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La Vaqueria: Workshop in an Indigenous, Farming Community

ECUADOR | Tuesday, 16 October 2007 | Views [832] | Comments [1]

As previously arranged, we arrived in Colta at 9 am to meet Francisco and Roberto (local community educators and World Neighbors affiliates) for a workshop in the nearby community of La Vaqueria.  With the assistance of World Neighbors colleagues (Sonia Zambrano, Vicente Parra, his sister Priscila, and me), the workshop would initiate a series of gatherings that would reveal the relationship between a farmer's product biodiversity and his/her family's nutrition.  In accordance with WN policy, our findings will be returned to the community and, if need be, we will help support future initiatives to create nutritionally beneficial relationships between farm productivity and nutrition.

For unrecognized reasons, the community would not be ready for us until 11 am, and so we decided to eat.  This activity usually fills space and time in the Ecuadorian realm.  Having already eaten a hearty breakfast, I asked for a juice.  Francisco and his friend who had joined us for refreshment, also having supposedly eaten breakfast, asked for breakfast.  Nonetheless, this presented an opportunity for me to learn the meaning of "un desayuno" in a typical food establishment.  

First comes hot milk in which sinks several spoonfuls of sugar and Nescafe.  A plate of cheese sandwiches accompanies the hot beverage in which bread crusts are dunked into, as one does with soup.  Then arrives a plentiful plate of rice with veggie decorations (a bland tomato slice and strips of iceberg) and a hearty helping of meat, varying from chicken to beef.  Once this has been disposed of down the gullet, a glass of juice is offered to wash it down.  Just when it seems that breakfast is over, two eggs arrive bobbing in gravy (though you do have the choice of hard or soft boiled).  Sometimes, this is topped off with another steaming mug of milk.

Francisco and his friend, having engorged sufficiently for the entire team, were ready to drive to the community.  So off we went through elegant mountainsides bursting in shades of green.  The ladies sat in the cab of the truck, the men in the back occasionally joined by indigenous families hitching along the way.  We arrived at the community school house and promptly began the workshop.

Each compañero introduced him/herself, ending with my own measly presentation in which I told my indigenous audience in my best Spanish that I was here to help and support each and every person, and oh by the way, I'm still not acclimatized to the astounding height of your home (at which no one thought was very amusing).  

We got underway with our first task: everyone was to draw a picture of their favorite native food and in a short sentence explain why it was their favorite.  Timidly excited, mothers and husbands began depicting carrots and guinea pigs, giggling at each other and swapping crayon colors.  Towards the end of the half hour, the room had become a frenzy of laughter and cutthroat deals over shades of yellow and green.  

I sauntered through the room taking pictures.  A major disadvantage of the digital age is that everyone wants to see him or herself on your screen immediately after you've snapped their photo.  This included two women huddled over their progressing designs of a beetroot and a bunny rabbit.  Reluctantly I passed my camera to one of the women, lightly touching her hand in the transaction.  Pulling away, I realized that her hand was wet.  Oh no!  Mustn't get the camera wet!  Wet?  Eww.  What could her hand be wet with?  Concerned for my camera's safety, and now intrigued to find the source of the liquid substance, I peered closer and saw a clear, white film dribbling over the mother's fingertip.  My gaze fell below the camera to a small bundle suckling away at her breast.  Hand sanitizer!  Must get to my hand sanitizer!  I urgently (as in, as gently as possible) tugged my camera away, dabbing it on my pants and bee-lined for my backpack.  Realizing that I was now in the front of the room where all eyes were now called to attention by Vicente organizing the next task, it took all my obsessive-compulsive strength not to lather my hands in hand sanitizer.  Brutally conscious of my soiled hand, I continued throughout the workshop with poise, avoiding any hand-to-mouth/face/upper body contact.  

The various members of the community were now taking turns showing their picture to the audience and explaining their reasons for picking this particular food.  The majority of the women whispered their explanations to Vicente with their back to the room.  The men wavered between macho and shy, though the almost all showed their pictures to their compañeros.  A few men, swaying under the influence of trago (a local friend recently related their homemade liquor to gasoline), pronounced their opinions brazenly; "this plant is my favorite because it cures all of my heartaches, and this plant is also my favorite because it cures the cough."  Following the presentations, every picture was taped on the wall for temporary decoration.

This exercise was followed by a snack break, consisting of bread and cheese sandwiches and tea with cedrón and panella.  An exercise followed that was organized to show the correlation between "land size" and "# of products cultivated" of each family, and on a hand-drawn axis, where each family fell among their community in relation to size and number of products.  The entire group occupied the bottom right quadrant, which signified little land and few products.  The accuracy of the results, however, is most likely skewed by the participating members apprehension to divulge their actual situation to each other and to us.  

This is the first of several workshops that will be held; with time, we hope the communities will gain confidence in WN's presence and goodwill.  Vicente, under World Neighbors, has designed the workshops and will use the resulting information for his agronomy thesis and for practical purposes in helping local communities achieve better nutrition and increased biodiversity.  

Tags: Work



This sounds pretty peace-corps ish!

  Bobby Oct 23, 2007 1:22 AM

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