Reflections of Malingua Pamba April 2016
This was my first trip to Ecuador. My travel companions were my long time dear friend, Pam (as in Pamelita of Centro Educativo La Minga), and my new friend, Cherie, from San Diego. We spent the first 5 days being tourists. The days were very full trying to sample as much as possible with our guide, Jean, who knows all things Ecuadorian. We visited Otavalo, Quito, Mindo (the cloud forest), and a couple of small towns to meet local indigenous artisans. We stopped at the two “La Mitad del Mundo” (middle of the earth) sites to learn about and experience standing on the equator.
My volunteer experience in Malingua Pamba was limited due to time restrictions: a 4-night, 3-day stay. However, my volunteer time started prior to arrival in Ecuador. It was fun to shop for age appropriate toys, puzzles, and games in Denver, CO, and to pack such items into several crates—along with Spanish-reader books for all ages, donations of yarn for knitters, and tooth brushes and paste—to bring to the community. It was even more rewarding to help distribute these items to welcoming and grateful residents of the mountain communities of Guantugloma, Malingua Pamba, and Quinta Tunguiche. The warm welcome and hospitality of the Malingua Pamba community is paralleled by the spectacular views of the Andes —steep rolling hillsides of patchwork farm land, speckled with small houses made of cinderblocks or “chosas”—thatch covered huts, separated by much acreage of cleared land, clusters of tree stands and deep canyons.
Upon our arrival, and continuously throughout our stay, we were greeted by the people with big smiles, time of day salutations, and handshakes—from the most senior person to the smallest toddler. As a bonus experience, we were able to attend a wedding, “la boda”, and a baptism. Preparation for these events started days prior, with women preparing copious amounts of food, people decorating the community church and the pre-wedding celebration location. The tradition is to “kidnap” the bride-to-be in the early morning on the wedding day. She was taken to the pre-wedding ceremony site in the Pucara’—an area of rich growing soil, designated as sacred. Later, all the community, including we visitors and engineer volunteers, and a hired band, walked the dirt road (approximately 2 miles) to the Pucara’. Everyone was served lunch consisting of chicken, guinea pig (“cuy”—a local favorite), rabbit, and fried egg; beer, “la cerveza” and “chichi” (another local favorite made from fermented corn, molasses, pineapple juice, and lemon grass) were readily available to drink. Per tradition, the to-be married couple, as well as their two witnesses, approached family members, on bended knee, to ask forgiveness for any transgressions they may have committed. Then music and dancing was enjoyed until it was time to walk back to Malingua Pamba for the official wedding ceremony performed by the local visiting Padre. The baptism immediately followed. Then, everyone exited the church for more dancing (albeit in the rain).
What I learned about the indigenous Kichwa people of Ecuador is how their strong cultural roots and traditions allow them to be very connected to each other and to the earth. Each person contributes to the well-being and functionality of the community as a whole. It is done warmly and without question—a traditional way of life. The Kichwa are known for being volunteers, “mingas”, to complete group projects. These have included creating dirt roads (with only the hand tool of large hoes), building homes, a school, and community buildings, clearing land and planting crops, and, over the past several years helping other “mingas”—volunteers from EWB (Engineers without Borders)—install potable water, flush toilets, irrigation systems, and erosion control. The Kichwa are a very hard working people who are humbly proud of their accomplishments and way of life. Both the adults and children were a joy to interact with (even with my very limited Spanish and the children’s expanding, but limited English)—friendly, adventurous, generous, inquisitive, fun-loving.
Being a rural agricultural community high in the Andes, locally known as “the highlands”, the Kichwa we visited are monetarily poor, but rich in culture and tradition. They do not take things for granted. They cultivate crops during two growing seasons, and raise live-stock on the steep mountain slopes. This provides the source of their nourishment, as well as products to sell at the weekly regional market.
I am so grateful to have had a brief, yet meaningful, glimpse into this warm, gentle, and loving culture of the Kichwa. It was a heart-expanding and life-enriching experience.