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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!

26 April 2008

April 26, 2008


My favorite question to ask undergraduates when they return from study abroad is “What did you learn about the United States from your study abroad?”  The obvious question involves what they learned about the country where they studied.  But we learn about ourselves by looking in the mirror of another culture.  So last night I was invited to a little gathering of Ecuadorian intellectuals and professionals, including an anthropologist, and one of those topics of discussion was litter.  I guess we really became aware of litter when Lady Bird Johnson accomplished so much to beautify American Highways. 

Ecuadorians litter.  It´s part of their culture.  Few people have a second thought about throwing whatever they don´t want into the street.  Candy wrappers, kleenex, any sort of opened package that no longer serves a purpose.  It doesn´t make any difference what it is.  If it´s not wanted, it´s discarded.  In the cities, it´s less of a problem because there is an army of public workers whose job it is to sweep the streets by hand.  I suppose that the good news is that it provides employment.  But I´ve seen too many instances of people littering right next to someone sweeping trash into a container.   The problem isn´t so bad in the cities where the armies of sweepers work all day long to keep up with the trash.  The real problem is in rural areas where there isn´t any one.  I know someone who picked up 3 tons of trash on his property when he bought it.  He now charges people a private fine of a dollar if they litter.

      Ecuador has a fledgling ecotourism industry.  So what.  Nature preserves aren´t immune to litter.  They can be just as bad.  It just doesn´t occur to most Ecuadorians that there is anything wrong with littering.  As my friends pointed out, this includes people who drive Mercedes Benzes.  There is a threatened area on the north coast of Ecuador where there are incredible mangrove swamps.  Because rivers empty into them from the interior of the country, the swamps are loaded with plastic bottles and other kinds of inorganic litter that won´t decompose.

Fear not, this is becoming to change.  But when looks at Ecuador, it´s impossible not to think about littering in our country, and how different our cultures are.  Not that we´re perfect, as everyone knows.

22 April 2008

April 22, 2008


    No Fear!  No Fear!!!!!  The rules for driving here are very different than the rules to which most of us are accustomed.  There are lots of small cars with not a lot of power, lots of buses, and lots of heavily loaded trucks.  We´re now talking about driving in the Andes.  There are basically three kinds of roads: paved roads like the Pan American Highway (the “Pana”), cobbled roads (a piedra), and dirt roads (de tierra).  The Pana is the road that theoretically runs from Alaska to the tip of South America.  Don´t expect an autopista (four lane, divided highway).  It´s a twisting two-lane asphalted road with four-foot wide shoulders.  It´s an endless series of serious ups and downs, twists andturns.  Imagine an amusement park thrill ride for motor vehicles and people who are serious about thrill seeking.  Oh, I forgot the lines.  Of course there are lines.  There are yellow lines separting the driving lanes from the shoulders.  Double lines mean that it´s possible to see a little ahead, and that it´s safe for up to two cars to pass a bus or truck and each other at the same time.  Two lanes – three abreast.  No problema!  Two solid lines mean that you can´t see ahead and that passing could be really exciting.  There might be a bus coming around the turn, or maybe even a bus and a passing car.  Why wait for the straightaways?!!!!  I´ve never seen three lines, but if there were, it would be like the triple dog dare to pass!  Anyone can play the game that I´m describing.  Real men play this at night in the rain and fog.  You must be thinking that the papers are full of horrible, mutilating crashes, but they aren´t.  These people can really drive.  Everybody knows exactly what to do, and 99% of the time everybody gets back where they should be when vehicles pass. 

     Horn serve lots or purposes.  Buses use them to pass, to get people to move over, or to signal people along the side of the road  that they will stop to pick them up if given the appropriate hand signal.  Taxis also use their horns to signal that they are empty and will pick someone up if flagged.  They also use them quite a bit to signal their approval of a woman they deem to be attractive.  As far as safety is concerned, many taxi drivers hit their horn when approaching a four-way intersection.  Most vehicles roll through stop sign intersections, so it´s nice to know for sure that a vehicle is coming and has the right of way.  Pedestrians have about the same rights as people in New York City.  Discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to ambulating around the city.


     Most of us who live in the northern hemisphere think of weather in terms of latitude.  The higher the latitude the cooler it is.  Miami and Phoenix are generally hotter than Pittsburgh, New York and Cleveland, which in turn are hotter than places like Calgary and Edmonton.  It doesn´t work that way in the tropics.  Temperature is a function of elevation.  It´s a matter of how high you are (not like in the 60s!!!!).  All you have to do is look at a snow-capped volcano like Mt. Cayambe (5,790 meters).  Obviously it´s cold on top, but as you descend to the valley below, you pass through many micro-environments with different flora and fauna.  These micro-environments enable people in a single location to have a wide variety of foods that can be produced locally. 

     I´m almost right on the Equator (remember this is Ecuador – see our word?).  Most people think that it´s hot as hell here.  No way.  Down on the coast it is.  Sweat City.  Over to the east, on the other side of the Andes, it is.  But not UP here!  I´ve got weather most people in PA, OH and NY would die for right now.  Lots of clear days now.  Dry and sunny with daytime temperatures around 65 – 70.  Nighttime temperature around55, I think.  So when you think of Latin America, think elevation.


     This is the place for you!  Remember now: this is the city!!  The city alarm clocks start going off around 3:45 AM.  Those that signal the early bird specials are roosters.  Sometimes it´s a  rooster all by his lonesome.  More frequently two are engaged in a frenetic, Deliverance-type duel.  Remember the banjos?  Try listening to the no one-is-going-to-win duel at 4 AM.  These duels continue until 6:30 or 7:00 AM.

     Not to be outdone, every Catholic Church in the city (everybody is Catholic – there´s a church every few blocks) reasserts its dominion over the forces of evil and darkness.  Imagine a city-wide snooze alarm replete with bells and blaring songs to insure that no one will (or could) sleep past 7AM,  Let there be no slothful behavior here, my children.


15 April 2005

April 15, 2008


     I´ve decided to do a side study on murals.  They´re everywhere:  Sometimes on a corner; many times times they come in a series on a long wall.  Some are really expertly done and are huge.  Others are done by school children.  It´s a lot more pleasant to see a 300 foot wall featuring a series of murals than graffiti.  I don´t much about them, except that they are especially popular in Mexico (Diego Rivera et al.).  The ones here often have historical, political, social, religious and cultural themes.  The ones on the walls of grade schools and high schools emphasis the importance of education.  There´s also this theme of blanquemiento (whitening).  It´s the idea of many Ecuadorians that progress equals a whitening of its people and culture.  There is a lot of prejudice here against indigenous people.  The whitening process applies mostly to them and excludes Afro-Ecuadorians.  Anyway, I´ll be shooting lots of pictures of murals, and then doing a content analysis of them when I get back to Bradford.  I´ll also be doing some sort of lit review for obvious reasons.


     So what are communications like?  You might be surprised.  ´Right now I´m staying at an inexpensive hotel that has t.v.  I get 68 stations.  How´s that.  CNN, ESPN, Fox, History Channel, Discovery.  I watch soocer games from all over the World – Europe (UEFA Cup), Latin America (the Copa de Liberatores), and the U.S. (MSL).  The men´s and women´s NCAA basketball finals, NBA games and MLB (they like the Yankees, the Mets, and the Red Sox the most)  Several staions emanating from Mexico, and a couple of more from Colombia.  A couple of stations  in Chinese.  Impressed yet?!!! Cartoons, cooking shows, do it yourself shows and lots of beauty/fashion shows.  Lots of movies in Spanish (Mexico especially), English (guess where?), German and French.  Some dubbed, many with subtitles.

     Telephones?  Land lines are scarce and expensive to install.  So a lot of people do not have land lines.  No problem.  If you can´t afford to own a phone, you simply go to a public phone store.  There are several providers, and it seemslike ther´s a place on every block.  And it´s cheap. I can call the U.S. for ten minutes for about $3.  Incidentally, U.S. dollars are the currency here, so everything is super easy, including ATM machines.  But a ton of people, including lots of teenagers have their own cell phones.  Those towers are less expensive to build than land lines, so Ecuador will probably be skipping that whole land line thing that we did for over a 100 years.  Text messaging appears to be equally of interest here as in Bradford.

    Internet?  No problem.  There´s an internet place or two on every block of every town.  These places are commercial computer labs, and they are filled with people surfing the web (one place has a sign that says porn will break the machines), emailing people, writing papers, and videocalling people all over the world.


     We don´t really dance too much in the U.S.  Ibarra is full of discoteques (spelling?).  Not too busy on school nights, but they are packed on Friday and Saturday nights.  Some places cater to teens.  The drinking age here is 18, and I don´t know if they card anyone.  You can by individual drinks, but most groups of people (small or large) buy setups and a bottle, and serve themselves.  And they dance.  Ni, I mean they dance!  The music booms, the lights flash, the mirrors provide multiple images of all the dancers as song after song transitions unnoticeably from one to the next.  Out-of-shape people need not apply.  What´s interesting is that these places are packed with people of all ages, not just the young.


     I´m staying at the Hotel Royal Ruiz.  Mr. Ruiz owns the place.  It´s a modern, four story place, with a dining room on the second floor.  You have to picture everything scaled down from what you know in the U.S.  My room is about 12 X 12, and is modestly furnished with a bed, desk, and two end tables.  It has a great view of a 1000´ high ridge ridge to the east  of the city.  I already told you about the t.v.  I have a private bath  with 24-hour hot water (In Ecuador neither is to be taken for granted). A nice breakfast comes with the room. I looked at another place that was in an old home with a BEAUTIFUL indoor, covered patio.  But it had a shared bath, no t.v., and no breakfast.  They wanted $6 a night.  I´m splurging, and paying $16 for what I have.

     I´ll check in again with you soon.  Hasta la vista….


Back in Ecuador

April 2, 2008

Well, it´s taken a while, but I´m finally back in Ecuador.  Had a great travel day going from Buffalo to Newark to Houston to Quito.  I was trying to escape most of a glorious winter in Bradford, but that never quite happened.  When I arrived, the temperature here on the Equator was actually cooller than in Bradford!

Ecuador has been locked in a serious winter this year.  That means rain.  For at least a couple of months, with deaths and landslides all over the country.  Lots of towns have been isolated because landslides have destroyed their only connection to the rest of the country.  A couple of days ago a huge sink hole appeared (or should it be disappeared?) in a major highway interchange south of Quito.  Even bigger than a Pennsylvania pothole.  That´s it for transportation down south.  And it keep raining.  The weather is coming from the east (the Amazon) which is really rare and moisture laden.  It´s just like lake effect but going in the opposite direction.  Let´s call it rain forest effect.  Nobody knows why it is happening, but I´ve heard peope attribute the effect to either global warming or President Bush.

 Speaking of which, there is still a lot of tension down here over the Colombian attack on Colombian guerillas IN Ecuador.  Sovereignty?  What sovereignty?  Now the buzz is that the attack started with a bomb or missile that could only have been fired from a U.S. weapons platform like an Apache helicopter.  The thinking is that it must have been us because we have the smartest weapons.  If a U.S. aircraft did fire something, who would have to have known?  Hmmm.  And we have a Navy base here in Ecuador.

 Everybody is following our presidential election.  The younger people I´ve talked to (young is relative – I´m talking about 30 -40 year olds!) are pulling for Obama, but wonder if an African-American is electable.

I´m in Ibarra right now.  About two hours north of Quito on the Pan American Highway.  Rainy and foggy the whole way up.  Today is a settling in day.  Visit with friends an colleagues at the local university, refamiliarize myself with the city after two years absence, etc.

I´m completely new at this blog stuff, so bear with me.  Hope this is interesting to someone, or maybe a cure for insomnia.

Hello world!

April 2, 2008

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