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Published: August 14th 2010
Before heading to Pusir for the last day we stopped at an open air market in Ibarra. A few of the people went to get office supplies while Dwayne, Danny, Fernando, Paul and I went for some electrical fixtures. This stop was unlike previous stops because we had the chance to all pile out of the bus and explore for about 45 minutes. Dwayne needed some film for his camera so Fernando took us over to a nearby electronics shop. I managed to catch my first glance of the news in almost a week and I saw images of Russians running around with gas masks on and bombs falling from planes. I just figured we were missing the apocalypse but didn't really care because I was too preoccupied with being in Ecuador.
Once we got the film we headed back across the plaza and into the main market. This was the type of place I had heard stories about. There were hundreds of sellers spread out over several city blocks. They were selling everything from cheap tourist items to bootleg DVD's to soccer balls to live chickens!!! We even saw a seller who had bundles of crabs for sale....and the
crabs seemed to still be alive even though they were sitting on top of a table with no water. I'm still not sure how that works. Other folks in the group said they had seen cow tongues, chicken feet, and several other unique delicacies on their explorations of the market.
We finally got to Pusir around 11:30 and began unloading suitcases full of shoes and medicines. Once these were put in the school house a few us decided to walk all the way through the village to the base of the mountain. There was a young guy from a nearby town, Juncal, who went with us. His name was Diego and he was about 17 years old. He was studying English at a local university but also spoke Spanish and French, so he was acting as a translator for us that day. I was later told that he had learned English by reading novels. We walked through the village and I saw more adults and teenagers on this one walk than I had seen all week. Some were relaxing outside their homes while others were doing laundry or caring for animals.
We got to the base of the
This was the son of Christina, a teacher who lived in Ibarra but worked in Pusir. She and him would catch rides to and from Pusir each day.
mountain and I noticed how the irrigation system worked. The mountain water is funneled into an irrigation ditch that has four gates on it. Each gate can be opened or closed in order to direct the water to specific parts of the village. My guess is that as the water moves from the mountain towards the village there are additional such set ups that will direct the water for directly to each home.
As we were walking back through the village an old woman was waving at us. Diego said she wanted us to come in. The house was a bit different that the others in the village. It was newer looking and made out of gray cinder blocks. The blocks were not held together by the mud and dirt but rather cement and plaster. Inside there were bags of cement mix and paster around the home. It looked like they were busy plastering and painting.
When we entered we were greeted by an older man and a younger woman. Diego told us the old womans name was Sieta, the man was Nelson Congo and the younger woman was either their daughter or sister. Nelson had a very
calm and simple look to his eyes and face. He was extremely inviting and was one of those people who have a perpetual smile on thier mouth. Nelson could trace his lineage back to the Congo in Africa, hence the last name. Almost immediately Sieta offered us empinadas. It looked as though she had prepared them when she saw us walk past on our way to the mountain because they were still hot.
After a few minutes we finally began asking her if she knew who we were and what we were doing in the village. This had been a mystery to me because until this day we had rarely seen any adults nor had we been greeted by village elders. She said she knew who we were and what we were doing. When asked what she thought needed done in the village she immediately mentioned the bridge. She spoke about it as though it were a human being. She said the bridge was unhealthy (dangerous) and that we would not just leave a sick person to die and wither away so why should they let the bridge just die. Apparently the upkeep of the bridge was the responsibility
of all the surrounding villages but nobody was stepping up to do anything about it. She also mentioned the need for more toothbrushes, which were waiting at the schoolhouse as we spoke. We left after about 25 minutes but promised to stop by and see here when we come back.
When we got back to the school yard we found Brenda sitting in a circle with her kids and the kids of Pusir playing duck, duck, goose. The game was quickly spreading beyond the allowed area as the Pusirians would chase each other all over the place before tagging them.
Later that day Dwayne, Jeff, Diego, and myself took a walk to the bridge. I wanted to get some pictures in case we could find an engineer in the states who may be able to help in fixing it. Diego said that before the bridge had been built several years earlier people were crossing the river to get to the market and to school. He said quite a few people died each year making the trek. He also said the people in the Chota Valley are wary that the bridge will make it easier for drugs and violence
Stocking up for the day
We stopped here each day prior to leaving for Pusir.
to enter the valley. He said violence was limited to fist fights to resolve disputes, not guns, and people wanted to keep it that way. However, apparently the Colombian drug trade is a real presence in the area because Diego, and the Chota Valley, are well aware of the violence it brings.
Diego seemed to know a lot about the people, economy, and region. He said that a peace corp volunteer had stayed in Juncal several years earlier and this was how he first found out about the importance of boiling water. He said prior to that he had suffered from gastritus but was perfectly fine now. He said all of his brothers know about boiling water but prefer the taste of non-boiled water. This is the same problem in Pusir. The kids like the taste of the contaminated water over purified water so it is diificult to get them to drink clean water regularly.
Diego also told me that the people rely on selling their crops in Ibarra. There is no middle man, which is good because it reduces the instances and opportunities for exploitation. He said if they have an exceptionally good year they will sell
These were the walls that were built during our stay
to whoever pays them the most. Again, this is good because it ensures competition for their goods. The problem is that when they make a significant profit they tend to spend a lot of the profit on alcohol and not reinvest in the community.
When we got back to the village it was time to hand out shoes. I was told that if this was your first time in Pusir you were tasked with helping with the shoes. As soon as word got out that there were new shoes, 3 dozen women showed up carrying babies and all of the kids began lining up. The actual distribution was chaos. I did not participate personally but Dwayne did and he said that people were pushing their way into the room where the shoes were, regardless of Alberto's attempts to make it as orderly as possible. The shoe distribution took about an hour and not everyone received shoes but Danny said they would try and get shoes to them the next trip.
The day ended with dancing. We all reconvened in the schoolyard and some of the teenage girls did a dance routine to a CD that was playing what
View of Pusir from the trail to the mountain base
sounded like a mix of Spanish and African music. They eventually began pulling us up with them and some of the dancing was pretty provocative. Apparently they had not heard that white people can't dance but they did their best not to laugh....at first. By the time I got up there they were pointing at my feet and laughing. Several of the elder men were in attendance as well as most of the younger children. When the dancing was finished we were thanked for being there. Danny got up and said he wanted to thank them for letting us into their community.
It took about another half hour to get everything packed onto the bus and say goodbye. The kids kept asking me for my gloves, or my hat, or to have their picture taken. the kids liked having their pictures taken. As soon as the picture was snapped they would run around behind me to look at it. I had to adjust my exposure so I learned to say quickly "Una momento" (one minute / just a second / wait) or "una mas" (one more) so they would stay posed.
We drove Diego back to Juncal and
This is how water is directed to the village. This seemed to be one of the main water reservoirs near the base of the mountain. Is is also apparently used for washing clothes.
before he got off the bus he also thanked us and said "Ciao" before heading off. I am hoping to see that guy again. I plan on bringing him a stack of books next time.
That night I finally got to sit down and talk with Fernando one on one. I wanted to pick his brain about Ecuador, Pusir, and his views on the history and politics of the country. We met up in the courtyard of the hacienda and once again he was passing out shots of Norteno. We talked about hat he envisioned for Pusir and how to accomplish some of his goals. Throughout our conversation I was able to get a better idea of the history of Pusir and how the people had arrived there. When we were finished I had discovered that the development goals that he and Danny had were very achievable. They would like to build a hacienda near Pusir in order to diversify the economy and allow the people to learn skills such as how to run a business and carpentry. The idea is to build the hacienda using local human capital and goods from the Chota Valley. Fernando said that there
were no political obstacles because he knew the main players at the local and provincial level. It was more a matter of raising the funds, which he estimated around $150,000 - $200, 000. Danny flet it was probably closer to $2,000,000. Either way it will be relatively cheaply to develop a tourist industry in the Chota Valley.
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