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Some wonderful kids I met when visiting Bahia!!!
Beautiful music composed of pan flutes, flutes, violin, guitar, and the drum floated through the night. Overhead, the sky was black and filled with a million twinkling lights. The air was crisp; fresh. The natural world surrounded me and I felt content. For the first time, I one hundred percent felt content to be here, to be in Ecuador. I sat back, taking a break, and watched as people danced to the rhythm of the music in a circle in front of me. I wondered to myself, “How do they never seem to get tired?”
|Dancing with the men during San Juan|
Inti Raymi! The festival of the sun. The time to give thanks to the crops that have been received and the crops yet to come. During the end of June throughout part of July Inti Raymi is celebrated among the Indigenous people of the Andes. I was lucky enough to experience this festival, seeing as I live smack in the middle of the northern Andes of Ecuador. The festival consists of traditional bathing within each of the communities, tremendous amounts of food, traditional Andes music, dancing, dancing, and more dancing. For two weeks I participated in Inti Raymi events and enjoyed having the chance to be a part of their tradition.
One night, my host family and I visited a community named La Calera, where we danced from house to house, receiving food at each one. We then hiked, in the dark with only the light of the moon to guide us, down to a pool and waterfall. Here, I witnessed the men doing a traditional bath, where they all go into the ankle deep pool and three at a time crawl through a cave to the waterfall. They are met here by the local Shauman who blesses them and spits cana (an extremely strong alcohol) in their faces to cleanse their spirits. While the other men wait their turn, they hit each other with a plant called Ortiga (which we all know as stinging nettle). As you can imagine this doesn't feel pleasant, but, again, they do it to cleanse themselves of any evil spirits. I was invited to join this tradition, but decided against it since I would be the only female. We left at 3:30 in the morning to people still dancing from house to house, meanwhile I felt like I was going to fall over.
|Roxanne, Claudia, and I getting ready to dance for 4 hours!!!|
My next Inti Raymi experience came when I went with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers Mina and Dan to a community named San Roque. Here we were dressed up in the traditional Indigenous clothing and danced with the family through town and up to the local fiesta. We continued to dance and then took a break to eat delicious food. I have found that something called colada de maiz con mote is one of my new all time favorite foods. It is a thick soup made of corn with delicious spices and you eat it with mote which is puffed corn. So delicious!!! It was amazing to dance with this family and be a part of this special day.
|Ready to dance with the family in San Roque!|
It is interesting because here in Cotacachi Inti Raymi is celebrated a bit differently from other parts of the Sierra. There are four days where the men dance, one day where the children dance, and one day where the women dance. During the days the men dance it is actually pretty dangerous. The reason being, is that all the communities come to Cotacachi to dance around the main park. There are communities from the high parts and communities from the lower parts. When these groups meet a fight will break out. Now this fight includes rock throwing and in more recent years knives. The fighting goes back to historic conflicts between the communities. The men also dance intensely. They march around the park stomping their feet, shouting and whistling, in military outfits and large hats. I have learned that the hats are for protection from rocks and the military outfits signifying how they are making a statement. They are dancing intensely to announce that this is their festival, their time, and their land. This goes back to when the conquistadors came to Ecuador and enslaved the indigenous people. It is said that this strong dance is the men expressing how once again Ecuador is their country. It is a bit scary, but also interesting. It amazed me that something like this could be allowed, but I was told that there really isn't anything that could be done to stop it. It is a part of who they are, a part of their culture, something that defines this region and the people who live here. As Inti Raymi came to an end in this area my legs were happy to take a break from all the dancing, but I feel closer to the people and more a part of this community. I was happy to have had the chance to participate in all the aspects of this very important time of year.
|Mina's Ecoclub came to visit me at the Reserve!!|
It is hard to believe that June has passed and I am approaching three months here in Cotacachi. I find that it feels more and more like home. Each week I meet new people, learn about new places and projects, and feel more content. I continue to work in the community Morochos in the tree nursery and I am happy of how things are coming along. At the end of July a group of volunteers will be coming to work on the garden part and I am excited to get that part of the project started. I was excited to build my first compost pile. Although I built it alone, I was in the community today and found that one of the women I work with, Elena, had piled up a huge pile of dried grass and leaves and told me she thought we could use these to build an even bigger compost pile. It made me so happy because I feel that we are learning from each other and truly working together to build this project. Everyday, we learn more and more about each other and each others culture. I am also excited to start working in a preschool near by where they have asked for my help in building an organic garden as well as hopefully helping with some environmental education. It feels so wonderful to be around kids again, especially little munchkins. The women at the preschool are so sweet and are truly interested in anything I have to offer.
|With one of the preschoolers and the school I am starting to work at|
It's funny, because I often find myself getting frustrated because things are moving so slowly or they don't happen quite like I expected, however, this past week my program manager came to visit me and one of the things he told me was to have patience, and it's true. I want to help and be involved and see progress, but at the end of the day I need to have patience and sometimes need to slow down. It is moments like today with the compost that make the day productive. It is playing with the children, conversing with the locals, learning a new word, admiring the majestic Andes that surround me, laughing with my host family, buying fruit from the lady on the corner, running in the early morning, meeting a new person, and so many other small moments that make being here special. I might not leave something huge behind, I might not succeed in every project I wish to do, but the relationships I make and the moments I spend with the people here are the things that will last. These are the moments that will never be forgotten. These are the moments that make everything worthwhile. Coming to this realization has brought contentment to my life here in Ecuador. It's not only about producing a product. It's about learning from each other while helping one another. It's about remembering to live in the present and enjoy all the world surrounding us has to offer. I have been in country for 5 months now, which is hard to believe. I still miss home and all who I love , but I am excited to see where this journey brings me. I am excited to take this road that life has place before me.
|Walk through the only Primary forest left in Imbabura!|