Bromeliad Magic

bromiliad magic

My love to all of you, my family and friends, on Valentine’s Day. Milton’s “Sonnet on his blindness” is the first poem I memorized years ago when I was a twentysomething working long hours watering plants in a nursery.  I was alone out there  among acres of fitzer bushes in pots and passed the hours memorizing and reciting aloud my favorite poems.  “thousands at his bidding speed and post o’re land and ocean without rest” is the line I think of this Valentine’s day.  Milton is talking about God’s kingdom and his angels as servants.  In my personal cosmology the I Am of my personal I am is the goddess with the hosts of angels just waiting to fulfill my desires.  I talk to them and I understand that my desire for freedom from constraining jobs and relationships makes it harder for them to answer my prayers.  They have my sympathy in their efforts to cooperate with and rearrange the entire cosmos in order to bring me what I ask for.  On this valentines day I send my love and appreciation to my legions of angels.  How grateful I am that, not being able to afford to live in the USA, I find myself in paradise.

Chickens are birds


painting from baldwinfineartblogspot


My day started with roosters crowing at 3 am and every few minutes onwards. All day chickens dominated.  I walked through flocks of the semi wild ones living in the grass by the road to my house, and along the way to the pool where a family keeps a whole room of chickens, who wander out along the road and into the fields nearby.  A truck passed with a loudspeaker announcing beautiful little baked chickens, another was stopped in town with a crowd buying the frozen recently killed.  A woman who sells snacks on the street corner nearby was holding a wildly squawking chicken, whose neck she was wringing.  I have seen chickens in Ecuador casually carried under arm along a busy street, tied to the top of buses, to the bottom of the Cessna in which I flew to the jungle, carried in a purse onto a bus.

As a city-dwelling north American my previous experience of chickens was only as body parts for food, wrapped in cellophane, sold in supermarkets. When I first moved to Ecuador some friends bought chickens for their little farm. They built a nice coop for them, with a ramp and places to roost.  But the chickens wouldn’t go in.  Every morning they were in the trees.  “Chickens in trees? ” asked the north Americans.  “How odd!”  Then one day we realized “chickens are birds!”  Of course they want to roost in trees.  Chickens are birds, and they must be the most abused beings on the planet.  Yes, pigs and cows, but no one ties a live cow to the bottom of a plane.

Here I am in one of the richest bird habitats in the world, my daily activity plentifully adorned with bird sightings  and bird calls and songs.  I love these birds.  I say I’m living here for Bird Therapy.

So I’m including the chicken.  Like the toucan it is splendiferously colored and large.  Like the cock of the rock it has stunning head decorations. And its call!  The males’ call can be heard all over the neighborhood. As bird calls go it is very loud and distinctive and interesting.

Too bad they can’t fly much.  I think perhaps we’ve bred them to have heavy bodies and small wings.

I imagine a world where chickens are only a rare Asian bird soaring over the wilds of Indo China, where birders pay thousands of dollars to hike into the jungle with a guide, and there, on a remote birding tower, they grab the binoculars and exclaim “a flock of chickens!” They snap pictures with wild abandon, thinking of all the people they can tell, while the thrilling and exotic cock-a-doodle-doo oooo”  drifts back on the wind.


Culture Shock

el agua

I like culture shock; I always have.  I suppose people who are inveterate travelers tend to be enthused about and interested in other cultures, strange smells, noise of all kinds, scary foods and things we do not understand.  Being in strange places wakes me up, gives me food for thought, gets me reflecting on books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen, artwork, language and myself.

I remember how satisfied I felt in 1979 as I got off the plane in Bangkok, inhaling  for the first time the steampot air redolent of smoking fires, rotten fruits, rotten onions, rotting fish, and exhaust, so thick to walk through.   I liked the bad smells, the sense that I myself was being slowly steamed, the sweat dripping down my back the  gaudy glass bits decorating golden statues, orange robed monks, paper umbrellas in all colors.  That first night I walked up to a festival from where I saw a line of flickering candles winding down the mountain to the sound of Thai music. There, in the narrow crowd of stalls, the whole street of firecrackers caught fire.  As I ran with the crowd and the bursting crackers and the flames  I thought, “Oh yes!  Now I’m in a different world!”

In Ecuador my greatest sense of culture shock came in a police station.  I was moving from Cotacachi to Mindo, with a canvas-covered truck of my possessions.  In Ecuador trucks get stopped and searched on the highways.  I’m told the police are looking for drugs or weapons.  So one takes the truck driver and his licenses and documents, one’s own documents and the list of the contents of the truck to the police station on the day you are moving. If you are leaving at 4 am you go there then. In my case there was a young clerk asleep with her head on the desk.  She stamped all the papers (without looking in the truck), and then we drove across the country without being searched.

But here’s my moment of ultimate culture shock: in the police station was a big poster saying, “The environment is your life.  Protect it.”   It took up the whole wall, had pictures of trees and waterfalls on it and explained that this planet is our home.

In the USA police work for the big companies, and show up to make sure the environment gets wrecked for profit. In the USA “environmentalist” is a derogatory word used by police and politicians to mean idiotish and annoying tree huggers, out of touch with reality.  In the USA the environmental terrorist is a recurring trope in the crime procedural dramas, cycling through along with psychopathic serial killers, south American drug lords, Charles Manson type charismatic religious leaders, angry black men and Muslim jihadists.  I’m not saying any of that is fair; I’m just saying you can tell who a culture fears by looking to see who are the bad guys in their literature and movies.

About six years ago I drove down the coast of Washington state, along the Olympic peninsula.  There, I saw government sponsored billboards that said, “your national forest, working for you.”  In front, beside, and behind were miles of tree stumps.  I’d have preferred it to be breathing its rich oxygenated air for me and inspiring me with its beauty.

 In Ecuador, along the highways there are government signs that say, “the forest is your lungs: protect it”,  or like the sign in the picture, “water is life. take care of it.”  

I’m not saying the government here is perfect on this issue. Here the government owns the petroleum and minerals even when the land is privately owned or belongs to an indigenous tribe.  And it is a poor country. People want education, health care, jobs, etc. So there is tension: how to preserve the gloriously rich environment AND have money.  When the last president, Correa, was first elected, he actually travelled all over the world trying to raise money for preserving the rain forests.  He was not successful.  At least he tried.  That’s all I’m saying;  when I see a government promote care of the environment I think I’m really in a different place now.









Oh the colors!

Yesterday I finally organized a bird feeder in my yard.  I had thought I needed a carpenter, but in the end I wedged a piece of bamboo in the tree, and then went scouting around the yard for bananas, oranges, and  papaya. And look who all came!  They were all here at once, hanging off the lianas and the bromeliads, three at once sideways off the metal thingy that sticks out of the ground here for no reason I know of.  First, a flock of golden tanagers, with a color like turmeric, then the blue-gray tanager who is often here, some yellow-rumped tanagers, some more yellows of all colors, then this red headed woodpecker with the striped black and white vest..  I didn’t accomplish anything at all yesterday unless being in awe of the beauty, and wildly happy counts.

Its a beautiful day in the neighborhood

This little bird, I think this is the one, (picture from tiny and plain looking, hops along the ground and sings so loudly that I had to get up early to go see what spectacular being had arrived in my yard.  Small, plain and ground hopping, with a gigantic song.  The sun is shining, more flowers blooming, including this orchid with the fuzzy face. Sitting on my sofa with my morning coffee, looking up at the hummingbird feeder, I see the bellies and little tiny feet of the hummingbirds.  The news from the EEUU is sad, to say the least, so I go resolutely back to being entranced by the beauty of nature.

You may have surmised that my adventures are taking place in Spanish.  And no, I am not fluent and most likely never will be.  But I get along, mostly because Ecuadorians are so very willing to understand and wouldn’t admit it if they didn’t.

I also am guilty of not owning up when I don’t understand.  Sometimes we talk and talk and neither knows what the other is saying, beyond a few nouns which serve as a hint for the topic. My policy during business transactions is to say back to the person what I think they just said, but during personal conversations I say something general on the topic.  I assume that since my Spanish makes sense to me, he must be understanding me, and he assumes his Spanish is perfectly clear to me. If we meet again we will be able to have the same conversation again, and we can pretend again, too.

My Spanish is fast enough, as there is still a small child within me who, having lived and gone to school in Mexico sixty years ago, is sure she can just open her mouth and speak.  So I do.  I can say almost anything (with the advice of my 6th grade teacher always echoing in my ears, “if you don’t know the word, circumlocute!”) but I arrive at the end of almost every sentence realizing that I’m in the wrong gender, or I’m no longer in the same tense, I forgot the objects and direct objects, or I’m talking about someone else when I meant to be talking about myself.

Everyone has stories about embarrassing mistakes, like using embarrazado for embarrassed when it means pregnant, or using coger (to take) “please coger me” to the taxi driver, which is sexual.  I have heard my friends use “sigua erecto” continue erect, to the taxi driver, instead of “sigua directo”, continue direct…I think he must be chuckling to himself, unless Quichua is his first language and he doesn’t know either, but he politely tells her that her Spanish is excellent. There are some words in Spanish I avoid in case my tongue gets tangled.  Cajones=drawers, Cojones= testicles.

At the beach in Spain some years ago I watched a big wave come in behind a group of ladies and shouted “Watch out. A giant grape is coming.”  Uvo=grape.  Ola=wave.  That’s my dyslexia at work, and why I’ll never be fluent.  I may not be fluent in English, either. Once, when I was just 19 I went to Thanksgiving dinner at the house of a boyfriend, and, noticing I was missing a fork, I asked, into the silence along the banquet table of these good churchgoing folk,  “Please will you pass me a f—ck?”

I have a Cuban neighbor who is very helpful about fixing things and is tall, and has tools, and a machete, very useful attributes in a helpful man. I don’t understand anything he says.  He is well educated and cultured and I can tell he is saying interesting things because he is enjoying himself, but he gives up and turns away because my face is utterly blank.   Cuban Spanish is staccato, very fast, has an entirely different rhythm and does not occur to me as a language I know.   I don’t understand when Cubans speak English either.  At the Miami airport after an overnight flight, I don’t understand anyone. But I’m starting to get it. My brain has to speed up and process differently, the same as it had to slow way way down one time in Tennessee when a man took three whole minutes to start answering a question.

I’m very interested in how languaging reflects culture. And of course, I’m hard at work all the time trying to understand and adapt to both the language and the culture. Manguera is a word I could not understand. Plumber after plumber talked about broken mangueras and new mangueras and replacing mangueras.  I learn most words by context or by asking what they mean and getting told in Spanish.  But I could not understand this one and had to look it up. It means, “hose” and it was beyond my cultural understanding to think that the city water pipes were small water hoses.

Since English is not a gendered language, I’m always musing on why various nouns might be considered either masculine or feminine.  I think it would be fascinating to study the difference in how languages gender things and relate that to history and culture.  But when I speak Spanish, I cannot remember the genders.  No, don’t tell me it’s easy because the masculines end in “o” and the feminines end in “a.”  I can’t remember how each noun ends.  Yesterday I looked at the personable young municipal water worker, with a guilty look on his face because he had broken into my yard to repair the manguera again, listened to his explanation that my landlady gave him permission, and said, “That’s a good bill.”  I meant to stay story. “That’s a good story.”  Cuenta=bill, cuento=story.

Recently I was listening to a love-gone- wrong kind of song in Spanish.  It had a repeated phrase, “hecho por la pulpa.”  Boy did I go off track on that.  I thought pulpa was octopus.  I thought how wonderful to use octopus as a stand-in for the murky depths of unconscious motivation out of which relationship-breaking misdeeds arise.  My son had been telling me about a captive octopus who is very smart, determined and curious, who can escape his aquarium and squirt ink at the breaker switch to put out the lights in the laboratory and get into the aquariums of other captives as well.

I thought, wow there must be a saying in Latin America, “the octopus did it.”  But no.  pulpo is an octopus. Pulpa is pulp, flesh, soul.

I think there should be such a saying, “the octopus did it” and if I use it you’ll know what I mean.


Shopping in Mindo

Photo by Kim,

Remember truck farmers?  These vegetable and fruit trucks come from Esmeraldas, Cumbaya, and the agricultural valleys between here and Santo Domingo.  There may be some schedule, but I don’t know it yet.  As well as parking in town, they move around the neighborhoods announcing their wares.  Some are only one product, for instance 10 mandarin oranges for $1.  That was two weeks ago.  This week there are 10 small unripe mangoes for $1, or 30 naranjillas (a citrus fruit) for $1.  The products seem to be overflow during harvest season, so one must go with the flow, so to speak, buying what is offered that week. It’s the opposite of my usual mode, “I think I’ll make potatoes au gratin” and I go buy potatoes.  No, it’s more like I’m lying in my hammock and I hear the loudspeaker and wonder what he’s saying.  “Potatoes”  I think.  I run get my keys and cross the rio casa zen (where the broken hose has been fixed twice but still is overflowing), issue out my gate and flag down the truck.  I buy a bag of potatoes, and wonder, “where will I store these?  What shall I make with them?”

In Cotacachi these trucks also exist, and in Quito, and throughout Ecuador.  The difference is that Mindo is such a small isolated town that I can only get some things from trucks.  There are trucks for internet service, satellite service, to pick up old appliances, to sell bedspreads, for shoes, pineapples, macadamia nuts, tires….Being ready to run outside at any moment demands that I have keys to the gate in my pocket, cash, and an ability to make out auctioneer speed Spanish.

 “Are they organic?”  I can hear my friends asking.  Well, maybe or probably not, or if the truck is old and the vegies are pretty grody looking, then yes, these people probably can’t afford chemicals. The use of GMO products is officially not sanctioned so probably it is not common. No use asking.  Everyone says yes, since they use the word organic to mean not plastic, or that it grows. They know if you ask that question you are only going to buy if the answer is yes.  There are a few small fruit and vegie permanent shops as well, but if I want the good fresh stuff for good prices, listening for the truck loud speakers is the way to go. 


bank of pichincha

This is the bank.  It also sells shoes along one wall and camera and computer accessories, like memory cards, along the other.  In back, in the dark is one man at a desk with a computer screen.  Here, I can make deposits, but nothing else.  For everything else, I go to the cash machine, or to the next town.



Magdalena, my laundry lady, lives a couple blocks away.  She has no doorbell, as no one here does.  It seems one goes to the gate and calls, Mag-da-leeee-na!  After awhile someone calls that she is coming.  It costs about $6 a week to get my laundry done, and while I can wash by hand  and hang on the line, it takes too long to dry that way.  She brings my laundry back when she is done.  She stands outside my gate and calls me, Kaaar-laaaa!


coconut milk
The Coconut Vendor

mmmmm, fresh coconut water, every day, then young coconut meat.


A small vegetable vendor

This store is about 6ft by 10ft