Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Mayor

One idea I had to rustle up projects was to pay a call on the mayor of Otavalo, and I did this week. Being a consejal myself (city councilor) it seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

Don Mario Conejo is the first indigeno mayor of Otavalo, and I believe one of the highest ranking natives in the country. He is wildly popular here, winning a majority of votes in a race with multiple candidates. Some, of course, feel that he has abandoned the indigena agenda and compromised his people's interests to the interests of the whole populace - welcome to politics, right?

He speaks, as do all indigenous folks here, Spanish and their native tongue, Kichwa. There is a strong movement to retain this language, and it is somewhat working. You hear the older folks on the square and in the street, dressed in the traditional garb, speaking it, and many of the promtional signs around town include it, though not the stop signs or anything like that. It's position is somewhat less than, say, French in Montreal, but quite strong. It's part of the current culture here. When I told folks in Quito we were coming up here, they asked "Why? To learn Kichwa?"

So, I dressed up in my finest, took some business cards from the City Council, and marched down to the Municipal building. The receptionist and secretaries were very gracious and we set an appointment for Tuesday at 11. I arrived a bit before the appointed hour, receptionist apologetic, could I come back at 2. I did see my name was written in the scheduling book on her desk, so it wasn't "We forgot" but more like "Latin life happened". Not unexpected, I've experienced this type of thing in Latin cultures home and abroad, so I was happy to come back at 2. At 2, it was "Oh very sorry, could you come back in 30 minutes" This now felt a bit unorganized. So I came back at 2:30 and sat in the full waiting room until about 3:15 -

(during this time, I had a pleasant conversation with a local woman who inquired of me, her neighbor on the bench waiting for the mayor, "What type of problem do you have?" I got to learn about her group's concern and hope to visit her tiny village on the outskirts. She farms beets and potatos to sell at the Otavalo market. Stay tuned for that post hopefully)

At 3:15, I was whisked in and had a very pleasant, brief visit with a very impressive, charismatic, creative leader. I was very taken by him. He apologized for the wait and rescheduling and invited me to sit in on a session he was entering with a delegation of indigenous leaders from Bogota. So I got to sit in on a couple of hours of mutual boosterism and idea sharing with the Columbians, spoke briefly two times, and came home with an armload of swag - posters of the City, calendars, a CD, postcards, etc. and well-wishes for my time here and assurances that if I needed anything to please let them know. We'll see what may come of it; I have some ideas.

So, a very intersting little adventure. As a fun side note that I think lends insight into the cultural politic, last weekend I told my new friend Segundo - the maestro of the minga - that I had an appointment with the mayor and asked what should I say to him. Segundo is a huge promoter of local culture, teaches at a local bilingual school (and I'm not talking about Spanish-English!), has recorded traditional stories in Spanish and Kichwa for use in schools, etc. So when I asked Segundo what should I say to the Mayor, Segundo told me I should tell him "Alli Punja" (Kichwa for "good morning"...)

School goes on, quite disappointing in quality, K and I are attending with Rosie for translation and support, all being good sports about a tough situation. Hoping to make a friend or two there, Althea seems to be doing just fine up in 8th grade.

Food: Enjoyed two new teas: limoncello and oregano, made with steeped leaves of lemon and oregano. Yum.



Chuck W said...

Alli punja, indeed! I hope it means "good afternoon", too, given the delay in your audience. I'm amazed at how you've instantly managed to slice through the tourist veneer and into the heart of the situation. Lucky for all of us reading from home.

Heard about a FARC clash with the Colombian police yesterday just northwest of your neighborhood - interested to get your sense of how close/far Colombia and the drug war feels to Otavalo.

Food: I recall a tea called cedron (can't seem to cajole the keyboard into putting the accent over the "o") that I liked very much. Not sure if it was cedar leaves or what.

Slow skiing in VT today: temps headed to 30 below.

Uncle Brat said...

Paul, Kristen, Althea and Rosie... we are enjoying your experiences. Today, I got such a kick out of your Mayor visit that I was compelled to send it to my Commissioner. Among the many contrasts, I'm looking out a snow flurries with temps in the teens expected this weekend. You all are wonderful and very brave to undertake this adventure. Your uncle's Meyers Briggs type would cause a mental short circuit if we tried such an adventure. More within our comprehension, we are using the MLK extended weekend to fly to SF and visit Pete, Chantel and baby Emma. Please tell Rosie that we will be seeing her wedding sidekick, Hannah Banana.

Kay said...

"Latin life happened" - LOL!! You have such a good attitude about it. The Portuguese culture was that way too and I vacillated between frustration and envy.

Your immersion is fascinating and wonderful. You inspire me for our next sabbatical!! I need to get working on my language skills starting now . . .

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