Monday, September 14, 2009
Hagame un favor muy especial, si se puede
After two travel entries, it might be time for a rest stop. It`s been challenging to reconstruct our trip thus far, because my note-taking was so abysmal. Normally when traveling I try to make a few notes, but I made almost none on this trip. I don`t know why. Anyway, although I have had to tax my memory to the fullest extent, I feel confident that I`m pretty close to 100% accuracy in the telling.
I do intend to keep writing about our travels in Peru and elsewhere, and soon. As always, I hope anyone who ventures here and stays a moment to read will leave comments, it is always great to get feedback. In the meantime, here`s a little of what`s happening in the here and now.
The title of this entry means “do me a really special favor, if you can”, and as soon as someone utters these words you just know they are going to ask for “a loan” – in any language. The asking this time came from my friend and landlord here in Ambuqui, Geraldo. We had been chatting for a while earlier today, and I actually knew the request was coming, because Geraldo is normally very taciturn, and the only time he ever gets all chatty is when he`s going to ask me for “a favor”. I had stayed at home, still in Ambuqui, most of the day today – to take a break from apartment hunting in Ibarra and to straighten up the place a bit in anticipation of the pending move. Geraldo had been around most of the day too, banging out a piece of sheet metal or something for his tractor. (If Geraldo had a nickel for every time he took a hammer to his old tractor, disc or plow, he would certainly be a wealthy man.)
I have been searching for a new place in Ibarra for a few weeks now, and I am pretty tired of it. I had a fistful of leads, and for various reasons, none have panned out. Problems ranged from ceilings that were only just tall enough to accommodate my height; asking prices nearly doubled because I am a gringo; or pleasant enough places, but completely furnished with some of the gaudiest furniture ever built, stuff like Granma used to keep covered with plastic, to only be subjected to use for special occasions, like funerals. “Ah, OK, gracias, señora, muy amable. Vamos a ver, voy avisar, OK? Ciao ciao!” In other words, thanks, but no thanks, and now I am leaving. So, the house hunting was not going too well, and on top of that I have really been happy to be back here in Ambuqui . I have spent a few wonderful evenings with the Gutierrez folks up the road (if you read the cow story some time ago, that`s them); have finally begun to understand the thick Spanish of my local tienda owner who always has a joke to tell; and despite the barking dogs and occasional blaring of radios, it is generally muy tranquilo aqui, and I like that.
Geraldo needed a loan of 150 dollars. I was surprised by the amount being so high. Normally he or his wife Marianita will ask only if I can pay my rent of 40 dollars a month a week or two in advance, and maybe two or three times in the past 18 months have they asked for small loans of 20 or 40 dollars, which they have quickly paid back. Now, Marianita and Geraldo are hard workers, but they are dirt farmers and when that is your lot in life you are just about always behind. To be a dirt farmer here in Ambuqui is especially treacherous work, because of the long dry season which can, (as it is now) last weeks or months longer than it is “supposed” to. In addition to being unable to plant their own crops of beans, peppers, or tomatoes, due to a lack of rain and therefore a lack of soil moisture – Geraldo es jodido because he is not getting any contract work for plowing or disking with his tractor. It`s too dry – no one is ready to plant. So now, sadly, they are asking me for 150 dollars, simply to pay a bank loan that has come due.
On the front gate of our dusty little compound here Geraldo had recently posted a sad looking cardboard sign written with a ball point pen, “Arriendo Departamento” - apartment for rent. This was in anticipation of my moving off to Ibarra, of course. To go for a month or two without the rental income would be disastrous for them. We sat on the stairs, Geraldo staring down at his shoes and me staring at the sign. I said, “Geraldo, go ahead and take that sign down from there. I like it here, and I`d like to stay a while longer, if that`s OK with you. I`ll pay you what I still owe for September, and as well for 3 months rent in advance. That should put us right at 150 dollars. Esta bien?” He smiled and said, “we know you, and we`re glad you will stay. Esta bien.” We shook hands, both getting what we needed, for the time being. Now, if it would only start to rain a little . . .
It has been horribly dry here in the Valle de Chota. In the afternoons the sun is blistering and hot winds roar down the canyon, blowing trash all over, carrying laundry off the line, and pushing dirt through open windows and the half inch gap at the bottom of a doorway. To scratch the neck of a dog creates an explosion of dust which rises in the air, sparkling in the sunshine. The nights, however, bring cool air and clear skies filled with stars. From my roof top tonight I stare out to the town of Mira far off in the distance, and closer, due north, the village of Tambo. Up in the mountains, 3 or 4 large fires rage, burning what little scrub clings to the steep and dry hillsides. Some of the fires are set by bored kids, or someone angry at a neighbor or former friend. Others are set by farmers and landowners in an attempt to clear out a few more hectares of pasture to replace that which they have already farmed out.
I was listening to Radio Mira (90.5 FM), the only station I get, a little earlier today, and the DJ was interviewing someone about the fires. The guest may have been from the government, or perhaps some foundation or another, I wasn`t sure. He was quite emotional and chastised those who were burning “la natureleza” --- “my question is why? Why do you do this? Why do you burn our trees and our mountains?” He went on in this manner for a few moments until the DJ stopped him and said “this is too depressing, let`s listen to some music”, and that was that.