Cañar Update: Heading into Week Six

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Dear Friends. We are heading into Week Six of total lockdown here in Ecuador and in Cañar. Masks are mandatory, local streets are barricaded and interprovincial traffic strictly controlled by police, with a national curfew from 2:00 PM to 5:00 AM (sirens marking the beginning, reminding me of a school bell – how quickly we become adjusted to sound cues). In Cantón Cañar (the county), Covid-19 cases number only twelve, a very slow rise over three weeks. National rates are, I suspect, carefully controlled and under-reported by the government after some very bad press about the coastal city of Guayaquil. As of today: Ecuador’s “official” figures are 8450 cases with 421 deaths. (In contrast, today’s Guardian reported close to 7,000 deaths in Guayaquil alone, where so many die at home and are not counted.)

Our home routine is so fixed that I can barely remember life before. For Michael, little has changed – he makes morning coffee (although our little espresso machine just went kaput), works on the puzzles I print each morning (four KenKens; one NYT crossword), fixes lunch and plans dinner. If it’s a cold rainy day – as in the photo above – he builds an early fire. Once or twice a week he trudges up into town to go shopping and I sometimes go with him. Our little stores remain well provisioned, and the last couple of weeks we see a lot more sidewalk and doorway action as farming families set up spontaneous stands to sell their own products.

For me, the early morning routine remains the same – coffee in bed with laptop, an hour or so of email, news, articles and a bowl of home-made granola (*Ana’s recipe at end of post). From there, I move to my studio office or the dining room table if we have an early fire. Several projects keep me busy with full work days. In late afternoon, I take a break in the garden to hack some weeds and check what’s ready to eat (our first of many cauliflower this week). The big difference during lockdown is, of course, that I don’t leave the house for work. Looking back to last year’s daily journal for April, I’m amazed at the constant motion of my days – accompanying a visiting researcher to villages; recording interviews, trips to Cuenca, trips to town and to schools, getting ready for visitors from Cuenca, and visitors from Portland. I can’t believe I will ever lead such a non-stop daily life again. Not sure I want to.

The other member of our little lockdown household is Paiwa, our 24-year-old goddaughter. She’s nearly full-time in her room with her on-line classes in 5th year civil engineering, emerging for lunch and dinner and to wash clothes or the dishes. We’ve developed a nice routine of knowing when to socialize over dinner, when to practice English, and when to eat lunch in companionable silence, each with our device (Michael with crossword). Although we’ve known her and been close since she was about five, we’ve never had this much time with Paiwa, and it has been delightful.

But the most interesting thing these past couple of weeks is what we watched  from our living room windows, as our compadres Jose Maria and Narcisa, and their daughter Sara harvested and planted the back field. First they cleared the potato field of weeds to feed two cows tethered in residence for about a week. Two huge bulls arrived to pull the plow to uncover the potatoes, one section at a time, then stood tethered while the family collected the potatoes by hand. Then they plowed again for a couple of days and planted peas. It was fast and brutally hard work, some days in the rain, and dangerous in handling such large animals. Every day Michael and I ran from window to window, reporting on what we saw. In the end, not a single thing was wasted in that field – “weeds” that were not food for animals turned out to be medicinal plants, while others produced seeds for an additional crop (cilantro, amaranth).The most dangerous moment is when Narcisa and Jose Maria control the bulls and lash on the hand-hewn wooden yoke. The bulls know what’s coming and can resist by trying to gore or charge.

While plowing someone (usually a woman in bright clothes – in this case Sara) walks in front to guide the bulls. Jose Maria puts his weight into the plow – a long wooden eucalyptus pole with metal point lashed on, using a series of sounds to urge the bulls. He carries a stick with short whip.

When the bulls are at rest, tethered at the bottom of the field, they have to be fed and watered once a day. Jose María brings from his own fields a load of dried corn stalks and chops them into four piles for the animals. Watching, I was reminded of the tremendous responsibility of farmers with large animals.

The harvest – enough potatoes for the family for a year, Narcisa tells me, and which they insist on sharing with us. Beautiful reds called super-cholas, which Michael is preparing most days in some form or another.

Finally, another round of plowing on a couple of rainy days, and Narcisa plants peas. They quickly lead the bulls around the house and out the gate and it’s all over for the season.

Perhaps those who enjoyed the week the most were Narcisa’s four lambs, gamboling about the front yard, jumping on the rock wall among the cactus, running up and down the road outside the gate. They are left free because they never stray far from their bleating mothers, tethered up the road in a vacant grassy lot.

And to end with a flash update:  after many back-and-forth emails with our travel agent in Cuenca, we are able to make reservations for our return to Portland on July 1. We fly from Cuenca to Quito (avoiding Guayaquil) and Delta to Atlanta and Portland. When I wrote to thank Teresa and ask how I could get payment to her, the return message puzzled me. I read it over several times, and then to Michael, before we understood:  “the airlines are requiring cash payments “en caso de mortalidad.” In case we die.

We are certainly willing to pay cash, once transportation begins, and we are certainly not going to die. I hope you too are staying well and safe in your homes and looking forward to life after.

C a ñ a r  B o o k  C l u b
“The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.”
– Elizabeth Hardwick

I promise you this was not a plan, but in the last weeks I’ve read Dutch House, by Ann Patchet, The Yellow House by Sarah Bloom and Great House by Nicole Krauss. The first was entertaining, the second was over-long but a good look into life in New Orleans pre-and post-Katrine; the third I’m having a hard time staying with. So to clear my palate of houses I started (on Kindle) The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West by John Ross.  Why?  I must have read a good mention in my morning perusing. I think it’s probably good history, but bed-time reading requires something livelier, so I’ve started the book Hilary Mantel said she couldn’t put down: Death and Nightingales by Eugene McCabe, and that did the trick. “…an epic story of love, deception, betrayal and revenge, set on a single day in the Irish countryside in 1883.” It’s so gripping I can’t wait for bedtime to keep reading.

OK, this month we have a special guest reviewer, Jennifer from Toronto:
“I read a lot of mysteries and detective stories, most of which are not deserving of the attention of your book club members, but provide me with some relief from the world’s woes. But every month I read 2-3 “good” books. Often I’m disappointed, but I also find some that are beautifully written and engaging and depressing as hell or alienating.
Currently, I have two books on the go: Aria by Nazanine Hozar, following the life of a young girl in Iran from the 1950’s to 70’s; The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri, focused on the lives of Syrians who end up as refugees in the UK. Both  I suspect will be rewarding in the end – by which I mean will be enlightening about the experience of people from parts of the world in continuous upheaval – but are difficult to read in the quiet hour before bedtime! (And I have to confess, before finishing either of these books, I just started The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich’s new book.)
But I’ve just finished a book of that I wanted to recommend to you: Five Wives by Joan Thomas, a Canadian author who has revisited the story of five American evangelicals who went to Ecuador in the 1950’s, intent on converting the Amazonian Waorani tribe, and who were killed shortly after their first contact.  After the killings, two women stayed on to work with the Waorani (also known by the more derogatory Quichua term “Auca”), a sister of one of the dead and a wife of one of the others.
The author, who appears to be from a family of Canadian evangelicals and heard the story as a child, was inspired to write the book following a New Yorker article in 2012 that traced the connections between the activities of evangelicals in Ecuador and the oil industry, though this is not a major focus in the book.
Instead, the author writes from the perspective of the wives and some of the offspring of the men who were killed. The author says about her process: ‘I use actual names and biographical details, but … the interior lives of the characters and the dynamics of their relationships are entirely of my creation. I read the available biographies and journals of the Operation Auca eleven, and then set those books aside and let the characters walk into my novel with the personalities they had assumed in my imagination. In the missionaries’ memoirs, ‘God’s leading’ explains almost every impulse. I set out to peer behind that, to explore in human terms actions that astonished me.'”

Jennifer adds that Five Wives won the Governor General’s award for fiction last year, equivalent of the National Book Award. I know the background of this story, and look forward to finding the book.

Speaking of missionaries, Michael just finished Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, by Daniel Everett, which he loved and quoted extensively to me while reading. I look forward to that one.

That’s it for now, dear friends.  Please stay well and stay in touch.

* The recipe for Ana’s granola, which I have been making since visiting Ana Margarita Gasteazoro’s Café Coral in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica circa 1988.  I just made it yesterday.

Ana’s Granola (2020 version)*

Mix in one large bowl

  • 5 cups of coarse-ground oats
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cups pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 3/4 cups sesame seeds
  • 1 cup almonds or walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Separately, mix and stir (and heat slightly if honey is thick):

  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup oil such as safflower
  • ½ cup orange juice (or the juice of one orange)
  • 2 T fresh grated ginger
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • orange peel cut into thin strips

Mix honey and oil, orange juice and orange peel into oats and seed mixture.

Spread granola on large cookie sheet and bake at 300 degree for 45 minutes. (I usually use a timer and turn granola with spatula every 15 minutes or so to make it uniformly toasty. When it looks uniformly brown on top, it’s done)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cañar Update – Week Three

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Dear Friends: We are into week three of a national lockdown in Ecuador, with obligatory masks, barricaded streets, and a curfew from 2:00 PM to 5:00 AM. That allows us to move about (on foot) in the mornings for groceries and other necessities. One of us goes out about once a week for shopping in town where only small stories, bakeries and banks are open. Soon after 2:00 I hear sirens go off for about ten minutes. It sounds to me that the police are circulating into neighborhoods and comunas with sirens blaring, but none has passed by on our road. But the other day when I was out in the front garden, I saw a man running down the road about 2:30 and I remembered that on government order we can be fined for breaking the curfew at $100 (first time), second time basic salary, and so on. (Though I wonder if it is being enforced in Cañar.)

The photo above is part of the agricultural cycle we’re watching from our living room windows – accelerated, I think, by the many country neighbors stuck at home during the quarantine. These images also help explain why we are literally surrounded by farm produce that gets sold on the streets and small stores through this crisis. So…on Day One we saw cows gleaning the cornfield after a harvest.

On Day Two, we saw the fires burning what was left on the field. On Day Three, plowing the field with yoked oxen. We took a walk that day and saw these bulls at rest (it was lunch hour), but you get a good picture of the hand-hewn wooden yoke, with the long neck of the plow tied between the bulls. On a later walk we stood and watched a farmer and his helpers try to tie a yoke onto a fiesty bull, who obviously knew what it meant a hard work day ahead- a difficult and dangerous job for the farmer. 

Day Four, we watched the family planting and fertilizing with bags of guano. Now we’re set for the cycle begin again.It’s comforting to see how much agricultural activity still exists around us, after years of massive out-migration, urbanization, and low-income production. Here is a field of potatoes in bloom just below our house.

On another theme: I got an email last week from the director of the Fulbright Commission in Quito with instructions on how to leave the country on April 7 on a charter flight for the U.S. (No commercial flights can leave or enter Ecuador.) Fulbright and Peace Corps students and volunteers have already been evacuated, and I guess the offer was extended to me as an ex-Fulbrighter, or maybe just as an American. In any case, it was a crazy scary scenario: (1) make a reservation on the flight to Miami with the U.S. Embassy; (2) then we qualify for a safe conduct pass on a special bus from Cuenca to Guayaquil (the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak). (3) Once in Guayaquil, the message read, the plane might be delayed, so be prepared to wait it out in a hotel.  (The flight is with Eastern Airlines – didn’t they go bankrupt about 20 years ago? Yes, but someone bought them and they now do charters out of Miami. No mention of cost of flight.)

I emailed back: Thank you very much, but NO WAY are we leaving Cañar. It seems to us the safest place we can be these days, and probably for the next few months…

Although I continued to believe Ecuador’s numbers were low, I read the news today (April 4) and see that the both the case numbers and death rates are high (3.4%). Ecuador reports 3465 confirmed cases, 172 deaths. Nearly 50% of our cases are in Guayaquil, the coastal city of 2.3 million that is hot, low, humid, with with much poverty and lack of basic services. The images I see today that have been shown around the world are appalling: cadavers left in the streets or wrapped in plastic in family homes, caskets or bodies left on the curb, even DYI cremations, as hospitals, morgues and funeral homes are overwhelmed. Guayaquil is our New York – people are fleeing for the mountains, avoiding roadblocks by taking back roads and “goat paths” as someone described it. Our first case in Cañar was someone who had visited Guayaquil, and today we are at 5 cases.

And that is why, in part, indigenous communities, or comunas, around Cañar are setting up their own roadblocks. Below our house we came across this chain, resting on the road, but obviously it is ready to be raised to prevent cars from coming in.

Michael wants me to mention his new theory: that dogs, realizing people are disappearing from the streets, are reclaiming their territory. “The dogs on my way into town are more aggressive” he said the other day. “They never barked before; now they do. One even ran out into the street and lunged.”  He is convinced Cañar dogs have been waiting for this moment. Most run free anyway, but they usually have a healthy respect for pedestrians. No more. Here we found them on our walk – having an organizing meeting, with minimal social distancing. (See the little gray mutt under the chin of the dog on the right?)

But our favorite dog from next door, Gordo, would never bark or lunge or join that group of ruffians. He guards our house, keeps other dogs away, and loves Michael for the morsels thrown his way every now and then. All it takes is a whistle and Gordo comes running.

To finish this update: my thought are with our scholarship graduates who are working in front-line health care through the crisis:  four nurses, one physician, one dentist, one medical laboratory technician and at least one current student who is set to work in a hospital as a nutritionist.  Here are photos of a few – we hope they all stay safe.

The Cañar Book Club

As I’m constantly reminded, books are even more important during our home confinement. I’ve been downloading lists of “must-reads,” reserving e-books from my local library and looking with alarm at the few unread books I brought from Portland in that lifetime ago. Our Cañar Book Club members are doing the same – and I’m happy to pass on these recommendations

Joanne in Mexico:- Gods of the Upper Air by Charles King:  “fascinating look at race, culture and the history of anthropology – very readable.” And A Woman of No Importance:The Untold Story of the American SkypWho Helped Win WWII by Sonia Purnell, “a biography that reads like a spy novel.”

From Joan in Leige, Belgium: “Just listened to audio book of The Milkman by Anna Burns and it was great.”

From Nancy in Portland:  Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls, author of the Glass Castle. “This one is billed as a “true life novel” — the story of her grandmother, who led an adventurous life in New Mexico, Arizona and Chicago. It’s peppered with actual photos of the grandma and family, and she’s framed the narrative around authenticated family stories, but wrote it in the 1st person of the grandmother, so she’s created a lot to fill in where the record doesn’t. A competently written page turner.”

Lisa in Savannah: “I am reading Vera by Stacy Schiff (author of my favorite – Cleopatra).  “It is a biography of Vladimir Nabokov’s wife. I loved Cleopatra so much that I just read it again recently. Still mind-boggling exciting the 2nd time!”

Pat in Bend, Oregon:  “In my book club we were reading, just before the outbreak, The Great Influenza by John M Barry, a history of the 1918 pandemic. I don’t recommend reading this now, but it made me acutely aware of what can happen. I do recommend two beautiful books that sweep you away into nature: 1) Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez an 2) Edge of Awe, a collection of writing about the desert that includes William Kittredge and Ursula Le Guin.”

Laura in up-state New York: The Overstory by Richard powers and Underland by Robert Macfarlane.

Irene in Salem:  The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. “I found it a terrific read and well written.”

That’s it for now, dear friends. I need to send this off, so will wait until next time for my own recommendations.  Stay well, stay safe, stay in place, and stay in touch. Here’s where we’ll be for the unknown future (photo by our goddaughter, Paiwa, who is with us for the duration.)

 

 

 

News from Cañar

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Dear Friends:  As of this past week we are in complete shutdown in Cañar, and in all of Ecuador, with bus lines and airports closed, along with schools, universities, restaurants bars and non-essential stores. .As of today (03-22) Ecuador has 532 confirmed cases, 7 deaths, the majority in the coastal province of Guayas. In our small town, local police and security folks patrol the streets – today, barriers went up at all roads leading into the center – and even pedestrians are only allowed to be out and about (with a mask!) to go to food markets, banks or pharmacies.  The rest of us stay at home, and stay at home and stay at home.

I walked up two days ago and took these photos. As I stood in the the street, I watched four security agents knock on the closed, roll-up door of a bakery; when the door slid up they went in and sat down to have coffee and pastries. Small town! Another amazing sight is the Pan American hIghway empty – the commercial corridor in Ecuador that normally roars night and day with large trucks. (I know these empty-major-road shots look all alike, but I can’t resist.)

The day before the shutdown, I went up and bought the last four bottles of red wine ($5 each/12% alcohol) – see space on shelf below. Now nothing left but bad white wine (and lots of liquor, which we don’t drink). Michael feels sure his beer supply is secure, but he took pleasure in burning this carton of Corona, a gift from a friend before all this began.

Housebound with us is Paiwa, our 24-year old goddaughter who is in her last year of engineering at University of Cuenca. She came before the transportation shutdown and will be with us for the duration, I think. She visits her mother nearby, but the attractions of our household are (1) Michael’s cooking, (2) my Internet, and (3) our washing machine (I suspect #2 is most important). She’s doing some on-line classes but mostly staying in touch with friends. (Below – a late-afternoon scene when it grows chilly and we all gather in the living/dining room.)We’re delighted to have this time with her, as we’ve hardly seen her this year as she nears graduation. She’s helpful (up the ladder to gather blackberries while I glean those on the ground; does the dishes while we sleep), and smart and funny. She needs to pass a TESOL English exam to go on to graduate school, so we’re speaking English as much as possible, with some hilarious results. (Last night she asked what “it doesn’t matter” meant, when she heard me say it to Michael. He launched into a 5-minute explanation of “dark matter” while Paiwa and I looked quizzically at one another.)

As for food, we are surrounded by it – potatoes and fava beans in the back field, ready to harvest, and in the kitchen garden lots of broccoli and lettuce and red cabbage (and not much else). Our meals will soon be pretty boring without Michael’s weekly trip to Cuenca for delicacies such as cheese, butter, coffee, and salmon. Cañar’s little markets are open and the shelves are stocked, and Michael is good at being creative with what’s available. Last night: pizza with Italian sausage and onions. Remains to be seen if we’ll have the usual Sunday market, where products come from all over Ecuador. (Update – market cancelled, maybe first time ever – you can see by this photo taken a couple of weeks ago that social distancing would be impossible ).

One of my great pleasures, with all this extra time at home, is an hour or so in the garden late afternoons. Weeding the flower beds, hacking out dead limbs, doesn’t matter and doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s outside, it’s exercise, it’s visual comfort. So I will end with these images of nature’s beauty…. (but keep scrolling down for the (reduced but still kicking ) Cañar Book Club.

Cañar Book Club (in time of Covid-19)

Well, it was a sad turn-out this month at the Cañar Book Club, as members deal with the crisis in their individual countries or states. However, as we “shelter in place” for the next few weeks (please, not months!) we need reading suggestions more than ever, and resources for getting books. I am increasingly using e-books from my public library in Portland. I just checked – we can still order ebooks and audiobooks – up to 50 at a time! – also, movies on Kanopy and Hoopla.

So – I just finished – and loved –  Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer. I’ve known him as a travel writer but this is a quiet rumination on daily life in Japan, where he lives in two rooms with his Japanese wife, plays ping pong at the local activity center, and writes and takes walks. He also lives in California with his mother six months a year, and his steady lively description of his life had me captivated beginning to end. I’m on the waiting list for some of his other books. Otherwise, I’m totally entertained by Margaret the First, a quirky novel by Danielle Dutton. ( NYT Review says it best: “This slender but dense imagining of the life of Margaret Cavendish, a pioneering 17th-century writer and wife of the aristocrat William Cavendish, could be classified as a more elliptical cousin of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels.”)

And let’s give a feminist salute to Dutton’s other endeavor: In 2010, she founded the small press Dorothy, a publishing project named for her great aunt Dorothy, a librarian who drove her home-made bookmobile through the back hills of southern California.

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And now for suggestions from members who wrote before the great meltdown:

From Andrea in Portland: I just started Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. (NOTE to Andrea: let us know what you thought)

From sister Char in Austin: Pachinko by Korean-American Min Jin Lee. An epic historical novel following a Korean family who eventually migrates to Japan. I leaned much from this and enjoyed the read.  Next, The Bear by Andrew Krivak: “A gorgeous fable of Earth’s last two human inhabitants, and a girls journey home.”   I loved this book. Makes you think. Last is a tall-tale romp by Howard Frank Mosher written in 1977. Disappearances
involving,  “about a thousand details of farming, timbering and whiskey-running life on the Vermont-Canadian border.”  It’s 1936, it’s winter and they drink a lot of Canadian whiskey. Best part: the paperback I ordered from Amazon came from the Paris-Bourbon Co. Library in Paris, Ky.  Our daddy would have loved this book.

From Donald in Toronto: “My suggestion for a good read – Richard Wagamese’s last novel Starlight (McClelland and Stewart, 2018). The descriptions of connecting with the land are spectacular, with scenes that conjure up walking in the hills and mountains around Canar, even though located in central British Columbia, Canada. The tenderness in the growing relationships between an Indigenous and settler man, and them and a settler woman and her daughter, are beautifully conveyed.

And from Joanne in Mexico: “Books! Yes, our salvation. I think you’ll love The Door by Magda Szabo. Now reading Girl, Woman, Other by Gernadine Evaristo – not great but engaging. And finished the John Berger bio. I learned a lot – a bit heady but still worth reading.”

Did I miss anyone? Let’s try for a rousing meeting in April, with reviews all the books we’ve read while sheltering-in-place.  Meanwhile, here’s a list of comfort reads from recent NYTimes

Stay well, stay inside, stay connected.  Judy B.