The Eating Habits of the Pineda Family

William Shain - Ecuador


September 14, 2018

Yesterday I watched three guinea pigs go from squirming little fellas in a
box to a delicacy on my plate. Did I think this would be how my Thursday
night would be going? Of course not. But turns out “cuy”, as the dish is
referred to in Ecuador, is pretty delicious! Pro tip however: Don’t watch
the preparations. As far as the idea that strange meats taste like chicken
goes – cuy is an exception.

I figure I should give some context as its been a couple weeks since my
last post. My apologies! In my house in the great town of Pimampiro we are
lacking only two things: water warmer than freezing temperature, and wifi.
The wifi aspect of that has been refreshing! It’s great to disconnect and
be more present each and everyday, however the calls home and to friends
around the world are sadly much more complicated. Posting something like
this also requires slightly more than my $10/month unlimited WhatsApp
package, and thus we have the gap in my timeline. The other aspect of that
– water temperature – is not so great. My goal for the next seven months:
Get to a point where I can take a shower and not scream out loud from the
cold.

Since my last post I have travelled to South America, had an absolute blast
at our in-country training, made great friendships among my fellow fellows,
and headed to the north of the country. Splitting into “Northern” and
“Southern” hubs was honestly quite sad. In situations like this, an
incubation of nerves and excitement and the limited contact to other
people, fast and strong friendships are formed and felt. Needless to say, I
am bummed that I won’t be taking the 14 hour bus ride south anytime soon.
However, I couldn’t be happier with the north! Our hub city of “Ibarra” is
exciting and no more than a two hour bus ride from the nation’s capital:
Quito.

Myself and Eliza, a fellow placed in Pimampiro with me, are the most
Northeastern fellows in Ecuador. At 1 hour and 41 minutes by bus from
Ibarra, we have ourselves a mountaintop paradise. The term mountaintop
itself is technically incorrect, for though I was convinced that we were
the highest up you could get, a trip to my host family’s plot of land on
Wednesday left me dumbfounded at the sheer expanse of mountains past
Pimampiro. The Pineda family is an extremely kind and hilarious group that
has opened their doors for me in a manner I could never have expected.
Coming from humble means, all 11 of them give me everything they have,
treat me as another son/brother/uncle, and go out of their way to make me
feel at home. Ten minutes into meeting them I had the whole room cracking
up at some “bromas” that I made.

Some fellows speak very little Spanish, and others none at all. Because of
this, I find myself incredibly grateful for my past experiences and the
level of Spanish that they have given me. I originally expected a struggle,
but have experienced no hardships in expressing myself or my thoughts in
another language. Indeed I’ve actually been able to discuss many incredibly
interesting things – namely: Political instability in Latin America, the
tensions arising from the current Venezuelan crisis and diaspora, income
inequality between genders in the US and Ecuador, cycles of poverty in
families throughout generations, and the stripping of the right to protest
in Ecuador more than ten years ago. All of these things have fascinated me,
and luckily I have been able to communicate well enough to bring them up in
the first place.

I want to include an anecdote that truly affected me before signing off. My
family, another in a long line of farmers, grows a number of things on
their plot of land that they call “el terreno”. Among these: mandarins,
lemons, limes, oranges, granadilla (passion fruit), and garlic. As I was
working on the land this Wednesday, my 24-year-old host brother Jose Luis
(the person I’ve gotten closest to until now) told me that the agricultural
workers of Northern Ecuador have been attempting to receive support from
the government for more than 30 years now – to no success. This year, the
government finally supported the farmers in lending a tractor to them at no
cost except for the diesel. When I asked my brother what this balanced out
to, he told me it was no more than $60 for the diesel, while it would be
$30/hour to rent otherwise. Because they had no say in when the tractor was
lent, they received it one Tuesday late into their planting cycles of
garlic and passion fruit, taking 7 months and over 1 year from seed to
harvest, respectively. With less than a month to harvest, my family saw a
golden opportunity that they couldn’t pass up and bulldozed their entire
stock of vegetation to prepare land for bean sprouts. Granadilla grows in
the air and thus was wrapped on metal wiring stretched between large wooden
posts no more than 5 meters apart, which were barreled through without time
to properly dismount them. When I arrived weeks after this all happened,
the land still looked like a warzone. We spent a lot of time respooling the
wiring because as the Pineda’s say “ You use something until it breaks or
goes missing ”, and I found myself wondering why the Pineda’s had foregone
their entire harvest, and put themselves through so much unnecessary work.
All my host brother could tell me was that they couldn’t pass up an
opportunity like this. Think about that for a bit.

That’s all for now from Pimampiro, enjoy these pictures and feel free to
reach out!

All the best,

Will

William Shain