Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Mornings

13 marzo Sunday morning – Waiting my turn at the laundry tank, which has been occupied almost every minute of every day for the past 2 weeks. While construction proceeds apace at “La Loma” I am living in a small apartment in town owned by Doña Piedad and her husband Don Raul, two of Cahuasquis´ most venerable citizens. They own and farm chunks of land from Cahuasqui up to San Fransisco de Sachapamba, growing traditional crops such as corn and beans, as well as being among the first here to grow asparagus and artichokes. Every morning Don Raul is on his tractor up to San Francisco, and he reminds me a bit of Elder Welch, who many years ago in Yellow Springs, Ohio, extended his middle finger to authorities who took away his drivers license due to poor eyesight by climbing on his tractor every day and driving into town to run his errands.

The compound in which I live used to be the office and residence of the Agricultural Minister for this region, (a post once held by Don Raul and which has long ago been eliminated) and consists of 2 apartments, one occupied by a young woman named Raquel and her 2 children Pato and Maite. Raquel is about 22 years old and “married” to Doña Piedads´ son Oswaldo who is in his late 40´s and due to his work as a truck driver is rarely in town. But lately, late at night, Oswaldo has been parking his truck here for a few hours, then leaving early in the morning, just as the sun rises. I am pretty sure that the result of these late night visits will be that in 8 or 9 months time Raquel will “dar la luz” to another angelito - - right about the time Maite turns about one and a half years old.

In addition to the 2 apartments there is a very small room in the back with a kitchen and bathroom, and next to that a large one room bodega, which up to about 2 weeks ago was empty. At the first of the month I had gone to Tena and Quito for a few days with my son during the last few days of his visit, and when I returned, a whole new family had moved into the bodega – and the laundry tank has been occupied, either by the new family or by Raquel, almost every moment since.

I´d like to get up to the house to work, it´s a pretty day. But most of my work clothes are filthy and Sundays are almost the only opportunity to do washing. While I wait my turn I tidy up the little apartment, and then wash dishes to empty the kitchen sink where, given the circumstances, I wash up several pairs of socks and a couple of particularly nasty ball caps. By the time I finish these few items and get them hung on the line, my neighbor has finished up at the laundry tank and I move in with my 2 buckets of dirty t-shirts, pants, and unmentionables, which have been soaking in soapy water for a day or two.

Very few campo people have washing machines, so “doing the laundry” actually means doing the laundry, standing at the tank, drawing cold water from the tap, soaping up and scrubbing the daylights out of every single piece. For some it can be a 3 or 4 hour ordeal – luckily I have only my own clothes to wash and I can usually do what I need in under an hour. Sometimes it´s pleasant work, but other times, like today, when I´d rather be doing something else, I resolve that once I get moved in to the new house a washing machine will be one of the luxuries I permit myself (along with a refrigerator, which I have not had in my 4 years living in Ecuador). Only a washer, though – a dryer would be way too lujos and therefore out of the question.

There are 2 turtles who live in the wash tank, gifts brought to little Pato from his father whose work often takes him to coastal Ecuador. The turtles spend about half their lives in the laundry tank, the other half is spent in the hands of Pato and his little friends who grab them by their shells and pretend they are battleships or supersonic airplanes. Every time I do my laundry the turtles stretch their necks up at me and with their sad eyes seem to be saying “save us, please save us!” I have jovially suggested to Pato from time to time that hey, wouldn´t it be a great idea to take las tortugas down to the river and let them go for a nice long swim! - - - but Pato, who is 4, squares his jaw, crosses his arms and says “no, this is a very bad idea”. Last month Oswaldo brought home a yappy little puppy, but after only a few days the puppy was gone. Raquel says he was stolen, but I suspect that she did not care much for the whining and yapping all night long (I know I didn´t) and made some “other arrangements”.

20 marzo Sunday morning – Pancakes (pahnkahkes) for breakfast, and “maple syrup” whipped up by boiling together un taza de panela, un poco de canela, y un poco de aceite. It´s not too bad, and the sugar rush lasts almost until mid day. Then a little siesta y un cafecito, and the tank is full again.

As usual, Sunday is laundry day, and as usual I would rather go straight up to the house to work. But duty calls, so I step out the back door with my 2 buckets of dirty clothes expecting to find the wash tank occupied, and to my surprise it is not. Moreover, I am shocked to see a Rube Goldberg style conglomeration of tubes and plastic pipes passing through the window of the bodega and connected to . . . a washing machine!

Yes, my neighbors, my neighbors who I once felt sorry for because I thought they were so poor as to have no choice but to live in a one room bodega, have put in a washing machine. And over the last week they have carried in a big screen TV, a refrigerator, several pieces of very nice furniture. Come to think of it, I have seen no clothes hanging on the line for a few days, my god is it possible that they have a dryer, as well?!? Who are these people? Who do they think they are? We live in Cahuasqui after all, and aren´t all Cahuasquireños hard working and honest but poor as church mice?

Apparently not. I guess Cahuasqui is just a lot like the rest of Ecuador, which is to say a lot like the rest of the world. There´s thems that got, and thems that ain´t got. Twas ever thus . . .


Cahuasqui has a new internet “café”, and it is actually open from time to time. A few days ago I went down after work to give it a whirl. I took the shortcut to town, which means sliding down the hill at the bottom end of my land on the seat of my pants and hopping over an irrigation ditch. I walked on past 2 or 3 old mud houses, their teja roofs broken and decrepit, sliding off except where the moss keeps the tiles stuck together. I holler “buen provecho” to an old man sitting in a tree eating guayaba fruit. I pass two burros quietly grazing in the fencerow, and a young man on horseback trots by and greets me with a happy sounding “buenas noches!”

A few moments later I leave the dirt road and turn onto the cobbled street to town. It dawns on me that each step takes me out of one century and into another. The internet is open, it´s a little room with 4 computers, and one is available. I am glad to see they are busy, because this means they will stay open more frequently and maybe for longer than a few weeks or months. I take my place and while waiting for the machine to boot up I notice that to my right two of the cutest little 8 year old girls in the world are playing “Grand Theft Auto”, or some such thing, the high school student to my left is doing her homework, and further to my left, at the first machine, a young man is watching video footage from the Japan earthquake. His friend is looking over his shoulder and every few seconds one of them will mutter “increible” or “caramba”, or “dios mio”.

I find I have little interest in the world outside of my own little life at this moment, so I spend only a few moments checking headlines and emails before signing off. Next week, I promise myself, I´ll be sure to write to friends and family, to download news articles to my flash drive to read at home, and to generally be a better world citizen and better person all around. We´ll see how that goes.