Maria, the receptionist at Carolina Bookstore who will soon be graduating from the university, is an indigenous woman who grew up in a very poor town south of Cuenca. Every Christmas, to give back to her home town, she arranges gift giving and fun for the people she grew up with. Here is a portion of a note from Lee Dubs, the bookstore owner, about this year’s event.
“Maria made her annual trip to Jima yesterday — along with a clown, the driver, her friend Luis, and me — in a van full of toys and treats for kids. [It is] a drive of some 90 minutes from Cuenca, the last half of which is on a narrow and twisting dirt road. The fun took place at a tiny community center on a concrete court that serves as a place to play soccer and basketball. As our van bumped its way to the center, loud music started and the word spread quickly, and people started to arrive on foot from all directions. Soon they were sitting on grassy mounds and rough wooden benches around the court.
New Year’s Eve in Cuenca.
“It was, indeed, a day of joy for over 100 children and parents. The clown was so funny that we often laughed so hard that we hurt. It felt so good to see and hear the laughter of all those people. Many children won prizes (toys) during games. Finally, children and even adults holding wee ones formed two lines according to gender and age, and packages of toys and snacks and juices were distributed to all.”
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The urge to go out and usher in the new year went away several years ago but when I was invited by Tom to spend New Year’s Eve with a group of his friends at Cafe Eucalyptus it sounded interesting. So, ok, but I will be gone before midnight rolls around.
We ended up with seven at a table upstairs having a pretty standard conversation among people who did and did not know each other. It was enlivened by a couple from Ukraine who had fled the fighting in that country. I wanted to know more but it would have been impolite to get off in a corner with them and learn their story. Dinner was very good with music by a young man singing to tapes and doing a good job mimicking various styles.
Then down to the bar for a Scotch and all of a sudden it was midnight with the mandatory countdown to the new year. One o’clock and time to leave came soon and, having moderated the quantity of my alcohol intake, I had a quiet and reasonably straight walk home. But as I got to the bridge over the river to my apartment there was a small castle sitting in the road ready to be set off. No way would I miss that and after about 15 minutes they set it off and as usual my excitement button was set off also as I stood perhaps ten feet away. To bed at 1:45. A great ending to the day as well as the year.
I think of myself as trying to always do my best to be unbiased in my dealings with and thoughts about people, groups, religions. But I got my comeuppance in class the other day. Maria Elena and I were discussing something that led me to express that from time to time I have the idea that I would really like to be with an indigenous family, a mile down a dirt path to the house, no connections to the outside world, living simply in the way it has always been done.
The words I used and the manner in which I said them came across as demeaning and insulting to the indigenous, implying that they were not smart enough to adapt to changing conditions. As I was realizing, with some horror, what I had done Maria Elena’s index finger was out and shaking at me. “Do you realize that the government has made sure that everyone has a computer? That many of them are more computer literate than you? That they are smart enough to use shovels and hoes rather than continue with digging sticks?”
My response was a deeply felt and humble “Thank you”.
Cuidense and love, Dave
David Nelson, spent 30 years growing up and getting educated in Oregon before moving to the Oakland, California and the East Bay area, where he practiced worker’s compensation law, representing injured workers, for 40 years. When he retired from his legal practice, he worked another nine years as a part-time gardener before moving to Cuenca.