2020 Scholarship Letter

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Dear Friends: Despite the pandemic, our Cañari women’s scholarship program is alive and well. We now have twenty-three university graduates and thirteen current scholars. Three of our graduates have earned master’s degrees and one is heading for her doctorate (Juana Chuma, in veterinary medicine, University Nacional de Mexico). Because we were unable to have our annual gathering of past and present scholars in 2020, I am using the photo from last year. Thanks to you all for supporting this wonderful group of indigenous women as they forge a new professional landscape in Ecuador. By any measure, this has been an extraordinary year. In Ecuador, after a tragic Covid-19 outbreak in the coastal city of Guayaquil, the country swiftly locked down with an emergencia sanitaria that continues today. Smaller towns in mountainous areas like Cañar had an easier time of it. With agriculture as the economic mainstay, almost all indigenous families live at a distance from neighbors in small hamlets. Most, accustomed to organizing around cooperatives, strikes and marches, quickly closed off access roads and created their own regulations and markets (and, as I heard through the grapevine, used native medicine for those who were infected. To date,I know of no Cañari deaths in our area.)

In town, the local police and a small army of young people in bright vests patrolled the streets, reminding folks to wear masks and checking that painted footprints outside stores were two meters apart. Faux hazmat suits, and hand-embroidered and beaded masks became de moda. As the lockdown relaxed, farmers and vendors got creative with their excess produce, selling their wares from open doorways and garages or alongside the road. Michael said the shopping had never been so good. (We returned to the U.S. on July 4 in a hair-raising trip I describe on my blog here.)

In March, our thirteen scholarship women – most living in university towns far from home – returned to their families in Cañar and we all tried to make sense of the new reality. Remote learning was a mystery to students and teachers alike. Many women did not have Internet access in their homes and weren’t prepared for Zoom classes. Our local committee quickly decided the scholarship women would continue to receive full monthly stipends for the duration of the crisis ($150-$160/month), so that all could buy Internet access and help their families in this hard time.

We had one graduate this year and expect two more in 2021. Zara Falcón earned a degree in accounting and auditing (equivalent to a CPA) from the State University of Bolívar in Guaranda, in central Ecuador. She is pictured here with her proud parents at her graduation. Zara came into our program five years ago, just out of high school, and zoomed through her courses without a pause and with excellent grades. I can’t wait to see what Zara does next, once the pandemic is over.

For the past two years, a group of seven women in Bend, Oregon, called Circle of Giving, makes monthly contributions to a new program within our foundation. In 2012, Ecuador’s Higher Education Law created technical schools with two-year, post-secondary courses in five regions. In Cañar, the program at Institute Quilloac trains early childhood educators using an integrative approach that includes nutrition, language, health, cognitive skills and creative play. Funds provided by Circle of Giving have gone to support six women with small monthly stipends, and for materials and supplies to create teaching “laboratories.” Two members of the group visited Cañar to meet scholarship women in January 2019. This past month we were invited to attend a virtual graduation of the new program, and in our last Zoom meeting we chatted with the six women currently receiving stipends. A huge thank you to the Circle of Giving women of Bend who have initiated a more hands-on model of funding.

I was pleased and surprised by two other creative funding gestures in 2020. Preston Wilson, a Peace Corps volunteer in Cañar from 1968-70, has made the generous pledge of giving $1000 every year. Preston has been an active partner in the Cañari archive project, the first to contribute his photos of Cañar from the late sixties – the people and the place – a time of almost no photo documentation of the region. In 2012 he and his wife Beverly Hammons (Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador, 1970-73) made a return trip, from which he produced a seventy-minute film titled “Ecuador, Me, and the Peace Corps,” which can be found here (Photo: Preston Wilson, circa 1968)

Another long-time supporter of our program, Janice Fried Donnola, used Facebook Birthday Fundraiser to generate over $600 dollars – and counting! Janice and her husband Bruce have a special connection as their son, Cisco, was born in the province of Cañar. The fundraiser will end on Cisco’s 21st birthday, November 21. Janice is a wonderful mixed media artist and illustrator who sometimes uses Cañari motifs in her work. (illustration: “Mariposa”)  Check out her website here.

Preston’s and Janice’s gifts got me thinking again about an idea for a “legacy” or endowment fund that would mean a secure future for Cañari women’s higher education. Michael and I have willed our Cañar house and property to the program – a long time off, we hope – to be sold for the benefit of the foundation. If any of you are interested in talking to me about such a plan, I welcome any ideas on how to create an endowment fund. So – a quick recap: the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is managed by a local board in Cañar that does an amazing job. All but one are graduates of the program. (L-R: Maria Esthela, treasurer; Alexandra, vice president; Veronica, secretary; Mercedes, president.) Under normal circumstances, we meet two or three times a year to look over applications, review how each scholar is doing and decide how many spaces we have to fill. We keep the current group at about twelve, making it easy to manage monthly payments and monitor progress. (We pay stipends in cash each month, with zero administrative costs). Charlotte Rubin, our treasurer in Portland, keeps track of contributions and manages the banking here. Thanks as ever, Charlotte!

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 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. May you stay safe in these difficult times, and many thanks for your continuing support. Please stay in touch.   Judy B

The New Life in Portland

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Dear Friends –  this past Friday was the 14th day of our self-quarantine and the official beginning of our new life in Portland. So many friends wished us well on our three-day “trip from hell” and welcomed us home that I wanted to send an update to say that Michael and I feel great. My raw hands have healed from the hand sanitizer I used repeatedly during the trip, gone is tiredness we both felt from the tension of closing our Cañar house, one long taxi ride, four flights, two hotel stays, one very long layover – and being accosted by a crazy maskless guy in Houston carrying a bible and yelling that we didn’t need masks, just Jesus! (Headline I found in a Kentucky newspaper: “What would Jesus do right now? He would wear a face mask.”)Summer n Portland is glorious, and we love being back in our Buckman neighborhood. Where else can you find great tacos and a “heritage” barbershop sharing sign space and social-distance seating while you wait? As we’re busy getting our Portland affairs in order – dental, medical, taxes, banking, garden, and so on – we’ve made a few local outings to see the gains and losses during the pandemic. Mostly losses, but to start with a gain (at least for Michael): a block over the street closed to traffic and picnic tables are set up to serve a brewery, a pub and a coffee shop (this being Portland). You sit at a color-coded, well-separated and numbered table, make your order on your phone, and a masked server appears. Here’s Michael’s with his first IPA and pulled-pork sandwich in seven months. So happy!

The losses: my favorite used/new clothing store two blocks from our house. The young owner was in tears when I ran into her hauling stuff out the door  – “We didn’t get a Covid-19 small business loan; my four-year old was sent home from preschool for misbehaving and we have a one-year old. I can’t hold on any longer.” It was also a consignment store and I believe I had some credit there I was looking forward to using when I got home. I will really miss Palace.

The yoga studio two blocks in the other direction, where I had been re-introduced to yoga after thirty years. The classes were beyond my level, but I enjoyed putting on my leotards (no yoga pants for me), rolling up my cheap puffy mat (no $70 yoga mat here) and walking over three times a week. I was planning to continue and I’ll miss Love Hive too – although I really hated their name.

We both really miss the thrice-weekly picnic with chamber music concerts at Reed College we’ve been a part of since about 1995 (I as photographer). Seeing re-plays online just ain’t the same, even if we can drink wine and eat ice cream with fresh blueberries while we watch.Novelties: The large silhouette of a black bull that’s become an iconic symbol of Spain has appeared over the fancy French dessert place around the corner, Pix Pâtisserie, now selling its wares through a vending machine at the outside entrance. What people will do for a sugar fix! I had to line up to take the photo of the Pix-o-matic.

What’s new? Hallelujah!  A bookstore/art gallery called Nationale right around the corner from our house in the space where the dental prosthetics lab used to be. Doing some research I see they are not brand new to Portland; they moved to our neighborhood while we were gone and just re-opened. This was all I saw for a few days and I was so curious …

Then...limited stock, and a few cosmetics, but all the titles I saw were all good ones.

OK, on to the hard news: Portland is in it’s 51th day of protests that were sparked by the George Floyd murder. We don’t watch television news but when we hear helicopters we know things have escalated downtown, where protesters have set up camp in a park by the federal courthouse. This past week, Trump and his Homeland Security goons sent in federal  “storm troopers” – fully camouflaged, without identification, using teargas and “munitions,” taking peaceful protestors away in unmarked vans. Uninvited by local police, officials or politicians, and seriously breaking the law. Our friend’s son-in-law lawyer, Athul Acharya, is part of a class-action lawsuit by ACLU against the City of Portland and federal government on behalf of journalists and legal observers who were targeted and attacked by the police while documenting protests in Portland. You can read more about the lawsuit  here.

Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum: “Every American should be repulsed when they see this happening.  If this can happen here in Portland, it can happen anywhere.”

There is much more to say on this issue, but the national and international papers are full of news on Portland. The Guardian here. The New York Times here.

I think this will be my last blog until December, when we hope to return to Cañar. I will miss you all, and miss writing this blog, but we can always be in touch by email at  judyblanken@gmail.com. And Oregon friends, we’re ready to be social if you are! And to everyone –  stay tuned for some great summer reading suggestions below.

SUMMER BOOK CLUB PORTLAND

I’ve been reading like crazy since I got back, with library e- and “real” books available to me again (pick-up by appointment), and recommendations by you, dear friends. I read in my garden hammock during the day, in bed at night, first thing in the morning. So….Nemesis by Philip Roth, a novel published in 2011 but about the July 1944 polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey. Roth obviously lived through it, as did many of us in the 1950’s before there was a vaccine.  I haven’t read Roth in years, but – for obvious reasons – I felt I was reading about today. Beautiful to reconnect with Roth, a writer I’d read and admired way back and sortof forgot (I had to look up to see if he was still alive). Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout brought us, I think, to the end of Olive’s life. I have loved her irascible self and am sorry to see her go. I think Strout was too, but as a writer is surely eager to move on to other characters. Good Husbandry by Kristin Kimball because I love to read about daily life on a large CSA farm in up-state New York. I read her first book, The Dirty Life, a few years ago and it was good to catch up. But the most amazing book I’ve read lately is Telephone: A Novel by Percival Everett, recommended by a chronicle reader. I dipped into it (while reading other books) and dropped everything until the finish. It’s brilliant, riveting and devastating. How did I not know about this author? He’s written about twenty-five books and I’ve already ordered a second one with the great title: So Much Blue.

Maggi in Toronto:  Am currently reading Extensions by Myrna Dey.  I thought it was going to be a “lite” mystery (protagonist is an RCMP officer) but it turns out to be a more interesting exploration of the narrator’s great-grandmother, a poor woman in a Welsh mining community in 19th century BC.  Not a literary masterpiece, but a good & interesting summer read.

Sandy P in Portland: Javier Cercas’ Lord of All the Dead, a novel where he tries to come to terms with having had an uncle who died fighting for Franco. Or if you are interested in Israel/Palestine I found Colum McCann’s Apeirogon very compelling. Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains has given me a new way at looking at the Republican/ Libertarian/Koch takeover of our country, i.e. the privatization and cruelty we were experienced long before 1945.

Just finished Telephone by Percival Everett and that should go on your list too! A novel. Quite engaging and well written. Oh dear, these are all kind of heavy. Maybe you want to read cookbooks. I’m loving using Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons.

CIaire in London: just finished The Mirror and the Light, Hillary Mantel’s last in the Cromwell trilogy and once again am totally blown away. That’s not to say I loved every minute. Until, that is, it got very bogged down about a third of the way through where she seemed to feel the need to tell us everything about those crucial years between Anne Boleyn’s execution and Cromwell’s demise. And I mean EVERYTHING. But I’m so glad I persevered. It gets better and better and – as with Bring Up The Bodies – the last few pages are simply brilliant and utterly devastating. She is a genius and I forgive her the tedious chunk in the middle just for those last couple of chapters.

Maya: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, which one half of the Booker this year. Loving it. And I loved the Sally Hansen non-fiction Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World. Hansen frames a critique of how being American blinds us to the realities of the rest of the world and particularly the US role in it with her experiences in Turkey and Greece. It puts together many things I’ve known about how this country operates in its own self-interest and screws other countries under cover of self-righteousness better than I’ve ever seen, and very readable.

That’s it, dear readers. Stay in touch and before you know it the Cañar Book Club will be back in session in 2021.

At home in Portland – safe and (apparently) sound

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Dear Friends – Thanks to all for your best wishes for our “trip from hell.”  I’m happy to report we’re home in Portland since Friday July 3, and we feel fine (so far), only tired from traveling for three days on four flights, with long stopovers in two countries and three states. My hands are raw from hand gel and alcohol wipes and we have surplus of safety supplies if anyone needs anything – we started out seriously over-prepared, I’d say, plus my sisters sent a care package to our hotel in Houston.So – to the details. Before we even knew for sure that we could travel, we had to take blood tests at least 72 hours before our domestic flight from Cuenca to Quito (a new requirement within Ecuador). So on Monday we went to the only lab in town that qualified, to meet the one employee, Valeria, who became our new best friend, especially when we picked up the negative test results.

Then, some last shopping for a final dinner. As you can see, Cañar has been very strict about masks.

…and a last dinner with no electricity, reminding us that we were leaving a country where lights and water are not a dependable constant. We started out from Cañar at 6:00 AM on July 1, in a taxi. It was the first day in 3.5 months that taxis could circulate freely between Cañar and Cuenca, regardless of license plate number. And our first time in a taxi since March. The new plastic safety barrier between Juan the driver and us in the back seat made it hard to understand what he was saying, but whenever he would gesture at a checkpoint that was no longer manned, or other sights, we’d just say, “Si, si…” In Cuenca we lined up on the sidewalk outside the airport, spaced two meters apart, until just before our 9:00 AM flight. Then, young agents took our temperature, guided us through check-in, asked to see negative results of our blood tests, and finally escorted us to a waiting area.The flight to Quito was only 55 minutes, to a new international airport that was virtually empty. Our plane to the U.S. was not until the next day so I’d arranged a stay at the only airport hotel – which we soon called “the mother ship” for obvious reasons …also nearly empty, with beautiful views over a steep ravine, young staff so cautious and eager to be helpful that we allowed them every service that included a tip: a water bottle delivered to our room, spraying the bottom of our shoes, carrying a small roller bag. The shot below is the interior “hallway” of the hotel, wood strips inside a superstructure open to the air at the bottom. Altogether a good restful hiatus after the tension of preparing for the trip, closing up the house, saying goodbye

In the evening we walked over to the airport for a drink on the terrace of the food court – again, alone.The next day, the same careful precautions by airport employees as we waited in the same food court area for the flight to Houston – marking Quito the exemplary point of our Covid-19 travel. In contrast, Houston was, most certainly, the low point: A huge busy terminal, a subterranean shuttle to our horribly ugly and expensive airport Marriott hotel.

As we were waiting in the enormous dark and dreary circular lobby to check in, a crazy man rushed by us, maskless, yelling several times, “You don’t need no masks – you just need JESUS!”  I believe he was carrying a bible. Then, on the way to our room across a courtyard – a giant cockroach (one of two on that overnight stop). The next day – beginning of July 4 holiday – the terminal was jammed with United flights going every which way – Michael was amazed to see one to his podunk birthplace of Medford, Oregon. Everyone had masks, but beyond that social distancing was impossible, especially as flights loaded for New York or Chicago – even the walkway was nearly blocked.

Although I’d sprung $90 each to have access to the “United Club” during long layovers – (I won’t repeat what Michael said about THAT), we found it closed in Houston. A morning flight to Denver was uneventful, and there we found the United “luxury lounge” open. Although with only packaged snacks and certainly not free drinks (as my sister had promised), we did have near complete privacy for the six-hour layover before our flight to Portland.

Last leg, Michael totally absorbed with puzzles my sisters had sent to Houston (now that’s a thoughtful care package!). While I read one paper novel and a Kindle book – both set in war-time Spain (see Covid-19 travel Cañar Book Club below) – Michael seems to find relief from anxiety only through endless KenKen and crossword puzzles. Although I’d printed a 4-day supply before we left Cañar, he was done with all by Houston. Friends met us at PDX with a cooler full of dinner and breakfast fare and left us with a promise of a social-distance outdoor dinner next week (now those are thoughtful friends), and then we were at home in Portland for the first time in seven months.

Our first walk around the neighborhood felt almost post-apocalyptic. It shouldn’t have surprised us, but it did, to see a favorite sushi restaurant closed, and others with take-out menus and phone numbers plastered on the windows, other windows boarded up (this area was close to organizing points of protest marches), and our neighborhood theater closed with this on the marquee:

…but once we had our first dinner in the garden under our ever-spreading, supposedly semi-dwarf, cherry tree (behind M)…

…and he saw that his crimson clover ground cover had done it’s job with controlling weeds and nitrogen-fixing roots, we felt everything will be OK. However, we will be in semi-quarantine until we’re sure. Best regards to all who follow this blog and wished us well.  As always, I love to hear from you…

Covid-19 Travel Cañar Book Club

The Wrong Blood, Manuel de Lope, a novel in translation set in Basque country during the 1936 Civil War. Claims it’s about two women but really it’s about the men who circle around them. (I’d give it a 7/10.) Beautiful descriptions of weather in the area of Spain around San Sebastian, where we visited three or so years ago and experienced a magnificent seaside storm.

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, by Andrew Miller, a historical novel I found riveting and beautifully written, and I carefully paced myself so as not to end it too soon. I’ll be lazy here and lift a description from a review: “follows John Lacroix, a soldier trying to escape his guilt-ridden memories of atrocities carried out by British soldiers in Spain during the Napoleonic wars, as he makes his way to the Hebrides; it also follows, in parallel, the two men–one English, one Spanish–dispatched to find him and hold him accountable for what happened.”  This story is also partly set in a place we’ve visited: Coruña, Spain, where I puzzled over a prominent statue of a British general, John Moore in a seaside park. (I’d give this a 9/10, and is the second book I’ve read by British author Andrew Miller – the first, Pure, set in pre-revolutionary Paris where a young engineer is hired to clear the cemetery of Les Innocents that is polluting the neighborhood. (I’d give it a 6.5/10).

All for now.  I’d love to hear about your Covid-19 favorite books.