Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Pachamanka, and Pachamama on Inti Raymi

Last year on Inti Raymi, or Summer Solstice, my friends and I joined a thousand others at a nearby waterfall for a midnight ritual cleansing of our negative spirits.  Standing under the moon in the frigid waters of Peguche Waterfall was exhilarating and set into motion a whole year of positive adventures and well-being.  (See my Blog Post dated July 13, 2018.  You can access this post eventually by repeatedly tapping “Older Posts” at the bottom of this screen.)  This year, I opted for a different kind of ceremony in the nearby artisan pueblo of San Clemente.  A fellow University Professor, Ernesto Muñoz, invited me as his guest and I brought a couple friends along as well. 

Inti Raymi is the Incan holiday celebrated throughout the Andes to give thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) for the bounties of their harvest.  It is celebrated with solemn ceremonies, offerings, festive parades, music, dance and always, food.  The pueblo of San Clemente is composed of primarily indigenous families who work together in a cooperative to keep their traditions alive for the next generation.  Four times a year, on the equinoxes and solstices, they perform Pachamanka.  This is a ritual of connecting the celestial world, the human world, and the Earth while cooking food in the ground for the community to share.  This is the story of my experience. 

We arrived to the small clearing among the hills soon after 9am.  A large bonfire was blazing and a man was already standing barefoot in a large hole, or pit.  The pile of dirt at his side revealed the progress of his morning’s work.  While he dug, the women carried in baskets of food and started preparations.  Choclo (corn) was partially shucked, col (cabbage), potatoes (papas), camotes (sweet potatoes) and plátanos (bananas) were washed, a salad was prepared, and portions of pollo (chicken) were wrapped in banana leaves and tied with a string. 

This is actually harder than it looks.  It took quite a few packets 
before my chicken didn't ooze out the corners. 

 Fresh habas, or lima beans, were contained in this canvas sheet and cooked in the shell.

At the same time, other men were making exact measurements on the ground, creating a sort of alter between the bonfire and the large hole.  We were told not to cross this line. 

After some time, the man who was digging, squatted down in the hole, and since the top of the hole measured to the height of his shoulders, he determined it was deep enough.  Then, he wet the sides with water, which collected at the bottom of the pit.  Next, the ladies handed him herbs and flower petals to line the bottom of the pit in the shape of the Andean Calendar, a four quadrant circle representing the agricultural year.  It was explained to us that the Andean Calendar is much older than the Incan Calendar and that its colors each represent a season.  Yellow is the time of planting and growth in the months of June, July and August.  Red is the color of the hot, dry season in September, October and November.  Blue is the color of the rainy season when plants get their nourishment during December, January and February.  Finally, green is the color for the new growth that occurs after the rains in March, April and May.  Interestingly enough, the red and blue parts of the calendar are considered feminine times of the year where plants are growing and being nurtured with the rains.  The green and yellow months of the year are considered masculine.  In this way, the calendar connects femininity and masculinity with the heavens and earth.  Additionally, the tips of the cross represent the two solstices and the two equinoxes.  If you think of a diagram of the Earth’s path around the sun, the locations of Earth at each of the solstices and equinoxes form the four cardinal directions.  For these Indigenous who live at the Equator, north is actually represented at the bottom of a map or flag, and the directions of east and west are of primary importance since that is the direction the sun moves across our sky.  

At this point, the bonfire was dismantled and the steaming hot rocks were ready to be placed into the hole.  Samir Salgado, a visiting archeologist, explained that in this ceremony, the fire represents the celestial world.  Specific lava rocks had been selected and are used year after year in this ritual to represent our grandparents, or ancestors, who came from the Earth.  They were placed in the fire early that morning and their presence in this ritual will cook the food that will nourish us.  As each rock was removed from the fire, the ashes were dusted from the them.  Then, the rocks were carried along the alter to the hole.  The span of distance between the fire and the hole represents our time in the human world on Earth.  Finally, the hole is in the Earth.  It specifically represents the womb that produces life, which in this scenario, is represented by the food that nourishes our bodies.  In this way, heaven, humans and Earth are connected. 
This is Mike, a former Peace Corps Volunteer, and his daughter Kate, 
helping dust the ashes from the rocks in this ritual.

As each rock hit the bottom of the pit, a tremendous amount of steam roiled and the water started to boil.  When the bottom was lined with rocks, large banana tree leaves were placed around the walls of the pit with the tops flopping out.  I didn't understand the purpose of these leaves until later.  Next, the women started to pour baskets of the prepared vegetables into the pit.  First the papas and camotes, the potatoes.  Then choclo (corn on the cob) and bags of habas, or lima beans.  At this point, it was decided that another layer of rocks were needed and the leftover corn shucks were added to keep the food from touching and burning directly on the rocks.  The wrapped chicken packets, half cabbages, large heads of broccoli, large plátanos, whole piñas (pineapples) and more hot rocks were layered into the pit.

When the pit was full, we were each given a branch of an aromatic herb.  We were asked to contemplate a wish or offer a prayer before tossing the branch onto the food.  In this way, the food in the hole gave us sustenance spiritually, as well as physically.  To form a lid, they folded the tops of the banana leaves over the hole.  Finally, a canvas tarp was placed on top and the original dirt from the hole was shoveled onto the tarp.
Here is my colleague and friend Ernesto, helping place the tarp over the cooking food. 
Flower petals were lovingly placed in a spiral on the mound. 

At about this time, local musicians showed up and a dance circle was initiated to pound down the soil and form a seal for the steam.  I threw off my shoes and joined the circle.  Dancing in the sprinkling rain, with mud squishing between my toes, I gave thanks to Pachamama for all the beautiful blessings and nourishment she has given me this past year and I asked her for another year of inner peace, exploration, and connectedness with all that I am living.  It was a really beautiful moment.

As the dancing wound down, Samir gave a short lecture on the symbolism of the Andean calendar.  He created a makeshift model of the equinoxes and solstices marked by Earth’s journey around the sun, and he discussed the patterns of shadows the sun makes throughout the year.  In the northern hemisphere, we equate the Summer Solstice with the longest day of the year.  But here, at the Equator, it is the day when the growing shadows reverse themselves because the sun is at its most northern point and will now start its journey back south.  The people in this area have a lot to celebrate during Inti Raymi: the harvest, the new plantings, and the returning of the life-giving sun. 

In addition to the flag featuring the Andean agricultural calendar, they also hung
the rainbow flag of the Ecuadorian Indigenous people. 

By now 90 minutes had passed and a discussion ensued as to whether or not the food was cooked.  The general consensus was that since it had been raining on and off all morning, we needed to give it more time.  20 minutes later, Samir started to dig up the dirt to test its temperature and smell its odor.  Sure enough, the soil smelled wonderful.  And then, just as the rain started to pour, the process of unlayering began.  First the dirt was removed, then the tarp.  When the banana leaves were pulled back, the steam billowed.  With small cloths and leaves to protect their hands, each piece of food was pulled from the pit, piled in baskets and placed on a dining mat.  
The pineapple was sliced and our feast was served with bowls of ahi (salsa)
and five different types of fresh juice.  

When all the food was assembled, Susana Ipiales, the President of this community, filled a plate full and used it as an offering of thanks to Pachamama. Then, as their guests, we were given the first plates of food to enjoy. 

Rico!  Delicious!

Pictured in this photo are baskets of habas, packets of pollo, a pot of plátanos, camotes, papas and choclo 
with some queso freso cheese. 

Thank you Pachamama for the food you have provided.  And thank you to the 
Community of San Clemente for opening their hearts to share this beautiful tradition with us.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Angamarca Family Reunion

Although Ibarra is a city with over 100,000 people, it often feels like a small town.  One reason for this, is that when I'm out and about with my family, it seems we're always running into a brother or a cousin in the Angamarca family.  There's a lot of Angamarcas!  And every year, they have a tradition to gather at the homestead on a weekend between Mother's Day and Father's Day in order to celebrate their parents and their family all together.  This year, their Gringita, got to share in the fun!  I was tasked with making the cakes and on a Saturday afternoon at the end of May, we headed off to the fun. 

After lots of hugging and laughing and cooking together, the more official ceremony started with Jose's brother, Benito Kenedy, welcoming everyone and honoring their parents, Josefina and Victor.

Then it was decided that all the women should sit at the table and the men should go into the kitchen, organize all the food that had already been cooked, and serve it to us.  The men of the family made a big fanfare of putting on some aprons, and acting like they had no idea what they were doing.  And there was a lot of laughter when it took them over 25 minutes to get the food out of the kitchen.  There's an overwhelming majority of men in this family so, to their credit, 
there was probably too many cooks in the kitchen! 
But the food was great!  Chuleta (pork chops), chicken vegetable rolls with mushroom sauce, potatoes, rice, tostadas (toasted corn nuts), vegetable salad and avena (a thick oatmeal drink). 
As we were just finishing up our dinner, a Mariachi Band arrived.  These groups are rented 
for 30 minutes or an hour, often to get the party started with old traditional sing-alongs - 
of which I know none of the words! 

If you're receiving this post through your email, you will need to go to onthewingadventures.blogspot.com to see the rest of the post 
and all the silly videos. 

Then, according to the Angamarca family tradition, each family prepared a small musical or 
dramatic skit for entertaining the others.  This family is so creative and funny!

In the days prior to this family reunion, Margarita had mentioned that we also needed to create a dramatic scene for the party.  I told her that she was the most creative person in the family and that I would play along with whatever she decided.  By Friday night,  she ran into my room and said, "Becky, I have the perfect idea!  We're going to be an International Band and you're going to sing a song from the United States and Jose will be lead singer for a traditional Ecuadorian Song!"  "Great", I said.  "I'll think of a nice American song to sing."   "Oh no, We've already picked it out for you!", and she shows me a video of the iconic band KISS singing "I Was Made for Loving You".  

By Saturday AM, she and Jose had bought some wigs, facepaint and fake tattoos, and we were painting cardboard guitars for Pablo and I, pots and pans drums for Alex and a cardboard accordion/ string instrument for Margarita to play.  I kept asking if we could practice and the
general consensus was "Nope, just get up there, lip-sinc and play along."

So, here's my debut as lead singer of KISS-Pizz.  The Pizz part is a play on an Indigenous word as a nod to Jose's traditional song in the second part of the act.  I had to upload our 3-minute show in two parts.  As you will see, Pablo didn't know what to think of my shenanigans, and my tinfoil boots
didn't even make it to the end of the song!

Obviously, this concert highlights our first, only and last song in our repertoire.  The whole experience was hysterical.  I come from a very fun family in the
United States, but I have never lived with people who love to laugh so much.

In between the dramatic scenes and costume changes, team games were organized for the fun of all.

And then, just when I thought we might go home, the cervesa and whiskey showed up and the dancing began.  I'm convinced, dancing is a key ingredient in the Ecuadorian bloodstream!  
We danced for hours.

In this video, you can see how alcohol is distributed at an Ecuadorian party.  One glass is shared by all as you dance around and around throughout the night.  It takes a long time to consume very much. 

The Angamarca children, together again!  Kenedy, Josefina (their mother), Sergio, and Marco in the back row.  Jose, Victor and Wilo in the middle, and Veronica, the lone girl, sitting in front.

Me in the wig with Josefina, 
sometime late in the night.  
Here I am dancing with Josefina and Victor... 
very early in the morning!

At one point in the evening I was feeling very tired and thought I would go lay down in the bed in the next room.  But there were already 4 men sleeping crosswise in the bed 
so I decided I better head back to the dance floor!

I'm so glad I'm apart of this family, and was apart of this very memorable family reunion! 

Monday, July 8, 2019

My Work as a Volunteer

As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have a lot of freedom and flexibility in my day.  Luckily, I'm very self-directed and I look for opportunities to integrate, and keep myself busy and fulfilled.

Initially, I was assigned to work in the mornings at Colegio Teodoro Gómez de la Torre; a huge 
K-12 school with 15 English Teachers.  I share this school with another Peace Corps volunteer, 
Kendall Ogle.  I've written many posts over the year about all the happenings at Teodoro, 
as well as my work to organize English Clubs for the International Baccalaureate Students.  
For today's post, I thought I'd give you a quick glimpse into my day-to-day and how 
I'm trying to help advance education practices here in Ecuador. 

This is Jennifer, a 2nd grade English teacher.  Second grade is the first year that students receive English lessons in school, and they receive three hours of English Class each week.  This first year, students spend a lot of time learning their English letters and sounds.  Jennifer also likes to review basic words like colors, shapes and school supplies.  English class is especially fun when she teaches them the words to a new song or they get to play an English language game.
Yomaira (Yomi) really loves her 11th grade students and tries to make her classes 
interactive with games, activities and projects.  Middle school and high school students receive five hours of English class each week.  Here, Yomi is listening to her students teach each other 
about common English Phrasal Verbs.  I help Yomi think about her plans, 
her projects and how she is going to assess their progress. 

At the end of the last unit, Yomi asked all of her students to record a travel video to advertise a place to visit.  I made her make a model tourism video to demonstrate her expectations for her students.  This is a screen shot of our tour agency video with our special tour map in the background.  After we recorded it, she sent our video to her students using Google Classroom, a teaching platform she already had established before I arrived.  Modeling and providing examples to students isn't really part of the teaching culture in Ecuador, so this idea of the teachers making a video was new for everyone.  In the end, the students' videos turned out fantastic 
and they taught me about a few places I still I need to go! 

Gonzalo is a trained music teacher but since he studied in the US, he has become an English teacher by default.  He is passionate about wanting his students to be able to communicate in English (as opposed to only teaching the vocabulary or generic dialogues in the book).  So he had his students make their own whiteboards from a transparent folder and with a little support and lots of repetition, he has his 4th graders writing in complete English sentences.  I'm helping Gonzalo focus his lessons to help his students even more. 
In my International Baccalaureate Class, I often get the opportunity to teach the students and help expand their horizons about the world.  Their English textbook is divided into different units by themes.  They understand English fairly well, so Sandra, the teacher, often asks me to teach them about something related to the theme, and help them practice their English listening skills.  Then, sometimes, I ask them comprehension questions at the end of my presentation.  For their theme on Natural Disasters, I took the students to the Computer Lab and we looked at websites that plotted Earthquakes, Tornadoes and Hurricanes throughout the world.  For their unit on Environmental Problems, I gave them a presentation on the Great Garbage Patches forming in all of our oceans.  
At the end of this unit, they had to create an oral presentation about local environmental problems, and many of them took a hard look at the garbage so prominent in the gutters and streets of Ecuador.  I also have shared with them some of my Blog Posts and photos from my Galápagos Vacation- a place many Ecuadorians can't afford to go.  So, in small ways, I think 
I'm helping them get a glimpse of the wider world. 

Other teachers at Teodoro Gomez want my help in their classrooms to correct pronunciation, or they just like to have conversations with me on the side to practice their own English.  

So, as you can see, every day is different.  And often, due to so many conflicting schedules, classes get cancelled, or changed, and the lessons I planned just don't happen.  The picture below demonstrates this point well.  These 11th graders were attempting to practice their English writing skills in Reported Speech on the last hour of a Friday afternoon.  As our class started, another class used the courtyard just outside the window to practice a traditional dance routine for some upcoming event.  Their speakers were blaring at full volume.  About 30 minutes later, they finally finished and I thought maybe my students might have an opportunity to concentrate.  No such luck.  Just outside the classroom door, a very loud soccer game started celebrating the last day of school for the seniors.  (They finished their classes three weeks before everyone else in order to prepare for their college exams.)  Then, a group of 3rd graders moved into the courtyard just outside the windows with a giant foam cannon.  They had a raucous bubble party the rest of our 80-minute period.
In these situations, there's nothing to do except laugh.   

In the afternoons and evenings, I help to teach a remedial English class at the local University, Universidad Técnica del Norte, here in Ibarra.  But when I found out that this University also had an English Teacher Training Program, I offered my services there, too.  

For the past eight months, I've been teaching various classes on lesson planning, unit planning, classroom management and how to integrate more dynamic speaking, listening, reading and writing activities into their future English classrooms.  My work with these college students and future English Teachers is really fulfilling and my classes with the different cohort groups keep me very busy.

In the above picture, I'm teaching about Language Practice Routines and 
Professional Partner Expectations.  In the picture below, I'm teaching about how to 
lesson plan for a gradual release of responsibility to the students. 

The future teachers of Ecuador

In addition to that, I sometimes am able to support other Peace Corps volunteers in their efforts 
to promote English language throughout the community, or teach health education 
(positive relationships, sex education, and family planning) to high school students.
This is Mikayla, another local Peace Corps Volunteer, who works in
Health Education and promotes efforts in gender equality.  

This next year, Peace Corps Ecuador is trying to expand the number of volunteers in the country.  They have asked current volunteers to "scout out" new locations for future volunteers.  Through my contacts at the University, I learned about a little school named Agustín Cueva Dávila with approximately 450 students and only two English Teachers who teach the entire span of grades.  Although the teachers do have a high level of English, they are open to new and different teaching methods and need help planning a variety of activities for all of their different classes.  The student population of this school comes from a much lower socio-economic background and 
they are ripe for more extra-curricular opportunities.

Seeing this as a perfect Peace Corps fit, I started working at this school in May for two mornings a week.  I've already gotten to know many of the students and I envision a lot of after-school clubs for them in my future.  Because the school is small, the staff is really tight-knit.  They know the names of all the students and they work really well together (and teach a variety of subjects) to provide the best educational experience for these kids.  Basically, it's the community school model that is so 
near and dear to my heart.  I really enjoy the days I get to spend in this learning community.

This is the student body of 4th -12th graders at my new school, Agustín Cueva Dávila.  They are lined up in their uniforms for their Monday Morning Civic Moment which often includes a thoughtful exercise in values, school announcements, and of course, the National Anthem.
The K-3rd grade students have classes on a separate campus.
This main courtyard serves as the playground, the soccer and volleyball field, the area for
PE classes and the parking lot.  It is surrounded by six small buildings with classrooms,
two small offices, and a small kitchen for the teachers.

There are plants everywhere in this school.  I see both students and teachers tending to them daily.  I've also spotted an herb garden in the back so I hope to work with the 5th grade classes next year during their unit on Medicinal Plants.

This is the student "snack bar".  Since this school is so small, local "lunch ladies" are contracted to bring in huge pots and trays of food to sell during the morning snack break.  Usually they have a variety of bread and cheese sandwiches, rice with beans or hotdogs, jello, chips, fruit, or cakes.  The students take turns helping to sell the food as well. 
Some of the classes have a smaller number of students which means there's some extra space in the classroom.  The 9th graders have set up chess boards in their classes while the 10th graders have a ping-pong table.  These recreational games are regularly used before school and during recess when some of the teachers come in to teach and play with the students.  
It's a super fun and supportive environment.
Paulina is one of the English Teachers and she does a great job assessing her students' reading and pronunciation.  I'm helping her integrate more speaking and writing activities into her lessons.
This particular class of 6th graders chant a song when I enter their room:
"Buenos Dias"

"Goodmorning, Welcome, Miss Becky"  It's the cutest chant.  I wish I had a video!

I brought the idea of personal whiteboards to this school, and Ernesto's high school students have really seen the power and fun in this learning tool.  Here, the 10th graders are demonstrating their knowledge of the Present Progressive Tense in English.  I'm helping Ernesto think about how to engage "all of his students, all the time" with more whole class and partner speaking activities. 

Ernesto is also very creative in assigning projects to his students.  When his 9th graders
had a thematic unit on food and nutrition, he had them demonstrate in English
how to prepare a type of snack.  These students made ice cream for the class.  
To prepare for Inti Raymi, the Summer Solstice celebration, the students had to practice traditional dances.  The fancy footed 11th graders led the practice in the school courtyard.  They performed these dances in full traditional costume in a street procession on the 21st of June.  Unfortunately, I was not able to see them because sometimes my varied schedule conflicts with student events. 
Here are my 8th grade students practicing how to make a turn at the corner of a city street.   
Since it was dance practice day, the students didn't have to wear their uniforms.
5th graders David, Tatyana and Franklin really loved the dancing!
This is the fabulous staff at Agustín Cueva Dávila.  They have all welcomed me with such open arms and since this is the only table in the school, we gather in this tiny kitchen for meetings, and to share snacks together.  Classes in this school are self-contained through 7th grade, so some of these teachers teach all subjects in 4th-7th grade, while others teach a variety of 
math, science, history, and language courses to the high school students.  
Then we have music, art, PE and the English teachers, too.

Thank you to all of my teachers who have welcomed me into their classrooms.  And thank you to all of my students who have welcomed me into their hearts.  I love walking down the streets of Ibarra and hearing greetings for "Teacher Becky" or "Profe de English"  shouted by students from second grade through college.  Overall, I don't know if I'm making a big difference in people's lives or if I'm really helping to better educational practices long term, but I love being in Ecuador, 
and I love helping make my students and my teachers smile.  

And after all, isn't that what it's really all about?