May 25 2008
It´s been raining more than usual in Ambuqui these past few weeks; the locals don´t know what to make of it. Normally this is the start of a very dry season in a very dry region. But things are different this year, everyone says so; no one knows why. Along with the rains have come chillier temperatures, though nothing compared to the damp piercing cold of places set in higher altitudes, places like San Gabriel, La Paz, or Tulcan. Especially Tulcan. Nevertheless the people of Ambuqui walk about, (or huddle under awnings, depending on the rain) in sweaters and shawls, muttering phrases like ¨Aychaychay¨ (Quichua for cold), and ¨bien frio hoy¨ which in loosely translated Spanish means ¨damn it´s cold today.¨ Luckily for us, here in the valley, the rain and cooler temps do not usually stay long; they are often bracketed by glorious days of bright hot sunshine, blue skies and windblown clouds, wispy remnants of the rainmakers still active up in the mountains.
The rain in the mountains has been another matter altogether. Dry quebradas flood with rushing waters, cutting pueblos off from one another, from markets, from communications. Soils and rock erode unchecked from steep hillsides and either block, or cause the collapse of, the dirt tracks that pass for roads in the less inhabited parts of the province. The mud is so deep and so slippery that it is all but impossible to walk any path; rubber farm boots with deeply lugged soles are the preferred footwear for those who can afford such a luxury. Others go barefoot, toes curled, calves and thighs tensed against the inevitable slipping and sliding. Roofs leak, crops are ruined, chickens die. The people wait for the rains to end, but when?
This afternoon, in the misty rain falling in Ambuqui, I was sitting on my stoop, watching the neighborhood kids play a very complex version of marbles and eating my lunch. Juanita, the mother of one of the boys, passed by in a full run and called out ¨come, come to the quebrada!¨ There were other words as well, but I did not understand. The boys stopped their game, leaving their marbles in the street, and ran off behind her. ¨What´s happening,¨ I shouted, and Jerald, the son, turned and said ¨cerdos! En la quebrada! Venga! - ¨Pigs, in the waterway, come!¨
By the time I reached the quebrada, the pigs, if there had been pigs, were long gone. The volume of water and the speed at which it flowed was mind boggling. If pigs had indeed been caught up in that torrent they would never survive. Nothing would. It was a remarkable sight, matched only by the crushing sound of rushing water. Black, muddy, angry water. I scanned the viewable length of the quebrada – and was startled to see a hundred or more people lining the banks, standing and watching. Watching for pigs? Probably not. More likely they were looking only at the water, and no doubt some were wondering why, with so much water, was there not enough for irrigation; others perhaps wondering why, with so much water, was there not enough for cooking and bathing and washing?
Somewhat later I caught up with Juanita, and I asked her about the pigs. ¨Yes there were pigs¨, she said, ¨three, but all were dead, because of the water. The owners have found them, on the rocks below the bridge, and will take them home for butchering.¨