Oh the stories the locals will have of the time the gringos came and dug a ditch! We returned to the wonderful hospitality of Elisa’s family farm recently and could not sit idly by when there was work to be done. We thought that we would be doing normal farm tasks like our last visit, but there were larger projects to tackle.
Unbeknownst to us, or Elisa, her family was responsible for helping on a community project the weekend we were there. Called a minga, each family in the community is required to assist in completing a project necessary in the area. In this case, the minga involved digging a ditch for a new water pipe. Elisa’s family had 20 meters of ditch to dig and so we went with picks and shovels and lent our not so skilled, or calloused, hands.
It was good to offer a hand to the hard working and remarkably friendly family and though they protested that we should be relaxing on our weekend, I think they were quite pleased to have our help. We dug our piece of the ditch whilst people complained about where they had to work and how far it really was and how deep as well. We contended with a rickety pick-axe that repeatedly broke off in the hard soil and a different water pipe running diagonally across our ditch, but we got there in the end!
One thing we were really keen to experience was seeing the whole cuy making process. Yes, cuy is guinea pig, but it is a special meal for families in this part of Ecuador and we were honoured to have the chance to enjoy it with everyone. Mamachula – the matriarch of the family – did much of the initial preparing while we were out digging our ditch. But we saw the remnants when we got back – intestines and blood and other bits that they would no doubt use somehow.
Once prepared, the cuy were tied onto long spits and placed on the braai – which was a gift from us all the way from Lesotho. They use the tips of aloe plants for puncturing the skin to ensure they don’t explode from the heat and leeks to brush oil onto the skin. It is a long process with lots of turning, but we enjoyed sitting and talking with Elisa’s sisters and brothers and her dad, Papachulo – the patriach. The final product was delicious – served with potatoes, rice and a peanut sauce.
Piper was once more the star of the weekend with everyone amazed at how much she had grown in ten months. She was speaking up a storm and stole ‘mamachula’s’ heart once more! She also decided to name the new farm cat ‘pescado’ – so they now have a cat named fish!
Beyond our unexpected community service we helped plant maize, choclo, and beans in the family field. We picked capuli – cherry like fruits that make a wonderful drink – from a towering tree. And we cleared out several large aloe plants for a new ‘driveway’ to Elisa’s brother’s house. It was refreshing to be back in the campo under the commanding view of Cotopaxi and have the opportunity to give a little back to Elisa and her family for everything she does for us. Piper had a blast romping in the fields with Mosa and Kevin – one of Elisa’s nephews.
We also had the chance to briefly go to the flower farm that we had helped last time by weeding seedlings. They have expanded from one greenhouse to five and the flowers are absolutely stunning! Competition is fierce though so the family has to consider changing crop to make it worthwhile.
It is not an easy life in the campo, but the quiet hospitality and earnest nature of all made us once again feel at home. We will miss the opportunity to go back, but know that any future visit to Ecuador will see us welcomed back with open arms! Thank you Familia Maigua for always opening your home and your hearts to us. We will truly miss you.