Back to Cañar 2021

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Dear Friends. We have been gone from Cañar for nine months, the longest time away since 2005, when we came to Ecuador for a grant year, bought a piece of land with a view of the Andes, and came back in 2006 to begin building an earthen and wood “barraque” house. We’ve returned every year since for six months until last year, when we left on July 4 amidst the Covid pandemic on our “trip from hell #1” to return safely to Portland, Oregon, our other home. (This time, we almost hated to leave our glorious cherry tree, which we hadn’t seen in bloom in 15 years. Thanks to our friend Carla who took this photo when she picked us up for the airport on Monday morning.)

With our two vaccine jabs plus two weeks for immunity, I booked flights for April 5. Our usual routes to Guayaquil were not available so I used the Travelocity website, and somehow (my mistake?) reserved COPA flights from LAX to GYE that included a 9-hour layover in Los Angeles, becoming the trip from hell #2. This taught us a good lesson in the new reality of flying with Covid. We came in to LAX on Alaska mid-afternoon, but couldn’t check in to our 1:00 AM international flight until 9:00 PM. Terminal B was so depressing that I forgot to take any photos, so just imagine us sitting in a line of chairs in a cavernous dark space with everything closed. Michael worked on puzzles and I read an interminable Tana French police procedual. Once we finally checked through security into the fancy international lounge, we found ONE small bar for two beers and a wine plus a required bag of stale peanuts – $35.00! Is this really Los Angeles? The luxury duty-free stores were all closed except for Gucci, where I saw a woman in full hazmat shopping. That’s Michael in the wing chair waiting for our Panama flight.

Once in Guayaquil we recovered in a large hotel with our first meal in 24 hours, an air-conditioned room, hot showers, two double beds, and a long night of sleep. The next day we hired a driver with car, and three hours later we were in Cañar and our ordeal was over.

Our house in the clouds was in perfect condition except for dust and cobwebs. Thanks to Cañar’s high dry climate, adobe and wood stay perfectly preserved (as long as the wood is treated for termites). As usual, some of the interior patio plants are reaching for the glass roof, but our compadres Jose Maria and Narcisa, who take care of things while we’re gone, have kept my ferns and flowers mostly alive. Here’s Michael bent over a crossword our first day. For me, the usual unwelcome signs: headache, light headedness, insomnia, but after a couple of days all is clear and life at 10,100 feet feels invigorating.The yard is another matter. Our compadres are only responsible for keeping the patio plants alive, and being a security presence around the property, grazing their sheep on the lawn.They use our back field for their crops – usually corn or potatoes – and they also plant a kitchen vegetable garden before we come, and we plant one for them before we leave. This arrangement has worked well since José María worked on our house construction as the maestro and we got to know the family. Here’s Michael having a first chat with José María, taking a break from his job as a sanitation worker with the Municipality.

But back to the yard: last year I wrote a chronicle about my “sisyphusian garden” and I was reminded again, on day two when I went out to survey, that no matter what new flowers I’ve planted, or how hard I weed kikuyu, the African grass that creeps everywhere, stasis is the name of the game: aggressive species take back control, new exotics get beaten and disappear. Nothing changes. Of course, those local dominant guys that stay busy twelve months a year ain’t that bad.

Paiwa, our goddaughter, has come from Cuenca to stay with us while she takes an intensive online English course to prepare for the TOEFL exam, necessary to apply for graduate programs. She has just completed five years of a rigorous civil engineering course, and her graduation from University of Cuenca on May 28 will be the culminating event of our visit. Michael and I walked Paiwa to her first day of kindergarten, and she has been an important part of our lives since. My fantasy has her coming to Oregon State University for a master’s degree, but she’s a long way from deciding where she will go next – or rather, economics and financial aid will most likely decide.

Today, national elections for a new president – rockets shoot off now and then while I write, making me jump. Mystery to me why loud noises are important for religious and civic events. This time, a run-off of two socially conservative candidates, Guillermo Lasso 66, banker and Opus Dei member, and Andrés Arauz, 36-year-old economist anointed by ex-president Correa as his successor. Arauz won 32% of the vote in February, not enough to avoid a run-off, though polls say he will likely be the winner today. The third and by far most interesting candidate was the indigenous leader with the Pachakutig party that we were all rooting for: Yaku Pérez. He came so close to Lasso in the February elections (within .05) that he has toured the country crying “fraud,” and many of our Cañari friends firmly believe the count was manipulated. (International observers called it fair.) But he’s youngish (52), politically savvy and very smart, so we hope he’ll run again in four years. Meanwhile, that an indigenous candidate should come so close is a bright point for the future, and the party’s numbers in the national legislature have increased from nine to 43. Read more in this excellent article from today’s New York Times: “Indigenous Party, Not on the Ballot, Is Still a Big Winner in Ecuador Election.”

Well, dear friends, there’s much more to say about the economic, social and health devastation of Covid in Ecuador, and other things, but I want to get this out today before my work week starts. Our stay in Cañar is only two months this time – we’ll come back in December or January for our usual six months – and I have two projects in the works, contacts to keep alive, friends to see and the scholarship program to coordinate with our local committee. I’ll try writing a shorter blog once a week or so, and I promise the Cañar Book Club will be in session for next Chronicle. Until then, stay safe and I love to hear from you and your favorite books read during lockdown.

Trips from hell update: our flights back to Portland on June 5 are cancelled and I’m looking for new routes that will avoid Panama and Los Angeles.

 

 

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