Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Slideshow and lecture at Macalester

Today we gave a presentation at Macalester as part of the Pi Sigma Alpha lecture series. We were well-dressed, and just moments before we were about to begin, a voice bellowed from the corridor: "Nicole! You look like a Republican!"

Always good to have David Seitz at an event.

Speaking for about 35 minutes, Nicole and I briefly summarized our model of Complementary Collaboration, showed Jaime's photos and told anecdotes about four popular movements in Quito and El Alto, and presented our academic argument about women's inclusion on the executive councils of these movements. We had a full house and received another 30 minutes of good questions and comments, as well as suggestions for the future direction of our research.
Our various anecdotes about interviewing a vampire, being briefly imprisoned, and getting kicked out of a restaurant while interviewing one of Ecuador's national political officials were well received. So were the cookies.

It was great for me to be able to share our work with my friends, who have heard tangential anecdotes about my experiences but hadn't heard too much about all the data we've collected and the specifics about our case studies. Oh, bridging connections between worlds! I also liked the juxtaposition between looking like a Daughter of the American Revolution and simultaneously talking about the twin beasts of neoliberalism and privatization. What would Sarah Palin say?!

--Paul and Nicole

Monday, November 10, 2008

Halloween with the North Central Council of Latin Americanists

On Halloween afternoon, we presented our initial research findings at the North Central Council of Latin Americanists conference, held at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater. Pictured with us are Fiorella Ormeño Incio and Brendan Duke, who also presented papers at the conference. We had some good drama leading up to our talk, because two days beforehand I lost my voice! Erik Larson called it a public service. Up until about an hour before our talk, we didn't know if Nicole was going to have to do the whole talk by herself, but my voice returned and we put on a good show, complete with a Halloween-themed handout of our causal argument. Our paper was titled "Presence, Status, Respect, Voice: Gender Dynamics and Anti-Privatization Movements in Bolivia and Ecuador." NCCLA was a small conference, so it was easy to get to know a number of people as you saw the same faces at most of the panels over the course of two days. By contrast, when we present the final version of our work in Rio de Janeiro in June, there will be over 5,000 people at the Latin American Studies Association conference. It was a lot of fun for me to present at this conference with Nicole, and also have a current student (Fiorella) and former student (Brendan) presenting as well. And Brendan won the Student Research Award for best conference paper!
Probably the most disappointing part of the conference was not wearing costumes. Nicole had high hopes that we would buy bunny ears and/or a knife-through-the-head headband on the way to the conference, but this plan never materialized.
The most memorable line from our talk was when Nicole philosophically asked the audience: "Do retrograde patriarchal thugs pay a price for their misogyny?"

We spent Halloween eating leftover candy and discussing Obama and different birthing practices. Not quite Trick or Treating, but still a good time. After listening to Brendan's excellent presentation on Saturday morning, we ate Afghan food in Madison (they were setting up for the huge Halloween party) and headed back to St Paul. On the way back, we stopped for some authentic Wisconsin ice-cream (it's a tradition to stuff our faces with high-calorie deliciousness after working).

The adventure continues!

--Paul and Nicole


Sunday, August 10, 2008

An Andean Adios

Clean cut in Miami, pre-departure (June)

Ragged and research-weary in El Alto, Bolivia (July)

All gussied up in Quito, Ecuador (August)

Tomorrow we fly home via Miami, so this is our last post from the Andes, and probably our last post for some weeks, but though our 2008 summer field research prompted our creation of this blog, our collaboration (and thus the blog) hardly ends with tomorrow's jet travel. Looking ahead, we will be writing a conference paper in September, presenting the paper at the North Central Council of Latin Americanists at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater in October, preparing an article manuscript for Latin American Perspectives in November, and drafting text for a bi-lingual online photo essay in December. In 2009, we anticipate publishing two articles in Bolivian and Ecuadorian periodicals, submitting a pedagogy article about faculty-student collaboration to PS: Politics and Political Science, presenting our pedagogical reflections on our "Complementary Collaboration" model via Macalester's Center for Scholarship and Teaching, and presenting our final research findings and photographs at the International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil).

So we're not quite done yet.

Reflecting back on the past nine weeks with Nicole, I recall an interview on June 13, our second day of fieldwork. Toward the end of that interview, I was explaining to our interview subject how Nicole and I knew each other, and without thinking about what I was saying, I said "Nicole era mi estudiante" ("Nicole was my student"). Nicole and I looked at each other across the table and both burst out laughing.

Some months before our fieldwork began, Nicole concluded that she was unlikely to take any more classes of mine. It came up in the context of discussing my Latin American Politics class—the logical "sequel" to the first-year seminar she took with me, Latin America through Women's Eyes. During her first year at Macalester, Nicole and I had both assumed she would eventually take the second course, and probably others with me as well. But, she told me (this past March), it would be too awkward, especially on the heels of an entire summer of research in the Andes together.

At the time, my reaction was one of understanding, but not really agreement. Basically, I felt that if she was uncomfortable with it, she shouldn't take the course, but that it was up to her. It definitely contradicted my expectations. Up until Nicole, many of the students with whom I worked/mentored took 3 to 7 courses with me, and I figured she would likely follow this pattern. But after her first semester at Macalester, I went on sabbatical and didn't offer any courses for over a year.

Up until we got to Bolivia, I still thought it possible that she would change her mind, but by our second day of Bolivia, I was surprised that I started to feel the same way: that it just wouldn't work. She had become one of my principle colleagues, and my classes, at least as they are currently designed, don't really offer a logical space in which she would fit. Instead, we are talking about co-teaching Latin America through Women's Eyes (Fall 2009), which would flow smoothly from our research on gender dynamics among Andean social movements.

I have learned a lot about collaboration with a research partner (Nicole) and about collaboration with a research team (Nicole, James, Jesús, and César). The two are very different. Working with Nicole, in Minnesota and in the Andes, I very much felt like I was working with a peer and an equal. Working with a team, it was obvious to everyone that I was in charge, which was difficult for me after getting used to such a level playing field with Nicole. It was also awkward for me to get used to Nicole switching roles. As research partners, she and I usually felt comfortable "giving orders" to each other, but in the team setting, Nicole wasn't in a position of authority to direct the other team members, which somewhat re-shaped how she related to me. In our final week, however, when it was just the two of us back on the interview trail, I was pleased at how easily we reverted to our status as research partners, which we prefer.

This research experience has definitely been like none other. There were many intense challenges, some of which pushed me to (and past) the breaking point like no previous trip had. We have a lot more reflection ahead of us, but one satisfying reflection I have already is this: looking at the scope, depth, and quality of what we accomplished in terms of our research project, I could not possibly have done it alone. I will sleep well tonight.


Nine weeks later, and we're on the eve of departure. From this crazy Andean adventure, we move onto the next stages of our academic work: articles, conferences, who knows what else. But to me, sitting in Quito after having been away from home for 63 days--my longest time away yet--it seems as though perhaps the most momentous challenges will not be spoken of at conference presentations or discussed within academic papers. The real challenge, for me, lies in incorporating all that I've learned from this voyage (which extends far beyond gender dynamics) into the rest of my life, making these 63 days not solely about studying someone else's struggle, but in fortifying my own sense of community, values, and justice. What that means in practice, I have not yet decided--but I sure hope it involves lots of friendship and ice cream.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mild-mannered Patricio Endara

Today Nicole and I had our final day of field interviews. Our 60th and final interview was with a prominent member of Quito's metropolitan council who will likely compete in the next mayoral election. His high profile and status was confirmed by the fact that our 3:00 appointment got bumped to 3:30, 3:45, 4:15, and finally 4:35. And our 30 minute slot was sliced down to 20 minutes. While we were waiting, we did electronic chores, charmed the office staff (yielded full access to the archives we needed), and ran into our friend Patricio Endara.
Patricio appears to be a mild-mannered Clark Kent type. He speaks in a quiet voice, doesn't emote much, and seems harmless. He says the following phrases all in the same tone: "I had coffee for breakfast," "I'm mobilizing 100,000 people to occupy central Quito next Saturday," and "Please pass the butter."

I met Patricio in 2002 when he was in charge of the Coordinadora Popular de Quito (Popular Coordinating Committee of Quito) which, when it (kind of) absorbed several other organizations (the most horizontal, consensual takeover you've ever heard of), morphed into the Foro Urbano (Urban Forum).

Patricio showed up to see the city councilman we were waiting to interview. It was clear from the office staff's reactions that Patricio would not need an appointment in order to cut in front of the entire line of well-dressed petitioners waiting their turn.

Patricio has no plans to run for office, but I predict a Paul Wellstone-like trajectory for him. He'll try to stick to movement politics, but in another decade he'll be dragooned into electoral politics by his allies and supporters who decide he's just too good to not put him in charge. His current project is to lead a massive groundswell of support for the "Sí" ("Yes") vote in the upcoming September Constitutional referendum (that's what the 100,000 people are for).

I once asked him to describe his greatest defeat. He was quiet for a long time, then shrugged, his only answer a faint smile that betrayed just a trace of ego, as if to say "I'll let you know if that happens. But don't hold your breath."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Foro Urbano

The Foro Urbano (Urban Forum), one of the case studies for our research project, in an articulation of the needs for a new direction for Ecuador, focuses specifically on creating connections between grassroots groups in urban zones. It is a network of people and groups working together at the grassroots to improve their poor communities and to create public policy to push Ecuador into becoming a more progressive country to meet the needs of all of its citizens. The current networks within the Foro Urbano are the women's movements (which is the most active), a network of poor neighborhoods, and land invasion communities. Last weekend, Mujeres por la Vida (Women Struggling for Life) and Foro Urbano held a two-day long workshop for activists from throughout the country to discuss the new constitution, why they should vote in favor of it in the referendum on September 27, and how to organize nationally in support of the constitution. Four of the 130 assembly members in the 8-month long constitutional assembly process came from Foro Urbano/Mujeres por la Vida's ranks (and answered specific questions about the constitution during the workshop), but all of the members of this grassroots movement are inspirational, intelligent, and articulate people fighting for change. Here, we give you a snapshot of some of those leaders.

A press conference after the workshop. Here (from left to right) you can see assembly member Ximena Orosco, president of the land invasion network Luis Esparza, Mujeres por la Vida president and Quito sub-councilwoman Maria Hernandez, and assembly member Betty Tola. Behind them, standing strong, are other activists from the national movements of Mujeres por la Vida and Foro Urbano who are organizing in support of the new constitution.

I met María Hernández in 2002, when I was studying the neighborhood of Itchimbía in downtown Quito. Itchimbía was founded by an illegal land invasion and María was the president of the group from 1996 to 2006. In 2002, she was organizing 150-200 meetings and events a year, both in her neighborhood and around Quito, plus parenting her son, plus earning income, plus aspiring to a political career. In 2004, she elected as one of the 30 City Council members that, with the mayor, govern metropolitan Quito. She's now President of Mujeres por la Vida and one of the most visible representatives of the Foro Urbano. She is incredibly smart and knowledgeable, and our latest interview with her nearly reach two hours because she can talk/teach effectively about most of the topics that interest us. She has an older brother named Virgilio...

Virgilio Hernández has been a prominent social movement leader for 25 years (he's now 42; do the math). A key Foro Urbano leader he was elected to the Constituent Assembly and has spent the last eight months co-drafting Ecuador's new Constitution. During our interview with him, we were repeatedly interrupted by fans, who came up to pat him on the back, shake his hand, and one abuela pretty much did jumping jacks for joy she was so excited and proud to see him in person and rave to me and Nicole about how he is the best Asambleista ever elected. His celebrity was lost, however, on the manager of the café where we were interviewing him, and she kicked all three of us out for taking too long to finish our drinks. Maybe she just doesn't like the new Constitution?

Until recently, Sara Proaño says, she was self-absorbed and held "neoliberal ideas." Focused only on making more money and improving her social status as the only wealthy doctor in her poor neighborhood in Quito, Sara understood life to be about buying new cars and protecting herself from the ruckus of the outside world. She thought the Itchimbia land invasion (ironically led by her future colleague Maria Hernandez) was accomplished by a group of hooligans with no respect for the law. A neighborhood meeting about increasing crime on the street changed this; Sara transformed into a community leader and then eventually the president of her neighborhood. After attending a transformative political leadership school for women, where Sara learned from illiterate indigenous women about globalization, neoliberalism, and the need for true community solidarity, she became a key leader in the national movement Mujeres por la Vida. Now, Sara remarks, she has completely changed her lifestyle and understanding of herself. Instead of driving two cars and continually buying new goods, she sold her cars, makes very little money, and works 365 days a year fighting for women's rights in Ecuador. Despite having renounced her wealthy former lifestyle, she says she's the happiest she's ever been.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Cell Phone Use 101

If, you have the personal numbers of several of Ecuador's highest-ranking elected officials in your cell phone's directory,

And if, you have a curious two-year-old in the house who likes to push buttons,

Then, you should keep the cell phone key-locked,

To avoid embarrassment.

Interviews with social movements and the Constitutional Assembly

It's hard to believe it's already August and we only have one week of fieldwork left! In 10 days, we'll be flying away from the Andes, getting ready for Fall semester at Macalester (and the Republican National Convention!) and squeezing the last drops out of summer. But before then--there's still so much work left to be done! I'm confident about getting all our fieldwork done. The challenge for me is all the other professional work I need done before we return.

For the past week and a half, we've been hard at work on our case studies, learning about (attempted and sometimes de facto) privatization of natural resources in Ecuador, and running around the city during interviews with some really incredible people. We are pretty sure our case studies will be two different organizations that were both active in the Coalición por la Defensa del Agua (the Coalition in the Defense of Water), which was a coalition of organizations from 2004 to 2007 successfully fought against the attempted privatization of water in Quito. One organization, the Foro Urbano (Urban Forum), connects different networks of social movements (particularly focusing on womens' movements, land invasions, poor neighborhoods, and student groups) in order to shape public policy. The other organization is Ecuarunari, the sierra branch of the CONAIE, a highly political indigenous organization that is probably has been the most powerful social movement in Ecuador for the past three decades. We finalized the decision to focus our Quito fieldwork on these three organizations some time ago; the remaining uncertainty is over which two of these three groups will best fit into the comparative framework of our project.

We've also been interviewing some people who were members of the Constitutional Assembly that spent the past 8 months writing a new constitution for Ecuador. It's extremely progressive, outlawing the privatization of natural resources, giving fathers the right to paternity leave, recognizing that housework is a job that deserves rights such as social security and retirement, and declaring Ecuador to be a peaceful territory and kicking "all" foreign military bases (i.e. the U.S. military base in Manta, which is the only one) out of the country (U.S. military forces will likely relocate to Colombia). There were 130 assembly members, and we've interviewed several very, very powerful ones and have interviews lined up with more. And, in one of the most exciting moments of my technological life, I sent a text message to the president of the Constitutional assembly! It would be hard to overstate Nicole's excitement over this text message...

It hasn't been all fun and games, however. In order to be able to interview leaders of Ecuarunari, we needed to get the authorization of the president of the organization, who was out of Quito's province until Wednesday. I was very nervous for our meeting with him, because just two weeks ago he went on CNN to say "enough with the foreign academics who come and steal our information to use against us." It's a very valid critique of academia and Western involvement in Latin America-- and made me terrified to talk to him! I agree with Nicole that this critique is incredibly valid and important, but I was always confident we'd win him/them over. It's a similar story everywhere, but once we get to talk to leaders face to face, we have a fairly endless stream of references (movement organizations in Ecuador and neighboring countries) and examples of our social justice projects that show that we are "not just academics."

This morning, Andrea, Araminta, James and I went to the museum of Oswaldo Guayasamin, the most famous Ecuadorian painter who was named the official painter of Ibero America. There are two museums, one of which displays some of his art as well as his massive collection of pre- Columbian art, as well as the "Chapel of Man" which is too incredible to describe. Really, it's worth coming to Quito just to see these museums. To give you a sense, I've pasted here some of Guayasamin's work. My favorite set of Guayasamin paintings is a series of five massive portraits of evil, leering, conspiratorial, hideous, terrifying men. When I first saw it, I just loved it. I told Andrea so, and she couldn't imagine why I liked it so much. I wasn't really sure either, but then I saw the title, and it all made sense: "Meeting at the Pentagon."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

So Far

so far
the Panamerican Highway
that the faint whine
of diesel
mutes the crash
of Pacific foam
that nibbles
at four
beach umbrellas

since 1999
each year
meter by meter
the shanties of Villa Mar
their sandy precipice
inching toward water
in a decrepit stumble
toward development

the stench of waste
is less strong here
by a soaring waft of brine

the breathlessness
and furrowed brows
of Villa Mar’s early days
have frayed
replaced by the boring ache
and grind
of hauling water
and scavenging dignity

a little girl
too young to enroll in

snot hangs from nostrils
like fixtures
penny barrettes
in her clean hair
sand sprinkles
lime-dandelion fleece
and pink pants

shy to talk
eager to play
at my side
near company
and the intrigue
of a new face

and she bolts
off to adventure
by the misery
that awaits
once she awakens
to how her needs are
so far
from met
Lima, Perú

Ecuador, Constitucion y Sociedad- Ecuador, its Constitution and Society

We arrive here in Ecuador during a time of great political change and heightened tensions throughout the country. Current leftist president Rafael Correa convened a constitutional assembly to rewrite the country's constitution in a model that goes against neoliberal currents in Latin America. 6 million copies of the constitution will be given out on Friday, July 25 and will go to a vote nation-wide on September 26. The new constitution is very contentious-- with left wing group mounting a campaign to approve the document and more conservative groups actively opposing it because, among other things, it nationalizes Ecuador's national resources. Some very radical left wing people also oppose the constitution.

The city of Quito has also undergone major changes in the past decade, refurbishing the historical colonial center (called Old Town) and trying to make the city safer.

What follows is Jesus' further explanation of the new constitution and urban development in Ecuador.


Por : Jesùs Valencia

By : Jesus Valencia (tranlsated by Nicole)

Fotografia : James Lerager

Hace varios dìas en Quito - Ecuador en Montecristi se viene desarrollando el gran debate de contar con una nueva constituciòn que rige los nuevos destinos del pais fronterizo de Ecuador , hasta ahora la constituciòn de 1998 se viene aplicando , mientras se apruebe sì o no la nueva carta magna que comprende 444 artìculos en esta oportunidad , para este nuevo documento los integrantes de la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente ( ANC ) , segùn algunos analistas de Ecuador atribuyen que el gobierno del Economista Rafael Correa Delgado quiere construir el llamado socialismo del siglo XXI .

Asì mismo el desarrollo de las actividades de los asambleìstas ( congresistas ) se llevò entre lìos, polèmicas y acusaciones entre asambleìstas del oficilaismo y la oposiciòn que defienden los intereses del paìs .

En un primer momento el pasado Viernes 18 de julio , terminò a las 8: 45 de la madrugada del sabado , este debate entre gallos y medias noches se aprobò los artìculos con el retiro de algunos asambleìstas de la oposicòn que se vieron indignados por no tener en cuenta el Quichua o Kichua como idioma oficial del paìs ecuatoriano , sobre todo en los lugares quechuahablantes de la regiòn , segùn el mandatario Rafael Correa manifiesta con este nuevo instrumento se " cambiarìa el modelo neoliberal ".

Dicho documento se llevarà a Referèndum ( consulta popular ) el pròximo 28 de Septiembre , caso que en la actualidad el Presidente ecuatoriano ya està en campaña visitando los lugares que màs incidencia , debe tener la nueva constituciòn .

Ante todo estos hechos que van a marcar la historia del pais norteño del Ecuador , casi en su gran mayorìa los medios de comunicaciòn no han difundido con gran responsabilidad a los ciudadanos ecuatorianos , por lo que se ha creado una confusiòn en los diferentes puntos del Norte , Sur , amazonìa y galàpagos del paìs , debe hacerse un voto con conciencia ciudadana y generar debates sobre los artìculos de la Nueva Constituciòn del 2008, que entrarà en vigencia de aprobarse el pròximo septiembre , cuàndo en la consulta popular logre los votos para la aplicaciòn de dicho documento en el Ecuador .

Todo lo señalado , viene ocurriendo en estes momentos y este Viernes 25 de Julio ( hoy ) se presentarà a la sociedad civil para luego generar las discusiones en las diversas organizaciòn sociales , polìticas , gremios de campesinos , indìgenas , jòvenes estudiantes universitarios y los medios de comunicaciòn deben cumplir un papel muy importante en la difusiòn de la versiòn de la nueva constituciòn .

En un nuevo debate con los asambleìstas , ante las manifestaciones de las organizaciones de las mujeres en las instalaciones , en este caso como la organizaciòn indigena Pachakutik , dònde se viene discutiendo los borradores de la constituciòn , se ha logrado esta madrudada de Hoy Jueves 24 , la reconsideraciòn de aplicar como idioma oficial el Quichua , orgullo para las culturas indìgenas y campesinas .

Finalmente ya se observan las pintas en las paredes de las casonas ( viviendas ) con gran fuerza de los que apoyan por el " No" , a su entender ya esta campaña esta direccionado por los que defienden grandes intereses de la clase media y que no apuestan por la revoluciòn ciudadana como lo menciona el Presidente Rafael Correa en sus discursos oficiales .


A few days ago in Quito, Ecuador in the city of Montecristi, a big debate is developing regarding a new constitution that will govern over the new destiny of Ecuador. Until now, the 1998 constitution has been used, while waiting for approval from the new magna carta that has 444 new articles. This new document, the members of the National Constitutional Assembly, according to some Ecuadorian analysists, will create, along with the government of the economist Rafael Correa Delgado, socialism in the 21st century.

The development of the congresspeople´s activities has resulted in divisiones, accusations, and a mess in general between government officials and the opposition as they try to defend the interests of the country.

One debate that began last Friday, July 18, ended the next morning at 8:45am (Saturday). In the midst of their tiredness, some assembliests left the meeting in opposition because Quichua (Kichua) was not recognized as an official state language, offensive especially in the Quichua speaking region. However, according to the head of state Rafael Correa, the new constitution is a change to the neoliberal model, seen throughout Latin America.

This document will go to a referendum, where Ecuadorians will vote on it, on September 28. Now, the President has mounted a campaign, visiting different regions of the country trying to convince them of the necessity of the new constitution.

Something that will be sure to stay in the history of Ecuador is the fact that the media, despite it´s supposed responsibility to the public, has not done a good job of conveying information about the new constitution. This has created confusion throughout the Northern, Southern, Amazonian, and Galapagos regions of the country. The coming vote on the constitution should be done with high citizens´consciousness, and there should be debates about the proposed articles in the constitution before the vote for approval or disapproval next semester.

The conservative media has largely failed to inform the public about Ecuador's potential new constitution.

By all visible signs occuring now, civil society, including diverse social organizations, political groups, campesino organizations, indigenous people, university students, and the media, will begin discussions about the new constitution, playing an important role in getting the word out on the new version of the document.

A new debate amongst the assembleists, facing protests from women regarding the installation of the new constitution, in this case particularly the indigenous organization Pachakutik, has resulted in the addition of Quichua as an official language, causing much pride amongst indigenous people and campesinos.

Lastly, you can see by graffiti on the walls (at least in Quito) the force of those opposing the consitution. You can see that this campaign is run by people trying to protect the interests of the middle clase and not the citizens´ revolution that President Rafael Correa has discussed in his official speeches.

Los Cambios en Quito
Ecuador desde una perspectiva de desarrollo

The colonial streets of Old Town, Quito.

Desde el año 2005 , Ecuador viene realizando grandes cambios en su desarrollo urbano , comercial , como el ordenamiento de los comerciantes informales que ahora cuentan con sus propios locales comerciales , para explicar estos nuevos retos ha pasado por tener en cuenta el turismo que dìa a dìa visita las bellas iglesias coloniales , el panecillo es un mirador muy atractivo para observar toda las ciudades de Ecuador , como el volcàn Pichincha , lugares muy visitados por los extranjeros , latinoamèricanos , europeos entre otros , de esta manera se està cambiando la mirada hacia los visitantes que estàn pensando en visitar a Quito , se resalta una cuidad muy segura con policias en cada calle de la ciudad , para proteger al turista que viene a viistar la bella Ecuador .

La prensa escrita , Radial y Televisiòn informan sobre los ùltimos acontecimientos que ocurren en la ciudad de Quito , paso a paso del desarrollo de los asambleìstas que vienen trabajando y discutiendo los artìculos de la nueva carta magna .

La calle Chile en Quito en el centro de la ciudad , es la màs concurrente , los dìas domingos miles de ciudadanos recorren la ciudad , desde que amanece , algunos asisten a las iglesias a las misas dominicales , otros a paseos con la familia en las hermozas plazuelas , como plaza de Gobierno , San Francisco , catedral de Quito , el mirador del Panecillo y varios lugares atràctivos de la ciudad de Quito .

San Francisco, a cathedral in Quito's colonial area.

Changes in Quito
Ecuador from a development perspective

Since 2005, Ecuador has been experiencing big changes in its urban development and commercial activity. For example, in order to create order in the city amidst the street vendors, the city created formal places for these businesses. To put this into perspective, you have to take into account all of the tourism to the colonial churches, the "Panecillo," a big angel that looks out over Quito, and Pichincha Volcano, among others; all of these are visited very regularly by foreigners, including Latin Americans and Europeans. By creating more order with the street vendors, the city is changing visitors perceptions of Quito, resulting in a safe city with police officers on every street, protecting tourists who are visiting beautiful Ecuador.

Street vendors were displaced when the government in Quito decided to refurbish the historical colonial center of the city. A new building, shown here, was built to house the displaced commercial activity.

The written press, radio, and television inform the public about the lastest events happening in Quito and the step by step development of the constitutional assembly as they discuss the new articles in the magna carta.

Chile Street in Quito is the center of the city, as well as the most active. On Sundays, thousands of citizens stroll through the city, from very early in the morning. Some attend mass at church, others go on walks with their families in beautiful town squares, like the Plaza de Gobierno, San Francisco, Quito´s cathedral, the lookout the Panecillo, and several other nice places in Quito.

The Panecillo, high on a mountain, where one can see all of the city of Quito.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Of music and revolution, Lima-style

In addition to time spent in Villa El Salvador, we also spent time with the members of an experimental Andean music group called Pachacamac. Formed 11 years ago, the group now has five members (two of whom lived in the apartment above us in Lima) all of whom play a wide variety of Andean instruments, sea shells, and pods from trees to produce a really beautiful and unique mix of Andean tones and rhythms with an experimental twist. Because Paul helped them secure funding to produce their cd, which resulted in the members being able to go on tour in Argentina and Chile, as well as being very nice people, Pachacamac played a private concert for us on one of our nights in Lima! It was a really powerful experience for me to see these five people with so much talent play music, communicating through their instruments as if they were speaking to each other, six feet in front of me. After the concert, we ate a meal prepared by Cesar (although we all, including the musicians, helped chop vegetables) and discussed music and cosmovisions of the universe. You should ask me and Paul to listen to their music next time we see you!

Here are the five members of Pachacamac playing a few of the many, many instruments they use to perform their music. Everything present (from sea shells to stones to flutes to tree pods) are used throughout the course of their songs.

Giovana, the groups' percussionist and a founding member. She also lived in the apartment about us. She not only plays the drums, but strings of shells and parts of trees that serve as percussion instruments as well. Incredibly awesome.

The Wednesday of our week in Lima was also a national strike of transportation workers (mostly buses). They were protesting policies passed by current Peruvian president Alan Garcia, which threaten the health care and other needed social services of the bus workers. Apparently there are huge strikes and protests almost every weekend in Lima. There was a huge protest in the center of Lima, and obviously James took some great photos of the event.
The Garcia government mounted a campaign against the strike, hanging signs that said "I love Peru, No to the strike" and "Lima needs to work, No to the strike" all throughout the city. I saw many buses on the streets that day, so I don´t know how much of a success the strike was on the whole.

Scenes of protest in the center of Lima. The bus workers were joined by many others.

The sign reads: "Hunger, misery, destruction, and death. Free trade. Until when? Stop striking us down"

It refers to the pending free trade agreement (called the TLC- Trato de Libre Comercio) between the US, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Colombia that is most likely to increase poverty and diminish opportunity for almost all the citizens of these countries (just as NAFTA has done in Mexico). People at the strike used the opportunity to speak out against the horrific affects of free trade in the Americas.

The sign above the "crucified" man says: "President Alan Garcia crucifies the health sector and all Peruvian people in the name of Law ....[head covering number of law.]"

Other than music, social justice, and revolution, for me our week in Lima was a chance to rest and recuperate from the intensity of life and work and Bolivia. I needed some reflection time, as well as the chance to eat delicious food, before starting up again in Quito. I don´t think I really realized the challenges that working in Bolivia posed until I left the country. But now, here in Quito, I can feel how powerful both my Bolivian and Peruvian experiences were.

Monday, July 21, 2008

La Lucha Continua en Villa El Salvador, Peru - The struggle continues!

During our week in Lima, Peru, we spent a lot of time in Villa El Salvador, a district with about 400,000 that was founded by land invasion. In 2001, Paul worked in Villa El Salvador doing research about land invasions (that will appear in his forthcoming book from Penn State University Press). Through his research, he worked with Jesús Valencia, a community leader and human rights activist who is now his compadre (the father of Paul and Andrea's godchildren).

Since its founding in 1971 by illegal land invasion, residents of Villa El Salvador, such as Jesús, have been extremely active in organizing to receive basic services from the government such as land titles, electricity, and, now, water and sewage systems. Some of these struggles take literally decades before the government will acquiece to their basic demands. Recently, Jesús and other community leaders were successful in pressuring the government to provide water and sewage systems to people in Lomo de Corvina, a section of Villa. The government, however, wanted to provide a system that was inadequate to the needs of the population, and a long struggle was mounted against the government in order to receive better water and sewage systems. What follows is an account (written by Jesús and translated by Nicole) of the struggle of the people of Lomo de Corvina, Villa El Salvador to increase the quality of life in their community.

Jesus Valencia , Presidente de CODIMUVES, acompañados de Pablo Dosh, Nicole Kligerman y Modesta Martinez en una visita de la zona de investigaciones en 2001 - foto James Lerager, Julio 2008.

Jesus Valencia, president of CODIMUEV, along with Pablo Dosh, Nicole Kligerman, and Modesta Martinez (and Jesus's son Jean Pierre) during a visit to one of the neighborhood case studies where Pablo did his research in 2001. Photo by James Lerager, July 2008.

Villa Mar Upis, a community in Lomo de Corvina, Villa El Salvador.


Villa el Salvador nace el 11 de Mayo de 1971 , en los arenales de un oasis , con su gente de imigrantes de las diversas regiones del Peru , fue a raiz de invasiones de terrenos que llegaron a obtener sus propias viviendas , fue una larga lucha desde sus inicios hasta lograr sus titulos de sus terrenos , agua y desague , luz electrica entre otros servicios.

Villa El Salvador durante sus anos ha logrado premios muy importantes por su organizacion de sus dirigentes y autoridades como el premio principe de asturias en Espana , logros como titulo de Ciudad Mensajera de la Paz , por las naciones unidas entre otros premios.

actualmente Villa El Salvador tiene 37 anos , ha seguido creciendo con su gente luchadora y su alto nivel de organizacion de hombres y mujeres que buscan un cambio de vidas , su protagonismo muy importante desde sus inicios es la impotancia de muchas organizaciones como la CUAVES , una organizacion muy fuerte en los anos 70 por su valiosa lucha e integracion de todos los dirigentes de ver la ciudad ahora mucho mejor , han cumlpido un rol importante como nuestra heroina Maria Elena Moyano , una mujer luchadora que nace desde sus bases de mujeres como la federecaion popular de mujeres como (organizacion FEPOMUVES ) para luego iniciar una etapa politica asumiendo cargo de autoridad y que por su valiosa lucha , sendero luminoso la mato por defender los interes del pueblo , Villa sigue creciendo en la actualidad en las zonas perifericas de Lomo de Corvina ( asentamientos humanos nuevos ), es un poquito de la historia para compartrir con ustedes .


Villa El Salvador was founded on May 11, 1971, in the sand dunes of southern Lima, by people from many parts of Peru who had immigrated to Lima. As a result of this land invasion, the inhabitants gained their own homes after a big fight in order to get their land titles, water, sewage, and electricity, among other things.

Throughout the years, Villa El Salvador has won important awards because of the work of its leaders, such as the Prince Asturias Prize in Spain as well as the title of Messenger City of Peace by the United Nations, among other prizes.

Today, Villa El Salvador has been in existence for 37 years and has continued to grow with its activist population and high levels of organization by men and women searching to improve their lives. Much of the important activism that has existed since the founding is due to the importance of its organizations, including CUAVES, a very strong organization which, during the 1970s, was active in greatly improving the city. This was accomplished by community leaders, such as our city's heroine Maria Elena Moyano, an activist that was a leader of the Grassroots Women's Federation (the organization FEPOMUVES) and later became politically active. Because of her brave activism, Shining Path (Maoist guerrillas/terrorists in Peru) killed her because of her work defending the people of Villa. Today, Villa keeps growing in its peripheral zones like Lomo de Corvina (with new informal settlements). This is a bit of a history to share with you all.

Jesus gesturing toward Lomo de Corvina. He is president of the the current project to bring water and drainage to the entire area, which is home to 54,000 people. He is also president of the neighborhood of La Encantada (2,000 families) and president of the Commission for Human Rights in Villa El Salvador (CODEHVES).


Los asentamientos humanos que lucharon por obtener los servicios basicos en el sector de la organizacion social vecinal de Villa El Salvador , esta vez hablamos del trabajo muy fuerte de la organizacion en Lomo de Corvina , se trata del Consejo Directivo Multisectorial de Villa El Salvador - CODIMUVES , trabaja en tres sectores como el sector 7, 9 y 1o sector del Distrito de Villa el Salvador , esta organizacion trabaja por casi diez anos en la lucha continua por lograr el agua y desague en las zonas mas pobres de los barrios populares de Lima Metropolitana (Peru).

Inicialmente fueron 16 grupos o asentamientos humanos lucharon por obtener el servicios de largas movilizaciones al gobierno central , Sedapal empresa del agua , funcionarios del gobierno entre otros , en estas largas luchas el papel de la mujer fue muy importante que ha promovido la organizaciones , lo mas resaltante las ollas comunes en el campamento de lucha , desde los momentos mas dificiles que toco vivir en el gobierno del actual Presidente Dr. Alan Garcia Perez de querer imponermos un sistema de agua no adecuado a los terrenos de nuestras viviendas, debido a que no fue consultado por la poblacion beneficiaria del programa Nacional AGUA PARA TODOS .


Neighborhood organizations in Villa El Salvador are now working hard through an organization in Lomo de Corvina called the Consejo Directivo Multisectorial de Villa El Salvador (CODIMUVES- Jesus is the president). This organization has worked for close to 10 years in the struggle to get a water and sewage system put into the poorest areas of the shantytowns in Metropolitan Lima, Peru.

Initially, there were 16 groups or informal settlements which fought to receive these services from the central government, Sedapal (a public water company), and government officials, among others. Through these long struggles, women were key in promoting involved organizations, the most key being communal kitchens in the areas where the struggles were taking place. Some of the most difficult moments were when the government of current president Dr. Alan Garcia Perez want to impose on us a water system that was not adequate for our homes without consulting with the people who it would supposedly benefit through the national program "Water for All."

Construction for the new water and sewage systems.

esta vez nos toco salir a las calles a protestar por el sistema condominial que a futuro nos traeria problemas en salud, contaminacion ambiental por el crecimiento poblacional a futuro y que las tierras son muy planas en la geografia de la naturaleza .

La lucha empieza tomando con fuerza el campamento como medida de protesta al gobierno y hacer escuchar la voz de los pobladores de Lomo de Corvina en Villa el Salvador , con respecto al agua y desague , esta lucha duro casi tres meses continuas en hacer vivencias en el campamento con apoyo de la gente que vigilaba la zona , para que la prensa tome en cuenta nuestra protesta y fue muy importante que los medios de comunicacion como TV, Radio y Prensa escrita nos tomo en cuenta en sus noticias del dia .

En realidad el proyecto beneficia a mas de 54 mil habitantes y el presupuesto financiado por el Gobierno a travez de Sedapal ( empresa de servicios de Agua ) y el Banco Mundial asciende a 58 millones de soles , se estima culminar las obras de agua y desague a fines del año 2008.

Because of this (the inadequate water system), we went to the streets to protest the "condominial" system, which would later bring health problems, environmental contamination because of an increasing population, and hardship on the land.

The struggle began by taking by force an encampment related to the project as a form of protest against the government and as a way of making them listen to the voice of the population in Lomo de Corvina, Villa El Salvador, with respect to our needs for water and sewage system. This fight lasted almost three continuous months as we made little living spaces in the encampment with the support of people who watched over the area. This was done so the press would take our protest into account; it was really important that the media (like TV, radio, and the press) write about our struggle in the daily news.

The water and sewer project benefits more than 54,000 people and the financial cost for the government, charged by Sedapal (the water company) and the World Bank, will cost upwards of 58 million soles ($20 million). It's estimated that the water and sewage project will be finished by the end of 2008.

Working on the construction of the water and sewage systems in Lomo de Corvina.

Jesus Valencia and Modesta Martinez, community leaders and activists, in front of the encampment where they lived for three months in order to get the Peruvian government to provide them with adequate water and sewage systems. Eventually, the government agreed to their demands.


Mayormente Villa E l Salvador se caracteriza por una diversidad de organizaciones y en esta oportunidad le hablamos de las mas reciente como es CODIMUVES , que ha dejado en claro que sin luchas no logra nada , pero el papel resaltante de la mujer fue lo mås importante en el tiempo de lucha , los dirigentes tienen un enfoque de desarrollo y tienen propuestas claras cuando se presentan a las autoridades para hacer cumplir sus promesas en campañas electorales , proyectos de inversion social , ahora su proxima lucha de la organizacion es obtener los titulos de propiedad en las zonas de Lomo de Corvina .


Villa El Salvador is characterized by its diversity of organizations and, in this vein, I'll talk about the most recent organizations, CODIMUVES, that has made it clear that without struggle there cannot be any gains. Key in all of this is the outstanding involvement of women was the most important during moments of struggle, community leaders who have focused on development and have clear proposals with negotiating with authorities so these government officials follow through with the promises they make during electoral campaigns, and social investment projects. Now, the next fight will be to get land titles for everyone in Lomo de Corvina.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bolivia reflections

We may be here in Quito, but that doesn't mean that Bolivia is far from our minds. Quite the contrary; we spent much of this morning discussing the development of this research project and our work in La Paz/El Alto. The complexity of the relationship between social movements, grassroots organizations, female community leaders, discrimination, and the struggle for natural resources is evident in Bolivia, as it probably will be in Ecuador as well. How to process all that we've learned and begin to understand these complexities as we continue forward with this project? Here we offer you some photos of El Alto, Bolivia, as well as some reflections on our work there.

The principal streets of El Alto are constantly lined with combis, communal vans packed to the gills with travelers. The pollution, altitude, and gentle roar of the daily commotion make for a very intense atmosphere. In this photograph, you can see the building of the Federacion de Juntas Vecinales de El Alto (the headquarters of the most powerful leaders of each of the 12 districts in El Alto), which is one of our case studies for our research. Right next to the FEJUVE's buildings is the headquarters of the Central Obrera Regional (an extremely powerful organization that is a conglomeration of workers unions and organizations), another case study. Both organizations are key in mobilizing El Alto to demand more resources from the national government, but have very few female leaders despite the important presence in the mobilizations of October 2003 that overthrew the president. Female leaders within both organizations report rampant discrimination against women on the part of many of their male counterparts.

"No to the military!"

El Alto is fierce and not afraid to show it. A warning often uttered in conservative cities of Bolivia (such as Sucre and Santa Cruz) is "Be careful, or else the people from El Alto will come!" The majority of El Alto's citizens self-identify as indigenous (I read a reported 80% percent), mostly Aymara. Most are heavily in support of current president Evo Morales and support his current project to nationalize Bolivia's natural resources, although many people we interviewed wish he would make more radical change within the nationalization plan. El Alto mobilized in October 2003 (along with many people from the surrounding provinces) to protest the privatization of natural resources, resulting in a month-long standoff with the Bolivian military. Eventually, Altenos descended down into the streets of La Paz, resulting in the fleeing of then-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, who is currently living in Chevy Chase, Maryland despite several requests to the US government for his extradition.

"Thank you, Mr. President, for the thousand classrooms. Keep it up."

El Alto is filled with graffiti in support of Evo Morales and against the privatization of natural resources. Evo has supported various social projects in El Alto and Altenos have a great sense of pride in him because he is Bolivia's first indigenous president.

Here we are with Norah, a woman who works at an NGO called "Accion Ciudadana" (Citizens' Action) within a larger umbrella organization called Gregoria Apaza. Accion Ciudadana supports womens political involvement in El Alto. Norah was instrumental in introducing us to different female leaders (particularly the Colectivo de Mujeres) and became one of our closest friends in Bolivia as well. In this photograph, you can see the typical format of an interview.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Por las calles de Quito- Through the streets of Quito

Hola soy Jesus Valencia estoy en Quito Ecuador.

hoy apenas desperte pense en salir con el equipo de investigacion , lo primero que hicimos en nuestra visita salir a la plaza de armas de Quito , hace minutos salimos al bus (Ecovia ) al terminal para llegar con Nicole ,James Lerager ,llegando a la plaza Bolivar ya en palacio de Gobierno del Presidente Correa ,observamos los hombres de guardia que cuidan el palacio Presidencial.

avanzamos por las calles y la gente muy amable , en sus atenciones para mostrarnos su cultura , historia y lo mas importante sus centros de atraccion ,como las iglesias coloniales como San Francisco , el museo de la cultura metropolitana , entre otros .

en nuestro recorrido Jaime Lerager , captaba las fotos de las calles, su gente , el movimiento comercial ,los centros atractivos de la ciudad ,con el lente de la camara acercaba las iglesias coloniales como un acontecimiento de las culturas de la gente de la Ciudad de Quito .

pasamos largas horas con Nicole , James recorriendo sus calles muy importantes de muchos visitantes de los diferentes paises que buscan un intercambio de culturas y conocer mas de la ciudad y las costumbres que dia a dia pasa por las grandes visitas de turistas que solo quieren conocer de cerca las vivencias sociales en el mundo.

parece algo impresionante que estemos aqui en Quito por un trabajo de investigaciones que a la larga nos mostrara un importante estudio de los movimientos sociales en Peru, Bolivia y este ultimo en Ecuador , para mostrarle una nueva foto explicando el sentido de las vidas de grandes experiencias que van mas alla de una perspectiva de crear oportunidades en America Latina y esto es lo que vemos en nuestra realidad cotidiana.

(( Nicole's translation:

Hello, this is Jesus Valencia and I'm in Quito Ecuador.

Today I had hardly woken up when I thought about going out with the research team. The first thing we did was to visit the Plaza de Armas in Quito. We went by bus (Ecovia) to the terminal, along with Nicole and James Lerager, arriving in the Plaza Bolivar where the palace of President Correa's government is. From there, we watched the security guards who watch over the presidential palace.

We continued through the streets filled with nice people, their focus demonstrating to us the culture, history, and, most importantly, the central attractions such as the colonial churches like San Francisco, the Museum of Metropolitan Culture, among others.

During our travels, James Lerager took photos of the streets, the people, commercial activity, the central attractions of the city, with the camera lens closing in on the colonial churches as a monument to the people in Quito.

We spent a long time with Nicole and James, traveling through the important streets filled with people from different countries who are searching for a cultural exchange and to know more about the city and the daily customs via the big tourist sites in order to experience firsthand how other people live in other parts of the world.

It seems very impressive that we're here in Quito to do a research project that will become an important study of social movements in Peru, Bolivia, and, lastly, in Ecuador. It will show a new picture of the daily experiences of people in Latin America in order to create new opportunities. This is what we're experiencing in our daily life here. ))

Monday, July 14, 2008

Anatomy of a fledging service project

Saludos from Quito, Ecuador, where Nicole and I are getting ready for the arrival of Andrea and Araminta tonight, and for the arrival of Jesùs and Jaime tomorrow morning. It's been a day of chores, including grocery shopping and renting the 3-bedroom apartment where we'll live for the next 4 weeks. We are excited to COOK, after a month of mostly eating in restaurants. This is Nicole's first time in Ecuador, but I lived here in 2002 and worked here in 2005, so it's fun for me to be walking familiar streets again.

On our way from Lima to Quito, we spent a day and a night in Tablazo Norte, the 6,000-person agricultural town in the province of Piura where Jesùs Valencia grew up. It's an extremely poor community that receives practically no attention from either foreigners or from the Peruvian government. Our little stopover was something of a major event for a number of the locals.

One meeting revolved around the needs of Tablazo Norte's Comite de Vigilancia (Security Committee), a volunteer group of 15 men that have taken it upon themselves to try and provide a bit of law and order to a community that, though lacking in serious crimes (e.g. homicide), has plenty of weekend problems with drunken and abusive behavior. The 15 men are doing the best they can, but they have no budget, equipment, or training, and are struggling. In 2005, when I first visited Tablazo Norte, they formally presented me with a petition asking for help purchasing a set of 5 walkie-talkies, so they could communicate while working.

During this visit, we gave them advance notice that we would have a formal meeting about their proposal. At the meeting, we talked about the community's needs and their goals as a group, and we suggested they create a more comprehensive proposal, since there's more to being a competent security force than having radios.

Through a hour or two of discussion, we worked with them to outline a proposal that includes uniforms, radios, other equipment, training at a local school for police and security guards, and carving out a headquarters/meeting space from existing public buildings. They will write it up, along with a mission statement, and correspond with us via email to refine the proposal, which we will then translate into English.

We will then contact one or more police stations in the Twin Cities, probably in heavily Latino neighborhoods where the police force may be more likely to have Spanish-speaking and possibily immigrant officers who know something about Latin America. The idea is for us to act as brokers, creating a relationship between the Tablazo Norte group and one group of Spanish-speaking police officers in Minnesota. From there, we would help and facilitate as needed, but ideally the relationship would be theirs to maintain, and the task of fundraising for the needs of the Comite de Vigilancia would fall to the Twin Cities police officers. Will it work? We shall see. If anyone reading this has any likely suspects/contacts, do let us know! Thanks.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hidden resume line: Record producer

A couple years ago, I had a few hundred dollars (of someone else's money) to invest in something worthwhile in Peru, and I was too busy to figure out what to do with it, so I put Cesar in charge. Cesar came up with the idea of supporting an Andean band called Pachacamac so they could get into a recording studio, produce an album, and then go on tour. It would cost more than we had, so we solicited donations via email and in no time had the cash. The musicians have since done two tours of the Southern Cone. Last night, they honored us with an in-home concert and it was amazing. Macalester senior Fiorella Ormeño Incio stopped by for the music, Cesar cooked a feast, and the five members of Pachacamac filled the neighborhood with their voices and the sounds of various pipes, charango, acoustic guitar, electric bass, various drums, dried goat ears and other shakers, flutes, and about 50 other instruments (each member sings and plays 10-20 different instruments). It was delightful and I suspect we will help them finance their next album, which they will probably record in 2009.

Monday, July 7, 2008

How Much Would You Pay for a Poem?

It is so good to be in Lima! We arrived Saturday night and it's been a wonderful whirlwind ever since. This afternoon we head off to Villa El Salvador to visit friends, my godchildren, and begin checking in and working on some of our long-term social justice projects in Lomo de Corvina. Natalia Espejo will join us this afternoon and David Hong arrives in Lima tonight. Best of all, only seven days until I'm reunited with Andrea and Araminta!

Below is some Spoken Word I wrote at the end of our time in Bolivia. Best if read aloud. It's a draft, so criticism and feedback are most welcome.

UPDATE (7/9/08): Thanks to those who sent feedback. Those who speak some Spanish, know a bit about Latin America, and have been following our blog seem to have very positive reactions, while readers who don't fit that description tend to not understand parts of it, even if the overall message of the poem is pretty clear. So if you're reading this for the first time, you may want to bear that in mind.

by Pablo Dosh

how much would you pay / for a poem?

amid the dirty lurch
of paceño commuters
a mountain river of 15-passenger combis
jostle for my bus fare
like rusted abuelos playing contact fùtbol
"un boliviano, un boliviano! la Ceja, la Ceja!"

I swing aboard
and a dirty moneda / passes between hands
one soft and white / the piel of wealth
the other hand like burnt corduroy
dirt and wrinkles seared in
by a childhood / of forced labor
grubby digits calculate / a lack of change
pupils / that have never seen a classroom
bead downward / like a colt in blinders
unaware of deviations from this dead-end autopista

at the end of the line
how much should you pay / for such a poem?
what price for stories of lynchings and near-misses
for testimony of housewives turned bombsmiths
and maimed limbs / rigid in defiance
what cost to publish portraits
to elevate these heroines from obscurity

how much will you pay / for this poem?
will you pay sleep? food? heat?
each night awake buys a metaphor
each meal skipped scores a simile
sunlight shrinks / the tax of rhythm
mercury sinks / the tariff of rhyme

will you pay strain? will you pay stress?
a thousand vertical feet / tap out the meter
will you pay pain? will you pay flesh?
the glazed gaze of grateful gawkers / glad it's not them
shaking on the stretcher
wearing shower cap and alpaca shroud

how much will you stretch / limits already reached
corporal credit / maxed and breached
arteries sliced wide / peridural and scalpel
no insurance / no blanket
no water / just you
a pharmacy of empty shelves
and a half-surgeon / half-coyote
scavenging coins with a syringe

how much have you paid / for this poem?
how much will you listen / to your wounds
pleading for balance
even muted to an anesthetized mumble
your flesh permits no mistranslation:
"slow down
you need me
you can try to ignore me
but I will be heard"

how much would you take back?
how many will you take with you?
how many will lift you up?
how many will watch you fade?

how much did you pay / for a poem?
for 21 years I've been shopping the Americas
searching bargain bins for lines to this poem
my ode began in Sandinista Nicaragua
where my voice cracked
outbid by the boom of Reagan's guns
at the auction of empire versus the threat
of a good example

in college / in Costa Rica
I watched a bloody brawl
and tore home sick
to vomit verses on the cheap
huddled in my penumbral room
just outside the light

retreat to safety: a smart move to make
but it didn't take / and when the next bloodbath
crossed my path / my friends recoiled
while I / leaned / in
not sure why
but ready to act

how much could I pay / for a poem?
in Peru I paid cash
for the title, purpose, and infrastructure
of my poem
and the more I bought / the more I paid
like some altruistic hyperinflation
where the cost of a good deed
just keeps going up
and the addict keeps the fixes flowing

first we fixed some frowns
renting clowns and boiling chocolate
to return the warmth of Christmas
to the chill desert of Villa El Salvador

then we fixed some feet
families of ten
with only one pair of shoes

a few greenbacks and several callbacks
moved a mule / from his cell
back toward his stubborn wife / and yearning kids

and with a grassroots record deal
four peruanos walked into a studio hungry
and danced out as the band Pachacamac
off to tour the Southern Cone

each stanza tax brackets more than the last
but I can't wait to pay / for this poem

will you pay REM?
an alarm set early / to bullrush the dawn
a taper burned low / to ignite the night
I / will / pay

will you pay calories?
a lunch cast aside / too focused to chew
a beggar wolfs down my platter / while I digest her grin
I / will / pay

will you pay tendons?
wrists bled dry by devotion
kneecap atrophied by denial
I / have / paid

will you pay friendship?
one eroded by neglect / values diverge
one snapped by judgment / amistad's dirge
I / have / paid

and if I can't afford it
if my frame buckles under this charge
then I say / I need a stronger body
build of real food and fitness

if my horario frays and fractures
then I say / I need discipline / not play

if my budget balloons and busts
then I say / I have lost my way
and I need the wisdom of younger activists
to correct my straying consumption

how much do I pay / for this poem?

overcharge me
rob me until I can see
take me for more than I'm worth
I pay in full
I pay in flesh
and then
I lean forward
and I leave
a tip

Greetings from Lima - and recaps from Bolivia!

Eliodora, FEJUVE community leader

James Lerager

Isabel, member of the Colectivo de Mujeres of El Alto

Javier, leader of former political prisoners and exiles during the Banzer dictatorship

Nicole and Pablo

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Interview with a vampire

Virtually every day, one or more of our interview subjects postpones or just doesn't show (despite the standard 2-3 confirmation phone calls that precede each interview). Usually, their excuses for bailing are lame, but today we had a good one. Our final interviewee was right where he was supposed to be at the appointed hour... but we couldn't get to him because the building was locked down in a three-way stand-off among riot police, our interviewee's allies who had barricaded themselves inside, and a garrot of striking sanitation workers encircling the building with placards denouncing our interview subject (by name, in 2,000-point font) as an "Enemigo de los Trabajadores, Traidor, Chupa Sangre" ("Enemy of the Workers, Traitor, and Blood Sucker").

Said Nicole: "Maybe this isn't the best day to interview him."

Hopefully we'll interview the vampire tomorrow, but aside from him we are basically done with our Bolivian interviews, and we head for Peru on Saturday.

Much to my delight, we are actually already done typing up our notes on all 35 interviews, thanks partly to Nicole's unnatural desire to always be caught up on everything, and also thanks to GoogleDocs, which has made the entire process efficient, allowing me, Nicole, and César to simultaneously work on the same unified document for each interview, even now that César is back in Peru.

Nicole also had her first completely solo interviews today, as we had (intentionally) double-booked each interview time slot so we could cover more ground. One of the premises of this project is that Nicole is here not principally to learn (though she does that too!), but rather to contribute. And sure enough, we are able to cover far more ground, far faster.

It's been great working with James Lerager (Jaime) this week. We knew it would be awkward bringing his mega-camera into suspicion-laden environments, but his engaging style (and his photo of him chilling with Evo Morales) won over basically everybody. Tonight Jaime had prints made of 30 or so of the portraits he took, and tomorrow we'll deliver these as parting gifts to most of the people we interviewed. The photos look great and we will try our best to get some of them posted tomorrow.

Buenas noches,

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Revolution and Entrapment

After a not-so-restful week in Sucre, we are back to work in La Paz/El Alto! James Lerager, a documentary photographer from California, joined us at Mujeres Creando on Sunday. In addition to writing an academic article based on our research, we will be doing portraits of several women leaders in El Alto (and Quito) for a web photo essay online (www.webphotoessay.com). Out of the many women we've already interviewed, we chose five to be the subject of our (written and photographed) portraits. James will be taking the pictures for the portraits, as well as photograph other people we interview this week and El Alto/La Paz. We will make copies of the best photographs of each individual in order to give to our interviewees as presents.

Yesterday (Monday) and today were filled with more interviews and tales of revolution and discrimination. We interviewed one woman from the Colectivo de Mujeres who is president of her community in El Alto, which was formed by illegal land invasions (meaning that people built houses on land although they didn't own the titles to said land). Over an 18 year period, this woman negotiated the price of the land title from US $15,000 (completely impossible for everyone) to US$300! Incredible. She also regailed us with tales of the trench warfare she planned against state soldiers taking natural gas away from El Alto in 2003 (the lead up to the mobilizations of October 2003).

Today, we interviewed a man who is the representative of an organization for ex-prisoners and people who were exiled during Banzer's dictatorship in Bolivia in the 1970s. He, along with the other members of his organization, was tortured and imprisoned (this man because he was active in a campesino union that wanted to form an indigenous government in Bolivia). After a fascinating interview in the back room of a building, we realized that everyone else in the building had left for lunch and we were locked in without a key! Because lunch here lasts 2.5 hours, we were going to be locked in for the next 2 hours. Luckily, another man from the ex-prisoners and exiles organization shimmied out of the second story window, hopped onto a staircase, and got the doorman to release us, just as Paul and I were also about to escape through the window.

We did an interview with a woman who is the president of her neighborhood and an executive leader of El Alto's neighborhood association, the FEJUVE (a very, very powerful group here). She said what all the other female leaders have said--that the male leaders don't pay attention to the women, don't let them speak at meetings, purposefully hold meetings in places like bars so women can't attend. Women are openly made fun of and told to be quiet when they try to voice opinions. The discrimination these women face is fierce, but they continue to work in order to better their neighborhoods and organizations.

Mujeres Creando is having a party right now in order to celebrate the one year anniversary of their radio station, Radio Deseo (Radio Desire), which is based in the same building as our hostel. It sounds very boisterous. The anarchist-feminists know how to party!

From the blustery streets of La Paz,