Being here in this small village high up in the Andes feels so much like a combination of my life both when living in Moldova and also in Vermont. People are so tied to their communities, their families and the land here that this place so far from home immediately felt familiar, except for the fact that my Spanish is taking longer to come along than I thought it would. This is partially because every time I go to say something, Romanian words pop out of my mouth. Patience, yes I know.
Main Street in Atahualpa
Just like in Moldova I first begin to wake to the roosters calling to one another across the village at about 4:30 every morning, just as many are getting up to begin their journey through the dawn to their fields on the edge of town to milk the couple of cows they own. Last Saturday I did this walk with two students and their host families. As the stars gave way to a brightening sky over Fua Fua (the
major mountain where we are working) I stood among the many small plots of land that dot the hillsides in browns and greens; freshly tilled earth, pastures spotted with cows, rows of corn, beans, potatoes, carrots and squash. I was struck from within with a feeling of missing home. It is amazing how landscapes can burrow their way into our bones. Memory is not just mental – it comes from our cells, it is stored within our bloodstream. I don’t miss Vermont in the way one longs for a lover not seen in days; I was simply struck by similarities. Maybe it was, in a sense, a feeling of love, or awe, or respect one has for the earth or for the people who work the land with reverence or the beauty in the simplicity of routine. And as we made our way in a single file line along this skinny dirt path out to the cows, Marge Piercy’s poem, “To Be of Use” came to mind, repeatedly: “The people I love the best, jump into work head first, without dallying in the shallows…”
We’re staying in a guesthouse in the center of town with an extremely lovely family. They are organic farmers and have been quick to try to pick my brain about how to improve their soil and fight off a white worm that is attacking their avocado plants and some white mold on other fruit trees, and how to grow grapes (if only I knew!). If only my Spanish skills were better but we’re having fun. I’ve helped them a couple of times pick berries and they took Kayce and I to press sugar cane last week. We eat hearty vegetable soups every day for lunch and dinner, which feels about right for this time of year.
pressing sugar cane
The weather here is like September in Vermont in that the days are warm and the nights are cool. Unlike Vermont in September when the mists sometimes take all morning to rise, here warm bright sunny mornings give way to clouds that come over the mountains around noon, descend and sometimes encompass us, as if shutting out our very existence.
The students have been working on an eco-tourism project of sorts. With so little work here, young people leave for work in Quito or out of the country and the town is looking for ways to bring in more money. The students are helping repair a trail that goes out to a beautiful waterfall. Currently the trail is a bit worn and dangerously narrow in parts. This coming week I think we are going to help build a greenhouse.
The students continue to learn about the environment, closely looking at the choices they make, their consumption patterns and the affects those choices have on the world around them. Who do our choices affect? How do they affect the world around us? Perhaps obvious, but we easily make choices when we don’t see the consequences of those choices. We can’t be perfect in our decisions but at the very least, we can begin to think more closely about them. What kind of world are we leaving behind? It is a good reminder that even when we don’t see the ramifications of our decision the fact remains, we all live downstream.
I’ve finally figured out how to Skype call from my computer, as some of you may have already figured out by the voice messages I left for you, or the actual contact I was able to make with some. So great to hear familiar voices! The Ecuador/Venezuela soccer game was a hoot (packed, standing room only) and I think everyone had a great time.
I do believe that is about it for now. Things for me are great except for the very fact that I miss you all tremendously. A big shout out to Rick who sent me my first letter…hint hint…
Hope everyone is well, happy and healthy, laughing and doing some dancing for me!