Saturday, June 30, 2012

Apologies - for some reason is not letting me format this into proper paragraphs - - so it looks and reads like one long run on sentence! I will figure out the problem later and fix it . . . Ibarra, Ecuador 27 Junio 2012 I love this country, even when after almost 6 years here there is still so much I don´t understand and so much that drives me crazy. Only a little of that has to do with language - - most is culture and custom. Today I have escaped from la isla en el cielo to Ibarra to shop for lumber, buy groceries, surround myself with people and to have lunch with a friend. I am quite fond of Ibarra and a visit here always lifts me when I am feeling a little low or lonely. Everyone seems to be in a good mood on this sunny sunny day. Now on the bus, returning home, I have already had 3 conversations about the plants I am carrying back (aliso, a native tree); Don Umberto the bus driver has slowed the bus down twice to pick up vendors - - a middle aged man in a blue jump suit selling frozen treats “bon ice, bon ice, yogurt, bon ice . . .” - - and also the pretty young negrita who is always on the corner selling caña (sugar cane). The vendedores make their way up and down the narrow aisle of our bus, a few sales are made, and after a few minutes the negrita calls out “gracias!” and Don Umberto slows down the bus as both she and the blue jump suit hop out, and we pull away as they cross the street to hopefully make a few more sales on another bus heading back to their respective corners. I have passed through several worlds while wandering through Ibarra today - - beginning at the upscale (for Ibarra) “Plaza Shopping Center” which boasts not only a SuperMaxi grocery and KYWI hardware and building supply, but a KFC, a Marathon sports and clothing store, several cell phone and computer storefronts, and an upstairs food court. There is also an escalator, the first and I do believe only one in Ibarra, and for a year or two after the shopping center opened it was great fun to enjoy a cup of coffee and watch as people figured out how to negotiate the moving stairway. Many turned away and simply climbed the old fashioned stairs out back . . . Just a few moments and a few blocks from the “wealth and glitter” of the Plaza shopping is el Mercado - - here old barefooted women sit on curbs selling 50 cent packages of clothespins, matches, and tire tube repair kits, among other things. Men wander the streets and corridors hawking TV antennas and universal remote controls. Indigenous women from Otavalo and Lago San Pablo offer buckets of plump and juicy strawberries while their beautiful little children play nearby, oblivious to the passing automobiles, horse drawn carts, the noise and the chaos. A little later, after lunch, I will sit for awhile in Parque Pedro Moncayo, in the heart of Ibarra, and enjoy the passing parade of life - - old men in rumpled suits out for a stroll, couples old and young passing by hand in hand or with arms draped over one another, an occasional jogger, children running and laughing, dogs looking for dropped bits of food. It´s a lovely small park, only one block square, full of trees including old palms and ceibos, and surrounded by beautiful colonial buildings - - mostly churches and municipal offices. During the past few Christmas seasons the city has gone all out in lighting up and decorating the park, and also providing entertainment such as musica folklorica, fashion shows, and theatre. I always try to spend a night or two in Ibarra during this time to enjoy the offerings. Meanwhile, my lunch date is still 2 hours away, and I am hungry now. Still in the marketplace, I make my way through the crowded (always!) food stalls with their hot gas fired stoves filled with pots of soups and meats and intestines and chicken feet and potatos and yucca and god knows what else. Old wooden booths and plastic tables are filled shoulder to shoulder with diners – digging into plates piled high with rice, lentils, various animal parts and some shredded lettuce or cooked beets. The patched up corrugated tin roofs are low hanging and rusty, and it´s the kind of place where you would expect to see Anthony Bourdain showing up at to sample some succulent goat´s eyeballs or calve´s brains . . . I keep moving to my destination - - a little juice stand on the edge of the market. I order a batido - - fresh fruit juice mixed with milk and a few “secret ingredients”. “Quieres hielo, tal vez?” the mixmaster asks me - - maybe you want ice? “Claro que si”, I respond, and she drops a chunk of ice in the blender. She pours me a tall mug - - the one dollar size - - it is delicious and refreshing, and in about 45 seconds, gone. I put my mug on the counter - - “gracias!”, but before I can leave she pours the remaining contents of the blender into it and almost fills the mug again. “Toma no mas” she says cheerfully, and I do. I was not very hungry by the time lunch rolled around. ---------------------------- Cahuasqui Monday June 11-------------------- There is a “regional” high school in town, and the students are in final exams, which means that they all get out of classes even earlier than normal. So as I wait for the 11 AM bus to Ibarra there are scores of boys and girls wandering through town. They are all wearing their “dress up” school uniforms, white button down shirts topped with grey v neck sweaters, the boys in maroon colored pants and the girls in matching knee length skirts and high white socks. Most of the boys are in groups of 4 or 5, snacking on 10 cent panecitos and funditas of yogurt. The girls walk by mostly 2 by 2, arms hooked, and engaged in smiling, quiet conversation. In another week or two the school year will come to an end. Many of the students will leave town to go spend the vacation period with relatives in Ibarra, Quito, and Guayaquil. Those that remain will work in the fields and try to keep themselves occupied, the boys mostly by playing futbol, perhaps drinking a little to much cerveza, and bothering the girls – who in turn will help their mothers in the house, watch the boys play soccer, and do their best to ignore (usually) the pleading refrains and cooings of the enamored suitors. ------------------------------------------ If I were inclined to write about people´s private lives here on these pages I would have some tales to tell - - of loves found and loves lost, of dreams crashing headlong into reality. Not to mention bad judgement, illogical and immature behavior, unsavory liaisons and oh, so much more! But I am thankfully not inclined to write about such private and personal things, whether they be mine or someone else´s. So I am stuck writing about the hum-drum day to day of my fairly quiet and boring life. I am currently on a bus, which is traveling recklessly and at a very high rate of speed. I am north of Ambato, and this stretch of road is under construction - - no lines, no lanes, no shoulders. It is absolute anarchy, cars, trucks and busses all behaving as if they are the only ones around for miles and miles . . . Sometimes it feels good to have no control over your life – let someone else deal with it for awhile! This past week I felt the need for a little break, so I went down to visit friends in Riobamba, then spent the past 4 days in my old haunt of Salinas de Guaranda. Took a nice little side trip from there up to Simiatug, and also had a chance to visit some of the communities where we had built greenhouses in 2010. All in all it was a very pleasant stay, I reconnected with some old friends including Padre Antonio, and I’m looking forward to going again, maybe in 2 or 3 months. I actually owe a debt to Antonio, and to the Fundacion Familia Salesiana, because they were instrumental a few months ago in helping me renew my visa for another 2 years. Some of you who read this blog may know that although I was raised as a Jew and although I doubt the existence of god I am nevertheless the proud owner of a missionary visa here in Ecuador. I went to work in Salinas in late 2009 and the visa I held then was set to expire in a few months. I explained my situation to the Padre, and some of the other Catholics in the foundation, and they offered to help me get the missionary visa. Of course I felt compelled to explain that I was neither Catholic nor a believer, but the Padre was unfazed - - he made the sign of the cross and proclaimed me to be a “missionary of the buen corazon”. I suggested that he may want to wait and see about that, but thanked him nonetheless, and went to Quito to get my new visa. 2 years later, in February of this year (2012), that visa was set to expire, and I have not spent enough money on my house and land to request an “investor” residency visa. So I contacted the Padre, explained myself, and he came through for me again. So although I may perhaps have a buen corazon, I am also watching out for my own interests, and to carry a missionary visa is quite a coup - - I am pretty much left alone at police and border controls once I show them the thing, which is an excellent fringe benefit, especially when they call me “padre”.