|The children await the activities!|
This year Alex and I decided that we would not give any Christmas presents, as apart from the fact that neither of us are believers, we find the commercialism and money spent around the event rather offensive. We have slowly been cutting back over the years, and this year we decided … no more! We did decide to ‘give’, however, in another way. Our brother-in-law Christian’s auntie is involved with a poor community on the outskirts of Quito. For the last five or so years, she and her extended family (on Christian’s mother’s side), go out to the community close to Christmas and spend a day there. Each family donates food and goods (such as clothes and shoes) as well as organise a pantomime and activities for the children. Everybody gets involved, adults and children alike, and in the true spirit of Christmas it’s all about giving! This year, we got involved too.
|Dad helping with the hampers.|
In the weeks before the visit, each family donates something like tuna, corn flower or margarine (staples) and approximately 100 bags are made up. The families also collate clothes and shoes that they may have, that can also be passed on. These are also divided up into bags. The reality in Ecuador is that there is still a massive divide between the rich and the poor. Sad but true! The day started with the people from the community lining up to receive a bag of food and a bag of clothes/ shoes each. We all helped hand them out, from our youngest niece Isabella, to my Dad. The look of gratitude in the eyes of the people receiving the goods is beyond description. I can still see and feel those eyes boring into mine as I retell the story. It breaks my heart! I will never understand how, on a planet where there is enough for all, some still have so incredibly little and some have so much! I found it beyond difficult to compose myself at times and my eyes were constantly welling up with tears!
After all the goods were distributed, we went into a hall and put on a pantomime for the children, where they were also handed out drinks and sandwiches. Later we had various games and prizes for them all, as well as dancing and games. Again, we all got involved. The sparkle in their eyes impacted greatly on me. How often did they get ‘this much’? One little girl lost a game and bawled inconsolably, tears streaming down her face, for not having won the prize. She was not being a spoilt brat, she was simply devastated by her loss. When would she be able to ‘win’ something like this again? In a year? We gave her a prize! The injustice was doing my head in!
After the event, after all the children and adults had been and
|Fun and games.|
gone, we all sat down in the hall to a meal ourselves, which Chris’s aunties had prepared. It had been a good day, a fun day, a ‘successful’ day. Amidst our chatting I heard a lot of people reflecting upon the event and I wondered if ‘one day’ could really make a difference. Now I think back to the laughter, the smiles and the hugs that so many children gave me that day. I can only hope that I did help to make a difference … however small … on that day!
|With Carola and her family.|
In the time around Christmas, we also caught up with Carola and her husband Jorge. Carola had stayed with us for a few weeks, a year and a half earlier, in Melbourne. We went to her place for dinner (and an excellent one at that!) and it was a really lovely night. Carola had been to Dad’s place for dinner and she commented on how great it was for her to be able to do the same, this time in her country.
|Santa with our nephew Thomas.|
A few days later we would be having our own family Christmas celebrations. In Latin America, they celebrate on the eve and not on the actual day. Karen and Chris invited various members of their families over and we celebrated at their place (where we were staying). People started trickling in at 7.30pm and the last of them rolled up at around 10.00pm. We hung around, chatted and reminisced. We even got a surprise visit from Santa (aka Alex’s cousin Ronald). One of the games played involved us all pulling a name out of a hat and then decorating (arts and craft style) a plastic cup for that person with whatever was available. We had ten minutes in which to make it and when finished we all had to go around describing the person we had decorated the cup for, and when the name was guessed, the cup was presented.
|Christmas with our Ecuadorian family.|
At midnight we all wished each other a Merry Christmas and had some dinner. But it was after dinner that the real festivities began. Tables, chairs and the likes were shoved to the side, and the dancing began. As the night went on and people tired, one by one they drifted off to beds, couches and chairs, but a group of us partied on until the wee hours of the morning. Needless to say, we were totally knackered the next day and did not do a lot apart from sleep in and take it easy… very easy!
Over the next few days I also managed to catch up with Iliana, a great friend I had made when I worked in Ecuador in 1999. We had taught at the same school. Over the years we had kept in contact but she had moved to the USA. Although she often comes to Ecuador for short trips, it does not always tee up with when we go there. This time I got lucky and we managed to catch up. We caught up in the food court of a local shopping centre, and chatted, laughed, reminisced and laughed some more. It was just like the old days … nothing had changed. Well, perhaps some things had. Thirteen years ago you could not find a decent coffee to save your life! Sad but true, the best coffee gets exported. These days, however, it’s not such an arduous task. Colombian chain Juan Valdez provides an excellent drop of liquid gold. We also had lunch at a sushi place that left me pleasantly surprised, and in fact was better than a lot of places I have been to back at home.
|Fact or fiction? Balancing egg in the centre of the world.|
We also managed to do a few different things on the weekends with Karen, Chris and the kids, as they both work during the week. We went out to visit The Temple of the Sun, a recreation of an Incan temple, not too far from the Centre of the World monument we had visited when we first arrived. Set on a misty plain it really evoked the feeling of bygone times. We were greeted by two young ladies, dressed in traditional garb, who showed us around and explained some of the history and culture as well as explained Andean naturopathy and natural healing and
|Ortega and his ‘flash’ painting.|
medicine. We were also treated to a presentation of Cristobal Ortega Maila, who painted an Andean landscape for his audience in only minutes. He is renowned as the fastest painter in the world. He was truly incredible to watch. And the painting was amazing! He also took the time to explain the benefits of coca leaves in tea as an herbal remedy (great for altitude sickness) or in liquid form for muscular aches and pains. He had some very interesting facts and figures. And NO, unprocessed coca leaves are not a drug.
|Isabella and Boli (her Grandpa) boogie on New Year’s Eve.|
No sooner had Christmas passed than New Year was upon us. In the same way as Christmas, New Year is celebrated with a dinner the night before as well as a number of other festivities. We would be spending at it Chris’s parents and brother Johnny’s house, across the road. The turning of the calendar in Ecuador from the old to the new, however, is as much a purification ritual than anything else, and provides a New Year’s celebration like no other. The ‘Año Viejo’ (literally Old Year) is, quite literally, a fiery tradition that symbolically burns up the failures, regrets and anger of the old year in order to usher in the hopes and resolutions of the new one. On the last day of the year, people construct life-size dummies that might represent an irritating person, a disliked political figure, or even disappointment about past mistakes or unachieved goals. Then at midnight they are burned and ‘put to rest’. It’s quite quaint to see little ‘bonfires’ burning all over the place. Not sure how that would all go in fire-prone Victoria!
|The ‘widows’ out on New Year.|
We also all went for a drive to see the ‘viudas’ (the widows). Men dress up as women — the viudas alegres, or merry widows — and beg for money to pay for the funeral of the Old Year. It’s quite a spectacle; all dressed up to the nines, and strutting out to the middle of the road, they stop the traffic with the aim of relieving you of your small change. This often involves a lot of bantering including dancing in front of the car, leaning in to give you are kiss and thrusting their pillow-clad breasts into your face. We also saw three widows jump onto the back of a motorbike and one even rolled across our car bonnet. It’s rather hilarious and lots of fun to both see and be a part of. The traffic, as you can imagine, is banked up everywhere. But nobody seems to care … it’s New Year’s and the Ecuadorians want to party.
|Burning our ‘Ano Viejo’!|
seemed to take us forever to get back home, not due to the distance, but because of all the viudas on the road. We counted in the New Year, gave each other kisses and hugs, went outside to watch the Old Years being burnt to smithereens and then went back inside and ate. I must say, Dad found the late night eating rather odd, custom or no custom. And then the party started … with lots of music and dancing. A few other Ecuadorian New Year customs include: Wearing yellow underwear for prosperity in the new year; Eating 12 grapes, one for each month of the year, starting the minute before midnight. With each grape, you are supposed to make a wish for the upcoming year; To hope for abundant travel in the upcoming year, Ecuadorians run to the end of the street they live on and loop back to their house.
|New Year Part 2 with the Benavides Clan.|
At around 1.00am Alex’s cousin Sandy and his brother Rodrigo came to pick us up and we went
to his Uncle Raul’s house with Alex’s other brother Jean Pierre, where the Benavides Clan (Alex’s Dad’s side) were celebrating the New Year. His Dad is part of a big family and it was lovely to be able to see them all again. Unfortunately, on this trip, it would be the only time we got to see the bulk of them. But we were warmly welcomed and immediately made to feel at home. They were eating just as we got there, and of course Alex went another round. Alex never says no to food! Very rarely, anyway. It really is the way to his heart! And then … the dancing began. We were having so much fun. I danced until I simply could not stand up any longer (and hey, I do not go down that easily!). I think it must have been about 4.00am when I crawled into someone’s empty bed. When the dancers had all ‘gone down’ the singing and karaoke started. I am sure that it went on until after 6.00am.
|Alex’s cousin Oscar, the morning after New Year.|
At around 7.00am, one of Alex’s uncles finally took us home. The streets were dead! Absolutely null and void of any life or activity! In fact I had never seen Quito so empty ever. With lots of little burnt mounds of Old Years from the night before, it looked like a scene out of Mad Max! Desolate, barren and bare!
When we got home, everyone (except for Dad) was still asleep. Alex and I were exhausted, so we went to bed, and did not get up until the early hours of the afternoon. Needless to say, the rest of the day was very, very, very laid back.
It was hard to believe that it was already the first day of the New Year. We only had a week and a half left. How much more could we possibly pack in?
Next: Visiting Ecuador’s jungle in the Amazonian Basin.
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” – Robert Frost
|Partying with the Benavides’ – New Year.|
|New Year with the Benavides’.|
|New Year’s dancin’ … me in the green!|
|With the Benavides mob.|
|With Papa Jacinto, Alex’s grandpa.|
|Master painter, Isabella, at the Temple of the Sun.|
|Shaman, Temple of the Sun.|
|Indigenous lady, Quito.|
|What kind of chicken is that?|
|Thomas and Axel.|
|Me and my Superman!|
|New Year’s Eve dinner at Boli and Lili’s house.|
|Alex with his ‘other son’; Chrismas in Quito.|
|Sexy New Year’s widow.|
|L to R: Lili and Samy, with decorated glasses.|
|Dad and Aunty Paty.|
|Aunty Paty with Deni, Christmas.|
|Thomas, Christmas Eve.|
|L to R: Axel, Chris, Santa, Thomas, Karen and Deni.|
|Brother-in-law Jean Pierre.|
|Isabella too tired to wait up for Santa.|
|Dad with Aunty Gladys.|
|Enjoying yourselves? Yes!|
|L to R: Axel and Jean Pierre with Santa.|
|Christian handing out food hampers.|
|Gratitude or sheer relief?!|
|L to R: Miguel, Deni and Axel.|
|Look at me in the photo!|
|A kiss of sheer gratitude.|
|Lining up for Christmas food hampers.|
|Johnny (Chris’s brother) and Boli, his Dad.|
|Dad giving out food and drinks.|
|Priceless look upon receiving foodstuffs!|
|The look of gratitude, as this lady receives her Christmas hamper.|
|Who’s a cheeky girl? Sisa!|
|Catching up on the local goss’, Quito.|
|Nonno reading a book to Sisa in English.|
|Man in historical centre, Quito.|