Sunday, September 5, 2010

Late Summer 2010 Pigulca Update

In the last update I promised to tell more about movement in the community. When I returned from the US in July 2010 I was anxious to get back and visit Pigulca! The community garden is still being used as a "nursery" and many more people have started home gardens. Gregorio, the community president told us that several weeks earlier a foundation from Otavalo had visited the community to donate seeds! It seems this foundation promotes vegetable gardening and also the planting of indigenous trees which help improve water collection in the soil. The main trees growing in our area are eucalyptus, which actually soak up the groundwater causing dryer soil. The foundation donated a large quantity of vegetable seeds to each family in the community as well as 500 native trees! More and more people are planting vegetables, taking advantage of the donated seeds. We are so thankful that community members had already been working on gardens before the foundation came, or else the seeds might not have been well used. In addition, we have been encouraging people to share their knowledge with one another.

Remember Maria G. from the end of the last update? When I visited her at the end of July, she told me that she no longer has to buy carrots! When she needs carrots, she just goes out to her garden and picks them. She does the same with cilantro, cabbage and Swiss chard. She is working on onions such that she will not have to purchase them either. She showed me how she has continued to extend her garden area, saying that she desires to produce enough for her family's consumption as well as some extra for sale at the market in Otavalo. NOW we are beginning to see some economic impact!

There are a couple of other exciting developments in Pigulca. Last year, when we first began to get involved in this community, everyone always mentioned how they do not have a reliable water source. They wanted us to put in a water system, but that is not really our area of expertise. However, over the last several years I have developed some friendships with folks from HCJB (mission) Water Projects. We recommended that the community fill out an application with them to help them with a potable water project. Incidentally, I got giardia (a water-borne parasite) from eating grapes washed in the community water. Yes, I know I should not have eaten them, but one of the community ladies bought and washed them just for me, and I did not want to dishonor her gift to me. Anyway, community members began the process with HCJB about a year ago, and in May the first construction was done protecting the water source located in the community. Thanks to HCJB and their summer volunteers, the community came together for a week of work protecting the source and putting in some filtration to keep it pure.

In October a group from Horizon Presbyterian Church in Greeneville, South Carolina will come to help community members begin the work of system installation. It is not clear what exactly the group will do, since that depends on what community members get done before then. They need to build a pump house since the water source is at the lowest point in the community. Water will be pumped up to a reservoir at the highest point in the community, so that will need to be built as well. Additionally, trenches will need to be dug from the pump house to the reservoir and eventually throughout the community for water delivery to individual homes. We are praying for the group and for the community members. Unity is still in short supply among community members, though it is growing.

Another exciting development regards a new savings group. For the last couple of years, Horizon PCA has been helping community families with school expenses. In an effort to reduce dependency issues and to encourage community members to encounter economic solutions, the school help will be progressively reduced over the next few years. In anticipation of the 25% reduction in the school subsidy for next year, Mike and I began talking with community members about four months ago about the possibility of beginning a saving program. On Monday August 30, we distributed the first part of this year's subsidy and once again talked with the parents about a savings group. All were very interested, so we went up on Friday (Sep. 3) and helped them go through the rule-making process to set up their savings group. We helped them think through the amount they needed to be saving, and about half of the 18 families who are participating made their first deposit at the rule-making meeting. Sunday September 5 is the first official meeting. While Mike and I will not be there, we are praying for them. The plan is to meet on Sunday afternoons at 5pm in the community house. We pray that the savings group will be one more opportunity for God's love to be demonstrated in the community. We will be there in two weeks to do an ongoing group training, which is based on Biblical principles.

I am sure I have not included everything in these last two updates, but I hope to post more as it occurs to me (and as it occurs in the next few months).

Pigulca Community Updates

Well, an embarrassingly long time has passed since my last post. And during that time some wonderful things have happened. Mike and I spent lots of time in the community last fall (2009) and then had some health issues that prevented such frequent visits. To tell the truth, I was really concerned about the vegetable gardens. Between the time of planting and our last visit in October/November there was not much rain and the plants grew very little. We next visited in early December 2009, and I was afraid about looking at the garden. I was pleasantly surprised that the garden looked great! We harvested the first radishes and cilantro. The ladies were really excited and we had a meeting where we thanked God for the beautiful harvest.
In January 2010 we were back again, just in time to harvest beets and carrots. The colors of the veggies was gorgeous, but the carrots were very twisted. They had been planted very close together and rather than pull out every other plant (or more), they decided to transplant them further apart. Apparently, transplanting carrots is not the best plan because they really twisted up. The women were very surprised! Again, we had a meeting to thank God for the bountiful harvest. However, I was noticing a trend. Each time they harvested something, they divided it among many families of the community, even those not participating in the project. Thus, each home took home only one or two beets and several carrots- not exactly the economic benefit we were looking for. Also, each time we harvested, I encouraged the women to replant, so that the garden would continue producing.

In February 2010 I tried on several occasions to visit. The visits were great, but meeting with the women in the vegetable project was hard because I could not seem to get everyone together. Finally, when we met in early March, I asked why they had not yet replanted anything. They did not really have an answer, but it seemed that part of the problem was leadership. I encouraged them to appoint a committee, which they finally did. We also discussed options for solving the economic problem, and decided that each woman should plant a garden at her own home. Since it was very dry, they did not really want to plant anything, but I encouraged them to be getting the ground ready so that when it did rain, they would be able to plant their gardens. In April when I visited it had begun to rain, and a few women had begun to plant their gardens. Also, the leadership group wrote a letter to a local flower plantation where a number of community members work requesting plastic sheeting to put as protection around the home gardens. I also noticed that the community garden had been replanted. This picture is Maria G. showing me here garden started in April. More about her in the next update.

In May I headed to the US to finish my masters degree, but I still had questions for the ladies. I asked Mike if he would meet with them to talk about their gardens. He asked them about the re-planting in the community garden. They let him know that they were using it as a nursery and that they would transplant young plants to their home gardens. I thought that was great!
More details in the next update!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Vegetable Project

A month or so ago, when I was meeting with community members, they had expressed a desire to plant vegetables, and said they needed some training. Later, I met with them and we did a planting calendar and began to write a letter to Paul Chiriboga, a Christian young man recently graduated with a Masters in Agronomy, who is working in another Quichua community in Imbabura province (where Pigulca is located). In the letter, we asked him to come and teach about natural fertilizers, planting vegetables and possibly about raising animals for money. Finally, the weekend of September 25-27 Paul was able to come spend time in Pigulca, teaching and demonstrating. The community provided a place for him to stay (in the community house), food for him to eat, and paid for his transportation costs. The community (and we) enjoyed his visit.

On Friday night, the community had to finish making Paul's lodgings comfortable. They wanted to put in a plug so that Paul could plug something in if he needed to. Since it was the first plug ever installed in the community house, it was a group effort. There is no breaker, so I was concerned about electric shock. Even though there was a spark, no one was hurt and the plug was successfully installed.

Once Paul had a plug and some ladies had brought him hot milk and sugar, boiled eggs and crackers, the participants in the vegetable project were ready to get to work. Paul taught about many different organic fertilizer options, which included types of composting that we had never heard of. Some fertilizers take a long time to make (like 3 months) and other can be ready quickly (like in one week). It was necessary to translate some into Quichua for those participants who do not know Spanish. However, the breaks were good for Paul, and provided good times for asking questions. The meeting was well attended, with a good balance between men and women.

After the meeting, Paul got some sleep and in the morning he toured the community a bit with Gregorio (the community president). There was a worship service scheduled for 10am, but due to school issues, most people were not able to arrive until after 11. Segundo and Laura came for the worship service, since Segundo was teaching. Those of us who arrived "on time" sat around and talked about any number of things until more people had returned from Otavalo. Gregorio lead music and Segundo taught. Those who attended felt comfortable to ask questions for clarification. After the lesson, there was a lunch for everyone in the community. Apparently, a man has bought property on the edge of the community near the road and plans to build a hotel. He wants to collaborate with the community, and sponsored the meal. It was soup, rice, potatoes and chicken. Several people we had never seen before appeared for the meal. It was a nice time to visit with community members.

At 2pm we met back with the participants of the vegetable project for some practical application. Paul showed community members how to prepare the beds, set the rows, water the beds and plant some seeds. The only seeds available at that moment were cabbage and cilantro. Someone went into town to buy more seeds, which they were planning to plant after we left. The beds prepared that Saturday were for a test bed, though I believe they will have the use of the next field over for a cooperative project. Here are pictures of the afternoon's activities.

Planting Beans and Sorting Corn, Beans and Peas

I bought some boots! Why, you ask? Well, the ground is so dusty that no matter what other shoes I wear, I end up with my socks and feet covered! The other reason is that Mike and I decided that once it starts to rain (Oh, Father, let it be soon...), there will be lots of mud. So, amazingly, I was able to just go out and buy a pair of hiking boots. Why is that amazing? Since Ecuadorian women have smaller feet than I do, I have never been able to buy shoes here- so it was surprising to be able to walk into a shoe store, ask for my size and buy a pair of boots. Hallelujah!

Last week when we were in the community, I kept thinking that I really had no agenda. However, the plan was to help with planting if possible, to practice Quichua as much as possible, to teach English twice, to just spend time with people, to attend the workshop on planting vegetables, and to attend the Saturday worship service. Obviously, I had a bigger agenda than I had thought.

When we arrived in the community, we had already eaten and it was about 1pm, close to time when children begin arriving home from school and eat lunch. Thinking that the community president was away, we did not call him, and just wandered around looking for someone to visit. I found Virginia, an older woman who lives with her son's family and who also runs a very small store, and she was very happy to see us. She began right away to talk to me in Quichua, and I began to respond as well as I was able. She was getting ready to shell dried corn in order to sort it for planting, and she asked if we wanted to help. We had done this a bit before with Josefina, so we said that we would help. Virginia opened a wood door at the back of a covered cement area, and I saw several hens with a number of chicks, and a number of guinea pigs. Hanging from the ceiling was the dried corn. Since I am much taller than she, she asked me to get the corn down. We sat on the ground and she helped us to know which kernels went where. The bad ones were given to the chickens, while the good ones were reserved for either cooking or planting.

Thursday morning I wanted to visit Carmen to practice Quichua, since she does not understand or speak much Spanish. However, when I went to her house she did not answer the door. Mike and I were heading up the road to look at something, when we noticed Maria Josefina out in one of her fields. It looked like she was planting. We walked up the path toward the field to greet her, and she came out of the field to greet us. She asked what we were doing, and we responded that we were just walking around. She asked us if we would like to help plant beans, and we said sure. The field was plowed into rows. To plant beans, you walk along the row, poke a hole in the side of the row mound with a stick, drop in the beans, and close the hole with your foot. Also, you tie a piece of fabric around your middle, and this holds the beans, so that you can reach in and take out two at a time.

This 63 year old lady is very quick! Mike and I, on the other hand are very slow! Maria Josefina gave me her stick and showed me how to use it. Then, while she went to find another stick for herself and for Mike, she left me on my own. First, in some places I had a hard time making a hole with the stick. Then, I had a difficult time getting the beans to fall into the hole, and I had to keep bending over to move them. And about half way down my first row, my fabric piece came untied and all of my beans fell onto the ground! Boy, did I feel inept- especially when an old lady practically raced past me on the next row. However, when my beans dropped, she offered to help me pick them up, and she never criticized or scolded me for being so slow. When she ran out of beans in her pouch, she headed off to her house, leaving Mike and me to finish with our beans. The day was clear and windy, and Mike and I became very warm and tired. Finally, when we ran out of beans, we used our sticks to mark where we finished, and decided to head to Maria Josefina's house to return the pieces of fabric we had been using.

She met us part way, and asked if we had run out of beans. When we said yes, she said she was cooking something and that we should come to her house. She asked if we liked toasted corn, and of course, we said yes. So, we helped her shell the corn, and she was already boiling potatoes and eggs in her outside kitchen. However, when it came to toasting the corn, she said she was going to do that inside. The whole back of her house is a large open room, that looks more like a storage area than a house. On one side, she has a low block wall to make a pen for her guinea pigs. She says they are dying because of lack of green plants to feed them. She lit a fire between cement blocks, and with two thick wooden poles over the top to hold the pan. I am amazed at the way the women burn the eucalyptus wood; they have long branches which they continue to push into the fire as they burn. The fire does not travel down the wood, and they just continue to move it further and further into the fire. Amazingly, their anacus (the skirts they use) do not catch on fire as they are careful.

Once the toasted corn was ready, we went back outside and she served us a bowl of toasted corn, a bowl (each) of boiled potatoes and hard boiled eggs. Just when I felt that I could eat no more, she brought each of us a bowl of "quaker". Quaker is a drink made of ground oatmeal and panela (a minimally processed cane sugar). I have to tell the truth and say that I really did not like it much at all. However, so as not to offend, I took it bit by bit with a spoon, until it was gone. We finally told her that we could not eat anything else, and she gave us plastic bags to carry home the leftover potatoes and toasted corn. In Quichua culture, if you cannot eat all that you are served, you are usually expected to carry the rest away with you in a plastic bag. Otherwise, you may offend your host (or hostess) by seeming not to like what you were offered. This would be the height of rudeness, so we took it with us.

Thursday afternoon I helped Virginia sort beans for planting. She had a large amount of beans which we sorted into three groups- one for planting, one for cooking, and one for trash. I was not really sure about the sorting process, so I watched her and asked occasionally if I was not sure. Mike opted out of the bean sorting because sitting on the ground like that was hard on his back. I enjoyed the interaction and the opportunity to practice more Quichua.

Friday morning we went up to the community and found our other friend Josefina and her daughters sifting sand for finishing concrete. We stood there and talked to them for a while and then offered to help. Gregorio called Mike, so he left to practice Quichua, but I stayed behind helping to sift sand until they had finished. Then, I headed off to find Mike and Gregorio. When I got to Gregorio's house, we went inside to talk and Gregorio showed us the new screens (or pattern-makers) that he had bought for his weaving loom. We watched him for a long time before leaving.

We returned to the community a bit later and I helped Virginia shell peas for planting for a little while. Later, I had to go to Otavalo with Mike to use the internet and to pick up Paul Chiriboga (more about him in another post). When I came back again, Virginia was beginning to use the wind to separate the peas from the chaff of the pea plants. I helped for a while, and practiced more Quichua.

I really enjoy spending time with the older women of the community. They are interesting and are really willing to help me practice the language. While most everyone in the community understands Quichua better than Spanish, not everyone is really willing to make us practice. These older women, on the other hand, are actively trying to help us, and we are thankful. It is the least we can do to try to help them work as well. They live a difficult life, but they do not resent it. They seem to enjoy the time we spend with them as well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What kids don't think of the dog will!

While we were in the community on Monday afternoon, we were looking for people to visit. I finally found Maria Carmen at home and was helping her carry some water to her cabbage plants. The buckets were heavy and she was carrying her sleeping grandson on her back. I was hoping to get to practice some Quichua with her, but since she was so busy, she really was not talking much. Mike noticed that the kids at the next house were on the roof with a puppet we had not seen before. He decided to check it out, and walked next door. As he was standing under the balcony of the house talking to the kids, they dropped the puppet from the balcony. As it happened, the family dog, who we know, was sleeping near Mike. When the puppet dropped to the ground, the dog woke up and attacked the first thing he saw- which happened to be Mike! I looked over and saw the dog attacking Mike's leg, and he finally got it to stop. Of course, the kids had no idea that something like that would happen, and came running down to fuss at the dog. We are sure the dog was just frightened, thinking that Mike had done something bad at his house. In any case, it ripped several holes in Mike's brand new jeans, and did break the skin.

Mike came walking over to Carmen's house, and she was very, very concerned. About that time, Gregorio (the community president) came walking up, and we told him what happened. I had not seen Mike's leg yet, and honestly was concerned at the blood! Maria Carmen said that we should bathe it with hot camomile water, so she went off to heat some. When it was hot, we went into her house and she brought a cloth he could wash it with. Fotunately, it is really just a wound on the skin, and did not penetrate more deeply. Since it was still bleeding a little, and Mike's pants had dog slobber on them, Mike went into town to get some antibiotic cream and gauze.

Gregorio, Carmen, and later the owners of the dog all suggested making a poultice of fur or wool from the dog to put on the wound. They all insisted that putting the wool or fur of the same dog on its bite would cure the wound in two days. We thought it was interesting, but we respectfully declined. Mike said he thought he was fine, though he did visit the doctor today, just to make sure. While Mike was out buying the ointment and gauze, I asked Gregorio if there had been any problems with rabies in their area. He said that Hospital San Luis in Otavalo comes out regularly to vaccinate both people and animals. He told me that they even vaccinate the farm animals such as cows and goats. I was relieved to hear it, but I think Mike and I will probably get the rabies vaccination series just for future peace of mind. In the meantime, Mike will be carrying a stick whenever there are dogs around to protect us from mean dogs!

By the way, there has not been any significant swelling, and Mike says his leg really does not hurt very much. Sorry, no pics with this one!!!

A Cultural Experiencene

Well, you know, sometimes things just do not work out the way you planned. On the other hand, God often has a different plan, and we get to be a part of it. On Monday, we had planned to help a widow lady named Dolores plant her corn and bean field. As it happened, she had decided to wait a couple of weeks to plant, which of course we had no way of knowing. We went up to the community on Sunday evening for a short time to meet with the president of the community and a few others. They all asked us if we were ready to plant in the morning, and of course, we said yes! On Monday morning, the community president, Gregorio, passed by the lady's field and talked with her, at which point she told him it would be two more weeks before she would plant. He tried to call us on Mike's cell phone, but we were in a "dead zone" and did not get the call. It was somewhat confusing when we walked up the hill and Dolores was not there. We eventually called Gregorio who gave us the news. We figured we would just visit with people in the community instead, but it was practically deserted since it was the first day of classes. What to do?

We decided to wander around. Mike had seen Maria Guerrero washing laundry, so I thought I would go talk to her and practice Quichua. However, she was not around. I figured I could talk to Maria Carmen and practice Quichua, but when I knocked on the door only the dogs answered. I went to where Maria Virginia was working and started trying to talk with her. Since she does not understand much Spanish, Quichua was the only option. Since I could not figure out what else to do, I started pointing at body parts and asking, "What is this?" When she started sweeping, I asked, "What are you doing?" in Quichua and she answered me. After a while, she got busy with something else, so I went on my way. Where to go next?

Mike had stopped to talk to some men who were having a load of sand delivered (for construction purposes). As I was looking for somewhere else to go, the men were leaving and Mike was walking with them. I noticed that Josefina and her daughter Belen were out, so I headed that direction. We all sat down on the grass and I said, "Help me with Quichua," so they started talking to me, and helping me understand. After a while, Mike came back and we started teaching him some Quichua words as well. While we were sitting there, Josefina asked us if we eat tostado, which is toasted dried corn. We said sure, and she was going to leave to prepare it. I asked if we could see how it is done. She went into the house and came out with dried ears of corn and a piece of cloth. We sat down to remove the corn from the ears and put them in the cloth. While Mike and Belen and I were occupied with the corn, she asked if we like dried zambo seeds (it is similar to pumpkin), and we said sure. Josefina went off to prepare the zambo seeds and also to wash and put potatoes into a pot.

Next, along came Alfonso, who had taken the day off from work at a cement plant to go to the school for his children. He was back from school and saw us working on the corn. Since he knew we were trying to learn Quichua, he started talking to us in Quichua, translating a little when necessary. When Josefina had things ready in her kitchen, she came to get us, and Alfonso came along, too. Josefina lives in a cement and block house, but she lead us into an attached wooden structure where she had some cement blocks and a metal grate set up. She had started a fire with eucalytus wood, and was beginning to cook a large pot of potatoes. Then, she began to toast the zambo seeds in a pan with no oil. She stirred them with her fingers, and when I asked if it burned, she said a little, and eventually sent her daughter to the house for a small metal spoon. When the seeds were toasted, she brought out a large grinding stone and what they call the baby stone, which is used like a mortal and pestle. Alfonso began to grind the seeds, while Josefina began to toast the corn. Eventually, Alfonso added salt and water to the ground seed to make a kind of sauce that we would put on the potatoes to eat. While he was working, Mike and I ate some of the toasted seeds.

I was amazed as I watched Josefina work with the cooking fire. The flames were huge, and the protections seemed to be few. When one of her younger girls returned from school (it was a short day since it was the first day), she pushed the wood further up under the grate, so more of it would burn. She carefully bent over, and taking care to keep her long skirt away from the flames, pushed the branches further into the flames. Mike asked Josefina if this was her primary kitchen. She and Alfonso both said that culturally, they prefer to cook over wood. She acknowledged that she had a four burner stove top in the house, but that it takes longer to cook. We asked when she uses that one, and she said that during times of the year when she is really busy, such as when she is planting (as she will be in the coming weeks), she puts something on to cook, because it takes longer and she can be away from it while it cooks. She says that the wood fire cooks faster, but that she has to be with it almost the whole time.

About the time the food was ready, the children returned from their shortened day of school. As we ate, they started singing some songs they had learned at vacation Bible school a month or so ago, and then they started singing "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes." I got everyone to stand up, and we all did the song together, pointing to the appropriate body parts. Then, they began to ask us the names for all kinds of things in English. We sat with them for half an hour or so, just reciting the names of things in English. Finally, we decided it was time to head out, since we had a couple of things to do in Otavalo. We thanked them all profusely for the wonderful cultural and language experience, not to mention lunch! It was a wonderfully unexpected experience, for which we are very grateful. Maybe we will get to help Dolores plant when she is ready. In the meantime, we got to experience some very typically Quichua traditions.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Home visits

While in Pigulca this week, Mike and I visited almost all of the houses of the community. Gregorio, the community president accompanied us on most of the visits and often acted as translator. We did a survey which our team mate, Rick Aschmann, translated into Quichua for me. We were asking about school, health, financial and agricultural information. Most people were more than willing to visit with us. My funniest question was supposed to be whether they owned any kind of vehicle. However, in Quichua it comes out sounding more like, "Do you have a car?" And then, "What type of car do you have? an auto, truck, bicycle, cart, other." Most people laughed, though many families in the community have at least one bicycle. This picture is of the Arellana family, two sisters and a brother and their children. There are three houses close together, and each has a field that they plant.

We really enjoyed getting to talk with community members, and they seemed to be very open with us. Segundo, our Quichua team member was with us on Monday and Tuesday. He said that he has been in lots of communities, and this one seems very open to us. He related that in other communities the people will maintain a distance and sort of stare. In the case of Pigulca, people always come out to talk to us, and if we are near the community house, they come over to see what we are doing. A couple of times when we did not have anything planned, we just went out to talk to people. On Tuesday morning, we did not find the person we were looking for at home, but an older woman was walking down the road. We asked what she was doing, and she said they were planting a field. Since we did not have another plan, we went with her to watch what she was doing. We enjoyed sitting in the shade of a tree watching her and her grandchildren plant. They planted in pairs- one person with a stick making a hole and dropping corn into the hole while the other person drops in bean seeds. Then, the person with the stick tamps down the dirt with their heel. I went down into the field to follow along, but they walked along planting faster than I could follow!