Saturday, April 18, 2009
Miercoles 15 abril
Wouldn`t you know it. A beautiful day, blue skies, a slight breeze and temps in the mid 70`s. A full day of work planned, my last as a Peace Corps Volunteer, in both Piqiuicho and Caldera. And here I am, en mi casita, sick as a dog. Between the fever, the chills, and the all too frequent trips to the bathroom, sleep was hard to come by last night. I did drift off for an hour or so this morning, and now I am eating a little something . . . but I don`t think I will get out of the house for several more hours, if at all. As a matter of fact I will probably crawl back into bed directly – ya mismo. Funny how just sitting in a chair can sometimes wear you out. Que pena!
It`s election time (again) here in Ecuador - all kinds of local and regional offices are up for grabs as well as the presidency. Current prez Rafael Correa is expected to cruise to an easy victory, but his support is not quite as strong as it was during the last election, 2 years ago. Oil revenues are way down, and his promises of social change and infrastructure improvements have been slowed to a crawl by a lack of funds. The electorate here epitomizes the phrase “what have you done for me lately?”, and are quick to toss the bums out – only to replace them with other bums. Which might explain why Ecuador has had 10 presidents since 1997.
For many it is a great time to be in the graphics or advertising business – there are so many candidates and it seems they all have dozens of giant posters hanging all over every region. Correa`s image appears every time you turn around, his handsome face smiling and his fist pumping in a kind of “power to the people” salute. Hundreds of candidates are riding his coat tails, and there are enough political parties to make it nearly impossible to keep track of them all. I think it`s kind of funny when people tell me how they envy our system in the US – “you guys know how to do it – solo dos partidos, los democraticos y los republicanos”. I try to explain how many of us in the US would like to see stronger and more numerous “third parties”, but my friends here are convinced that the 2 party system is the only sensible way to go. I have to agree that in Ecuador the system could use some streamlining.
As my time here winds down, I have been spending less time visiting with some of the local families. This has earned me several times the term “ingrato” – implying that I do not appreciate the friendships. (Note to Alicia – your Mom has never called me ingrato!) It is usually said in a joking manner and with a smile, but it`s a term I am not too fond of. I waste no time in pointing out that friendships are two way streets, and if my friends miss me, or want to see me, all they have to do is come by the house and knock on the door. This suggestion is usually met by blank stares – and a plethora of excuses – “well you only have 3 chairs” (true) or “you never have any food in your house” (false) or “we never know when you are going to be home” (true enough, but come by anyway!) I think the real reason most of my friends don`t drop by too frequently is a certain discomfort with the concept of an older single man living alone – and without a television!! Who`s gonna cook? What would we do if not able to sit around watching a soccer game or latin soap opera? Who`s gonna clean up? Of course it`s always assumed that those chores are left to wives, sisters, daughters, nieces or any other girl or woman who happens to be handy . . . From time to time the local kids will drop in, and we play chess or checkers or just shoot the breeze, which is great. But it is a rare day when an adult stops in, other than Marianita and Gerardo who own the house and live upstairs. We talk pretty much every day.
I will miss Ambuqui, the great climate and the friends I have made. I will not miss dogs barking all night long, I will not miss radios blaring reggaeton at 5:30 en la manaña, nor will I miss the all too frequent all night parties that occur just down the street. But I certainly will miss moments like this, (actually almost all day today), of serious quiet and tranquility. This is the first day in a long time I have had the luxury of sticking around the house all day long and I have forgotten just how peaceful it can be. I had thought I might stay in Ambuqui after my travels with Tia and my trip to the states, but I have decided instead to find a small place in Ibarra when I return to Ecuador in August. I am pretty ready to get out of the campo for awhile and to enjoy some city life, and Ibarra will be an excellent base. My rent here in Ambuqui is 40 bucks a month – the idea of having a roof over your head and running water and electricity (most of the time) for 480 dollars a year is pretty sweet - in Ibarra I will surely pay double that, if not more.
Jueves 16 abril
I made a pretty good recovery from yesterdays` illness, and today got out the door early and headed up to Piqiuicho where I had promised to help with some avocado grafting. Turns out that El Presidente himself, Rafael Correa, is going to visit Piqiuicho tomorrow (!) and my friends who I had planned to help out had become gainfully employed for the day by doing last minute cleanup and patching up around town – whatever they can do to make the pueblo look semi presentable when the president shows up. With all due respect to Piqiuicho, and to my friends who live there, the best way to make it even semi presentable would be to begin with a bulldozer. A really big one, or maybe even two. 3 men with 2 machetes and a shovel are not really going to make much of a difference. . .
My first impression of Piqiuicho (pik-yoocho) many months ago had me wondering “who bombed this town and why?” Situated alongside the PanAmerican Highway, Piqiuicho is about the size of 3 soccer fields, and the entire town is constructed of cinder block. Two or three houses have had a nice plaster like finish and a coat or two of glossy paint applied to the exterior. They even have glass in the windows. Almost every other house is raw cinder block, without glass but with rebar “security guards” set in the window openings, and most have corrugated metal roofs held in place by rocks and broken cinder blocks. Fully ¼ of the houses have been abandoned and have subsequently collapsed to one degree or another. Open irrigation canals run through town and provide a very convenient method of trash or excrement disposal – and when a small child or infant turns up missing the first place to go looking for the body is at the far end of the canal. So I have heard.
Most people I have known in my life would not want to live in Piqiuicho – I don`t think I could, not for any great length of time. Working there is pure pleasure, but I am happy to leave at the end of the day and return to my cozy house in Ambuqui with its` painted exterior, glass windows (which are always open) and tiled floor. It`s almost luxurious.
President Correa`s visit is part of a larger pre-election swing through the north of Ecuador, and it may portend the coming of more than one or two bulldozers. In an effort to improve transportation in the country the Correa administration has started an ambitious plan to widen the PanAmericana from 2 lanes to 4. Almost half of Piqiuicho lies immediately adjacent to the northbound lane of the highway – and will have to be demolished if the expansion comes to pass. For Piqiuicho, it could be either a great opportunity, or a great disaster. Vamos a ver. . .
It is a stunning night in Ambuqui – the sky is as clear as glass and there are thousands of stars visible overhead. If I lie on my roof and look north I can see the Big Dipper, and slightly further north lies Arcturus. To the west is the Gemini constellation with Pollux and Castor shining brightly. . . If I turn and look south I find the Southern Cross, Sirius, and way off to the west, just over the horizon, Orion and Betelgeuse. I think this is the clearest night sky I have seen in many years.
This weekend, starting tonight, is Ambuquis` Fiesta de los Obos. The town is full of people, there is a fireworks castillo that will be set off when everyone is too drunk to notice the danger, and there is live music which can probably be heard for miles around. I enjoyed the party a little earlier this evening, and now am on my rooftop enjoying a cold beer, the view, and the music. It`s a good life.
(NOTE) 20 April I am now in Quito, and have just completed the Close of Service procedures for Peace Corps - I am now officially just an average joe traveling in SA. And, regarding my story above about Rafael Correa, I just found out that he was in Trinidad Tobago this past weekend with the OAS meetings - so I am guessing he did not make a special trip back to Piqiuicho, oh well. In 2 hours I am flying to Guayaquil, and later this evening I will be in Lima Peru. Ciao