Loco por la navidad
The whole of Ecuador is going crazy with Christmas celebrations. In almost every town there are processions full of Josephs, Marys, and Baby Jesus`, complete with burros, wise men, and all the trimmings. The costumes range from the ridiculous to the stunning - our procession here in Ambuqui was closer to stunning, while the one I witnessed yesterday while working up in Mira was somewhat less so, although both did have the requisite burros.
In Ambuqui there has been a 2 week long frenzy of “limpiando” - tidying up the town so all looks good when the procession passes by. Every day, las amas de casa (housewives) are out sweeping the dirt in front of their houses, while the normally shiftless maridos (husbands) are fixing broken windows and touching up a little paint here and there. Piles of dirt, bricks, and stone are moved from one place to another, mangers are built, and here and there in the richer households a few lights are strung. It`s 80+ degrees, dry as a bone and the sun bakes every speck of soil, but somehow it`s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
Indoors, many families have taken up what is already a very minimal living space with elaborate representations of Belén (Bethlehem). Packed away in boxes or pots for most of the year, these small models of mangers, the usual cast of holy characters, sheep, cattle and a mossy lichen suddenly appear one day in a prominent part of the house. In some households the traditional Christmas figurines are augmented by plastic racecars, model airplanes, old Barbie dolls and brightly colored fire trucks.
I will likely spend La Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) here in Ambuqui with my friends the Gutierez family. I have decided to install a lock on their front door as a Christmas present. They had a new front door put on the house several months ago, but have not been able to afford the cost of a lock and installation. I bought a lock last week, and will borrow a drill from someone and put it in on the 24th. I think they will like it.
On the 25th I`ll bus down to Puyo to visit a few days with Jeremy and Susan King and other PC friends. As our 27 months of Peace Corps service winds down, we will have precious few opportunities for such gatherings before we all disperse to whatever it is that comes next.
The school gardens are coming together nicely. I am especially pleased with how things are going now in Piquiucho, where we have had a rocky start. I have started showing up after normal school hours (schools here close about noon) and have been surprised and pleased as anywhere from 3 to 10 kids fall in beside me asking if we are going to work in the garden. I feel a little like the Pied Piper, wandering through town with my tools slung over one shoulder and with a box of plants in hand, a trail of kids clutching at my pants leg or belt loop. Once in the garden, anything can happen, but it`s usually good. Earlier this week I was with a handful of the usual kids and a young woman who I did not know showed up. Little Ariana, who is 11, shouted out “that`s Karin, my cousin; she`s pregnant!!” Karin is 14. We stopped gardening, I grabbed a few cookies and mangos to share from my backpack, and we all sat in the little shade we could find and chatted about sex, pregnancy, and babies. It was one of those moments that you never expect, never plan for, yet could be the most useful 30 minutes I have spent here if one or two of those younger kids take heed of Karins` situation and realize they will be better off to avoid a similar fate. Hopefully Karin will have a healthy baby, and without a doubt her family will help her take care of it. More than likely her 19 year old boyfriend will provide little, if any, assistance. I hope she will wait another 10 years or so before having another baby.
In Caldera at la escuela de Cuba I almost always work during school hours, which means catching an early bus that leaves Ibarra at 5:45 and passes by the road to Ambuqui about 6:30. If I miss this bus it normally means an hour and a half of walking, unless I get lucky and hitch a ride on a passing camionetta. The garden here is doing well, but I have decided that it is still too big, so we are going to eliminate about a third of the gardening beds, to make room for some more fruit trees. I like the idea of a huge garden, but in hopes of leaving a more sustainable project I think it is sensible to downsize from the original vision. If the garden succeeds, it can always be enlarged in the future. In January we will have a community meeting to encourage more parental participation, and to lay out a plan for marketing some of the excess produce.
I never imagined at the start of my Peace Corps service that I would become involved in school gardening, but I`m glad I have. It`s a great way to get to know a community, and it opens doors to other opportunities. I have been invited by several fathers to visit their little fincas and to talk with them about farming practices; I get to give impromptu English and science classes in the gardens; with some of the women I get to show how to cook a new dish; and as noted above I occasionally have the opportunity to share a little advice with some of the kids. I head home after each day in the schools pretty happy.
Our Close of Service conference is scheduled for the middle of January in Quito, although our commitment keeps my particular group here until March/April. I may request a short two or three month extension in order to finish out the school year in Caldera and Piquiucho, but have not decided for sure. Some good friends of mine are getting married in Wilmington NC in May, and I would like to be able to be there with them (the food is gonna be great!), and to visit some of my NC relations as well. My daughter Tia will be traveling in South America this spring and early summer, and I want to spend a month or two on the road with her. I am looking at possibilities for staying in Ecuador for a good while, perhaps working with another foundation, o tal vez even buying a small farm. Of course there are aspects of life back in the States that I miss, and I often find myself particularly missing remodeling and construction work. Some gringos I know here have figured out a nice schedule of spending 3 or 4 months in the States, the rest of the year here. I`ll have to look into that a little bit, I suppose . . .