Sunday, December 07, 2014

Trading Turkey for Guinea Pig: Thanksgiving in Ecuador

Since our dear friend Marty is not in St. Thomas this Thanksgiving, we decided to take a year off from our annual Thanksgiving trip to St. Thomas. We traded turkey at the beach for guinea pig in the mountains and visited our compadres in Morochos, Ecuador instead.

The whole family met us at the airport with roses
Steph and Sisa on the ride back to Morochos
Craig and Tayanta on the ride back to Morochos
The whole family took the 2 hour ride from their village to the new Quito airport to pick us up on Thanksgiving afternoon. They always dress the kids in traditional clothes when they go into the city, so it was adorable to see 6-year-old Sisa, 4-year-old Yupanqui, and 2 1/2-year-old Tayanta dressed in their traditional outfits, waiting for us with 2 bouquets of roses. The kids' mom Aida was there, as well as her dad Antonio and his wife Rosa.
Antonio and Yupanqui provide music while Sisa and Tayanta dance
We drove back to the house, where we immediately noticed the new addition: a 4-month-old baby cow. We were greeted by Max, their friendly old dog, as well as Chipi. the new kitten. We got settled into the adorable casita that they built for us (with a bedroom and a bathroom with a hot water heater - heavenly on chilly mountain mornings) and then joined the family in the main house. Antonio, who works professionally in a traditional Andean band called Chaski √Ďan, got out his violin and played a tune while Yupanqui accompanied him on the recorder.  Sisa and Tayanta joined hands and danced. Antonio then gave Yupanqui and Sisa a chance to try the violin.

Before we knew it, dinner was ready. The family knew that today was a holiday in the United States, so they prepared something very special: cuy (guinea pig). This is a traditional Andean food which is eaten on special occasions. We had eaten it at Sisa and Yupanqui's baptisms, and during the village's 76th anniversary celebration this past May. This was a guinea pig that they had raised and prepared themselves, and we were very honored that they prepared something so special in our honor.

Craig plays with Tayanta and Yupanqui while Rosa crotchets hats
Sisa with Chipi the kitten

Yupanqui, Sisa, and Steph
This was the first time in which our visit did not coincide with a special occasion within the family or the community. It was a peaceful, relaxing few days in a very beautiful location. Most of the days were sunny, and the sun was warm. It was cool when the sun was behind a cloud or when it got dark for the evening. We enjoyed seeing how much the kids had grown. Sisa, at only 6 years old, is the eldest child. She helps the adults with chores and sets a good example for her younger siblings. She enjoys school and is doing well.

Yupanqui is now 4, and he is a little chatterbox. He is an active and sweet little boy. He has a good attention span for doing activities. He does not especially like preschool, but he is learning in spite of himself.

Perhaps the greatest transformation we saw after 6 months away was in the youngest, 2 1/2 year old Tayanta. She prefers to be called "Mi Nena" ("My Baby", a nickname coined by Yupanqui when she was just an infant). She was completely blind from birth to 6 months, at which time she had her first surgery which restored her sight. Since then she has had a second surgery, and has a pair of thick glasses which, as a two year old, she seldom tolerates. But despite still being nearsighted, she obviously sees well enough to get around. She is at the age when babies sometimes have stranger anxiety. But not so with her. She literally welcomed us with open arms, giving hugs and kisses and sitting on our laps as often as our godchildren Sisa and Yupanqui. She talks often and sings happily. What a little miracle she is!

Rosa prepares to dispatch the rooster
We had purchased some baby chicks for the family back in May. They have since grown into 5 chickens and two roosters. Rosa dispatched of the two roosters during our stay. It is difficult to see an animal killed, but as meat-eaters we feel that it is our moral responsibilty to come to terms with it. We must acknowledge that an animal gives its life for our sustenance, and we are very grateful. The roosters provided some deliciously fresh chicken soup, as well as legs, thighs, breasts, and feet (which Tayanta especially enjoyed). Nothing was wasted, as entrails were fed to the kitten.

The view behind the homestead
Tayanta, Steph, Sisa, and Yupanqui walking to church
Tayanta and Aida walking to chirch
Antonio's mother, known as Abuelita, though she is actually the great-grandmother of the little ones, was always around, tending to the cows during the day, and cooking over her fire in the fireshed in the evenings. She only speaks Kichwa, so we are unable to communicate beyond smiles and waves, but she is always cheerful and makes us feel very welcome.

Abuelita tending the fire
Antonio practices the sax
Vaquita, the 4-month-old baby cow
Yupanqui and Sisa
Steph and Tayanta selfie
One adorable anecdote about Tayanta: We were eating breakfast and Tayanta sneezed. I said, "Salud". the Spanish equivalent of "Bless you," literally "Health." This is the same expression used for "Cheers." Tayanta heard me say this and immediately held her glass of juice up in the air, and repeated "Salud!"
Craig plays with Sisa and Yupanqui
Knowing that Craig has Multiple Sclerosis, the family used traditional natural medicine to try to improve his condition. They applied a natural balm to his left knee and massaged it. They said that the knee felt "cold". Then for three nights in a row, they wrapped his left knee with aliso leaves while he slept, with instructions to wash it in hot water in the morning. Then the discarded leaves were to be burned in the fire. On the final night, they put boiling water into a plastic tub which contained leaves. They had Craig sit with his feet above the water on a little stool. They then wrapped his legs in a  blanket and he sat there in his mini-sauna for 6 minutes. They then removed the blanket, stirred up the leaves, replaced the blanket , and had him sit there for a few more minutes before bathing his knee in the water. That night, they wrapped his knee with different leaves.  His knee felt great by the end of the trip! They also provided him with medicinal tea when they noticed that his right hand was a little bit unstable. They are always looking out for us!

When Yupaqui was having stomach troubles, they prepared a medicinal tea for him and Antonio gently rubbed a smooth volcanic stone over his stomach to take away the bad energy.

Saying goodbye to Rosa, Sisa, Abuelita, and Yupanqui
On the day that we left, Tayanta had an appointment with an eye doctor in Quito for a check-up, and to schedule her third and final surgery within the next few months. Because of this, Aida, Tayanta, and Antonio rode with us in the van. Sisa ran home from school at 10 o'clock to say goodbye to us. It was difficult to say goodbye to Rosa, Sisa, Yupanqui, and Abuelita at the house. Sisa and Yupanqui were a bit standoffish as they were upset that we were leaving.

Saying goodbye to Tayanta, Aida, and Antonio at the airport
We really enjoyed getting to spend quality time with the family, playing with the kids, soaking up the beautiful pastoral mountain scenery, eating the delicious food that Rosa and Aida prepared, and sleeping soundly in our comfortable little casita. It was an excellent Thanksgiving, and we give thanks for our extended "family" in Morochos!

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