Sunday, November 25, 2012

Joined the Dark Side

Okay folks, here's the deal:
After 2.5-ish years on Blogger, I have run out of space for photos.  I have to pay $2 and something-or-other cents per month in order to get more storage space.  That's about as much as a lunch here costs, and, as much as I love you, dear readers, I am not prepared to sacrifice my last seco de pollo in Ecuador for you.  A girl's gotta eat.
I defected.
I crossed the line.
I joined the Dark Side.
If you want to read about the remainder of my time in Ecuador, you can go here, to
I hear there's already a post up there.
*Note that the spelling is slightly different; this time it's the Spanish en versus the English "in."  I'm fancy like that.
My WordPress blog isn't as pretty, but it has 3GB of free space for photos - triple the amount than Blogger - which should be more than enough to get me through the home stretch (finish line: December 18th, when I'll be homeward bound).  Also, it's called "WordPress," which sortof makes it sound like when I sit down in front of my computer to write a blog post I'm benching words and doing exercise.  It's a great ego boost.
Goodbye forever,

Saturday, November 24, 2012

For Which Guasmo is Named

This is the fruit of the guasmo tree, for which Guasmo - the marginalized urban sector that's been my home for the past 2.5 years - is named.  Back in the 1970's, when Guasmo was a growing area, these trees were so abundant as to become the moniker for the entire vicinity that now houses over 500,000 people.  40-odd years later, I've never seen one of these trees in Guasmo itself, whose blocks are jammed with houses and whose streets are now (for the most part) paved.  Back then, Guasmo was a backwater estuary community, unincorporated into the Guayaquil municipality and lacking in amenities.  Now, it's a bustling developed area, and practically speaking is a city unto itself.

Today some of the girls I work with accompanied me to a part of Guasmo I am less familiar with.  I'm always amazed at how different the atmosphere can be once you walk the length of a few blocks, the nearly palpable sensation of crossing the invisible barrier from one neighborhood into the next.  Guasmo truly is a labyrinth, in the sense that with every twist and turn of the streets one must also sort out all senses of sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound.

Ironically, the guasmo tree is nowhere to be found in Guasmo.  The one pictured here grows in the city cemetery, an hour away.  The fruit are like spiny pods or nuts, and they smell tantalizingly of some kind of tangy berry; they would be a good ingredient to a mulled cider or wine.  Inside are housed tiny seeds.

I may or may not have picked this guasmo fruit up off the ground and put it in my mouth.
It's all in the name of science, and being a rebel.
Guasmo Love,

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Photo of the Month

Remember those colored parachutes they used in lower school gym class?

The one pictured above has been through three generations of Peace Corps Volunteers: my sitemate passed it on to me when she ended her service, and I have now passed it on to some newer volunteers.  They recently inaugurated an arts center to work with children in their beachside town. 

Looks like they are already putting the parachute to good use.  Hopefully it will continue to encourage smiles (and photo opps) in the years to come.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Día de los Difuntos

Every year on the 2nd of November, families across the country come home.  The bus terminals crowd over as children and grandchildren who have moved away travel back to be with the older generations in the places they all grew up.

Each hometown is slightly different in the customs its residents observe on this Day of the Dead.  The indigenous populations in and around Otavalo gather the family at the gravesite of a deceased loved one, spread a blanket, and unpack a full picnic, turning the cemetery into a festive, if solemn, outing that unites the entire community.  Cuenca is known for the candlelight vigil that parades through the streets on the eve of the holiday, as well as for offering the best of the foods - colada morada and guaguas de pan (bread in the shape of swaddled babies) - traditionally associated with Day of the Dead.

Guayaquil, in many ways set apart from the rest of the country, does neither of these things.  Perhaps this is due to its large transient populations; many who live here associate elsewhere with "home," and so end up leaving the city for the holiday.  Those who do have their roots here often come from different backgrounds as well, meaning that in the end, there is no one custom for Guayaquilenians to follow when it comes to Day of the Dead. 

Nevertheless, some friends and I made the trip out to the city cemetery on November 2nd to see what was what and to pay our respects.  We encountered more people in the cemetery on that one day than I have seen all the other days of the year put together.  Most families simply tended their loved ones' graves, clearing off overgrowth, touching up paint, and adorning headstones with flowers.  A few had brought blankets and food (eating the deceased family member's favorite dishes at their gravesite on this day is a way to remember, honor, and share with them).  Many families or individuals were lost in prayer or contemplation, standing in front of the burial sites of their loved ones.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to join these people in reflecting on past presences and memories.  It seems fitting to gather our thoughts with a glance backward, carrying them with us as we prepare to finish out the year and look toward the future.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's that time of year again...the time for...


Here's your first clue:  It's purple.

Here's your second clue: It's not a dinosaur.

Here's your third clue: I went to the market today.  The basket was so heavy I nearly got hit by cars several times on the way home.

Ladies & Gentlemen, may I now present...the cast of Colada Morada 2012!!!!!!


[applause, applause]
This is Black Corn Flour, the star of the show.  Miss Flour's personality is perfect for the role: poised and subtle in demeanor until, out of the blue, she stuns you with a breathtaking moment of pure brilliance.  Everyone agrees that she imbues any production with a rich color that would otherwise be lacking.  We eagerly await her performance.

Señorita Naranjilla hails from the exotic tropics.  She's a feisty one; she and the director suffered some creative differences, leading to a number of public arguments, broken nails, and hurled stiletto heels.  Now that she's mastered the basics of anger management, Srta. Naranjilla adds some much needed zest to the ensemble.
The perfect counterbalance to Srta. Naranjilla, Señor Panela is all sweetness.  Rumor has it that the ring is bought and the only question is when he will pop The Question.

Piña is a funky dude who doesn't let his hair get in the way of his work: he is 100% dedicated and will throw his entire self, from the skin to the core, into any professional endeavor.



Herbs and Spices are the rival factions of supporting roles in this production.  The constant petty antogonizing between the two groups will make you feel like you're back in high school.  When threatened by a common enemy, however, Herbs and Spices are the first to agree that, in this play, There are no small parts, only small actors -- and then forget about the common enemy and turn to look accusingly at each other.

It's no secret that Mr. Mortiño feels somewhat out of his element among this cast of highly skilled, highly experienced actors.  He is content to play his part with emphasis and meaning, ever serious and always seeking to serve his fellow castmates out of a strict sense of duty.  People tend to wonder whether he ever goes out and has fun.

Miss Mamey plays the unassuming matron who's got more than one surprise up her sleeve, and she fits her character to a tee.

The first of several redheads to join the cast, Señorita Frutilla is a down-home country girl, but she's not without her quirks.  (Tell me, do you know of any other fruit whose seeds are on the outside?)

Señorita Ciruela lives up to the stereotype: yes, she's got a taste for sass, but she's also got a heart of gold.

Doña Mora, the reigning redhead of the bunch, practically oozes emotion and evokes strong responses from every audience.  An experienced and versatile performer, she commands respect in any role.

So that's that. Basically what you do is boil a bunch of stuff in one pot, and a bunch of other stuff in another pot. 

Herbs and Spices come into play here, Spices being cinnamon; cloves; and allspice, and Herbs being the things on the left, only two of which I can positively identify (citronella and orange leaves).  Of the other two, one smells lemony, and one is, I am fairly certain, colloquially called a "monkey tail."

Thank you for your interest in herbology, and yes, there will be a test.

So after you've boiled your monkey tails, &tc.; and boiled your berries; and strained both mixtures separately, this is what you've got:

A bowl of pineapple-sugar-spice-and-herbs water, a bowl of berries, and the pièce de résistance: the black corn flour.  Watch the transformation when we take a bit of the mulled spice liquid and mix it with the flour..., voilà: jewel tone purple.  This is where colada morada (purple colada) gets its name.  Colada morada is a traditional Ecuadorian drink consumed on the Day of the Dead (November 2).  In the week or so leading up to the actual day, you can find it sold on the streets and in restaurants, or even from family owned shops and private homes, and if you go to the market you'll see sacks of black corn flour, piles of ciruelas, bricks of panela, little bags of mortiños, rows of mamey, and bundles of herbs every which way you look.

To finish brewing our colada, we throw everything together into a pot and then add in whatever fruit hasn't already been boiled. This includes more pineapple, as well as the ciruelas, which are a type of plum.

It also includes the mamey.

I'd never cut one of these open before, but if you've ever cut a mango, then you know what it's like, what with trying to navigate around the pit.

Only the mamey has not one...not two...but three separate egg-sized pits.  Oh, joy.
Throw it all in the pot, let it simmer, and give it a stir.
You've got yourself some colada morada.

Happy Halloween!!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Garden is Ba-aaaaack

This year has been a challenging one for the garden.
Twice, we lost our seedlings.
Once, someone broke in and tore up part of the fencing and some of the beds.  (As evidenced by the lengths of cane resting against the trunk of a nearby mango tree, the mystery hooligans were using the cane slats to knock down mangos.)
And now, finally, we have something to show for the work we've put into the garden - planting and replanting and re-replanting seedlings, and lots of repairs - :

Green things are growing!  Callooh, callay!

Here, we have our bell peppers.

And loads and loads of radishes.
The determination of the handful of people from the garden group who have stuck with it thus far is inspiring and will, I hope, see at least a partial harvest before the rains come.  Keep growing, little green guys, and bring us some veg to eat!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

This, That, The Other, Their Twin Sister and Their Mother

Life is all about being frazzled.  That's how the saying goes, right?  ...Right?

1. It's been two months since my trip to Peru and Machu Picchu.  Many of you have started to make sneaking comments that you would like to hear about it, or at least see pictures.  I will get right on that (which in my language means maybe a week?).

2. One of my kids gave me a flower! which I promptly brought home and set up for a still life photo shoot.

This one I call "Flower."

This one I call "Flower II."

This one I call "Flower III."

This one I call "Bob's Yer Uncle."

This one I haven't decided what to call yet, so if you think of something, let me know.
2. I got a hole in my jeans, again. 

Remind me to tell you about my experience with holey jeans getting exponentially holier with every passing day; after that, I got this pair patched right up.

3. There are too many cats in my life lately.

So I gave one away. 

Does this make me heartless?  Answer: Only with respect to my friend who took the cat in and has been rewarded with consecutive nights of interrupted sleep as my former pet frolics among the rafters.

4. Biggest news in Ecuador: There's a new beer!


It wasn't actually on the news; the last thing I actually saw on the news was a recap of the United States presidential debates with a ticker-tape at the bottom of the screen reading "Obama won the debate."  Hmm, I wonder how they figure that?

More importantly, there's this new beer!  On the scale of Ecuadorian beers (which, generally speaking, runs from Option #1 all the way to Option #2), it falls right smack dab in the middle.

5. The best part about a trip is...

...crossing the Río Guayas into the lovely evening view of downtown Guayaquil. 

Love & Fried Plantains,