This is taken from the monthly update. To see the whole monthly update, please visit the post Back To Foundations here. ******************************
On June 18, I was able to make the trip to Chontal. I had made the hour and a half trip to Puerto Quito the day before, and then it took another 4 and a half hours to reach Chontal the next day. On the way, I was able to take some video of the mountains that surround the village. I had taken some of the same video on my turn the time before, and was able to match up the similar segments from each video, to see the difference in the mountain. The picture is below. What you don't see to the right is a large split in the mountain, where there was a landslide that took out a home and covered the roadway to the river. What a difference you can see in the trees that fell from the mountain in the landslides.
When I arrived, the people were preparing for the fiestas. As I was walking down the street, I was invited to a sneak-preview of some of the ornaments for one of the "floats" in the parade. (More on that later.) These swans were made by hand from pages from magazines that are folded up into little triangles and then interleaved to form the shape. Spray paint not only colors the swan, but also solidifies everything together. It took a lot of time from a number of folks to put them together!
At the same time, I was able to take a few tours of a few of the areas where homes were affected, as well as walk a bit up the mountain.
This is the back of the home of Maria Belen and her mother Susana (the place is also a restaurant). These were guest rooms, the one at the forefront was a room that I had stayed in at one time. These rooms were entirely filled with mud, as was as a giant boulder. Apparently, on the night of the landslides, there was a guest, a man, staying in one of the rooms on the second floor. No one apparently told him what was going, and he spent the whole night in his room! Talk about being inches from death…
The house of Fernando and Jimena and their two children is shown here. Trees and mud had collapsed on the roof of Fernando's workshop (this was 2 weeks after the 3 motors that run his carpentry equipment - and his livelihood - were stolen; and there's no insurance). The mud had come to the back wall of the house. The mountain doesn't look too good.
But take a look from the back view and you can see how barely a bigger catastrophe was averted. You can see the mud marks on the house and how the landslide stopped feet from the house:
I took up a walk up the road to visit the river Chontal, which was a pure water river that the folks would sometimes bathe in and clean clothes. It is also a sort of remote place I liked to come to to pray. On the way, I took a look down at the Rio Guayabamba, which merges there with the Rio Chontal, and you could see one of the leftover trees there:
The river itself had so much debris from landslides nearby, that the course of the river had changed, and the natural pool that had been constructed was wiped out:
I got a tour of the village school from Katy, who is one of Fernando's daughters. You can see the mud line on the side of the classroom here, showing how the mud had piled up. Several of the classrooms were flooded with mud.
This giant boulder stopped just short of the school:
There are classrooms for effectively grades 1 through 9. But as you can see, some of the classrooms are shared. How would you like to be teaching in these classrooms - man!
We stopped to say hello to Loris, who is the school mascot. Loris is a parrot who can speak a few words, and who, as you can see, loves sunflower seeds. I had a blast with the parrot. Loris doesn't stray away, surprisingly (or not so surprisingly, if she's fed well.) She was one of the main attractions on one of the "floats" in the parade.
I got to meet with the president of the broader community (called Garcia Moreno), Shisela Morales; as well as with Don Ramiro Nogales, a prominent, long-time resident of Chontal who I usually stay with; Fr. Marcelo, the local priest; and men from 7 of the families most affected by the landslides. We had a meeting for about an hour and a half, if I remember, and in the meeting everyone came to agreement on how to divide the money that was given through the gofundme campaign. We had raised in total $12,000, and it worked out really well for each family involved. The cost of a home from scratch is about $4K or so, including the land and the labor and materials. What is helping is that here and there, there are other resources that each family is getting access to, and the donations are helping with different things in each case. Each family is allotted a certain amount (different in each case, through discussion in the meeting) in order to identify the materials and labor they want to have procured. In some cases, it's a bathroom and a roof, in other cases it's cement blocks, in other cases it's wood for house. In one case, it's to buy an electric motor for wood-working tools that was stolen the week before, and to add a roof. Some are rebuilding in place, others have new spots. Where we stand now as of this writing, is that the check is being cashed. After that is done, all the materials will be bought together. When it's time for delivery, we all get together and I think there will be some sort of ceremony, though I'm not too sure. It's my first time around with these things here, and no matter how much you think you know what is going to happen - well, you have to open to new things, let's put it that way.
In all of this, you can see the hand of God. There was someone who was sent to bring about a certain coming together of people before Jesus came. John the Baptist's mission was to come in the spirit of Elijah the prophet, to "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." (Lk 1:17) He told the people, "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise," (Lk 3:11) so that "every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low." (Lk 3:5) The mission of John the Baptist was to transform barriers to bridges, to prepare the way of Jesus. You can see it happening here…
The fiestas began with the school parade down the main street. I don't any kid over the age of 11 actually likes marching in a parade in hot sun in a uniform.
After the assembly and speech and the initial stuff, the kids all returned to a few tiendas on the street where some food and drinks were served. In that time, I was meeting some of the schoolteachers, and a professional-looking salesman came up with a large suitcase. He was selling books and DVDs related to sex ed. So there were the teachers, in the middle of the street, with all the kids hanging around, digging through sex-ed books with all that is private on display. It was the strangest thing. You'd think the salesman could wait for another moment to whip out resources for sex-ed classes than the opening parade of the fiestas. As I think we all can sense intuitively, sexual education is at a different level of importance and intimacy than the academic subjects of math or history or even health, and it needs a space that's commensurate with that to not do violence to that reality. Otherwise, people lose that recognition of the dignity of human sexuality and are prone to abuse it. But so it was. I think he could tell that I wasn't too happy, but there wasn't much I could do but invite others to come and get something to eat … I thought of the Lord's words, "Whoever scandalizes one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!" (Mt 18:6-7) We all need the Lord's grace!
One of the highlights of the fiestas was the procession of carros alegóricos, or floats, in the little parade. Each car is decorated with a theme to it, a theme that is pertinent to the village. It includes a lot of symbolism, as well as representative dancers that perform after the parade, when everyone is gathered together. Normally, there is only one car for the town for the fiestas, but this year they had four different teams to have more people involved and have something bigger, to bring people together more.
Included are pictures of the different cars and the teams associated with each of them, and a video of the parade. One of the cars has a live parrot, whom you've already met. There's also a videos of parts of the dances:
There was also the election of the beauty queen, as always at the fiestas. Being at night, I only got a few short videos in to share. The girls are young, between 14 and 16 years old. I think that there are not many candidates in the 18 - 22 range because many leave the village for school, or if they stay, they have families and kids ….
There was also a show of horses down the main street. It felt like I was in the wild west:
On the second night, Saturday, we waited for the "main event", which was a concert by the singer Americo Ecuatoriano. There is a popular singer in Latin America, a Chilean known as Americo. There's also a hugely popular talent program on TV down here where Ecuadorians with talent impersonate famous singers of all types, and this particular singer reached the finals of the TV program impersonating Americo (thus the name, Americo Ecuatoriano). The big news around Chontal was that he was coming to sing for the fiestas. This was setup even before the disaster. This was a banner that was made up, showing him as the main event.
And I had started a running joke that, in fact, he was not coming, and that *I* was Americo. I was going to sing at the main event. Well, the night wore on and everyone was waiting, and I was starting to think that I might have to actually sing. We would have a copy of a copy of the original artist (not too uncommon here). Seriously, I worried a bit that the guy would stand the village up, and that wouldn't be good for the mood. But at about midnight, he showed up, and everyone was happy. Because Chontal has a large field, the fiestas here attract more visitors than the fiestas in the other villages, and there was a pretty large crowd, relatively speaking.
The great part was that, at one point, Maria Belen and her friend Antony were brought up on stage to dance and sing with Americo Ecuatoriano. They got almost 10 minutes up there dancing and singing with Americo - great stuff!:
And that wrapped up the fiestas!