Thursday, May 22, 2008

A long story and an Open Door...

(18 de mayo, 2008) I’m not sure when I’ll get to upload this, but I wanted to take a little bit of time to let everyone know what’s been going on. On Thursday (15th) I was talking to 3 young women at the hostel I was staying at in Cuenca…they had all gone to college together. And where did they go to college together you might wonder? Of all places, Hollins University, Roanoke, VA…just a couple miles from where I live. Who would have thought (or…who’d a thunk it?) that in the middle of Ecuador I would run into 3 Hollins graduates!

As I’m writing this I can’t quite remember where I left off earlier, but I’m going to go to back to Friday.

When I got done with my last Spanish class on Friday (16 de mayo, 2008), hopped a cab to meet the other two solo female travelers from the hostal, Kapa and Brenda. The three of us had scheduled a trip to Tarqui, an indigenous community (the Cañari’s) just 30 minutes outside of Cuenca. There is a non-profit organization there that runs a Cultural Center and Restaurant called Mama Kinua. It is run by members of the Cañari people, and the profits from the restaurant and the tourism project help provide medical care for children and pregnant women in 6 communities. That’s really important for you to remember, because that comes into play later in my post when I get to the awesome praise report that I have to share.

Back to my account…When I got to Mama Kinua’s Brenda, Kapa, and another solo female traveler from France, Joannie, were already loaded into the mini crew-cab pickup truck that was our transportation. I tossed my pack into the back, and we headed off. Our driver, Manuel, was much better than any of the taxi drivers I’d ridden with, and we had a good, but very bumpy once we got to the dirt road, ride out to the community. On the way there it started to rain, an everyday occurrence in Cuenca in May (one of the rainiest months of the year there.)

We arrived without any unexpected events and were ushered into the Kañari Kushi Waira Lodge building. I hope that you check out the pictures once they are uploaded. The lodge was a simple, square, two-story building with a dirt floor. There were benches inside, and a couple tables. We were asked to sit down at the tables. I was very grateful that Brenda speaks VERY good Spanish, and both Kapa and Joannie spoke passable Spanish…I had 3 translators! :D

Within a few moments, a woman in traditional attire (which you can see in some of my pictures) brought in a tray with small cups. It was the special drink that was only used for welcoming guests and for special occasions. I was warned by Brenda that it had alcohol in it, which was obvious from the aroma, even at a distance. It would have been a dishonor to our host’s hospitality to refuse it, and although it was tasty, I was glad that it was in a small cup. Our host/guide, Alfonso, told us that the hot drink would keep us warm on the inside and on the outside…yep!

Next came a tray with a light breakfast of mote pillo (can’t remember if I’m spelling it right, but it’s a mixture of hominy and cornmeal) and herbal tea. After the breakfast we watched a short video, and prepared to take our hike up to the primary forest where all of the medicinal plants grow. I thought it was interesting, the people there live to be very old, many of them over 100, and they use the same medicinal plants that their forefathers used for generations before.)

As we hiked up the hill (at a starting elevation of 9,342 ft.) I was glad that our total elevation GAIN was only going to be 274 ft to an elevation of 9,616 ft. I’m still getting used to hiking in higher elevations, and it does take some getting used to. I did OK, though. I was pretty excited about that. I wish I could remember all of the plants, their names, and uses. Alfonso had spent his whole life studying the medicinal plants and their uses, even having taken a university program that was specifically started to ensure that the cultures of the various Ecuadorian indigenous groups were not lost as more and more of the people migrated to the cities (a BIG problem here).

We stopped to eat a flower that was supposed to help with the respiratory system at high elevations during exertion, and then went on. Alfonso explained the history of the area, about when the Spaniards had come and how it had influenced and affected the indigenous people. I was interested in hearing about the religious influence from the Spaniards. They came under the banner of the Catholic church, and the local people adopted many of their beliefs, but continued to worship the sun, moon, rain, wind, and mother earth…as they do to this day. Alfonso said that even though his people practice Catholicism, they were very angry with the Spanish who came in conquest, because the Word of God says to not steal, kill, lie, etc., but that’s exactly what the Spaniards did to the Indigenous inhabitants as they claimed more land area.

After about an hour or so we got to the Cañari Sacred Area, and area at the top of the mountain that was used for worship rituals and festivals. Brenda asked what Alfonso meant when he said that they kept the area undefiled, and he replied that they did not allow any domestic animals in that area, and if humans were there they had to leave the area to “relieve themselves”.

There were some wooden benches up top, and we sat and listened as Alfonso talked about their worship of the elements that brought them the crops that they needed for provision. He said that we were all going to participate in “taking in the energy” from that area, and that if we focused, and really believed, we would not be tired at all that day, nor the next.

We went through a ritual in which we closed our eyes, raised our arms in front, and slowly lowered them down to the side as we “took in” the energy of the sacred area. We did this procedure four times as we faced each compass direction in turn, and Alfonso prayed his prayers to the elements and mother earth. (I, of course, was praying to MY God, thanking Him for the light of His Word, and His goodness and provision in my life.) It was interesting to see the sincerity with which these beliefs are held.

Afterwards we all ascended up onto the observation platform that is at the very top of the sacred area, and we were able to see a great deal in every direction. Alfonso told us more about the history and geography of the area and his people. The view was breath taking, and the pictures we took just don’t give an accurate portrayal. After we descend from the mirador- observation platform/tower we learned even more about the area, and then we caught sight of one of the women from the community, dressed in traditional clothing, and carrying a blanket wrapped bundle on her back. It was lunch time.

Lunch was served on a tablecloth on the ground, with the food being distributed along the middle of the length of the tablecloth. There was hominy, potatoes, mixed vegetables, popped corn, greens, and chicken…enough to feed an army. We all sat, or half lay due to the slope of the ground, and ate from the tablecloth with wooden spoons. We ate until we couldn’t hold any more it was SO GOOD!

It was siesta time after that, so we stretched out on the ground for probably 30 minutes, then we went to see the areas of multi-colored earth. It was a large area where the clay soil ranges in color from shades of red to brown to yellow to red. It was absolutely beautiful. From there it was time to head back to the Lodge. After another hike we got to the Lodge and were welcomed by another steaming cup of the “Welcome Drink” as I’m calling it.

They were beginning the preparation of the cuy (aka guinea pig) that we were going to have for dinner, and we’d indicated that we’d like to watch the process from beginning to end. We had seen the cages with all the guinea pigs in them, and it brought back memories of raising hamsters and gerbils. Now we were watching them as they killed two for the community meal…I will not go into any detail; it was somewhat emotional for me, and even “camera happy me” didn’t take any pictures. We half-heartedly offered to help with the process after they were dead, but were told that we would just be roasting them, someone else would do all of the prep work…we were grateful.

We played with some of Alfonso’s grandchildren (nietos) for a long time until it was time to help with the supper chores. Alfonso’s wife came walking up with a load of corn stalks strapped to her back…freshly cut from the field. We helped shuck corn (something I AM good at) and then went into the kitchen to help with the rest of dinner. I peeled a bunch of potatoes, and then it was cuy-roasting time. It takes 30-60 minutes to roast cuy over coals. You have to constantly turn the rotisserie stick so as to not burn the cuy. Someone else has to fan the coals to assure a good hot temperature. You can see pictures of us roasting it.

Dinner was very good, and we were stuffed, again. During the dinner we were talking with our host/guide Alfonso. I don’t even know how we got around to the question…since he and I couldn’t communicate directly, but we got onto the topic of advertising and the internet. I had Brenda ask if they had a website. Alfonso replied that they did NOT have one, but hoped to Someday (…hmmm…I have a t-shirt that talks about someday. It says: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday…See, There Is No Someday!)

I checked the Spirit real quick before speaking, and then asked Brenda to tell Alfonso that I work on websites, and wanted to donate my time to work on a website for them…You’d have thought I’d offered him a thousand dollars. He was so grateful! We gat together later to get the information together for it, and then Brenda, Kapa and I did a little brainstorming. Brenda (who just “happens” to have a background in International Marketing) told him his prices were too cheap for the overnight add-on. She raised his prices for him from $11 to $15 per person per night. That was really reasonable still, as the price included dinner and breakfast.

Remember back at the beginning of my 2 hour long discourse here, I mentioned that the proceeds from the tour go to help provide medical care for children and pregnant women in 6 communities? As I was talking with God later that night the Holy Spirit reminded me of the prayer that I prayed before leaving the States, “God, allow my visit to Ecuador impact the nation for you.” Now I know that we affect people everywhere we go, but I wanted to impact a nation, not just a handful of people. And that’s where my faith was…I have a world-wide vision. I’m called to a church whose mission is to impact the entire world, and I have a call on my life to impact the entire world. That what God told me a long time ago. That’s what I’m believing to do.

When I realized that by doing the website for them it had the potential to drastically increase revenues, therefore providing medical care for more people, it hit me…I was impacting their nation…the people are the nation. And I was showing the love of God to them, without asking for or wanting anything in return…GOD IS SO FREAKING AWESOME!!!!!!! Then the Holy Spirit started talking to me about the rest of the trip…how I had considered my plans to have fallen through (the rain forest trip and then the Peru route that I’d wanted to do) and having had to switch to “plan B”. He told me that “plan B” was His plan all along…and that He had guided my steps every single day.

Every delay that I thought I was going through was His divine timing. As He began to bring different things to my remembrance I started to cry. The Bible says that the steps of a righteous man are ordered of God. It also says that if we trust in the Lord with all of our heart and don’t lean on our own understanding and if we’ll acknowledge Him in all of our ways, then HE will direct our path. While I’ve experienced that time and time again in the past, it always brings me to tears to know that God wants to and does use me for His glory! That’s the only thing that I want to be remembered for…what I did for the Kingdom of God

The next morning we had breakfast and then headed back into town. We purchased the domain for their website, and over the next couple weeks Brenda, Kapa and I will be collaborating on designing and launching their website. Once it’s done I will post the URL and a notice that it’s live.

I’m closing this post here. I’ll start a new one for the next portion of my trip. Thanks again for all who have lifted me up in prayer. God is so good!!!


Jackie said...

Interestingly enough, I am heading to Cuenca in a week and was searching for information on Kushi Wara...and lo and behold, a Bird Family entry popped up! I'm a Bird, too! Jackie Bird. Maybe we're related? There aren't that many of us. My family is centered around Princeton, IL. Have any connections there? If not, do you have more info on Kushi Wara? If so, my email is Thanks, potential cousin! Jackie

Sandi said...

Jackie, I just found your comment, and I emailed my phone number to you...