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The Kirwan Twins Adventures We've finally graduated, so we're setting off for three months to backpack around India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand before entering the "real world."


ECUADOR | Wednesday, 21 November 2007 | Views [818]

Vicente, Antonio, and I gathered in Vicente's house to learn Kichwa.  Our teacher was Victoria, an indigenous woman from Riobamba who worked as a community educator and helped facilitate World Neighbors workshops.  We huddled on a couch facing the eraser board where Victoria stood in indigenous attire, phrases and long-winded words unraveling beneath the wipe-away marker in peculiar forms and spelling.  

Though commonly associated with Peruvian Quechua, Kichwa is specific to the central highlands of Ecuador.  Though this ancient language has been fairly well preserved through generations, its written form has faired less well.  Native-speaking communities have little reason to convert their language into writing, and furthermore, they often lack writing skills.  

Though Victoria is literate, her native language slightly flounders on paper, rendering very confused students.  The same word was written twice in different ways; apparently Kichwa spelling has recently undergone changes that don't affect phonetics.  For example, Kichwa and Quichua, or guagua and wawa (baby).  Furthermore, sentences are compiled into one word, making it difficult to distinguish between words and incorporate them into new sentences.  For example, "imashutikangi?" means, "what is your name?"  

Antonio and I made an effort to structure the lesson by asking Victoria to translate pronouns: I, he/she, you, us, they, and you plural.  Again, the native speaker is unfamiliar with grammatical structure, and this brief attempt quickly cascaded into basic phrases and words.  So the majority of our lesson was led by individual whims; "Oooo, how about Mother Earth?  Tree?"  "No, no, let's do body parts!"  The lesson concluded with several pages of scattered sentences and vocabulary, but three bright-eyed, bushy-tailed students content with their Quichua initiation.  Needless to say, we complemented our lesson by printing copies of a 40-page online lesson book for central highland Quichua.

A second community educator, Roberto, had appeared at Vicente's house with handsaw in tow to help revise data from a past workshop.  After a second brief tutorial, our mixed crowd descended upon the nearest restaurant for a typical almuerzo in exchange for our lessons.  In the outskirts of Riobamba, a Spaniard, an American, a mestizo, and an indigenous man and women gathered over chicken soup, rice, and more chicken mingled with Quichua.  

Tags: Culture

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