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

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:54 PM

    It sounds like you had a very very cool time. Makes me sad that I had to miss Inty Raymi this year. There's always more years to come!