On July 27, 2019, I reported that Tim Nacey had led a small group of gringos to Quingeo, a small village in the highlands of the Andes 17 miles south of Cuenca. It was an exceptional experience. Click here for the story.
The early hours of Monday, January 27, were not unusual for this time of year in southern Ecuador. It was simply another of the ”first day of spring” mornings that prepend to the beauty of the high Andes. Lofty clouds billowed against the rising heat of Amazonia, soaring into towers so white they appeared as citadels of sheep’s wool; the sky was so blue one could imagine capturing a sheet of leftover flannel and sailing clear to the stars hidden behind the sunlight.
It was on this day that, Tim Nacey, and Angelita Arevalo, led a gaggle of folks on a return trip to Quingeo to celebrate the centennial birthday of a woman who is studying to master the art of literacy. It was also an exquisite opportunity to further our learning from the women of the campo.
We arrived right on time. A room in the town hall complex was quietly filling with celebrants from the surrounding hamlets and villages that decorate the uplands south of Cuenca. Chairs were lined against the walls to accommodate them and, as the fragrance of age and anticipation filled the room, the sensation that today would be a very special day flowered.
While some busied themselves making sandwiches, Michael Giese put the finishing touches on a crown of fresh flowers she fashioned the evening before as a present for our hosts. A small chorus practiced singing, “Las Mañanitas,” the traditional birthday song of Ecuador.
Someone cranked up a boom box and before I could turn around, I was whisked on to the dance floor by a very determined woman who didn’t come here to bop ‘till she dropped, but until she wore out nearly everyone half her age.
Swinging gently on a soft breeze, enchanted pots patiently waited to be sacrificed, pinata style, by dizzy women and a few hesitant men.
Loneliness is debilitating and terrible. Too many men from Quingeo were caught in the jetstream of desperation years ago, flying north and east into a brittle and unforgiving futurein North America and Europe, some never to return. Those who were left behind still linger with the loss.
Most of the party-goers are women who, by sheer grit and determination rebuilt their community on their shoulders alone.
This is how it all began: a collective of now elderly women, survivors of abandonment, coming together to prop up those most devastated and to enrich their own lives through education, love for another, and faith in a future of their own creation.
This single act of solidarity tells you all you need to know of the strength commanded by the women of the campo. Admiration pales; inspiration strikes closer as well as the glow of kindness.
I kissed every woman in greeting. It seemed sacred, this tender moment. Although I have often been impressed with the portal of communication invited through eye contact by the people of Ecuador, this moment was precious. As our eyes met, I nearly swooned in the embrace of soft, ancient eyes looking deep into mine. Rarely have I been so moved by the graceful generosity of love expressed in this simplest expression of unreserved affection. The love I was offered warms me still.
As the day climbed towards noon, we adjourned to the patio. Amid cheers, laughter, and squealing encouragement, volunteers staggered, swinging a stick wildly to release the treasures nestled in rustic pottery suspended by a cord stretching the length of the pato. Cookies were offered to all from small bags as an exploding mist of flour escaped a shattered enchanted pot and bloomed in the feather-light air.
The air smelled of eucalyptus and roses.
And then, and all too soon, the women began to drift away in pairs and small batches, still laughing and telling stories of all that they had seen. The party came to an end.
As we rode the bus to Cuenca, the day’s celebration meandered towards quiet reflection on all that had been shared with our friends.
It was a simple afternoon that I will cherish for the rest of my days.