Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Today was one of those rare days when just about everything goes about as good as it can go. I will be leaving Ecuador soon, for a few months, and in recent days have been wrapping up my workload. Almost daily trips to Verdepamba, Pambabuela, and other communities to check on existing greenhouses and to check measurements of those still pending. Today was spent out in the plaza here in Salinas cutting plastic, doling out seed and compost, and answering a ton of questions about just about anything.

Some of the gardening questions are so basic - - how do I plant this seed? When will I know when it is time to harvest? I am always surprised by these queries until I remember (again) that almost none of these campesinos have any experience at all in growing vegetables. How could they, after all, living in the paramo at 4000 meters, or more?? Nothing grows outdoors except paja and some scrubby stunted potatos.

Our project has been wildly successful in terms of numbers. With a budget of 10,000.00 dollars we have overseen and helped in the construction of 150 family sized (5 meters x 8 meters, on average) in-ground greenhouses. The project goal was 100 greenhouses in one year, we’re in the 8th month, 150 and counting, and there is still about 1000.00 dollars in the account. That was the easy part. The hard part lies ahead – teaching people. Not just how to plant a seed, but how to imagine the unimaginable, how to make possible something that seems impossible. How to experiment, how to accept failures as part of a process and not as an excuse to quit trying something new. We might need more than 10 grand for this part . . .

I try to imagine telling a group of people in the US -- “OK, listen up! We, your benevolent benefactors, are going to give you – absolutely free! – a big piece of plastic so you can build a greenhouse and grow vegetables – absolutely free! - All you all have to do is dig a hole in the ground, 16 feet wide by 24 feet long, and 5 feet deep. Then you have to cut some trees or find some wood to make a frame for the plastic --- y nada mas!! After that, we will give you – absolutely free! – this big piece of plastic worth about 50 dollars!! Whaddaya say – who`s interested??¨

I am pretty sure 100% percent of my imaginary audience would call me a madman, or worse, and leave the room, sorry they had wasted an hour or two. Here, it is a different story. The enthusiasm and energy of the people is so . . . so . . . pure. Unaffected. Honest. I don`t know what to call it. It is something, I think, that I have never known - - maybe something that many if not most of us have ever known. How lucky I am to see the light in the eyes of a man or woman who cannot even sign their own name, as they head back, usually on foot, to their communities 2 miles, 4 miles, 6 miles away, with a big piece of plastic strapped to their back. Happy, they are.

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I`m happy too, about my coming trip “home”. Is the US home to me still? Yeah, I suppose it is, but I am also very happy to have a return ticket to Ecuador for September. Slowly but surely this is becoming home as well.

2 comments:

Sandra said...

Beautifully written, Roger - the part about that undefended honesty you witness in the people there. The cultural contrast to the states makes me want to run down there to join you!

Bravo on your project's numbers. That must feel so deeply rewarding, to be able to really make a difference in the lives of real people you can see and name. No wonder Ecuador is becoming home for you!

Alicia said...

Hola Roger, Aqui leyendo tu blog. Todas tus entradas me traen tantos recuerdos de Ambuqui y San Clemente, y la actitud de la gente a la que ayudas suena como "just like home" para mi.

Sigue cambiando vidas!

Hope all is well,

-Alicia Rivera