Beat-up hands, a new president and Covid (not in order of importance)

Dear Friends: It seems some of you didn’t receive my first Chronicle, Back to Cañar 2021. It is here. I had some trouble with my mailing list that I hope is now fixed.

Covid in Cañar: it’s not easy to find solid information, so I’ll pass on what I’ve learned from anecdotal accounts and a few very unreliable statistics. It appears that Covid infections are rampant in Cañar, both in the town and indigenous communities. Within Cañar, like small towns everywhere, news travels fast. “Five people died yesterday,” a lawyer tells me, “and there are many more cases.” As I walk around I see that everyone complies with masks and, as with last year, lye is sprinkled on pavement at entrance to stores, and I still receive change sprayed with alcohol.

Image from Cañar municipal website

But when I ask a Cañari friend about the indigenous comunas that surround the town, he says, “Nada grave. There are lots of cases, but no deaths, and everyone stays home and is cured with home remedies.” When I ask which home remedies, he says…inhaling eucalyptus steam baths and using medicinal plants for teas such as chamomile, ginger,

I believe this guardedness is in keeping with the insularity and reserve of the Cañari people, which goes back to hacienda days when maintaining separateness was a survival mechanism. The less the patron knew of your personal life, the safer you were. “No one wants to be treated in hospital or intubated,” my friend said. I’ve yet to hear of a single death in the indigenous communities although I suspect that there have to be some, especially elders, who by tradition die at home and are quickly buried, with no medical attention or death certificate. (Official statistic for Cañar county that includes the town and country comunas: 908 confirmed cases from Feb 29, 2020 – March 31 2021, a figure that has to be vastly under reported.)As for vaccines in Ecuador, some from Pfizer through the COVAX international plan and Sinovac from China, but the delivery situation is chaotic. Yesterday, as I walked home, the road to our house was nearly blocked with cars and people at a local school where shots were apparently available – or had been. People were crowded outside the closed gate, shouting at the soldiers on the other side. Everyone’s first question to me, when they learn I’m vaccinated, is “which one?” The second question is: “What was your reaction?” There’s lots of news, good and bad, circulating about which vaccines are the best (Pfizer!) and side effects. One elderly woman we love, who runs a store in town, said of her friend who had varicose veins, “She took the vaccine and she just died! I’m not getting it,” she concluded, maskless, “God will protect me.”

Michael’s big, beautiful beat-up Cañar hands. As many of you know, Michael was for many years a contractor in Portland, doing mostly plumbing and electrical work. His hands were always knobby and bloody, and now they are even knobbier with age and arthritis. Since I’ve known him he has not been able to open his hands fully, and now they look a bit like sweet bear paws, without the shredder claws. Lately, with retirement and Covid, his hands had grown soft and white. But now back in Cañar, what with taking down shutters, pruning bushes, building fires, cutting wood, moving compost (and using the Spanish dictionary), his hands are again getting beat-up. But they are lovely hands to draw or photograph.Otherwise, our domestic life is pretty much the same. Sunday market for produce and shrimp; daily forays into town for everything else; once a week to Cuenca for luxuries such as cheese and coffee. After our Portland life with Whole Foods and New Seasons and specialty stores, we returned from those first shopping trips with, “Look what I got for one dollar!” Here’s a photo from trip #1: eight tomatoes = $1.00; eight eggs = $1.00; five pounds of potatoes = $2.00 and a handful of maracuyá (a gift from the vendor).

 While Michael’s main domestic job is food and cooking, mine is laundry, carefully sorted into categories (a practice of most women I know) and hung according. On a sunny day, in this high dry climate, drying takes about two hours. Elections: Well, to the surprise of many, Guillermo Lasso won last week’s election on his third try for the presidency. Lasso, a banker, took 52% of the vote in the runoff following a campaign that pitted his free market economics against his opponent’s pledge to return to the socialist programs of previous president, Rafael Correa, that put the country deeply in debt.When Mr. Lasso takes office in May, he will have to deal with the Indigenous party, Pachakutik. While its candidate barely missed getting to the run-off, the party won half of all provinces (including Cañar) to become the second-largest block in Congress, going from nine to forty-three seats. “The politics of Ecuador will never be the same,” said Farith Simon, an Ecuadorean law professor and columnist. “There’s still racism, but there’s also a re-vindication of the value of Indigenous culture, of pride in their national role.”Cañar Book Club

Well, dear fellow members, I’m ashamed to say my reading has been pretty pathetic these last months. I didn’t keep track of the books read in Portland, and I brought only three paper books to Cañar (Michael refuses to carry them anymore, and I brought only one bag): Tana French’s police procedural, The Trespasser, which was a good interminable read for the 24-hour trip here, but not one I would recommend. Also Mountains of My Mind, for some unknown reason I’d bought months ago about a history of mountain climbing, which I’ll pass on to my friend in Cuenca who does climb mountains. I like Pico Iyer a lot, and just finished an ebook, The Man in the Head, also ordered from the library for some unknown reason. The man in Iyer’s head is Graham Greene, whose books I loved in the far past, but I’m not sure I’d recommend this book either.

So I have to give special thanks to a long book report from a 1960’s an ex-Peace Corps volunteer in Cuenca, now living in Florida, who has done some real quality reading over the pandemic months (unlike some of us). Here is his report, slightly edited:

“Two have Ecuadorian themes. The first is The Man Who Read Love Stories by writer Luis Sepulveda, a Bolivian-exile. The novela is set in the Ecuadorian Oriente and reminds me of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The second is The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. Her parents brought her to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was a child and as an undocumented student she made it through Harvard and is now going for a PhD in American Studies at Yale. She got her green card last year and promptly had this book published.

The Bad Muslim Discount, a novel by Sayd M. Masood. Two Muslim families, one from Pakistan, the other from Iraq meet at an apartment building in San Francisco. Interactions and family conflicts are told in a somewhat comical way.

You might also try Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World, by Suzy Hansen.  She discusses living and traveling in Turkey for seven years.  Living outside the US makes us see the world differently.

Finally, I’ll briefly mention these nonfiction books that I felt are also more than just chewing-gum-for-the-eyeballs:  1) Jon Meacham’s biography of John Lewis, His Truth is Marching On.  2) David Michaelis’s “Eleanor,” a lengthy biography of Eleanor Roosevelt.  3) Barak Obama’s A Promised Land.”

Finally, a Portland friend piped in late to say she is reading George Saunders’s A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, based on his twenty years of teaching a class on the Russian short story. “He interrupts the story to pose questions and get us thinking about what makes great writing. It might not be for everyone but I find it intriguing and fun to read.”

So, dear readers, please send your suggestions for our next rousing meeting in two weeks. Until then, still well. I love to hear from you.

3 thoughts on “Beat-up hands, a new president and Covid (not in order of importance)

  1. Thank you for the wonderful update on everything from hands to politics. The Covid situation sounds … worrying, to say the least.
    I’m hoping others in the Canar book club flood the replies with fiction suggestions. I’m in a reading vacuum and desperate for a new novel after a satisfying detour into non-fiction during our recent, long winter lockdown months. I highly recommend Jonathan Kaufman’s Last Kings of Shanghai – the history of the Sassoons and Kadoories, two Baghdad Jewish families who shaped the Shanghai of the late 19th and early 20th century and have since had huge influence on Hong Kong. It’s a very well told tale.
    Also, The Murder of Professor Schlick: The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle by David Edmonds. Full disclosure, he’s a friend and former colleague but he writes beautifully about the philosophers of 1920s-30s Vienna and the cultural life of that city before the 2nd world war.
    And now I need a good, fictional story! Any recommendations welcome. I had looked forward for months to the publication of Francis Spufford’s 2nd novel , Light Perptual. His first, On Golden Hill (set in pre-revolutionary New York ) was sublime but this new one was a bitter disappointment and I gave up barely half-way through. Help!

  2. Thank you for this glimpse into the life of Cañar, and into your your lives. I love Michael’s word of the day: hilarante. I’m reading Grammar for a Full Life by Lawrence Weinstein. I believe it gives me permission to use sentence fragments. So liberating. Paulette got it for me for Valentines Day. I also spend far too much time reading analyses of what happened in the Ecuadorian election. There are surprises ahead, I believe.

  3. Hi Judy good to read you are back in Cañar. thanks for the update. very worrying to read about the covid situation. Take care of yourselves and say hi to all the friends I met with when I was there in 2019. It seems unbelievable that it was already two years ago and the world is so different now. Interesting success of the Pachakutik candidate, even if he didn’t get to the presidency. big abrazos

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