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Published: December 21st 2015
Our semi-annual garage sale was the biggest ever. We earned $1500 to benefit the volunteer library. So many folks helped with the preparations and sale. Thanks to all!!
Hello Dear Readers of My Blog!
I know it's been over two months since my last blog entry -- there are various reasons for the delay -- more on that later.
Our fund-raising Garage Sale to benefit the volunteer children's library was a HUGE success. Throughout the week leading up to the Saturday morning sale I coordinated the efforts of a team of volunteers; it's time-consuming work to sort, organize & price all of the donated goods. On the day of our biggest sale yet, friends and former volunteers turned out to help with crowd control and customer service. About three hours of brisk sales brought in $1500 which will really help out with monthly expenses to keep the library open. Over the past seven years hundreds of volunteers from over 35 different countries have worked with hundreds of local kids, encouraging a love of reading and inspiring greater creativity. If you'd like to make a monetary donation to help keep us afloat, here's the link: https://www.gofundme.com/artedelmundo
Last month Tungurahua Volcano reawakened; she even escalated to orange alert for a few days. Since I now live in the
The volcano near Banos reawakened in full force, but only for a couple of weeks. From my new house I can't see the summit but I do feel her rumblings.
next valley over, I no longer have a view of the peak, however when the mountain starts rumbling and grumbling I can feel a gentle, rolling movement and a vibrating energy all around...it's powerful! On several days 5 km high ash plumes pumped out of the crater and I could see them from my upstairs terrace above the facing hillside. Mama Tungurahua stayed active for several weeks this time; long enough to melt all the snow on the summit. For the past 15 years she has reactivated several times a year, scaring off many tourists and delighting others. For those of us who live long term in Banos, it's part of the rhythm of life. No one runs in fear, eruptive episodes are just a part of the excitement of living intimately with nature.
One morning I was getting ready to take some friends up to the Supermaxi grocery store in Ambato (1 hr away). Certain that we'd all be buying TONS on this pre-Thanksgiving shopping expedition, I decided to put the tarp on the back of my pick-up. After stretching the black rubberized canvas over the truck bed, I went back into the house
Ashfall on my Front Stoop
When the wind shifted we had a huge dump of fine volcanic ash. It sifts into the house under doors and thru window frames.
to finish up a few things before leaving. I was inside for less than 15 minutes but during that time the wind must have shifted and about 1/8" of ash was dumped everywhere. My truck was coated with fine dust, from the windshield to the now gritty grey tarp! It's rare that Banos gets serious ashfall, but when it does everyone dons a paper mask & the broom salesmen make a killing!
I had several driving jobs, taking friends and relatives of some American friends up to & back from Quito airport (3 hr drive). On one of the trips north we were treated to awesome views of the now-active Cotopaxi Volcano, just east of the Panamerican Highway. Located 60 miles south of Quito, Cotopaxi is Ecuador's "Mount Fuji". Conical in shape, Taita Cotopaxi has been dormant for many decades but became active again a few months ago. The day we drove by the sky was crystal clear and I was stunned to see how much the glacier has melted -- the snow-packed cone is now more brown than white. Communities on the outskirts of Quito most at risk lie along rivers or in valleys
On one of my drives up to Quito we had a crystal clear view of Taita Cotopaxi for a full hour as we headed north on the Panamerican Hwy.
and all kinds of evacuation plans are in place. Supposedly it's a good thing that the glaciers are melting slowly rather than in one huge eruptive episode.
On one of my transfers up to Quito, after we'd explored the old town all morning my clients wanted to do some afternoon bird-watching at the Botanical Gardens in Carolina Park. I figured I'd take this opportunity to run a few errands so I hobbled across the park on my still ouchy foot to the insurance office, hoping for some reimbursement of my recent medical expenses. I arrived at 3:15 to find a note on the locked door advising that the office would be closed as of 3:00 pm, just for that day. WTF?!? Then I remembered that there was a huge soccer match against Venezuela going on at the stadium a mile up the road. Dang! Businesses closed for sporting events?! Only in Latin America!
I limped another few blocks to the headquarters of my cell phone service provider, only to find that all of the employees were glued to big-screen TVs; no one assisting clients. After a half hour of waiting
Elsa, my pottery teacher, displays artwork on the foosball table!
I abandoned hope of getting any service there that afternoon and dragged my aching foot to a shopping center where I killed an hour at an internet cafe. While I was catching up with my email, I heard a huge roaring scream as Ecuador, evidently, scored a goal. All around the mall fans were cheering, their emotional outburst echoing through the halls. I suppose that cheering for sports teams is a national pastime which draws people together on some level. I just don't get it, though.
A highlight of this past month was a Primitive Pottery Workshop. Elsa & Teresa (A Kichwa woman & a Shuar woman married to each other's brothers) came up from the jungle bringing with them all that was needed for our week-long course. They brought food from their village which they prepared for our lunch each day (fresh hearts of palm prepared several ways - heavenly!). They unloaded big chunks of grey-brown clay, natural shaping and texturing tools (gourds, feathers, corn husks, coconut shells, stones, bamboo, tagua nuts), crumbly nuggets of natural dyes, feather quills and human hair for the paintbrushes, amber-like nubs of tree resin for glazing, bundles of
Each work session started with a blessing to Pacha Mama (Mother Nature) and a snort of powerful tobacco juice (gets the brain juices pumping!)
hardwood for firing, and a display of finished handicrafts for sale.
I had taken a hand-building ceramics class once years ago, but this was a whole new experience. We were four non-Ecuadorian women working around a huge ping pong table covered with plastic sheeting. The tools and utensils were within reach - gourds filled with water, smoothing pebbles, leaves and more. The sight of some plastic bags & bowls was jarring alongside all of the natural materials. At the start of each session, we all put our arms around one another, Sinchi Warmi (Valiant Women in Kichwa) and blessed our work space and combined efforts. As we worked, building and smoothing and shaping the clay, our teachers encouraged us and told us legends from the jungle and helped us learn some Kichwa words and phrases. I had learned a few dozen Kichwa expressions while working with Engineers without Borders on a water project high in the Andes. I was amazed at how different the Amazonian Kichwa sounded! Totally distinct pronunciation and rhythm -- jungle Kichwa much softer & melodious, sierra Kichwa full of 'sh', 'zh' and 'ch' sounds, almost spat out...a bit like the difference
Shaping the Clay
Here Elsa instructs me how to use a "wawishca" - a triangular gourd smoothing tool, like an oversized guitar pick.
between High German and Swiss German, to my ear.
After the first clay bowls had air-dried overnight, we were ready to tint them with natural dyes. In a wedge of coconut shell we used a pebble to crush crumbly colored stones (black, white, red & yellow) into fine dust which we mixed with a few drops of water. Using a small piece of flannel we bathed each bowl in the ochre yellow dye and then burnished them, actually working the tint into the clay by rubbing gently with a smooth stone or an oval tagua nut (vegetable ivory). I guess I didn't rub gently enough -- when I was almost finished burnishing my largest bowl to a shiny glow, I broke through the thinnest part, leaving a moon-shaped opening. Instead of getting upset I decided to just work the imperfection into my design. As I began to decorate the bowl a smile appeared around the hole! The gals were teasing me that I'd painted myself a boyfriend!
Our paintbrushes were made of quills and fine strips of bamboo wrapped with thread to hold in place 4 or 5 human hairs.
Elsa & Amarun
A beautifully radiant woman proudly holds up her son. Amarun is her 14th child. His name means "snake" in Kichwa.
Supposedly, it must be a man's hair and 1 yr old Amarun had still not had his first haircut, so he didn't qualify. The workmen who were bricking a wall at the house next door obliged, letting Teresa give them an impromptu haircut. We learned how to lay the longish hairs flat to create a path for the color to form perfectly straight lines...easier than I expected it to be. Decorating the earthenware with finely-spaced parallel stripes was my favorite part of the process.
We let our painted vessels dry naturally for two weeks and then we met again to fire and glaze them. These women are absolute masters and building and maintaining a super-hot fire. They know just how to stack the earthenware, using broken bits of other pots to prop the pieces, burying them in ash as the fire burned down; moving, turning and shifting each piece using just a machete blade and a piece of wood to manipulate them perfectly into place for maximum firing efficiency. While each piece was still hot we smoothed the nub of resin evenly over the entire surface. The resin smelled like pine sap as it melted
Works of Art
Here are some of the pottery pieces I completed during the 4 day workshop. The break in the big bowl turned into a smiling mouth!
onto the clay leaving a warm, shiny glow. Such a cool experience!
As mentioned briefly before, the wound on my foot continues to plague me. It has reinfected several times and just when it seems it's starting to heal it gets tender and swollen and purplish again. Everyone wanted to share their tried-and-true cure with me, suggesting natural or alternative cures. I've tried many of them...Juan Diego picked hierba mora from his land and showed me how to make a poultice (using my own spit), taping it on with gauze and leaving it overnight so it formed a natural 'scab' which did indeed draw out the swelling. I soaked in boiled matico leaves with rock salt, which made it feel better but caused the recently formed scab to go mushy and come off. It took over a week for a new one to form. Sangre de Drago, a deep red sap tapped from the Drago (or Croton) tree was incredibly effective to help the open wound start to heal over again.
The sore would seem to get better, and then get worse again. I checked in weekly with a Russian
Firing the Pottery
Elsa has such spark and sparkle -- even after bearing and raising 14 children!
doctor at a private clinic. Dra Irina is an OB/GYN, but she nursed me along thru the months. I tried applying antibiotic ointment day and night and keeping it covered with gauze for a week, then leaving it uncovered for a week. I cleansed it with iodine, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide -- and the dang thing just refused to heal. For a week I taped on fresh aloe from my garden and left it overnight. . A most bizarre suggestion (which I didn't try) was to light a shot of puro (100 proof cane liquor) on fire, let it cool and then bathe the wound with the sterilized alcohol. Just yesterday a friend told me about rendering pig fat and mixing it with a camphor tablet...no thanks to that one either. Just drinking lots of water, taking supplements (a Calicum/Magnesium/Zinc tablet +1000 mg of Vit C daily), avoiding pork, beef, seafood, cold cuts, salt, fried foods, dairy, spicy foods... not a lot left...I feel like a bunny rabbit! Eight weeks after the initial injury the wound was still as tender and painful as at week #2, so I decided to have a series of blood tests run to rule out diabetes.
This incredible work of art was gifted to me at the end of the workshop. I will treasure it always.
I arranged to visit a doctor in Quito when I drove some visitors up to the airport. Fortunately, the clinic was just beside the Nissan dealership, so my truck had its 55,000 km service while I got a medical check-up and lab work done. That same evening I got the results of a full blood panel. My levels were surprisingly good with just slightly elevated uric acid (what causes gout, which is logical since the wound is right on the big toe joint) and slightly high triglycerides (my cholesterol's in the high normal range). The doc prescribed one pill for the uric acid and another for the triglycerides. I just got the one month follow-up blood test results and all levels are now in the normal range. I know I need to keep on the healthy diet, but glad to no longer need meds!
Needless to say, it's been a tough few months for a number of reasons. Just before I hurt my foot I'd been enjoying a more active lifestyle; taking long daily walks with CiCi, swimming 3x/wk at the hot springs...I was unable to do either of those
CiCi in the Garden
If there's mud to be found, she will stomp around like a kid with puddles. She's a love, but she adores getting dirty, which can be a chore for me!
activities for twelve weeks! The one time I decided to try the thermal baths my foot re-infected. Driving long distances aggravates the wound, since pressing the clutch causes repeated trauma, bending my big toe at the joint right where it is injured. Last week my foot was feeling less painful, the swelling had finally subsided a bit, so I tried on my walking shoes. There was still a bit of pain with pressure and rubbing at the inside seam, so I made a bold and brilliant move...I took a scissors and slit open that panel of the shoe. It's worth ruining a well-worn pair of trainers to be able to walk and drive in comfort. I also find that I'm almost instinctively using the other toes more when shifting gears.
During these three months of healing I've pretty much been a slug, teaching a few private lessons (English & Spanish) and making a few airport runs up to Quito, but mostly lying on my bed and binge-watching Grey's Anatomy. I've been into this show for a few years, but was never able to watch consistently. Now that I have Netflix, I've been watching the entire
Time for a bath....again!!
series in order, 3 or 4 episodes a day...a bit of an addiction, but I figure there are worse obsessions. I am now more than halfway through season 11, so I'm stretching out these last episodes until the current season is released on Netflix. Poor CiCi was really missing her walks, but she was usually content to curl up on the floor beside my bed and nudge my hand with her nose from time to time. My luv pup has helped to keep me sane!
Ordinarily, I would be working at the hotel on the coast during Oct/Nov/early Dec, but since the owner's son & daughter-in-law arrived from Europe to take over management, my services are not needed. Therefore, I find myself a bit strapped for cash this fall (the $ from the sale of my land on the coast is tied up in term policies that I can't touch until the end of Feb). As a result I haven't gone out to eat much, fixing economical meals at home, buying fruit and veg at the weekly market. Since I've not been exercising at all, I've made an effort to eat healthier. Also, I know
CiCi's New Playmate
A sweet young black lab mix with white paws tipped with black so they always look dirty...I call him "Patas Sucias" (Dirty Paws).
that I will heal better if I eat 'cleaner', which was reinforced by improved results on the 2nd round of blood tests.
To my delight & surprise, I've actually lost a few pounds during this period of inactivity. I used to work on my computer at one end of my huge kitchen table, but I've found that by moving it upstairs to the office, I do less snacking. I don't bring any food upstairs, and I've also been good about not eating after 6 pm; after brushing my teeth at sunset (6:15 every day here on the equator) nothing but water passes my lips. One of my students is an excellent massage therapist, so we trade English classes trade for weekly massage. She assures me that my lack of exercise is made up for to some degree with regular massage; that muscle tone hasn't gone completely slack (encouraging!) The great news is that as of this writing my foot seems to be about 90% healed.
For several weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I was planning to receive guests at my house the Sunday after turkey day. The turkey was gently
Up at Black Sheep Inn
CiCi & I shared Thanksgiving Thursday with Andy, Michelle & their big goofy dog Rumi.
defrosting in my fridge, since I had to buy it a week in advance when I drove up to the supermarket in Ambato (no turkeys available in Banos until Xmas & New Years). I had done some pre-preparation for the stuffing and my guests were bringing most of the side dishes. Therefore, on Tuesday when Andy & Michelle invited me & CiCi over for turkey dinner on the actual Thanksgiving Thursday, after only the briefest of hesitation I said, "Sure!"
Now I should mention that Andy & Michelle live 3 hours away, high up in the Andes. They conceived of and created the award-winning Eco-lodge Black Sheep Inn in Chugchilan on the Quilotoa loop. After running their hotel for almost 20 years, they now rent it out to a local guy who's doing a great job managing it and they live next door. They offered me their guest cottage where CiCi & I spent a cozy night after a super-yummy Thanksgiving feast & excellent conversation. CiCi enjoyed playing with their big, goofy Rumi-boy; she seemed to have no concept of the fact that she's only 1/2 his size. She'd just jump and run and play
Fill those Plates!
Karl, Kathryn, Jen, Laura, Lillian & Jody dig into the Sunday-after-Thanksgiving feast!
like equals -- a feisty gal (like her mom!).
On the drive up and back from Black Sheep Inn I often gave lifts to local folks; farmers lugging their harvest to market, a young missionary who runs an after-school catechism at a primary school near Quilotoa Crater, a woman on her way to visit her sister in Pujili. I learned quite a bit of Kichwa from them, as I asked the meanings of the place names (e.g. Rumi Yaku - Rock Water -or- Rocky River). I enjoyed practicing the few expressions of Kichwa I'd learned while working in the Cotopaxi region and they were amazed to hear a gringa speaking their tongue. These lively conversations and the spectacularly dramatic Andean views help shake me from my doldrums and lightened my spirit.
For the Sunday turkey dinner at my house the weather was glorious. I live a few miles out of town & most of my friends don't have vehicles, so I helped arrange transportation. It's especially hard on a Sunday afternoon to get taxi drivers to come all the way out to my place, so as I'd done in Feb
Turkey Under the Trees
Chowing down at a big, long table in the garden (just like in an Italian film!)
on my bday I left my truck with Karl at the library and he drove the gang up the hill. A little strange having all the party revelers arrive at the same time, but I'd had plenty of time to have everything ready. I love setting up for a party - the artistry of arranging food on the dishes; I had made guacamole, hummus & chopped liver appetizers to serve with with sliced veggies, crackers & chips. We had the bar set up on the covered outdoor grill area and the huge kitchen table inside was laden with scrumptious food.
It was a really nice group of friends, some who were meeting for the first time, some who hadn't seen each other in many years. We were 18 people from 5 different countries, less than half of us American! After an amazing meal (obligatory seconds!) we took a pause to hang in hammocks, play volleyball, walk through the avocado, tangerine & lemon tree orchard in my back yard, play with the dogs (CiCi's buddy came over to join the gathering!). This rented house is a really nice place for entertaining -- I hope
Dining Al Fresco
CiCi & little Mati find ways to have fun after the meal.
to stay in it at least another year -- I hope to plan more gatherings. As I was preparing to give some folks a lift down the hill, everyone started pitching in to disassemble the outdoor dining room, store leftovers and wash dishes. I was grateful that there was so little clean-up left for me to do on my own!
OK - I've rambled on enough for this entry - please be sure to scroll all the way down to see additional pictures. In order to line up the photos with the text (more or less) I often have to choose just one to put in the body of the blog, even though there are several more great pics for each topic mentioned...so I shuffle the extras down to the end.
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