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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."

Agricultural Workshop in Guangopud

ECUADOR | Wednesday, 21 November 2007 | Views [933]

Early in the morning, Vicente, Antonio, and I hopped on a bus headed for Guayaquil.  About 45 minutes into our ride, we jumped off by a brick building nestled into the parámo.  The community was gathered in the building, being solicited by politicos, so we passed the time waiting by exploring the local flora and fauna with a few of the women from the community and an adorable girl who's hand gravitated to my hair whenever I wasn't looking.  

I bravely tested my newfound Quichua, to which various community members began rattling off in response at which point I was obliged to advise them that my Quichua ended at "imashutikangi?"  Despite my limited vocabularly, according to various women I was apparently versed in three languages: English, Spanish, and Quichua.  Though untrue, I didn't protest the perceptible change in their conduct upon hearing my meager attempts to converse in their language.  

We wandered to the guardería were the wawas were cared for while their mother's attended community meetings (and our subsequent workshop).  A batch of toddlers swarmed to the door to greet us, stretching out chubby little hands covered in soot and showering us with curious smiles augmented by glowing, wind-swept cheeks.  "A la plaza de torros!" they chanted; "a jugar torros!"  So we followed the children to the bullring where a game of bull fighting ensued among the boys.  The girls joined me by the fence, attached to my various limbs and garments, as we watched the males engage in various power struggles like proper queens do.  

The ringleader, a tough little boy with a nest of hair draped around his face, gathered several sticks and began decorating them with black ink (which had also managed to decorate his t-shirt).  He then delegated the sticks to three boys while another began to flap his jacket as a poncho.  The sticks, held at shoulder level, were magically converted into bullhorns, and the little torros darted for the toreador.  The queens screamed "uno, solo uno!" but the three boys head straight on, determinately.  The toreador, aware that a battle against three bulls was imminent failure, ran for his life in the opposite direction, jumping onto the fence for safety.  The game continued until, finally, we were beckoned to the meeting house to begin the workshop, and bid farewell to our playmates.  

As can be expected in Ecuador, the workshop began three hours after it was scheduled for.  Though this is a source of frustration for many foreigners working in the country, I rather like the laid-back pace of life, which opens opportunities for further cultural exploration, conversations, and engendered patience.  Like the previous workshop in which I participated (La Vaqueria community), this was intended to gather information for Vicente's thesis on the comparison between what people grow and what people eat.  Before we could begin, however, it was time to eat.

My do they eat.  A bowl of soup bearing a suspiciously purple hue was passed among the women and guests.  Only four spoons were available, all of which were given to Antonio, Vicente, Victoria, and I.  We slurped the liquid, with each bite encountering varieties of potatoes, peas, chopped carrots, tough chancho, and barley (most of which was grown in the community).  Pleasantly full after the first bowl, the women began to distribute a second hearty serving.  Following suit with this custom, I forced a second bowl into my belly.  As I chewed my last potato with considerable effort, a third serving began to emerge from the kitchen.  Vicente and I looked at each other with appalled and repressed laughter.  Due to physical discomfort, I turned down a third helping, though this didn't relieve me of my duty to drink a bowl of mashica.  Mashica is a grain that is ground into fine flour and served as a colada with water, milk, and panella (hard sugar resembling the taste of molasses).  On this occasion, it was brewed with pure, local, milk.  
Needless to say, my stomach was on the verge of popping when I was handed a second bowl of mashica.  

Promptly after, the gallons of liquid sloshing about in my belly sent me running to the bathroom, after which a woman came running behind me howling incomprehensible Quichua, collecting sticks and stones on the way.  She approached me panting "allcu," which I proudly identified as "dog" in time to realize that a rapid dog was growling by the bathroom door at which my savior threw stone after stone, sending the beast cowering into the nearby pasture.  Revived by this experience from an impending food coma, I head back to the community house to begin the workshop.

The workshop was composed of about twenty-five women and one man.  The majority of husbands had migrated for work or was presently contracted for construction labor in and nearby the community.  Hence, farmland was left in the care of wives and mothers.  

We began with a group discussion about the various crops that were grown in the community.  We then distributed index cards to each woman and asked them to write their name and the crops they grew on their land.  All but one woman delayed writing, which immediately led us to the conclusion that they were unable to write.  We quickly assured them not to worry, and took turns pairing off with each lady as they dictated information about their farm.  Suspiciously, everyone was named Maria.  Less suspiciously, everyone was related in some form of blood or marriage.

Following this exercise, a second group discussion ensued.  The dynamic among the women was incredible: confident, animated, and engaged.  Suddenly, the door burst open and a tall man bearing a poncho and the traditional top hat stumbled through with rumpled hair and bleary eyes.  Without warning, an unpleasant tirade proceeded declaring the "visitors" unreliable and decieving, assuming we can come to this community to sell our products and promote our beliefs: gringo this, gringa that.  Clearly, this man was a bit confused by our presence and our intentions, not to mention he should have chosen this particular speech for the morning audience of politicos who had indeed come to solicit votes and appreciation.  Nonetheless, I was fascinated by the swift change in behavior among our compañeras.  All heads lowered, some with stifled giggles, but others with explicit concern and fear on their face.  Twenty-five women and not a single one, nor two, nor three or four had the courage to face this intoxicated fool.  Vicente and Antonio took turns encouraging him to leave, but as one knows, it is useless arguing with a drunk.  Finally, thank God, two women stood up timidly, supporting each other, and asked the man to leave.  And finally, finally, the uncomfortable silence was broken by his departure.

After a few quiet seconds, the room erupted into laughter.  Vicente sighed, and bending to sit in his chair, toppled backward onto the floor as a little girl pulled his chair from behind him.  A second wave of laughter ushered negative sentiments from the room and the women returned to their previous dynamic.

The workshop ended with one last bowl of mashica before hopping on a bus back to Riobamba.  As it was a bus from Guayaquil (six hours away), Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" was featured on the movie screens.  All Latin faces were glued to the screen with horror.  

Tags: Work

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