Thursday, February 26, 2009

It´s a Cultural Thing

Carnaval is over, and not a moment too soon. Four days of drinking, dancing, water balloons, buckets of water, buckets of mud, bomba, and did I mention drinking and dancing? Today almost the entire country is either in bed with a hangover or pneumonia. I have never been anywhere else where Carnaval is celebrated, so I wonder if this mode of celebration is typical – or just Ecuadorean insanity? I have been told that Colombia, just miles to the north, celebrates Carnaval, but with a little more restraint and minus the miserable soakings that are inflicted upon passers-by, whether they want it or not.
Of course I am an old fart, and actually even when I was younger this type of event would not have been my cup of tea. (Maybe I have always been an old fart.) But my younger PC friends who came up to the Valle de Chota for Carnaval all had a pretty good time, and it was a pleasure to host them in my little casita here in Ambuqui. They all crowded into my few square feet of floor space on a couple of extra mattresses, we made some great meals together, and enjoyed a hike up into the hills. I skipped most of the Carnaval partying, but the kids made the most of it. For most of them it was their first trip to the north of Ecuador, and they deemed it totally unlike any other part of the country – a different world. I tend to agree with them.
Every party comes to an end, and as I passed through Juncal on my way to work this morning I was saddened to see much of the trash and debris from the weekend being bulldozed into the river. I would have been shocked, but in many communities this is SOP. I sometimes have to remind myself that in the US it was not so many years ago when trash disposal meant finding the closest stream or river. Probably still happens.

I stopped in at Piqiuicho to visit my friend Pedro Borja, who runs a little tienda. 10 years my senior, Pedro was griping today about being tied down to the tienda – he said he was bored, tired of waiting on customers (“sell me 2 cigarettes” – “gimme one platano” – “dos caramellos”, etc.) and all he wants to do is go down to work in his fields. But his wife is sick, and she has been spending most of her days in Quito, unable to help run the tienda. I suggest to Don Pedro that he hire a helper, but he says his wife forbids it. “She is afraid I will like my helper more than her, and forget about her down in Quito.” When I suggest he hire a male helper he gives me an odd look and says that he wants only a pretty young girl helper, so perhaps his wife has a point . . .
This Saturday Pedro will have a chance to get down to his farm; we are going to graft 25 of his avocado trees. We consulted the lunar calendar and Saturday looks to be a good day – and every farmer in these parts swears by the power of the moon. I have always been skeptical, but am quite willing to be shown otherwise. Don Pedro has agreed to let me graft his 25 trees on Saturday, and then I get to graft 5 others on a day that is not in accord with the moon. We will wait and see what the results are.

I wandered over to the school garden in Piqiuicho and found a large crowd of people in front of the school gate. In the middle were 2 grown women, fighting – pummeling each other with sticks of wood. Anyone who stepped in to intervene, including children, were thrown to the ground. I shook my head in despair – the level of violence in this culture is hard to fathom. Physical, verbal, emotional, it`s all here. Shouting and hitting are a part of normal everyday life and here it was being played out in full view of every adult and every child in town, some of whom bore the brunt of the blows when crying out to stop it. I tried to find out what was happening, but I did not dare intervene – my head would have been smashed in without a second thought. Apparently both women had been drinking heavily during Carnaval, there was an episode over a man, perhaps a husband. This was a battle for honor. I could not stand to watch, or even to stay in town any longer. I left without even checking on the garden.

I went on up to Caldera and thankfully there was no hand to hand combat. But an unfortunate episode occurred in the garden when several of the older boys stripped the tomato plants bare of all the still green fruits. I was livid, and entirely fed up with the culture of “dame, regalame, dame” (give me, gift me, give me). I lectured them long and hard on their selfishness and inability to work or share together. I reminded them that the produce from the garden is not for any one person, it is for the school, collectively. I called out every bad word in Spanish I could think of and by the end of my tirade 2 of the boys were crying. I was not ashamed of my outburst, not in the least. In a final dramatic flourish I took the green fruits and smashed them on the concrete, to drive home my point – if we can`t all enjoy them, then none of us will. Oh, it was quite a performance. Word quickly spread to the director that “el señor es bien enojado” (the gringo is really pissed off) and as he approached me he smiled and shook my hand, saying something along the lines of “welcome to my world”. He said a few words to the boys, I rubbed a few heads in affection, and went back to work, with helpers. The irony of my own somewhat violent outburst on the heels of the fight in Piqiuicho was not lost on me. I decided not to think about it too much.

I ran into PC friend Chrystal Smith in Ibarra the other day, and as we were waiting for busses back to our sites we started a list of “phrases we will probably not utter in the US”. Here are a few of them, explanations follow:
1. Hey, get me the cho-cho lady!
2. Sorry, I can`t, I have to stay home and sharpen my machete today.
3. What color was your shit this week?
4. What consistency was your shit this week?
5. I spent 26 dollars this month.
6. Excuse me do you know at what time the bus drivers strike is supposed to be over?
7. It rained last night, do you think the road will be open?
8. This bus has 60 people in it, yet it is exactly the same size as the Gemini space capsule.
9. Well, it`s 60 miles away, so I should be there in about 4 hours.
10. The hell with it, I`m riding on the roof (of the bus)
11. Do you think this chi-cha has been spit in?
12. I`ll have the soup, but please leave out the feet.
13. I`ll have the soup, but please leave out the brains and also the eyes.
14. I wonder how long the newest Constitution will last?
15. 18 avocados for one dollar, not bad.

1. At most bus stops a parade of vendors come tromping aboard selling fritada, pollo seco, mandarinas, and the like. Cho-chos are a favorite snack of toasted corn and beans with lime and salt.
2. Many of us have purchased and learned to use machetes, and a sharp one is very useful. It is amazing what you can do with a machete.
3 & 4. 2 years ago, our first day of PC training, we were warned that our bodily functions would become a major topic of conversation. They weren`t kidding.
5. Rare, but possible.
6. Strikes, especially in the transportation sector, are not uncommon
7. Rain often triggers landslides which close roads
8. Local busses are tiny and crowded, usually SRO. Long distance busses are usually larger and semi-comfortable.
9. Not always the case, but often enough.
10. Sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
11. Chi-cha is a liquid refreshment, and in some locales the yucca or whatever else is being used to make it is chewed up and spit back into the pot, the saliva causes it to ferment and gain alcoholic content
12 &13. 2 years later and I still cannot eat soup with miscellaneous body parts floating around in it.
14. Sad, but true. Instability in government is a big reason for many of Ecuadors` ills.
15. Or 30 mandarinas for 1 dollar, or 20 mangos, or 50 bananas . . .


Joey said...

Oh Pedro, that rascal

Alicia said...

OMG! I laughed so very much. Now that I am in the USA, I can see what you mean. When I was in Ecuador all of those things were just my normal life, and I did not see anything weird or funny about it.
$26 in One month in Ecuador... $26 for dinner in the USA! It is very expensive here for me; sometimes I miss my Ambuqui because I used to get fruit and vegetables for free at my parents house! Fruit in Alaska is very expensive... One pound of guava for $7.69 and one pound of cherimoya(not even one fruit) for $18.00 at Safe way. I thought of my parents when I saw that price... crazy!

I saw that you are about to leave Ambuqui, hope you had a great time... I have 5 months left to stay in the USA, I am still enjoying Alaska so very much. When I feel homesick I usually visit your blog because it is the only one that keeps me informed about my Ambuqui y los vecinos.

Muchos Saludos!

PD: "chicha" is not always made of chewed up stuff, people in the Sierra use a blender or a mill to process the rice for chicha de arroz, or the oatmeal for chicha de avena. The ones in the jungle are the ones who use their teeth to chew up the yucca for chicha de yuca.

*Chochos don't seem to exist in Alaska or anywhere in the USA; I miss them.
* Sorry about the body parts in the soup! :-(

Enjoy Ambuqui,


Anonymous said...

hi roger! this one made me laugh and brought back memories of ecuador for certain. those everyday things that slipped into the back of my memory, only to be jolted to the fore front! thanks for the list! i am happy to report though, that i never witnessed the fighting between women in my short stint. m.bear

Anonymous said...

That was so funny, you had me laughing out loud. Can´t wait to be in Ecuador with you again soon. xoxo-tia