2021 Cañari Women’s Scholarship Program Update

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Dear Friends: I’m very happy to be back in touch. Michael and I made a short trip to Cañar in the spring, when we found the Covid lockdown in Ecuador still in effect and cases rising, though nothing like previous levels. Masks were required throughout the country and public transportation was back but varied according to infection levels. Vaccinations were just starting in Cañar for the elderly and are now available to everyone, including children. Otherwise, in Cañar, at least, daily life felt “regular” – a favorite expression said with dead-pan tonality. Twice-weekly markets had started up and the town streets were alive with traffic and shoppers. Since then, according to a recent post from the World Bank, “after a vaccination campaign earlier this year, Ecuador went from being one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic to becoming an example for the world. This success story would have been impossible without the massive turnout of the population.” (Note: World Bank provided most of the funds for vaccines.)

Two posters for rural areas of Cañar. Text on the left: visits door-to-door to give vaccines to all persons from five years old. Second right indicates same information for local health clinic.

Last year I started this letter by saying that despite the pandemic our program was alive and well. I think this year I have to say that while still alive – we are limping. When the lockdown hit Ecuador in March 2020, our women were scattered across the country, some as far away as the northwest coast and in the Amazon, and they came home to face the challenge of continuing classes without Internet. Everyone had cell phones, however, and so at the outset the women “attended” classes and submitted their work on their mobiles. Imagine how hard that was! Our local committee quickly decided to continue paying full scholarships ($150-$160/month) to help families buy access to Internet and support additional children at home. Today, 18 months later, university classes are still virtual. One woman suspended her medical studies after struggling all year.

However, our 2021 numbers provide a positive overall picture: we have 25 graduates, four with master’s degrees, and one PhD student. Michael and I are headed to Ecuador on December 1 to begin the sixteenth year of our life in Cañar, so during the next six months I will send more up-to-date news of the scholarship program on this blog. Meanwhile, I’ve checked in with some of our graduates (mostly via Facebook) to see what they are up to.

Carmen Loja, (Economics, 2011), worked with several financial cooperatives before realizing her dream of building a community-based tourism program, Kinti Wasi, in her home community of Suscal. Along with her cousin and another partner, Carmen hosts groups such as this one of US-based Amigos de Las Americas: https://bit.ly/3BYzCNa) where “high school and gap-year students experience the Andean worldview in agroecology, gastronomy, architecture, ancestral medicine and spirituality.” And I see by the website that Kinti Wasi is an Amigos partner for 2022. Congratulations Carmen!  (She also welcomes individuals and small groups if any of you are contemplating a trip to Ecuador.)Margarita and Mercedes Guamán (with younger sister and brother), are both graduates of our program, and their subsequent careers reflect the employment situation in Ecuador. Margarita (l), now married with two children, works with the 911 call center in Cuenca, not what she was expecting when she graduated with a degree in natural resources in 2011. Her younger sister Mercedes (in cap & gown), also married with two children, graduated as a CPA in 2018 and has worked steadily as an accountant for local organizations. Without exception, our scholarship women choose careers aimed at jobs. Among our graduates we have several accountants, nurses and nutritionists, along with an MD, veterinarian, dentist, lab clinician, psychologist, agronomist, gastronomist, lawyer, business and communication specialists, but not one in the humanities. I’m sad about this, but the public university system in Ecuador is geared towards technology and science, and our scholarship women are geared towards professional jobs.

Juana Chuma is the only one of our women pursuing a PhD (so far). As a graduate in veterinary medicine from University of Cuenca (2015), she received our master’s support of $3000, but beyond that she has won scholarships and awards at UNAM in Mexico, including a training trip to Chile and a semester at University of Georgia in the US (delayed due to Covid but on track for 2022.)

The pandemic has meant good news for those already working in public health, as the Ecuadorian government has offered them full-time, permanent jobs in hospitals and community clinics. To be permanently nombrado in your workplace in Ecuador is something like tenure – you can stay for life. This is good for job security but not so good for new graduates trying to break into their respective fields. However, the world always needs doctors, nurses and nutritionists, especially those who are bilingual Quichua/Spanish as are all of these below.

Physician Luisa Duchi works in a community health clinic serving rural areas where many elderly speak only Quichua. Married with two children, she is from the Cañari village of Sisidhuayco

Mary Zhinin is a nurse in a provincial hospital in Ambato, in central Ecuador, where her husband also works. They have two children and are from the Cañari village of Quilloac.

Nutritionist/dietician Mariana Acero works in our provincial hospital in the city of Azogues, an hour from Cañar, which allows her to live at home in Correucu with her mother, the famous curandera Mama Michi Chuma.

Here is what graduation looked like in 2021: after five years in a very tough civil engineering program at University of Cuenca, Paiwa Acero sat in front of a laptop screen in my office in full graduation regalia (rented the day before), with script in hand, four people in attendance, and a Zoom program full of glitches. But that night her proud mother, Maria Esthela, organized an elaborate fiesta to celebrate with friends and family. Congratulations Paiwa!

Great thanks to the Circle of Giving in Bend, Oregon who for the past five years have supported women in a new two-year distance program called “Integrated Childhood Development” to train preschool teachers. It’s a government-created course to offer post-secondary education to those who can’t afford to attend university or have other barriers such as caring for young children or elderly parents.The “Circle” of eight women commit to a set amount each year to pay stipends to women who need assistance with childcare, transportation or meals, or to help the program outfit teaching laboratories at the facility. In May this year I was a surprise recipient of gratitude (to the Circle) when the program included me on a wonderful rainy “solidarity” day in the mountains, including a trout lunch

The Cañari Women’s Education Foundation (CWEF) is managed in Cañar by a local board of program graduates + me and the treasurer). Under normal circumstances, we meet two or three times a year to look over applications, review each scholar’s progress and decide how many spaces can be filled. Before Covid we also had a yearly meeting of all scholars, past and present; something we hope to do again in 2022. We keep the current group at about twelve, making it easy to manage monthly payments and monitor progress. Charlotte Rubin, our treasurer in Portland, keeps track of contributions and handles the banking here. We have no administrative costs.

CWEF is an official 501(c) 3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible, and every dollar goes directly to the women. Please make your checks to CWEF and return in the enclosed envelope. We’ll send everyone thank you letters with IRS receipts. You can also donate through PayPal with this DONATE button at the end.

Please stay safe, stay in touch, and profound thanks for your continuing support.  Judy B.



 

On sisters, sons and daughters…

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Dear Friends – this will be the last of my Cañar chronicles for a while, as we are returning to Portland on June 7, with a plan to come back in December for our usual six months. But this quick two-month visit has been important to maintain continuity between our two worlds. We leave this one hopeful, as Covid cases are down, vaccinations are taking place daily near us (Sputnik the Russia vaccine just approved), and town life is beginning to feel, well, alive again.  So now my thoughts turn to things personal. I come from a family of (long-lived) women. I am one of three sisters; our mother was one of six sisters, all loving and supportive to the end of their days – two are still alive. (Photo above: our mother’s 90th birthday.) Following this pattern, I think I expected to have a daughter, in that vague early-20’s sort of way, though the boy I got has filled my life with plenty of joy. But then my younger sisters began to have babies – all boys! – until we had, between us, five sons. Then when THEY began to have children (e.g. our grandchildren), they produced seven boys with two girls sprinkled in, 20 years apart.This was not the dynasty of women we’d expected to continue.

However, we three sisters, all single mothers at one time or another as we stumbled through the 60’s and 70’s, set the bar high in terms of independence and showing our boys what women could do. We’d like to take credit for preparing five good men for the stable marriages and families they’ve all made.

But then, relatively late in life and from a surprise source, the gift of a girl. When Michael and I made our first trip back to Ecuador in the 1990s, and fierce little Paiwa came into our lives at age two, we never imagined we’d have a future with this creature. Although we’d made the trip especially to be her godparents, Paiwa wouldn’t allow us to hold or touch her at her baptism. Here she was about then…

But we kept coming back to Cañar, and Paiwa gradually got used to us. By kindergarten she allowed us to walk her to her school on the first day, and once Michael made some furniture her size, she’d stop by our house after school to read books.On her birthday, secure on the lap of her mother, Paiwa and Michael made an obvious connection. Our relationship grew over the next fifteen years as we moved every six months from Portland to Cañar and back again. (As did the photo collection. Her mother Maria Esthela was one of my first photography students and owns a photo studio in town.)

With no children of his own, Michael loved being a godfather, and as Paiwa’s father was not involved in her upbringing, she considered Michael her marcatayta, a stand-in for her father.

Well, Paiwa graduated from grammar school, then from high school,

 

…went off to University of Cuenca for five years to study civil engineering, wrote a thesis on waste water management using vermifilters, and then…This past week Paiwa graduated (virtually, in my studio) and has even landed a 4-month, paid internship at the local potable water office CENAGRAP. We couldn’t be more proud of her –  our goddaughter, our granddaughter, our daughter.

Well, it’s hard to top that, but as I was walking around town this week I was shocked to see the first sign of a US-based fast-food chain – KFC, yes, the famous Kentucky Fried Chicken, which doesn’t exactly translate to local fare here. Instead it was offering a “Tropiburger” from a big red tent in an upper town plaza.

Let’s hope it’s gone the next time I pass by, because I love the streetscape of constantly changing small shops here, all locally owned. One block might have 4 bakeries, 2 cell phone shops, one Cañari clothing store, and one corner store, none like the other, though we can’t imagine how these small stores survive when many sell the very same products.

Well, dear friends, that’s it for now. I’ve read several books from the last book club suggestions, but there’s no time or space to give a report, other than that most of our members are reading heavily on themes of racism, BLM, slavery, and colonialism. Maybe if I have time this week I’ll do a dedicated Cañar Book Club.

Until then, I send greetings to all, and please remember that l love to hear from you, whether while here in Ecuador or in Portland.

May 30, 2021

 

 

Life in Cañar May 2021

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Dear Friends:As with other South America countries, a second wave of Covid19 has hit Ecuador, though nothing as serious as it’s neighbors, Colombia and Peru, covered by a NYT article here. Still, after the horrific initial outbreak while we were here last March, Ecuador has been cautious. With the recent surge, the government declared a four-week, “general quarantine” on weekends (8:00 PM Friday to 5:00 AM Monday) in sixteen of the country’s twenty-four provinces. It’s being strictly enforced, according to the news, with 516 arrests for curfew violations the first weekend, and more than a thousand fines to drivers on the streets without legitimate reasons. Nine brothels were also closed around Guayaquil, with the best quote of the week from the National Emergency Operations Committee. “Fornication or other sexual acts among strangers are not allowed during the emergency.”  Cañar was not included in the quarantine, so life goes on pretty much as usual here. We’ve just been to the local Saturday market to find it packed with wholesale vendors and buyers, food stands, cars and trucks. Almost everyone wears masks, however, and I was glad to hear loudspeaker announcements in Quichua and Spanish on the importance of the vaccine, which has rolled out in Cañar these last few weeks with “tercer edades” (elders) and teachers. Countrywide, it’s been slow and chaotic, with only 4.3 of population so far vaccinated.“We had it under control in our communities,” a Cañari tayta, or elder, told me yesterday, “and now it’s back. But mostly in the town,” he added, naming several of his neighbors who were infected at their workplaces. Still, this past year in his large comuna only four people have died, and although infections were widespread he could only name one or two people who’d actually gone to hospital. He wore a mask as we talked, but said he would not be getting the vaccine – something I’m hearing from almost everyone who lives in the country. As I wonder about it, a clearer (but speculative) picture begins to form: while those who’ve had mild cases feel they’ve “been there” and don’t need further protection, the rest feel that if they’ve avoided the virus so far, why risk the vaccine with its reported side effects. Also, many folks here use preventative home remedies as protection against the virus. The tayta described the concoction he drinks three times a day: a tea made up of three heads of garlic, three red onions, four limes with peel, five cypress buds, and a dash of honey. And people keep eucalyptus branches at doorways, windows and even in cars.

Some of you have asked about Michael’s cooking (and commented on his hands), so here’s an update on last week’s paella, made possible by the magnificent langostinos that sometimes show up in the Sunday market…

…and shared with out resident goddaughter, Paiwa.Otherwise Michael’s labors involve maintaining the endlessly needy woodpile, with delivery of wood followed by the sound of the chainsaw.

As for me, I have two projects in the works, one short-term, one long. The first is a brochure on Cañari music, part of the amazing outcome of ethnomusicologist Allison Adrian’s time in Cañar on a Fulbright grant here three years ago. Since then, she has been producing videos, translations and transcriptions of traditional Cañari music. The brochure, which I’m helping design and guiding to print during the next month, will give listeners a quick study in Cañari music, with photos, titles and lyrics, and a QR code to a Soundcloud site. And here is a link to her videos on YouTube – Watch and listen and learn!The long-term project is one close to my heart for many years: a book of archival images from the glass-plate and early celluloid negatives of Rigoberto Navas, traditional Cañar town photographer. I began about six years ago when his family gave me access to a closet in his last studio, stuffed with boxes of negatives, camera equipment, and odds and ends of his long life (1911-2001). In the beginning I was only looking for images with indigenous content, but I quickly realized that here was a beautiful visual history of a small market town in the first half of 20th century. Six years on, although local and even national institutions are firmly behind the project, the pandemic means zero budget for cultural projects. So I will soon be off on a private fundraising effort that will take me into next year and the six months we plan to spend here.

Photo by Rigoberto Navas

Another big transition in a photographer’s life: a week or so ago I sold my Cañar darkroom equipment and supplies, including some seriously outdated film and chemicals. A photographer and collector from Cuenca, an acquaintance of many years, came and hauled it all away in the back of his SUV.

The day before, as Michael and dismantled the large Beseler enlarger, we laughed remembering traveling to Ecuador with it as baggage about 12 years ago, when it looked for all the world like a strange rocket. Ecuadorian customs agents, more accustomed to plasma TVs, microwaves and computers, took one quizzical look and let us through. It has served me well all these years, as I loved darkroom work, but like many others these day, I no longer use film, and barely a 35mm camera. We did the same routine in Portland a few months ago – dismantled the darkroom and placed equipment and camera gear on consignment with Blue Moon Camera.I was surprised and how quickly it all sold.

Cañar Book Club

OK dear readers, settle into your favorite wing chair with a good light. I put out a call for fiction and had some great responses from our esteemed and fabulous club members.

From Joanne in Portland: What’s Left of Me is Yours, Stephanie Scott. “Wonderful novel based on a true story of a murder by a wakaresaseya (breaker-upper) in Japan. Innovative, engaging, lots of cultural details about Japan.”

The Door, Magda Szabo. “Fabulous Hungarian novel about a writer who hires a housekeeper who takes over her life and forms a deep bond with her.”

From Maya in Portlnad: Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. “Apparently a medieval German legend originally, Kehlmann has transposed the story of Till Ulenspiegel, a trickster and performer, into a rollicking story set in the 17th century about a juggler/ tightrope walker/performer who travels through Germany’s war-stricken countryside. It manages to be funny, imaginative, and unlike anything else. Very enjoyable.”

Sworn Virgin, by Elvira Dones. “The only Albanian novel I’ve ever read!. There’s historically been a custom in Albania that a woman can chose to live as a man, with all the perks that come with it, IF she swears to remain a virgin. This is a story of a contemporary woman in the mountainous and poor region of that country who makes this choice to be able to care for the old man who raised her- and years later is released to join a relative in the US: who will she be? man, or, after all these years, woman? And if the latter, how? Short, well written.”

From Rick in Portland: Rumors of Rain, André Brink: “A Novel of Corruption and Redemption set in South Africa – amidst the shocking violence that brings South African apartheid to an end.” (Judy’s note: I read A Dry White Season by the same author years ago and I also recommend it.)

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga: “Follows a darkly comic Bangalore driver through the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society.” (Judy’s note: we’ve just watched the film on Netflix. Entertaining but sad.)

Fracture, Andrés Neuman: “… an ambitious literary novel set against Japan’s 2011 nuclear accident in a cross-cultural story about how every society remembers and forgets its catastrophes.”

The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, Maryse Condé: “Born in Guadeloupe, Ivan and Ivana are twins with a bond so strong they become afraid of their feelings for one another. When their mother sends them off to live with their father in Mali they begin to grow apart, until, as young adults in Paris, Ivana’s youthful altruism compels her to join the police academy, while Ivan, stunted by early experiences of rejection and exploitation, walks the path of radicalization.”

Days Without End, Sebastian Barry: “A true left field wonder: a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making.”—Kazuo Ishiguro

 A Thousand Moons, Sebastian Barry: “From the two-time Booker Prize finalist …comes a dazzling companion novel about memory and identity, set in Tennessee in the aftermath of the Civil War.”

History, Elsa Morante: “The central character in this powerful and unforgiving novel is Ida Mancuso, a schoolteacher whose husband has died and whose feckless teenage son treats the war as his playground. A German soldier on his way to North Africa rapes her, falls in love with her, and leaves her pregnant with a boy whose survival becomes Ida’s passion.”

From Arlene in Toronto: Nothing to See Here. “Kevin Wilson’s best book yet — a moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning in her life when she begins caring for two children with remarkable and disturbing abilities”

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Broedesser-Akner, about a marriage on the rocks. “…a marvel, full of shrewd observations, barbed wit, and deep insight. …reveals the twisted hearts of her characters—and the twisted soul of contemporary America—with an eye that is at once pitiless and full of compassion for our human foibles.”

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, “Two faces of the black experience A light-skinned twin sister constructs a new identity as a white woman in a clever novel that confounds expectations.”

That’s it for now. Please keep your reading suggestions coming, as I have a chronicle or two coming before we leave Cañar on June 6. (Note: I’m not sure my REPLY function is working, so write to me by e-mail:  judyblanken@gmail.com)