Stormy weather here and there

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Dear Friends:  Two big headlines in January (when I meant to send out this chronicle): Giant Ice Storm in Portland and Violence in Ecuador.  Ice storm first, as that is easier.

View from our upstairs bathroom, looking south, Big Storm day #1

 On Friday, January 12, fierce winds came out of the Columbia Gorge at hurricane force, bringing down trees and power lines around Portland, and leaving up to 150,000 people without power. Which for many, also meant no heat and no water. Cozy in bed in our 120-year-old, tall wooden house, Michael and I could feel the wind gusts buffeting us through the night. We were fine the next morning, but our friends who live about 500 feet higher on the other side of town caught the brunt of it. They woke up Saturday morning to no electricity, no heat, frozen pipes, and impassable roads. They later counted 63 trees down in their immediate neighborhood. The temperature was in the 20’s with sleet, ice, and snow forecast for the next few days. (OK, you friends in Minneapolis and other northern kingdoms who think this is no big deal, stay with me…)

Looking north, Big Storm day #2

By Saturday afternoon Portland’s mayor had declared a state of emergency, and a few days later the governor would declare a statewide emergency. Temperatures stayed in the mid-teens as warming shelters were opened around town, and soon overflowed. (Portland has a large unhoused population.) The storm continued to blow and icy rain made leaving the house treacherous.  Schools closed, public transportation was paralyzed, and folks were displaced by fallen trees on their houses or burst pipes in their apartments.

On Sunday, the roads were solid ice under a sheet of snow, but our friends were barely able to get out of their neighborhood to come to stay with us, taking 1.5 hours for a 20-minute drive. The sun was out that day, so I went for a walk to buy bagels and brats for our dinner. I grew up in Colorado so it brought back memories of a long walk home from the bus stop when I was six years old.

The next day another storm came in, and roads and sidewalks stayed solid ice. So for five days we were frozen in place. But I have to say we were happy campers. Anne and Ken and Michael took turns cooking, and Zoe walked the dogs, while I took photos and made sketches.

Michael blesses Harrient and Jiggy before their trip home.

Finally, on Thursday, Day #6, when our guests saw their power was on, they packed up and went home only to find their pipes still frozen and the power off again. They checked into a hotel for two nights. After eight days they could finally go home and begin to recover their lives. Others were not so lucky:  Nine people died, two from fallen trees, several of hypothermia, and three others tragically electrocuted when power lines fell on their vehicle; two stepped onto the street and a third tried to help.

Other than one brief Covid period, this is our first winter in Portland in 18 years. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be here this time next year.

*. *. *. *. *. *. *.

On to Ecuador. Many of you have written asking if it’s safe for me to travel there for a planned visit end of February. (I’m going for a small job, a big project, and the scholarship program). No wonder – with news of the assassinations of public officials, “wars” within prisons with unspeakable violence between gangs, the recent escape of the two high-level gang leaders with certain help from security officials, and the invasion of a TV station by a dozen armed thugs that was broadcast live. After that, the 35-year-old president Daniel Naboa, imposed a nationwide state of emergency to last for 60 days.

The answer is yes, I’m going, and I’ll be safe as long as I stay away from the coastal city of Guayaquil and the borders with Peru and Colombia. My friends in Cuenca report that all is calm in the southern highlands. This was a two-week trip planned when Michael’s health crisis in October made it obvious we would have to cancel our usual stay. With a friend from Portland, I will fly directly to Cuenca and stay within the Cuenca/Cañar region before flying back to Portland on March 8.

But the situation is heartbreaking. Ecuador was for so many years a sea of peace in South America, surrounded by countries convulsed with violence – one of the reasons we first moved there in the early 90’s. No longer! Organized crime cartels from Mexico, Colombia, and even the Balkans have stealthily moved in to make Ecuador a major hub for the drug trade. With two permeable borders with Peru and Colombia, a long coast with deep ports, and a dollar economy for easy money laundering, Ecuador has become a major transit point for drugs produced in neighboring countries.

One big critical factor: bananas! Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas, and drug traffickers have infiltrated the industry to the point that 9.5 metric tons of cocaine were discovered in a container shipment to Spain in 2023, with similar-sized shipments in other European ports. Until now, Ecuador’s government has done little to control what was (in my view) a slow build-up into a tangled, complex infrastructure that even includes submarines at work off the coast. Now the prisons are overflowing and a 35-year-old president just elected in November,  is trying to regain control, along with the military.  As I say, it’s heartbreaking. I hate to see tanks on the streets of Quito.

But to end with good news: Michael’s health has rebounded to the point that we are planning to go to Ecuador for a few months in early 2024. We’ll see how he does in high altitude Cañar (10,000 ft), with hopes that we can return to our usual six-month stay beginning in December.  So stay tuned, dear friends. If all goes well, you can expect an invite to visit us in 2025, when you’ll get to know my friend Pacha in the Sunday market.  

 

Goodbye to 2023, Hello to 2024

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Dear Friends: 

As we say goodbye to 2023 I want to thank every one of you who generously contributed to the scholarship fund this year. If you haven’t had a chance, this will take you to my letter with a “donate” button at the end: Cañari Women’s Education Foundation.

As you can see from the photo above, we are still in Portland. But the good news is that Michael is recovering, and the doctors say he can live again at 10,000 in the Andes. But not yet…  After two weeks in the hospital in October, we had to wait until December for a CT scan, “with contrast” – (e.g. a dye injection) to get the news that his lung was clear, with no sign of infection or other intruder, such as a tumor. Turns out it was a bacterial infection of the pleural lining gone wild (“with complications” was the actual medical term). Perhaps I share too much, but in keeping with my practice of documenting our lives, here is “the man and the machine” on a pretty momentous day. They allowed me a glimpse of the CT scan room but I wasn’t permitted to stay for the action.

One upside of our changed plans is that Paiwa, a 2021 graduate of our scholarship program, does not have to spend her first holidays in the U.S. alone. Newly enrolled in the master’s program at the University of Illinois, she’s here in Portland, where she says the winter weather is just like Cañar – perpetually chilly – but better than Chicago! Another upside is realizing what a great emissary she is of our program, as she meets friends, family, acquaintances – and dogs – visits the Gorge, and shops at Goodwill.

In other news, I’m planning a short trip to Cañar with a friend at the end of February to take care of details of our Cañar house, meet with the scholarship women, introduce students from Lewis & Clark College to the Cañari culture (in a short three days), and launch a book project that is close to my heart. 

I plan to write a longer blog in January but, for now, I’m sending affectionate end-of-year greetings from wintery Portland, where the ducks don’t mind the rain.

May 2024 be a good year for us all.   Judy

2023 Cañari Women’s Education Foundation Newsletter

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Dear Friends:

To begin at the top – here we are in May 2023 after our first full scholarship meeting in three years. And this was not all of us! We now have thirty graduates, four with master’s degrees, one in Mexico with (almost) a Ph.D. in veterinary medicine, one doing a dermatology specialty (in Russia!), and one newly minted Fulbright scholar at the  University of Illinois in Chicago. More on these amazing women later.

Before we get to the newbies, I want to tell you about this year’s three graduates. Two women got their degrees in economics at the same University of Chimborazo (UNACH) in Riobamba. Sara Duy sailed through four years without a pause, met her husband online, had a baby, and graduated in July 2023.  I love her group photo below as it captures the great importance of family support in our program. Riobamba is normally more than four hours by bus, and the road has recently been closed by a landslide, forcing an even longer trip. I count eleven family members at Sarita’s side as she graduated.

Like Sara, Nube Sumba also sailed through her courses in economics with high grades, and was so anxious to get a job that she began working with a financial cooperative in her community even before her degree was awarded. So, her mother came to tell me the news and brought me this hand-knit poncho with Nube’s name stitched around the edge. During the years that Nube was in Riobamba, her mother came faithfully every month, bringing fresh cheese, eggs or other offerings from her garden or animals. The poncho was her final gift. Felicitaciones Sara and Nube!

Aracely Quishpi has a different story. She started her studies in 2018 at the University of  Carchi, about as far north as you can go and still be in Ecuador. The distance made it hard for her to attend meetings, so when her coursework was done, and she was required to write a thesis – as are almost all the students – we lost touch. In January this year, I was surprised to run into her at a crafts fair in the park in Cañar. “Yes, I finished! I graduated in ecotourism; I have a child and I’m building a tourist lodge in my home village of Sisíd.” Congratulations Aracely!

Among the present scholarship women in the photo below, several will graduate in 2024. From left to right: Elizabeth (accounting), Kuya Killa (accounting), (me), Lucia (education), Jessica (agriculture), Elsa (environmental engineering), Vilma (accounting), Tannya (education), Nataly (economics), Estrella (veterinary medicine). Not shown are Pacari (business administration) Lourdes (medicine) and Sara (architecture). That brings our current number of scholarships to twelve, the perfect number we like to maintain to manage our program effectively. As our scholarship program approaches its 20th anniversary in 2025, I thought you’d like to hear news of some of our early graduates and of our first (and hopefully not the last) Fulbright scholar.

Pacha Pichisaca (far right). Our dentist – Michael’s, mine, and many others in the community.  She graduated in 2011 and since then has completed several specialties, including orthodontia. Braces, or brakets, are newly popular in Cañar and Pacha has added two additional chairs to her clinic in town. Being a Quichua speaker also brings her many patients from the country.

Carmen Loja (2011, business admin) has created her own community tourism project with two other women from her village. Kinti Wasi hosts student groups from Amigos de las Americas, a prestigious program for teens in the U.S. She invites us all to visit at: https://www.facebook.com/kintiwasi.ec

Mercedes Guamán, lawyer and Alexandra Solano, agronomist, two of our earliest graduates, both members of our local foundation committee.

María Theresa Chimborazo (2020 tourism). In a sweet connection, she has the job managing the community tourism lodge in Sisíd Añejo, where I take the Lewis & Clark College students from Portland each year to spend three days learning about the Cañari culture and visiting heritage sites. I will be there again in March 2024 during my short trip to Cañar.

Paiwa Acero graduated from the University of Cuenca in 2021 as a civil engineer and worked for two years in municipal potable water offices in Cañar while applying to Fulbright for a master’s degree. What followed was an 18-month process that involved intensive English courses to pass the TOEFL exam; intensive prep courses for the GRE exam, and much more. She made it as a finalist and in September 2023 began her master’s in environmental engineering at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Our local committee is as active as always. In 2023 we finally completed the byzantine process of becoming a legal non-profit foundation in Ecuador. This is an important step in making the scholarship program independent of our traditional base in Portland. We can now legally open a bank account in Ecuador, apply for grants, and accept contributions from local organizations and businesses.

CWEF is an official 501(c) 3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax-deductible, and every dollar goes directly to the women. You can donate through PayPal through the DONATE button you find below. (Next year I hope to have a Venmo link.)

Many thanks, dear friends for your continuing support. Best wishes for this year and in 2024. (Some of you will also receive a paper copy of this letter. Let me know if you’d prefer virtual only at: judyblanken@gmail.com)

Judy B.

(To end on a personal note: this year will be the first time in 18 years that Michael and I will not be going to Cañar. In September, Michael landed in the hospital for two weeks with a complicated lung/pleural infection. Although he’s doing better, he has a long recovery ahead. But we hope to go sometime in 2024. However, I will make a short trip end of February for work, to meet with the scholarship committee and take care of the house and other details. My plan is to continue my Cañar Chronicles, beginning in January. So – stay tuned!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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