Sunday, July 31, 2011

Our First Quinceañera in Guatemala

Vanesa at her quinceanera party
Our dear friends Humberto and Paulina in Guatemala have five daughters and a son. Their eldest daughter, Vanesa, turned 15 last Sunday. In Latin American cultures, a girl's 15th birthday (or quinceañera, in Spanish) is her coming of age. We knew that we wanted to be there to help celebrate. Because of the timing of her birthday, we weren't able to take advantage of our 4th of July Independence Day holiday, as we usually do. But we were still able to take a 5 day trip, which meant that we would also be there to celebrate Yoselin's 9th birthday on Saturday.
Yasmin, Paulina, Eddy, and Yoselin
Our flight to Miami was scheduled to take off at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday. This meant that we had to wake up at 1:30 a.m. and get ourselves to the airport. It was a rough wake-up, but it meant that we would arrive in Guatemala City at 10:30 a.m., which is about 4 hours earlier than usual. This would mean that we would be able to make the most of our first day there.

We arrived in Guatemala City on time, and were picked up by Humberto's colleague Benjamin. Benjamin drove us to Panajachel, and we arrived at around 1:30 p.m. We like to visit as often as we can, but a year had elapsed since our last visit. It was amazing how much everyone had grown and changed in the past year!
Steph, Craig, and Aracely
Loren and Craig
All of the girls looked beautiful. Vanesa was now slightly taller than her mother Paulina, and her hair was a bit shorter than usual. Paola was taller, and had lightened her top layer of hair. Yasmin and Yoselin were looking almost like twins, both having grown taller. Yoselin had gotten her hair cut. Yoselin made sure that we realized that Saturday was her birthday. Our goddaughter Aracely was still petite and adorable. She had just finished a full year of kindergarten at the English Language Atitlan Multicultural Academy. Our godson Eddy, the youngest at 2 1/2 years, looked like a little man. His hair was now cut short, and he neither looked nor acted like a baby. He could now pronounce both of our names. Although he was a little stand-offish and shy at first, he soon got comfortable and climbed on us as much as the others did.
Family Dinner
Cousins Josue, Neli, Loren, and Yesmy were around at various times. Josue, once a silent, shy boy who wouldn't sit on our laps, was now talkative, outgoing, and asked us (by name) for piggy-back rides. Neli was much taller and more mature. Loren and Yesmy were as sweet as ever.

Humberto had hired 3 workers to finish the construction on the guest rooms. The four downstairs rooms, each with an en-suite bathroom, were completed. They were now working on the four upstairs rooms.We thought back to our first visit four years ago, when we slept in their dining room and the guest rooms were just in the planning stages. It has been a very productive few years! Humberto has been very successful growing his home and his business, and we are very proud of him.

Paulina and Humberto recently decided to start hosting students from the Jardin de America Spanish School. Students taking a week of Spanish lessons can opt to spend their week doing a homestay with local families. The students eat their meals with the families and learn about local customs and lifestyles. Their first student, Mario, had arrived two days before. He is a French Canadian doctor from Montreal, currently traveling around Latin America while on a 6 month sabbatical. It was a pleasure to meet Mario, and it was obvious that he had already made a connection with the kids. He was great with them, and they enjoyed playing with him and helping him with  his Spanish.
Josue and Mario
On Friday the older girls needed to go to school. Aracely's school is on the US school calendar, so she is currently on summer vacation. We went with Paulina, Aracely, and Eddy to the market. When we ran into some of Aracely's young cousins on the street, Aracely wanted us to pick her up, to show off that we were her godparents. We bought some meat, fruits, and vegetables at the market and then took a tuk-tuk back home. We had brought some toys and games for the kids and we enjoyed playing with them. Aracely can now write her name and has the fine motor skills to draw more complex pictures. She can count past 20 in English and uses various English words in context. She can follow directions when playing games and take turns. She has really learned a lot in her first year of school and we are very proud of her.

Steph and Craig with godchildren Eddy and Aracely
Saturday was Yoselin's 9th birthday, and she was very excited. She and Aracely came into our room first thing in the morning, and we presented her with a card and a couple of small gifts. Aracely was almost as excited as Yoselin. Yoselin was gracious and let Aracely open some of the items. We noticed on this trip that she has become very generous, and always shares what she has with others. Mario had given her a pink teddy bear, and Paulina took Yoselin and Vanesa to the market to buy them each a new outfit. We held down the fort while Paulina was gone. The weather was unseasonably warm (no afternoon showers to cool things down) and Yasmin and Aracely had a water fight.

Craig, Yoselin, Yasmin, and Eddy watch videos on the netbook
Sunday was Vanesa's 15th birthday, and the day of the big party for both birthday girls. We gave Vanesa a crystal necklace and matching earrings. Then Humberto took some of the kids shopping for party supplies. They decorated the hallway between the guest rooms with streamers and balloons, and set up tables and chairs. We went to the 6:30 pm Mass, and the Mass was offered for Vanesa and Yoselin's birthdays, which were announced at the beginning of the service. After church, we returned to the house where both Humberto and Paulina's families had gathered. Humberto gave a nice toast to his daughters and then proceeded in English to introduce us to everyone present. It was really fun for us to see all of the kids whom we have met over the years. We recognized so many of them...little Isidro, whom we had met when he was 15 days old and is now a stocky toddler, Allison Margarita who is no longer and infant and walks around, Nidia who is dressed as usual in a beautiful traditional outfit, sisters Laisa, Yesmy, and Loren, Pamela and Odilia, Julisse, Alex, Neli, Josue, Luis, Junior, Adrik, and Mario. Paulina's sisters Estela, Olga, and Isabela were there, as well as Humberto's sister Juana and their brothers. Paulina's brother Carlos was there with his wife Vilma (we had attended their wedding several years ago). We met Vilma's daughter Erica. Humberto's mother was there, and Paulina's father was missed (he passed away earlier this year). We felt totally accepted by the family and we felt like we knew everyone. Panajachel is our second home. We met some new people as well, including incredibly outgoing 3-year-old cutie Briseda who came right up to us, extended her right hand, and said in Spanish, "I'm Briseda, who are you?" and another adorable little girl named Fatima.
Birthday girl Vanesa with Eddy
Humberto and birthday girl Yoselin

Paulina and Vanesa
The women served dinner, which was chicken and rice in a mushroom cream sauce, served with beets and tortillas. It was delicious. After everyone had finished eating, the it was time for the piñatas. Yoselin's was shaped like a white kitten wearing a pink dress (vaguely reminiscent of Hello Kitty), and Vanesa's was a more traditional 7-pointed star piñata. They didn't blindfold the girls but they spun them one time for each year and then let them loose on the piñatas, first Yoselin's and then Vanesa's. Children scurried along the ground, picking up hard candies and lollipops. Yasmin, Yoselin, and Aracely gave us each some of their candy, which was very sweet of them. When Vanesa's piñata had broken open, they tore off the points of the stars and wore them as hats.
Humberto's family
Yoselin swings for the piñata
The spoils of the piñatas

Next it was time for cake. Each cake had fruit slices on top and the girls' names were written in frosting. They put nine candles on Yoselin's, and put a candle shaped like the number 15 on Vanesa's. Both cakes were lit and the crowd started off by singing Happy Birthday to Yoselin (in English, surprisingly). They followed that up with "Queremos pastel" (we want cake) sung to the same tune. Then they counted to 9 in Spanish and Yoselin blew out her candles. Caught up in the moment, Eddy blew out Vanesa's candles, and everyone laughed. They re-lit the candles and sang to Vanesa, after which she blew them out. Then the girls had to take a bite out of their intact cakes using no hands. Yoselin dove right in and came up with a moustache of frosting. Vanesa tried to be dainty and just licked a bit of frosting, but the crowd was not satisfied. She bent forward to take a bite and her cousin Alex pushed her face down into the cake. The crowd approved, and she stood up with frosting on the tip of her nose. But they weren't completely satisfied until she bent down a third time and took a full mouthful of cake. The cakes were then  sliced up and distributed to the guests.
Family members enjoy the party
After everyone had enjoyed the cake, some of the tables and chairs were moved to make a dancefloor. Humberto had setup his computer outside and some of the young men acted as dj's. Mario had been about to head to bed, but couldn't pass up an invitation to dance. Kids and adults, men and women, all danced and had a great time. Craig honed his new-found dancing skills (from our recent trip to Ecuador) and danced with the women and kids. People popped balloons and lit firecrackers. It was a lot of fun for everyone.

Steph participates in folkloric dancing
Eddy was whining a bit and was staggering around very tired. I picked him up and danced with him and he fell asleep on my shoulder. I brought him into our room and put him to sleep. At the end of the night one of the men taught me a traditional Mayan folkloric dance. The party broke up at around 1 o'clock in the morning. The next day was a school day, after all!
Eddy and Loren
On Monday morning, we went for a walk with Paulina, Humberto, Eddy, and Aracely. We went to see Aracely's school. Unfortunately, it was not open, so we were unable to go inside. We stopped in to visit Olga and Estela, and brought Isidro and Loren with us to visit Mario at Jardin de America Spanish School. It was a lovely school which offers one-on-one private instruction. We may decide to take classes there sometime when we are visiting. Then we went to Sarita and got some ice cream. We dropped Isidro at Olga's house and then went back to our house for lunch.

After lunch Humberto and Paulina wanted to take us to see his mother's farmland in the nearby village of San Gabriel. It was difficult to get there because there had been a mudslide on the back road out of Panajachel. Humberto, Paulina, Yasmin, Aracely, Humberto's mother (called Abeula), Craig, and myself piled into the back of a pickup truck, which took us to the landslide. All of a sudden the road in front of us ceased to exist, it had been swallowed by the mountainside. We crossed a temporary steel cable bridge which had been erected. It had wooden floorboards that had holes in some places, so you had to watch your step. And the whole thing swayed back and forth as people crossed. On the other side of the bridge, cars were waiting. We got into a van that brought us part of the way there, and then we took a chicken bus the remainder of the way. We walked through the cornfield, and Humberto explained that they harvest the corn on a single day in November, and it yields about 500 pounds of corn which his mother will use to feed herself and her chickens over the course of a year. They also have coffee plants there. They sell the coffee beans rather than processing them themselves. There was a small shed on the property and Humberto said that is where they seek shelter when it rains and they are working in the fields. When he was young, he and his father and brother would spend the night there sometimes. It was interesting to get an insight into this part of their lives. Though they live in a small city and most of their activities are urban, there is still a rural component to their lives which is integral to their being. Humberto finds solace in the fields and feels close to the spirit of his deceased father. We felt honored that he wanted to take us there and share it with us.

Bridge across the landslide on the road out of Pana
Paulina, Yasmin, and Aracely in the cornfield
Humberto in front of his father's shed in the cornfield

After walking among the cornstalks and coffee plants for a while, we took a tuk-tuk followed by a pickup truck followed by a van to get to the landslide bridge. We had to wait a few moments before crossing cue to a lot of foot traffic in the other direction. We took a pickup truck back to the market, where Paulina bought a pumpkin to make soup for dinner. We piled into a tuk-tuk, and after a brief stop to buy a cake for dessert (rumor had it that there was not enough cake for everyone at last night's party) we arrived home. We ate dinner with the whole family, including Mario, Olga, Yesmy, Loren, and Josue.

The next morning we woke up early. The older girls stopped into our room to say goodbye before heading to school. We ate breakfast with Mario, Aracely, Eddy, and Vanesa. Our van arrived just before 8:30, and the kids, Humberto, and Paulina walked us down the alley to the street. We said our goodbyes, and said that we look forward to the next quinceañera (Paola in January of  2014) but that we would visit long before that. After hugs and kisses, we started our long journey to Guatemala City, Miami, and finally Boston, touching down at 12:15 a.m.

As usual, it was a wonderful visit, and we can't wait to return.

Eddy, Vanesa, Paulina, Humberto, Aracely, and Josue

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Catching Up a Little

As we prepare to travel to Guatemala in a couple of weeks, we're just now getting around to putting our journals and pictures from last summer's trip on our main web site. We visited Humberto and the family and brought our friend Mukul (from India) with us. We did some tourist activities in the Lake Atitlan area to show Mukul around, and we also spent a lot of quality time with the family.

Speaking of India, less than  half of our trip in October of 2009 is online so far. We did so many things and visited so many places that it is requiring a lot of background research. We're still working on it as time allows.

We've really begun to rely on this blog as a venue for timely updates on our travels, whereas the Craig and Steph's Vacations main site is more for exhaustive archival purposes (and it has a significant lag time).

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Inti Raymi / San Juan in Cotacachi, Ecuador

Iglesia la Matriz, Cotacachi
The winding down of Sisa's baptism party led right into the ramp-up for Inti Raymi. In the Otavalo area, Inti Raymi (the solstice festival and celebration of the corn harvest which harkens back to Inca times) has become intertwined with the saints' feast days of St John the Baptist (San Juan) St Peter (San Pedro) and St Paul (San Pablo) which were introduced by Spanish missionaries. Today the terms Inti Raymi and San Juan are used interchangeably. Lately, indegenous groups think that a festival called Inti Raymi has more appeal to tourists than a saint's feast day does, and so that term has come into vogue since the1990's.

We were not quite sure what to expect, though we had done some preliminary reading in Michelle Wibbelsman's Ritual Encounters: Otavalan Modern and Mythic Community and Lynn A. Meisch's Andean Entrepreneurs: Otavalo Merchants & Musicians in the Global Arena. Both books describe the San Juan dances of June 24 and 25 as attempts to "take the square" in Cotacachi. Groups of costumed young men from neighboring villages storm the Cotacachi town square (La Plaza de la Matriz) and dance/march to hypnotic music. The symbolic taking of the square represents an upheaval of the social order, so that traditionally and
historically marginalized Kichwa natives temporarily dominate the mestizo / white majority population.

On Thursday, June 23, we went to our first Inti Raymi / San Juan activity. Antonio announced that this was the day when the children perform the San Juan dances. He said that we were about to see a small-scale representation of what we could expect to see during the following twi days, when the grown men would dance.

Children dance for San Juan in Cotacachi
We sat on the church steps in front Iglesia la Matriz, overlooking the plaza. Vendors sold inflatable toys, ice cream,  cotton candy, lollipops, and granizadas. Schoolchildren were walking counterclockwise around the plaza with teachers and chaperones. Many little boys were wearing white shirts, goat leggings, and exagerrated black cardboard hats. Girls were dressed in traditional Kichwa female attire: embroidered blouses with dark wool skirts. When thr groups of children arrivaed at a corner of the square, they would start to dance
in a spiral motion. Some people played harmonicas, others had mouth organs. The songs had a cadence to them, and the children marched in one direction until someone called for them to reverse direction. Adults punctuated the dance with shrill whistles.

After watching several groups go by, we walked down the church steps and walked across the plaza to the municipal building. Here were stood on the sidelines of the dance and kids marched past us. It was a little too intimidating for Sisa (she's afraid of people wearing goat leggings) so we veered off down a side street and took a little break.

When we came back, the dance parade around the plaza was winding down, and family and friends were picnicing on the green. Antonio bought us some chocho from a vendor. Chocho was lupin seeds with salt and lemon served with roasted corn kernels. It was good, and the rest of the family got some served with ceviche. I bought an ice cream cone dipped in cherry for 25 cents. The family ran into some friends, and wound up eating some corn and potatoes with them. We ran into a student whom we had met on the bus several days before. We buy some sugar-coated donut holes from a vendor and then take the bus back home.

That night, we are woken up at 11:35 p.m. by whooping, whistling, and stomping. We look out the window and see a large number of men in San Juan hats dancing in a circle on the patio. After a while the noise syubsides and they move on to another house.  Antonio tells us in the morning that the dancers stopped by on their way perform ritual bathing in the river at the bottom of their ravine.
Morochos San Juan dancers arrive at the house

Morochos San Juan dancers arrive at the house

Watch footage of Morochos San Juan dancers on the patio
The next day, Friday June 24, was the Feast day of San Juan Bautista. Shortly after breakfast, Antonio mentioned that he had to get the chicha ready because the San Juan dancers would be stopping in on their way to Cotatachi. Rosa also threw a large pot of mote on the fire. We could hear the dancers as they approached. They marched down the driveway sand into the yard. Some wore goat leggings. Some wore oversized bkack cardboard San Juan hats. Some carried whips. Some were wearing camouflage. Some had masks or bandanas over their faces, looking like outlaws.  They played flutes, harmonicas, mouth organs, or blew on conch shells. The men danced in circles on the patio, drank warm chicha and boxes of wine, and ate Rosa's mote. Antonio joined them with his flute. They poured drinks for Craig and myself. One of the men asked Craig if he would join them dancing in Cotacachi. Antonio told us he'd see us in the afternoon, and he marched off with the dancers toward Cotacachi. This is known as la largada de los sanjuanes (departure of the San Juan dancers).

A couple of hours later, Rosa, Aida, Sisa, Yupanki, Craig, and I took a pickup truck to Cotacachi. We walked toward the square to see if Antonio and the Morochos men were dancing. When we didn't find them, Aida went to a phone booth to call Antonio. He told her the location where they were eating lunch, and we walked several blocks to it. It was chilly and sprinkling. Aida gave Antonio some lunch she had packed. It started raining harder, and the dancers in their goat leggings and exagerrated hats, along with their wives and families who came for support, packed underneath a sheltered area. Eventually the rain died down again, and it was time for the Morochos dancers to go to the square. In lockstep the dancers thundered forward, whistling, with Antonio playing a sanjuanito tune on his flute.

San Juan dancers descend on Cotacachi
Watch footage of Morochos San Juan dancers storming La Plaza de la Matriz
The square was packed full of spectators today. Police in full riot gear (shields, helmets, and gas masks) stood at the ready. As the group arrived at a corner of the plaza, the musicians congregated in the center of the group of men and the dancers revolved around them, changing direction every few minutes. The sanjuanito song is in 2/4 time, which makes it easy for the dancers to stomp to the beat. Their footfalls add percussion to the
music and perform the ritual function of waking up the earth. Fueled by music and alcohol, the men slip into a trance-like state as they concentrate on the dance.

Swirling mobs of dancers converge on each corner of the square. Each group is surrounded by an entourage of wives and family, who supply their men with food, drink, and support during the dance.

After a while the groups shift and march down the straightaway to the next corner. There is tension between groups for dominance. It feels as though conflict might arise if the groups are allowed too close to one another. The women and kids follow the men around the plaza and act as a buffer between rival groups. Sisa is right down next to the action but is not frightened by the dancers or their goat leggings. She holds hands with her friend Natalie and dances along from the sidelines, caught up in the festival atmosphere..

The Morochos men invite Craig to dance with them. He is absorbed into the mass of bodies, and stomps his way into a  state where he is functioning as part of a collective being. Some of the stronger men act as motivators for the group, encouraging the weaker more tired participants. They also set the pace and decide when to change directions.  They also try to act as a buffer between their dancers and the police, to try to avoid any confrontations. It is a high-energy activity and the men bond with one another.


Craig dances with the Morochos men
The symbolic nature of the taking of the square seems obvious. It is a reversal of social order, where the traditionally marginalized Kichwa people take their destiny into their own hands and rise above the mestizos. We don't see a whole lot of mestizos our tourists in the crowd. It is a day for the Kichwa.

After about an hour and a half of dancing, the police put an end to it for the day. Antonio told Craig that he could do it all over again tomorrow. We take a bus from Cotacachi to Quiroga, and then another bus from Quiroga to Morochos. When we get home, Sisa, clearly inspired by the day's events, sets up Aida, Craig, and myself to dance with her around the kitchen.

The next day, Saturday June 25, the San Juan dancers once again descended on our house, a little bit earlier in the morning. They asked Craig to join them in a dance on our patio. I took some video footage while they all danced in a circle on the patio. After the dancing, Antonio gave Craig a pitcher of wine to offer to the other dancers. Several people congratulated Craig on his performance yesterday, and asked if he would join in the festivities today as well. He said that he would dance once we all got to Cotacachi.

Antonio and the dancers took off marching down the dirt road. We got the rest of our things together and started walking down the street ourselves, looking for a pickup truck to take us to Cotacachi. We caught up with the Morochos dancers, who had stopped for drinks at a neighboring house.

We got into the back of a pickup truck which slowly followed the parade of dancers toward Quiroga. The truck then turned, taking a slightly different route to Quiroga, so we would beat the dancers there. When the dancers thundered into town, we joined a group of wives and other onlookers who fell into step behind the dancers.

We marched all the way from Quiroga to Cotacachi together as it started to rain. We truly felt like we were storming the city. As soon as the dancers arrived in the square, they started to dance. We followed the dancers around the square and Antonio motioned for Craig to join in dancing with them. Once again they rhythmically danced in circular patterns on the street corners of the square. They would then march down the straightaways and supplant the prior group at the next corner.

Craig dances with the Morochos men
Craig and Antonio dance with the Morochos men
After about an hour or so the groups of dancers left the main square and started to dissipate down side streets. Antonio led us into a little hole in the wall restaurant in a non-descript building for lunch. He ordered us bowls of pork soup and chicken drumsticks. The restaurant was running out of food so the family dug into some leftivers they had brought from home. Craig and Antonio shared two bottles of Pilsener beer.

We didn't realize it, but there was another whole round of dancing after lunch. With a stomach heavy with lunch and beer, Craig decided to sit out for a while. When he accidentally got separated from Rosa, Aida, the kids, and myself, he joined back in the dancing to stay with Antonio and the rest of the Morochos men.

Aida, Rosa, the kids and I sat on the church steps watching the festivities. In a far corner of the plaza we saw what looked like a small skirmish between the police and a group of dancers. We saw some smoke which I assumed was tear gas. The whole plaza seemed to gasp for breath at once, and there was an eerie silence. People sought higher ground by climbing up the church steps. You got the vague idea that you could be trampled if this escalated. Groups of dancers were disbanding. We didn't know where Craig and Antonio were. Aida ran into the crowd to find them, and eventually returned to the church steps with them. Antonio had told Craig that there were fights erupting between upper villagers and lower villagers, and had ushered him away from the danger.
Craig dances with the Morochos men
Ritual violence is no stranger to Inti Raymi / San Juan festivities as Michelle Wibbelsman writes in Ritual Encounters:

Inti Raymi fights are considered an opportunity for leveling accounts and resolving conflict accumulated throughout the year...[Some believe in a] correlation between the loss of the San Juan tradition and rising day-to-day conflict in their communities.

We walked down a side street and had a view back at the square. We could see a line of police clashing swith dancers, and smoke filled the air. People climbed up to the balconies of a building which was under construction to try to get a bird's-eye-view of the conflict in the distance. It seemed like we were probably walking home from here, but a pickup truck passed us and people in it were yelling "Morochos!" Aida, Rosa, the kids, Craig, and I all piled into the short bed (I counted 21 of us) and made a very cramped ride back to Morochos.

During dinner, a truck with a loudspeaker drove through town. It made an announcement and Aida and Rosa stopped eating to listen carefully. They explained that the announcement said that a fight took place in Quiroga, and many of the Morochos men were involved. They worried about Antonio's safety and Rosa immediately left the house for Quiroga. We helped Aida clean up after dinner and went to bed not knowing how Antonio was. The next morning we learned that he had been hit above his right eye with a rock, and had required
stitches. His eye was purple and swollen shut. Aida gathered a medicinal plant from the garden and made him a preparation to put on his eye, which brought the swelling down quite a bit.

We felt badly that the festivities had ended this way for Antonio, but he tried to downplay it. Aida and Rosa explained that this kind of thing happens every year. We went into Quiroga the next day to get some Ibuprofen for Antonio, and we saw some damage which had been done to property  during the previous night's riots. We saw the leader of the Morochos dancers and we told him that we would be leaving the next day. He thanked Craig for joining them in the dances and invited us back for next year's festival. We were really touched by the way the community had embraced us during Sisa's baptism and the Inti Raymi / San Juan festival.

Later in the day we went to Cotacachi to buy a cake for dessert on our last night. The place looked deserted with none of the Inti Raymi crowds. Rosa told us that there would be more dancing on Wednesday June 29 and Friday July 1. One of those days is the opportunity for women to dance. We asked Rosa if she would dance, and she laughed and said that she doesn't dance San Juan herself.

After dinner we all shared the cake we had bought in Cotacachi. The family gave us some really thoughtful gifts including wool hats and alpaca scarves, and a woven tapestry. They told us that even though we needed to leave the house at 4 am to get to the airport tomorrow, they would all be waking up early to ride with us to the airport! That was so sweet of them!

On Monday morning, June 27, the whole family accompanied us to the airport.  The trip was a great success on all fronts. We really enjoyed being able to get to know the whole family over the course of two weeks.  We liked being able to help with the preparations for Sisa's baptism and to be able to share in the unique way in which the Otavalan Kichwa people celebrate a baptism. We are lucky to be a part of their family and community, and look forward to visiting again soon.

This was also Craig's first trip since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in April. He is on medication that he needs to inject every day, so it means traveling with syringes full of medication. We had no problems flying with the medicine (my metal hair barrette attracted more attention than the needles did). The climate in Ecuador was such that we didn't have to worry about the medicine getting too hot, so that was helpful. It was fortunate for us that our first trip with the injections was a trip where we got settled in one place and were able to get into a daily routine. We will have to work up to trips which have more challenging itineraries.

Sisa and Rosa
Craig and Sisa
Antonio and Yupanki

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Our New Goddaughter in Morochos, Ecuador

On Monday night, we returned from 2 weeks in the highlands of Ecuador, where a third godchild, Kehli Sisa, was added to our family.
We met Sisa’s family last year during a cultural exploration of Ecuador. They live in Morochos, a small rural community not far from Cotacachi and Otavalo, in the Andes mountains. The family has a guest house, and takes in travelers who want to learn more about their community and lifestyle (this is all overseen by Runa Tupari Native Travel in Otavalo). We spent 5 nights with their family last year and became very close with them. They invited us back this June for their annual Inti Raymi / San Juan festival, and asked us to be godparents to Sisa. This was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Our two godchildren in Guatemala (Aracely and Eddy) have enriched our lives so much that we were happy to open our hearts to another godchild and her family.

Aida and Yupanki
Preparations for the trip had been in the works for almost a year. The family patriarch, Antonio, had never used e-mail when we visited them last year. Our extremely helpful English-speaking guide and good friend Felipe hooked him up with a Gmail account and taught him how to use it to converse with us. Of course there were immediately some cultural differences. With us working in the computer field, we need to plan our vacation time in advance, to give work proper notice of when we will be away. But in the Ecuadorian highlands, things don’t move at that pace. The family didn’t seem concerned with the details of the trip until about a month before our arrival. Despite the mismatch of planning styles, everything came together fine. We arrived on June 11 (a week before Sisa’s baptism, which would be on the 18th) and would stay on until the 27th so that we could experience Inti Raymi / San Juan,  which is a combination of Inca and Catholic traditions, celebrating the summer solstice as well as the feast of St. John the Baptist (San Juan).

Rosa and Sisa at breakfast
The entire family (Antonio and his wife Rosa, Antonio’s daughter Aida, and Aida’s children almost-3-year-old Sisa and 9-month-old baby boy Yupanki) met us in the Quito airport upon our arrival. Sisa was dressed in traditional Kichwa dress, and looked absolutely adorable. She presented us each with a bouquet of roses and, prompted by the family, gave us each a hug and kiss. Strangers at the airport were taking pictures of the greeting – she just looked so cute! We piled into a small passenger van and embarked on the 2.5 hour ride from the city to their home in Morochos. Upon our arrival (at around 11 pm) Rosa whipped up some dinner for all of us so that we could go to bed with full bellies.

Over the next few days we were able to get re-acquainted with Sisa, and we also got to know Yupanki for the first time. Sisa is a very cute child. Like many children in the Andes, she has permanently pink cheeks from the elements. She wears western clothes most of the time, but dresses traditionally for special occasions, such as festivals or going into Quito. She doesn’t look much different than she did last year, but she speaks a lot more. She chatters away in Kichwa, to herself or to anyone within earshot. She only knows select words in Spanish. In Morochos they speak primarily in Kichwa to their children until they are around 4 or 5 years old, at which time they start to instruct them in Spanish. She uses expressive interjections such as  “Ooh!” often, and giggles easily. She also has a hearty guttural belly laugh which she demonstrates at times that is quite amusing. She is a smart child and likes to deconstruct things to figure out how they work. She likes to be photographed holding her toys and when I show her the picture on my camera screen, she always holds the toys up to the camera so that they can see the picture too.

Sisa really loves her little brother Yupanki and showers/smothers him with hugs and kisses.  She can’t pronounce his name, so she calls him “Ackacki.” Yupanki is a really even-tempered baby who seldom cries, even though he is in the process of cutting his first two teeth. Aida usually lives and works from Monday-Friday in Otavalo cleaning houses, and Yupanki stays there with her. He is used to being with her all the time, so sometimes he gets nervous when she’s not in his line of sight. He has a great toothless smile  and laughs easily (especially if you tickle his neck or bare toes). He’s a good eater and enjoys riding on Aida’s back tied up in a piece of fabric known as a kepi.  He arches his back and throws his head backwards, which means that you need to keep a buffer zone behind him so he doesn't hit his head.
Steph and Yupanki
For the first week of our stay, we were busy helping the family with preparations for Sisa’s baptism. We made several shopping trips by bus to the nearby villages of Cotacachi and Otavalo to buy ourselves traditional Kichwa clothing for the ceremony, as well as to buy Sisa her baptism outfit (a traditional responsibility of the godparents). Buying clothes for ourselves was not easy. The Kichwa are a petite people, and we weren’t able to easily find clothes which fit us. We had to have shoes specially made to fit our grande gringo feet. Rosa and Antonio are very discerning shoppers. When we found an embroidered blouse that fit me, Rosa was not terribly impressed by the design. Although I thought that it was beautiful, with three dimensional blue and gold embroidered flowers, she seemed to prefer some fancier ones. When I tried them on I could not move my arms because they were so tight. We settled for function over fashion and bought the larger one.  I also purchased wool wrap skirts, a woven belt and hair tie, coral bracelets, a gold necklace, an off-white sash, and a black head-wrap. Craig bought a white collared button-down shirt, a pair of white pants (it was a bit of a quest to find the right waist size, and they still ended up being a little bit tight), a navy blue wool poncho, and a styling black felt hat. Sisa needed to dress entirely in white, so we bought her a white blouse with silver embroidery, white skirts, a white belt, white shoes, and a cute white headband with a white veil in the back.
Antonio and Craig riding the bus
We spent several days helping to clean up the house and yard for the party. Rosa and Antonio were expecting over one hundred guests.  There would be two bands playing (one would be Antonio’s traditional Andean band, Chaski Ñan, and the other would be Junior’s Band, which specialized in Latino dance music). Antonio told us that many more people in the community would attend the party if there was live music. We are of course also fans of live music, so this sounded perfect to us. Antonio constructed two stage platforms, one on either end of the property, facing one another. The women peeled about a hundred pounds of potatoes and cooked massive amounts of mote (boiled corn). Eight chickens were purchased alive, as was a pig. A huge vat of chicha (corn alcohol) was prepared. We brought a huge sack of corn to Quiroga and ground it into flour consistency. This was turned into a rather unappetizing-looking gray liquid. Then the “dulce” (a block of solid honey) was added to it, which turned it orange and gave it a more pleasant citrusy flavor, making it much more palatable.

In the days leading up to the party, there were a couple of nights where Antonio and Rosa hosted guests in their second guest house. First was a guide named Pablo, whose group of tourists were staying in another guest house within the community. Then there were German tourists Christina and Christian, and Peace Corps trainees Anna and Silvia. As the family was very busy with baptism preparations, we tried to help out explaining some cultural aspects to the guests. It was also comforting to have folks with whom to speak English, as we communicated with the family in our broken Spanish and Antonio’s broken English.

The yard was really transformed early on the day of the baptism. Speakers and amps were set up on the property, and tarps were erected over the stages and the patio in case of inclement weather. Craig and I peeled a huge pile of onions, which harkened Craig back to his days of doing food prep at a country club during his youth. The family cleaned and prepared the pig’s internal organs for consumption.  It was a really interesting process to watch; they worked as a well-oiled machine, and even toddlers were getting in on the action. Felipe and his lovely wife Maria Jose arrived at around 3 pm from Quito. It was great to catch up with Felipe and to finally get to meet Maria Jose.
Felipe and Maria Jose
Shortly after 4 pm, it was time to get dressed. Craig quickly got dressed in our room, while I was in the main house being dressed by Rosa and her niece Delia. I felt like it was my wedding day all over again as they doted on me and worked to get everything perfect. Rosa was very particular about the way I looked, and made sure that my skirts were wrapped tightly and properly, that they were the right length, etc. My gold necklace was being troublesome (it kept coming apart), so after about 10 minutes of fiddling with it, Rosa let me borrow one of hers instead.
Craig and Steph in traditional Kichwa clothing
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, Craig had emerged from our room in his outfit, and had gotten a rock star reception from some young tourism students who had arrived from Quito. They wanted to interview us for a university project that they were doing on native tourism programs in the Otavalo area. Craig chatted with them and told them that when I was dressed, we could be happy to give them an interview, as long as they could do it in English.
Sisa in her baptism outfit
When I finally emerged, fully dressed, we gave a quick interview about our impressions of tourism in the Kichwa communities, and told a bit about ourselves and our philosophy of travel. We then chatted some more with Felipe and Maria Jose. Soon Sisa emerged looking absolutely adorable in her baptism outfit. The week of preparations for the big event seemed to have taken its toll on her, as she was not her usual bubbly self. She seemed stressed and unwanting of the attention being given to her.
Sisa and Aida
Felipe and Maria Jose drove Aida, Sisa, Yupanki, Craig, and I to the church in Cotacachi. The rest of the family rode in the back of a pickup truck. We arrived at around 6pm, and the Mass was scheduled to start at 6:30. We gathered outside the church and then entered. Craig and I sat with Rosa, Antonio, Sisa, Yupanki, and Aida in the front row of the church. Uh-oh; there was nobody we could look to in front of us for cues of when to sit/stand/kneel during the Spanish Mass. D’oh!

Antonio, Sisa, Steph, and Craig outside the church in Cotacachi
Halfway through the Mass, the priest called up the baptism candidates and their families. There were a handful of children to be baptized. Sisa, who had been good in church thus far, was terrified of the priest and screamed bloody murder when he twice anointed her forehead with oil. When he called her up to the font, she clung to Aida for dear life. Craig and I were supposed to be holding her while the priest doused her in water, but this was not so easily accomplished. As the priest glared at me I wrested her from Aida and tried to hold her on her back above the font while she wrestled me and cried. Felipe was acting as our photographer and  I was amused thinking what these pictures must look like. After the trauma of the font, she calmed down a little, and didn’t actually make a sound when the priest anointed her forehead with oil for the third time. Craig and I lit our baptismal candles, and then we all went back to our seats for the remainder of the Mass.

Yupanki, Aida, Craig, Rosa, Sisa, Steph, Antonio, Antonio's mother
After the Mass we headed outside. Most of the guests got on a bus bound for Morochos, but Felipe and Maria Jose drove us, Rosa, and Sisa back. Rosa had Felipe start honking the horn several miles from the house to alert guests of our arrival. The bus was right behind us and people poured out into the dirt road. Guests who have traveled the furthest distance are specially honored at a community baptism, so we and Felipe and Maria Jose sat with the immediate family at their dining table, which had been brought onto the patio. All other guests were seated on wooden planks suspended between cinderblocks.  Guests filed in, delivering gifts to the family. Some of the gifts were toys for Sisa, others were gifts of food (trays of 25 eggs, 6-packs of 3-liter soda bottled, cases of wine-in-a-box, cases of Pilsener beer, etc.)
Craig and Aida at the baptism party
Antonio’s band Chaski Ñan was playing on the stage nearest our table. Antonio played the violin, and other members played zampoñas (pan pipes), flutes, guitars, mandolins, and drums. We recognized band-mate Domingo, who had introduced himself to us earlier in the afternoon, and Humberto (an easy name for us to remember as it is the name of our compadre in Guatemala). They are a very talented and entertaining traditional Andean band, and we enjoyed their set. Antonio made an announcement in Spanish (which Felipe translated) saying that we were now officially compadres with his family. He thanked us for traveling the long distance to Morochos after a year of preparation, and told us that Sisa is now our daughter as well as theirs.
We are served buckets of chicken, guinea pigs, and potatoes
Food was shuttled from the outdoor kitchen to the guests. First we were served a bowl of chicken soup which contained a large piece of chicken breast. Next was a bowl of corn soup. That was followed by a plate of mote and the best pulled pork we have ever tasted (Thank you, Mr. Pig; it was a pleasure meeting/eating you). We were just about bursting from all of the food when we were each delivered a bucket which contained a whole chicken, a whole cuy (guinea pig – traditional Andean festival food) and about 5 pounds of potatoes. Craig and I looked at these in disbelief, and, laughing, entreated Felipe for help as to what to do as there was no way we could even come close to eating this. He said that it is mostly symbolic, that as the godparents we needed to be provided with as much food as we want. He advised us to pick at the best parts of the chicken and the cuy (he recommended the thigh for the cuy), and then to pass the rest on to be shared among the other guests. This worked nicely. These people can eat! They devoured plates of food and made doggy-bags to take home.
Antonio plays with his band Chaski Ñan
Watch video footage of  Chaski Ñan
Felipe and Maria Jose had brought some lovely dessert cakes, and I helped them to cut them up to be distributed to the guests. Craig and I went to our room to use the bathroom, and when we came back the table was gone and the patio was cleared for dancing. Chaski Ñan had finished their set, and Junior’s Band took over, playing long dance-inspiring songs. An older gentleman with a cataract on his left eye danced with me. Aida took Craig by the hands and danced with him. Countless people circulated the dance floor with a two ounce plastic cup in one hand, and a box of wine / bottle of some unknown hooch (served hot) / bottle of beer in the other hand. People would pause their dance to take a swig and then would resume dancing. It is proper etiquette to drink the shot in one sip, and to splash a bit of remnant onto the ground as an offering for Pacha Mama (earth mother). Before accepting a drink, you may also request that the person offering it to you take a drink themselves. Craig used this strategy to try to slow his pace, but there was always another person waiting in the wings to offer you more.
Craig dances with Antonio's mother
Watch footage of guests dancing to Junior's Band
Having left my watch inside, I had no concept of time. It was 10:30 the last time I had looked at a clock in our room, and the evening bled into the next day without our knowledge. Songs were long but there were small pauses in between which allowed us to catch our breath for a moment. Craig and I danced together a couple of times, and we also danced with various other guests. It was  a lot of fun. Everyone was so nice to us; people addressed us as “comadre” and “compadre”. Since we were now a part of Antonio’s family, we were, by extension, a part of the Morochos village as well. We shared countless dances and drinks with all of our new friends and had a wonderful time.
Steph dances with a Morochos villager
Junior's Band played on. Once we realized that Antonio, Rosa, and Aida had all headed to bed, we decided to do the same. We were surprised to learn that it was after 3:30 in the morning! We put in our earplugs and got a fitful sleep, as the amps were just a few feet from our room. Sometime during the course of the morning, Junior’s Band stopped playing and was replaced by a CD which played the same song over and over.

At around 10 in the morning, we rose and headed outside. A couple of die-hard partiers were still here, along with the family. The partiers tried to get us to keep drinking. Craig and I each took a drink to try to placate them, but it didn’t work.We played with Sisa and Yupanki. It was a beautiful, sunny morning.

We felt the effects of very little sleep more than the effects of too much alcohol, so we retreated to our room to rest until early afternoon. When we emerged from our room, we were now quite hungry. Rosa set us up with plates of mote and the delicious pulled pork, which really hit the spot. The kitchen was piled with offerings from guests: at least 600 eggs and about 50 3-liter bottles of soda. The soda ran the gamut from Coke to Orangina to Otra (Other) Cola, but Rosa insisted that we drink the best (the Coke). We weren’t fussy; anything non-alcoholic was just fine.

Sisa carries Yupanki in a kepi
Sisa now calls us Achi Mama (the Kichwa word for godmother) and Achi Taita (godfather). She is now our Achi Wawa (godchild).  They don’t tend to use the Spanish titles of Madrina and Padrino. The family and village refers to us as Comadre and Compadre.

Over the next week, friends, relatives, and neighbors would stop by and be fed leftover soup, pork, etc. They would  leave with bottles of soda, racks of eggs, and bottles full of chicha. We would return the massive cooking pots to their owners throughout the village, along with some leftovers as a gesture of thanks. It was interesting to us that the whole village contributed to the baptismal bounty, and also that they all benefited from it. We cleaned up the yard over the next few days, and the household got back to normal just in time for Inti Raymi / San Juan (which I will describe in a blog post to come… stay tuned!)

Sisa and her car