disappointment in coming back to find I have to start over again.

I never tire of pulling weeds, trimming back the crazy climbing roses, replanting things lost, digging out the crocosmia that is all over the yard because it gets distributed through the compost, cutting back the passiflora vine that threatens to take down the fence, tracking down and pulling up the aggressive kikuyu grass that grows over and under everything and is one of the most noxious weeds that somehow made it to Cañar from its native East Africa. But my pleasure comes from what I see when I look out the windows – flowers I’ve forgotten that bloom year after year; something I’ve stuck in the ground that makes an incredible display of tiny yellow blooms (photo #1), the aggressive fuchsia bush that fills our bedroom window, the white daises along the front that insist on taking over.

 

And for those who want to see the hated “creeping” kikuyu” up close, here it is.  Most often it goes underground, strangling the roots of good plants, or displacing flagstones, before springing up as tall grass. I’ve spent many happy hours chasing it down; farmers throw it in the road to fill ruts. But in fact our lush lawn is mostly made of it, cut short. 

Back to Sisyphus: Camus imagined him smiling while pushing the rock and embracing his situation without thinking of the past or the future. “He refused to surrender to gravity…he is remembered for his labor towards his purpose” Well, I’m not sure I’ve refused to surrender to gravity (I take a look in the mirror), but I certainly feel I have a purpose here in my Sisyphean Cañar garden.

And to finish with Virginia Woolf, from her diary, May 31, 1920: “The first pure joy of the garden . . . weeding all day to finish the beds in a queer sort of enthusiasm which made me say this is happiness. … We were out till nine at night, though the evening was cold. Both stiff and scratched all over today, with chocolate earth in our nails.”

 

CANAR BOOK CLUB (what you’ve all been waiting for)

The first 2020 meeting of the Cañar Book Club was a rousing success!  Our members were obviously anxious to reconvene after six months and share news of books. So I”ll start with our international members’ comments and save my own for the end.

Francie in Portland is reading  Like Falling Through a Cloud: A Lyrical Memoir  by Eugenia Zukerman, an internationally renowned flutist and writer facing a dreaded diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Joanne in Mexico: “I read The Topeka School, by Ben Lerner, on the plane and liked it a lot. Fascinating mix of voices and ways of thinking about language. Definitely recommend. I’m about to start Drive you Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarzcuk… and will report.”

Nancy In Portland: How to Catch a Mole. by Marc Hammer. “It’s about moles, but also about a Welsh book editor and gardener growing older, his love and deep connection with nature and determination to stop killing moles. A beautifully reflective book!”

Nancy Also read: Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo, 2012 National book award winning nonfiction centered around the lives of slum dwellers near the Mumbai airport. “Deeply empathetic. Harrowing, heartbreaking stories. Reminded me a bit in tone of Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted. And I also enjoyed Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn— the groundbreaking 1999 introduction to mindfulness meditation.”

And from an indefatigable reader in Austin: “Love your book lists, Judy, and always love how many of your favorites I’ve read and loved. A couple recent reads that I thoroughly enjoyed:” All my Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Towes, Severance by Ling Ma, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrent, Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, Disoriental by Niger Dyaneli, Overstory by Richard Powers, The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, Educated by Tara Westover, Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, My Life of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers, Here in Berlin by Cristina Garcia, Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami.

Liv from Oslo wrote, responding to authors I mentioned in our last meeting:  “Books: Towles- I have the same experience.  Patrick Modiano – mysterious and fascinating. Linn Ullmann- I read it fast – rather nasty to her mother, Liv Ullmann. It seems to be a trend in Norway right now.  I got presents:  Ruth First and Joe Slovo against Apatheid by Alan Wieder, and Upside Down. A Primer for the Looking Glass World by Eduardo Galeano.  To recommend: Trieste, by Dasa Drndic.-One of the strongest novel I have read in many years.  East West Street, by Philippe Sands.

Two Oregon readers, Shirley and Pat, both recommended  Deep River, by Karl Marlantes. Pat writes: “It’s about the Finns who settled both sides of the Columbia R., starting in the 1800’s logging and fishing. It’s 5-stars, very good.”

From Laura in Upstate New York: “What an ambitious list of books. I continue to recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. It’s also a great audio book, read by the incomparable Juliet Stevenson.”

From Bruce in Portland:  Marc Hamer’s How to Catch a Mole. Brilliant. He’s a Welsh writer and his luminous meditations on nature have strong parallels to Wendell Berry’s writing.

Claire from London: My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is brilliant. Seemingly almost comic to start with, it’s actually a dark tale revealing much about life for young, educated women living and working in Lagos. Short and bittersweet.

Richard from Oslo: I am reading an amazingly constructed book, The Overstory, by Richard Powers, on a psychic revenge taken by trees, some of whom seem to have memories going back 4 million years, and who suddenly are being helped to save greenery in America by certain drop-out, off-the-bend, Americans who, once leaving civilization can groove with trees. For me it is his best since The Echo Maker and also The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Sister Char in Santa Fe: This is How it Always Is, Laurie Frankel, “Frankel’s portrayal of even the most openhearted parents’ doubts and fears around a child’s gender identity elevates this novel.”  New York Times Bestseller, 2017

And from Arlene in Toronto, late last year, neatly presented as a bulleted list:

  • The House of Names, Colm Toibin
  • The Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes
  • What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence by Michele Filgate

Whew!  And now for those who’ve made it this far, my report:

Since our last meeting I have read A Gentleman in Moscow – charming in the end but such a time sink – it took me 3 tries to get into it; Bad Blood I ordered and read for the second time; an amazing memoir by the English academic feminist, Lorna Sage, growing up in rural England in the 1950s. Won many prizes when it came out in 2000, right before she died at age 58. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue – author of Room – about a “fasting girl” of 19th century Ireland where I learned a tremendous amount about the power of Catholic belief, sin and redemption. Reads a bit like a mystery (nominated for Shirley Jackson Award). I’m now reading The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, the German author I so admired last year with Go, Went, Gone and The Visitation. Jury’s still out on this one – I’ll report in next time.

I’m still struggling to connect with e-books. Those I download from the library I forget or barely start, then after 3 weeks they’re gone. I have bought and partially read Life in The Garden by Penelope Lively, a writer I’ve long admired but I find her essays on gardens a little boring (but she brought me to Virginia Woolf’s love of garden). Oliver Sack’s’ last book of essays, Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales, came and went. I love him, but I realized many were essays I’d already read.  Bottom line: there’s nothing like having a quality-paper book in one’s hands for a long bus ride, or those fleeting minutes before the lights go out at night.

Until next time, dear readers. Keep those book suggestions and comments coming for our February book club meeting.

 

 

 

 

Hello Cañar, Goodbye 2019

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Dear Friends: I have missed you these past seven months and I’m so happy to be back in touch, writing the Chronicles. (If anyone didn’t see the 2019 Scholarship update sent in November, you can find it here with a PayPal donate button or mailing information.

I start this on Christmas Day, when we have been in Cañar one week. After the cold, dark and short days of Portland, nothing compares to waking up that first morning in our east-facing bedroom to see early morning light coming through the giant fuchsia bush outside. A welcome back.

Before that, upon opening the door to our first sight of our interior patio, we saw plants grown wild. We had to take out one monster to get the fountain going, and days later I found three birds’ nests in the tall aloe plants. But what a safe place it is for nesting and hatching by the common sparrows that are a constant in our domestic life here – flying in and out at will through the opening between the glass and tile roofs, peeking into the bedroom door in the morning, occasionally getting stuck in a room.

That first day we walked around inside and out, opening shutters, checking lights, phone, gas, Internet, water. Amazing that everything works. Some years nothing does. One year we had lots of mice. This year just cobwebs and dust and a moldy fridge. Outside, I gather other evidence of months gone by – a broken wooden plow, the orchid that is finally blooming, a dry vegetable garden the neighbor’s chickens have ravaged, a beautiful crop of potatoes in the back field.

First Sunday market day, Michael takes the requested hat from Portland to his fish guy, César, and gets a pound of shrimp in return. And I visit my favorite lunch vendor – an 85+ woman who prepares and sells roasted pig and llapingachos every day on the street or in the market.

As I follow Michael in his shopping, I snap photos on my phone of the grand cornucopia that is the Sunday market.

*. *. * *

OK, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for – the first meeting of the…

Cañar Book Club

This year I have an eclectic batch of books, acquired in eclectic ways: some ordered online after reading reviews or on recommendations of friends, others picked up for $5 at the library sale at our annual Portland Book Festival, and even a couple found in a sidewalk Little Library. I’ve also given in to weight considerations (Michael says: “I’m not carrying another damn book in my luggage!”) and ordered some e-books for my iPad. (Only problem I’ve found is I cannot see text in bright sunlight of patio, where I always read while eating lunch. So I have two books going at once.) I’ve also started ordering ebooks from my Portland library. Problem is: you only get three weeks to read and don’t get to keep it!

So here is the list. Because I was impatient, I finished two of them before I got here, one on the plane –  marked by asterisks with notes. And because we don’t always get what we want, when we want it, I’ve added my wish list for 2020. Now – Dear Readers – I look forward to hearing book reports and recommendations from all of you. Until the next meeting…

(KINDLE)

  • A Writer of our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger, Joshua Sperling
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
  • Margaret the First: A Novel, Danielle Dutton
  • Life in the Garden, Penelope Lively
  • Images and Shadows, Part of a Life, Iris Origo (follow-up to excellent WW II war diary War in Val d’Orcia.
  • The Parisian, Isabella Hammand * (reading now and not yet engaged, will give it time)

(PAPER)

  • There, There, Tommy Orange
  • The Wrong Blood, Manuel de Lope
  • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles * (reading now – third try)
  • In the Distance, Hernan Diaz
  • Iceberg, Marion Coutts * (finished – excellent, moving memoir)
  • Pure, Andrew Miller
  • Mission to Paris, Alan Furst * (finished, not great, don’t bother)
  • The Wonder, Emma Donoghue
  • Frog Music, Emma Donoghue
  • Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
  • The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Pachett
  • Saving Agnes, Rachel Cusk
  • The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day
  • Great House, Nicole Krauss
  • Autumn, Ali Smith
  • Bad Blood, Lorna Sage
  • The End of Days, Jenny Erpenbeck
  • Late in the Day, Tessa Hadley
  • Dora Bruder, Patrick Modiano* (read on plane, very good and follow-up to Modiano’s The Night Watch)

WISH LIST

  • Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips
  • The Club, Leo Damrosch
  • Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Olive Again, Elizabeth Strout
  • The Accomplice, Joseph Kanon
  • Unquiet, Linn Ullmann
  • On Chapel Sands, Laura Cumming
  • Essays by Lydia Davis
  • To Calais, in Ordinary Time, James Meek
  • Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo
  • Permanent Record, Edward Snowden
  • How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell
  • Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser
  • The Witches, Stacey Schiff
  • The Warmth of Other Sons, Isabel Wilkerson
  • The Yellow House, Sarah Broom
  • When Death Takes Something from You, Give It Back, Naja Marie Aidt
  • Belonging, Nora Krug
  • The Odd Woman and the City, Vivian Gornick
  • Optic Nerve, Maria Gainza * (just got notification from library)

2019 Cañari Women’s Scholarship Foundation Update

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible. We have zero administrative costs other than a yearly mailing, so every dollar goes to the women’s education. Please make checks to CWEF and send to Charlotte Rubin, 2147 NW Irving St., Portland, OR 97210 (some of you will receive this letter by snail mail with return envelopes), or you can contribute through PayPal with the secure “DONATE” button below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lenin Moreno becomes president, February 2017, Reuters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Kusikayo Naula, Zhud.

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

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

ALAN ADAMS

The Winds of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cañar Book Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fond regards to all.