came over to talk to us about Natasha’s bautizo tomorrow. We’re supposed to
be at the church at 9:00 a.m., after the singing. The service will last
another hour. We’ll sit in the front, but will not have any part to
play in the actual baptism, such as presenting the child. Of course,
Marilyn will take pictures.
Margoth and Victoria will be coming with us. At almuerzo, Isabel said that Brayan
wouldn’t be coming. He has a program at school (or church?) to attend.
Isabel is working. We’re allowed to bring up to eleven people. Padrinos (us in this case) usually
bring family members. These friends and a few others, here and in
Quito, are the closest to family members we have in Ecuador.
Lucila also told us that the teachers at Caluquí haven’t been
paid in three months. The Fourth of July Foundation, who pays them, has
stopped receiving money from the government. I don’t know why the
government gives money to a foundation to give to a pre-school instead
of giving it directly to the pre-school, but that’s apparently how it
works here. Maybe what they call foundations here are what we would
call government agencies in the U.S.
parents (Elias and Lucila)
The pre-school workers applied to have their salaries paid by another
foundation. The change is supposed to take place in January. Meanwhile,
I doubt they’ll ever see any of that back pay. While Lucila was
talking, I figured there was a reason she was telling us this. She was
probably hoping we’d contribute something. I started thinking and
remembered that we had $100 budgeted for whatever churches we attended
this month. We’ll probably only go to one, possibly two, church
services. Why not give each of the three maestras (teachers), plus the cocinera (cook), $20 each,
especially during the Christmas season? We’d still have $20 for church
When we got back to our habitación
(room) after almuerzo
(lunch), Lucila asked for a loan of treinta
(thirty) dollars. Marilyn looked at me for guidance and I said yes. I
was thinking, “That’s the exact amount that I was going to give.” When
Marilyn got the money I told Lucila it was a gift, not a loan, because
I was thinking that we’d be giving the same amount to the others at the
pre-escholar. Of course, we got
great big hugs and thanks.
After Lucila left I told Marilyn of my plan. She reminded me that treinta meant thirty, not twenty.
I’m usually better than Marilyn with numbers in Spanish, but I often
think twenty when I hear treinta,
probably because the words sound similar. Oh, well, we blew that part
of the budget this month because of my mistake.
I’m attempting to be vigilant about not trying to fix every need I see,
especially with money. I’m aware that that can lead to despair and
frustration on the part of the donor and a certain amount of dependence
on the part of the recipient. But, really, when $120 will brighten the
lives of four people with whom you have a relationship, as well as
their families, for the next month, how can you say no?
After all, ‘tis the season: the season that reminds us of how good the
whole year can be. May all of our friends and relatives have a Merry
Christmas and a Blessed New Year.
at the house of someone we know.
sponsored a Christmas program for parents on Saturday, December 11th at
the pre-escolar in
Caluquí. My students rehearsed for a week as I had only heard
about the program the Saturday before, when Blanca asked if the
children could sing a couple of songs in English for their parents and
They were also going to perform some traditional dances and some songs
in Spanish that their other teachers were working on.
I have never pressured the children. Listening to English words and
very short sentences, and learning what the words mean have been as
much a focus as has been saying the words. Would they be ready in time?
Singing "Good Morning" Song (Video - 377 KB)
Children doing a traditional dance.
Name That Tune! (Video - 778 KB)
I chose three songs to sing. The first one was part of the opening
ritual I begin every class with as a settling down and focusing
activity. The words go like this:
Good morning Mommy.
Good morning Daddy.
Good morning Teachers.
Good morning Friends.
The children have been singing this song twice a week since September.
The second song came from our current study of names of fruits. We had
been studying fruit for a week already, so I figured the chant I had
created for them would be a good addition to the program. It goes like
I like fruit. (clap, clap, clap)
I like fruit. (clap, clap, clap)
Yes, I do. (hands on hips and turn back and forth
I like fruit. (clap, clap, clap)
I like fruit. (clap, clap, clap)
The third song was a Christmas song that I had intended to teach them
three verses to:
Mary had a baby, Oh Lord.
Mary had a baby, Oh my Lord.
Mary had a baby, Oh Lord.
Way down in Bethlehem.
As it turned out, I had to cut the other two verses on the extra
rehearsal we had on Friday. There were just too few of us singing.
The older children are used to the occasional performance of
traditional dance that they have learned. Performing in English was
new, but they did not seem to get the butterflies that older children
and adults often have. Of course, they can become totally silent when
facing an audience.
So, how did they do? The good morning song was great. I think I sang
solo on the fruit chant. The children that sang well were given the
extra responsibility of holding up a fruit or picture when the fruit
was said. This seemed to be too much to do: to sing AND to hold up a
fruit. They’ll learn multi-tasking in the future. And the Christmas
song went well. Whew! The parents seemed pleased enough.
The following class, I figured the children would have had it with the
names of different fruits and they still only knew about half of what I
hoped to teach them. Oh well, we were going to continue with the
current focus anyway. What a surprise to me when they not only
remembered most of the words, but plunged into:
I like fruit! (clap, clap, clap)
So I have to say, the performance was a great tool to help them learn
better and my butterflies are now a thing of the past.
Wednesday, as we were getting into the car to take Rosa, Margoth, and
Elvia on an excursión,
Paulina came running out with a bag that
had the names of everyone in our little community at the hotel. We were
supposed to draw a name and become a Secret Pal (or Amigo Secreto)
to that person. Each day one gives her or his Amigo Secreto a small
gift surreptitiously, usually a golosina
(piece of candy or gum). I guess this
lasts until Christmas (Navidad).
I’m not going to divulge the names we
drew, just in case this blog entry gets back to them.
Thursday was the first day of Amigo
Secreto and Marilyn
found pieces of candy for each of us when she went into the kitchen during
breakfast. We hadn’t
had time to get anything for the people whose names we drew, so Marilyn
went out after her class and got an assortment. We put a candy for each
of our “charges” in the designated caja
(box) in the afternoon. Each gift put in the caja has the name of the recipient.
Each of our Amigos Secretos
struck again Thursday evening. I got a
couple of peanut butter cracker sandwiches and Marilyn got a piece of
candy. We also put our gifts in the caja
that night for the next day.
Today is Saturday and I was disappointed to find that there was no golosina for me this morning. I did
receive one yesterday, either, but I
understood that because I had received two the day before. Has my Amigo
Secreto fallen down on the job? It is pretty interesting how
quickly I’ve become a perro
de Pavlov (Pavlov's dog)!
Domingo, 12 de diciembre
My Amigo Secreto really made
up for yesterday. We found a beautiful regalo (gift) for me in the caja this morning. I’m loved after
Regalo de mi
Amigo Secreto (Gift from my Secret Friend)
hardly ever give anybody any trouble – at least not intentionally. I’m
almost 62 years old, for Pete’s sake, and Marilyn is not far behind me.
We know what it's like to
deal with people who are not behaving. But every now and then… I get a
little devilish. And I want company. What’s that they say about there
safety in numbers?
While we were eating almuerzo
(lunch) today, Isabel told us we’d be having helado (ice cream) for dessert. We
finished lunch and waited. We waited some more. The staff was eating
lunch in the kitchen. We got tired of waiting.
A flash of inspiration as to how to remedy the situation came to me,
and Marilyn was willing to be bad with me. Since we were the only ones
in the dining room, we started banging on the table and chanting, “¡Hel-la-do!, ¡Hel-la-do!,
¡Hel-la-do!” There was laughter in the kitchen, and soon
Isabel came scurrying out with our helados.
morning Pablo was at breakfast again. He’s been very interesting to
talk to. He primarily speaks Spanish, but we understand a lot of what
he says and he understands us pretty well. He’s very knowledgeable
about history, culture, and agriculture.
Pablo works on agricultural projects all over Ecuador. He’s been
working on a project in this region to teach farmers how to grow
organic crops. As in the U.S., many crops are grown in Ecuador with the
aid of fertilizers. As is also the case in the U.S., farmers can make
more money on organic produce. Receiving better prices for their
produce, of course, helps raise their standards of living.
We first met Pablo some months ago. Since then, we’ve seen him about
every month, usually at breakfast. From the first time, we invited him
to sit with us. He just looked interesting. He stays at this hotel when
he’s working around here. We know he’s also responsible for projects
south of Quito and near the coast.
Pablo is a fairly slight young man, soft-spoken, and good looking. When
we first met, we were pleased to learn he spoke some English. It
facilitated our conversations. Our Spanish now isn’t that great, but it
was a lot worse when we first met him. Today we hardly used any English
at all. He doesn’t speak slowly, but neither does he speak so rapidly
that we have no hope of understanding.
Through Pablo, we’ve learned a little more about the customs, history,
climate, and crops of Ecuador. He’s told us which fruit trees grow well
around Otavalo, and which do not. Today he told us about Paso de Niño, a custom that
occurs near Christmas. It’s one of the first times we’ve known about a
traditional custom beforehand so that we can anticipate it rather than
be surprised by it. (The other time I can think of is when Isabel told
us about the Christmas traditions she celebrates with her family, in
which we’ve been invited to take part this year.) We’ve also learned
that Pablo has a girlfriend in Cuenca, while he lives in Quito.
Unfortunately, we will probably not be getting to talk to Pablo in the
future. His project is near an end, so he won’t be coming to the hotel
anymore. We’d just like to say, “Good luck, Pablo.”
Elvia, Rosa, and Margoth to Ibarra. I wasn’t going to go but got to
thinking that we may not have a chance to take these three delightful
people on excursiónes
forever. So I left my second spouse (aka, computer) and went along.
Elvia has been cooking here for four or five months. She has three
sons, one of whom is in the university. Margoth and Rosa have been here
since we arrived in February and have been good friends with each other
the entire time. They mainly clean the rooms and do laundry. When Elvia
does not have to cook much, she also helps clean and do the laundry.
And when groups are here, especially large groups, they all pitch in
and do whatever needs to be done. Thus, Elvia has become close friends
with the other two. I can’t help but think of them as las tres amigas.
Before we really got started on the outing, Margoth and Rosa asked to
stop at a bank in downtown Otavalo. There was no parking, so we let
them out and drove around the block a few times. We stopped in the
street at the meeting spot a couple of times and waited until someone
came up behind us and forced us to move. I guess that’s called double
parking. There’s not much need for that in Texas.
I love Rosa’s laugh. It’s deep, and bubbles up easily when she’s having
fun. She’s also married and has three children. Her husband is
physically disabled, but can work with his hands. I know Rosa’s life is
tough. That makes her infectious laughter all the more beautiful to
The first stop they asked to make was the mall in Ibarra. Elvia had a
camera (I don’t know if it was new or not), so she took a bunch of
pictures. The funniest ones were when we were in the toy stores holding
different toys. No one bought anything. This was strictly
window-shopping. The mall stores were too expensive.
Margoth has turned seventeen since we’ve been here. That means she was
holding down a full-time job at the hotel since before she was sixteen
and a half. She is very intelligent, very pretty, and very spirited.
She’s always up for an adventure. I wonder how life will change her. I
certainly hope she always remains spirited and eager to learn.
After the mall, we went to the Arcangel
statue above Ibarra. I stayed in the car because I’d been there a few
times before. The tres amigas
had never been there. They and Marilyn had a great time walking around
the site and exploring the surrounding area.
Instead of going back the way we’d come, Marilyn spotted an alternative
road and decided to explore. It was cobblestone and led through a very
pretty area, ending at Lago Yahuarcocha, which we skirted for a while.
Marilyn and I decided that road would be worth taking again.
Of course, we went to Rosalie Suarez on the way back. Margoth, Rosa,
and Elvia really liked that. I don’t think they had ever been there,
either. If you’ve been following our blog, you are no doubt aware that
having helados at Rosalie
Suarez in Ibarra has quickly become one of our favorite treats. We get helado (ice cream) in the hotel
sometimes, but it’s store-bought. Not nearly as good. At Rosalie
Suarez, it’s hand made, creamy smooth without being heavy, and made
with fresh fruit.
On the way home, there was a lot of fog until we got near Cotacachi,
making driving a little stressful. We first took Rosa to her home in
Quiroga. Her husband and a son came to the door to welcome her when we
We then took Elvia to her home in Otavalo. Last, of course, we took
Margoth to her home, high above Otavalo. It’s a poor section, but many
of the houses there have spectacular views. I wonder how many can enjoy
When we came back from our visit to the U.S. on November 21st, the tres
amigas, as well as other
people, made us feel so welcome. The tres
amigas went one step further. They gave us a box of chocolates
with a very sweet note welcoming us back. We really like the tres amigas. Could it be that we
have joined the group and it’s now los
got a haircut. It’s pretty easy to cut my hair since I’m almost bald on
top. I just tell the person cutting my hair that I want a #2 around the
sides and a #1 on top. But then comes the trimming. That’s a bit scary
to me, at least down here in Ecuador.
In the States, barbers always, always,
use clippers to trim my hair. The last time I can remember a straight
razor being used on me was when I was an adolescent just beginning to
shave. I quickly went from a straight razor to a safety razor. I still
got a lot of nicks and cuts so, before too long, I ended up using an
Admittedly, there’s something delicious about feeling, and actually
hearing, a straight razor mowing down hairs at skin level, be it the
whiskers on my face or the unwanted hairs on my neck and around my
ears. But an electric razor or electric clippers just work a whole lot
better for me, considering the fact that I can move involuntarily at
any time. Perversely, if you tell me to be still, I’m likely to jerk
more. Go figure.
Here in Ecuador, all the barbers use straight razors to trim the
hairline during haircuts. The straight razors are kept in sterilizers,
but I’m not sure how good the sterilizers are, so I sometimes think
about the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS if I get nicked. It’s not
a huge worry, because I don’t think the disease is very prevalent here.
But it does cross my mind. Another source of comfort is that I
understand people who contract the disease now can live 15, 20, 25
years with the new treatments that are available. I’m almost 62.
Fifteen more years would put me right about at my expected lifespan.
I’ve already had a wonderful life. If I make it to my expected
lifespan, that’s icing on the cake. I don’t view that attitude as
fatalistic or pessimistic. I’m just weighing risks, as we all do each
The last time I had my hair cut, I went to a new barber. The previous
barber had cut me while using a straight razor. She said that I jerked,
which is highly possible, but I don’t remember it. I certainly jerked
when I felt her cut me! However, that’s not the only reason I decided
to change barbers, or barberos.
The former peluquería
(beauty shop) I was going to was crowded and dingy, if not a little
I went to a barbero near the
house of some friends because it was open and airy and clean. The shop
(or tienda) is run by a woman
and one assistant. The woman’s daughter, probably six years old, hangs
out there when she’s not in school. The assistant cut my hair while
Marilyn talked with the daughter. When it came time to trim my hair
after most of it was cut, she got the straight razor out of the
sterilizer. I’d been waiting for this moment. After my experience with
the last barbero, I was ready
to pass up a trim and told her I didn’t need it. Marilyn heard me and
talked me into getting the trim anyway. The barbero was very careful and did a
good job. When I went back today, she was just as careful.
I’m getting over my phobia of straight razors. I’ve also learned a
trick to lessen the chance of involuntary movements. If I get my
haircut in the afternoon or evening, I’m more tired and less likely to
Oh, the price of today’s haircut? It was $2.50. I gave her a 20% tip (propina), though tips are not often
given here. Aren’t I magnanimous? Actually, the first figure to cross
my mind was a $2.50 tip. I had to remind myself that she was charging
what the economy here will support. Just because I can afford to pay
more may not be a good reason for actually doing so. Besides,
foreigners usually pay higher prices here because the locals know that
foreigners are rich compared to natives in at least nine cases out of
ten. It evens out.
Today at breakfast we meet someone from the Latin American Council of
Churches. He is here to conduct a workshop for regional ministers on
the environment. Usually, the people we meet here don’t speak English,
but this man does. It’s nice talking to him before we are interrupted
and he has to get back to his business here.
He’s from Pennsylvania, and has master’s degrees in psychology and
theology. He has been living in Quito with his family for four years.
An interesting thing is that, to us, he speaks Spanish fluently. But he
says that his children, four and eight years old, often make fun of his
Spanish. That may be interesting, but it’s also disheartening to us.
It’s like Jeannie, our Spanish immersion teacher in Cuernavaca, once
told us: no matter how good we get at Spanish, there will always be
things that we don’t “get” simply because we grew up in an
In the afternoon, Marilyn talks me into an “excursión”. We are just
going to drop off payment to the man who did the inspection on the
house we want to buy. I am going against my better judgment. It’s the
rainy season here. In the eight or nine days since we’ve been back from
our visit to the States, it’s rained each afternoon, sometimes
extremely hard. I’m pretty certain it’ll do so again today, but I go
At the house, Marilyn goes in while I wait in the car. She’s in there a
pretty good while, mainly because the wife of the architect who did the
inspection for us cannot find the bad check Marilyn wrote. The check is
not bad due to insufficient funds. It’s bad because Marilyn wrote
“treita” instead of “treinta”
(thirty). The banks are very
particular here. One has to write the amount out exactly. Also, when
writing numbers, we have to remember that periods and commas have
reverse functions. Whereas we would write something like $2,010.99, it’s
$2.010,99 here. We pay in cash this time.
I don’t mind waiting in the car. It gives me a chance to watch “street
life”. The street is paved. (Actually, it is adoquinado, a sort of cement tile.)
Paved or not, I see a woman herding four or five head of cattle down
the street. She’s headed to the end of the street, where it becomes
dirt and opens into a pasture of sorts. We’re at the edge of town, but
I’ve witnessed similar scenes even near downtown Otavalo. The woman is
likely herding her cattle from one patch of grass to another. The patch
she came from could have been a vacant lot, the median of a street, or
even a park. The grass is not high in many spots around and in Otavalo,
yet I seldom see lawnmowers. Livestock usually keep the grass short.
Even at the hotel where we live, horses often graze in the backyard.
Here come four or five little children walking past the car. When we
first arrived in Ecuador, I always found it an odd sight to see young
children on the streets with no adults in sight. I’m used to most
children, especially young children, being driven around or not allowed
to stray from their home property in the United States. Here, it seems,
children still have the freedom to be children, at least until they
start working at a young age to help support the family.
Two small girls have a 5 to 6 foot length of hose. They are riding it
as if they are riding a hobby horse that has no head. They look to be 3
and 4 years old, but looks can be deceiving, especially amongst the
indigenous people in the Andes. I’m fairly used to their short stature
by now, but I can still mistake people for being much younger than they
actually are. The two little girls go off into the cornfield next to
the nicely built house that Marilyn is visiting.
Now, two little boys are walking on the sidewalk towards the car and
me. I notice the older little boy has a slight limp. Observing more
closely, I see that one hand is a little drawn in to itself. Ah, though
a different form, he probably has cerebral palsy, like me. I briefly
wonder if he gets any physical or occupational therapy. As they pass
by, the younger boy, like little boys all over, can’t help but drag his
hand along the silver side of Molly, our car. I smile, thankful there
was nothing in that hand.
The door to the perimeter wall of the nice house opens and Marilyn
steps through it, followed by a young woman carrying a young girl. The
young woman is the wife of the architect we hired to inspect the house
we think we’re going to buy. Marilyn wants to introduce her to me and
opens my car door. Mirabel is a little surprised when I speak to her in
Spanish and says that I’m muy
inteligente. I don’t mind that. I ask, ”¿Como sé llama?”
(What is your name?) to the little girl and Mirabel responds, ”Salomé”. Now, that’s a
pretty name. “¿Ella tiene dos
años?” (Is she two years old?) I ask Mirabel and she
looks pleased when she replies, “Dos
y media.” We talk awhile longer, and Mirabel reminds Marilyn
she’s welcome to come get some cuttings from her garden after we move
into the house. Marilyn has told me that they have a really nice
We’re off to the bienes raices,
or real estate agency. Not five blocks from Mirabel’s house, it starts
to rain. It’s raining harder at the bienes
raices, so I stay in the car again. Marilyn goes in and is back
out in a few minutes. The papers we need for the first step of the
house purchase will be ready at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow. That’s what we
needed to find out. We head back to the hotel.
When we arrive, the rain is really coming down. My instincts about the
weather proved correct this time. It’s coming down too hard to get out
of the car without getting soaked, so we sit and talk for a while. Then
Marilyn remembers she needs to text the lawyer and tell him when the
papers will be ready. Her doing so reminds me that I’d like to check
the signal strength of the cell phone both at the hotel and at the
house. The reason I want to do this is that we get our internet
connection from the cellular network. However, by the time Marilyn
finishes her text, the rain lets up and it’s wise to make a run for it.
I knew we’d get wet if I went with Marilyn this afternoon. But then,
the excursion inspired me to describe some of the common sights I see
in Otavalo and Ecuador. Not a bad trade-off.
A nationwide census is being taken today. The last one conducted in
Ecuador was in 1999. An "Immobility Law" is in effect. Everyone in all
cities in the country are required to stay in their residences from
7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. so they can be counted in the census. All
businesses, churches, restaurants are closed. Some hotels have minimal
operations. All buses, taxis, even national airlines are not running
between the census hours. If one’s international flight arrives after
7:00 a.m., these persons must remain in the airport until 5:00 p.m. If
one’s international flight leaves before 5:00 p.m., these persons must
arrive at the airport before 7:00 a.m.
We knew this in advance. We have prepared with any food we might need,
any things required for carrying out the activities we have planned for
the day. For us, it is an enforced day of rest; something that in past
times was a usual, weekly occurrence in Christian and Jewish regions of
the world and maybe in other faith traditions as well.
A day of rest; a day of quiet; a day scaled down in busyness.... In
Ecuador, people work 5½ to 7 days a week. It is a welcome day
for many of them, I can guess: A day when households are together. A
day when children, adults, and seniors living under one roof can spend
time with each other. A Holy Day.
An unexpected free day often throws me into confusion. Of course, the
unexpected day often is accompanied by lack of electricity or very bad
weather. Today we do have electricity, there is no rain this morning,
but probably we will have rain this afternoon as is normal for this
time of year. I am ready with my list of things I would like to
accomplish: prepare lesson plans for the second level of my
adolescents’ English class; e-mail some friends I’ve not written for
awhile; do some funding research for FEDICE. The difference from a
regular day is that my soul feels calm; there is no traffic noise; the
birds were twittering this morning; I woke refreshed after a good
night’s sleep. It feels like a Holy Day.
This morning, Glenn and I turned the news off for a while and did some
talking. The sun has been trying to peek through the clouds. Breakfast
was scaled down as the regular cook is off. We’ve been told there will
be a 1:00 p.m. meal for the rest of the day. Life seems simple. Glenn
plans to watch some football. I took a nice walk before 7:00 a.m. so
feel peaceful. Maybe there is a reason God has requested we all take a
weekly day for thanksgiving, a day for rest, a Holy Day.
The empty street in front of the hotel - a rare
morning feels eerie as we look up calle
Bolivar, a main street of
Otavalo that we can see from the hotel where we currently live. The
traffic signals are cycling green-yellow-red, green-yellow-red as
they’re designed to do when the electricity works, but that is the only
sign of movement, or life. Normally, calle
Bolivar bustles with
activity – seven days a week. We can hear the bark of a far-off dog,
the twittering of birds, but the constant drone of traffic is absent.
It reminds me of a Department 56 model town, sans figures of men,
women, and children. Marilyn thinks it looks like a movie set about the
day after a nuclear bomb has been detonated. We know a nuclear bomb
hasn’t been exploded, however, because the animals can be heard saying
just that. Though strange, the morning is peaceful. Like mornings
What we are witnessing is no model, and no aftermath of some strange
bomb. The Ecuadorian census is being taken today. The last one
conducted in Ecuador was in 1999. An "Immobility Law" is in effect.
Everyone located in urban areas in Ecuador has to stay in their homes
or hotels from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in order to take part.
If anyone needs to travel today, they have to do so before 7:00 a.m. or
after 5:00 p.m. International travelers arriving after 7:00 a.m. have
to stay at the airport at which they arrive until after 5:00 p.m. If
their flights leave before 5:00 p.m., passengers have to be at the
airports before 7:00 a.m. There are no domestic flights between the
designated hours. Travel restrictions do not apply outside of urban
areas, however. People in rural areas will be counted at a later date.
No businesses are open in urban areas, including restaurants and
stores. There is only limited taxi service available in the major
cities, and no interprovincial bus service after 4:00 a.m. That service
will resume after 5:00 p.m. As stores and restaurants are closed,
citizens were advised to prepare in advance for basic needs, such as
food and water. It has been our experience that most people in urban
areas of Ecuador tend to buy food on a daily basis. Pantries are not
often seen. (Even our hotel does not have a pantry, though they do have
a freezer for meats.) Furthermore, no alcohol is to be sold in urban
areas for the entire weekend. (The stores were very crowded yesterday.)
Here, at the Ally Micuy Hacienda, Paulina helps us fill out the census
form in our room. We can probably muddle through it ourselves, but it’s
great to have help. It is cold this morning, so we turn on our space
heater and direct its welcome warmth toward her. “¡Buena idea!”
she says. She notes that my middle name is Paul, similar to her name.
That tidbit must be pleasing to her. Before she came to our room,
Paulina also helped a group of Spanish mountain climbers who are
for the day fill out their forms. Everyone else here is helped by
colegio (high school or
pre-university) students when filling out their
forms. In the U.S., we hire census workers to do the counting. Here,
they use colegio students.
Marilyn and I don’t know if they are paid
but, if they are, we can guess it’s not much.
Since there are no outside workers here, Don Jairo and family, who live
and work here, cook for us. Don Jairo Vaca is manager of the Ally Micuy
Hacienda. The “Don” in Don Jairo is his title. Don Jairo is a good cook
and owns a restaurante
downtown. He is also highly skilled at a
barbacoa (barbecue) pit. We all eat at 1:00 p.m., instead of whenever
feel like it during the hours of 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. There are
different types of meat, including three types of sausage, plus salad
and cooked vegetables. I tell Don Jairo, “Me gusta cuando usted
barbecoa.” (I like when you barbecue.) We all set up to eat
Just before the food is served, however, thunder begins booming and we
are forced to go into the comedor
We sort of get back to normal before 5:00 p.m., the end time of our
“house arrest”. Marilyn begins teaching preparations
for the upcoming
week, while I watch fútbol americano the rest of
afternoon. We invite the group from Spain to watch but, not
they have no interés
We may have missed the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, but this day has
pretty much made up for it. Businesses were closed, making it feel like
a holiday; we had great food; and I got to watch my football. Sharing
the day with family is the only thing that would have made it better.
I recently read that the recession in the U.S. officially ended in June
2009. That’s nice. My investments have come up a bit, I’m still able to
volunteer here in Ecuador without an expectation of some payment; Glenn
and I are eating; and we still have comfortable accommodations in the
Ally Micuy Hacienda. All seems well and as it should be for us.
Except...about a month ago, after being here for 6 months, I began to
feel deprived. Maybe the recession is just starting for us? All over
the United States, people have been living through deprivation for
several years and here it feels like it is just beginning for us.
The food here is good, but it tends to be the same without a whole lot
of variety that has led to my experiencing “scarcity.” I have never
eaten the same thing for breakfast every morning for any length of time
in my entire life. But here, every morning I have the same rolls with
jam, an oatmeal beverage (my attempt to eat a whole grain), and a fresh
juice that is most often tree tomato. At times, I long for homemade
coffee cake with a streusel topping or buttermilk pancakes with
homemade applesauce or a hot cereal. I long for some variety.
Many times, we don’t bother to go to dinner. We already ate some sort
of slab of meat (like chicken or beef) at lunch and another of the same
just isn’t appealing. The vegetable in the evening is usually the same
as at lunch, a combination of peas, carrots, onions, and broccoli. The
scarcity of variety is unappealing enough to encourage us to pass up
the third meal of the day.
Recently, our friend, Isabel, invited us over for dinner and also
invited me to make a dessert in her kitchen. I decided to make cookies
that have a touch of peanut butter and cinnamon. So I went to our local
Akí (akin to a very small Sam’s) to get what I needed. There was
no peanut butter! Otavalo does not have peanut butter! I suppose this
is nice for anyone concerned about food allergies and I can guess there
aren’t too many kids here that are allergic to peanuts since they are
not exposed to them. Surely this is a blessing. But how can a town of
50,000 people in Ecuador not have peanut butter? (mmmm, Maybe they
don’t grow peanuts here...).
After asking around, I discovered that it does exist in Ecuador, but
our local Akí is too small to carry it. I now know I can get it
in Ibarra (a 20 minute drive) or Cayambe (a 45 minute drive).
Surely those of you who have been out of a job for many months due to
the recession are really snickering at my little deprivations. But, let
me tell you more:
Glenn has been a real trooper. It was my idea to come to Ecuador and he
came to support me and to experience the adventure. He has not been
disappointed and has really enjoyed his time here. That is, he’s had a
good time until about a month ago when, after searching for different
ways to view his beloved fútbol
americano, he came to the conclusion that the best way was to
get DirecTV. Streaming on the internet was too costly and the
connection too slow. The local bars all play fútbol (soccer) games. He
was actually watching X’s and O’s with arrows on the web and reading
what had happened into the night, he missed seeing the games so much.
So due to this deprivation, we now have DirecTV and the NFL Sunday
Ticket. Glenn can keep up with his favorite teams this fall. Well, I
guess this was only a lack for about a month.
This all came with a clear picture on the TV screen AND news in
English. I wonder if I’ve been a little homesick. When I heard and saw
football for the first time since February, I suddenly craved Tostitos
and salsa with sour cream. And I don’t really even care about football.
Life continues on. But it seems, if we have patience and perseverance,
we can get what we really need, a sense of accomplishment. My fall
classes have been very enjoyable. My pre-school children at
Caluquí are learning, speaking, and understanding more words and
I continue to be greeted with “Gud moorning, teecher” or “Gud moorning,
Maryleen” and everyone says “Gudbye” at the end of class. I sometimes
have trouble leaving as I walk through the playground to the gate
because the children like to grab my legs. Lucila, one of the teachers,
says the children really like me.
The new classes in Cachimuel are going well, too. The average
attendance is 10 children for the adolescent class with the
participants being eager to learn and enjoying the various activities.
I love how they smile and laugh as they gain confidence in their
English speaking abilities. The adult class averages around 5 students.
Those who come are slowly learning useful phrases and sentences like
greetings and numbers and getting-to-know-you questions and answers.
Cachimuel is a very welcoming place.
And my three adult students here at the hotel that meet about once a
week enjoy laughing at each other’s attempts at the English language as
they make progress with useful phrases and sentences. When they come to
clean our room, they often have questions of what something is called
Maybe here in Ecuador, we are experiencing a recession of a different
type: A slight deprivation of getting to have everything we think we
want. Maybe the food is a little less varied; maybe we can’t hop in the
car and always drive somewhere to get what we think we need; maybe our
favorite TV shows are not all available. The positive feedback we
receive from what we’re doing though, fills my heart.
Oh yeah, in a moment of seeming hunger this afternoon, I went to the
Akí for something crunchy and salty, and you know what? I came
back with a bag of Tostitos.
Today Marilyn is out shopping for clothes for our ahijada
(goddaughter). Yes, we've decided to become padrinos (godparents) to
the 2-year-old daughter of one of the pre-school teachers where Marilyn
volunteers. That means, among other things, that we get to buy clothes
for her bautismo, or baptism,
as well as a gift. Natasha is adorable.
She even likes me. Her bautismo
will be on Dec. 12th.
* * *
We were asked to accept this honor about a month ago. We didn’t know
exactly what responsibilities this might entail, so we made an
appointment to visit the house of Lucila and Elias Otavalo one
afternoon to discuss their request.
The weather was pleasant when we arrived in Caluquí. We found a
two-story house with living quarters on the second floor, with no space
for entertaining guests downstairs. Elias wasn’t home yet. We knew
perfectly well that Marilyn and Lucila couldn’t haul me up the stairs
by themselves. So we suggested bringing some chairs downstairs
and meeting there. Lucila wouldn’t hear of it.
Soon, Elias came home. With Elias, a rather slight man, lifting the
back of my chair and Marilyn and Lucila lifting the front of my chair,
they managed to get me to the second floor. It wasn’t easy. Besides
having to lift me, they had to negotiate a very narrow staircase. The
turn in the stairs was nearly impossible, necessitating the need to
tilt my wheelchair sideways to get around it. It was a somewhat hairy
ride, but this old adventurer can take it.
Once on the second floor, we were shown around the modest living room.
The first thing I noticed was their picture window view of
Volcán Imbabura, my favorite volcano. I really liked it when
they rolled me right up to the window to get a good view. I told them
that they could just put my worktable at that window and leave me
there. We were pretty high up the slopes of Fuya Fuya, so the view was
spectacular. I live for views.
And that’s when I saw two-year-old Natasha. She had been sleeping, so
she was pretty shy and probably a little bewildered to have these
strange people in her house, but she was soooooooo cute!
We talked and drank tea for a long time. As mentioned before, Lucila is
one of the teachers in the pre-school program in Caluquí. Elias
grows strawberries near Otavalo. He told us the growing characteristics
of tree tomatoes, babaco,
avocado trees, etc. in this part of the
country. Elias is also an assistant pastor at Tocagón. The way
he described things (there are five assistant pastors), we might call
him a deacon. It was very interesting.
During the afternoon, a thunderstorm rolled in. And it was a doozy. In
our eight months in Ecuador, we had never witnessed a storm so violent.
We were pretty high on the mountain, so we felt like we were in the
thunderclouds themselves. Before the mists closed in, we could see the
lightning strike the valley below. The strikes seemed to originate at
about our level. That was a little spooky. Then the lights went out.
Lucila and Elias made sure all electrical appliances were turned off in
case there was a power surge when the electricity came back on. Then we
resumed our conversation. We kept waiting for them to bring up the
subject of Natasha’s bautismo
(baptism), but they never did. Maybe
Marilyn had misunderstood and this was simply a “getting-to-know-you”
session. It looked like we weren’t going to discuss the
responsibilities and expectations of being padrinos after all.
It was getting late in the afternoon. The storm had passed, so we
started to say our goodbyes. That was when Elias and Lucila finally
brought up the subject of Natasha’s bautismo.
They explained that,
besides keeping in touch with Natasha through the coming years, we
would be expected to purchase Natasha’s ropa de bautismo (baptism
clothes) if Marilyn agreed to be madrina
and I agreed to be padrino.
would also be responsible for purchasing two chickens for the ceremony.
(It'll be interesting to see exactly what they do with those chickens.)
Also, we were asked to buy a cake for the reception
at their home afterward. All of this sounded doable.
Thus, we agreed to become padrinos.
* * *
Marilyn, Lucila, and Natasha are back from their shopping excursion. I
am admiring what they purchased, and I know Natasha will be a little
doll at her bautismo. Of
course, she’s precious now.
We’re at lunch now and Natasha is behaving well. She’s more interested
in playing with her little bracelet than eating lunch, I think.
Sometimes, when she’s allowed to walk around, she plays with my
wheelchair. She’s just the cutest little thing!