The Chota Valley

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August 5th 2010
Published: August 13th 2010
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Before leaving Ibarra for the Chota Valley we made several stops for supplies. This gave me a better sense of the urban layout of Ibarra and of the residents. Like all other places in Ecuador I had seen, Ibarra is a city in constant motion. Cars are bumper to bumper, people are everywhere either waiting for buses or walking quickly along the sidewalks. Even on the drive from Quito to Ibarra one rarely gets a sense they are in the countryside due to the numerous little communities and clusters of old apartments and homes that are scattered along the Pan Am Highway. We stopped for water and a few supplies that would be used in the Chota Valley that first day. We finally got on the road around 10:00 and arrived in the Chota Valley around 11:30.

We were driving to a small village named Pusir Grande. Danny pointed out the village to me from the bus window when we were on the Pan Am Highway but said we had to get off the highway and circle around to get to the actual village. From the highway you can see several villages in the valley and Pusir is located in

This is near where we stopped before moving on to the Chota Valley to pick up supplies
the middle, just over a river. From the Pan Am highway we got off on a dirt road that zig zagged up and then down the mountain side. This was the type of road that is notorious in Latin America. While not as harrowing as some of the roads in Brazil and Peru, we still drove along some pretty steep drop offs. When I looked out the window in several spots I was looking straight down about 100 to 200 feet into a sheer drop off. Again, Paul had done this many times and was still alive so I could relax....a little long as I didn't stare into the valley too long.

The Chota Valley is primarily made up of Afro-Ecuadorians, descendants of slaves from Southeast Africa who had been brought over by the Spanish in the 1500's. Once the Spanish arrived they became more focused on fighting and dominating the indigenous people and basically left the African slaves to their own devices. The slaves thought they were back in Africa due to the similarities of the physical environment. Therefore, they began to grow the same crops and practice the same agricultural methods they had used in Africa. Over time the Afro-Ecuadorians have migrated from the coastal areas of Ecuador into the interior and are concentrated throughout northern and north eastern Ecuador today. They make up approximately 6% of the national population and, from what I can tell, only have one elected representative in the national legislature who is from the province of Esmeraldas. Descendants of African slaves can be found through south and Latin America today for the same reasons as noted above.

Pusir is a small village of about 750 - 850 residents, most of whom seem to be children. The main issues in Pusir are a lack of clean drinking water, inconsistent and insufficient health services, and general physical underdevelopment of the community. The irrigation ditches collect water at the top of the village and funnel it through the village into the fields at the bottom of the village. the problem is that this water sources is used for everything from laundry to drinking but animal waste and dirt also makes its way into the water. By the time ti gets to the village you see children drinking straight out of the ditch, seemingly oblivious to the bacteria that is in the water. The
The Chota ValleyThe Chota ValleyThe Chota Valley

here you can see a part of the river that runs near the village of Pusir
point is that the water is relatively fresh when it comes from teh mountain but by the time it gets to the village it has collected a lot of bacteria.

The buildings in the village are often in need of significant work. The majority have tin roofs that I saw could blow off when a gust of wind would come through. They are primarily cinder block buildings with no running water inside. I assume they had electricity because several of the teenagers and adults in the village had cell phones and cell phones have to be charged somehow.

As the bus pulled into Pusir we were greeted by a woman named Oberlisa. I believe she was a schoolteacher because it was pretty obvious that the kids listened when she spoke. Whenever she would pass by she was always smiling. When we arrived we dropped off Brenda and Donna at the little medical clinic at the entrance of the village so they could begin a rigorous 4 days of conducting checkups and administering prescriptions when needed. The rest of us drove on into the village to the schoolhouse, which was used as a base of operations while we were

This is standing near the entrance to Pusir Grande in teh Chota Valley. The entire village is surrounded by the Andes Mountains
in the village.

As we unloaded the bus and settled into the schoolhouse children seemed to come out of everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The majority of them seemed to be between 3 and 12 years old. As the day went on we saw more teenagers but the day was defined by small people. It was their school break / summer vacation which explains why they all seemed to be milling around all day doing nothing. In fact, by about 1:00 that first day I was describing Pusir as a cross between "Children of the Corn" and "Lord of the Flies" because I had only seen two adults at the school and very few throughout the village.

The night prior to our arrival in Pusir Danny had said that even though we were their to get things done we should not hesitate to drop whatever we were doing and go play with the kids when the opportunity arose. That was some of the best advice we could of heard given the personalities of the children.

I followed Danny, his kids Hannah, Kaylan, and Sam, husband and wife Carol and Earl to the shop / shed
Church in PusirChurch in PusirChurch in Pusir

The people of Pusir have a church that was painted a few years ago by Danny and a small group from Weatherford, Texas. The paint is already beginning to peel due to the harsh climate and fierce winds that blow through the valley during the rainy season.
soon after arrival. The plan was to clean up the shop so a shop teacher can be hired and begin to teach basic construction skills to the adults in Pusir. We began by moving out all of the junk metal and rebar before clearing out the back of the shop. As we worked more and more children began to congregate around the door and watch us. They began to play around outside around all of the discarded rusted metal and glass, something that would make any American parent cringe for their safety. Again, I told myself they had played like this their entire lives and were still around, so I tried my best not to think of potential consequences.

Eventually a few of the boys came up to me and wanted to help take out the glass from the windows. I had been pulling on the broken glass with my gloved hands and if it wouldn't come out then I would tap it and break it with a hammer. One of the boys wanted to try so i handed him a hammer, he climbed up on a table and the glass started flying. he was not chipping at the glass, he was smashing it. I stepped back and let him go to town. Another boy picked up a hammer and began smashing the glass into even smaller pieces once it was out. The only thing I did was to move a large bag of glass we had filled up but other than that I just figured this could be a learning experience for the first time carpenters.

The shed work that first day took about 3 hours before we all became distracted with the kids. I had headed to the school house to get some water and saw a bunch of kids looking at me so I decided to meet them. I did my best to ask them their names (Como se Llama?) and they did their best to tell me (Nadier, Mile). Apparently my name is pronounced Esterling due to the intricancies of the Spanish language.

After lunch Dwayne and I walked to a bridge that had been built a few years earlier with a partnership between the USAID and a local group. We were on the bridge taking pictures when tow older men walked by. They were trying to tell us something in Spanish but neither of us understood. We thought they were telling us to watch out because motorcycles would use the bridge to get to the village and it wasn't a good idea to hang around out for long. So we snapped a few more pictures and headed back to the village.

When we got back playtime was in full swing. Some of the folks from our group were playing either basketball or soccer with the kids. I saw a group of kids playing with some chalk and decided to see what they were doing. I began to ask them to write (escribo) their names on teh pavement so I could begin to learn them. About 12 of the kids did it and then I wrote mine. One of the kids began drawing the Nike logo, so I was glad our western consumerism had reached the Chota Valley....good job ad people at Nike. I decided to teach them Tic Tac Toe since we had the chalk. The group huddled around and within one or two round had picked up the gist of the game. however, as is inevitable in Tic Tac Toe, we had a round that was a draw and it didn't seem to make sense to the kids. So, that pretty much killed their interest after that round.

As we were milling around trying to talk with one another a truck could be hard coming down the road. The kids perked up and looked towards the road. As the engine got closer the kids bolted out of the schoolyard and into the road. The truck was loaded with sugar cane stalks and slowed as it came past teh school. The kids would run behind it and pull out stalks of cane and return to their previous activities. They would peel the cane with their teeth and then bite off chunks of the sugar inside. They would chew it until it was dry and then spit it out before biting off another piece.

The day ended with a game of basketball between the Gringos and the Ecuadorians. I am proud to say we won 34-44. We didn't fare so well the next day in futball / soccer.

My first impression of Pusir was that the kids live dangerously. From playing with rusted metal , to breaking up glass, to knocking each other around on the playground, they are tough. American kids cry when they scrape a knee, Pusirians get up and laugh about it.

Additional photos below
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As soon as we arrived there were lines at the clinic where Danny's wife Brenda was administering check-ups and medical assistance.

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