Saturday, February 26, 2011

Otavalo Animal Market (and Jorie opts for the goat)

Otavalo is famous for a couple of markets. It is famous internationally and domestically for its artisan market, which is really cool. It is also famous, more locally, for its animal market. Every Saturday morning, before the sun has even thought about rising, people start to haul animals of all types into the designated dirt field on the edge of town. Most people who go to the market are either there to buy or to sell. Susana´s sister and her husband collect pigs from the surrounding communities and take them down to sell every Saturday. You will also see a smattering of tourists who have come to look at real, live animals that they don´t see anymore in their advanced, developed economies. Ask yourselves, apart from the petting zoos and on tv, when was the last time your kids saw where their meat actually came from?

One morning while Amy´s parents (Joan and David Olsen) were in town, we decided to take a walk through the animal market. Here we have a good looking rooster that greeted us on our way in. 

A typical scene is a couple of folks bargaining over an animal that is in play. They will talk about the apparent health, size, liveliness, etc, of the animal. Prices of the animals vary considerably depending on the supply that day and during the week.

While we were in the market, we ran across Susana´s sister and brother-in-law. They had just sold this huge freaking pig that you see here. Note that Carlos, a grown (albeit somewhat diminutive) man, is not that much taller. Its ears could cover my entire face, and I think it could swallow Audrey whole. Carlos and Susana were wondering why they had sold the pig, because it had already given three good litters. They found out the next week that the family had sold the pig because they were saving money to make Carlos and Susana godparents for their children who were about to be blessed in their church. More on that in a subsequent post, but these types of things cost a lot of money (relatively speaking).  

At first glance, there is nothing particularly noteworthy in this picture, apart from two cute girls and a bunch of goats. I wanted to post a picture of Jorie with the goats for a reason. The next weekend we were in Quito with the grandparents, in Quito´s historic center, and stopped in to a small local restaurant for an almuerzo, or lunch. We could choose between chicken or chivo, which is goat. Much to my pleasant surprise, Jorie went for the goat. She said she wanted to try it, just to see what it tasted like, because, you know, it might just be really good. I could see that some of my preaching over the last 9 years had seeped in. The first bite sealed the deal, and she thought it was one of the best kinds of meat she had ever eaten. With this kind of praise, Audrey and Bentz dug in two and gave their approbation. Sometimes I forget that my kids will eat a lot of different kinds of stuff. Times like this remind me. Good kids.

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Family and Quichinche

We woke up a couple of weeks ago to a beautiful morning and decided not to waste it. The corn that we had helped plant a few months ago is now towering over us, and I swear it is growing a couple of inches every week. Here we are at the side of the house, looking out the back field. You can see the volcano Imbabura in the background. The kids are all ready for school, all dressed in their uniforms. I have to say, that for all I used to think about individuality through expression being important for kids when I was in high school, I am firmly in favor of uniforms. First, you end up spending less money on clothes for the kids. Always a plus. Second, it requires the kids to differentiate themselves through means other than the size of their parents´ bank accounts.

Here is another shot from that morning, on the way to school. Perfect shot of Taita Imbabura in the background. Also note the palms, which always makes me laugh after a freezing cold night.

This is one of the main streets in Quichinche, leading up the road to the cemetary. The hope is that the road in front of our house will one day look like this. They have widened the street and leveled it multiple times, but I guess they are stuck without sufficient funds to complete the project. Until then, either mud or dust greets us out the front gate.

Still on the way to school, here is a gigantic avacado tree. One of the neighbors owns it, and they sell the avacados for, I think, 6 for a dollar. And tasty indeed.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Guitar lessons and meat

Not really congruous themes, I realize, but what the heck. I think they happened on the same day, at least. The American friends of ours (Tyler and Katrina) offered to give Jorie some guitar lessons in return for watching their little girl once in a while. Here is Jorie, obviously stoked, on her way to her first guitar lesson.  

Later that day, on the way through the market, Amy happened to be driving behind one of the meat trucks. Here she captured, out of the drivers side window, some decent-sized slabs of meat on their way to one of the stalls to be hung up and sold.

Even better, here is the driver, who hopped out of the truck to throw the slab of beef over his shoulder to carry in to the stall (zoom in for a good shot of fresh beef carcass). We often wonder, but never really ask, what kind of follow-up hygienic measures are utilized? For example, does he wash his hands or his coat, or at least brush them off? Or do raw beef particles just kind of build up on his clothes (and, it looks like here, the side of his face and ear)? We may never know...

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More singing - video

Here is a video from our camera that we hope will give some flavor of the evening. It probably won´t do justice to the unique feeling that always accompanies live expressions of music, especially those in a different language. I think many of the songs that were sung were religious, as every now and then we could pick out "Jesus" or another religious word. Unfortunately, I had to get up in the middle of the video and head outside to see why some of the kids were screaming. Nothing but normal "discussions" about who was cheating at the game they were playing.
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One Sunday night, we had cooked a turkey and some cake for Susana´s birthday and had invited the extended family over to celebrate. We also invited some American friends that we had met over to the house. They were both musically talented, and had brought their guitar and flute. After they played a couple of songs, the Lopez Perugachi family wanted to join into the fun. They broke out the guitar and some songbooks, and all started singing some really cool traditional songs in Kichwa. This is Cesar, Susana´s brother, on the guitar, with tia-abuela (Susana´s aunt) at his side. 

Here is Carlos, Susana and Cristina sharing a songbook and singing along. You could tell that they really had a great time, and talked about how they didn´t do this often enough.

Here is another shot of Cesar, this time with Mamita (Susana´s mom) at his side, singing along. This was such a fun night for all of us, as we listed to the rhythmic indigenous songs and enjoyed seeing the kids try to learn and sing along in Kichwa. 

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Peguche waterfall

Just on the other side of Otavalo from where we live, there is a cool waterfall that is a local tourist attraction. One day when I stayed at home when the patio was being fixed, Amy and Susana and Cristina and all the kids piled into the truck to make the trip to the waterfall. It was a nice sunny day, and they all had a great time. Here they are at a lookout point up near the waterfall. 

I think Susana especially had a good time, since it isn´t often that she gets out of the house for some just plain leisure time. Here are the moms and the kids at the rivers edge. What some good looking kids and moms.

Here is a farther out shot, showing more of the waterfall. Apparently during carnival, which is different and much tamer here than in other places in south america, what happens is a huge water fight. Peguche waterfall is a popular spot, where the crowds come to throw water on each other and other stuff that I don´t know about.

Since it was so nice and warm, the kids took advantage of the day and played in the ditch that the city had built to siphon some of the water off the larger falls. They shed their shoes and socks and jumped on in. I remember when I was a kid, some of my fondest memories were playing in the ditch that ran in front of Grandma Lefler´s house.

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Chickens and teeth

Short post, hilarious story. So Audrey´s front teeth had been getting progressively loose, and I had been trying to convince her to let me just pull them out. It wasn´t until we noticed that her adult teeth were already trying to come in behind that we started telling her to really wiggle them a lot. One day out in the front yard, I convinced Audrey to let me have a go at her tooth. I gave it a good push and knocked it out of her mouth and onto the ground. Her instant gasp of astonishment changed to a scream of fear as all of us out on the patio saw a little chick make a mad dash for the tooth and gobble it up. Apparently the chick thought it was a corn kernel. The chick tried unsuccessfully to swallow it, but instead coughed it back up. We all jumped to grab the tooth, but the chick was faster. It snatched the tooth in its beak and heroically downed it and ran off like a bandit. Audrey was understandable upset, but the uncontrollable sobs started to die down when we were able to help her understand that the tooth fairy would not let a little incident like a tooth in a chicken gut stop her from doing her tooth-collecting job. We may never know how the the tooth fairy was able to collect that tooth (Bentz contends that she dug through the chicken crap that night looking for it) but, like clockwork, the toothfairy money was under her pillow the next day.

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We continued on with our home improvement projects in January. Our front patio area was hard-packed dirt. Susana would head out every morning and sweep up the loose dirt on top of the packed dirt, so that it would not blow around and get the clothes dirty that were hanging out to dry. For a Christmas present, we told Carlos and Susana that we were going to put adoquines on the front patio, which are a kind of cobblestone/cement block. We ordered the adoquines before Christmas, so they would be ready when we got back, but they sold our order to someone else. Because I wanted to get started, I started hauling some of their older blocks while the newly made ones were still drying. 

Luckily the blocks dried fast and we could load them up onto a larger truck to haul them. This guy is the maestro that we hired to help put the blocks down, so that I didn´t try and do it and end up with an uneven slope or something. 

Here is what the project looked like as they started to lay the blocks down. We made a little red path to the doors, and little red flowers sprinkled around the patio. One of the things we were hoping for is that the blocks would help with the puddles that always formed in the rain. Whenever it rained we would end up with huge puddles in the yard. The main problem with this is when we went out to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and it was dark, we would step ankle-deep into one of these puddles. Not fun when you walk back into the cement floor room and tried to decide how to dry off your foot before you put it back into the bed. Or better yet, if Bentz went out to the bathroom and just stuck his wet foot right back into his bed.

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Family gathering

The extended families of both Carlos and Susana are all within about a square mile of the house. This has been great, as we get to know all of the aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and cousins. All of Susana´s family is close and often get together informally. A couple of the cousins have classes with our kids at school. It has been fun to have an extended family close, because one of the hard things about living overseas is the relative infrequency of visits with extended family. One day, the eldest brother (Louis) decided that the family should have a formal-ish dinner. We all gathered at his house after church on Sunday to have some grilled chicken and the normal fare of soup and potatoes. This is the front of his house, with all the kids and some of the adults all waiting for some grub.

Here is a shot a little further down, where most of the adults were sitting. It was a beautiful warm Sunday, and after the kids had wolfed down some food, they all ran off to play tag or hide-and-seek, and whatever else they could conjure up in their minds. This was after we had returned from Christmas vacation in the US. We were slightly afraid that the kids´Spanish would take a beating and it would take some time to get back to where they were before. To the contrary, it seemed like they just picked up where they were when we left. And at school, where we were just waiting for the crying to start all over again, it was just the opposite. Bentz was excited to get back to school and the girls were just as anxious to get back with their friends. It has been illuminating to see how quickly kids can adapt to new people, language and customs. No sooner than we step onto the school yard then Bentz is off yelling at his friends to play tag or trying to stomp water onto the girls. Good times.

Here is a photo of the brother-in-law who was doing the grilling that day. You will note that the grill consists of a bunch of stacked-up cinder blocks, with some type of grill sitting on some rocks up on top. You know, though, that the taste of the grilled chicken has no relation to the size or cost of the grill. It was delicious with a capital D. By the way, this guy is hilarious, and since the day we first met him, he reminds us of Amy´s brother David.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Volcano Imbabura

Before we left for Christmas in the US, I had a chance to climb Imbabura with friend and co-volunteer Jonathan Spear. We left our house at 5 am, and were at the trailhead (up from Ibarra) at around 7 ish. We went at a  pretty good pace (I was definitely the one breathing the heaviest) and made it back to the house by 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Here we are just up from the grassy part, just under the rim of the volcano. 

Here is a shot of the rim that we transversed. The trail leads up to the northern side of the rim, but the highest part is on the southern edge. We hiked around the rim counterclockwise until we reached the summit.

Here is one of my awesome self portraits, looking down towards Otavalo and Quichinche. If you could zoom in a ton, you could see our house, just under the clouds.

Here are Jonathan and myself, at the summit. I was relieved to find out that the summit is just slightly higher than Mt. Whitney, which I had climbed earlier and which is the highest point in the continental US. I am really wanting to climb Cotapaxi, which is just shy of 20,000.
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Family shots

I´m not sure that we have mentioned Cristina much. Cristina is Susana´s younger sister. I think she is 19. She is the last one still unmarried, and lives behind our house with Mamita and Papito (Susana´s mom and dad). She is around the house a lot, helping with homework, chatting up Susana, or playing with the kids. Bentz and the girls love her, and are always happy when she comes around. This photo is particularly noteworthy because Cristina rarely dons the anaco (traditional dress), except for Sunday when she goes to church with the family. This photo doesn´t really do her personality justice, as she is (except for maybe Papito) one of the happiest, smilingest people we have ever met. I think that someone back in time told everyone to pose for photos as if they were mugshots, cause you can rarely get the adults to smile.

Monica and Ruth had birthdays a couple of days apart, so Amy baked a cake. She is definitely making use of the oven that we bought before Thanksgiving. It was chocolate, and thoroughly good.

This is quite likely the most common thing to see at our house: Monica hard at work doing her homework. I swear she does at least 3-4 hours of homework a night. The sad thing is that most of it is busy work, drawing maps to scale, making intricate diagrams of the eyeball out of styrofoam, etc. It would be cool to do this occasionally, but we are talking every night. And the presentation is worth just as much or more as the substance of the homework. In other words, if the handwriting or lines or shapes aren´t perfect, the score is docked just as much as if they labeled it completely wrong. It would be interesting to write about the differences in education that we have seen among the US, Hong Kong and Ecuador. In reality, I think that Amy and I think that a mix of US and Asian style education would be best.

Here, I think that much emphasis is placed on form over substance. For example, Jorie had to copy or write a poem and draw a picture for valentines day. She found a spanish poem on the internet and then took a long time to draw a very cool (and very well drawn) picture that related to the poem. Her teacher sent it back home with her, and told her to redo the whole thing because she had drawn the picture around the printed out poem, rather than handwrite the poem (the poem was only around 20 words). She had also written her name on the front rather than on the back.  Audrey nearly comes to tears every day because her teacher sends her home with handwriting homework. She usually is sent home to redo it the next day because the letters weren´t written correctly. Who knows, maybe we´ll have a calligrapher on our hands after this...

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Súa 3

We only had one slightly traumatic experience during our week at the beach. I had gone down into the water, carrying Bentz and Audrey a little farther into the deeper water, when all of the sudden, Audrey started screaming like a banshee. She had gotten stung by what seemed like a pretty decent sized jellyfish. I pulled her out of the water and made it back to the beach, where her leg had already swollen up a bit and had the red streaks on her leg. Of course, I did what every good father would do, and up and peed on her leg, much to her disgust. There was somebody working on the cottage next door, who suggested we put some toothpaste on it. We did, and Audrey said that worked much better than my urine. I doubt it.

We had some fruit sitting out on the table on the deck, and we came out one morning to find a huge leaf sitting on top of our pineapple. As Amy bent over to brush it off, she noticed that it was not a dead leaf, but instead a huge moth. This was the best disguised moth any of us had seen, up to veins and even telltale rips in the leaf structure, as you can see below. Here we have a couple of shots, one from above, where it really does look like a leaf, and one from the front, where you can see the moth body. It is also quite large, as you can see from its size relative to the pineapple, which was not small.

Here is a picture of the great little beach house we rented. It had two rooms, each with their own bathroom, and a little kitchen off to the side, where we cooked meals and popcorn every day. I´m not sure if we have mentioned it before, but we eat a lot of popcorn here. As a family, we loved popcorn before coming here. Much to our surprise and joy, we found out that popcorn is a staple snack in Otavalo. We make it the Otavalo way (much, much better than microwave popcorn), with a couple spoonfuls of lard or butter melted in a pan and then a cup of popcorn. Seriously delicious.

One night, we also decided to make a bonfire on the beach. For a minute, I wondered if fires were permitted on the beach. Then Amy was like, duh, you dummy, do you remember where we are? We made a roaring bonfire and cooked tinfoil dinners on the beach. It was awesome.

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Súa 2

We had such a good time at the beach (this was a couple of weeks before Christmas), that we thought we would post some of the other pictures we took. Here we have a pretty typical shot of the kids playing. Jorie is usually imagining some crazy scenario in her head, Audrey has a bag of rocks and shells she has collected, and Bentz is probably smashing some bug or crab that he caught. 

Not only does Audrey collect rocks and shells, but also anything else interesting she happens to find. Here we have a cow tooth (we think). Amy tried to convince her that collecting bovine teeth wasn´t all that cool, but Audrey would have none of it. The tooth made it back to Otavalo with us, despite Amy´s protestations.

We really did almost have the beach to ourselves. Every now and then, someone would stroll by, but we were pretty much uninterrupted nearly every day, all day. Here is a great shot looking south, down the beach. 

This is our view of the beach from our deck, looking out through some palm fronds. Absolutely beautiful.

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