Tuesday, April 8, 2008

aqui, no mas

I bought a used Dell laptop in Quito two months ago, and it´s been a pleasure to have around, for writing and preparing work reports and charlas, for photo storage and music trading, and for watching a movie every now and again. Decent quality pirated DVDs can be bought all over for a 1.50, and somehow some movies are available here before they make their big screen debuts in LosEstadosUnidos, otherwise known as ¨allᨠ(there). I recently watched ¨Into the Wild¨ and the Michelangelo Antonioni classic ¨La Aventura¨. (preferred ¨Into the Wild¨) It gets dark here reliably each night at 6:30, and while I often entertain myself with sitting in the park and chatting for a while, or reading at home, it is nice to chill with a good movie now and again before crawling in around 9 PM.
Anyway, I thought that my computer might make me a better, more reliable blogger, but as the dates between posts indicates, that has not been the case. I am just as lazy as ever, or maybe just as boring. Life has settled into a very comfortable pattern, interrupted only occasionally by the spectacle of a truck plummeting down a cliff (driver lived) or a bad case of the shits brought on by some yummy smelling unidentified meat on any street corner. I was laid up for four days during Carnaval with such a condition, and I missed everything – all the dancing, all the drinking, all the debauchery. Well, there´s always next year.
Basically, there is work, which is challenging and ever-changing, and then there is all the other stuff. Like cooking, washing clothes, bathing (occasionally), and housecleaning (more occasionally). I cook a small breakfast every morning, coffee and a local type of oatmeal made with quinoa. I usually dump a ton of panela and cinnamon on top – panela is a type of brown sugar made in the local cane plantations. I don´t have a refrigerator, so my fresh ingredient list is limited to whatever I can buy here in Ambuqui and keep in the kitchen for a day or two. I always have a few mangos and avocados lying around, and lemons for lemonade are free for the picking. Occassionally the local tienda will have some good ¨carne de vaca¨ (meat of the cow), and I will cook up some rice and a bunch of veggies for a small feast. I cook all my meals on a little 3 burner stove top, which is attached to a tank of gas which sits in my kitchen. Propane is subsidized here, a tankful of cooking gas (minus deposit) costs 2.50, I have had the same tank for 10 months. For most families, who cook for many people every day a tank will last a month or so. Then there are the many households that do not use gas for cooking, but for various reasons continue to cook over wood fires, inside the home. This custom persists despite the relative lack of available wood, the low price of propane, and the ever present coughs and throat ailments of the residents.
We often have running water, but it is never a sure thing, so my clothes washing schedule is based on first checking to see if there´s water. If so, I put all my clothes in a big blue bucket, go outside, fill with water and detergent, and then let it sit for a few hours. Later I will swoosh the clothes around a little, dump out the old water, and fill with new water and swoosh around again. When I think that I have most of the soap out, I wring each piece and hang it on the line to dry. Here in Ambuqui clothes dry in a few hours, but in some places like Cayambe, Runipamba, or Urcuqui, it can take days. My meager cooking and laundering routines are nothing compared to the arduous housekeeping activities of the women. Entire days, or weekends, can be spent washing, rinsing, and hanging to dry. Some families who have no water wash their clothes and dishes in the irrigation ditches or in the river. They lay their clothes out on river rocks to dry.
Preparing food – a never ending task of shelling beans, shucking corn, cooking rice, killing and plucking chickens, washing and peeling potatos, boiling pots all day long for soups, etc. Somehow these women have enough energy to go to health charlas or community bank meetings in the evenings, meanwhile the menfolk are continuing their normal day of drinking, gambling, and carousing. And it´s a common enough fact that I won´t apologize for the generalization.
I do have a shower, cold water only, and many´s the time I´ve been stranded all lathered up when the water quits. So I keep a 20 gallon bucket of water in the shower stall so I can finish up, and also it provides a back up supply of water for flushing the toilet. Most people in town have a shower, but some still bathe in the ditches, the river, or out by the laundry tank. On the occasions when we go without water for 4 or 5 days many more can be found washing up outdoors. All this in a town where I am sitting in the biblioteca connected to wireless internet. Some forms of progress are easier and cheaper than others, I suppose.