Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Carneval en Oriente

Hola queridos,

I just returned from a trip to the ciy of Sucua in the "oriente", where Pepe's parents live, and Pepe grew up. "Oriente" is the region of ecuador on the easterly side of the Andes, and is mostly "selva" or jungle. There are cities and development, but this is the part of ecuador which is in the Amazon basin. When we passed thru a tunnel from the Sierra side of the Andes to Oriente, the hillsides were covered with orchids. The landscape, the houses, the dress, the cultivation everything was different.

In oriente, it is usually hot and humid, but the climate is changing here too, and for the first time I needed a blanket at night and it was cool most of the time, because the sun wasn't out. It is " invierno" here , which means rainy season not winter, but i have never seen rains like they are having this year. And not only in oriente; in Cuenca it used to rain a bit every afternoon, but we also had lots of sun. Now it rains heavily and much much more, and very little sun.

We traveled to oriente for "Carneval", ie the days before lent. Carneval a big deal here, but not like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Mostly people spend it with family and travel around the country to see its many diverse sites. And throw water on each other! I still can't figure out why...

In oriente, we visited Puerto Morona which is just a few miles from the Peruvian border. There is a brand new asphalt highway, but there were many many "derummbes", or mudslides, because of the heavy rain. sometimes we had to wait for heavy equipment to clear the road. The road is new. Pepe's father used to work in this part of ecuador dispensing malaria pills. It took him 4 days to walk thru the jungle to Puerto Morona. it took us 2 1/2 hours. I thought about this with amazement our whole trip there.

We also took a motorized canoe down to the border with Peru along Rio Morona, a tributary of the Amazon. We disembarked, and stood on a very rough "cancha" or soccer field, half of which was in ecuador and half in peru. The war with peru ended in 2000, with ecuador ceding a lot of land in this area to Peru. We were silent and could hear a torrent of bird song. Didn't see (or eat) any monkeys or anaconda - although we heard both were on the menu.

We also visited a Shuara community near Sucua (Shuara are the native tribe in this part of Ecuador), where we visited with a family who is starting a tourism business. They have built a typical Shura house, which is round and made of bambo with a thatched roof and dirt floor - very cool and appropriate for the jungle. They couldn't have been more hospitable. Nor did they try to shrink our heads! They actually have a very complex cosmology, and this is a part of it. But, now they only shrink monkey heads. Last time I was here in Oriente for carneval in 2010, one of Ana Cecilia's "tonta" sisters-in-law wouldn't get out of the car because she was afraid they would eat her! The Shuaras have their own distinctive culture and language. and it wasn't until the 1990s that they won back their land from white hacienda landowners. if you are interested check out Wikipedia for more detail...

I have less than a month to go!!

x0x0 carolyn

Monday, February 6, 2012

Changes in Ecuador

Hola from Cuenca,

Here are some observations about changes from my 6 years of coming here:

- there is a LOT more traffic! As more and more people join the middle class, they are becoming consumers like us in the USA. I can’t be too critical, since I too have a car, but I can only bemoan this trek to consumerism. Since I first came here, I realized that in order for the third world to have a decent life, we in the USA and the developed countries must be satisfied with what we have and not crave for more and more. But now i see that if everyone in the third world wants what we have, a car or even two, a second home, and more and more stuff, what will that mean for our poor planet?

- when I first come here in 2006, it seemed like every young girl had a baby in arms or was pregnant. The good news is that I rarely if ever see this now. Not that it doesn’t exist, but that it doesn’t exist to the same extent. This can only be good news.

- When I first came, there was a continuing migration of Ecuadorians going (legally and illegally) to the US and Europe to find work – the eternal struggle to improve the prospects for the family. (Note: I never forget that my grandparents were in the same boat over 100 years ago; they left Italy for the same reasons and with more or less the same conditions as there were here in Ecuador – no opportunity.)

In 2006, the largest part of Ecuador’s GDP – after petroleum – was the remittances sent home by Ecuadorians living and working abroad. Now because of the global recession, those immigrants have no work and many are returning, with incentives provided by the Ecuadorian government. There seems to be a lot going on in the Ecuadorian economy – lots of construction, new shops (tiendas) on every block, andlots of government programs assisting the poor with housing, self-sufficiency.

Ironically, Ecuador is now a “receiving” country: migrants from Columbia's continuing civil conflict and drug wars due to drug demand from the US, from Peru where poverty is graver than here in Ecuador. But the most astounding migrants are older people from the US (jubilados as they are called here). Apparently Cuenca has been named one of the best cities to retire – mostly because it is cheap. But it is also beautiful and has a mild climate. So Cuenca is looking more like Vermont – older and white! I’ll let my prejudices show here for a minute since I find that most north Americans in Cuenca live in "ghettos" – not integrating, not learning Spanish, only hanging out with each other and complaining about Latino mores. And, like what happened in “gold towns” in Vermont, they aredriving up the cost of land and everything else. GRRRR.

But somethings haven't changed: I love seeing cows and sheep grazing in the city's round-a-bouts and on the banks of the rivers, munching the grass. The multiplying cars aside, their carbon footprint is still pretty low.

More later…

PS: i'm the world's worst photographer - mostly because I hate taking pictures. But i'll try and include some in my next post. Assuming i remember to take a camera with me...

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ecuador 2012

After a 2 year hiatus (last year i couldn't come because of my dad's illness and death) i am enjoying myself so much. i have stuff to do but the pace is quite relaxing.

i thought i was avoiding my usual grippe this year, but alas, i came down with something last week. i started antibiotics right away, and hopefully it will keep any real infection away. i feel fine, just a slight cough now. the combination of change of climate (hot and sunny in am, rainy and chilly in pm), pollution from the busses and new microbes to which i have no real immunity yet all contribute...

life with the astudillos couldn't be better. the test is always if you can pick up where you left off. after 2 years, it was as if i had been here yesterday! they truly are amigos de mi corazon. they built a new house not 5 minutes from their old house. its in a much more tranquil sector (or barrio) next to a lovely rushing river. they designed it together, and pepe was the general contractor; it really is beautiful, tasteful and simple.

I go almost every day to Casa Maria Amor, where lots of changes are afoot. they are building a new casa farther out, where they will add an agricultural component to their vocational training. the laundry and the cooking school are combined and now both go by "Mujeres con Exito", the name the women picked for the laundry. but they are both undergoing transition - the laundry with new industrial machines, and the cooking school upgrading too and moving for the time being to a new location. the new house won't be ready for 2 years. i am working with the women and the staff on a business plan, and with the women to update their training and regulations.

i went to San Cristobal yesterday for the monthly meeting of the Banco (now called Caja de Creditos y Ahorros"). there too there is transition with a new board of directors, lots of new members, and growing pains. they decided to take the opportunity of my presence to revisit their rules and regs to update them: tighten procedures, lower interest rates, promote savings as well as credit etc. but imagine with $5700 in original seed money from us, they now have almost $35,000!!! i told them yesterday that while american banks went kaput theirs grew!! they are so proud. as am i.

there is a new very progressive priest assigned to the parish - Fr. Hernan Rodes (if i call him "Father" rather than Hernan, he calls me "madre". he has initiated a lot of good things like: links with another womens group in Paute, a nearby larger community, who do workshops for improving production, marketing, etc. he also has linked up with a government program which will provide seeds and equipment at discount rates. they won't be free, but San Cristobal qualifies for a discount. this program is also only for women. The emphasis is on independence and not "paternalism", ie dependence on charity. it certainly worked with the women of the bank!

so lots happening.