Monday, April 26, 2010

a meeting in Pambabuela

It`s dark. It`s raining and muddy. I step out of the truck, not paying attention, and my right foot is ankle deep in a puddle. I swing my left foot in a wide arc, and reach a slightly less wet spot. Samuel, Hugo and I climb the concrete stairs to the meeting room, which is in the same building as the little nursery school. There are 3 bare light bulbs hanging from a ceiling that is not quite 6 feet high. Hugo and Samuel laugh as I crouch down to make my way to the meeting table. We are right on time – the meeting starts at 7PM. Not surprisingly we are the only ones here. At 7.10 a man walks in, wrapped in a colorful shawl and sporting a derby hat and rubber campo boots. “Most of the people will come at about 8:30 or 9” he says. Samuel and I look at each other and roll our eyes. Samuel, who is Ecuadorean, surprises me by saying “but the meeting is supposed to start at 7”. Our host smiles and says “But Samuelito, you know that the people are always late, they are accustomed to it”. So we wait.

It is cold, and damp. I have not dressed warmly enough. Hugo, unbelievably, is in a t-shirt. He claims to not be cold but I think he’s lying – he’s from the jungle for cryin’ out loud. Samuel grew up here – he’s never cold. We kill some time chatting, and then decide to figure out where to plug in our computer and projector for our 5 minute slide show. We find a few sets of bare wires hanging along one wall and our friend with the derby hat and rubber boots casually wraps the bare wires around the prongs of the extension cord we have brought. I heard somewhere once that electrical shock is the leading cause of burns and amputation in Ecuador. I try to figure out one good reason why someone doesn’t think it would be a good idea to install one or two 80 cent receptacles to the wall. I can`t think of any.

There is a wooden floor, warped by moisture. In some places the low plywood ceiling sags precipitously, probably due to the weight of bird and rat droppings. The walls are dirty and could use a good washing and a new coat of paint. On the far wall, near the entrance, someone has painted a picture of indigenous children dancing with Sylvester the Cat. I’m pretty sure that’s who it is. On another wall someone has painted “Bienvenidos estrellas brillantes del futuro!” – welcome, shining stars of the future! I am cheered by the optimism of whoever put it there.

Around 8 PM a few people come straggling in, mostly women, and they are knitting as always. I am pretty sure they knit in their sleep. (I asked a woman once how can you knit so fast and well without even looking? She told me she had eyes in her fingers.) Twenty minutes later, there are about 25 men, women, and children, and 2 or 3 dogs. Samuel and I are ready to do our thing and go home, but we are told we need to wait for el presidente before we can start. So even the head man doesn`t show up on time . . . that explains a few things.

The first thing the president does is tell us we are in the wrong meeting. Tonight is the meeting for agua potable – the general meeting for the community is next week. Since we are here to talk about greenhouses, which have nothing to do with drinking water, we will have to come back next week, for the general meeting. Samuel begs, as only an Ecuadorean can, to please allow us 10 minutitos, no sea malito, por favor. The boss capitulates, and we rush through our presentation, promising to return for a more thorough discussion next week, at the general meeting. The wires are unwrapped from our cords, we pack up, and everyone laughs as I stand up and hit my head on the ceiling.

Back in the truck, Samuel looks at me, smiles a tired smile, and says, “ah, mi pobre Ecuador”. “Tranquilo, amigo, esta bien, I reply. Esta noche nos sembramos una semilla, en la próxima vez vamos a poner un poco de agua”. – No worries, friend, it`s OK. Tonight we planted a seed, next time we will give it a little water –

He started the truck and we drove, through the drizzle and the fog, back to Salinas.


janet said...

ahhhh....ecuador! what a real slice of the life there.

Shawn Stokes said...

You just brought back some memories Roger. Glad to see things are still going as planned.