Sunday, March 14, 2010

nutrition, volcanoes, and chicken trucks

Our last stop in Ecuador has confirmed that we absolutely love this country. We were fortunate to spend the weekend watching another friend of a friend, Kenji, work his PeaceCorps magic with a group of native kids from the outskirts of his village of Cotacachi. He runs roughly a million programs aimed at environmental education and protection, and we tagged along with his gang of teenagers to see Volcan Cuicocha and one of the only crater lakes on the continent.
We rode in the back of a truck up the mountain and made friends with the kids with questions like "If you could eliminate any one food from earth, what would it be?" Food is a universal, right?

Not really. Here is Jefferson, age sixteen. He wears clothes that would fit the average American 5th grader and before we made him our pet, guessed him to be about 9 years old. Kenji gazed at him sadly when we asked about his story.

"He's from a wonderful family from one of the communities but his growth has been majorly stunted by poor nutrition. He has been raised on rice, potatoes, and water. They don't have milk or fruit, and very rarely meat, to supplement their diet, and it shows." Kenji brings the kids fruit to try to combat their malnutrition, but it can't replace widespread education about how to grow the area's original crops again.

Here are some really beautiful faces. I think the kids (and for that matter, the parents) in the Otavalo area are some of the most amazing-looking people we have seen so far.

Jessica carries the heavy solemness that seems to characterize so much of the countryside. The girls are shy ("Feminism does not exist here!" insists Kenji when we make a joke about having a girls-only truck to head to the volcano. Machismo isn't always obvious, but Betty Frieden definitely hasn't yet hit the bookshelves). They were tired, and seemed to be inside their own heads for a lot of the day. I wondered how much was due to their personalities and how much
could be because there were two gringas around.

We've loved Ecuador and could spend months in any one spot... but "the road north" calls us...

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