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August 10, 2010

Ropa Usada?

The woman in the center dared to ask.

A few days into the trip, I witnessed a real estate transaction whose intricate details I will not get into here. (Quick version: several people with land inside a national park traded their property for land outside the park. The result: they got a pasture for their cows closer to their home in the city -- and the world's richest rainforest won't get chopped down to create grazing pastures. I'm all for grass fed beef, but not at that cost... Win win!)

After the ceremony, I chatted with some of the people who participated in the transaction, and they fired questions back at me: Where are you from? How do you like Ecuador? How long are you staying? Only 10 days!? Not enough! Come back and visit again, ok?

The event wrapped up, and as I was making my way out of the hall (where, along with a few government employees, nonprofit workers and the families involved, a spider the size of my face watched the ceremony from an cranny in the roof), an older woman -- the family matriarch, I suspect -- trotted up to me.

(Here's the thing about old people of southern Ecuador. They're amazing!! One of our guides was 51, but didn't look a day past 39 and a half. And a town in that region was written up in National Geographic for having really really old people. Like, a whole cluster of people over 100. My take: they walk a lot, they work until they're 95, they eat well, and they don't get stressed about about things like spotty wifi connections and alternate-side street sweeping.)

So, she trotted up and urgently gestured for me to follow her.

I sat down again with her family, and she started tittering nervously.

"I have a question," she said in Spanish.


"How should I put it.... You know... I've heard that... people in other countries.... We are... we are poor, and I heard that..."

She smiled again, hunching her thin shoulders and tucking her head in like a raven haired turtle. (Also: people there don't go gray until the age most Westerners are dead.)

"People in other countries?" I urged, nodding to encourage her.

"They have soooo many clothes that they just throw away! My friend in Spain told me that people throw away whole bags of clothes, nice clothes! And if you're there you can go and collect them. She found good clothes! Such pretty clothes! Sitting outside in trash bags!!" She sounded unconvinced that such a thing could be true, but if her friend said it was so, it had to be. "Do you have any clothes you don't want? Maybe you have some you can give to us?"

I shook my head. I packed lightly -- I wore the same pants over and over, and I wouldn't wish the sweat encrusted t-shirt I was wearing upon this perky abuelita and her kinfolk (see prior blog entry: Showers, lack of). But I told her that from the U.S., I could definitely send something.

"What's your address?"

"I don't have one. But here's my phone number. You can call, when you have the clothes ready. I will find a way to receive them."

"Perfect. What kind of clothes do you want? What colors?"

She said they'd like t-shirts, clothes for men, women, children. As for color? She pointed the powder pink sweater she was wearing.

"I hope you do not mind. We are poor, and I heard people over there have more clothes than they use," she concluded.

"I am very happy that you asked. I think asking is wonderful, and you are very brave to tell me these things. It's great that you told me about your need, since I would be happy to send you something, and I will also ask my friends in America if they have any clothes they can give away."

Outside, I talked with a nonprofit worker and he offered a solution. Any clothes that arrive at his research station, he'll deliver to that family. So, gentle reader. If you have any clothes you don't need or come across anything new you'd care to pass along, please consider bundling them up and sending them to:

Familia Morocho
C/O Naturaleza y Cultura Internacional
Pio Jaramillo 13-12- y Venezuela
P.O. Bo. 11-01-332
Loja, Ecuador

(FYI: Sending a package of up to 4 lbs to Ecuador runs about $13 with priority mail, or you can send 1 lb for around $10 with ground shipping. See this site for the deets.)
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