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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Saying goodbye…again

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Dear Friends – in a routine that has become familiar after 17 years, I recognize the first signs: time rushing by at unnatural speed, projects that dawdled along for months suddenly require urgent attention; visitors who put off visiting arrive at the door (often with great amounts of garden or crop produce), meetings delayed for months suddenly solidify. All of which is to say these last two weeks in May are unusally busy. Still, I wanted to squeeze in one last chronicle because I really miss being in touch with you all while we’re in Portland.

This is also a time when I get around to tasks I’ve put off for months. On a sunny day last week I took off on a long solitary walk – about 5 kilometers – down to a comuna called Cuchucún where, in 2000, my early photography student José Miguel and I went to interview, photograph and film a musician, Pedro Pichisaca. Now, 23 years later and feeling lost on the empty road, I stopped to ask a man the way. “Pedro Pichisaca?  He died 10 years ago! I’m his uncle.” He pointed out the house in the distance, and after winding down and down the mountain, I asked again as I got closer. A a neighbor in her field pointed to a small house and said the widow of Pedro lived there. I knocked, her son answered (I saw Pedro’s face in his) and after about ten minutes the widow came cautiously to the door. She recognized me but did not invite me in. She took the large envelope I offered and studied the photos – contact sheets and color prints. Then she looked up at me and asked politely, “But where’s the video?”

Chagrined, I came home and after a two-hour nap found the video on an old hard drive, and called her son to ask him to come by with a flash drive to download. Hard evidence can be found in the two screen shots below from the video. This was a good reminder of how important it is to return images and videos to folks who so kindly collaborate with our documentary ways. After 23 years, Pedro’s widow had not forgotten that motion and sound bring back a beloved person, not stills.

This is also a time when I’m aware the Cañarean cycle of life. We came in December to find two nests with little cheepers in the giant aloe plant in the atrium. Now, we watch as two rufous collared sparrows come and go from under the glass roof, either building a new nest or renovating the two empty ones that I can still see. Our own little aviary.

In the back field we find two bulls cleaning up the remains of the corn/bean/squash crop, as our compadres José Maria and Narcisa prepare to plow and replant. Their dogs keep watch from our back porch, somehow knowing this will again be their alternative home for the next six months.

Speaking of dogs, we had some puppy excitement a couple of weeks ago. I was in a zoom conversation looking out the window towards the street when I saw a woman I didn’t know come through the gate with a large shopping bag. She dumped three puppies onto the lawn. I yelled for Michael, who ran out and began chasing the puppies as I caught up with the woman as she started to leave.

“We can’t have puppies,” I said. “Why don’t you sell them at the Sunday open market?” She said little, only that she had three more in same litter and couldn’t take care of all the dogs. She stood patiently as Michael corralled the puppies and put them back in the bag. But as soon as she walked out the gate she dumped them on the edge of the road, where there was traffic. I ran out to check they were OK, but someone in a car had already stopped and taken away these beautiful healthy little creatures. (A friend pointed out they would sell for about $500 each in Portland.)

Two weeks ago we held the first all-scholarship meeting since before Covid, with current scholars along with a couple of graduates to give motivation, inspiration and lessons learned. Luisa, the physician, talked about the difficulties of getting married and having a baby while in university (stony faces all around). And Paiwa, the engineer, talked about the long road to a scholarship for a master’s in the US – learning English being the key. Afterward, lunch, a cake, and a final photo in the front yard.

And that’s it for this year in Cañar, folks. The house darkens as Michael put up the shutters yesterday, even after kindly friends sent a message that they thought it was too dangerous and that Michael should get a neighbor to help. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m sure Magdalena (our troublesome neighbor) would love to help me.”

I ran out to assist, but got distracted photographing my flowers for the last time.

Cañar Book Club

I have some last recommendations for summer reading.

Maya in Portland: The Ministry For the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson. “Speculative fiction that takes place a bit in the future, when disasters from climate change have become bigger and scarier. Robinson manages to create a visceral sense of what can/will go wrong and the effect on humanity, but also a really imaginative look at the kinds of things that could solve some of the problems and halt the worst of the destruction.  There are interesting characters and a plot, as well, making it an absorbing read on several levels. Mostly, it really makes you think about the big issues we face, yet without despair. Impressive!

She also liked Rebecca Makai’s The Great Believers, about the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s in Chicago, and it’s aftermath. “Very absorbing.”

Nancy in Portland:  Independent People by Halldor Laxness, an Icelandic writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946 in part based on this masterpiece (he wrote many books). Set in sheep herding country in early 20th century Iceland, it’s an intimate, richly detailed story of a stubborn man who’s determined to get out from under the quasi-feudal economic system of landholding at that time. Jane Smiley called it “one of the best books of the 20th Century.” It’s dense and complex, very character-based, and leavened by sardonic humor.

Julie in Vermont:  The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls was a book club favorite here, and I’d recommend the same author writing on her mother and remarkable grandmother in Half Broke Horses.

My reading has been all over the place as I grow impatient with my iPad and yearn for a paper book and characters that I can love. I gave up on the Conquistadores: A New History of Spanish Discovery and Conquest (fed up with reading about Columbus and his ilk risking their lives for gold and silver to bring genocide and slavery to the New World). Then The Candy Store by Jennifer Egan. Clever, as always, but do I like any of these characters enough to keep reading 350 pages? No. Then, Fellowship Point by Alice Elliot Dark, after reading a review. Ho hum! Should I care about resolving ownership of a point of land in Maine owned by wealthy Philadelphians?  Finally, from the library, The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese. Ahhhh, a sprawling novel by a favorite writer, set in India beginning in 1900, 775 pages to go, and 24 hours of travel ahead.  I’m happy!

As always, I love hearing from you. We have tickets back to Cañar on December 1, so if you’ve been wanting to visit Ecuador, start making your plans for 2024!