Archive for May, 2008

20 May 2008

May 20, 2008


     I had an interesting request for information about pets, so here goes.  There aren´t many that I´ve seen. Pets, I think, require a level of affluence that we assume in the Unite States.  In a country like Ecuador, especially in the Province of Imbabura where 75% of the people live in poverty, pets are a luxury that people cannot afford.

      That´s not to say that they don´t like animals.  A couple of weeks ago I went to a family´s place in the country.  Many of the people in the family had a college degree, so this was not a typical family.  They had a variety of tropical birds in their patio inside the house.  Colorful parrots and parakeets.  But they were unusual.  I haven´t seen a pet in an Otavalo household.  Some people have dogs, but they seem to function more as a less expensive security system.  people don´t seem to dote on their dogs.  They are underfed and neglected .

     The only place where I´ve seen cats is on the coast, and they seemed to be close to feral.  Two were foraging the rocks at low tide for minute crabs.   Judging by their waistlines, they hadn´t been successful.

     The only animals I´ve seen around houses is guinea pigs (cuyes).  The other day I was reminded of that scene in the movie Hoosiers, where the coach (Gene Hackman) is introduced to Chester (a rabbit). “Say hello to Chester…say goodbye to Chester.”  Like Chester, the cuy that I met was alive, disappeared around the corner of a house an reappeared a few seconds later lifeless.  Who´s hungry?

    There are lots of animals here.  Horses, cows, donkeys, chickens, roosters, pigs, guinea pigs, goats, dogs, cats.  But they seem to have a different function than they do for most of us in the States.  They are not surrogate friends or family, as ours are.  They do something other than provide people with companionship and amusement.

     That´s it.  If any of you would like to know about tomethinghere in Ecuador, please don´t hesitate to write.



9 May 2008

May 10, 2008


     Otavalo is famous for its arts and crafts market.  It´s arguably the biggest arts and crafts market in South America.  The Otavalo have a long history of trade and marketing that predates the arrival of the Inka in the late 1400s.  They had traveling salesmen way be fore that, and have continued ever since.  Today they travel all over the world to markets their arts.

     The market is set up every day for selling.  That´s an amazing process that involves two to three hourse of work.  EVERYTHING has to be brought to the marketplace.  What´s selling, as well as everything necessary to display it.  Imagine installing a store every morning and packing it up every night.  Another two to three hours.  I worked in a stall today that did all that, and made not one sale.  And all of this setting-up, breaking down, and storing overnight costs money. 

     But Saturdays are the big day days.  The market expands beyond the square that it normally inhabits, and spreads into adjoining streets which are shut down to vehicular traffic.  Those streets are filled with pedestrian traffic from all over Ecuador, Colombia, and the rest of the World.  My small hotel is now overun by a group of about 20 Germans on a group tour.  They´ll be at the market tomorrow.

     This all sounds great, but it´s a lot  of hard work for the Otavalos.  Yesterday I visited a family that makes sweaters.  Every fall, it seems, we have travelling salesman (not Otavalo) who sell us these same terrific, bulky, keep-us-warm-in-the-winter, artsy sweaters for $35 to $40.  And they´re a great deal at thet price.  Only thing is that the people who make them, and live in conditions that make our poor look affluent, make 25 cents a sweater.  That´s the beauty of capitalism. 

4 May 2008

May 4, 2008


     It all started out innocently.  I was invited out to a small town about a half hour from where I am working to have some fun at a little festival.  Sounded like a fun thing to do on a Sunday.  It was sunny when I caught a bus at the terminal.  When we got to Pijal (the town), a few of us got off the bus, and started the 15 minute walk up to the town on the stone cobbled road.  There was more than one place where nature had reasserted herself and returned what men had done to mud. Luckily I had forgotten to change into my boots before leaving the hotel.  I was in boat shoes.  We passed a minga.  That´s a communal work group to do what individuals can´t do by themselves.  They were working on a house, and there must have been 30 men and women in all. All accompanied by music. Remember that scene in Witness, where the Amish have a communal barn raising?  That´s what we´re talking about.  Cool – first one I ever actually seen.

     When I arrived at the festival, it was already going full blast.  Pijal is a Cayambe community.  That´s another indigenous group.  They are to the Otavalo what the Seneca are to the Mohawk.  Culturally, they are very similar, but distinct. I don´t know how to distinguish Otavalo men from Cayambe men.  Traditionally dressed, they both wear alpargatas (shoes),  white pants, a blue poncho, and a felt fedora hat.  Cayambe women, on the other hand, have a long pleated skirt that is frequently red, while Otavalo women wear a two-part black skirt (an anaco) that is straight.

     Anyway, the women already had a number of stalls set up, and were cooking a variety of traditional foods, including cuy (guinea pigs).  My friend wasn´t there, but according to Ecuadorian culture, I immediately started meeting people.  One was the mayor of the town.  A minute or two later, I was informed that I was going to be one of the four judges at the festival.  Oh really?! Three competitions:   artesanias  (crafts), danza (dance) and comida  (food).  Up on the stage with the other judges. 

     Let the dancing begin!  three dance groups of young teenagers.  The real agenda here is to promote the perpetuation of a culture that is exposed daily to global cultural forces.  The secondary agenda is to learn how to present their culture for tourists – an important economic objective.  In the end, the rookie, picked the top group.  Despite being gringo, I was able to identify the best dancers.  All those years of looking at anthro films finally paid off.

     Next came the food.  About 20 dishes, and three traditional drinks.  One of them was chicha (a mildly fermented drink made from blended corn). Blenders have replaced women in the creation of chicha.  They used to chew the corn up and regurgitate it into bowls.  The saliva apparently accelerated the fermentation process.  Four dishes featured cuy.  All of the dishes I picked finished in the top five, and I had the top dish, which was a vegetarian delight.  Thank you, Emeril!!!

    Likewise I had the top pick in crafts.  I expected  to be o.k. there because it IS my specialization in anthropology.  I picked the embroidery of a woman because of the quality of her stitching. Beautiful colors on a white cotton background.

    So what´s the point of all this?  General education! Today was a validation of the arts and letters.  Where would I have been with out college courses in the arts, college programming, the food channel and A&E?  Looking like a fool!  You never know what´s around the corner, or awaiting you in Pijal.  You never know when that show you watched on Martha Graham will pay off in dividends for World Peace and International Relations!